Thursday 24 May 2007
[John Bercow in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: 26th Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06 HC 1127 and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6996.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Given the number of Members here, I think that this afternoon may have something of a Friday feel about it; it is the last before the Whitsun recess. However, that should in no way detract from the importance of the subject that we are to debate.
I shall not make intervening like this a regular occurrence. However, is it not right that the Government had planned a main debate for 3 May on the Floor of the House on the slightly different subject of the trafficking of women and children? Then they changed the date; now they have changed the title. Does the hon. Gentleman read anything into that? Is it that the Government do not really want to discuss the issue, so they push it into Westminster Hall so that nobody will notice?
Absolutely not. The debate was moved to ensure that Members had the opportunity to debate human trafficking. Owing to the impact of the local elections on the rest of the country, the debate on 3 May was changed to one about London, where there were no local elections. That is why the change took place. As far as the title is concerned, the debate was in the gift of the Liaison Committee because it is about a Select Committee report. I see nothing untoward in those changes, although they have not generated a greater number of Members than would have participated anyway—but there we are.
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on human trafficking, which we published last autumn. It is particularly apt that we should do so this week, when Parliament has opened its exhibition on the abolition of the slave trade. Although the trade in people is illegal—it has been for 200 years—it continues. The problem has become more serious in recent years, and we need to do much more to stamp it out.
Before I get to the detail, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has engaged constructively with us on the issues; we still have a long way to go, but I do not necessarily hold him to account for that. Behind the scenes, he is working hard and along the lines that we would all like to see.
In our report, we drew attention to the scale and urgency of the problem of human trafficking, explained how it is a gross violation of human rights and made recommendations on how it can and must be stopped. Even more importantly, we made recommendations about the recognition of victims and their subsequent care. For us, the care of the victim was an even higher priority than enforcement.
I want to be clear from the outset about the nature and scale of human trafficking today. Trafficking brings to this country victims who are conned, coerced or kidnapped so that their labour or services can be exploited—often, but not exclusively, in the sex trade. Some trafficking victims travel voluntarily and are exploited on arrival. Some 40 per cent. of victims have come perfectly legally to the UK, often on the promise of a job in the service industries, for example. They find themselves in a very different form of service when they get here.
Human trafficking is far more serious than people smuggling. Although the latter is always illegal, it is voluntary on the part of the smuggled person and does not involve exploitation after arrival.
The hon. Gentleman said that 40 per cent. of victims were here legally. Where does he get that figure from? I thought that part of the problem was that we did not know the scale, and so we did not know the proportion within it. I suppose that such figures are best guesses.
I shall come to the question of research and information later, but that figure was among the more reliable ones that we were given as part of the evidence. I should have to work back through to find the particular reference for the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that we can sort that out after the debate if he wants.
Human trafficking is run by organised gangs and is a serious global problem; it is the second most serious international crime after the drugs trade. Its consequences can occur in virtually any community in the country and are often unknown to most of the population. My local newspaper ran a report about a
“sex trafficker from Brent Cross who kidnapped a Lithuanian mother”
who had been
“lured to the UK under the pretence that she was going to work as a cleaner in Chelsea Football Club. But after…one shift, she was snatched by sex traffickers and forced to work for a pimp in a dingy west London brothel.”
The report is somewhat salacious, so I shall not read any more. The trafficker was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
This strikes me as a suitable time to make one other comment; I should be glad of the hon. Gentleman’s advice. Is he aware that, according to a parliamentary answer given by the Home Secretary, only 30 traffickers have been convicted in the past four years? What does the hon. Gentleman say about that? Is something wrong with the police, the law or the priorities? If thousands upon thousands of women have been trafficked here and there are a large number of criminal gangs, yet only 30 traffickers have been convicted, is the hon. Gentleman not slightly concerned?
I shall come to the issue of enforcement later. The Committee’s overall conclusion was that enforcement is improving significantly. Certainly, there have been more prosecutions, but I would not like to say how many are still in train.
Although the media and, unfortunately, politicians sometimes focus on the prurient side of the sex trade when talking about trafficking, we should not overlook the other victims of trafficking. Children are frequently trafficked for domestic service through a family or community link. In some African countries, it is a cultural practice for families to place their children with better-off relations who provide food and education in return for domestic chores. Children are now sent to the UK on a similar basis, but they are woefully and brutally exploited. Some are used for benefit fraud, while others are enslaved in the catering business. Some children are sent as a result of the debt bondage of their families in the source country. Children are trafficked from Vietnam to till the plants in cannabis-growing houses. Perhaps worse, some arrive underage for forced marriage or other forms of sexual exploitation.
Trafficking for labour can be for domestic servitude or agriculture, for example. The evidence from Kalayaan, an organisation that works for migrant domestic workers, paints a graphic picture of violence and abuse. It told the Committee that “well over half” the migrants that it had seen
“had had their passports withheld by their employer”.
Kalayaan said that the migrants are subject to psychological abuse
“and they are constantly being told”
“they are an animal and they are stupid, and they cannot escape”.
They are often detained in a house for years. Kalayaan’s evidence went on to state:
“More than one-third were not allowed to leave the house, and over half…did not have their own room…which meant they were sleeping in a public space…sometimes in the children’s bedroom”
“under the kitchen table”.
That is a pretty horrific picture, but the new visa rules will make things even worse, because they will prevent migrant workers from changing employer. That will tie them to abusive employers and leave them with no realistic hope of escape. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to talk to the Minister for Immigration and Asylum to see whether that pernicious, so-called reform can be urgently reviewed to deal with the problem.
Bizarre stories emerge from the agricultural sector. The TUC told one story about Portuguese workers who are legally in the UK pretending to be illegal Brazilians, who were themselves pretending to be legal Portuguese so that the Portuguese workers could be exploited by an agriculture employer by working for rather less than the minimum wage. That was a rather bizarre series of events, but it is not necessarily unusual.
The UK is principally a destination for the victims of human trafficking, but trafficking does occur within the country too. The point is that the true scale of the problem is unknown. In 2003, it was thought that there were some 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK. That number is generally now accepted to be far too low an assessment. Ten years ago, one estimate showed that 85 per cent. of women working in brothels were born in the UK; it is now suggested that 85 per cent. are from overseas. There are no reliable numbers at all as to the extent of children trafficking or trafficking for labour exploitation. Victims might come from eastern Europe or, especially as regards children, Africa and south-east Asia.
Save the Children and ECPAT—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—uncovered what they described as the tip of the iceberg: 80 cases involving children in only five of the 400 local authorities. Of those 80, no less than 48 had disappeared from local authority care, where I hope that they had been rather better looked after. Whatever the numbers, each victim is a real life and represents a vulnerable person who has been subjected to a serious and repeated crime of the most brutal and inhumane kind.
The United Kingdom has obligations under the European convention on human rights and international treaties to prohibit and prevent trafficking and related acts, to investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers, and to protect the victims of trafficking. On enforcement, the Committee was impressed by the growing effectiveness in tackling organised crime and the establishment of the UK Human Trafficking Centre last year. That built on the success of Operation Pentameter and was a major step forward. Between February and June last year, Operation Pentameter resulted in 232 arrests and the rescue of 84 victims. The work of the Metropolitan police’s clubs and vice unit, through Operation Maxim, is also to be commended. Operation Paladin Child, which was involved in identifying and rescuing unaccompanied minors at Heathrow, was also successful. It is clear that the Serious Organised Crime Agency also has a key role to play in tackling organised crime.
Since we published our report, the Government have published their human trafficking action plan—an initiative that I welcome. The publication is a positive development, although, as one would expect, I want to press my hon. Friend the Minister on a number of points that arise from it. The action plan recognises that all forms of human trafficking will be part of core police business. The Government recognise that they need to do much more, both on research and in the provision of services to forced labour victims. The plan includes a pilot project.
A commitment has been made to introduce a national identification and referral mechanism, in line with Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe guidelines. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is recognised as a form of gender-based violence. Services for trafficking victims will be expanded; they will be provided by existing service providers experienced in supporting vulnerable women.
There is a “but”, however. The action plan, like the draft plan, lacks a degree of detail, particularly with regard to the vital issue of reflection periods and residence permits, to which I shall refer later. It also lacks definitive commitments on funding for support and accommodation, beyond the current limited provision for victims through schemes such as the POPPY project. The action plan continues to focus on immigration control measures as a means of preventing trafficking. That concern was also raised by the Joint Committee with regard to the draft action plan. We said:
“Trafficking should be seen not merely as an organised immigration crime, but also as a grave violation of fundamental human rights. The human rights of victims should be at the core of the UK response”.
The timetable for the implementation and ratification of the convention—I shall refer to it later, too—has not been made public through the action plan. To ensure that the victims of trafficking are guaranteed their convention rights, those rights must be made legally binding, so that authorities can be held directly accountable for their operation.
Research is important. We urged the Government to conduct in-depth research on the nature and extent of trafficking in the UK. The extent of trafficking for labour is particularly hard to gauge, so I welcome the Government’s acceptance that more research is needed. Several agencies are likely to be in a position to gather information on human trafficking, including the Human Trafficking Centre, SOCA, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and the Executives of the devolved Governments. There might well be others.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could tell us who will co-ordinate the required work. When does he think that we will have a reliable estimate of the scale of the problem? Most importantly, will the research be published, as we recommend?
The Committee also argued that the Government should work closely with the countries from which victims of human trafficking are drawn. We need to reach out to those who are at risk of being trafficked, as well as to members of civil society in those countries, who could effectively prevent trafficking in the first place. The work that the Italian Government are doing in that respect is very much worthy of study, as it appears to be successful in the prevention of the trafficking of victims from Albania and Romania, for example.
The Government action plan states that the UK supports a number of projects aimed at tackling trafficking at source. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will explain how that work is co-ordinated in government and how its effectiveness is assessed. A piecemeal approach is unlikely to be successful. The Committee also recommended an increase in development projects to tackle the root causes of trafficking; the Government agreed. Will my hon. Friend outline how that work will be taken forward, and what steps the Government propose to take to work with our international partners, such as the International Labour Organisation?
We stressed the importance of reducing the demand for trafficked people in the UK. The Government have acknowledged that, and have asked the Human Trafficking Centre to conduct more in-depth research and work to raise awareness of the demand for trafficked people in the sex industry as well as other industries. Legislation to punish those who hire migrants illegally—particularly the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006—has recently been implemented. Does my hon. Friend think that enough is being done to reduce demand for trafficked labour? Will the Government report regularly to Parliament on the success of those measures? They might report the number of employers who are penalised for hiring illegal labour, for example. Will they pay particular attention to the fate of those domestic workers who are hidden from view and any enforcement action that is taken?
We called for employers of trafficking victims to be named and shamed. Will my hon. Friend confirm whether the Government have reached a view on that? What are his ideas on dealing with demand reduction, particularly regarding trafficking for sex and the trafficking of children?
Did the hon. Gentleman’s Committee conclude that most of the illegal employers of those who had been trafficked were British citizens about whom the police and other authorities had good information, such as addresses? Alternatively, were a number, if not the majority, of those illegal—or immoral—employers themselves in breach of this country’s immigration and working rules?
