Report (1st Day)
Clause 1: Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert “person’s characteristics or”
My Lords, I also have Amendments 2 and 3 in this group. The Minister has, quite understandably, urged noble Lords not to endanger the Bill by continuing to seek to improve it—or, to use his words, to improve it “even further”. We must all accept that the Bill has been improved significantly and will be improved, the more so when we get to the end of this stage. We will be considering, I think, 72 government amendments this week.
I well understand, of course, the point that he makes. As much as with any Bill that I have ever known, there is a passion within and outside this House to end up with the best Bill possible, and we owe a lot to a lot of people who work on these issues. What is possible may not be quite the same as what would be if we had another six months, and I accept that some of what some of us would like to see in the Bill needs time for consideration and consultation—more time than we have before the end of the Parliament. I prepared all that to allow other noble Lords to leave the Chamber before I got to the point of my amendment.
We have opportunities for changes or to make sure that the Bill does what we think it does, which we can do without the best endangering the good. With my amendments in this group, I want to be quite sure that Clause 1, whose first two subsections reproduce Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, does not itself, in its additional subsections, become the victim of the best. The term used in subsection (3) is that “regard may”—and I would like to inquire about the purport of that—
“be had to all the circumstances”.
Subsection (4) gives examples of “personal circumstances” that may make someone particularly “vulnerable” to servitude, slavery, forced labour and so on.
I tabled amendments to the same effect in Committee, because I was concerned then, and remain concerned, that “circumstances” is a term used for external matters, while “characteristics”, which is the term I use in my amendment, means things that are intrinsic to the person. Yesterday I went to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I am ashamed to say that I had not realised until then that “circumstance” comes straight from the Latin: “circum” meaning “around” and “stance” from “stare”, meaning “to stand”: in other words, something surrounding—as I say, something external. On the other hand, “characteristic” is defined by that dictionary as,
“a distinguishing trait or quality”.
The distinction that I had been concerned about is borne out by the definitions. A characteristic is not a circumstance.
The examples given in Clause 1(4) are not an exhaustive list—I accept that. The list includes at least one item that is both a characteristic and a circumstance: that is, “family relationships”. They are an externality, if you like, but they impact very much on who a person is. My Amendment 3 would add “disability” to the list because disability is not an illness. The list refers to “mental or physical illness”. I think the days are past when people often confused mental illness and disability.
I mentioned this to a colleague, who pointed me to the Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance that deals with what are called “protected characteristics”, of which disability is one, along with age, sexual orientation and five others. Disability is recognised as distinct from illness later in the Bill, in Clause 3(6), which deals with exploitation for the purposes of trafficking. It is also distinguished in Clause 45(4), which deals with the defence for victims who themselves commit an offence; that refers to “relevant characteristics”. I think that mental disability, such as learning difficulties, could be more likely than mental illness to make someone vulnerable to being picked up and forced into labour. Psychological characteristics—I am using very non-clinical language here—such as being unable to cope with life could make someone very vulnerable.
The point, of course, is that one would not want a prosecution to fail because the term “circumstances” is too limited. My noble friend might tell me that the formula “regard may be had” might be a safety net here, or he may be able to point to case law since,
“references to holding a person in slavery or servitude or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour are to be construed in accordance with Article 4 of the Human Rights Convention”.
In Committee, the Minister said:
“Through its decisions, the European Court of Human Rights has provided clear guidance on the meaning”,—[Official Report, 1/12/14; col. 1134.]
of the term “servitude” and so on. I looked at the guidance and it is certainly clear, but I got no help on the term “circumstance”.
The Minister will come to his Amendment 4 in due course, but I welcome bringing closer the actions that constitute an offence under Clause 1 and exploitation for the purposes of trafficking. I hope the Minister will address points made about this by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which I assume he has received, that the amendment does not capture all those who facilitate or arrange exploitation where there is no movement or movement cannot be evidenced—this was something that we spent some time on in Committee; that it does not cover situations where there is no overt threat of physical force; and that it may reduce protection for children.
I look forward to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, introducing her Amendment 7. In Committee, the Minister said that the EU trafficking directive covers liability for,
“offences by third parties that occur as a result of lack of supervision”,—[Official Report, 1/12/14; col. 1198.]
but I was unclear, reading Hansard again, where that takes us on enforcement. I do not want to pre-empt what she might have to say on this, but I am offering her some support when she comes to probe that point.
I also take the opportunity to raise a point on that EU trafficking directive. I hope the Minister is aware that I was going to raise this, as I emailed him this morning about it. I understand that the UK has still not submitted a report to the EU on the implementation of the directive, which was due last year, although most of our partner states have done so. This is specifically in relation to Article 20 of the directive, where the deadline was last October. I am told—I have no evidence other than one email, but it was from someone I trust—that the UK has not been participating in EU meetings of the national rapporteurs and equivalent mechanisms, and that in the last meeting it was the only member state not to be represented. This is obviously important in itself, and because delay means that there is a problem in having civil society organisations comment on the report.
Having gone through some rather inquiring comments—I do not want to say that they are critical, because I very much support what the Government are doing in this area—I come back to my original points on circumstances and characteristics. I beg to move Amendment 1.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support on my Amendment 7. I raised this issue in Committee, but since then I have made a little refinement to this proposed new clause to make it clearer. I thank Klara Skrivankova again for her help in talking me through the importance of this provision. I should declare an interest as a trustee of the charity Aid by Trade, which supports the Cotton made in Africa project—the House will perhaps see the relevance of that later on—and as a patron of Anti-Slavery International.
I do not want to take up too much time because, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I agree that we want to push on with the Bill and make sure that we get it into the best possible shape that we can in the limited time that we have. However, it is worth while just going through some of the background to this amendment. The amendment tries to draw attention to the fact that those who benefit financially from forced labour, which is now recognised to be something like a $150 billion-trade, are not only those who are directly involved in the exploitation of their victims. It goes wider than that. The individuals and companies that choose to disregard information about slavery in their supply chains so as to ensure continued revenue maximisation are also culpable.
The business model behind forced labour demonstrates that the two main reasons for using it, and for implicitly accepting exploitative practices in the supply chain, are of course cost reduction and revenue generation. The total cost of someone who is working in a coercive situation for an exploitative employer is clearly less than it would be if the arrangement were lawful. In a very competitive environment where there is constant pressure to cut costs, many agents promise to provide workers for an extremely low outlay. While the Bill provides for significant penalties for those who enslave or traffic others, it currently omits liability for those who benefit from the enslavement of others through the acts of third parties. This allows those who choose to do so to ignore a situation where there is exploitation and to escape justice, even though they derive profit from such unlawful activities.
The issue of liability for benefiting from modern slavery is addressed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already mentioned, in the EU trafficking directive to which we are a party. I reiterate the question which the noble Baroness asked of the Minister: to explain why it seems that we are a little behind in endorsing that in an active way.
The directive requires member states to establish liability for benefiting from the exploitation of others committed by a third party and to make provision for criminal and non-criminal sanctions for those who benefit in this way. There is a similar provision in the United States under Code 1589, which makes it an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 20 years to knowingly benefit financially or receive anything of value from forced labour or services.
When I raised the earlier version of this amendment in Committee, I shared the example of a Belgian motorway restaurant company that was held liable for the exploitation of the workers who were cleaning the toilets at its premises. Those cleaners were actually employed by a subcontractor, not directly by the restaurant company, but essentially that company was brought to justice for its role in ignoring the very clear evidence that this form of exploitation was taking place on its premises in its business.
I am concerned, though, that there are British businesses that benefit from forced labour. A number of noble Lords will be aware of the situation in Uzbekistan with regard to cotton harvesting, but unfortunately it looks as if a couple of British companies are continuing to trade in cotton from Uzbekistan, despite the fact that it is well known that the authorities there use forced labour from their own citizens to pick cotton, most of which is destined for international export. Children and adults are forced to pick cotton under threat of punishment or incarceration, and the only way out is to try to find the money to pay someone else to do that job for you. We know—there is masses of evidence—that trading in cotton from Uzbekistan means trading in a commodity that is effectively produced entirely by slave labour. If you are trading with Uzbekistan, you are profiting from that slave labour, and under the amendment you would be liable to be brought to justice for doing so. I understand that two UK companies currently buy and trade in cotton from Uzbekistan despite their knowledge of what is going on there.
