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Cannabis Factories (Child Labour)

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

5. How many prosecutions have been brought against children found working in cannabis factories in the last three years. (212146)

The CPS does not keep data that allow us to identify the number of prosecutions of children found working in cannabis factories; it keeps data on offences. I am, however, aware of one recent case in South Yorkshire in which a young boy was prosecuted for working in a cannabis factory. The CPS has guidance for prosecutors, which advises them that when a youth might have committed an offence involving cannabis cultivation and there is information that they have been trafficked—I assume that that is what the hon. Gentleman is talking about—there is a strong public interest in not prosecuting them at all.

May I first compliment the Solicitor-General on her new pixie look? I hope that that is not inappropriate. Will she explain why on 11 June a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy was jailed for the work of tending cannabis plants in Doncaster when he had clearly been trafficked, threatened with violence, kept prisoner and was desperately scared? Are not the Government supposed to be committed to rescuing child victims of trafficking, not sending them to prison and criminalising them?

First, let me respond to the hon. Gentleman’s effusive personal compliment to me, which I take in very good heart. I am more frequently likened to a goblin than a pixie, but I am doing my best.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a case in South Yorkshire. I have received information from the chief Crown prosecutor about it, which I can send to the hon. Gentleman in a letter rather than rehearse the facts of an individual case here. Will it suffice for the time being for me to say that it was literally only in mitigation of sentence in the court that the issue of trafficking was raised? The young man was arrested; he was interviewed; he had a solicitor and an appropriate adult—but the issue of trafficking was never raised. The solicitor did not appear to have taken it into account, although she accepted that she was aware that the Crown Prosecution Service would probably not prosecute if there were any evidence of trafficking. If this young man was, in the end, trafficked—there are, of course, lots of Vietnamese families in the UK, so not all Vietnamese young people are trafficked victims—it was clearly not brought to anyone’s notice until the very last time. The magistrate does not seem to have referred in his sentencing to the question whether he was trafficked, but if there is something more to be said, there is still time for an appeal.