MLAs pass bill that outlaws payment for sex

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The Human Trafficking and Sexual Services Bill, which included a clause criminalising the payment for sexual services, completed its final stage in the Assembly, on 9 December 2014.

DUP peer Lord Morrow was greeted with applause from his party's benches as he responded to the debate on his private member's bill.

He said he hoped the bill would "send a strong message that our society will not tolerate human trafficking and that we will not let the victims of such crimes down".

"This legislation will not, in and of itself, eradicate trafficking," he said, "ultimately doing so may prove impossible - that does not mean we shouldn't try".

Justice Minister David Ford described the bill as "ground-breaking" and said it would make "a material difference in the lives of vulnerable people".

But while the house remained united on the main principles of the bill, Mr Ford said he still had misgivings around criminalising paying for sexual services, the debate around which he said had "diverted the focus away from some of the other important measures and into the moral issues surrounding the purchase of sex".

"I remain disappointed the research I commissioned from Queens University was ignored and indeed at times derided," he said.

The minister's Alliance Party colleague, Stewart Dickson, said the bill had "evolved considerably since its introduction" which had "for the most part brought significant improvement".

He said it was "a deep source of regret", however, that clause 15, criminalising paying for sexual services, was included in the bill as it carried "possible dangers for those who have been trafficked or those working in the sex industry who have not been trafficked".

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott agreed that clause 15 had caused "a great deal of division" but said "I think, in the end, the decision has been right".

Lord Morrow's party colleague Jim Wells said he believed that "in a hundred years time, everyone will still know the name of Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley" as the originator of "one of the most important pieces of law this Assembly will pass in this mandate".

"I believe Lord Morrow's bill will stand the test of time," he said.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said he remained concerned that the clause involving prostitution could be "counterproductive in relation to the aims of the bill".

Mr Agnew welcomed the inclusion of support services and protection from prosecution for victims of trafficking.

Jim Allister of the TUV congratulated Lord Morrow "on a job well done".

He said human trafficking was "a difficult area of law" but the bill was "a necessary piece of legislation and one looks forward to it rolling out and the implications of it".

Independent Unionist John McCallister appealed to the Assembly to consider extending the role of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland, which he said would be "vital to try and fight and eliminate the scourge of human trafficking and the misery that goes with it".

The bill was passed on an oral vote.

You can see the first part of the debate here.

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