If we are serious about stamping out enslavement and forced labour, particularly that involving children and young people, we have to make it unprofitable, and that is what this amendment seeks to do. It would also address instances where a person is exploited in domestic servitude in a private household and is lent to friends or relatives as free help in the knowledge that this worker has been treated like a slave by the employer. It would cover landlords who know that their property is being used to harbour those in a situation of slavery but who choose to ignore it because of the revenue from renting out the property. Clearly no one in the UK should be profiting from enslavement—that is the driving force behind the Bill—so I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to this in the same manner as he has to all the previous arguments and debates on the Bill. Obviously we all want to achieve the same result, but we want to make it as hostile as possible for people to benefit from trafficking and enslavement, even if indirectly.
The obvious villains are the traffickers and enslavers—they are the big baddies who we can obviously go after—but, as I have tried to outline here, there are a number of companies and organisations, not just in Britain but around the world, which are profiting from that in a knowing way, and that is wrong. As I said, we have an obligation under EU law to do something about this, so perhaps the Minister can explain to us why the Government seem to be slightly reluctant to put the principles underlying the amendment in the Bill and to reinforce its message on forced labour and trafficking.
Bizarrely, my Lords, I support government Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bates; it has not yet been moved but I am sure that he will wish to respond to the debate as a whole. I am grateful to the Minister for the huge amount of work that he has done behind the scenes in Committee and on Report, bringing forward a number of changes to the Bill, including on offences. I do not think that the amendment goes far enough, as will be clear when I speak in the debate on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey; we would have liked to have seen clearer and better defined offences, as was recommended by the draft Bill committee. However, we recognise that the government amendment before us today is a step in the right direction in bringing to justice those who have exploited others—adults or children—so we welcome it as far as it goes.
In a letter to me, the Minister spoke of the very good way in which the collaborative nature of this Bill has worked. It vindicates the enthusiasm that we all have for pre-legislative scrutiny, which not only improves a draft Bill but enables all those concerned to be properly engaged and makes the legislative process a lot better, so I look forward to more of it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her welcome for the amendment which I shall move later. I appreciate it as it gives me an opportunity to respond and to speak to all the amendments in this group. I reiterate what I said in correspondence, which is that this Bill has been an exemplar of the legislative process. A Bill was published, it was given pre-legislative scrutiny and, following that detailed scrutiny, a revised Bill was published which went through its stages in another place. Let me be generous to the other place and say that sometimes things go through at a bit of a speed and without careful scrutiny to the level that we would like to see, yet this Bill received that level of attention, such is the interest that we all have in seeing the changes made.
Many changes were made in the other place. Between consideration in the other place and here, the Government added the new clause on the supply chain and during the detailed process we went through in Committee, 23 amendments were tabled. There was then an extensive period of meetings with interested Members of the House of Lords. The level of engagement, not only from Peers but from NGOs and charities that work in this area and have deep concerns, was incredibly impressive and helpful. They brought their expertise, and we were able to hear from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who gave us an insight into how he sees his role. As a result, the Government have tabled a record number, I think, of amendments—72—which we will go through. I set that out as context to show that there is cross-party commitment to see this legislation on the statute book as soon as possible to make sure that victims are protected and that law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to be able to tackle people who are guilty of these crimes.
I now move to the amendments in this group. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for their amendments and for this opportunity to debate Clause 1. It sets out the offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. This group of amendments, which includes the amendment I shall move, relates to the circumstances the court can consider when assessing whether an offence has taken place. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for tabling and speaking to Amendment 7, which is to ensure that committing modern slavery offences does not benefit offenders or third parties who either benefit from these crimes or look the other way when they are committed.
One of the improvements the Government have made to the Bill following pre-legislative scrutiny is to make clear that the court can consider all the circumstances when assessing whether a Clause 1 offence has been committed, including the vulnerabilities of the victim. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for testing through her argument whether this provision is drawn widely enough to cover all possible forms of vulnerability. After looking carefully at it, I am confident that it does.
Amendments 1 and 2 aim to ensure that characteristics intrinsic to a person can be considered by the court in determining whether a person is a victim of the Clause 1 offence. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for so effectively testing the Government’s approach. However, I assure your Lordships’ House that the term “circumstances” is broad enough—even as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary—to cover any relevant characteristics of the victim. That is made clear by the non-exhaustive list of vulnerabilities that can be considered which are set out at Clause 1(4), and which includes mental or physical illness and whether the victim is a child.
Amendment 3 seeks to include disability in the list of personal circumstances which may make a person vulnerable at Clause 1(4). I assure the noble Baroness that the list of circumstances simply gives examples. The court may consider all circumstances that may make a victim vulnerable, which include disability.
On government Amendment 4, tabled in my name, we had a very healthy debate on child exploitation in Committee, and I have reflected on those exchanges carefully, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us that I said I would. We will have a full debate on child exploitation in a moment. The Government are determined to give law enforcement the powers needed to tackle child exploitation, and exploitation more broadly.
I have not brought forward a separate offence after taking the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, the national policing lead for modern slavery, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, and the National Crime Agency, which argue that there is no gap in the law and that a new offence would make prosecution harder. That point was underscored again in the letter which Kevin Hyland circulated to many Peers ahead of this debate.
However, I share noble Lords’ concerns that we need to make sure that we have effective offences in the Bill which tackle serious exploitation. That is why I brought forward government amendments in Committee to ensure that the Clause 1 offence fully reflected the specific vulnerabilities of child victims. The House will recall that we amended the Bill to make it clear that consent by the victim does not prevent a conviction. We also made it explicit that the vulnerability of a child victim can be considered.
Having reflected on our Committee debates, I will address a different concern, about the range of conduct that can be covered by the Clause 1 offence. I know that there are real concerns that it might not be possible to use that offence in relation to a victim, particularly a child, who is forced to beg or pickpocket. However, we can see that the breadth of the offence may not be well enough understood, including by front-line professionals dealing with these cases. That is why I have tabled government Amendment 4. It clarifies that, for the Clause 1 offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, the court can consider any work or services provided by the person, including work or services provided in circumstances which constitute exploitation within Clause 3. That deals in particular with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the example she helpfully gave us, and it will help law enforcement, prosecutors and the police understand the breadth of that offence better. The court will be able to look at exploitation in Clauses 3(5) and 3(6) and understand that conduct captured there such as begging and pickpocketing is capable of being work or services for the purposes of the forced or compulsory labour offence as set out in Clause 1.
We also need to strengthen the knowledge and awareness of the front-line professionals who come into contact with vulnerable victims and make decisions about investigations and prosecutions. My noble friend Lady Doocey will speak to that subject later, which she feels passionate about. Those professionals need to understand the behaviour they are seeing and the offences they can use to tackle areas such as child exploitation. That is why I am pleased that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the national policing lead have agreed to work together to drive up awareness among front-line professionals of their powers to tackle child exploitation and build stronger cases together.
We all share the determination that the criminal law should protect the vulnerable, including children. The Government are determined that the Bill should achieve this, which is why we have already made a number of important changes to the offences in the Bill, and have gone further in that regard today.
On Amendment 7, in Committee we had an excellent debate on how the Modern Slavery Bill will ensure that committing modern slavery offences does not benefit the offenders or third parties who benefit or look the other way when these crimes are committed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment to provide further scrutiny of our approach. It would make it an offence for persons, including legal persons, to benefit from modern slavery when the offence was committed for their benefit, and their lack of supervision or control enabled the commission of the offence. As I explained in Committee, we believe that it is absolutely right that companies that profit from modern slavery can be held responsible, as well as individual perpetrators. That is why the offences in the Bill can be committed by all persons, including legal persons. This means that they can be committed by companies, providing that the usual legal principles of corporate criminal liability apply. This extends to aiding and abetting in an offence. Companies can also be held liable under the civil law, such as negligence and proceeds of crime legislation, when they benefit from modern slavery committed for their benefit. So companies that make money as a result of modern slavery committed for their benefit can be deprived of those profits and pursued for damages by their victims, which is what we all want.
In Committee, I committed to keep this subject under review. Having looked closely at the debate, we remain confident that currently, and under the Modern Slavery Bill, we are fully compliant with the requirements of the EU trafficking directive around liability of legal persons. The UK Government are fully compliant with the directive and committed to fulfilling its reporting obligations. Given the extensive positive changes being made to the UK’s response to modern slavery through this Bill, which we are still in the process of, the national referral mechanism review and the implementation of the modern slavery strategy, the UK Government will make a full report on progress shortly, once these legislative processes have been completed. That will enable us to more fully demonstrate the UK’s activity in this area. We are working to agree this approach with the EU anti-trafficking co-ordinator.
On the assessments from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Clause 1 offence can be used against anyone who holds a person in slavery, servitude or subjects them to forced or compulsory labour. This includes someone who aids or abets an offence—for example, by arranging or facilitating the victim’s exploitation. Today’s government amendment does not change that point.