The short answer is that we simply do not know. We did not form a particular view on that point, primarily because we know so little about the extent of trafficking for labour in the first place. One can form a view from anecdotes that one reads in the newspapers, but all Members of the House accept that newspapers are rarely accurate on issues related to immigration, migration and so on. One has to take what they say with a pinch of salt, and one certainly cannot draw any statistical conclusions from them. That is why we recommended urgent research to establish the scale of the problem. That research could examine issues such as those that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, and consider who the perpetrators, as well as the victims, of such crimes are, and the scale of the problem.
The thrust of our report was concerned with the victims and the need for a victim-centred approach to rebalance the way in which we deal with the issue. We saw inconsistencies around the country, and a lack of training and knowledge among enforcement agencies. Victims are all too often seen as criminals themselves or illegal migrants, not victims of horrific crimes such as multiple rape and slavery, which they are. Far too many were taken straight to removal centres for deportation. The discretionary, case-by-case approach operated by the Home Office gives no guarantee against arbitrary removal. Indeed, removal could take place while the victim was deciding whether they were able to, or wanted to, support the prosecution of their trafficker. The fear and trauma suffered by victims is underestimated.
During the course of our inquiry we visited the POPPY project, not one of whose clients had been given asylum on the immigration authorities’ first decision, although many appeals succeeded. At the project, I met a Ukrainian woman whose trafficker had been convicted, served a lengthy jail sentence and been released, yet the victim was still awaiting a decision on her asylum claim. That cannot be right. We identified a poor standard of support for children and a lack of training and knowledge among local authorities, which we felt was in urgent need of review.
We recommended a series of proposals to provide the victim-centred approach that we advocate. The scale of the problem must be researched and the research published, as I have said. There must be better training of the police, the immigration service and local authorities in the identification of victims and potential victims. We need better warnings posted in airports. Much more work needs to done to identify unaccompanied minors at risk, because they are often unaware that they are actually being trafficked. A more consistent approach is required. We have to stop treating the victims as criminals or immigration offenders, and end the risk of arbitrary removal that comes from the case-by-case approach.
Non-governmental organisations such as the POPPY project need much more in the way of resources. We think that they should have double the number of bed spaces, rising from 25 to 50. They need long term-security of funding, which is of equal importance. Basic support and advice, especially legal advice, is required by victims to pursue effectively applications for residency.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned “more beds”. It is unfortunate that when we talk about the trafficking of women, we talk in terms of beds. We need more places, perhaps. Does he agree that we need more places not only in London, but all over Britain? Does he also agree that the women in such places need some form of identification—not a passport, but papers—to give them legitimacy? I think that the report mentioned that.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I will deal with such additional issues later. He is right that we need support throughout the country; I will make a couple of recommendations in that regard shortly.
Cultural mediators, who have been so successful in Italy, provide a clear role in helping to bridge the gap between the victim, the NGOs and the authorities. We need to see more of that here. We must help victims reintegrate in their source countries to overcome the risk of re-trafficking, if they wish to return. I am sad to note that some 20 per cent. of POPPY project clients have been re-trafficked. We heard of one poor woman who had been re-sold by her family within only three days of her return to the source country. Vietnamese children are at particularly high risk of re-trafficking, and much more work must be done on the education of potential victims, who are extremely vulnerable. We must provide arrangements to enable victims to come to terms with what has happened to them, through counselling and support of that nature.
The main conclusion of our report was that the Government need to focus more on the victims of trafficking. Legislation should treat trafficked labour as victims of crime, not as offenders under immigration law. I welcome the Government’s confirmation that victims of trafficking should not now be charged with immigration offences and that the Crown Prosecution Service can discontinue cases where appropriate. I hope that that translates into practice. Will my hon. Friend the Minister say whether any such cases have been discontinued, and whether since that announcement any people have been charged?
There have been some improvements to the law to help deal with human trafficking, most recently those proposed in the UK Borders Bill, but much more can be done to protect victims more effectively through legislation. We recently considered the Bill and proposed amendments that would help the victims of trafficking. They included, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim of trafficking, not removing that person until the process of identifying whether they are a victim is completed. We recommended a recovery and reflection period of three months for victims, during which time no immigration enforcement measures should be taken against them. That repeated the recommendation in our report.
On a point that the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) raised, we recommended that renewable residence permits of up to six months’ duration should be granted to victims of trafficking. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm whether the Government share our view that more needs to be done protect victims? Does he agree that such changes to legislation could make a big difference, and will the Government take on board our proposals for amendments to the UK Borders Bill as it proceeds through Parliament?
The new UK Human Trafficking Centre has the potential to play an important role. It provides a 24-hour contact point for front-line staff to help identify victims. We would welcome more information about how it is operating in practice, particularly on victim protection.
Approximately 25 per cent. of the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s activities are devoted to organised immigration crime, including trafficking. However, we expressed concern about the lack of adequate training for front-line staff in dealing with human trafficking, and there is also an urgent need to improve the rate of prosecutions, as the hon. Member for Totnes indicated in an earlier intervention. Will my hon. Friend the Minister indicate how the Government are dealing with those problems, and in particular how they will turn the large number of arrests last year into prosecutions?
The voluntary sector has a key role to play. The POPPY project, which I have mentioned several times, helps with accommodation, counselling, medical assistance and education for women trafficked for prostitution.
I cannot promise that this is my last intervention, but it will be very nearly the last. The hon. Gentleman might be able to help me and the Chamber. Am I right in thinking that the POPPY project, good work though it does, is virtually the only non-government agency that gets public funds for its work on victim protection? I think that ECPAT gets a bit, but am I right in thinking that the Government do not give very much for victim protection, outside what they do themselves?
I believe that some work is being done in Scotland, to which I shall refer later, but perhaps it is not through an NGO. As far as interventions are concerned, the hon. Gentleman has paid a huge amount of attention to the subject and has a huge interest in it, so I am happy for him to intervene whenever he wishes. He has a lot to offer the debate.
The Government’s action plan states that they have provided the POPPY project with an additional £2.4 million so that it can continue its work until 2008. That is only next year, so what will happen afterwards? Can it and any similar projects be funded more securely in the future?
We thought that the criteria for accessing the POPPY project were somewhat strict—I shall return to that point later—as a consequence of the way in which it was set up, funding restrictions and other rules to which I shall refer. What help can my hon. Friend the Minister offer to other victims of trafficking, and will the Government seek to broaden the scope of the POPPY project or help to establish a broader range of projects? I ask that particularly in the context of the remainder of the UK. The Scottish Executive now work with Glasgow city council to support a similar project, but I am aware of no plans for implementation in Wales or Northern Ireland. Will my hon. Friend say what is being done to assist victims there?
The Committee recommended that the Government sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against human trafficking, which will help to ensure that our determination to stop human trafficking is matched by a commitment to meet the highest international standards, especially for the protection of victims. The convention is a comprehensive treaty and recognises trafficking to be a grave violation of human rights. It focuses mainly on the protection of victims and the safeguarding of their rights, and it embodies the relevant international human rights standards and applies to all forms of trafficking.
Article 10 of the convention deals with the problem of identifying victims, with special reference to child victims. Article 10(3) states that if the age of a person is uncertain, the state should proceed as if that individual were a child and they should receive the special protection of the convention on the rights of the child. Article 10(4) refers to the need to appoint a legal guardian in the cases of children to act in their best interests, to ascertain their identity and nationality, and to identify their family in the source country.
Article 12, on assistance to victims, requires the provision of secure accommodation, medical assistance, interpretation, counselling, assistance with judicial proceedings and, for children, education. Article 13 requires a recovery and reflection period of at least 30 days—we think that that is far too short and recommended that it should be longer—to enable the victim to decide whether she wants to co-operate with the prosecution. No deportation should take place during that period. Article 14 provides for renewable residence permits, which should take account of the child’s best interests if the victim is a child.
To meet our obligations under article 10, the Government should adopt a UK-wide system of mandatory procedures for the identification and referral of trafficked persons, in line with the recommendations of the OSCE. To comply with article 12, the Government should ensure that all trafficked persons receive access to appropriate safe and secure accommodation, with 24-hour help available. Support is also needed from staff who are trained to work with victims of violence against women, and from experts in child protection. Such support and services should be given by registered providers, who should be screened through a Home Office accreditation scheme to ensure compliance with minimum standards for the provision of care, and should be subject to monitoring.
There should be a prohibition on the detention of vulnerable people, including those who are suspected of being, or have been, trafficked. On article 13, we recommend that the UK Government provide trafficking victims with a three-month reflection period. We should also research the medical needs of victims of trafficking and best practice. To meet article 14, the Government should grant renewable six-month residence permits not linked with co-operation with law enforcement efforts against traffickers, in line with best practice such as that in Italy, where trafficking victims are granted such permits.
The CPS should expand current guidance on non-prosecution for all victims of trafficking in relation to any unlawful entry or residence, documentation offences or unlawful activities that are a consequence of someone’s situation as a trafficked person, to comply with article 16 and to ensure that victims are not punished.
I think that my hon. Friend the Minister was rather embarrassed when giving evidence before the Committee about the Home Office’s concerns about the pull-factor, suggesting that if victims were cared for properly it would encourage them to come to the UK illegally. He did not really look me, as the Chairman of the Committee, in the eye when he made those statements. We were not particularly impressed by them, and stated in the report:
“It is not credible to suggest that a woman would voluntarily submit to indeterminate sexual slavery of the most brutal kind for the purpose of obtaining UK residency.”
I suspect that most people would not dispute that. I am pleased that since then my hon. Friend seems to have overcome his embarrassment, and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has expressed his intention to sign the relevant convention, joining the other 29 Council of Europe member states that have done so. Will my hon. Friend confirm whether the UK has now signed on the dotted line and, if so, the date when it did so? That is still not clear.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we signed the Council of Europe convention on 23 March. I hope that that is of help to him.
I am pleased that that is all cleared up, but it brings me to the question of when the Government will ratify the convention. Obviously, ratification is rather more important. Only three more ratifications are needed for the convention to come into force throughout Europe, and I hope that before too long this country’s ratification will be one of those three.
Finally, I turn to child trafficking. Much more needs to be done to identify victims of child trafficking who come into the UK. I welcome the Government’s intention to ratify the optional protocol—it deals with the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography—to the UN convention on the rights of the child by summer 2007. It will enhance international co-operation on extradition, for example, and ensure that child victims are given appropriate support during and after criminal proceedings. Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm when the Government expect to ratify the optional protocol?
The UK has entered reservations against the convention in respect of immigration and nationality issues. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly called for those reservations to be withdrawn because they have the potential to weaken our focus on the protection of children, including child victims of trafficking. I urge my hon. Friend to reconsider the Government’s position and to discuss the issue with his colleagues.
The Government should withdraw the exemption of immigration services from section 11 of the Children Act 2004 as well, thereby ensuring that both the UK immigration service and the Home Office immigration and nationality directorate are included under that section, which places a statutory responsibility on Government agencies to take responsibility for the safeguarding and welfare of children while discharging their duties. Immigration services are the only significant statutory body to be excluded from the duty to safeguard children.
Operation Paladin Child, which dates back to 2003, has given some scoping information on the problem. It identified the issue of unaccompanied children, to which I have already referred. There is a need for a multi-agency response to child protection. The airlines’ code of practice is a good example of how that can be done. There is a general obligation on local authorities to promote and safeguard the welfare of children under the 2004 Act, but children under 18, for example, are not eligible for the POPPY project under the present rules. There needs to be a more consistent and centred approach.
