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Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to think again about the analogy that he has made with drugs. I heard only today about someone who is fighting an accusation of bringing drugs into the country. The person was stacking pallets on a huge lorry and it turned out that instead of one of them containing floor tiles it contained a large consignment of drugs. Whether the case is proven or not, it is possible to envisage that the person who imported those drugs into the country may well be entirely innocent. It is a possibility that he may be guilty, but that is a matter for the courts.
However, the case is different when it concerns human beings. Children are not hidden in luggage unwittingly. People wittingly bring children into the country and then their little bodies are used for the gratification of others. It is different from the importation of drugs.
Viscount Bledisloe: As regards minimum sentences, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am also greatly relieved to hear his assurance that the majority of Her Majesty's judges do not have Liberal Democrat tendencies.
At the risk of being criticised by a lawyer, perhaps I may make one or two technical points about the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Alli, addressed. They increase the penalty if the victim of a crime is aged under 18. Clauses 55, 57 and 59 deal with people who are not only under 18 but who the criminal in question did not reasonably believe to be that age. It seems to me somewhat strange that in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the higher penalty would apply if someone turns out to be 17 and 11 months even though the person appeared to be well over that age. I mention that in case the noble Lord, Lord Alli, is minded to return to this at another stage. He might like to consider whether he should adopt that test.
I thought the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said in relation to the minimum sentence that judges could in exceptional circumstances depart from that. I do not find that in his amendment and do not know where that power would come from. I was also puzzled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who seems to have added an extra offence. She talked of people who were coming up for the third time. As I understand Amendment No. 322B it would apply to a person coming up for the second time not a third time, which is a rather different situation.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: One has to be concerned when my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, are on the same side even though, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, it would appear that they are united on a totally different amendment from that on which they thought they were united.
That is a mere detail in relation to this matter. As regards the first part of this group of amendmentsthat is, whether trafficking offences should be triable only on indictmentthe noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will know that an arrangement was reached whereby we would write to noble Lords in relation to each one of these points. I do not know how that slipped through the net but I shall certainly deal with it.
Clauses 61 to 63 include adult and child trafficking. These are incredibly serious offences. However, one must recognise, for example, in relation to an adult trafficking case that one could be guilty of this offence by providing food or water to people who are being trafficked. The CPS is perfectly capable of deciding how serious that particular case is. But should the Crown Courts have a large number of those kinds of offences or should the CPS be able to make up their own mind whether to start in the magistrates' court or the Crown Court, remembering that the magistrates' courts are able to say, "We do not think that this is suitable for the magistrates' court; it can go to the Crown Court"? I think that there are adequate safeguards in relation to that. Judgments have to be made, recognising that these are very serious offences.
The same arguments apply to Amendments Nos. 322A, 326A and 330A tabled by my noble friend Lord Alli in which offences have to be tried on indictment even where the victim is under 18. If we think of the peripheral figure and of the protections of the CPS and the magistrates' court, in reality I do not think that there is much to worry about as regards that.
As regards the minimum sentence, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised a legitimate point and asked what is the experience so far in relation to sentencing. I am told that it is too early for any patterns to emerge at present. Is it right to have a minimum sentence here? We think not. Yes, in some cases there will be an appropriate place for a minimum sentence. The most recent one that has been introduced or is about to be introduced is in relation to firearms where there are existing penalties. The crime has been there for a long time. A particular problem has arisen in the context of a pattern of sentencing over a period of time. It is because the problem has arisen that it is right that the legislature sends a particular signal. But we think that there is no need for that in this case.
All around the Committee noble Lords have indicated their total abhorrence in respect of which these offences are held. There is no reason to suppose that the courts would not take the same approach. Therefore, although we are fully appreciative of the motives behind the particular amendment, we believe that it is not appropriate. No doubt the person on the telephone to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would have enthusiastically embarked on that. Therefore, we would oppose minimum sentences.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I apologise to the Committee. "For whom the bell tolls". It tolls for me! In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, perhaps I may make this point. When it comes to guns we shall put forward exactly the same arguments when that Bill goes through. One can envisage a circumstance when the police burst into a nightclub and a man hands over a gun to his girlfriend who is found in possession of a firearm. I cannot remember the minimum sentence in the Criminal Justice Bill.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: She would be liable to five years because her boyfriend has handed her a gun. It is always possible to think of circumstances where sentences of that length are completely inappropriate. She is in possession and is guilty. Probably, she would not be prosecuted but why should we prosecute her on a lesser scale if she is involved to that degree? I give due warning that we shall return to that on the Criminal Justice Bill.
