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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, One Minute’s Silence, First Minister’s Question Time, Mossmorran Flaring, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report), National Council of Rural Advisers, Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct Inquiry, Point of Order, Decision Time


Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on human trafficking and the first annual progress report. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

I am sure that all members in the chamber agree that human trafficking is a terrible crime and an appalling abuse of human rights. It targets the most vulnerable, across the globe and here in Scotland, and the impact on victims is devastating.

This Parliament unanimously passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, and I laid the first trafficking and exploitation strategy before Parliament in May 2017. The strategy was the result of extensive joint working and consultation, including through the cross-party group on human trafficking, and it reflected the views of victims.

During this first year of strategy implementation, we have continued to work in partnership with victims, with support organisations such as the trafficking awareness-raising alliance project, Migrant Help and the Scottish guardianship service, and with other bodies including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Significant progress has been made and is set out in the first annual report, which is published today. I am grateful to all partners who have contributed to that work.

The strategy sets out a clear structure, with actions falling under four broad headings: the identification of victims and supporting them to safety and recovery; identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity; addressing the conditions that foster trafficking and exploitation; and supporting child trafficking victims.

There is widespread interest in human trafficking, and guidance has been developed to offer accurate and consistent advice for both professional and public audiences. The advice covers what human trafficking is, its extent in Scotland, signs to look out for, the impact on victims, how to report concerns and how to access further information.

Police Scotland and partners have created an e-learning training resource for public sector workers who may come into contact with victims. That has been published on DVD and distributed through Scottish Government funding.

To raise public awareness, a standard presentation has been developed, drawing on material from Migrant Help, TARA, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, which will be available for use by community groups and anyone with an interest.

Identifying potential victims is the first step but it is vital that, following that, effective victim-centred support is in place. Last year, I announced our intention to extend the minimum period of support from 45 days to 90 days. Following unanimous agreement by the Justice Committee, the change came into force in April 2018, alongside identical provision for victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. The 90-day period is double the minimum support period in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have backed that up with substantial increases in funding for Migrant Help and TARA—groups that support adult trafficking victims in Scotland—as well as providing more funding for psychological trauma support through the Anchor Centre service.

Child victims of trafficking are supported through child protection services and the strategy includes a section covering the needs of child victims. In January, section 12 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 was implemented, ensuring that where doubts exist as to whether a victim is under 18, it must be assumed they are a child until their age is established. That will ensure that the individual receives immediate age-appropriate support. Following a process of consultation and development with partners, we published guidance in March to support social workers and others undertaking age assessments of potential child victims of trafficking.

Alongside the work to improve support to victims, Police Scotland has led on improvements to the identification and disruption of trafficking. In March, the first convictions under the 2015 act were secured, with one individual sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and another to seven years’ imprisonment for offences relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

The 2015 act provided for two new court orders: trafficking and exploitation prevention orders, and trafficking and exploitation risk orders. Those provisions came into force during 2017, and both individuals who have been convicted under the act were also made subject to prevention orders, reducing their ability to further exploit others.

The national human trafficking unit in Police Scotland has co-ordinated intelligence-led operations throughout police divisions over the past year, focusing on labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, child trafficking, domestic servitude, illegal border activity and Romanian and Vietnamese traffickers. Those operations uncovered a range of offences, including criminal activity in respect of drugs, sexual exploitation and brothel keeping.

Police Scotland and partners have undertaken joint days of action, executing warrants, disrupting illegal activity and supporting victims to safety with the assistance of TARA. Police Scotland works closely with European law enforcement colleagues and has arrangements in place through Europol to share relevant information with law enforcement agencies right across Europe. That includes joint investigations with Romanian police, for example, focusing on individuals involved in trafficking women for sexual exploitation. Police Scotland has also benefited from the secondment of Romanian police officers to support human trafficking operations.

It is not enough to disrupt trafficking when it occurs or to support victims after the fact. The vision behind the strategy is to eliminate trafficking and exploitation and, to do that, we need to address the root causes and build a society where trafficking cannot flourish. Businesses and our wider communities have an important role in that work. From August to October 2017, we ran a national awareness-raising campaign, featuring a short film that was screened during advert breaks on television, and digital adverts via social media and smartphones.

Over that time, the modern slavery helpline recorded a significant increase in contact from Scotland, from two potential victims per week to 10 per week. To assess the impact of the media campaign, a public survey was undertaken in March of this year, which found that awareness of trafficking had increased. Of those surveyed, 87 per cent said that they would report trafficking suspicions to Police Scotland, which was a marked increase from 80 per cent last year. We are working with businesses in Scotland and have established a corporate group that is looking into the provision of guidance and training; raising awareness and sharing best practice; and improving the quality of slavery and human trafficking statements.