West Sussex county council operated a safe house for 16 and 17-year-old trafficked girls, but by April 2004—after a few weeks—it had closed due to lack of referrals. Presumably there were not enough trafficked girls in Sussex, but I suspect that there would have been enough throughout the country. It might have been better, for example, if the girls had been able to attend the POPPY project, which is not allowed to take people under 18, as I said. Support for trafficked minors is generally of a poor standard, and young women can disappear without receiving any support.
Trafficking can have a devastating impact on children. They are separated from their families and are in danger of losing all contact with them. They are at risk of losing their identity, as traffickers often destroy their papers and change their names. On arrival, they are likely to experience violence, abuse and dangerous working conditions that are harmful to their health and well-being. They are at risk of long-term damage, including from HIV/AIDS. Their immigration status means that they receive little or no protection under the law and may have difficulty accessing basic education, health care and social services to address their specific needs.
There is a general lack of recognition of trafficked children’s special needs, particularly in the immigration and asylum process. There is a need for an urgent review of the issue. Generally, local authorities have not developed the necessary expertise to deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Totnes has taken a particular interest in the matter and may say a little more about it later, so I shall not develop that theme now.
My Committee’s report on human trafficking sets out the work that is now required to tackle this insidious international crime and, in particular, to help victims. Of course the Government must pursue the criminal gangs that organise trafficking, but the need to help and support victims, and to treat them with compassion, must not be overlooked. I am sure that all of us in the House are united in our abhorrence of human trafficking.
In his statement marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called the bicentenary
“a spur for us to redouble our efforts to stop human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.”
I commend his recognition of the fact that while we reflect on the past, we must also acknowledge the unspeakable cruelty that persists in human trafficking.
The Government have responded positively to our report, but much more work still needs to be done. My Committee will continue to scrutinise the Government’s policies and action on human trafficking, and we expect to report to the House again in due course on the progress in implementing the action plan. This is a serious issue that requires serious consideration and debate. I compliment my hon. Friend at the end of my contribution, as I did at the beginning, on the positive response that we have received so far from the Government. While I am pressing him for more, as he would expect, I would not like that to detract from the positive contribution that he has made.
It is a pleasure to address the Chamber with you in the Chair, Mr. Bercow, on the Thursday before the Whitsun recess. I know that this is a subject in which you have taken particular interest. I do not know what the rules of Westminster Hall are, but if we have a bit of time when we run out of speakers, I would be happy to take the Chair for a short while so that you could make an address from the Floor. That would give you an opportunity to say the things that you would like to say but cannot say from the Chair.
This is not a party political issue. Hon. Members in this Chamber today work very well together—they work as a team. I particularly wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has worked tirelessly on the issue. If I am interested in it; he is very much an expert on it. We all pay him considerable tribute for his continued efforts in this field.
I would also like to thank the Minister for being such an agreeable Minister. It is always a pleasure to deal with him. I do not make much progress, but it is always a pleasure.
I wish to concentrate on children, child trafficking and child asylum seeking. The hon. Member for Hendon kindly indicated that I would speak on those matters. We agreed that it would be appropriate for me to do so. My focus is on one specific point to do with children in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment of asylum seekers, which was published on 30 March 2007.
The UK has been transfixed by the horrific disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine in Portugal. Millions of pounds have rightly been offered by way of a reward to find her, and thousands of police all over Europe are looking for her. She has a devoted family who provide dedicated round-the-clock support for each other. There are lawyers involved, and everyone is desperate to find her.
In contrast, ECPAT, which works to end child prostitution, child pornography and child trafficking, and which co-ordinates work done by Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children UK, UNICEF, the Children’s Society, World Vision, the Jubilee Campaign and the Body Shop Foundation, in a report published in January highlighted the fact that in three regions of England—the north-west, or Manchester; the north-east, or Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and the midlands, or Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull—48 victims of child trafficking disappeared last year from social services care. They just disappeared. Sadly, not only did they disappear, they have never been found. Not one Madeleine but 48 children. No massive rewards have been offered for them to be found, as far as I know. I do not know how many police, if any, have looked for them—the Minister might know, or he might have been told whether there is a massive police hunt for 48 missing children—and whether the media had a small paragraph in a Sunday newspaper, I believe, saying that 48 children had disappeared, and how careless the local authorities were. The children are missing, and I find the dramatic contrast between the worldwide search for Madeleine and the plight of the 48 missing children in Britain extraordinary.
It is true that in Africa and the far east children go missing daily. They are viewed as commodities that can be exploited, traded and dispensed with, and nobody bothers very much about them. The 1989 United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which the UK ratified in 1991, obliges the Government to protect children from such exploitation and abuse. How do the Government square the fact that they have signed up to the convention with the fact that 48 children have been lost in three local authority regions? Heaven knows how many more children are missing. The indifference of the Government, the media and the police to that scale of missing children defies belief.
The UK was one of the few countries, if not the only country, to put in a reservation on immigration to the convention. If children were not disappearing, and if unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive in this country were properly cared for, I doubt whether the Joint Committee would have asked the Government to lift the reservation. The Committee asked them to lift it because such things are happening. It felt that if the Government were to lift the reservation, they would not be able to allow such things to happen.
There is a serious question as to whether the time has come to lift the reservation and show the world that the welfare of the child remains of paramount importance in Britain and their best interests prevail. We might say, “Oh, we believe that children are of paramount importance,” and we do, of course, care about them and have good child care services, but those are just weasel words when we have lost 48 children. It is a tremendous indictment of the Government and the way in which they view themselves that they allow the ECPAT report to go unpursued day after day.
It is worth noting that the Government signed the optional protocol to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography of 2000, which is intended to protect children from exploitation, but that, again, they did not ratify it. We are good at signing things, and the Home Secretary and the Minister were at the signing of the optional protocol—indeed, there was a picture of the pen signing it—but nothing happened, and there was no ratification. I would like to know about the ratification, because that, not the signing, is the test.
The Home Office’s current reform proposals for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the Minister’s consultation paper, which is entitled “Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children”, will make it impossible for the Government to ratify the Council of Europe convention—the two things are totally at loggerheads and oppose each other. The reason is simple: the reforms proposed in the consultation paper do not provide even the most basic protection measures required by the convention, such as the provision of representation by a guardian ad litem or child protection until the child is 18. If implemented, the consultation paper would not allow the Government to sign the Council of Europe convention, because the consultation proposals do not provide for the basic requirements that the convention insists on for children under 18.
Does the Minister agree, for example, that by enacting the enforced returns programme set out in the consultation paper, under which we would send failed unaccompanied child asylum seekers back to war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, we are removing safeguards for trafficked children, rather than protecting them, as we agreed to do when we signed the Council of Europe convention and adopted the national action plan?
Let me explain why the Government do not view the welfare of children from abroad as being of paramount importance—they say that it is, and I am sure that they believe that it is, but that is not the case. The Government’s approach is causing the disappearance of trafficked children and those applying for asylum. Indeed, rather than encouraging children to help the authorities investigate and prosecute traffickers, the bureaucracy and formalities tend to make children fear for the future and therefore to go to ground. Such children have no rights of identity, no passport and no guardian ad litem. Nor are they are helped to shop their traffickers; if they were, it would not be the case that only 30 traffickers had been convicted in the whole country in past four years.
Trafficked children regularly fail to qualify for asylum because of the limited definition of refugee law. With the Government proposing no residency permit option, such children are categorised as failed unaccompanied asylum-seeking children when they are nothing of the sort. In their response, the Government say that they
“are committed to the welfare of children”
and that they
“do not believe that the reservation”—
the UN reservation—
“leads to neglect of their care and welfare. Children who have been identified as having been trafficked are accommodated by local authorities Children’s Social Services under the requirements of Section 20 of the 1989 Children Act. We consider that there are sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure that children receive an adequate level of protection and care whilst they are in the United Kingdom.”
The Home Office reform programme says that accommodation and support arrangements depend on an assessment of need, which means that any model for service provision must contain the flexibility to deal with individual circumstances. It says that a local authority will consider a child to be in need of support under section 20 and that the child will be accommodated in residential homes or foster care, which, it is widely accepted, is likely to be the appropriate option for those who enter the care system when they are under 16. Section 20 does not restrict the age of the child to be supported. On the contrary, section 20(3) states:
“Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him with accommodation.”
Under section 17 of the Children Act, children between the ages of 16 and 17 are provided with support, such as unsupported accommodation in bed and breakfasts, hotels and semi-independent housing.
There we have it. Those hon. Members who are here will be interested in that distinction. Section 20 says that a child must have close care. They must be in the care of the local authority, in residential care or foster care, and they should have adequate support and be assisted in every way. That is proper support. However, section 20 children are the very ones who have disappeared, according to the ECPAT report. They are not section 17 children—those who are probably over 16, who live in hostels, bed and breakfasts and semi-independent housing and who are much more at risk. The children who disappeared were actually under the care of local authority social services. That is why I take this issue so seriously, and I wonder whether the Minister would like to look into exactly what happened to each of those children.
Is what I say about sections 17 and 20 the case? The pressure that the Home Office places on local authorities to return unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is causing social services to place vulnerable children, many of whom have been trafficked, in inappropriate section 17 accommodation facilities and removing all rights to special protection. Hon. Members might say that it makes little difference whether children are under section 17 or section 20, because those under section 20 disappear and those under section 17 are vulnerable to trafficking. What I am saying is that the Children Act is failing such children, whether they have been trafficked or whether they have applied for asylum.
Only section 20 can really provide the framework to safeguard child victims of trafficking and afford them the special protection measures in the Council of Europe convention, which we have signed but not ratified, and which will be in total conflict with the document that is out for consultation until the end of the month. No doubt the Minister will discuss with his legal team whether he can proceed with the consultation paper recommendations without flying in the face of the Council of Europe convention recommendations.
The Government say that they are committed to the welfare of children and do not believe that the UN reservation has led to the neglect of child care and welfare. They say:
“Children who have been identified as having been trafficked are accommodated by local authorities Children’s Social Services…We consider that there are sufficient checks and balances”.
That is all well and good, but as I have said about three times—I will keep on saying it and I have said it on the Floor of the House, too—48 children have disappeared in three local authority regions, according to one report. If I were the Minister, I would have asked for the details of each of those children. I would have asked the police what inquiries they had made. I would be reading the riot act to the local authorities that had lost those children. Has the Minister been doing a little reading of the riot act?
We have been waiting for a report giving us statistics to corroborate the ECPAT report, and the Government promised last year that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—I must say that the names the Government choose require very clear articulation and are real tongue-twisters—would publish a report last August. Like everybody else, I was waiting for it. Indeed, I came back from the country to get it, but it did not come. We have been waiting and waiting. The date slipped. I think that we were then told—the Minister will put me right if necessary—that it would come at the end of the year. In a written answer on 5 February 2007 the Home Office told us that
“the report will be published and therefore made available to Parliament by April 2007.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 1085W.]
I therefore decided to put an oral question to the Home Office on 30 April. I said that in his parliamentary answer in February the Minister—the same one who is here, who I hope will be a Minister for a little longer—
“said that he would publish the research report on the exploitation and abuse of children in this country by a funded organisation, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—CEOP—and that that would give us an idea of the nature and scale of child abuse and exploitation. He undertook to publish it by April.”
I then asked:
“Will he produce the rabbit out of his hat this afternoon?”
