HC Deb 10 March 2003 vol 401 cc3-4WS
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

I am pleased to announce new measures to support female victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK.

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum (NIA) Act 2002, introduced a new offence that commenced on 10 February 2003 of "trafficking a person for the purpose of controlling him or her in prostitution."

From today, safe accommodation and a range of services will be provided to support female victims of human trafficking through a non-governmental organisation. A six-month pilot scheme located in London will cater for approximately 25 women, on a rolling basis, who meet the criteria for access to the services, including a willingness to come forward and co-operate with the authorities in the combating of international organised crime that could lead to prosecutions of criminals.

We will consider, in light of individual circumstances, whether it would be appropriate to allow such victims who have co-operated to remain here. Where they are to return home, we will assist them to do so, providing them with initial counselling, ensuring that they have suitable accommodation to return to, and providing help to enable them to re-integrate into their own community and find employment.

We are also publishing a new "best practice toolkit" for the police, immigration officers and others who deal with illegal immigrants and trafficking victims. The toolkit will help them to identify victims and to provide practical advice on how to deal with them appropriately.

The Sexual Offences Bill, introduced into the House of Lords on 28 January 2003 also proposes new comprehensive offences of trafficking for sexual exploitation to replace the stop-gap offence introduced by the NIA Act 2002 of Trafficking in Prostitution. These new offences tackle the movement of people into, within and out of the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and will carry maximum penalties of 14 years imprisonment. The offence relating to trafficking within the UK applies equally to UK nationals trafficked from place to place in the UK, and to foreign nationals brought here and then moved around from place to place within the UK. This is the first time that the trafficking of UK nationals within the UK has been tackled in legislation.

Internationally, we are committed to addressing the issue of trafficking by our involvement with the EU Framework Decision on combating the trafficking of human beings, and the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking. I believe the trafficking provisions in this Bill meet the requirements of the EU decision, and the UN Protocol and indeed go further in that they criminalise trafficking for a sexual offence per se, whereas the protocol specifies it ought to be criminal only in certain circumstances, for example, where forcer, coercion or abduction are involved.

They also go further than the provisions in the NIA Act in specifying that it will be a criminal offence to traffic someone for the purposes of submitting them to a sex offence, rather than limiting this to trafficking them for the purposes of exploiting their prostitution. This allows us to offer greater protection against all forms of sexual trafficking, for example, for those who are trafficked in order to be sexually assaulted by others where there is no prostitution taking place.

In addition the Bill introduces new offences to tackle directly the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The activities that the offences cover include buying the sexual services of a child, causing or encouraging a child into commercial sexual exploitation, facilitating the commercial sexual exploitation of a child, and controlling the activities of a child involved in prostitution. The maximum penalties available for these offences will range from seven years to life imprisonment depending upon the nature of the offence committed and the age of the child victim.

All these provisions together, will set in place a comprehensive framework of robust legislation and improved support that will enable us both to bear down on perpetrators, often organised criminals, and provide a better response to victims.