Lord Morrow has “served notice” that he will watch very carefully to see that a ban on buying sex backed by the Assembly is enforced.
There was widespread agreement at Stormont on Tuesday that MLAs and all arms of government worked together very effectively to pass the “groundbreaking” bill.
Even the harshest critics of DUP peer Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking Bill yesterday praised his tenacity for the three-year battle – and the wide scope of the bill.
His voice quavering, he revealed that if he had known what a battle he was taking on three years ago, “I may have stepped back from it”.
However, critics yesterday repeated concerns the bill will make sex workers more vulnerable by criminalising the purchase of sex – a clause which will be reviewed in three years.
But Lord Morrow noted that 89 per cent of MLAs in the debate had backed the clause, which he said equated to 92 per cent of the electorate.
“The law will not end trafficking,” he said. “That may prove impossible”, but he added that “doing nothing was never an option”.
He added that for the bill to be effective it must be enforced by others and “we serve notice on them today that we will watch very carefully to see and hear of the enforcement of the legislation”.
Initially the PSNI had been strongly opposed to criminalising sex buyers, saying it would be impossible to enforce and could dissuade men from reporting suspicions that a sex worker may have been forced into prostitution.
However in February Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told MLAs that after reviewing evidence from witnesses and taking advice from professionals, they were giving “qualified support” to the proposed legislation.
The PSNI’s primary focus was stopping organised crime gangs but they also wished to provide protection to vulneable people who choose to be in prostitution, he said.
Both Justice Minister David Ford and Lord Morrow praised each other and their aides for their hard work on the bill.
Mr Ford said: “I do believe this is a groundbreaking bill that puts Northern Ireland at the very forefront of tackling human trafficking and slavery.”
But he remained “disappointed” that a report he commissioned from Queen’s University, which opposed criminalising sex buyers, was “ignored and in part derided because it carried the views of sex workers”.
He quoted one sex worker as saying she used to respect government but that MLAs are now “not making decisions based on facts” and they “do not care about me and what I have to say”.
Lord Morrow, however, challenged Mr Ford as to why during the bill’s three-year passage, the minister only published the report on the eve of the sex buyer debate.
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew slammed how DUP MLA Jim Wells “interrogated” a sex worker who gave evidence to MLAs.
But Mr Wells hit back, saying: “We never met a genuine sex worker, we only met women who spoke for the big conglomerates of the sex industry”.