The Minister answered:
“I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman”—
although he has done so on a number of occasions—
“but I cannot produce the report that he mentions today. However, the report that CEOPC is in the process of producing is extremely important. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at it in due course, and we will publish it as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 1229W.]
It is now nearly the end of May. I wonder whether the Minister knows what has happened to it. I want to know whether many more children besides the 48 children whom I have mentioned will be disappearing or have disappeared, or whether the report will help us to find out what is happening. The longer we are without it, the more difficult things will be. Will the Minister help the House this afternoon to know when we can expect the report? I certainly do not want to come back from the long recess in August, a year on, and find that it has not been produced.
We know from a parliamentary answer of 17 July last year from the Department for Education and Skills that 50 children disappeared from local authority care in 2002-03; that 70 disappeared from local authority care in 2003-04; and that 90 disappeared from local authority care in 2004-05. I do not know whether they were section 20 children or section 17 children, but those were the figures given. Heaven knows what the current figures are. Children who are accommodated by local authorities are proved to be far from safe. If as extensive an outcry had gone up over the children missing in this country as that which has understandably gone up over Madeleine, they might well have been found. When CEOP produces its report we shall get a better idea of the scale of the problem and the number of missing children. However, that will not change the situation, which is already pretty bad.
The Home Office consultation paper—the Minister’s consultation paper—states that
“targeted and protective services, including access to experienced legal advisors and specialist health care can be further improved upon.”
He can say that again. Will what is envisaged really give children a better deal, and how will it work? Presumably there will be massive legal aid, medical and other costs, since 17,100 case decisions were made on applications in the past four years. That figure represents unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I wonder whether the Minister has any idea of the cost of all that, and of which Department’s budget accommodates it.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, as well as victims of child trafficking, disappear from social services, I believe, for one reason only. They know that they will be deported to their country of origin as soon as they reach 18. Unaccompanied children who go missing from social services are very vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers in the UK, as they usually end up in the streets, and have nowhere to go. Victims of child trafficking will be moved straight back into the hands of their traffickers when they disappear from social services, because they simply have no other option. However, under the consultation paper, children will receive limited leave to remain not until they are 18, but only until they are 17 and a half. Why is that? I have asked the Minister about it before: what is that 17 and a half about? Is there a hidden agenda that the House does not know about? If they are under 18 do they not get the rights that they get on turning 18? Is the appeal procedure quicker if they are under 18? What is the mystical thing about the figure of 17 and a half? If it makes sense, will the Minister explain?
The rumour from the human and child rights organisations is that the limit of 17 and a half has been chosen to allow the Government to send large numbers of children back early. Many of those children have a real fear of returning to face exploitation in their country of origin, or of running the risk of being trafficked. I asked this morning whether the Secretary of State for Education and Skills would ensure that children who have been trafficked, or who are unaccompanied asylum seekers, would be entitled to full-time education until the age of 18. The Minister gave a sterling reply, saying that not only would they have full rights until that age; they would have grants and everything else. It strikes me as extraordinary: if we want to help those children go through the system until they are 18 and get qualifications, why do we cut them out of the system at 17 and a half? Before they have finished their exams they will get on the plane and go back. I find it puzzling. I wonder whether the Minister can, again, help me. He now has an inter-departmental working group. Does he discuss with the Education Minister the question of 17 and a half and 18? There is a lot of interest in that. I hope that the Minister will have plenty of time in his wind-up speech to talk about that in the context of education.
The figures for unaccompanied children applying for asylum in the UK are in the consultation paper. Is it surprising that children go to ground when only 3 per cent. of the 3,440 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were granted asylum in 2004, whereas 24 per cent. had their applications refused and 73 per cent. were granted limited leave to remain? That 73 per cent. represents, I think, the ones for whom the Government want the relevant age limit pushed back from 18 to 17 and a half. In 2005, fewer decisions were made. Only 6 per cent., however, of the 2,835 who applied for asylum were granted it; 31 per cent. were refused and 63 per cent. were granted limited leave to remain.
A question that arises in this context is what happens to unaccompanied children who are granted asylum. Is there any monitoring? Do they just get a bit of paper and shake hands, then off they go? Who cares for them? What happens to those who are refused? Are they sent back immediately? Surely the Government have figures on who was sent back and what the cost was. Would it be possible to visit some of the children who are waiting for their asylum cases to be dealt with? Should a group from the Joint Committee visit—if it has not already—some of the section 20 and section 17 children in care? What happens to those who are granted limited leave to remain? How limited is the leave; what is it all about? Are they granted limited leave to remain so that they can have an education here? If they are to have that, why are they sent back early? Where are they accommodated?
Unaccompanied children who enter our country are inevitably vulnerable. The majority arrive from countries that are experiencing armed conflict or serious repression of minority groups or political opponents. Some of them may have been sold by their parents to traffickers—unbelievable but true—or given away to family members in the hope of a better life for the child elsewhere, which is quite normal. Once they arrive in the UK they are not sent back immediately, but there are no figures for the numbers who may have been trafficked into the UK. The Minister’s reply to a question from me on 23 January was:
“There are currently no estimates of the number of children that may have been smuggled or trafficked into the UK.”—[Official Report, 23 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 1697W.]
That, I am afraid, is a fairly standard answer: we just do not know. Of course we shall not know as long as CEOP does not produce its report.
We just do not know the numbers and we do not know what happens to the children. If they are not sent back, they will become the responsibility of local authority social services. However, in practice, research shows that many unaccompanied children dare not come into contact with the authorities at all. They disappear and have no access to an asylum claim. The 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 asylum claims are the tip of the iceberg. We do not know the full figure because children are told not to go near the authorities as they will be sent back.
Identifying child victims of trafficking is a highly skilled job. Who does it and how are cases handled? How do we avoid sending children back as fast as possible? Does the consultation paper not aim to send children back as fast as we can? As there is no national profile for the identification and care of child victims of trafficking, most trafficked children are simply processed as unaccompanied asylum seekers, which means that they fail to receive the specialist support that they need because they are trafficked and are not actually unaccompanied asylum seekers.
I have provided quite a tirade, but I will carry on a bit longer because hon. Members are enjoying it so much. Chapter four of the Government’s action plan deals exclusively with the problems of child trafficking and what the Government intend to do to ensure that child victims are safeguarded and protected. The action plan states that we must have regard to the fact that child victims have
“special needs because of a reduced capacity to assess risk and increased dependence on others.”
That is absolutely spot on, but that is not what actually happens. The Government say all the right things. One must agree with the Government’s assessment and that there should be concern and compassion, but what has actually been achieved under the action plan? Has the joint committee of Ministers met yet and what is on their agenda? What is the feedback from those meetings? We are all interested in the joint committee of Ministers, but what does it actually do? They may have a cup of coffee, a biscuit and a good chat, but then what happens? We need to know more about what they do.
The UK sheds crocodile tears when it talks about missing children. On the one hand it says that the reservation on the UN convention on the rights of the child does not need to be lifted because it would have no effect and Britain is doing all that is needed. The convention was set up to protect children who have no one to care for them. Although the Government claim that they do care, the CEOP report will highlight just how neglectful they have been. Young children from many parts of the world arrive on our doorstep and ask to be taken in. We deal particularly badly with people who have been trafficked, whether they are women or children. Although we have signed the Council of Europe convention, we have not implemented the measures necessary to provide victims of human trafficking—children as well as women and men—with the assistance and protection that they need.
I do not need to go into the details of articles 10, 13 and 14, which are particularly important. If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child has been a victim of trafficking, the child should not be removed from the United Kingdom until the process of identifying the child as the victim of an offence has been completed. If a child or unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is identified as a victim of trafficking, they should be provided with representation and a legal guardian. Is that happening? If a child has been identified as a victim of trafficking, they should be allowed a reflection and recovery period of at least 30 days, but that is not happening. It is no good signing such conventions, if they are not implemented. During the reflection period, it should not be possible to enforce any expulsion of the child and they should be authorised to stay in the UK. That is not happening either. The Minister is having the wool pulled over his eyes or he does not know what is going on. I have received my information from the horse’s mouth, the rock face and the grass roots. What the Minister is saying is fine and dandy, but what is happening is a totally different matter.
We cannot say that the reservation on the UN convention on the rights of the child does not matter; clearly, it does. I do not know how the Minister for Women and Equality can say this, but, in answer to a question, she said:
“The Government are doing a great deal on trafficking, which is why cross-government work is going on.”
She ended by saying:
“and we are recognised as a leader in Europe.” —[Official Report, 22 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 403.]
I am not quite sure what we are a leader of, but that is an extraordinary statement on trafficking. If the Minister considers that we are recognised as a leader in Europe, I wonder where she has been.
Nobody else knew that, so I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. If we need an appendix or a glossary to explain the Minister, that may be the answer, but it is not a very impressive answer. As I have said, we are not the leader in Europe. The leading country in Europe would be expected to have more than 30 convictions for trafficking in the last four years.
How much money was confiscated from traffickers. That is a very important question. Did the money go to the victims? I would love to hear that that was the case. It would be wonderful if we could say that we have taken a few million pounds off the traffickers and that the women who have been trafficked have been set up in hairdressing saloons or McDonald’s and that they are all doing great things. The problem with that may be that more and more women would say, “Let’s shop the traffickers and pick up the cash.” We need to find out whether traffickers have had money taken from them and whether that money has gone to the Chancellor or to the victims. Does the Minister know about that? If I were in his shoes, I would be painful with my officials because I would ask such questions and say, “You can’t go home until you have given me the answer.” I would probably end up with no staff, but those are material questions.
One of the issues that we focused on in the report, to which I did not refer, was the need for compensation for victims. The criminal injuries compensation scheme could provide an appropriate route, but it is unclear whether victims are entitled to qualify under the scheme. I think that they are, but as and when the scheme is reviewed, which it is from time to time, that matter should be clarified as part of the process.
I read about that in the report, which gave me the idea to prod the Minister on that issue. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, particularly if millions of pounds are removed; and if they are not, they jolly well should be. Not much money would have been removed from the 30 convicted traffickers who were involved in, I think, 16 individual crimes. There were 30 people involved in the 16 cases, but there could have been a few pounds removed, which should have gone to the women who shopped the traffickers.
In conclusion, one must presume that the Minister is as dissatisfied as I am at the progress that is being made. The all-party parliamentary group on the trafficking of women and children, which I have the privilege of chairing, has been in existence for only nine or 10 months, but we have been fairly active. With the help of the timing of the Committee’s report, we have attacked the problem. There have been some very fine words, but we all lack information and we do not know whether progress has been made.
I keep asking questions about the number of child victims of trafficking in this country, but there are no answers. We know that there is a growing trade in trafficking in Britain—not just of children, but of women and sometimes men. We also know that, despite the number of initiatives, the police have not nailed many gangs and, as I said, there have been few convictions. The facilities provided by the POPPY project, which is a good barometer, are well used, although the refuge has only 35 places in London. The good work that they do has not been expanded outside that area.
Social services are full of the most well-intentioned people who do not have a clue about how to deal with victims of trafficking. That is probably also true of the police, although since Operation Pentameter, there has been a greater awareness of the problem. Will the Minister say something about the proposed Operation Pentameter 2? What will it do? When will it come on-stream and who will be in charge? What will the objectives of the operation be? Will he say something about the liaison between EU police forces and about why Britain was not one of the EU signatories at Prum in Austria where seven of the more advanced countries on immigration control and trafficking came together? Why have we not signed up? Were we refused because our track record is not good enough?