I am happy to report the significant progress that has been made in implementation of the strategy one year on from publication. That has been achieved through joint work by the Scottish Government, COSLA, Police Scotland, support organisations, businesses and a wide range of other bodies, and it will have a positive impact on victims and on efforts to combat trafficking both in Scotland and further afield.

That is good progress, but there is much more to do. The report sets out key priorities for the next year, which include developing communication channels to raise awareness and trust among victims, and further work to engage and support businesses in tackling trafficking. We will also make progress on the outstanding provisions in the 2015 act. On the duty to notify, an implementation trial is under way with the City of Edinburgh Council and we are looking to establish a further trial with other relevant bodies. We are also working to ensure that the digital platform that is currently being developed for the UK national referral mechanism will work with the duty to notify in Scotland. On independent child trafficking guardians, we plan to consult in the autumn on proposed roles and responsibilities, and the existing Scottish guardianship service will continue to work until the new statutory arrangements are in place.

A further progress report will be published one year from now, in line with the commitment that is set out in the strategy.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, and then we will move on to the next item of business.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for providing advance sight of his statement. He asserted at the outset that

“human trafficking is a terrible crime and an appalling abuse of human rights.”

Conservative MSPs have no hesitation in agreeing with that, and we endorse his choice of words.

The problems that the legislation and the report seek to address are a scourge on society. Therefore, any attempt to forensically analyse and address human trafficking, and to rescue victims from it, is hugely welcome. I welcome the progress that has been made but, as the cabinet secretary said, there is more to do.

The cabinet secretary said that he will “make progress” on the outstanding provisions in the 2015 act—those being the duty on public authorities to notify and the provision of independent child trafficking guardians. Those steps are crucial and we cannot afford any unwarranted delay. I push the cabinet secretary to provide further detail on his target date for the commencement of those provisions.

The report makes several positive references to security and law enforcement across the UK, such as the development of a joint digital platform for the national referral mechanism and the duty to notify. Indeed, intelligence sharing is a key outcome in the strategy. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in order to tackle the evil of human trafficking, it is vital that cross-border co-operation continues seamlessly, and that anything that could disrupt that collaboration must be avoided?

Michael Matheson

I am grateful for Liam Kerr’s comments. Let me address the specific issues that he has raised.

In my statement, I mentioned our plans on the duty to notify. A pilot is in place with the City of Edinburgh Council, and it has been in operation for several months. There are some issues around the number of cases that have come from the existing pilot, and we are looking to conduct another pilot with a different agency—potentially, Border Force—to ensure that the duty to notify operates effectively. The purpose of that work through the pilots is to ensure that the system operates effectively and is being utilised properly.

Alongside that, we are working with the Home Office on the new digital platform to gather information and ensure that we have a single dataset. The information that we gather through the duty to notify will also be submitted to the system that gathers data from the national referral mechanism. There have been some delays with the procurement of that digital platform, which has had an impact on taking forward some of the work. However, we are working closely with the Home Office to ensure that we make progress.

I would like to have made more progress on independent guardians than we have done. We intend to have a consultation in autumn specifically to get clarity on roles and responsibilities, so that there is no uncertainty between the role of local authorities and the role of the independent guardian.

Liam Kerr mentioned intelligence sharing. Currently, we have very effective intelligence sharing to tackle serious and organised crime and human trafficking. I agree that we should ensure that no unnecessary barriers get in the way of the sharing of data and intelligence, as and when appropriate.

However, the member will be aware that Brexit is one of the biggest risks that we face in intelligence sharing. We are about to lose our full membership of Europol, which is one of the main hubs for the sharing of such information across all 28 European Union states. Alongside that, we will potentially lose access to the Schengen information system II—SIS II—which, again, allows us to identify markers relating to individuals who might be moving around Europe and whom the police might want to apprehend. As I set out in our report, there are real risks to security and justice matters if we lose access to European intelligence and information. There has been a lack of engagement from the Home Office on the matter. It is simply unacceptable that we are creating such risks and are making so little progress.

I agree with Liam Kerr’s comments on intelligence sharing. I ask him to use his good offices in the Conservative Party to ensure that the Home Office and the UK Government engage with us properly on such issues, to ensure that there are no gaps once we have left the EU.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement. Most importantly, I fully agree that human trafficking is an appalling abuse of human rights.

I welcome the report, which is an extremely useful update on the progress that is being made on this vital issue. It is important that it sets out the work that still needs to be done. The strength of any strategy is in the degree to which it can measure progress and identify areas for improvement. What are the most critical steps in improving our capacity and capability to identify those who have been trafficked and those who seek to perpetrate such acts?

I note the sharp increase in the number of people who have been identified as victims of human trafficking this year. Given the hidden nature of human trafficking, what does the minister believe the overall scale of it is in Scotland? Can he give a sense of the number of those who are being identified as having been trafficked?

