Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Malins: In what specific way is the measure we are discussing better than extradition?

5.45 pm

Ms Winterton: To start with, it will enable us to achieve reciprocal arrangements with other member states and will pave the way for the UK to comply with the European directive and framework decision on the facilitation of unauthorised entry, movement and residence, which has yet to be formally adopted. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that extradition works brilliantly in tackling the issue, I accept that that is his opinion, but we feel that further measures need to be considered.

I have listened carefully to the points made by Opposition Members but we hope that they will support the clause, because it is an important part of tackling the issue on a much wider basis, as we are asked repeatedly to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 112, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 113

traffic in prostitution

Mr. Gerrard: I beg to move amendment No. 259, in page 58, line 42, leave out from 'if' to 'in' in line 43 and insert

    'he uses force, coercion, or deception, or abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability'.

The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the effects of the clause and ensure that it is effective. Anyone who has looked at trafficking in prostitution, not only in the UK but across the European Union, knows that it has grown on an alarming scale over the past few years. North London university carried out research on the issue for the Home Office a couple of years ago. A report by an NGO last year suggested that several hundred women and children are trafficked for prostitution every year in the UK alone.

In December last year, hon. Members were shown some disturbing examples of trafficking in prostitution, particularly near ports. In West Sussex, for example, social services have over the past few years identified 66 children—nearly all girls—who had been brought into the country and claimed asylum as unaccompanied minors. They had disappeared shortly after being taken into care by social services because of that claim. Traffickers had made contact with them. It is suspected in most cases that they were no longer in the UK but in other European countries, several almost certainly in Italy. Many west African women who end up in prostitution are brought through the UK to Italy. Quite a lot of the examples of the cases discovered in the UK involve women and children from eastern Europe. It is a nasty, and lucrative, business.

Everyone to whom I have spoken about the issue welcomes the fact that the Government are starting to do something about it. The provisions in the clause are interim ones, because many of the measures necessary

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to deal with the problem would come under criminal justice rather than immigration and nationality legislation. When, in the not too distant future, we debate a new criminal justice Bill, I hope that this will be an important element of it.

The wording of the clause puzzles me. The UK is already signed up to the wording in the UN protocol for dealing with the trafficking of women and children. Some of the same words—''force'', ''coercion'', ''deception'', ''abuse of power'' and ''position of vulnerability''—are used in my amendment, and indeed in the EU framework decision on combating trafficking, which is due for formal adoption at a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting within the next few weeks.

At the beginning of May, the Home Office wrote to Anti-Slavery International, pointing out that signing the UN protocol and negotiating the EU framework decision showed that the Government were committed to introducing legislation. In response to questions raised by Anti-Slavery International, the Home Office stated:

    ''Like you it is keen to ensure that the same definition of trafficking is used domestically and internationally.''

I therefore found it surprising when I saw the definition in the clause, which is not exactly the same. It could be argued that the effects will be the same, but that is to be established. The EU definition pinpoints the methods used: force, deception and preying on vulnerable people.

The amendment would also remove the phrase ''for purposes of gain''. The intention is to make it easier to prosecute: it would still be necessary to prove coercion and deception, but not additionally to demonstrate that the person had directly benefited financially.

I welcome the clause generally and tabled the amendment to satisfy myself that the clause will achieve what we want it to and that it fits in with the other definitions to which we are signing up in the UN protocol and EU framework decision. As I said, I remain puzzled about the different wording. I also want to ensure that people are prosecuted and to make it easier to progress the prosecutions.

Angela Eagle: The Committee owes you a collective apology, Mr. Illsley. I understand that you dashed from another engagement to chair the last two hours of the sitting on Tuesday, only to discover that we had completed the business ahead of time and nobody had thought to tell you. We all owe you a collective apology for that wasted journey. We are glad to see you in the Chair again. [Hon Members: Hear, hear.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow is right to emphasise how seriously the Government take the issue of trafficking for prostitution. He is also right to remind the Committee what a vile but lucrative trade it can be. It is exploitative, and evidence points to the existence of trafficking routes from west Africa through the UK to Italy that may involve women and children. The police, working with immigration officials, have been able to disrupt those routes to some extent.

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My hon. Friend is also right to want to make it easier to prosecute and I am pleased that he welcomed the clause. It is indeed an interim measure. The Bill has limited scope, so we cannot introduce a comprehensive measure against facilitating prostitution, trafficking for prostitution or labour exploitation. This is as wide as we can make the stop-gap protections by introducing this offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.

We want to demonstrate first that we are determined to crack down on the growth of this evil trade, but secondly that we believe that it is worth starting to do so now. We can finish the job by having a much more comprehensive and wide-ranging offence that will be in either the sexual offences reform legislation, which we hope to introduce in due course, or the criminal justice legislation. Both offer us opportunities to put a more comprehensive offence on the statute book. That sends a clear message to those who arrange and profit from this activity that they are engaged in a serious evil and face severe consequences.

My hon. Friend is also right to work towards making this offence easier to prosecute. The victims often do not feel much like giving evidence. They are extremely vulnerable and frightened. Often they have been exploited so badly that they find it almost impossible to approach the authorities in a way that enables them to appear before a court so that we can get the perpetrators and put them where they belong, which is behind bars. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend's wording would make it harder to prosecute traffickers. The words

    ''force, coercion, or deception, or abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability'',

introduce additional evidential requirements. The words

    ''control, direction or influence over the prostitute's movements in a way which shows that he is aiding, abetting or compelling the prostitution''

are more general and require a lower level of coercive behaviour to be proved.

We have looked at this carefully and we think that the words in the clause make it easier for us to prove the offence than those in the UN protocol. The other advantage of using those words is that they are well known from existing law on sexual offences and courts are used to dealing with them. They are not a completely new formulation and are therefore more likely to be understood and successful before the courts. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that we are very sympathetic to his amendment, but we think our original wording is more effective for the purposes that we all share.

Simon Hughes: I am conscious that we want to finish this debate by 6 o'clock. I understand the Minister's argument. I remember from the distant past when I was a lawyer that the courts deal with these cases all the time. They are all too frequent in urban areas. There is a strong argument for seeking to have consistent legislative wording. The hon. Gentleman's words pick up both the UN words, which are universal, and the words that will be in the directive that has been agreed politically and is about to be agreed formally next

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month. If we are to have a consistent Europewide approach, to pick up the Parliamentary Secretary's point in the earlier debate, we should ensure that we follow those words. The words in the clause may not be the right ones and might go too wide and pull people in unintentionally.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): The wording in the amendment includes elements such as coercion. As the Minister rightly said, there would have to be proof that that existed. I wondered whether that was not perhaps an important part of not criminalising individuals whose behaviour, however much one may disagree with it, should not be criminalised. Two individuals might be engaged in an enterprise in which one of them acts as a prostitute in another state where that is entirely legal. In some American states, people work together as a business partnership. One can have views about the morality of that, but the present drafting of the Bill would unjustly render that individual subject to criminal prosecution.

If there is no coercion, the arrangement is entirely voluntary and the prostitution is taking place in a state where it is legal, should that be rendered illegal? I understand the drive to make illegal the coercive behaviour, but whether uncoerced behaviour should be rendered illegal would not be a problem under the wording in the amendment, but it may be a problem under the existing wording.

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