The situation of trafficked people and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Britain is profoundly distressing. Will the Minister say why he has been persistently against giving victims of trafficking temporary residence permits? I know that that is beyond his immediate responsibility, but I think that his working group could look into it. The women whom I met in Italy who had such permits had an entirely different feel for what they were doing because they could be confident that they would not be stopped by the police and sent home. It gives them security and protection and allows them to assist the police more actively with criminal investigations into traffickers.
At half-past 5 this afternoon, we will witness the opening of an exhibition in Westminster Hall celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. I hope that the Minister will be there and that he will be embarrassed, as I am, by the Government’s failure to get to grips with these new forms of slavery, about which we all know, but which remain very much unresolved. In the UK, vulnerable children go missing in the care of local authorities, and 48 victims of child trafficking are yet to be found.
How do I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), with his inimitable ability to say an enormous amount in a very short space of time, and the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who made a valuable contribution as well? I shall try not to repeat too much of what has been said.
This is a wonderful opportunity to debate a very important report, and I welcome the fact that this year—the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the slave trade—the UK Government signed the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Most importantly, I welcome the launch of the UK action plan on tackling human trafficking. However, we must remember that this is just the beginning; it is going to be a very long journey. There is no easy answer.
We must remember the sorts of the people with whom we are dealing. I understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Totnes at the number of convictions brought, but we are dealing with very difficult people. It will be very challenging to stop any criminal who believes that it is acceptable to treat human beings as commodities and to subject them to a lack of freedom and the appalling treatment that we hear about, and who is, no doubt, making a lot of money out of those victims. It will take an immense international effort.
Currently, some 28 countries have signed the convention, but, not having your remarkable memory, Mr. Bercow, I cannot recite them all. However, the sad fact is that only six of those have actually ratified it. That is the real problem. It is very easy to sign something, but making it work is much more difficult. We have a clear action plan, and I want to focus on the progress made on its very honourable objectives, because unless we make that progress, we will not get anywhere or do anything to improve the situation.
Let us remind ourselves of some of the issues that we raised in our report last year, and particularly some of the points that we feel that the Government need to take very seriously, to eliminate the trafficking of human beings. We want much greater improvement and better development in training in the identification of victims and to ensure that those identified as victims of trafficking are not treated as criminals or immigration offenders. It is extremely important to give them the confidence to come forward. We must take a much more comprehensive approach to the provision of basic support and assistance to victims upon their discovery, including financial support and accommodation. I think that we all recognise that it is very difficult for victims to come forward, and we need to give them the fullest possible support.
Furthermore, we need proper public outreach and awareness through advertising and a freefone number, so that victims can self-refer and those who use prostitutes can refer women whom they think might have been trafficked. However, we need a much broader programme than that. Very often, people are unaware that they can come across victims of human trafficking in many walks of life—perhaps in cheap labour sources or the domestic labour market—and we need to raise awareness, so that citizens can provide information if they suspect that trafficking has been going on. We need to ensure that, when victims of trafficking are identified, they get proper information about their rights in the UK.
I agree with everything that the hon. Lady is saying—nobody could disagree—but the question is: to whom do they report? There are the victims, the traffickers and the authorities, but who in the authorities? Where are the authorities? Who understands it all? That seems to be the problem.
Indeed, I shall come to that when I talk about the action plan. We need to raise awareness. It is very important that as many people in society as possible are aware, because information can be disseminated that way. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is not necessarily that easy for the victims to know immediately to whom they should turn. We need to broaden our approach through teachers in schools—although I suspect that the vast majority of young victims do not get the chance to go to school—other layers of work and the general public as well. We all have a huge responsibility.
Of course we want better funding for projects such as the POPPY project and similar ones rolled out throughout the UK, and specialist support for the victims of sex trafficking. We need opportunities for victims to report their experiences to the police and steps to be taken against traffickers or exploiters, if they can be identified. We would like to work on more prevention measures in source countries, although that depends, of course, on collaboration with other countries, and to move towards more holistic approaches covering the causes of trafficking, which are often extreme poverty and unemployment.
We must ensure that proper information is provided about how to migrate to the UK legally, so that migrants are not exploited by traffickers and so that potential victims know that they need not take the way offered to them by traffickers. Also, we need to undertake research to understand the demand for trafficked people in the UK, both for sexual and labour exploitation, including the reasons why individuals and businesses continue to seek trafficked people. We need to take all sorts of measures. We need to enforce minimum wage legislation and measures against illegal employment practices.
I congratulate the Home Office on coming forward with its action plan. However, as I said, we will make progress only through its implementation. The action plan mentions a number of measures that are ongoing or down for completion by mid-2007. I should like to take this opportunity to ask the Minister about the progress that has been made on a number of those matters. What has been done to prevent trafficking in the countries of origin and to reduce the demand for trafficked persons, because, again, at the end of the day that will be one of the key factors in diminishing the trade?
What progress has been made in making human trafficking core police business? How would the Minister define that and what is being done? Who is being trained in issues related to human trafficking—ordinary officers in police stations, those at the ports, people working in social services or others who might come into contact with those who have been trafficked?
I should like to know what has been done so far to produce and disseminate guidance on the key indicators of criminality to assist with the identification of victims of trafficking for forced labour. I should also like to know more about what my hon. Friend the Minister is doing in considering extending non-governmental organisation outreach support nationally. We have mentioned the POPPY project several times, but we need a much broader approach.
What is being done to pilot support provisions for victims of trafficking for forced labour? What is being done to increase access to health and support services for victims of sexual violence and abuse? What progress is being made with the Department for Education and Skills, working together with the Home Office and UKvisas, to approve addresses and carers for unaccompanied children applying to stay in the UK for in excess of 28 days? What progress is being made on a proper system of guardians?
As with all large problems, we can make progress by dealing with the nitty-gritty and working bit by bit, one step at a time. I should like specific answers on the progress that has been made in the UK, together with any information that the Minister can give about talks on an international scale with EU partners, other members of the Council of Europe and countries further afield.
It is a pleasure to take part in a debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow. I think that this is the first time that I have done so. I do not know whether placing you in the Chair is an attempt by the powers that be to muzzle you, given the way that you have expressed opinions in the past. I certainly hope not, and knowing you as I do, I suspect that, other than at the times when you are in the Chair, when you will of course display the appropriate demeanour and act with appropriate neutrality, your passion for putting your view across will be undiminished. I look forward to that.
I welcome the debate. I am pleased that we are here. I have two hats in a sense: I am speaking for the Liberal Democrats, but I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Indeed, I think that it was I who first suggested that the Committee conduct an inquiry in this area. I am pleased that we have reached the stage at which we have had the Government response to the inquiry and a whole lot besides, with regard to the action plan, and that we are debating that.
I put on the record my thanks to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for his support in conducting the inquiry and the way in which the Committee, under his chairmanship, did a lot of work in gathering evidence from both written and oral submissions, both in this country and abroad. It is appropriate to pay tribute to the staff of the Committee, including the then Clerk and the then Committee specialist—who have moved on to other, possibly even greater things—for their efforts in producing what was a very difficult report to produce, because of the wide-ranging subject matter.
I pay tribute to other members of the Committee for the work that they did. I pay particular tribute both to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who cannot be here today but who applied a great deal of diligence and interest to the inquiry, and to Baroness Stern, who has always taken a huge interest in the position of victims in our society, whether in custody, which is her specialty, or in other areas.
While I am paying tributes, I ought to say that, although the Minister will soon find out that I am not happy with the actions that the Government have taken so far, or the absence of action taken by the Government, no one can doubt his willingness to engage in an extremely pleasant and open way, unlike some Ministers and perhaps some Opposition spokespeople, in both the other Opposition party and my own. The Minister’s willingness to engage has enabled us to make more progress on understanding where the Government are coming from, even if we do not agree with them, than we otherwise would have done. I thank him for that.
I shall talk in a moment about the speech made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), but it is appropriate to pay tribute to him first for the efforts that he has made to raise the profile of this subject in Parliament outside the human rights report by setting up the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children and leading it so actively and with such obvious passion that there is a danger, when we walk through Portcullis House, of never reaching our destination because we are stopped by the hon. Gentleman to be told exactly how we can contribute further to the work of the group. Such enthusiasm is noted, valuable and appreciated, as is the work that he has done in other Adjournment debates and parliamentary questions, because he has applied to the issue assiduousness and tenacity and has developed the expertise that is required to deal with such a big and complex issue.
It is very gracious of the hon. Gentleman to say that, because I have not been able to attend all the meetings of the group, despite being an officer of it, but he knows that the group has my full support, as does the approach that he has taken.
On the specifics of what we are discussing, it is appropriate for me to say a few words about the contributions that we have heard. The hon. Member for Hendon—without taking too much time, which I think we all appreciate and, perhaps, can luxuriate in now—covered the whole range of our inquiry and touched on the whole range of Government responses. He made the association, as we must, with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. It is important still to raise the profile of this issue as a modern form of slavery and what an evil, heinous business it is. He was right to draw attention to the scale of the matter and to how difficult it is to know its scale, given that so much of it is by definition underground and undetected, and given the range that exists between trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and child exploitation.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman referred to the inability of categories of workers, who are coming into this country as migrants, to change their visas. I have nothing to add except my full support for the point that he rightly made about how that is unnecessary and inconsistent with the protection of victims. If we are to have faith in the ability of our immigration services to make determinations on the facts, blanket rules are the wrong way to proceed, because they themselves create victims.
I shall say a few words about the UK action plan and where it falls short. The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the areas in which some content of the action plan was welcome. He was right to make the fundamental point that we make in our report: the response to the problem of trafficking must be at least as much a human rights and victim-based approach as an immigration-based one. In fact, I would go further, and I think that the tenor and content of our report went further, by saying that an enforcement approach—an immigration approach—is counter-productive in many ways, because it deters victims from seeking help and makes their plight much worse in many cases. The comparison with Italy, which I shall cover if I have time, is very important in that respect.
The hon. Member for Totnes, in a speech that was a tour de force on just one area of this subject—child trafficking—has put on the record for all of us and for those outside this Chamber who will read his contribution in Hansard a very detailed exposition and analysis of the problem, the Government response and where the Government response falls short. I share all his views. Only a lack of time, and the recognition that it would be inappropriate to repeat in my own words many of his points, prevents me from saying more about that. He made a telling analogy by referring to the fact that there are tens of missing children, who are probably being exploited and treated very badly in many if not all cases, but that that has had so little attention compared with the very sad and tragic case of one little girl in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman was right to keep coming back to the reservation in the convention. It is Liberal Democrat policy that that reservation should end, and we have made that point consistently in parliamentary questions and debates, usually in the House of Lords. I was delighted when, just before the Government agreed to sign the convention, the Conservatives agreed with our position that it was necessary, appropriate and beneficial to sign it—obviously with the intention of ratifying it and complying with its content. I look forward to hearing from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) whether his party’s position is that the reservation should be ended, because that would have a significant effect on Government policy. I do not want to get too party political, but one thing often follows another in that respect.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) is a recent addition to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. She is also a welcome addition, because she is assiduous in her attendance and she has got stuck in to the issues that we have raised faster than anyone else did when they joined the Committee. She certainly keeps me on my toes when I ask questions and it is not obvious to her, or perhaps even to me, where they are going. I fear that she may well do the same now if I am not careful, given that she has now moved to sit behind the Minister.