Lord Skelmersdale: I little thought when I introduced a modest probing amendment about trial on indictment that it would excite quite as much comment as the amendments which were grouped with it in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, which I support. I support both sets of amendments. The second set reminded me of a replay of those clauses on rape which we discussed on the first day in Committee when noble and almost learned Lords battled somewhat weakly at moments against the rest of us. Today we have had a little more of the same.
The point I really want to make is that these children are often plucked from their native countries, removed to the UK, abused, violated and used for prostitution. Children are particularly vulnerable. Any sexual offence where children are the victims should meet with a more serious penalty. Therefore, we support Amendments Nos. 322A, 326A and 330A as an alternative to introducing a second offence of the trafficking of children, which would be sensible to avoid if we possibly can. There are quite enough words on the statute book already. If we can get away with fewer additional words, that is a good thing. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Skelmersdale: The clause stand part debates on Clauses 61, 62 and 63 have been grouped together. I hope the Committee will forgive me if I take a little time on these three clauses. I think that we should have a general debate on the subject of trafficking. I should very much like to stress from the start that this is not because we feel that no offences should be included in the Bill dealing with the problem of trafficking into, within and out of the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation. This is clearly a massive problem on an international scale and it is vital that the Government introduce legislation to tackle it. We not only welcome it; we praise them for it.
However, we have received a significant amount of briefing from organisations which are concerned with the problem of trafficking, such as UNICEF. It has several concerns that this legislation tackles only sexual trafficking and not trafficking in general. On a further note, it feels that the Bill lacks provision for the victims of trafficking and that that may well prove to undermine the effect of the newer offences and result in a lack of successful prosecutions. In terms of combating trafficking, police in the United Kingdom have stated that there are two major obstacles to prosecuting traffickers: first, the lack of a specific law
The Government, as I mentioned previously, have an obligation under Articles 34, 35 and 36 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide protection for child victims of trafficking. That matter was ignored by the noble and learned Lord at the time. Provision of such protection would protect children's rights, as well as being a crucial part of an anti-trafficking strategy. Furthermore, it has been shown that the four countries that provide the most comprehensive protection for victims of trafficking are the same countries as have the most successful records for prosecuting traffickers.
I take the noble and learned Lord's point in his letter of 24th February to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that trafficking of children for non-sexual exploitation is outside the scope of the Bill. However, in this Chamber we have the opportunity which is denied in another place to alter the Long Title of the Bill. That is why we begin our Committee stages with a Motion to postpone the Long Title. Were the Long Title to include simply the trafficking of children, that would bring it within the scope of the Bill. Naturally, that would also require either a new clause or substantial amendments to Clauses 61 to 63. Do I see a frisson of horror piercing across the faces of Ministers? None the less, there would be the obvious advantage of implementing Articles 34, 35 and 36 of the convention without further delay.
I must be fair and say that there is also an obvious disadvantage. The Government's declared aim of gathering all the law on sexual offences into one Act of Parliament would be diluted. In fact, by their own admission this afternoon, that is already diluted because they are still studying the law in connection with prostitution. If the noble and learned Lord resists my proposal, will he at least give a commitment that the Government intend to legislate on the non-sexual part of the trafficking of children?
Furthermore, there is no doubt that the Government need to implement safeguards for victims entering the United Kingdom and to ensure that no child is returned to his country of origin, unless that is in his best interest. That needs to include the training of immigration officials so that they can recognise the victims of trafficking.
I have already referred to West Sussex Social Services, which deals with a large number of trafficked children due to its close proximity to Gatwick airport. It has used its knowledge to design an "at risk" profile for children entering the country. The profile highlights typical attributes of one group of victims of trafficking. A pilot programme run at Gatwick airport proved successful. If an immigration officer had reason to believe that the child was a victim of trafficking he referred the child to social services. Upon referral, social services were alerted that the child was suspected of being a victim of trafficking and the care and protection then afforded was
It is essential that social services staff also receive training on trafficking, the way in which a child can be controlled by the trafficker and how the child can be protected while within the care of social services. Trafficked children suffer horrendous abuses even before they are sexual exploited, as traffickers use various forms of physical, sexual and even drug abuse to keep the child terrified and under control.
Another point is that of specialist accommodation with supervision to stop traffickers snatching back their victims. There are occasional safe houses. West Sussex Social Services has one. It is a beacon project but may be closed down due to lack of funding. The possible closure reflects the need for social services to receive central government funding in order to cater specifically for the needs of trafficked children. Victim protection measures must include a period of reflection when he or she is granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom while his or her future options are considered.
I apologise to the Committee for speaking at such length on these important issues. But I believe that the Government should put on record their reaction to: first, what is happening in the Gatwick area; and, secondly, whether in the near future they intend to legislate on Articles 34, 35 and 36 of the United Nations convention.
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