Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
1st. October 2015
Over the past four years, this Parliament and this Government have travelled far, from human trafficking being a crime that not many people in this building talked about to the point at which there is vastly increased political and public awareness in Scotland of what is a heinous crime.
The bill, which will become law this afternoon, has been instrumental in that process.
Many people have played a key role, and I put on record my personal thanks to some of them:
Graham O’Neill, Ross McKenzie, Bronagh Andrew, the cross-party group on human trafficking, the civil servants and the cabinet secretary, who has taken the bill through its last stages.
I say “its last stages”—I should point out that the bill has been nearly four years in the making.
It dates back to Baroness Helena Kennedy’s inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland, the report of which was published in November 2011.
That report contained 10 key recommendations on tackling the crime of human trafficking in Scotland, many of which are to be found in the bill that we will pass this afternoon.
We had an extensive and comprehensive consultation, and such was the public interest in the campaign that we found ourselves with more than 50,000 responses—the third highest response rate in the Parliament’s history.
The number of public responses was eclipsed only by those for the legislation on equal marriage and the ban on smoking in public places.
For their mobilisation of the public interest, I must put on record my thanks to ECPAT
UK, CARE for Scotland, the walk free movement and, in particular, the Scottish churches.
Campaign organisations should look to them as examples of excellence in public campaigning.
I also acknowledge the sustained reporting of the trafficking issue by the Scottish media, which throughout this campaign have taken their responsibility for shining a light into our nation’s dark corners very seriously.
The story is often not easy to report; the victims are so vulnerable that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to tell their story in a public forum.
It is for that very reason that I have never met a victim of human trafficking.
However, it is my duty, and the duty of everyone in the Parliament, to speak up for the voiceless and to use the powers of this place to improve our society and constantly make our communities more resilient against gendered, exploitative and violent crime and constantly strengthen the resolve to respect human rights across the country.
I think that the bill turned our current political narrative about powers on its head, because it starts from the premise that we will combat the crime of trafficking only by making our communities robust against it at the grass roots.
Trafficking is an international crime that is motivated by vast profits.
Criminal gangs will always find ways to get people into host countries, and they will be steps ahead of law enforcement as they do so.
Therefore, it was not good enough to lay blame squarely at the door of the UK Border Agency and dismiss trafficking as an immigration problem.
That is why the bill takes an approach that involves strengthening communities against the crime of trafficking and thereby making Scotland a place where the crime is not welcome, victims are more easily identified, intelligence to catch traffickers improves and our police, legal and court system know how to deal with the people responsible.
Are we at that stage yet?
I do not believe that we are.
Today is not the end of a process; it is simply the first day in our fight against trafficking in Scotland. We know that legislation is not enough.
We have another human rights law in this country that makes female genital mutilation a crime, yet there has not been one police report or prosecution relating to FGM in Scotland, even though we know that it is happening in our communities.
That is why it was critically important that the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill should pave the way for the future.
Legislation is never enough.
The bill places a duty on the Scottish Government to publish a three-yearly anti-slavery strategy.
I hope that that strategy will include training for our doctors, nurses and health professionals on how to recognise potential victims of trafficking when they present themselves.
We know that trafficking victims rarely self-identify due to fear—fear for their own safety and fear of reprisals on their families back home.
I also want social workers to be trained, so that they, too, can identify these vulnerable people when they work with them and know what resources are in their hands to help them.
I would like to see our lawyers of the future taught about the crime of human trafficking in criminal law courses in universities, so that when they mark cases they recognise the crime when they are presented with the evidence.
I want our police officers—not just those who police our borders, but police in every community across our country—to have an understanding of the crime so that when they see it they investigate it and refer it up through our legal system.
Only when our communities are robust in that way will the traffickers take note and consider Scotland too risky a place for their crime and human rights abuses.
I understand that the Scottish Government already has civil servants working on the strategy, but I hope that some of my suggestions can be taken on board.
I ask the cabinet secretary to address how the strategy will be delivered, who will co-ordinate it and whether that work will be led by a group that is accountable to the Scottish Government.
More detail on that would be welcome, whether today or in the near future.
This morning, in Glasgow, I met women in the trafficking awareness raising alliance, who work every day supporting victims of human trafficking.
Their working day today and tomorrow will be the same as it was yesterday—they will be supporting women whose harrowing experiences we can only imagine.
However, today we enshrine the support that they give into a right that can be expected in our country.
For our country to marshal the resources to look after vulnerable people is the civilised thing to do.
Today we give legal guardians to children who have been trafficked.
Today we strengthen our law and increase sentences for criminal traffickers.
Today, most importantly, we reiterate our resolve to protect and guard human rights in Scotland.
It is a proud day for the Scottish Parliament and for our mission as public servants to shine a light in the dark corners of the world and bring hope and respect to those who need it.
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