A problem with this issue is the profusion of documents that exist, starting with the Joint Committee’s report, although the problem did not start there. There is the Government’s response to that report, the Government’s consultation on their action plan, the Government’s publication of responses to that consultation and then the Government’s action plan, which was published in March. It is hard to cross-reference all those documents in an easy way.
Today, I shall focus on some of our recommendations in the report and on the Government’s response to it, which was published in December 2006. I shall also look at what progress has been made on the UK action plan since then. I accept that, in doing so, I shall not cover all of the issues that ought to be raised, but I think it important that we consider matters logically.
The Committee considered the scale and extent of the problem. In recommendation 2, we urged the Government to
“publish the research into organised crime markets currently being conducted by Home Office researchers, which may assist in providing a clearer picture of the scale and extent of human trafficking into the UK.”
We also argued that there should be more research, which the Government have accepted. They have also accepted that existing research should be published, with the obvious caveats regarding intelligence and so on. They said in their response that they would publish their research into organised crime markets early in 2007.
Will the Minister tell us where the Government are up to with commissioning new research and with publishing existing research? He will know that I believe that evidence-based policy must be based on evidence that is published and peer reviewed or at least available for people to see, because, even if we believe a very honest Minister, as we do in this case, not everyone will necessarily agree that what he says is correct and underpinned.
We also addressed demand management in the report. Recommendation 7 states:
“We commend the imaginative publicity techniques employed by Operation Pentameter to change the attitudes of men towards women and raise awareness of the phenomenon of trafficking. However, we recommend the authorities evaluate the effectiveness of these techniques.”
When money is being spent on something as important as this, independent, formal evaluation is needed. It is not enough to have the anecdotal opinions of the people who are running the scheme saying that they think that they are doing a good job and that they have seen a website on which someone said, “Oh, there is an issue about trafficking.” That is effectively all that there is.
This matter is difficult to address, but it is essential that we understand the attitudes of people in this country who are involved in trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. There are probably tens of thousands of men in this country, possibly even more, who use and abuse trafficked women. We need to understand their attitudes and what makes them do that before we can work out how to change their attitudes and behaviour. It is as simple as that. The fact that UK citizens take an active, possibly knowing, but perhaps unknowing, role in this crime and evil trade is a big, silent thing that not enough people talk about.
One issue that the Committee was not able to get into, tempting though it may have been, is whether our approach to the criminalisation of all prostitution and all use of prostitutes is the right way forward. There is huge international debate on that. The Swedish feminist view is that men should always be prosecuted for using prostitutes, regardless of whether the prostitutes are victims of trafficking or obvious victims of coercion. They believe that prostitution can never be consented to, because it is exploitive by definition. In alliance with them, the Americans generally take the view that both the prostitute and the client are committing an offence. Whether that view is based on religious fervour or the American establishment’s outlook on life is unclear, but that is their position.
Some European countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, take the view that prostitution has always been with us and that having some form of regulated and decriminalised prostitution might produce less demand for prostitution that is even more exploitive than what currently exists. They believe that, if some form of prostitution is deemed more acceptable, users of prostitutes will not run the risk of not knowing where the women whom they go to see come from.
These are complex issues, but there is evidence to suggest that demand for trafficked women is less in countries with some degree of decriminalisation, and I regret that the Government and Parliament have failed to explore these issues in an open-minded way. There is clearly an argument for doing something in this area, in the hope that it will diminish the problem. One way of looking at it is that, if men feel that they are breaking the law, they will be far less worried about the extent to which they are breaking it.
On a similar and also difficult subject, our report highlighted an unfortunate contradiction in the Government’s policy. On the one hand, they rightly tell men, “We want you to report instances when you think that you’ve come across women who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.” We know from Italy that the users of prostitutes and trafficked women are often a good source of such information and that women are rescued and traffickers prosecuted as a result of such reports to the authorities.
On the other hand, the Government tell men that having sex with women who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation is a sexual offence, because it is sex without genuine consent, and that they will be prosecuted for it. One cannot fail to see the contradiction in saying, “We will prosecute you for coming into contact with these women,” while also saying, “We want you to report what you have done.” That simply is not realistic, and that contradiction fundamentally undermines the Government’s efforts.
One of our recommendations that has not yet been mentioned is our call for a 24-hour telephone line on which to report users of women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation and to give information about victims. When we went to Italy, we were told that that has been extremely effective there. I think that the UK Government have set up a telephone line for authorities to get advice, but have not gone as far as we recommended. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether he recognises that suggestion as a potential way forward.
Our recommendations 11 and 12 deal with legislative change and whether the UK Borders Bill would be an appropriate place to make it clear in primary legislation, especially in respect of section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, that victims of trafficking will not be prosecuted for criminal or immigration offences that they may have committed because they are victims of trafficking. That does not just relate to victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, because there are other forms of victim, as the hon. Member for Totnes mentioned.
The Government have not taken that approach. As the hon. Member for Hendon said, they have clearly said that the Crown Prosecution Service has discretion on whether or not to act to stop prosecutions where such things come to light. That is not good enough, and I do not believe that the Joint Committee would have thought that it was good enough when it made its recommendation.
In this context, page 16 of the Joint Committee’s 13th report of this Session, on the UK Borders Bill, contains a section on human trafficking that states:
“We welcome the Bill’s extension of the scope of the existing trafficking offences, which implements one of the proposals in the…UK Action Plan on Trafficking of Human Beings. We are disappointed, however, that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to introduce more effective protection for the victims of trafficking. In our recent report…we concluded that the current level of protection provided to trafficking victims is far from adequate from a human rights perspective.”
Our report argued that we do not want our report on human trafficking to be cherry-picked, and we set out a number of specific things that we wish to happen. Page 17 states that
“where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim of trafficking that person shall not be removed from the UK until the process for identifying whether they are such a victim is complete; a recovery and reflection period of 3 months should be granted to a person who has been identified as being a victim of trafficking, during which time no immigration enforcement measures shall be taken against them; and renewable residence permits of up to 6 months’ duration be granted to victims of trafficking.”
The greatest disappointment in the Government’s evidence about the pull factor is that, in their response to our report and in the UK action plan, there is no clear timetable or acceptance that that will be provided. That is necessary so that the convention can be ratified, and I want the Minister to set out whether he feels that the convention that he and his colleague have now signed can be ratified without those provisions being met and why we do not even have a clear timetable for the convention’s ratification. By July 2007, there will be an action plan for an action plan on how the convention can be ratified, but that is not good enough. In respect of the permits and the reflection periods, this is vital.
Our report urged the Government to examine best practice in Europe. In Italy, we found that the fact that there would be adequate reflection periods and that there was the opportunity for renewable residence permits for victims to be granted meant that victims felt confident to come forward. It also meant that non-governmental organisations were able to engage directly with prostitutes on the streets of Rome, Venice and elsewhere; indeed, those NGOs were funded by the Government under their legislation.
The hon. Member for Wakefield and I went out with representatives of one of those NGOs to meet prostitutes on the streets of Rome. In Rome, it is very much in your face on the streets; every 200 yards one sees a woman or a group of women, or, in some areas, transsexual men, who are prostitutes. Many of them come from other countries and many of them have undoubtedly been trafficked to Italy. However, they are clearly reachable, so although it is not pleasant to see, one of the plus sides of the system—if that is what it can be called—is that most of the women are not tucked away in massage parlours, as they are in this country, but are available. The NGOs can reach them and give them condoms and advice on sexual health, as we did. They are able to tell them that things do not have to be this way and that they can get residence permits, with or without co-operation, if they meet humanitarian grounds for renewable residence permits.
We asked the Italian authorities how much abuse there is, and how many people have their residence permits removed on the basis of not staying within the system, let alone pretending to be victims of gang rape. Italian politics has a pretty active anti-immigration right wing, but the Italian authorities from the left or right could not tell us about a single case. If not unanimity, there was a broad consensus that that was the right approach. Indeed, the Bossi-Fini legislation, which toughened up immigration rules, left that policy well alone, because it is recognised as a success. My main questions for the Minister are: what can he say on this subject? What steps has he taken to identify the best practice in Europe?
I am conscious that we have plenty of time, but I do not wish to exploit that fact because I know that the two Front Benchers will be keen to speak. I merely wish to raise a couple of more issues. I am conscious that, in so doing, I am concentrating mainly on the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. That is partly because the hon. Members for Hendon and for Totnes covered the other areas so clearly.
The question of support for victims needs to be addressed. As has been said, it is not good enough for the Government to identify that there are organisations outside London, and organisations other than the POPPY project, that can provide support. Such organisations need to be nurtured and funded. That has not yet been done, according to my reading of the UK action plan. Given that this is such a huge humanitarian issue, I do not understand why Government funding cannot be provided in this way.
Similarly, as the hon. Member for Hendon pointed out, the short-termism in funding that the POPPY project has always faced is not fair on the people working in this difficult area. It does not enable them to plan for the future. There would be enormous pressure on their places were the Government to implement some of the other recommendations in our report that would encourage victims to come forward and the so-called clients of victims to report them. It may well be that the Government know that, if they did more, they would have more people to support and they would therefore have to fund more. There is a weird consistency about the Government’s position of just keeping the heads of the support services above water from a financial and capacity point of view.
This country has about 1 per cent. of the number of trafficking prosecutions—and, effectively, convictions— that Italy does and about 1 per cent. of the number of victims identified in any given period. I do not believe that 100 times more men use prostitutes in Italy than in this country, so the reason for the discrepancy is that we are failing to identify victims and traffickers. I urge the Minister to consider examining best practice worldwide.
I do not want to be wholly negative about the Government’s response. As the hon. Member for Hendon has said, there is plenty to welcome in the action plan, and the Government are at least engaging. I urge them not to be to complacent about their position.
Following a comment from the hon. Member for Totnes, the hon. Member for Llanelli said that perhaps the Government were felt to be in the lead on the basis of having signed the convention. I understand that the UK was 28th to sign out of the 29 countries that have done so, that we were followed swiftly by Ireland and that there have now been seven ratifications. The countries that signed well before us included Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden in 2005, and France and Denmark in 2006. Few countries had yet to sign when we had yet to sign, and such countries included the likes of Lithuania, Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Estonia and Hungary. I have nothing against those countries, but we would have been better placed to claim leadership in this area if we had been early movers. The issue now is ratification.
What legislation is needed to ratify? The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) raised the matter when discussing the UK Borders Bill, when he tabled a probing amendment that included some provisions from the convention. He asked how soon we would be in a position to ratify, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) said something that I did not understand:
“He is right that his amendment provides for some key measures from the convention, but we could probably implement those sooner by signing the convention”—
that was a week or so before signing it—
“than by waiting for the Bill to be enacted, although, of course, we can implement some of those measures without legislation or the convention.”—[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 15 March 2007; c. 401.]
Clearly, something must be done to ratify, not least about renewable residence permits and reflection periods. Will the Minister make it clear what legislation is required and when that can happen, within the constraints of Government business, so that we have a clear idea of when we will ratify?
I thank the Chairman and other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their valuable service to the House in analysing these issues so carefully and for bringing to the House such a well-considered and well-evidenced report.