I want to set this compliance in the context of some of the wider action that we are taking in this area. As noble Lords are aware, we are also taking action in the Modern Slavery Bill to require large businesses to disclose what they have done to ensure that their supply chains are slavery-free. We believe that the resultant transparency will encourage others who have not yet taken decisive steps to take action. We will discuss ensuring that this provision is effective later on in the Report stage. I also want to reassure noble Lords that we are committed to ensuring that we recover the ill gotten gains of slave-masters and traffickers. That is why Clause 7 subjects those convicted of slavery and trafficking to the most robust available asset recovery regime.
Given the House’s concern to tackle exploitation, I ask noble Lords to consider supporting my amendment, which makes it clear that the courts can look at exploitation to help them understand the breadth of the Clause 1 offence. I hope, given my assurances that they are not needed, that noble Lords feel able not to press their amendments.
May I take the Minister back to what he said in answer to the arguments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on Amendments 1 and 2? I may have misheard him, but was he saying that “circumstances” were identical with “characteristics” on his reading of the dictionary? It seems to me that one is by definition endogenous and the other exogenous. If I say that the noble Lord handles the debate very well “under the all the circumstances”, I mean that around the House there is a huge degree of expertise and interest in this Bill, and he handles that very well. If I said, “under his characteristics”, it would imply that I was casting some aspersion on the Minister, which is the last thing I would wish to do. Surely the argument that he advanced against the noble Baroness’s amendment does not hold water? Characteristics and circumstances are intrinsically different.
It is difficult to know how to respond to that, although I obviously welcome the noble Lord’s clarification. Of course, I accept that the two words have different meanings in a grammatical sense. However, I was referring to the legal context, in which we believe that the term “circumstances” is broad enough to cover any relevant characteristics of the victim. I know that that is using both words in the same sentence but we believe that the term is wide enough to cover both elements. Again, I am happy to look at that point further to make sure that we have got this absolutely right and, if necessary, I will write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the Government’s determination to see more perpetrators of these terrible crimes prosecuted, punished and prevented from reoffending. Unfortunately, the evidence we heard in the Joint Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill highlighted some difficulties of using the existing offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour in certain situations involving exploitation, with which the Minister has dealt.
One very experienced prosecutor told us:
“Clause 1 should potentially be extended to exploitation as well. I have a concern about the definition of exploitation within the Bill, which applies, it seems, to the trafficking element but not to the slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour element. There are cases where you can fall between the two of them”.
I am therefore very pleased to support Amendment 4, in the name of the Minister, which will bring situations of exploitation that apply for the trafficking offence in Clause 2 into consideration when determining whether a Clause 1 offence has been committed. From the evidence the draft Bill committee heard, cases involving child victims would particularly benefit from the consideration of wider forms of exploitation under Clause 1 because trafficking may be difficult to prove and establishing evidence for servitude or forced labour without looking at other types of exploitation could be problematic. I have been concerned about the evidence I have heard of the limited use—
My Lords, the noble Baroness may not be entirely right as the Minister was putting forward the government amendment. As it happens, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, spoke to that amendment before it had formally been put forward. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is now speaking to the government amendment, and I believe that he is entitled to do so.
I have been concerned by the evidence I have heard about the limited use of the equivalent existing offence for crimes against children in Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. This is not because no children are exploited; there is clear evidence to the contrary. I hope, therefore, that this amendment will make Clause 1 more useful to the CPS in prosecuting those who exploit children, for whom I have a particular concern, as your Lordships know.
I wish to ask the Minister two questions. He has made it clear through this amendment that situations in which children are forced into slavery through threats or coercion will come under the offence set out in Clause 1 through Clause 3(5), and, if the child is targeted specifically because they are a child, they would be covered under Clause 3(6). Both of these are welcome reassurances.
Will he please clarify what the situation would be where there is no force or coercion but it is difficult to prove whether a child has been specifically targeted? I also wonder whether he has given consideration to strengthening the imperative to consider these situations of exploitation in Clause 1(4) by requiring that regard “should” be had to them, rather than the present suggestion that regard “may” be had. I look forward to his reply.
In her foreword to the draft Bill, the Home Secretary wrote:
“I want a strong message to go out to any individual or group involved in the enslavement of victims; you will not get away with it, we will catch you and you will go to prison for a very long time”.
I completely agree. We must ensure that offences of exploitation of all kinds, as well as trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced labour, can be properly and regularly prosecuted. I believe that Amendment 4 will help to do this and I commend it to your Lordships.
My Lords, I wish I had thought of “exogenous” and “endogenous”. I will resist changing the term “characteristics” to “circumstances” when it appears later in the Bill.
However, I remain concerned, for the reasons I gave. I was not just playing with words for the pleasure of playing with words but because of the impact that the wrong word may have on the success or otherwise of a prosecution. It is not really the way to go about it if there is a better way of doing so. One should not rely simply on examples that strain the meaning of the term about which the examples are given. There are better ways of doing it.
As I said at the start of the debate, I understand the Government’s concern to make sure that we get the Bill on the statute book. However, if the Minister is able to look at this matter before Third Reading, I would be very happy for him to do so; I shall certainly not pursue the point today. With regard to the trafficking directive, I look forward to finding out how long “shortly” is in this circumstance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
“(b) to any work or services provided by the person, including work or services provided in circumstances which constitute exploitation within section 3(3) to (6).”
Amendment 4 agreed.
5: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of child exploitation
(1) A person who exploits a child commits an offence.
(2) Where the exact age of the child cannot be determined, it shall nonetheless be an offence under subsection (1) to exploit a person if the accused believed, or had reasonable grounds for believing, that the person exploited was under 18.
(3) It shall be an offence even if there was no threat or use of violence, or other form of coercion, deception or any abuse of a position of vulnerability.
(4) Exploitation means the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the exploitation of criminal activities, or the removal of organs.
(5) A child may be in a situation of exploitation whether or not—
(a) escape from the situation is practically possible for the child; or(b) the child has attempted to escape from the situation.(6) Where the person exploited is a child, the consent or apparent consent to the exploitation of the child, or of any person having lawful authority over the child, is irrelevant.”
My Lords, the amendment would introduce a separate offence of child exploitation. I acknowledge that the amendment that the Government have just moved goes some way to meeting the concerns expressed in Committee by noble Lords across the Chamber and by the large number of voluntary organisations that work with exploited children. I very much welcome the government amendment as a major step forward; however, I still have two key concerns that I ask the Minister to address.
First, the Bill is not clear enough on the issue of children who are exploited but where the child is not forced to commit a crime. I know that the Government are seeking to ensure that the offence of,
“Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour”,
in Clause 1 reflects the fact that children can be influenced in subtle ways. However, for Clause 1 to have the same effect as a separate child exploitation offence, the Government need to make explicit their intention that it shall be an offence, even if there is no evidence of force. The Minister, in his letter of 16 February to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that the Bill makes clear that:
“Where a person deliberately targets a vulnerable person, such as a child, there is no requirement for any force, threats or deception to be used to induce the child into being exploited”.
If the Government were willing to include this wording in guidance, that would go a long way to meeting my concerns in this area. Children who are groomed into criminality or begging often become very attached to their exploiters, identifying with them so closely that they do not understand that they are being exploited. This presents a problem for prosecutors when deciding whether a case has a realistic prospect of a conviction. Because of this uncertainty, many of these cases never get to court. Perhaps the Minister will deal with this point when he responds.
My second area of concern is to ensure that the definition of “exploitation” is crystal clear to everyone. Criminality is ever-changing, as are the ways people find to abuse and exploit the vulnerable. Children are being specifically targeted for use as domestic slaves, to guard cannabis factories, for harbouring guns, for serial theft and increasingly for use as drug mules. However, the evidence available to police in these cases often does not reach the threshold required to prove slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. That is why it is so important to ensure certainty over what constitutes exploitation, so that people who exploit children can and will be brought to justice.
I was interested to hear the list that the Minister read out of all the really important people who do not think a child exploitation clause is necessary, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions and the national policing lead. However, the myriad offences that the Government and these people say can currently be used to prosecute child exploitation are simply not being used. This is reflected in the pitifully low number of convictions. Charities and other organisations working in this area on a daily basis are encountering cases of exploited children slipping through the net time after time. In the past two years, the police have identified more than 1,000 child victims of human trafficking, but the Government have been unable to indicate a single prosecution of forced labour involving a child victim. In total, there were just 41 prosecutions for human trafficking offences last year.
I very much welcome the Minister’s statement that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the national policing lead will now work together to raise awareness on how to prosecute child exploitation, but I hope that there will also be appropriate recognition by police and crime commissioners to prioritise child exploitation and to provide training for front-line police officers. This training must make use of face-to-face lectures by recognised experts in this field. Too often, so-called training involves nothing more than giving police officers a CD and asking them to sit in front of a computer screen and listen to it when they get time.
