Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: That is not an offence under immigration legislation, so to fall foul of the law, the hon. Gentleman's little arrangement in the US would have to be importing people into Britain.

This is a stopgap power, in advance of the much wider rewriting of the law on sexual offences and the arrangements that we expect to see in the forthcoming criminal justice legislation. The power is taken in this Bill, so that we can begin to deal with some of the current problems. I hope that hon. Members realise that we are committed to implementing the European Union framework decision, and that we will be looking to the wording in future Bills. For now we think that it is important to have an offence on the statute book that is understood by the courts, albeit that it is a stopgap measure.

Mr. Gerrard: I appreciate the Minister's point that this is a stopgap measure, and that we need an offence on the statute book. I hope, however, that when the negotiation is finished on the EU framework and we are considering future legislation, we will ensure that the wording is consistent. If we are trying to deal with this problem across the EU, as we should, it is pointless to negotiate wording and definitions at EU level and then not to use them.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.1 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Column Number: 348

6.17 pm

On resuming—

Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 333, in page 59, line 4, at end insert—

    '(6) A person who has been the subject of trafficking in prostitution shall be eligible to apply for exceptional or indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom.'.

This probing amendment deals with the other side of the prostitution debate—the victims. I am referring to the people who come or are brought here, who are subject to coercion and who may then be abandoned and left in a vulnerable position. The amendment is designed to discover the Government's view on whether people who have been victimised and horribly traumatised by being dragged across Europe or the world and then left will be allowed to apply for exceptional or indefinite leave to remain, on the basis that this may be the only place where some of them are safe.

Over the years, I have met African women at my surgeries who would find it culturally impossible to return to their original community. It is known that they were taken away for the purpose of prostitution. They may or may not have been married. In no circumstances can they contemplate returning to their community. I have met some women who were in an extremely desperate mental and emotional state, because they feared that they would be sent back to communities in which, for religious and cultural reasons, they would not survive. I put it as bluntly as that.

The amendment is designed to discover the Government's policy. If we can rescue people, as we hope to, from the grip of those who exploit them, and they have family here or another network of support, it as our obligation to work through with them the best way to proceed and, if necessary and possible, give them the opportunity to stay here. I do not pretend that the amendment's wording is perfect; it is merely an attempt to raise the plight of the victims of a trade that we are all keen to address. I hope that the Minister is sympathetic to the idea behind the amendment.

Mr. Gerrard: The amendment ties in with the question of how we encourage victims to give evidence. There has been a tendency, particularly in police raids in London in which women have been swept up from flats in Soho, for all those arrested to be deported. If that is the only consequence of giving evidence, it will inevitably be that much more difficult to encourage some victims to do so. Such evidence is sometimes critical in obtaining the conviction of those responsible. It may be asking too much for the Government to give a blanket agreement on such cases, because a wide variety of circumstances will arise, but I hope that they are prepared to consider victims' circumstances so that such people are not automatically threatened with deportation.

Angela Eagle: I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that his amendment is unnecessary, because there is nothing to prevent victims who have been trafficked

Column Number: 349

from seeking leave to remain. A procedure exists for victims of trafficking to be granted leave on a discretionary basis in appropriate cases that fall outside the categories and the immigration laws. We prefer to keep it that way, simply because we do not wish to create specific statutory protection for those who are trafficked, which might perversely lead to more people being trafficked in order to qualify for leave to remain. We consider sympathetically, case by case, whether someone has been a victim of that appalling trade. Such people may wish to give evidence or be unable to return home, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey from his constituency casework. We have the appropriate leeway to grant different forms of protection to enable victims to stay.

We are also working with other organisations to develop a best practice guide on trafficking for immigration officers, police and others who deal with perpetrators and victims of trafficking, so that they can treat victims more appropriately. We need to understand that the offence is not smuggling but trafficking for sexual exploitation, and that vulnerable, frightened and abused victims must be dealt with accordingly. I hope that with those assurances the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, and to the hon. Member for Walthamstow for his contribution. I was not seeking to create a special category, and I agree that making one could have the perverse consequence of more victims being trafficked. I am grateful that the Government will continue to consider cases compassionately according to the individual circumstances. I hope that between we can us convey to victims, who have committed a criminal offence if they are prostitutes, that they may be exempt from prosecution if they come forward, and may be given personal support and possibly citizenship, nationality, entitlement to stay or protection, depending on their circumstances.

I am encouraged by the Government's position. All hon. Members want to work to overcome the problem and to assist victims as much as possible. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Simon Hughes: Given that the Minister said that the measure was temporary, I hope that it may be included in the sexual offences legislation, which is in the pipeline. That is the right place for it.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman is not wide of the mark.

Question put and agreed to.

Column Number: 350

Clause 113 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 115


Ms Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 339, in page 60, leave out lines 14 to 16.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take new clause 18—Arrest by immigration officer.

Ms Winterton: At present, the employment offence in section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 does not carry the power of arrest. To date, the only way in which it has been possible to make arrests has been to use the powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. However, those powers apply only to police constables, not to immigration officers. We therefore decided to add a separate power of arrest for the section 8 offence. Subsection (4) introduces a power of arrest without warrant for the employment offence.

On reflection, however, we decided that introducing a power of arrest without warrant was disproportionate to the offence, which is a summary offence with a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine. Introducing such a power would not meet our policy objectives of improving business compliance or our ability to enforce the law rather than impose unreasonable penalties. We also want to ensure that employers are protected by incorporating the safeguard of judicial scrutiny prior to arrest.

The amendments remove the subsection that gives the power of arrest without warrant for the section 8 offence, and substitute a new clause that provides for an immigration officer to apply for, and a justice of the peace to grant, a warrant to arrest a person reasonably suspected of committing the offence. We do not envisage that the power will often be used. In most cases, we will be aware of the identity and whereabouts of the employer, and it will be possible to take action in relation to the section 8 offence without the need to make an arrest. However, it is important that the power exists for the rare cases in which the employer is likely to go to ground.

The clause also remedies an anomaly in relation to offences under section 24(1)(d) of the Immigration Act 1971 and the failure to comply with a requirement to attend or submit to a medical examination. There is a power under section 28B of the

Act to enter premises under a warrant in order to search for and arrest someone who is liable to be arrested for that offence. However, there is currently no free-standing power of arrest.

I hope that hon. Members will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 115, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

<<351>>Clause 116

Registration Card

6.30 pm

Angela Watkinson: I beg to move amendment No. 310, in page 60, line 30, after 'makes', insert

    'or is concerned in the making of'.

This is a mildly probing amendment to define the meaning of the word ''makes'' more clearly. One or more persons could be involved in the making of false registration cards. Will the Minister expand on the meaning of the word ''makes'' and explain what degree of involvement is envisaged? For example, would it be a defence for someone to say that they only drove the delivery van or went out to buy materials? Several people could be collectively responsible for the whole enterprise, playing varying roles in it. That is more likely than one individual or sole trader being responsible. How safe will the cards be, and how difficult will it be to counterfeit them? As I said, it is only a probing amendment, but clarification of the meaning of ''make'' and the degree of involvement would be most helpful.

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