Michael Matheson

Like Daniel Johnson, I think that the strategy and the annual report are important elements of ensuring that we continue to look at the progress that we are making and identify the issues that we need to address. The benefit of having the annual report and a ministerial statement on it—which is my choice—is that it makes us continually challenge ourselves that we are doing everything possible to tackle an appalling crime. Many of us recognise that that crime is often hidden and not fully recognised.

Daniel Johnson asks me to identify a couple of key areas in which there is risk and in which we need to make further progress in identifying people who may be being trafficked or who may be in slavery or servitude. More progress needs to be made on the national referral mechanism. Currently, the timeline for the consideration of cases is too long. There are delays in the system and it needs to improve. I have already taken up that matter with the Home Office in order to seek improvements to the system, and we will continue to press the Home Office to see what further progress can be made on the issue. I recognise that it is causing undue delays and anxiety and that it needs to be addressed.

The other potential barrier is a lack of awareness. There should be greater recognition of the risks of trafficking. It is telling that the first two convictions under our new legislation were to do with domestic servitude and individuals being held in slavery or forced labour. That demonstrates that we are talking about something that is taking place on our own doorstep. We need to recognise that. It is not just about people being trafficked into the country; we are talking about something that can take place here, on a domestic level. Greater public awareness and better understanding across all public and private agencies are critical.

As Daniel Johnson highlighted, we have sought an increase in reporting. There was a 38 per cent increase in the number of cases that were referred to the national referral mechanism in 2017. However, I suspect that that is just the tip of the iceberg and that a significant number of cases still go unidentified. That is why we need to remain vigilant and continually challenge our approaches, so that we do everything that we can to identify individuals who may have been trafficked or who may be in forced labour.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The two opening questions were fairly detailed and the answers were fairly long. There are quite a few questions to get through, so I ask that questions and answers be succinct.

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is increasingly recognised as a global human rights crisis. Intelligence suggests that organised crime groups are involved in sexual exploitation to a greater degree than they are in other forms of slavery. Does the progress report acknowledge that that is a problem? What more can the Government do to combat that?

Michael Matheson

Ash Denham is correct in identifying that organised crime groups can often be involved in human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. That is very clear in several sections of the annual report. Ash Denham should look at action area 3 in the report. On page 33, there is a specific reference to the

“increased focus on commercial sexual exploitation”

and the multi-agency work that is being pursued in that field.

OCGs will often be involved in not only human trafficking but other forms of illegal activity. Ash Denham can be assured that Police Scotland gives considerable attention to that area. Sexual exploitation is often a part of the work of those organisations, and it will continue to be a key focus of our enforcement and prevention work.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary has stated that the 63 trafficked children who were identified in Scotland this year likely represent only the tip of the iceberg. Building trust with trafficked and sexually exploited young people is key to aiding disclosure. Will the cabinet secretary therefore meet voluntary organisations and charities such as Addaction, which has a proven record in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire of building that trust and identifying those young people in cases in which statutory organisations have failed? Further, can he confirm—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I think that that is enough, Ms Mitchell.

Michael Matheson

The member will be aware that the provisions for supporting children who have been identified as being trafficked involves our child protection arrangements, which are delivered by local authorities, and the Scottish guardianship provision. If the member sends me further information about particular organisations, I will be more than happy to engage with her in that regard.

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

The award-winning Scottish guardianship service provides support to refugee children who are alone or separated from their families. The cabinet secretary will know that the hostile environment policy of the Home Office makes it difficult for children without an independent advocate to navigate the complex system. Can the cabinet secretary therefore give us an update on the eligibility criteria for trafficked children in Scotland and say how they can access an independent advocate through the guardianship service?

Michael Matheson

As I mentioned, the Scottish guardianship service will continue to be in place until the independent guardianship arrangements have been implemented. Part of the purpose of the consultation that we are undertaking in the autumn is to allow us to be clear about the role and responsibilities of the independent guardian.

I have no doubt that the cross-party group on human trafficking—of which Christina McKelvie is a long-standing member—will be interested in feeding in to that consultation exercise to ensure that the independent guardian system addresses the concerns that she has just highlighted.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Further to Christina McKelvie’s question, when will the provision in the 2015 act, which gives unaccompanied children access to an independent guardian, be implemented? It has been two and a half years and we are still waiting.

Michael Matheson

As I said, I would have liked us to have made further progress on that issue. However, the Scottish guardianship programme is in place at the moment and will continue. This autumn, when the consultation process has been completed, we will be in a position to roll out the independent guardian system. Although I cannot give Rhoda Grant a specific date for that, I assure her that I want it to happen sooner rather than later. However, I want to get the system right, working in partnership with local authorities, before we start rolling it out.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome this important update from the cabinet secretary. Does he agree that, in order for the Scottish Government to successfully implement policies to significantly reduce human trafficking and give justice to the victims, this Parliament must have full control over immigration policy, which would allow victims the choice to remain here, in Scotland, and not face deportation as a result of the United Kingdom Government’s fixation on a hard Brexit?