I shall keep a very close eye on how this new legislation is implemented. If expectations are not fulfilled, there will be clear demands to reopen the legislation all over again to enable more effective prosecutions, because we must protect the most vulnerable in our society: our children. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, in her Amendment 5. As I mentioned in the last grouping, while I welcome government Amendment 4, in my view it does not go far enough. It is evident that something is missing in the current legislative framework that is preventing criminals who exploit people of whatever age being brought to justice—but especially with regard to children.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Nationally, according to Crown Prosecution Service data, there have been no cases of a prosecution where a victim was a child since the introduction of Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act on slavery, servitude and forced labour. Yet, of the 59 defendants charged with human trafficking offences in 2013-14, there was only one case that was not sexual exploitation in cases relating to child victims. Clearly, the numbers are not adding up.
Although we were grateful for the views of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, the national policing lead for modern slavery, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, and the director of the Organised Crime Command at the National Crime Agency, Ian Cruxton, in the letter that we received last week, we still feel that there is a legal difference of opinion on this issue which has not been resolved. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who was until recently the Lord Chief Justice and the most senior criminal judge in the country, said of the Bill:
“We are making provisions for slavery, servitude and compulsory labour in clause 1 of the Bill. In clause 2, trafficking is the offence. It becomes an offence because you do it with a view to exploitation … You could have an offence of trafficking, full stop, and a separate offence of exploitation”.
Alongside him, the former DPP, Keir Starmer, and Nadine Finch, a barrister specialising in children’s law, have identified a need for separate offences for exploitation and human trafficking. In particular, with regard to children, she said in her evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the other place:
“Children are at a huge disadvantage in evidential terms. They very rarely understand they have been trafficked—what trafficking means—or what kind of evidence is needed … Many of my child clients can tell me about what happened when they were exploited in domestic servitude, in a restaurant or in prostitution; but they actually did not understand enough about the links between people who brought them across England, Europe or the world, and therefore they are not able to assist the police or prosecutors in terms of a trafficking offence. They can assist in the matter of exploitation, and I have got quite a few children who have been able to take the police to a house where they have been kept in domestic servitude or sexual exploitation, but they are not able to explain who brought them to that house, and therefore no prosecution happens”.
In his letter of 16 February, the Minister outlined his reservations with regard to the prospect of creating a separate child exploitation offence. I have a couple of questions relating to some of the points he made. Why would providing age in cases involving child victims be difficult? Again, I quote from the evidence of Nadine Finch to the Public Bill Committee. She stated:
“I appeared last year for the Children’s Commissioner in the case of L and others and one of the issues we took up was the difficulty of addressing age assessments in a criminal court. Lord Judge, the highest judge in the criminal courts at that time, accepted that the criminal court already has case law that enables a judge to adjourn a hearing if there is an age dispute. The court can seek expert evidence on its own, but it can expect both prosecution and defence to bring evidence that will enable them to resolve an age dispute. That is set out in detail in the case, and there was no doubt in the mind of the Lord Chief Justice that it was workable. It has worked for decades in terms of age assessments, so that issue, in many ways, is a red herring”.—[Official Report, Commons, Modern Slavery Bill Committee, 21/7/14; col. 35.]
The Bill is intended to consolidate existing offences in order to get more prosecutions. I therefore ask why adding a separate child exploitation offence would cause confusion or make policing and wider criminal justice procedures less straightforward. Surely we want our offences to be watertight in order not to leave any gaps.
I come back to an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. The Minister spoke earlier of the CPS and the national policing lead working more closely together. Like the noble Baroness I welcome that. However, how will specific training now be provided for front-line police officers? As the noble Baroness said, often training is provided that is not adequate. I think that we all wish to hear from the Minister that the training will be incisive and will enable police officers to identify child exploitation.
As I mentioned earlier, the government amendment is not ideal and we would have preferred to see separate offences of adult exploitation and child exploitation. However, I trust that we will return to this matter, either as the noble Baroness mentioned or in post-legislative scrutiny, to see whether the offences as outlined in the Bill have resulted in a sharp increase in prosecutions and victims coming forward. I very much hope that they will. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, for her tenacity in pursuing this issue—which, I have no doubt, was a catalyst for government action thus far.
My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness has just said. It is a particular privilege for me to speak in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Doocey. Those of us who have known her for—I hesitate to say it—some decades know her to be careful, accurate and tenacious, the word used earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I pay tribute to my noble friend for her tenacity in pursuing what many of us regard as an extremely important issue.
My noble friend identified the issue with great clarity. She said that if the law is as clear as the Director of Public Prosecutions and others have said it to be, why are there no prosecutions? Why is this successful, clear and full law resulting in no outcomes at all for exploited children in this country? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to those questions when he replies to this short debate.
Many of us are surprised and disappointed that there is no specific offence of child exploitation in one place in the law. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said much the same previously and most lawyers who have to consider child exploitation would welcome a single offence in a single place which could readily be assessed and understood. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, spoke about age disputes. I hope the Minister will confirm that the suggestion that age would create a difficulty in enacting an offence such as the one proposed in Amendment 5 is a false point. Age disputes are litigated almost every day in the Administrative Court—they are extremely common—and there are clear ways in which such disputes are determined. They are determined—surprise, surprise—by evidence, and the evidence available to determine such disputes is now expert, well-tried and tested, and capable of speedy decision when such disputes occur.
If the Minister rejects, as I apprehend he will, my noble friend’s amendment. I hope he will give a government commitment to plug any gaps that may emerge hereafter if his views are proved to be incorrect. It is shocking that there has not been a single case brought of child exploitation, at least of the kind envisaged here. We heard discussion earlier about the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. If one takes child exploitation and female genital mutilation as two of the most important and horrifying offences committed against children in this country and reflects that there have been two prosecutions so far—one monumentally unsuccessful recently—in both those categories added together, one has the right to be concerned.
I ask the Minister to tell your Lordships what he expects to be the outcome of the work which has now been started, apparently, between the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and others. If the outcome is merely to discover that there have been no prosecutions because there is an inadequate understanding of the law, one is bound to ask why. I suspect the answer will be because the law is confusing, and so we go round the full circle and arrive at the conclusion that there ought to be the new offence—albeit with assistance from government draftsmen—proposed by my noble friend Lady Doocey.
I would ask the Minister to ensure that, if he rejects the amendment, he can leave us in a frame of mind of genuine optimism that there will be more prosecutions and an increased prospect of convictions even if no change is to be made to the law. Somehow I doubt it and I suspect that we shall be returning to this very important issue in the not too distant future.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. I have added my name to it. I will be brief as both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who has just spoken, have made the case clearly and forcefully that the current law must be inadequate as there have been no convictions. I have heard the argument before that there is no issue with the law, but that it is the practice which is the problem, and that is why there have been no convictions. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has just said, it cannot be that it is just the practice, it must be that the law is deficient in some way, otherwise there would have been convictions against those who commit this horrible crime against children.
The treatment of cases involving children must reflect that in international law children are a special case because of their particular vulnerability and so cannot consent to exploitation. As it stands, Clause 1 of the Bill does not state clearly enough that there is no need to show that force, threats or deception were present in cases of child exploitation. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause set out in Amendment 5 makes the point that there is a need to include that in the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, mentioned the letter written by the Minister to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on 16 February. It stated:
“Where a person deliberately targets a vulnerable person, such as a child, there is no requirement for any force, threats or deception to be used to induce the child into being exploited”.
This statement perfectly encapsulates what the Bill itself should state so that there are no grey areas and those prosecuting cases are 100% clear what the thresholds of proof are in children’s cases. Government Amendment 4 is welcome, but in my view it does not go far enough towards including that. The Government must formally commit to their intention that force, threats or deception are not required in children’s cases. A failure to improve the current Clause 1 offence leaves the Bill open to interpretation on this key issue, which would be a major disservice to child victims. They must be able to trust in our laws to protect them and ensure their access to justice for the heinous crimes committed against them. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that, if not in the Bill, then to state it clearly for the record that that is the Government’s intention.
My Lords, I am the first person not to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. I have sympathy for the points she has made and I am very relieved by government Amendment 4 which was discussed earlier. However, one important point that the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Patel, have rather overlooked is that the present law will be changed by this Bill. Therefore one hopes that when it becomes law, there will be the prosecutions which have been so lamentably absent under the previous law.
A lot of what has been said turns on issues of training and practice. This morning I met the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who was at pains to tell me that he sees his job as commissioner to include pushing the College of Policing, pushing the chief constable, Shaun Sawyer, with whom he has been in conversation several times and is seeing again next Monday, and pushing the Crown Prosecution Service towards better practice and better training. He sees all this as some of the most important parts of his work.
