My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich on bringing forward this Bill for your Lordships’ consideration. I have taken a long interest in the subject of human trafficking, as it is the cause of much suffering to large numbers of vulnerable people. I have spoken on the subject several times in your Lordships’ House.
Despite concerted efforts in this country and across the world, the appalling reality is that human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing international criminal activities. I welcome very strongly the lead that the Government have shown in making this country one of the world’s leaders in combating trafficking. The decision to opt in to the European Union human trafficking directive will extend our powers to prosecute United Kingdom nationals who commit offences anywhere in the world, even when there is no connection to the United Kingdom.
I welcome the inclusion of Clause 4, which amends the current arrangements for trafficking involving a country other than the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation. The traffickers need to know that there is nowhere they can hide from justice. That is why I welcome Clause 1 of the Bill, which makes it very clear that consent to human trafficking shall be irrelevant. Part 3 of the Bill provides for special measures for witnesses. I hope that this will make it easier to bring successful proceedings. The European Union directive will also provide for a more co-ordinated and shared approach among the members of the European Union, which I welcome.
Just over a month ago, on Tuesday 18 October, we had the opportunity to mark Anti-Slavery Day. As a sign of the Prime Minister’s personal commitment, a reception was hosted at No. 10 Downing Street. Human trafficking is a form of slavery and none of us should be prepared to tolerate that in the 21st century. That is why my noble friend’s Bill is so timely and so important. If we are to bring an end to this practice, we need to understand how the traffickers behave. We have to recognise that these people will change their ways to try to evade the rules and regulations that we put in place. We need to make sure that we are one step ahead of them at all times.
I recognise that it has been a priority of the Government for a considerable time to act on human trafficking. We cannot afford to let down our guard. Some progress has been made but there is a lot more to do. The creation of the National Crime Agency will improve our capabilities, not least because it will bring together general law enforcement and border policing to share intelligence and conduct joint operations. Tighter immigration controls will also have a part to play, as will improved intelligence. We must raise the stakes for the traffickers.
The British people will not tolerate this activity, which often takes place behind closed doors and in secret. Very often, victims find themselves coerced into illegal working. They are compelled by the traffickers to break the law, and I am pleased by Clause 5, which will provide immunity under certain circumstances. It is also important that compensation will be provided, as proposed by Clause 8. Supporting victims is central to increasing the number of people who are successfully prosecuted, but it is easy to sympathise with a victim who does not wish to take the stand in court, and I support the provisions of Clause 5 in this regard. The Crown Prosecution Service is aware of this, and I welcome its public policy statement on developing further measures to help victims. We need to ensure that there is a greater range of specialist care providers able to support victims of this crime.
Part 2 provides a duty on the Secretary of State to set out the procedure for identifying a person who might have been the victim of a human trafficking offence. It also sets out the assistance and support that must be provided. That is also to be welcomed. Vigilance at local level is also important. Every locality must be aware of the dangers and prepared to act.
Intelligence must lie at the heart of our operations. We must make sure that traffickers are not able to enter this country, and we must proceed firmly against those responsible. They are often international organised groups that make profits from these crimes. I know that the Government are alive to the issue and are working on an ever more effective strategy to combat human trafficking. The Bill will provide an additional focus on the needs of those victims who have suffered much.
We need also to ensure that sentences serve as a realistic deterrent to those who perpetrate this evil. That is why Clause 2 offers scope to increase sentences by defining aggravating factors. The national referral mechanism enables the speedy identification of victims in this country, and the provision of specialist care and support. However, there are still those who manage to slip through the net. We need comprehensive cover to identify and support victims. It is time to do more to help support the thousands of vulnerable women and children who are smuggled across borders and forced to work or beg, or pushed into the sex trade. A number of victims also end up working in cannabis farms, which of course increases the criminal activity of producing illegal substances. The inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill is very much appreciated.
The launch, on Anti-Slavery Day, of the initiative with Virgin Atlantic to provide cabin crew with training to spot potential traffickers and victims was commendable. It is important that we put in place prevention and monitoring measures, and I welcome the commitment in Part 4 to the publication of an annual strategy.
My noble friend Lord McColl is a very distinguished member of your Lordships’ House and is well respected in this place and beyond for his compassion, generosity and honour. I am very happy to support him and the Bill.