Draft Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 (Consequential provisions and modifications) Order 2016

Commons Hansard
13 Sep 2016

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I welcome the changes made in article 2 of this statutory instrument, which confer similar powers afforded to constables under section 13 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 to immigration officers not below the rank of chief immigration officer. As far as article 3 is concerned, I accept the consequential modifications to the primary legislation in consequence of the creation of the two new statutory offences that the Minister has spoken about.

I hope that the Minister will be able to calm my fears and those of my Labour colleagues and other MSPs in Holyrood. Their concerns were expressed in a number of amendments that were tabled about the definition of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. My information from them is that those concerns remain, and I will come back to that in a moment.

I appreciate the will that the Scottish Government have shown to address concerns raised at stage 1 - namely, the concern that the word "travel" would require a cross-border element, and that the emphasis on that word did not align with Scotland's international obligations, including those in the EU trafficking directive, which does not place the same, or similar, emphasis on travel. Thankfully, as a result of these concerns, the Justice Committee asked the Government to look again at the definition to see whether it could be better aligned with international obligations. It also suggested that the Government consider the wording of the definition in relation to the word "travel".

To be fair to the Scottish Government - I will always be fair to the Scottish Government - they took heed of this advice and brought forward amendments at stage 2 to remove the need to establish that a victim's travel had been arranged or facilitated simply to allow this to happen. Instead they reframed the offence to criminalise certain defined and listed relevant actions.

Various amendments tabled by my MSP colleagues - in particular, Jenny Marra MSP - were denied, despite the support of every MSP in the Chamber other than those from the Scottish National party. I hope that amendment 12, in particular, does not come back to haunt the Scottish Government. It would have ensured that section 4 of the Scottish Parliament's 2015 Act, which does not contain any definition of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, was capable of effectively prosecuting those who exploit children. Good examples that have been raised with me of the crimes that might not be covered include claiming child benefit fraudulently and forcing children to shoplift. I hope that the Minister will allay my fears on that.

The Scottish Government would also have shown an element of compassion if they had accepted amendment 16, which would have required them to publish guidance on the provision of support and assistance to victims of human trafficking offences. Again, that had the support of every MSP in the Chamber with the exception of SNP MSPs.

Overall, the Bill was an important one that had cross-party support at Holyrood. It is fair to say that a variety of amendments, some of which I have mentioned, possibly did not receive the consideration that they should have received at the time. Having raised those concerns, we will not oppose this statutory instrument today.

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): As has been stated, the key provisions of this order ultimately deal with tackling crime as a joint responsibility of the Scottish and UK Governments, incorporating joined-up working and best practice. The fact is that victims of human trafficking and exploitation face horrendous suffering and there is no place for it in modern society. The new legislation to which the order relates will create data protections and increase the maximum penalty for those who perpetrate this serious offence from 14 years to life imprisonment. That sends out an incredibly strong signal that Scotland and the UK is a hostile place for traffickers and that we will not tolerate trafficking and exploitation.?

We will continue to work in partnership on international and UK levels. The Scottish Government will always aim to make Scotland a hostile place for traffickers and to better identify and support potential and confirmed victims. I welcome the order.

Michael Ellis, Deputy Leader of the House: I very much welcome what the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said. It is reassuring to see cross-party support on something as important as this - there is very little controversy about the measure, and rightly so. We need to get it right and the authorities in Scotland have clearly worked hard to do so, in consultation with many.

I heard the shadow Minister's representations on definitions and consultations. With regard to wider consultation, the reality is that the Scottish Parliament's 2015 Act was the subject of numerous reports, inquiries and consultations. The Scottish Government drew on the analysis and recommendations in all those reports to inform the Act. I can assure him that they have taken the same approach with this order.

As for his point about the definition of the word "travel", we are content that it is compliant with international obligations. The matters have been perused by the appropriate authorities, and the Scottish Government have indicated to the UK Government that they are content and that it meets international obligations.

Mr Anderson: I accept that the point about travel has been resolved and that the Government acted on the concerns that were raised. The issue was more about the definition of

"slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour."

I hope that the Minister or his civil servants will advise that there is a definition in this place that covers the same things in Scotland, but I just wanted to make sure that we do not potentially leave a loophole that could be exploited.

Michael Ellis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for exploring the matter, because clearly it is crucial. Lawyers - I was one before I came to this place - will always look for loopholes where they can find them and definitions have to be very carefully considered and tightly demarcated, because otherwise they provide undesirable opportunities to exploit any lacunas that might exist within them. I am very confident that the authorities have considered that carefully and that legal representations have been sought. I am assured that numerous reports, inquiries and consultations have taken place, and I can only assume that they will have included legal representations. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

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