I hope that when the Bill becomes law much of what has been said so far today will fall into the background. It is also important to remember that when the joint pre-legislative scrutiny committee, of which I was a member, discussed child exploitation, we rather bravely and rashly put forward our own Part 1 of the Bill. In it, we had a child exploitation clause, but within the wording that we put forward in the clauses that we recommended. The Government did not accept our Part 1 of the Bill and have put in, under Clauses 1 and 2, different propositions. If we now have a child exploitation clause, it will clash with and to some extent repeat what is already in Clause 1. There will therefore be a degree of confusion for the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and even at the end of the day, I suspect, for the judge instructing the jury as to what the position really is. It is very important that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for whom of course I have the greatest admiration and respect, spoke about the child exploitation clause, he was doing so in the context of giving evidence to the Select Committee at a time when he was looking at our draft as well as at the former government draft, which is not the same as the present one.
Another point, made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is that age dispute issues in the Administrative Court are easy to resolve. They appear, from what I am told, to be a great deal less easy to resolve in the criminal courts. Indeed, Kevin Hyland, the commissioner, said to me that when he was head of the human trafficking group in the Metropolitan Police, he was present at a trial when an issue was raised of whether the child was or was not a child under 18. It took up so much of the time, and the jury clearly was not satisfied whether the child was or was not a child and acquitted. There is no shortage of young women coming into this country who are attractive and mature; they may well be 14, or they could be 19 or 25. We are not talking perhaps so much about English children brought up in this country, but children from Nigeria.
I am very grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for giving way. Does she not recognise, first, that exactly the kinds of dispute she is describing now are litigated on a daily basis in the Administrative Court and, secondly, that good case management, which is part of the Leveson reforms and recommendations, can make the preparation of these issues and their determination very much easier and as routine as analogous issues?
I certainly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is right about that. However, with the government position under Clauses 1 and 2, including with Amendment 4, you do not have to prove that the young person is 16, 17 or 18 in order to get a conviction. You will have an aggravated situation if you show that it is in fact a child, say of 14 or 15, and not a young woman of 20, and the judge’s sentence will no doubt be greater. However, the issue of age will not arise for the jury to try because, under Clause 1, you do not have to have an age—anybody who is treated in the way that Clause 1 describes can be found to be a victim. This seems to me to be something introduced by the Bill which has not come in before and which will, I certainly hope, make a very dramatic difference to the way in which prosecutions are dealt with.
Another point that Kevin Hyland made, which I think is of some interest, is about control and prevention orders, on which we have spent virtually no time at all in this House. He told me about a group of Roma—not all of whom are Romanian; some are from other parts of Europe—who apparently are camping at the moment in either Park Lane or Hyde Park. They are begging, and the children are no doubt thieving, in Edgware Road and Oxford Street. He says that when the control and prevention orders come into place, if you can find that these children are doing this, a control or prevention order can be made against the adult—many of whom, of course, are not the parents of these children—and that can last for up to five years and will protect the children, who can also be taken into care. He also made the point that this could be done at the border by the border police, who can get a magistrate’s order in order to protect these children well before you have to come to a prosecution because the children are being exploited. I thought that these were quite interesting points to relay to the House.
My Lords, I am somewhat bemused about where we are in this debate. My view has always been quite clear: we already have enough legislation. I think that some of these cases are already appearing before the courts under general children’s legislation.
As I understand it, CAFCASS has recently been involved in a situation where a child was begging. We have to remember that very often the people who are exploiting children are the children’s own parents or relatives. This child was being exploited and selling the Big Issue 12 hours a day on the streets. She was exploited by her father, who went to prison. That seems to be just the sort of case we are talking about, but prosecuted under quite different legislation—the children’s legislation concerning neglect. Maybe that is where we should also look. We should see where else action is being taken.
I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, very carefully. I do not agree with her amendment but I am very much in sympathy with what she was saying in her speech. She identified some very important issues. One issue that perhaps we have missed throughout this debate is the one found in proposed new subsection (6) of the amendment, about vulnerable children who find themselves in difficulties because they do not understand what they are being expected to do, and even if they do, they have been so groomed or so frightened that they carry out whatever action is undertaken quite unconsciously; and even if it is consciously, they are in difficulties. We need to look at that and make absolutely sure that we are not going to be prosecuting children and young people when they are in those sorts of difficulties.
However, I am still of the belief that if we look at all the horrific incidents in the newspapers that have happened to children and young people recently—never mind all the ones that we in the profession know about: the thousands of children on child protection registers and the hundreds of cases that go through the courts every day—we know that there is legislation that could have protected those children. There is no doubt that the girls of Rotherham could have been protected by the legislation that is there. That is what the inquiry found: they could have been protected. So I disagree with my noble friend—
I have huge respect for him, but I really do think that this is a question of practice and of training. We keep repeating those words like a sort of mantra. What happens is the real issue—what action is taken to make sure that not just the police and the prosecutors but the health workers, social workers and voluntary workers, not those in the specific field of action but those who come across children in different ways, understand what they are seeing. I fear that, certainly in my area, modern social work training is not as precise in helping people to understand what they are seeing and then giving them courage and a legal understanding of what they can do next.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that I stand somewhere in the middle on this issue. I have never been a great believer that more legislation will make a difference. My experience—and history—tells us that it does not. Some legislation will make a difference. The Government’s clause may well give a little jolt to the whole issue, but I hope that they will tell us what they are going to do to encourage all the professions to take this seriously. That goes not just for this area but for the whole range of child care and protection. We are at this time in this country in serious difficulties in making sure that our children are adequately cared for and protected.
My Lords, I rise because I have been quoted both in judgments and in evidence that I have given, and if I sit here and do not say anything, some might think that I did not agree with what I said last time. Well, I do.
I am concerned about child exploitation. I think that there are cases—and we have certainly been aware of them in court—where children have been exploited in circumstances which it would be difficult to describe as slavery or servitude or forced labour or even human trafficking. Children are exploited in many different ways and I do not think, if I may say so with respect, that the law caters adequately for those who exploit children who are not under some kind of parental or guardian responsibilities.
For that reason, I support the amendment. One problem with this area of the law seems to be that although we can often find the child who has been exploited we do not seem to be very good at hunting down through the chain of exploitation. For instance, we are very concerned, and obviously so, with children who come from abroad and are left in charge of cannabis factories. So far, we prosecute the child. We do not wait to see who is bringing the food once a week that is thrown through the prison door—because the house is no more than a prison. Where are they going? Who are they looking at? Who are they talking to? Who is making the money from the cannabis plant that the child is looking after?
The other feature that I want to draw attention to is how we relate to the provision on the protection of victims—that is, the defence under Clause 45. We provide a defence, which I strongly support, for slavery or trafficking victims who have committed an offence in circumstances that are defined, but the Bill speaks in Clause 45(1)(c) of “relevant exploitation”. Relevant exploitation in the Bill cannot address child exploitation of the kind that the amendment is designed to address. I ask the Minister to look at that, too.
My Lords, no one could possibly fault my noble friend for lack of persistence or focus, and no one would not want the best legislation for tackling—or, better, preventing—offences against children. I am afraid that I cannot support her amendment. I am sorry about that because I know her ambitions for the Bill, but I understand many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, about practice. I would have thought that the point just made by the noble and learned Lord about cannabis farms was also one about practice and observation by the police; I would not have thought that a new offence was needed for that to be dealt with properly.
I have heard it said that a separate offence would mean that the police would take the matter seriously, but what we have heard from the criminal justice professionals, as other noble Lords have said, is that it is not a matter of an alternative but that there would be real risks to Part 1 of the Bill. They argue not just that a separate offence is not necessary—we often hear in this Chamber that something is not necessary and tend to ask, “Well, what harm would it do?”—but that in this case there would be harm. Alison Saunders and Kevin Hyland referred to the issue of determining age, which noble Lords have mentioned. This has bedevilled claims for asylum and responses to asylum seekers for a long time.
To add to the point that the noble and learned Baroness made, in relation to the letter that several of us received today from Kevin Hyland, the point about the case which he discussed with her was not just that so much time was spent on the issue of the woman’s age but that, as he writes, it was,
“distracting the jury from the real issue of her exploitation”.
I take that very seriously. I also take the point made by Alison Saunders that the clause would require evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the accused,
“believed, or had reasonable grounds for believing”,
that the person was under 18.
One briefing that we had asked how the evidential barriers would be overcome. The Government’s answer is not to require that bit of evidence. Consent and issues of age are in a sense excluded when one looks at other changes that have been made to the Bill.