I approach this debate and the wider subject with proper diffidence because I am not, unlike the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), the Chairman or even a member of his Committee; I am not, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), chairman of the all-party group; I am not, unlike the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), a member of both; and I am not, unlike the Minister, a Minister with responsibility for this area of public policy. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who is sitting behind the Minister for the moment, having temporarily moved her position in the Chamber, is, of course, also a member of the Joint Committee. I am surrounded and chaired by people with immense knowledge of the subject.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes is a former practising member of the Bar, he will understand the expression “a return”. I have been handed this brief by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) who, regretfully, cannot be here today for a number of reasons. Had he been here, I am sure that he would have provided a far more interesting and coherent response to the debate on behalf of the Conservative party. None the less, it is fair to say that despite my relative newness to this home affairs subject, I need not enter a competition to see who can speak the longest to make one or two points.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, not as a matter of formality, on his chairmanship of the Joint Committee. He has produced a number of interesting reports and held a number of interesting evidence sessions on a range of issues concerning human rights, but on the subject of human trafficking, which is a matter of growing public salience and concern, he and his colleagues have done a particular service, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes.
My only caveat, which has nothing to do with the hon. Gentleman, but concerns the usual channels and those who arrange the timing of these debates, is that his evidence sessions took place last summer, and the Government responded before Christmas, but it is now nearly the summer of 2007 before we have had an opportunity to debate the matter. Perhaps on future occasions it may be better for the development of public policy and the chiding of Government, which my hon. Friend did during his powerful and bravura performance for several minutes, that these debates should return to this Chamber or the Floor of the House rather more quickly than the Joint Committee’s report and the Government’s formal response to it.
I shall not repeat what everyone else has said in describing the context of the debate. All hon. Members in the Chamber, and many who will read our debate later or who may be listening to it now, know precisely the context of the problem, and its huge dimension and hideous nature, as well as the damage caused to victims of trafficking. My hon. Friend was entirely right to concentrate during the 30 or so minutes of his speech on the problems suffered by children who are trafficked. He was also entirely right to concentrate his fire on the Government to ensure that they do something to alleviate the conditions of such children, both by deterring trafficking of them and, if they are victims, ensuring that they are cared for humanely and sensibly by genuinely providing them with assistance, rather than terrifying them or forcing them underground, which leads to further problems.
Baroness Stern is a member of the Joint Committee, and she and I share an interest in prison reform. One thing that concerns me as the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on prisons is the huge number of damaged children who were sexually abused and so on when they were under 18 and end up in custody because they themselves become criminals. In cases of sexual abuse particularly, the victim, 10, 20 or 30 years later, often commits the offence that was committed against them against their own children or others like them. Trafficking children has consequences and a ripple effect into our whole criminal justice system, which the Home Office and/or the Ministry of Justice must closely concern themselves with.
I do not want to avoid the subject, but I do not think repetition will assist, and I want briefly to give an outline of my party’s view of the matter. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon correctly pointed out that my party has been a front-runner in lobbying the Government to sign and ratify the convention that we have been talking about. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer to the reservation about the United Nations convention, not because I am hiding something, but because I genuinely do not know the answer.
I understand that the Government’s position—the Minister will explain this better than I can—is that the United Nations convention, as distinct from the Council of Europe convention, contains provisions that are antipathetic to our domestic law on immigration. I fear that the Minister will have to resolve that in his own mind while he is in government.
It is fair to say that the Conservative party’s view—I say this without advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—is that anything that interferes with the protection of trafficked people in this country who are genuine victims and not cheats should be removed. However, I have not studied the niceties or details of the two conventions, nor the current state of our immigration law. None the less, it is also fair to say that the Government have introduced a number of changes to the criminal law that add greater protection to those who are trafficked.
It is not a question of passing more laws. We have endless laws. Does my hon. and Learned Friend agree that the problem is enforcing the laws and having a body of people who do what the law already says? Playing around with the details will not change the problem. The problem will be solved only by bodies of men and women, not just politicians, but operatives, the police, the immigration service and non-governmental organisations doing things with vigour and fervour.
My hon. Friend is right and wholly uncontroversial. Common sense goes a long way in this world. We have had at least 60 Home Office Bills since 1997, and if they were all designed to rid the country of crime and had been successful this would be a crime-free society. In fact, our prisons are now fuller by 20,000 than in 1997, yet the Government proclaim that our crime rate is down. I do not know how they manage to marry up those two assertions.
The convention has been signed, but as others have said, we want it ratified. That requires political will, leadership from the Government, and energy and verve. All they have to do is to get on with it. If we think that the convention is good enough to sign, surely it is good enough to ratify. We should not be one of the last countries to do so.
The Conservatives have said—I am repeating others who have spoken on behalf of the party in other forums—that a UK border police force should be established with a specialist expertise, first, to ensure that those who come into the country are doing so legitimately, for reasons such as tourism or business or whatever, and, secondly, to ensure that those who may enter the country under duress can be humanely filtered. I do not mean to use “filtered” in an inhumane or derogatory sense, but people need to be assisted through careful handling at ports of entry.
For example, minors who enter the country with adults who are not their parents or guardians should be interviewed as carefully as possible to ensure that they have some understanding of why they are travelling to this country. Non-related adults who accompany youngsters may not be their traffickers, but they may be the mules or cat’s paws of the traffickers, and they, again, should be interviewed separately so that their bona fide problems can be discovered at an early stage.
We want to strengthen co-ordination between the relevant Departments; this is a matter not only for the Home Office or the Foreign Office. Other agencies such as domestic departments, local government authorities, the police and our various security agencies will be involved. Those bodies would be required as a consequence of Government leadership to co-operate to ensure that, even if the convention is signed and ratified, and even if aspects of it are brought into domestic law, they are implemented, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, in a way that leads to positive results and reduces and deters the illegal trafficking of people.
Such action cannot be beyond the wit of man. The Government have had any number of reviews, conferences and summits. It cannot be beyond the wit of even this Government, at this stage, as they draw towards the end of their tenure, to produce some form of strategy for all their agencies to ensure that the issue is dealt with coherently and sensibly.
Those people who are in the country, who have succeeded, as it were, in getting under the wire, but who none the less find a way of seeking help, need to have reliable access to trustworthy people. It does not always have to be the state that provides such help. Other Members have mentioned non-state organisations and charitable bodies such as the POPPY project and the Eaves housing charity, which has done good work on the rescuing of trafficked people.
ECPAT, also, as my hon. Friend correctly tells me, has done good work. To persuade you, Mr. Bercow, that I have done some preparation, ECPAT stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, and the organisation’s full name is ECPAT UK. I mentioned several non-state organisations that any worthwhile Government should enable to do more. As I said, the problem does not require us parliamentarians to reserve action, common sense and implementation for the state.
We want to expand the number of safe houses, and support them. At the moment, remarkably few trafficked people who have been rescued are in safe houses, and the people who are trafficked, particularly for exploitation in the sex trade, can be numbered in their thousands. I understand from the Eaves housing charity that, now, almost 10,000 victims of trafficking are working in prostitution in London and the west midlands alone. Ten years ago, 85 per cent. of women working in brothels were UK citizens; now it is the other way around: 85 per cent. of women working in brothels are from outside the United Kingdom. I am not suggesting that all that 85 per cent. represents trafficked people, but I do not need to push those figures far for hon. Members to get the message.
We need to ensure that we start properly to police our United Kingdom borders. Sixty per cent. of illegal immigrants resident in the UK arrive in the back of a lorry. Of course, there are X-ray machines, sniffer dogs and all sorts of other non-human, human and animal ways in which one can try to do one’s best to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. It is bad enough that there are illegal immigrants, but it is worse—I hope that hon. Members will agree—when those people are brought here illegally for an improper purpose and to their own detriment, without us being able to do more of a practical nature about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes and others mentioned that there have been incredibly few convictions for offences relating to trafficking: only 30 convictions for trafficking offences were secured between 2004 and 2006. In 2004, only 11 employers were prosecuted under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, and only eight of those were found guilty. There have so far been no convictions for the offence of trafficking for labour exploitation.
I believe that the hon. Member for Hendon, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, mentioned the question of the confiscation of the assets of those who are guilty—[Interruption.] Actually, it was my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes who mentioned the confiscation of money from those who are responsible for the employment of trafficked people. We know about the failings of the Assets Recovery Agency: is this another example? I urge the Minister to do his best to apply the vim and vigour for which he is renowned throughout the east midlands as a constituency Member to that aspect of Government policy.
Enough has been said, certainly by me, on the subject. I congratulate all who have spoken in this debate on their contributions, common sense and the way in which they have focused their attention on the good things that the Government do and have done, and the good things that the Government need to finish and to do to ensure that this evil trade is stamped out.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow? I know the frustration that you will be feeling sitting in the Chair, rather than being allowed to contribute to the debate, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said. I know that you have firm views on the subject, and that you will be following proceedings with the utmost diligence and interest.
May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), the Liaison Committee and others on securing the debate? It has been a discussion as much as a debate. As hon. Members have said, the important thing is for us to raise the issues and to consider how we make progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and other members of the Committee have made a significant contribution to the development of policy.
It is sometimes said that Select Committee reports gather dust and do not actually make any difference. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, as well as other hon. Friends and hon. Members on the Committee, should know that the fact that the Committee called me before it, raised certain questions and challenged the Government—not in a nasty, sneering way, but in an intellectual and emotional but fair way—made a huge difference to the way in which the whole debate was looked at and is, if I may say so without going over the top, a great tribute to them.
Alongside that was the massive contribution that other hon. Members made. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Totnes. He made some kind remarks about me, which was nice of him. I understand perfectly the challenge that these debates and discussions present. I pay tribute to the work that he has done and to the passionate way in which he continues to raise this issue. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but if I was to deliver him the policy of his dreams, he would try to have an Adjournment debate the next day, saying that it was not enough. I mean that as a compliment. He is continually challenging us and at the heart of what he is saying is the desire to do as much as he can for exploited children in this and many other countries.
I also pay tribute to campaigners such as Chris Beddoe and Kate Allen and to all the non-governmental organisations that, as we know from our postbags, play a huge role in campaigning to force these issues on to the agenda. That is particularly important, because they are sometimes regarded as fringe issues outside mainstream politics, and not the meat of government or—to be frank to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—of opposition. They are seen as the sort of issues that a few well-meaning people are concerned about, but which do not capture the British public’s imagination.
In fact, what NGOs have done, and are still doing effectively, is to awaken something very deep in the British people. They are demanding that we all do something about this issue, which is a great credit to them. The way in which the Government have tried to respond is a credit to everybody involved. This issue is tied up with modern-day slavery, the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of slavery’s abolition, and so on, but the public are now saying, “This is an absolute outrage. It is morally repugnant.” Virtually every person in the country wants something to be done about it.
What people really want is not policies but a magic wand. They want trafficking to end. I do not want to sound like Victor Meldrew, but we are all suffering from the “I can’t believe it happens” syndrome. The hon. Member for Totnes talked about child trafficking, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon mentioned women being trafficked for sexual exploitation and other hon. Members have mentioned labour exploitation. We saw that only too tragically and awfully on our television screens a couple of weeks ago, when a brilliant piece of investigative journalism exposed what is going on. We all want to see an end to it, and today’s debate is about how we achieve that.
