Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

If there is a more vigorous approach to the problem, it could well be that the 25 safe house places offered by the Poppy Project would all be needed and the extra capacity it is now being funded to provide would soon be filled. One of the ingredients necessary to ratification of the convention is that we offer sufficient accommodation in safe houses and accompanying support to deal with the victim population. The JCHR reported that since the Poppy Project is centred in London and operates on what they described as tightly focused criteria, the scale of the problem is not reflected in the number of its clients. The expansion of the Poppy Project and the agreement with NASS, mentioned in the Government’s response to the JCHR report, may have solved the problem of accommodation, but not of the specialist support services which they agreed were necessary. Presumably there would have to be regional centres of support and accommodation for trafficked women before we could ratify the convention, and with the advice of the UKHTC, I hope the Government are now able to make a full assessment of the need.

11 Oct 2007 : Column 449

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, despite my resistance to this amendment, which will become clear, I sincerely welcome the debate as a helpful opportunity to outline the Government's approach on the issue of trafficking. I think it usefully supplements early debates we have had on the issue and the debate that was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.

As noble Lords have expressed clearly, human trafficking is an appalling and obscene crime which causes terrible trauma to its victims and can have a lasting impact on them. That is why, as well as using this Bill to strengthen existing trafficking offences, the Government are paying scrupulous attention to their responsibilities regarding victims of trafficking.

The Government are committed to help identify victims of this awful crime and the publishing of the UK action plan and the signing of the European convention on action against trafficking by the Home Secretary on 23 March demonstrate our continued commitment. This is further reinforced by the establishment of a dedicated project team to lead implementation of the convention and by a continuing police-led multi-agency operation—Pentameter 2. This operation focuses on rescuing victims of sex trafficking and identifying, disrupting, arresting and bringing to justice those involved in this criminal activity. It will also enable us to gather intelligence on other forms of trafficking and will provide an opportunity to pilot some elements of the convention, including a process of victim identification. These are significant steps towards our goal of making the UK a hostile place for traffickers.

In order to aid practitioners and raise awareness of trafficking, the Home Office has developed an online toolkit. Training on identifying and handling potential victims has been provided throughout the regional enforcement offices. We have also provided staff with guidance to identify victims of trafficking at the earliest stage. The UK Human Trafficking Centre has been running awareness-raising sessions for front-line staff and a Border and Immigration Agency trafficking network has been established to help co-ordinate activity in this area. Specialist training has been provided by the Border and Immigration Agency for around 600 operational members of staff nationwide to support the identification of children in need. That is a significant number of officers working in that field.

In reaching a decision to pursue repatriation of an individual, consideration is given to our obligations under the immigration laws and the Human Rights Act, including any risk that they might face on return or other reasons why they should be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom.

The Government recognise that there will be individuals who have suffered exploitation at the hands of their traffickers and that they need time to recover and reflect on their personal circumstances. That is why during Pentameter 2 we are piloting a reflection and recovery period of a minimum of 30 days for those who are identified as victims of trafficking. This is essentially piloting aspects of Articles 10 and 13 of the Council of Europe convention, which is recognised and generally reflected in subsections (5) and (6) which noble Lords have already covered in discussion.

11 Oct 2007 : Column 450

Where appropriate to do so, permission to remain in the UK may be granted on either a limited or indefinite basis. As I am sure noble Lords appreciate, each case has to be assessed on its merits and repatriation will only be considered where it is considered safe and, more importantly, appropriate to do so.

In relation to proposed subsections (6) and (7), we have always said that we are wholly sympathetic to the objectives behind the Council of Europe convention. The convention will build on our strategy to combat human trafficking by providing minimum standards of protection and victim support.

With the UK Human Trafficking Centre we are establishing a lead in Europe in training police in best detection techniques. UNICEF has already praised our efforts in this regard. The centre will become a central point for the development of police expertise and operational cooperation.

I can say to the House that good progress has also been made on the implementation of the UK action plan against trafficking. A plan to implement the Council of Europe convention has been submitted to the inter-ministerial group on trafficking. A scoping report on the extent of child trafficking was published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre on 11 June. The FCO has disseminated information to posts on recent UK convictions for trafficking for use in local media. Entry clearance officers in source and transit countries have been trained in trafficking awareness. Other work on the action plan is, of course, continuing.

Despite that progress, it will still take some time before we move from signature of the convention to ratification. Before ratification, we as a Government are committed to implementing it fully and in accordance with its ongoing strategy on trafficking. Some of the other signatories to the convention have legal systems that allow or require ratification before implementation. Ours does not. We operate in a different way. The need for wide consultation and limited secondary and primary legislation, including in the devolved Administrations, means that ratification will take time—longer than we would ideally like—but that does not prevent implementation of parts of the convention, nor does it disturb our determination to tackle this issue and deliver on our wider trafficking strategy. We want to ratify as soon as possible, but we are determined to ensure that we get the arrangements right before doing so.