Mention was made in the statements that the Minister circulated to guidance and sentencing guidelines. I have already referred to the fact that Clause 1 provides that regard “may be had” to certain factors. I do not know whether the Minister can help us about the weight of that “may”. Is it in normal parlance “shall” when we couple it with “have regard to”—because of course age is an issue in all this?
I very much take the points made about training. We have compared trafficking with domestic violence and how practice in dealing with domestic violence—which is by no means perfect—has progressed over the years. That, too, has been a matter of applying existing law in many cases.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, referred to future-proofing. She was of course right about new forms of evil being found, but we cannot future-proof at the expense of clarity in the present. The term in the clause, “practices similar to slavery”, worries me on that score.
Finally, I do not want to risk devaluing or demoting offences against adults by introducing the possibility that they would not be recognised because they are treated differently and separately from those against children. Vulnerable adults, too, need that help and support.
In Committee, I mentioned the directive which refers to a child-sensitive approach, but it does not provide for a separate offence. Thinking about it again, it seems to me that being child sensitive—we should be and the Bill is—does not require a separate offence.
My Lords, having listened to all the various learned speeches on the matter, I should like to tackle the matter from a slightly different angle. Although it is very hard to find a different angle at this stage of this short debate. What harm would be done if the new clause were included in the Bill? The Government have already moved forward with Amendment 4 but, as other noble Lords have asked: is that enough? The telling point has been made that it would clash with and be repetitive of other legislation. Are we saying that there is no legislation in this land which does not clash and is not repetitive? We have that all the time; perhaps we should not.
However, the question we must ask here is, I hope, this. If the amendment under consideration, as proposed by my noble friend Lady Doocey and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others, was passed by this House or taken into account by the Minister after this debate, would there be a possibility of even one child not being exploited where previously that child or children may have been? I think that the numbers will be great but even if it was one child not being exploited, surely it would be worth while having this specific provision in the Bill. It would mean that it would be clarified and made more important for those who enforce the law. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister replies, he will say that the Government—
I thank the noble and learned Baroness very much. We are talking about semantics and about circumstances, confusion and all the other words in the English dictionary. I would in fact be cheerful if there were some confusion, if it saved one child from being exploited. At the moment, I can see that there may be some modest confusion but I do not see that that weighs in any way with having specific legislation to protect the child. Are we saying that for fear of being confused, or of clashing or being repetitive, we desire to be in the middle, which I call sitting on the fence with the nails sticking in you where they should not? That is not enough; what we want is the best protection for the child.
I have not heard any Member of your Lordships’ House, on any side on this debate, say that they are not against the exploitation of children. I think we are all of a mind on that but what is not in agreement is whether this amendment is needed. I am not a lawyer and I shall not nitpick about confusion or circumstance, or any other such word in the dictionary. But having listened to the debate, to my mind we need a strengthening of Clause 4. I believe that this amendment would do that and that it is worth any confusion—any sitting on the fence, any clash or repetition—if it saves the exploitation of even one child.
My Lords, my Amendment 6 is in the same group. I suspect that the followers of Amendment 5 are now well past number 11 and following on in the second innings, so I wonder if I could be forgiven for taking over to speak to my Amendment 6. It is the consequence of a long-running dialogue between the Minister and I, where we have failed to agree having had a long time together on the subject, so I have brought this amendment back from its first appearance in the early stages.
Your Lordships will recall that I first raised this subject when I was reminded of my experience in working for the Australian Civil Service in London. I recounted in Committee that I was deeply suspicious of the circumstances in which I was being required to herd small children on to boats at Tilbury for transportation to Australia. They did not have names; they did not know who their parents were, or where they came from, and they were completely terrified. I was suspicious that these children were improper migrants—that they did not have the proper authority to go—and it was a very strange position. Since then, I have done a lot more research and a lot of very interesting things have come to me in the post, including a little hate mail, which was actually very useful. Because of the fact that I had admitted overseeing the transportation of some 2,500 children, I was accused of being worse than Jimmy Savile. I think that Jimmy Savile might have been quite offended at that because he is being accused in relation to 300 children, whereas I have about 2,500 on my slate.
However, in the circumstances that was interesting because it raises two questions. First, was it illegal at the time that these children were being transported and, secondly, is it something which could occur again? My own belief is now, emphatically, that it was illegal and that there was no proper authority for the transportation of those children. It involved many tens of thousands of children over 15 years; we should be deeply ashamed of it, and make sure that the Bill cannot talk about controlling slavery without making it absolutely certain that we can never again repeat this dirty little secret of our history.
I need to give a bit more detail. I am going to quote the reference for a committee report that was brought to my attention by the Child Migrants Trust, and which I was initially told by the Library no longer existed. However, I am happy to say that our wonderful Library found the only copy that it thinks officially exists today. I will read its number into the record for the House: HC 755 I and II in volume XCVI, 1997-98. That report has now been found and is on the shelf behind the inquiry desk in the Library for any noble Lords who want to verify it. I have mentioned this at the start of what I am going to say because everything I will say is verifiable somewhere in that huge book. The committee in question was a Department of Health committee from 1997 to 1998. It was a rare committee because it was funded to travel to Australia to carry out its investigations on the ground for nine days. I am afraid we do not have committees like that any longer.
The story starts at Christmas 1944, when the Prime Minister of Australia contacted the coalition Government in England and said, “You’re getting towards the end of a war and you’re going to be overrun with orphans. We want to help you. We’d like to take 17,500 orphans from you every year for the next 15 years. We want at least 150,000”. The British Government thought about this for a while and said, “We’ll talk about it”. Then they brought in the orphanages and social services. Of course these were coalition times, so Herbert Morrison was in charge. By a quaint quirk of fate, I knew Herbert Morrison very well later on because he was president of a cricket club where I was the secretary, and I could not have asked for a man of greater integrity, personal charm or dedication. He was a very human being indeed, and I cannot believe that he would ever have done anything disreputable whatever. However, what happened under his hands was appalling.
They set about getting together a policy to find 17,500 children a year who could be given to the Australians. They brought in the heads of the orphanages and got Dr Barnardo’s to head the exercise. They got the local councils to get their heads of their child agencies, which I suspect was then an industry somewhat in its infancy compared with what it is now, and started to put the process together. Then came an election. The Labour Party won it with the very high promise of Beveridge’s social reforms, including the National Health Service. I do not remember anyone telling the electorate at that time that if they wanted a health service they would have to accept that we were going to dispose of 195,000 of our children to a foreign country without trace or record being kept, but that is in fact what happened. As the head of Barnardo’s says in a clear and precise statement at the opening of the committee, “It was an economic necessity. We couldn’t afford to look after the children we had. There were too many of them. We hadn’t got enough beds and couldn’t feed them. We had to do it. It was a Government-led initiative which we had to do”. That is an interesting comment and someone might want to look it up on the record one day.
So they did it. On the face of it, things were going to be fine because the Australian Government were falling over backwards to be helpful. They said, “You send the children to us. We will have prearranged adoption homes and domestic places for each of the children and we will ship them off directly as soon as they land, after giving them a medical check, and we will then give a maintenance cash allowance to every home that takes one to look after these children. Then we’ll get the adoption process carried through the courts”. So the British Government said, “Sounds fine to us”. However, Morrison said, “We will insist upon the British Home Office maintaining an oversight responsibility for their welfare afterwards”. We need to remember that because there is no evidence that it was ever done, and we need to see what happened to that.
A change of Government having taken place, Morrison steps aside and Chuter Ede becomes Home Secretary. There was nothing wrong with Chuter Ede but there might have been something wrong with a few of his servants. The process goes like this: the Labour Government take office on 26 July 1945, and on 16 September that year the first ship sails full of children, 2,000 of them. The 2,000 children set off into the blue and are the first of 155,000 who are sent between that date and the end of 1960. After 1960, another 120,000 are sent, bringing about a total in aggregate of 295,000 children, all from orphanages and local council overspills, which could not cope with them.
These children, having been sent away, were supposed to have been going to homes. Unfortunately, disaster struck as soon as the first boat reached Australia. The courts immediately refused to sanction a single adoption on the grounds that there was no parental consent for any of them. Without parental consent, the Australian courts did what a British court would have done and said there could not be adoption. Consequently the Australian Government cut off the supply of maintenance to the households that were going to pick them up and the households threw the kids out on the street, where a great many of them have been ever since to this very day. That is the issue. On any actuarial basis, as we sit here today debating this, some 25,000 to 30,000 of those children are sleeping somewhere rough in the semi-outback of Australia tonight. We had better think about them a bit. There is a real, ongoing problem.
