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Human Trafficking

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

19. How many cases were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to human trafficking in the last five years. (80900)

Prior to 10 February 2003, the CPS prosecuted cases of human trafficking under a wide variety of offences, so it is difficult to be specific about numbers. Since that date, new laws have been put in place, and CPS statistics show that 43 human trafficking charges have been brought. It is anticipated that further charges will be brought as a result of the success of the recent Operation Pentameter.

I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer, and I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far. Does he agree that one problem for the CPS in prosecuting the evil people who engage in human trafficking is the fact that the young women are often scared to give evidence because they fear deportation?

That problem sometimes arises, and we are looking at ways of tackling it. As part of Operation Pentameter, a close working relationship was developed with the Poppy project, which enabled the police to provide some reassurance. We are looking, too, at other safeguards, and we recently consulted on a convention that may assist with the process of enabling those women to testify, but there are some concerns that we still have to work through.

How many of those cases involved the trafficking of children? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that just as it is hard to deal with the trafficking of women, it is also hard to deal with the trafficking of children, who are often unable to explain what has happened to them?

My hon. Friend is right. A ministerial sub-committee has been set up and is being co-chaired by me and a Home Office Minister, and it will examine the trafficking of children and the trafficking of adults for sexual exploitation and for forced labour. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are particular problems in dealing with children, and we need to develop police, immigration and criminal justice agencies. We also need NGOs to provide support and ensure that the future of such children is safeguarded not only in this country, but if they return to their parents in another country.

The Solicitor-General will be aware that the 43 cases since the new Act came into force reflect only a small proportion of the problem, because the evidence is clear that the rate of human trafficking has been growing rapidly in our country. Can he tell the House any more about how the CPS is liaising with the police to deal with the matter? Given his knowledge of what is in the pipeline, are we going to see an increasing number of such prosecutions, and is that an area which requires specialist casework within the CPS?

The CPS is developing champions in each area who will deal with liaison on human trafficking. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is growing. Operation Pentameter was more successful than expected, in the sense that it revealed the scale of the problem across the country. The police visited 515 premises, 232 arrests were made and 188 women were recovered, of whom 84 were identified as victims of trafficking—it is probable that more of the women were trafficked but were not prepared to admit it for reasons that we have already discussed. We also recovered £280,000 in cash assets. That was only a short project, so the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is developing, which is why the CPS has identified champions in each area. The police also developed their expertise through Operation Pentameter, and we must ensure that the lessons are learned to deal with the problem in the future.