John’s speech on the Human Trafficking Bill

Yesterday, John spoke in the Stage 1 debate on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill. He said:

I declare an interest, in that I am a member of Amnesty International, and I thank Amnesty and others for the briefings that they provided for this debate. I also thank Jenny Marra for the work that she has done that has led us to this point. We are at a welcome stage.

The cabinet secretary opened the debate by quoting the bill’s policy memorandum, which says that this is a “serious, complex and multifaceted crime.”

That is entirely the case. However, we are going to have a single offence coming out of it, which I think is positive.

The first of the committee’s recommendations talks about better alignment. The reason for that is highlighted in one of the briefings, which refers to the belief that deviating from internationally accepted definitions might complicate transnational crime investigations with countries that operate within the internationally accepted framework. We need to be conscious of that.

In 2008, Amnesty undertook an inquiry that produced a report called “Scotland’s Slaves”, which highlighted the prevalence of human trafficking in Scotland. Amnesty called on the Scottish Government to implement parts of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, within its devolved powers. I think that this legislation does that and that the dedicated resources that we have heard have been put in place by Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, including the special prosecutor, show that action is being taken.

As many have said, this is an international issue, a cross-border issue and – with reference to the word “travel” – is also something that takes place within our borders. I hope that the Scottish Government will give due consideration to that.

Clearly, there are challenges relating to detection, prosecution and support and to the issue of forced criminality, which involves the victim becoming the accused. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s positive response on that issue.

The issue of consent has also been addressed. The consent of someone who is held in slavery and servitude is not a defence for the perpetrator. Clearly, the Stockholm syndrome has applied in these circumstances.

As has been said by many people, the issue of statutory defence is one of the most interesting aspects of the bill. During evidence taking, we heard compelling arguments from both sides, and we asked the cabinet secretary to reflect on it. Amnesty and others seek to have that statutory defence included in the bill.

Others have talked of the national referral mechanism, which is the process by which people who have been trafficked are identified, assisted and supported by the UK Government. Malcolm Chisholm referred to the fact that this cross-border issue is often clouded by issues relating to immigration and that, in the current climate, it is considered in the context of hostile public opinion in some instances.

That term – that the issue is clouded by immigration – is not just my personal view. It is the view of the Home Office, which produced a report in November 2014 on its review of the national referral mechanism. It outlined some good practice, but there was also criticism “of decision making, the quality and communication of decisions and the ability to manage and share information effectively in the best interest of victims”.

That is clearly something that is absolutely vital if we are going to get things right. The report found further “concerns over the conflation of human trafficking decisions with asylum decisions” – no surprise at all, given that the same parties are involved on occasions — and “elongated timeframes for decisions, lack of shared responsibility and provision of relevant information for decision-making”.

We have some way to go. I was one of the committee members who went on the external visits along with the convener and Alison McInnes, and I am grateful to Barnardo’s Scotland for the visit that it facilitated. We heard graphic stories about people travelling around the world, often not knowing where they are. We forget at our peril, if we dwell too much on statistics, that it is humans we are dealing with. It is for that reason that calls for the best possible psychological support have my backing.

We heard a lot about the strategy. The cabinet secretary used the term “awareness and understanding”, and I think that there is already some of that. The Equal Opportunities Committee heard from an official from City of Edinburgh Council about housing officers being likely to be the first point of contact for people who are the victims of trafficking, rather than police officers or other officials, so there is already some awareness in the system.

GIRFEC has been mentioned, and the committee report refers to the merit of including that approach in the bill. There is a good reason why children would be singled out. We know from the International Labour Organization that children make up 26 per cent of victims trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation, and we are told that, sadly, that figure does not include trafficking for the removal of organs or for forced marriage or adoption. Psychological support of the highest quality should be made available to those victims.

The committee’s report also says that more clarity is required to ensure that child victims receive appropriate and consistent support and assistance across Scotland. We heard COSLA’s concerns and we clearly want the same facilities to be available regardless of where a victim is found. Similarly, with guardianship, there are options that need to be considered, and others certainly support that provision.

A section in the bill on the presumption of age is important, because we know that children have been incarcerated. As other members have said, there can be great difficulty in determining an individual’s age. I am aware of a specific case in the Highlands in which a young man thought that he was on the outskirts of London, when in fact he was on the outskirts of a Highland village, and he ended up in prison although he was quite clearly a victim.

Returning to the definitions, we have talked about the challenge of consistency, and it is not just an issue that the Justice Committee has come up against with this bill but one that recurs whenever we deal with issues affecting children or young people.

The independent and Green group fully supports the bill and the efforts that everyone is putting in to make Scotland a place that is hostile to the traffickers.

You can read the full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Record, or watch it on YouTube – John’s speech begins at 2:01:55.