When the Minister says that we do not need to ban child transportation because it will never happen again, we cannot be sure. All right, we have a coalition Government at the moment who certainly would not do it. I hope that if we get a Government represented by the Benches opposite back in, they will have learnt the lesson of last time and would not do it again, but we do not know that by next time round, perhaps in two or three years’ time, we are not going to have little purple men from Mars in power the way things are going on in this country at the moment. For all I know, they may be better than the options available to us, but for the moment we have to put up with what we have. We cannot trust the moral hazard of leaving this as an issue that could recur in future.
It got worse after the court would not sanction the adoptions. The worst thing possible happened: two charitable organisations stepped forward and said they would look after the children, that they were very rich and that they would take control. They were the Sisters of Mercy, an organisation of Catholic nuns, which was very improperly named, and the Christian Brothers, who were already known in government service as the “Christian buggers”. They took control of the whole process and created two networks of homes, one for girls and one for boys, state by state across Australia, with an average of 350 people in each. The Christian Brothers published their rules. The homes were to be run as strictly as possible like borstal institutions in England. These children had not done anything wrong and should not have been in a borstal of any sort, but they were being subjected to this. The rules of a Christian Brothers home were that if you were abused by one of the holy fathers, that was an act of god, and if you complained about the holy father, that was a sin against god and you would be flogged for it. By the way, the flogging was with a metal hacksaw replacement blade. It did not leave much of a kid. This went on.
Eventually, after 150,000 of these children had gone, the penny dropped that there was something wrong with it. The Government of the day could not look back today and say that they did not know about this abuse because something called the society of social workers or social advisers—something like that; I have written it down as I had never heard of it before yesterday—told the Labour Government in 1948 what was going on in Perth at the Christian Brothers home, and there was no doubt from that moment on. Any ship that was allowed to sail from that date on was allowed to sail in the knowledge that the inmates were going to be raped and abused. That is beyond just simple migration. Still nothing was done to demand from the Australian Government that they brought this thing up to date or did something about it. Nothing was done to stop the transportations. They went on and on.
In the vast resources I have now been allowed to read on this subject, there are just four stories I am going to tell which illustrate how awful this was. They are four out of more than 600. Before the committee got to Australia, the Australian Government agreed that they would write to every known migrant and ask them to write an account of their experience. They could find only 600 out of 295,000 to write to. They got those replies. Those reports, uncorrected as to spelling or grammar, are in the report which is in the Library. They are all cross-referenced by code number and name, but they are there as they are written. I will quote four little stories from there.
The first one, to make clear how dreadful it was, happened not in Australia but in Sheffield. A single parent and her daughter, seven years old, are already known to the local child authority—we do not know why. They get a message that they are to report one day to a council office in the centre of Sheffield, taking nothing with them. They do that, and at the office they find four nuns waiting for them, who pounce upon the two of them. They pin the mother to the ground while they tie a clothesline or something like it round the daughter, binding her very securely, and proceed to drag her through the streets of Sheffield to the railway station, where she is mixed up with a lot of other girls, taken on the train to Liverpool, put on the boat that night, and sails away. Mother and daughter have never said a word to each other from that day to this. That is how the councils worked, and there are many other examples like that; it is not an isolated example, although it is a terrible one.
For me, the worst story in the entire book is that when the committee was going through this, it asked to meet the authors of selected reports, and the Australian authorities set up 263 interviews for them. They ran for an hour each, and the committee broke itself into units of two and three to get maximum productivity. They walked in to meet a man who was 50 years old at the time—this was in 1997—and he was in tears over the table. “What’s wrong?” they said. “Go away—don’t talk to me. Please go away”, he said. “What’s wrong?” they asked again. “No, you mustn’t talk to me—you’ll destroy everything”. They asked why, and gradually got it out of him. He had been in the Perth home of the Christian Brothers and had got away at the age of 18 and got lucky—he got a job with a timber merchant. The timber merchant had been very kind to him; he fed him and let him sleep in his shed. He got paid a wage, and eventually he married a local girl. Twenty years later, they have two boys, who have finished their schooling and have places at university. He explained, “If it gets out that I have been interviewed by you, it’ll be known that I am a migrant child and we will never again be allowed to work for—”
My Lords, there is guidance as to the length of time noble Lords should address the House on Report. The noble Lord has very graphically illustrated the point he is trying to make, but I ask him to wind up this contribution on Report in the interests of the other Members present who want to hear the following business.
I can very easily move to the end. I quoted that last example because it indicates how, in the words of that fellow of 50, all migrant children are now regarded as the untouchables of Australian society. They have no place, no identity—nothing. When the Minister says that he does not think that we need to ban this once and for ever, I say that we do, because the reasons he gives for it being safe are the very reasons it happened at all. He says that it requires a court order, but it got a court order when it was done 50 years ago, relying on the fact that the order was endorsed or signed over by the orphanage or whatever local council had the authority. Therefore we cannot do that, as it is only the same situation. We have to stop the possibility of anybody doing this again in any circumstance. I want to see that point completely written into the Bill so that we ban this dreadful thing once and for all from ever happening in our society. We got it badly wrong last time; let us not even think of doing it again.
My Lords, it might be helpful at this point if I first speak briefly to my noble friend’s Amendment 6 to put some remarks on the record, and then return to Amendment 5, on which a number of other Members of the House will probably wish to comment further or to listen to particular points I will make.
When this case was raised by my noble friend Lord James at Second Reading and in Committee, it was a new chapter of this country’s history that I had not been particularly aware of, and a very regrettable one too. We went into some detail of this in correspondence and at a number of meetings with my noble friend, as well as with my noble friend Lord Freeman. It was quite a harrowing experience, and I know that for my noble friend the recollection is personally very harrowing. At the conclusion of those meetings, I said that I would put some words on the record regarding the Government’s response and previous Governments’ responses to what had happened as an acknowledgement of our apology, which I will come to. I hope that that reassures him that we believe we now have in place the safeguard, chiefly through the courts, of a court order being required for any child being moved outside this country. That is a significant enhancement.
On 24 February 2010, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a formal apology in Parliament on behalf of the nation, expressing the nation’s regret for the misguided child migrant scheme. The Prime Minister spoke for all of us when he expressed his deep regret for those flawed policies and expressed sorrow that child migrants were allowed to be sent away when they were at their most vulnerable. Almost five years to the day since that apology was made, I am sure that noble Lords will join me and my noble friend Lord James in echoing that regret and that apology.
I want to take a little time to reassure your Lordships that the Government have taken action to support child migrants in regaining their true identities and reuniting them with their families and loved ones. We cannot undo the past but such action can go some way to repair the damage inflicted. I know that that is what my noble friend Lord James wants.
Alongside the formal national apology in 2010, the Government announced a £6 million child migrants’ family restoration fund to support travel and other costs for former child migrants who wish to be reunited with their families. Since its launch in 2010, the fund has provided more than 700 former child migrants and their families with support in travelling to be reunited. In September 2014, the Government announced that the fund will continue until March 2017. By then, the Government estimate that the fund will have helped around 1,000 former child migrants and many thousands of family members.
I also pay tribute at this point to the work of the Child Migrants Trust, which administers the fund. It is the key charity that focuses on family tracing, social work and counselling services for former child migrants and their families. I specifically pay tribute to the work of the trust’s director, Margaret Humphreys, who, like my noble friend Lord James, has done so much to raise awareness about this issue.
I reiterate that it is our belief that the legal guarantees are now in place to prevent any such activity ever happening again. Moreover, I believe that, together with the courageous apology made five years ago, the reparations and the work of the Child Migrants Trust, the guarantees go some way towards redressing the wicked wrong of the past. On behalf of this Government, I reiterate our apology for previous Governments’ involvement in that terrible episode.
It is right that chapters such as the one in 1944 but also those that went on until the late 1950s and even the early 1960s remind us to have an element of humility when we talk about child protection issues in this country. Therefore, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue. I very much hope that the remarks that I have again put on the record and the guarantees that I have underscored will allow him to draw not only a legislative line but a personal line under this very sad chapter.
I turn to the child exploitation offence, which has been the substantial part of a very interesting debate, as it was in the previous stages of this Bill considered in your Lordships' House. The catalyst for that has been my noble friend Lady Doocey, whose description as tenacious I can say, as the Minister involved in this matter, is probably a bit of an understatement. She has taken on, engaged in and championed this issue in the best traditions of parliamentary work. I pay tribute to her and to the work that she has done.