Michael Matheson

Some organisations that are working with individuals who have been identified as being trafficked have raised with me the challenges that those individuals can face due to the overlap with the immigration system. The way in which the Home Office is dealing with some cases of human trafficking remains a concern for me and, in my view, there continues to be a mismatch in how the two systems operate.

As is known, I am in favour of immigration matters being the responsibility of this Parliament. We will continue to press the UK Government, and the Home Office in particular, to ensure that the immigration system operates more sympathetically to, and with greater understanding of, victims of trafficking and the challenges that they face.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

The cabinet secretary might be aware of the case of my constituent Duc Nguyen, who was a victim of human trafficking and human slavery and was forced to work on a cannabis farm. As a result of that, he was arrested, imprisoned and, despite being a victim of that crime, was faced with imminent deportation just this week. He was taken off the plane as a result of the pressure of thousands of his supporters, and we hope that he will be returned to Glasgow.

What redress can the Scottish Government give to those who are criminalised in our justice system as a result of their experience of being victims of human trafficking and forced labour? Will the Scottish Government lend its support in the case of Duc Nguyen?

Michael Matheson

I am aware of the case and the issues that the member raises.

For individuals who have been forced into labour or servitude or who have been trafficked, there is scope for compensation to be provided through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. There is also the possibility for the court to set down that compensation should be paid to an individual.

The member will recognise that our scope to redress aspects of asylum and immigration is very limited, given that responsibilities in those matters lie elsewhere. Nevertheless, I assure him that, in our approach to the organisations that we support, such as TARA and Migrant Help, which often engage with individuals who have been exploited or trafficked, we allow organisations scope to provide support for individuals that goes wider than that for which we provide funding. We recognise that organisations often need to offer support that goes beyond the specific support that we fund, and we assist them with that as and when we can, in recognition of the wider issues that need to be addressed when individuals experience the kinds of difficulty to which the member refers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Four more members want to ask a question. If members are aware of the short time that we have, I might get them all in.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. I welcome the report and associate myself with his comments about our collective abhorrence of human trafficking.

The cabinet secretary is aware that the Liberal Democrats fought for the introduction of independent child trafficking guardians and stronger identification and referral processes. Will he say what policy developments are stalling the implementation of the provision and which organisations he thinks should be able to make a referral to appoint a guardian for a child?

Michael Matheson

As I said to Rhoda Grant, the principal piece of work that we need to do in relation to implementation is the consultation on the role and responsibilities of the independent guardian. A key part of that work will be to secure agreement with COSLA, given its clear responsibility for child protection matters. I am determined that, when we have completed the work, in the autumn, we should do everything that we can to put independent guardianship arrangements in place.

I recognise the frustrations of Liam McArthur and other members about the progress that has been made to date. Nevertheless, when we have completed that work and secured assurances from local authorities about how the arrangements will work, we will be in a position to finalise the matter. The work will include looking at who can make referrals and on what terms.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

What is the Scottish Government’s position on victims of trafficking being granted compensation? The minister knows that my constituency has seen one of the worst cases of labour exploitation.

Michael Matheson

The provision for compensation in the Scottish criminal justice system is operated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, to which we provide funding for Scottish cases. Someone can make an application to the authority on the basis of a person having been convicted or acquitted of an offence that relates to the legislation that underpins the strategy. Over and above that, there is scope for sentencers—sheriffs and judges—to direct that compensation be paid to victims. That can be done at the discretion of the judge or sheriff at the time of sentencing.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

The work that has been undertaken to raise awareness is welcome. Will the cabinet secretary tell members what further types of action will be taken to improve awareness of the problem of human trafficking?

Michael Matheson

As I said in my statement, and as the member is aware, we have had a public information campaign and we have provided a suite of materials to ensure that individuals have access to information about trafficking. That work will continue.

We will consider what further media and public information campaigns are appropriate and would heighten awareness of the issues. The work that we are doing through the corporate group that we have established is intended to ensure that the private sector plays its part, particularly in the context of forced labour. We are keen to expand that work, and the work that we will pursue over the coming year in that regard is a key measure in the annual report.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Victims of human trafficking are particularly vulnerable to being sexually exploited. Can the cabinet secretary describe the action that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle commercial sexual exploitation?

Michael Matheson

The Scottish Government is opposed to all forms of violence against women, and a key part of our equally safe strategy, which has been taken forward by my colleague Angela Constance, is to do everything that we can to reduce the harm that is caused by sexual exploitation. A key part of the work that is being done to address the issue is taking place through the multi-agency working group, which is identifying what further measures can be taken to reduce the risk and harm that is associated with sexual exploitation. That work will begin in the coming months.