The Government largely share my noble friend’s intentions, but not the timing of the provision. It would be premature to accept the amendment. My noble friend Lord Judd asked what has happened to the action plan over the summer. Plans on both the implementation of the convention and the action plan are submitted on a regular basis to the interdepartmental ministerial group. Noble Lords will be aware that there has been some publicity surrounding progress. The next meeting of that group is due in November.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested that the immigration Minister should report back to Parliament on the progress of the action plan and the implementation of the convention. The Government are committed to sharing progress on the action plan

11 Oct 2007 : Column 451

and the convention, as I said, by giving regular reports back from the inter-departmental ministerial group. We will give active consideration to other reporting mechanisms that we can find that will enable us to ensure that the issue is kept at the forefront of public consideration.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will agree that I am not being mischievous in suggesting that what he said at the end of his remarks is almost a rerun of what he said in July. It distresses me that as this problem accumulates, with people suffering in the midst of it, we cannot gear ourselves up to more effective and urgent action. We will not get that until there is a target date for ratification, which would bring discipline to those officials involved in the inter-departmental discussions to make the plans and conclude them. I therefore urge my noble friend to persuade his colleagues to bring forward a target date as soon as possible.

I have listened to my noble friend's reply. He will know that I am not elated by it. I shall think about it very carefully but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 [Exceptions]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 31:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Save the Children has drawn my attention—and, I believe, that of other noble Lords—to an injustice, as it sees it, that needs to be addressed. In doing so, it is supported by the National Children's Bureau, the Children's Legal Centre, the National Association for Youth Justice, Barnardo's, the Children's Society, and NACRO—not an inconsiderable body of highly relevant experience.

Clauses 32 to 39 provide for the automatic deportation of non-British citizens through a deportation order made by the Secretary of State when they have committed certain offences. Clause 32(2) and (3) mean that mandatory deportation would extend to those who have committed a less serious offence. The person would have had to have been sentenced for a period of imprisonment of at least 12 months or committed an offence covered by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Specification of Particularly Serious Crimes) Order 2004. These criteria mean that the number of crimes which would be caught under the provisions is large and includes some relatively minor crimes such as fly-tipping and possession of cannabis for personal use.

6.30 pm

Save the Children, with all its experience, is deeply concerned at the implications of all this, as are the other organisations I mentioned. Clause 33 lists a number of exceptions where the Secretary of State may not make a deportation order. However, exception 2, Clause 33(3), provides for an exemption from Clauses 31 to 38 only if the person is under the age of 18 at the

11 Oct 2007 : Column 452

age of conviction. Someone who commits an offence when they are under 18, but are not convicted until after their 18th birthday, would therefore be eligible for automatic deportation under these new proposals. Given the wide range of offences concerned, it is particularly worrying that Clause 33 provides for the automatic deportation of a person who committed an offence when he or she was a child.

All of us who are concerned recognise that the Government seek to address their obligations through exception 2. However, the clause as it stands will not fulfil its obligations. It is likely to give protection only to younger children and will not guarantee protection for those aged 16 or older, given the likelihood of their having reached their 18th birthday before they are convicted.

I cannot see how Clause 33(3) is compatible with Articles 37 and 40 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which gives specific rights to all children who commit crimes. Article 1 defines a child as,

The Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recent general comment on children’s rights and juvenile justice states that,

Therefore, a person who commits a relevant offence when a child must not be eligible for automatic deportation regardless of whether they are over 18 by the time they have been convicted for it.

Disturbingly, the clause as it stands could also mean that people who have committed the same offence at the same age will be treated differently depending on the length of time between the crime being committed and conviction. For example, person A commits an offence when she is 17 years and six months. She is convicted within two months and is not eligible for automatic deportation. Person B commits the same offence when he is also 17 years and six months. His case takes longer to come to trial. He is not convicted until eight months later. By this time he has turned 18 and is eligible for automatic deportation.

My noble friend argued in Grand Committee that certainty was important and that the date of conviction could be more certain than the date of the offence. But surely what should matter is whether the person was or was not a child when the offence was committed. Surely the certainty of the principle that no one who commits a crime under the age of 18 can be automatically deported should take precedence.

Another important issue is that Clause 33 could result in people close to their 18th birthday falsely admitting guilt to speed up the process in order to ensure that they are convicted before they turn 18 so that they will not be eligible for automatic deportation. The Government recognised in the Commons Public Bill Committee that this issue could arise. Their suggestion of combating such incentives through the inspectorate, the Crown Prosecution Service or greater transparency in the system must be welcome. However, this amendment would ensure that the situation would not arise in the first place.

11 Oct 2007 : Column 453

Once more, I refer to the powerful words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about children at the Labour Party conference. This amendment will enable a policy which directly contradicts the Prime Minister’s intention to be put right and to enhance the fulfilment of his highly civilised objective. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, this amendment deals with persons who have been sentenced to at least 12 months or convicted of one of the crimes listed as particularly serious under the 2002 Act who are to be automatically deported. An exception is that if the offender is under the age of 18 at the time of conviction, the automaticity does not apply, although of course he can still be deported under other provisions. The noble Lord argues, as he did in Grand Committee, that the exception should be triggered by the date of the offence and not the date of the conviction, and we agree. The only argument against the amendment is that it is sometimes difficult to say precisely when the offence was committed, and that a person may be convicted on charges that deal with acts committed over a whole range of dates.