In many ways, the debate that we have had on this issue highlights the difficulties that the Government have had in approaching it. The Government do not come from any position of an ideological or principled approach to this matter. Clearly, the amendments that we have made by the score to this Bill would suggest that, if we genuinely felt that this was something that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, would lead to one more successful prosecution, without hesitation we would support this amendment. That is without doubt. The contrary argument has been made by the DPP, the national policing lead and, of course, by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who was in charge of human trafficking until taking up his post.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, referred to her conversations with Kevin Hyland, which are very much echoed by my own experiences with him, when he gave case after case where he feared that, if he had had to prosecute on a particular age-related offence, it could have meant that he was not able to get the prosecution. That is very much the argument for and against. One believes that it will secure an additional level of prosecutions, while the other view, which we have heard very clearly articulated by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, is that it could make it more difficult and we could be put in a position that people might get away with this and there could be fewer prosecutions rather than more.
I turn to the central point being put forward by my noble friend Lord Carlile, who asked why the law that was in place has not been used. Why have there not been more prosecutions? The argument was made that there has been only one—in fact, somebody said that there had not been any, but there has. I have an example of one, which the Crown Prosecution Service made successfully under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, where there was a slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour offence involving child victims. The offence was used to convict a mother who sought to sell her baby for £35,000, and a man who acted as agent. They were both convicted and received sentences of seven and nine years respectively. The fact that those are all too few instances—I recognise that, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that it was a troubling concern—is in many ways a reflection of the fact that it is the practice of the law that is at fault here rather than the word and letter of the law. That is why it is very important that, in addition to the words that I put in my letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, which I will happily repeat on the record here today, the most crucial element is what is going to happen in terms of the prosecutions going forward and what is going to happen with the training. We received a letter today from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in which he talked about the very important role of providing training and engaging with the College of Policing. That is in addition to the measures that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service have announced they want to work together on.
The effect of the Bill will be measured and evaluated in post-legislative scrutiny or through the annual report to be laid before Parliament by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Someone will keep a tally and ask how many successful prosecutions are being brought forward and put on the record. Clearly, we are talking about something which is a quantum leap above the DVD/CD type of approach and is more of a systemic change. My noble friend Lady Hamwee is right: we are talking of a systemic change almost along the lines of what we have seen in tackling domestic violence in terms of understanding it, seeing it from a victim’s point of view and people being trained how to deploy the resources available under the law to achieve successful prosecutions. That process is augmented by other measures in the Bill.
I listened carefully to all the contributions, but particularly carefully to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. The Bill contains a defence for victims, and children are included in that. We have introduced child trafficking advocates and are applying a modern-day strategy for the first time. We have introduced the control orders, which were mentioned, as well as the overhaul of the national referral mechanism to make it more effective in protecting children in particular. All these things are being introduced together with two elements, the first of which is the clarification which we have introduced through Amendment 4. I was very grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord McColl on that. That is very significant given that I refer to him as the father of the Bill. I very much appreciated his support on that amendment. Therefore, we have included a provision on exploitation and given a commitment and clarification in the letter which I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We have given a further absolute commitment that training and collaboration need to be provided and that your Lordships and the Government expect to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions being brought, particularly as regards child exploitation. We have increased the sentences and tariffs available to the courts and we expect them to be used.
With those reassurances that I offer to my noble friend—I again acknowledge the commitment and tenacity that she has shown in highlighting this issue—I hope that there is sufficient on the record here and elsewhere to enable her to say that for the moment she is content to see how this issue progresses. We will keep an eagle eye on it as it goes forward to make sure that the arguments which have been put forward by the DPP, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and the national policing lead are backed up in the number of successful prosecutions that are brought in future.
My Lords, I am a bit disappointed that the Minister did not answer the question I asked him. I asked whether he was willing to put into guidance the words that he used in the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall:
“Where a person deliberately targets a vulnerable person, such as a child, there is no requirement for any force, threats or deception to be used to induce the child into being exploited”.
That was the key concession that I was looking for, because talk is cheap but actions speak louder than words. I really wanted that to be in guidance so that the police in particular, and everyone else, were very clear about what was meant by “exploitation”. Can the Minister deal with just that point?
I thank everyone who has spoken. It has been an interesting debate. I take on board a lot of the comments made. I do not agree with all of them. The amendment is clear and would have made a significant difference to children who are being exploited on a daily basis and to those children who are slipping through the net, which we know is happening despite what the police and the DPP say. All the organisations which work with such children on a daily basis are giving us evidence of children who are slipping through the net—and it does not just involve children who are sent out to beg by their parents.
However, I recognise that the Government have moved substantially on this issue. If they could include in guidance the words in the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that would be very useful indeed. I shall continue to work with non-governmental organisations and charities on this issue. Does the Minister want to come back?
I am happy to put some additional words on the record on this point while I await further inspiration on the specific issue of guidance, if that is a hint to those behind me.
I am happy to reassure my noble friend that there is no requirement in a Clause 1 offence to prove physical force, threats or deception, including where the victim is a child. Of course, where there is evidence of, for example, physical force having been used against a victim, it would be helpful evidence for the prosecution to use, but it is not needed to prove the offence of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The Government have changed Clause 1 several times to ensure that the specific circumstances of vulnerable victims, including child victims, are fully considered. We have already made it clear that the consent of the victims does not prevent a conviction and that all forms of vulnerability can be taken into consideration by the court.
The guidance would be for the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue. We have said that the DPP and the Crown Prosecution Service will work together to ensure that there is a more effective—
My Lords, the Minister was crystal clear in his letter to me, for which I am very grateful. While I realise that it is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue the guidance, as the noble Lord said, it would be extremely helpful if he could tell the DPP that it is the will of Parliament that those words be included in guidance. I am sure that she will then take that into appropriate consideration.
I am very happy to give that undertaking. It should be something of which the DPP is aware. She would be particularly aware of it because the level of consultation and soul-searching that we have had on this issue in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office—it has sometimes been hidden from the debate—has been unprecedented in comparison with any of the other proposed amendments to the Bill that I have considered. However, I am very happy to report that back.
It should also be borne in mind that it is the principal responsibility of the chief constables and police and crime commissioners to take this matter, and the will of the House, forward to ensure the prosecution of those who are guilty of child exploitation, and to bring those prosecutions forward successfully so that the victims can be protected. The prosecutions should serve as an example to stop this heinous activity in the future. I hope that that further inspiration might be helpful to my noble friend.
That is very helpful. I thank the Minister very much. Nobody will be happier than me if all my worries are proved groundless. I will be absolutely ecstatic, as will all the non-governmental organisations and the charities that work with these poor children on a daily basis. I will continue to monitor. I pay tribute to all the charities and the NGOs, which have done so much excellent work in this field over so many years. It must have sometimes appeared to them that they were battling the elements and bashing their heads against a brick wall.
I also place on record my thanks to the Minister for his determination to get this legislation right and for his willingness at all times to listen and respond to concerns from everyone across the House and from all the people who work with children on a daily basis. I thank him very much and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
6: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Forced child migration
(1) A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of a child (“C”) with a view to transferring C’s permanent residence unless the person reasonably believes that—
(a) C’s parent or guardian consents,(b) it is necessary for securing compliance with an order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, or(c) it is necessary for securing compliance with an order of a court in a foreign jurisdiction.(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) “permanent residence” shall not include any detention under a sentence that is imposed by a court after a conviction for a criminal offence.
(3) A person may in particular arrange or facilitate C’s travel by transporting or transferring C, harbouring or receiving C, or transferring or exchanging control over C.
(4) A person arranges or facilitates C’s travel with a view to transferring C’s permanent residence only if the person knows or ought to know that C is travelling in order to live for a substantial or indeterminate period of time in a different location to the one in which C lived before the travel.
(5) “Travel” has the same meaning as in section 2.
(6) A person who is a UK national commits an offence under this section regardless of—
(a) where the arranging or facilitating takes place, or(b) where the travel takes place.(7) A person who is not a UK national commits an offence under this section if—
(a) any part of the arranging or facilitating takes place in the United Kingdom, or(b) the travel consists of arrival in or entry into, departure from, or travel within, the United Kingdom.(8) For the purposes of this section, a “person” shall include a public body.”
I thank the Minister for his response to my points, but may I just put two questions to him? I will wholly understand if he chooses to answer in writing afterwards. First, will he give consideration to a comment that appears in the great book in the Library, attributed to Herbert Morrison from early 1945, to the effect that in any case where an orphanage or local council alone authorised a migration, it should require the countersignature of the Secretary of State?
Let me just say to my noble friend that we will continue this dialogue. That is absolutely certain. In this context, a far stronger guarantee for children in future is the existing body of law that now comes into place and into effect through the Children Act and other pieces of legislation since the 1950s. Crucially, any person seeking to take a child out of the United Kingdom requires a court order to do so. That is a much stronger guarantee than anything that can be given by the Home Secretary or anyone else.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Amendment 7 not moved.