|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
This group of three amendments is designed to complement the previous group of amendments. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is a sexual offence and therefore the focus should be on the harm done to the victim in terms of sexual abuse, assault, violence and violation. It is for this reason that we wanted to remove the issue of whether "gain" was involved. Indeed, we have just had a very helpful discussion about such wording.
Amendments Nos. 320, 324 and 328 would also alter the current definition of "trafficking" to reflect the definition adopted in the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking and would supplement the UN convention against transnational organised crime. The protocol has been signed by over 115 countries, including the United Kingdom. The same definition is used in the EU framework decision on combating trafficking in human beings. Following this definition will ensure that the same definition of "trafficking" is used both domestically and internationally. That seems to us not only to make sense, but also to be vital if trafficking is to be tackled as a crime on an international scale rather than being viewed as a domestic problem.
The amendments illuminate the trauma suffered by victims and perpetrated by offenders involved in trafficking. It is important that this should be apparent on the face of the Bill, which, I regret to say, is not the case at present. I beg to move.
Lord Hylton: I support the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in this group of amendments. He is quite right to refer to the UN protocol and to the EU framework decision. As to smuggling, I should have thoughtI hope that the Minister will agreethat that would be an offence under immigration law, and not covered by the provisions of this Bill.
Baroness Blatch: The whole issue of force, coercion and people being made to act against their will is a very real problem. I do want to detract from that in what I say. Where it is believed that a crime has been committed under these clauses, we should be focused on securing a proper conviction. Although the amendments are very well intentioned and extremely well understood, I believe that they would make the whole process more difficult. Therefore, for those reasons and those that I gave earlier in a different context, such provisions would just make it more difficult to secure a conviction.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Noble Lords from these Benches wish to be associated with the welcome extended to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on his arrival on the Front Bench. He played a very important part in the proceedings on the first day of Committee. It is very nice to see him in his present position. However, I must
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We oppose these amendments. We are all aware that some of those who are trafficked are often very vulnerable to intimidation and threats against themselves, or their families in their country of origin; and, indeed, to deception by the promise of good earnings, a better life, and greater opportunity. However, the actual conditions under which they are expected to work are very different from those that they are led to believe will be the case.
In the destination country, those who are trafficked may often be unable to speak the language, know no one and may be without legal immigration status. Their freedom of movement can be severely curtailed by the trafficker, their earnings and passports can be taken away, and they can be subject to debt bondage. They may be forced to service many men, have unprotected sex, or engage in perverse sexual practices once at their destination or even en route. There are considerable reports of violence and rape being used to subdue and control such victims.
Of those trafficked domestically, many are young, kept isolated from their friends and family, and misled by their trafficker into believing that they are earning money to build a future life together. When they become aware of the reality of their exploitation, fear of violence and the sense of stigma that derives from being a prostitute often inhibit their coming forward to report their situation. They are therefore potentially more vulnerable to exploitative practices.
Even where none of the abusive elements specified in the amendment is present, we none the less take the view that it should be an offence to move people from one place to another to exploit them in prostitution, or to commit a sex offence against them. That is why we have defined the offence in the way in which we have. To include "force, coercion" and "deception" as integral elements of the offence is likely to limit prosecution in cases where the only evidence as to the force, coercion or fear would come from the frightened victim. However, where there is evidence that, for example, violence, whether sexual or otherwise, has been used, as would be needed if the amendment were agreed to, that can be charged in its own right in addition to the trafficking.
The amendments reflect the language of the United Nations protocol, as has been said. However, we do not wish to limit the offences to those circumstances defined in the international agreements, in which the action is, to quote the protocol,
Lord Skelmersdale: I am grateful to the Minister, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, but for totally different reasons. Clearly, I shall take on the chin the adverse remarks made from behind me, beside me and in front of me, and, in the words of Fagin, think it out again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
As has been mentioned, trafficking is an offence based for the most part on professional or sometimes international operations involving long-term planning and substantial sums of money changing hands. It is not something that individuals often do as a one-off or on a whim; in fact, I have never heard of it done in those circumstances. Trafficking organisations are run as businesses, often to fund other criminal activities. I see no reason why it should not be mandatory for something as grave as trafficking offences to be tried before the Crown Court. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page