My suggestion, which I repeated in Grand Committee when it appeared that the Minister was not going to respond to it, was that if the conviction related to acts done between dates X and Y, the problem could be solved by relating the exception to date Y. On the second occasion, the Minister agreed to give that proposal some thought, but I regret to say that in his letter of 26 July dealing with matters raised during the fifth sitting in Grand Committee, he did not mention it. I hope that he has a note about it this evening and will give me an answer when he comes to reply to this debate. I have to assume, in the absence of any comment so far, that there are no valid arguments against my suggestion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, exception 2 in Clause 33(3) means that foreign criminals aged under 18 when convicted will be exempt from automatic deportation. Amendment No. 31 would alter this exception to mean that those aged under 18 at the time of the offence would be exempt. This is not the first time the amendment has been tabled. It has been debated at length both in this House and in another place. In those debates both my honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and I have put forward the Government’s case for resisting the amendment. We explained that the provisions have been designed to ensure that it is as clear as possible whether they apply to foreign nationals. They achieve this as drafted because it will always be clear on which date a person has been convicted. It will, however, not always be clear when the offence took place, such as in sexual abuse cases or crimes that have taken place over an extended period, such as drug dealing.

In the debate in Grand Committee on 23 July, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested an alternative approach. This was that in cases where it is unclear when an offence has taken place, the latest possible date should be the relevant one for deciding whether

11 Oct 2007 : Column 454

the exception should apply. As he said, I agreed to look at this suggestion more closely over the Summer Recess. Having done so, I agree that in practice this suggestion would not reduce the certainty around whether a foreign criminal qualifies for automatic deportation. However, I am not convinced that it would be the right approach to take in this instance.

The primary purpose of these provisions is to protect the public from harm. To do that they must be robust enough to send out a message that criminal behaviour is simply not acceptable. Given the prevalence of youth and gang-related crime in our communities, I do not feel it would be appropriate to exclude from these provisions youths who turn 18 between the commission of an offence and their trial. The noble Lord will be aware that there is no lower age limit for deportation under the Secretary of State’s powers in the existing legal framework in the Immigration Act 1971, although this limit is 17 years for court recommendations.

However, in recognition of the potential vulnerability of children and young people, we do not as a matter of policy deport individuals under the age of 16 in their own right. Individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 will be deported only where there are adequate reception arrangements in place in the country of origin. So young people will be no worse off under the new provisions than they are now. Under the current system, a young person who turns 18 between offence and conviction will be considered for deportation if they meet the threshold. If they are still under 18 at the point where deportation is in prospect, consideration will be given to the adequacy of reception arrangements. Under the proposed cut-off point in this clause, the individual will be an adult by the time deportation is in prospect.

The intention behind the noble Lord’s amendment is clearly to ensure that someone is not punished as an adult for something he did as a child. It is the job of the criminal courts to make any appropriate allowances for age when passing sentence. Deportation is an immigration consequence of criminality and does not reflect the punitive or rehabilitative elements of a criminal sentence. I accept that the immigration consequence may nevertheless be serious, which is why we have put in place appropriate safeguards.

My noble friend Lord Judd stated that possession of cannabis is on the Section 72 list of offences—that is, if a person is imprisoned for possessing cannabis, automatic deportation will apply. That is not the case. Possession of class C drugs is not included on the Section 72 list. My noble friend also made a point about the provisions on automatic deportation being inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The provisions of the convention, which he has referred to, concern children in the criminal justice system. The automatic deportation provisions concern the maintenance of immigration control, particularly the public interest in deporting those who commit criminal offences. We are satisfied that the provisions are consistent with UNCRC.

For those reasons and those set out in our response, this amendment does not find favour with us.

11 Oct 2007 : Column 455

Lord Judd: My Lords, I have listened to my noble friend’s reply. I am sorry that on my penultimate intervention on this Bill we are going to part company with a profound difference. I cannot fault my noble friend on his candour. He said in the course of his remarks, unless I misunderstood him, that the primary purpose of the Bill was to protect the public. That is the kernel of the matter. I take second place to no one in my feeling of responsibility for supporting the Government in protecting the public, but we also have a supreme commitment to the well-being of children and to each individual child. If we are concerned with children we are concerned with their rehabilitation, whoever they are, wherever they come from. As I said earlier, in the highly volatile, disturbing time in which we live, the last thing we want is unnecessarily frustrated young people. We want young people who have some chance of becoming positive citizens in the international

11 Oct 2007 : Column 456

community, not only in our own. Again, it is in the detail that things can accumulate and build up into grave problems.

I have heard what my noble friend has said. It disappoints me. At this stage I shall withdraw the amendment, knowing that I will not be the only one who is disappointed and who reads the Minister’s comments with some concern. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Move accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page