The action plan exists because of all the points that I have just made. It is not just a nicely bound document with “Home Office” and “The Scottish Executive” on the front, but a living document. It is designed to try to do something about all those issues that people demand we do something about, and we want to see it put into practice. I shall deal with some of the specific questions that were raised in a moment, but I should point out now that an inter-ministerial group will review progress on the action plan and consider whether it has been effective. It will also look at education, which hon. Members asked about. A further ministerial group that I chair, along with the Solicitor-General, involves stakeholders who were instrumental in putting the action plan together.
However, the judgment as to whether the action plan has been effective will not be made by those formal groups; it will be based on testimonies as to whether the reality to which the hon. Member for Totnes rightly referred has changed, and whether we have managed to deliver an environment in which more people are prosecuted for trafficking, more victims are supported, more places are available and children are not disappearing. Those are the measures of the action plan’s effectiveness that we would all want to use. If we can achieve those aims, we will not have simply a document called “UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking”, which, in itself, is a great achievement for us all; rather, we will have a document that means something in communities throughout the country, and that will make a real difference to potential victims. In the end, that is what the judgment will be and, frankly, what it should be.
As I start to answer hon. Members’ questions, some people will agree and some will disagree with the points that I make. However, let us start from the fact, which hon. Members were generous enough to state, that this Parliament and this Government, working with others—including the various stakeholders and the public—have put together a document that people would not even have understood the purpose of four, three or even two years ago. We should realise the difference that has been made and judge how far we can make progress by looking at what happens outside this place. A difference has indeed been made, but we need to carry on.
Following that peroration, if I should call it that—
Following those remarks, let me respond to some of the specific issues that hon. Members raised. On domestic workers—the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon—we are in discussions with our colleagues dealing with immigration matters to see what can be done regarding the changed rules. On statistics, I should point out that the Home Office published a research document today that looks at the scale of organised crime. Indeed, that is where the figure of 4,000 women trafficked for sexual exploitation in 2003 came from, and it is the latest available evidence that we have. I shall say a little more about research in a minute, but Members may wish to refer to that document, which tries to estimate the financial cost.
My hon. Friend will know that the UKHTC, which he mentioned, has a victim co-ordinator, and that we are trying to protect victims. He also discussed the various protocols, as did other hon. Members. The UN optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child—on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography—is being reviewed for ratification, and other Departments are being consulted on that. We have no plans regarding the reservation with respect to the UN convention on the rights of the child, but I can assure hon. Members that we are considering whether making the Border and Immigration Agency subject to section 11 is the appropriate way forward.
A number of hon. Members raised the issue of law enforcement. Pentameter was an extremely successful police operation. I hesitate to mention dates in front of the hon. Member for Totnes, but there will be a Pentameter 2 and we expect that to start some time in the autumn.
I do not mean to be pedantic, but the Minister said that Pentameter was successful. I am keen to see what independent evaluation has taken place, but it will be quicker for me to ask what would have made that operation unsuccessful. If the Minister can identify that, we will know by what measure it is seen as having been successful.
A key recommendation of the original Operation Pentameter was that we needed a UK human trafficking centre that co-ordinated police activity across the country; the operation would have been unsuccessful if we had not learned that lesson.
I turn to international co-operation, which the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has discussed on a number of occasions. We are seeking to establish a Pentameter operation across the G6 as soon as we can. The convention requires us to set minimum requirements for residents’ permits and the reflection period. Currently, we operate a 30-day period for victims accepted on to the POPPY project; we are considering the various models of residents’ permits to establish what is appropriate.
I come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Totnes, who mentioned the Council of Europe. All hon. Members will be pleased that we signed the Council of Europe convention, on 23 March. Seven countries have now ratified. Let me take the issue head on: we do not have a timetable for ratification, and that may disappoint the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. However, I have consistently said to stakeholders and various meetings, and I have tried to convey to hon. Members, that I am proud that we have signed the Council of Europe convention. We can argue about whether that took too long, but I am proud of the fact that we have done it. If I am still in my post, I shall also be proud—if I am not, I shall still be proud, but from a different position—of the fact that when we ratify the convention, everything that is supposed to be in place for the convention to be ratified will be.
We have an action plan that deals with identification, prevention, what we are going to do about children and adult victims, and labour exploitation. For each of those areas, the plan sets out action points that we have to make a reality. I made that point at the beginning. We can ratify the treaty before that, but ratification is supposed to happen when all the various elements have been committed to. Would hon. Members really want us to ratify when we know that all the elements that are supposed to be in place for the ratification to be meaningful and real are not in place?
I have said it before, and it is a point worth making: all hon. Members here, including me, will have brought a hall to its feet by telling people what they want to hear. We could say, “We will ratify tomorrow,” and everybody would say that that was fantastic. However, if we said that tomorrow, the fundamental truth would be that we would know that there would be weaknesses in every area of the action plan. Elements such as housing, identification procedures and protections for children would not be in place; we would know that all those elements were not there. We want to ratify when we are in a position to put our hands on our hearts and say, “We have done all the things that we are required to do.”
I want ratification as quickly as possible and to see it taken forward as soon as possible. I make this commitment to all in the Chamber: while I am in this post—or if I return to the Back Benches or go to wherever else it might be—I shall continue to pursue ratification and to try to make it come about as soon as possible.
The Liberal Democrats would not expect ratification if the measures that the Minister has identified were not in place; that would make ratification much less meaningful. People are asking, as I have, what date he has in mind, in order to find out when he thinks all those measures will be in place. I was not asking about ratification for its own sake. Would the Minister be terribly disappointed if it happened beyond the end of 2007 or 2008?
I usually try to answer questions, but to be honest I am not sure whether I can answer that one in a way that would satisfy the hon. Gentleman. I repeat that I want the convention to be ratified as quickly as possible and the changes that would make that ratification meaningful to take place as soon as possible. All that I can do is give a commitment to all hon. Members here that I will work to achieve that. I cannot say that ratification will happen by the end of 2007 or by May 2008—I do not know. I just want matters to progress quickly, and my determination is reflected by other Ministers, the stakeholders and, as far as I can see, all Members of the House.
The hon. Member for Totnes raised a number of questions about the CEOP report. That report is being progressed. I put on the record an apology to the hon. Gentleman: my reading of the timetable on that was not as accurate as I would have hoped. However, let him understand that we are genuine about publishing the report because—this goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon—we want to undertake research and to have a greater understanding of what is going on. The CEOP report will help us to understand more about the situation regarding children. We look forward to its publication because it will demonstrate certain things about the nature and extent of child trafficking, which will allow us to develop and amend our policies accordingly.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; I meant the summer recess.
I turn to a couple of other points. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli was gracious enough to point to some of the progress that has been made. She also talked about some aspects of the action plan, such as prevention. We are doing a lot of work with NGOs and other Governments to highlight the danger in some of the things that are advertised and some of the stories that are told in other countries. We need to understand that so much of trafficking involves deception and people not understanding the reality of the situation.
I want to share with hon. Members my experience of visiting Operation Paladin Child at Heathrow airport, which is a police operation to prevent child trafficking. The courage and professionalism of the police officers working there is second to none. It is heartbreaking to hear from them that, sometimes, when they try to stop a child about whom they have suspicions, to prevent them from coming into the country, the child kicks, screams, bites and fights. The officer has their best interests at heart, but the child believes that the officer has bad intent, although they are trying to help. That shows the difficulty of dealing with such situations. Deception is a real problem. We are working hard to prevent it in other countries, and we are doing what we can to reduce demand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli made a point about core police business. We will have another domestic campaign with Operation Pentameter 2, which I hope will help in that respect. The UKHTC is working hard to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts Service and police forces throughout the country understand the importance of that work. The UKHTC recently sent a DVD to every police officer to inform them about that area of work and to encourage them to think of it as a toolkit to help. We are involved in international talks: we were instrumental in creating an EU action plan, which we have monitored and tried to put forward, and we are working with the UN. The international focus of the work is crucial; we have talked about the UK action plan, but if we are to make a real difference, we must consider working together internationally to tackle the problems that we face.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon pointed out some of the good practice that he had seen in Italy and the need for us to learn from good practice throughout the continent and indeed the world. We shall do that. We are considering what legislation or other actions are required to move towards ratification. We are considering what we need to do with respect to a helpline. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that a child trafficking information line will be set up with the co-operation of Comic Relief, ECPAT UK and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I understand that it will be set up some time in the summer, although I do not think that we have a date yet. That will help to deal with particular aspects of child trafficking.
Hon. Members have asked a huge range of questions. At the core of the report was a belief that the Government’s focus was on law enforcement at the expense of a victim-centred human rights approach. In the action plan, we have tried to rebalance what we have done and to say that law enforcement is crucial. As the hon. Member for Totnes said, there have been 33 prosecutions and that is right. Many of those prosecutions have led to long jail sentences, which we would all applaud. We want to see the number of prosecutions go up, we want more people to be brought to justice and we want more done to ensure that people cannot do such things with impunity.
We also recognise that there is a balance to be struck between proper immigration control and recognising that many of the people whom the police come across are not immigration offenders but the victims of a crime. We took on board what the Committee said and we have tried to rebalance what we have done towards a victim-centred human rights approach that also recognises what we need to do with respect to law enforcement.
It seems that I was asked about 150 questions. I have tried to take a broad brush to them, but, particularly if the hon. Gentleman feels that there is a particular question that we have not answered, I shall try to write to him. On the question of assets, through the incentivisation scheme the more assets the police recover the more they get back. Such questions have been dealt with. In respect of the action plan in general, the main thrust of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said was that the Government need a more victim-centred human rights approach. That means more places, more support and better identification. It means a national referral mechanism, which we have put in the action plan, so that people know where to refer someone. The debates are huge.
As the hon. Member for Totnes has provoked me, let me ask what it means, for example, to establish somewhere safe for a child. Local authorities had safe houses for children, but what happened? Those safe houses were used as targets for the traffickers to go and pick the children up. As far as I am aware, some children were put in care and then left. What is the solution? I pose that as a rhetorical question, because it is one that taxes my brain. If we wanted to protect children who were coming into the country, until we could sort out what was going on we would almost need some sort of secure facility. Is that acceptable? Is it the right way forward? Probably not, so we would have to foster those children. How would we get that number of foster carers? The questions are huge and their solutions will require more resources. I cannot say what amount they will require, but they will require more.
Whether it is labour exploitation, child trafficking, or the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation we will take action through the themes that we have outlined—prevention, identification, support and making a difference. I shall finish with this comment—
It would be wrong to let the Minister finish without recognising what he said about accepting the thrust of the report, which was that there needed to be a more victim-centred approach. Since, as he says, the UK action plan is a live document and will be developed, I am pleased that he has effectively accepted the challenge that it will be judged on how it complies with that need to change. I welcome the undertaking that he has just given to accept that the thrust needs to change and is changing along with the action plan, so I thank him.
I am overjoyed with that comment. I will go further than that. If the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon want me to come back to the JCHR at some point in the future—at a reasonable time, not next week or in a couple of months—I shall come back and talk about the progress that has been made. I want to make that commitment, and all the hon. Members here have made it. The action plan is a living document and, if we make it real and active and deliver what is in it, we will together have made a real difference in tackling modern-day slavery—one of the great moral issues of today. We will have made a difference not only to what happens here but to the victims of crime and trafficking out there, whether they be adults or children.
I shall not detain the House much longer. I thank hon. Members for their kind remarks about what I have done on the issue and, more importantly, what my Committee has done. When I was first appointed Chairman I was keen to refocus our work to show that there is much more to human rights than simply the rights of criminals and terrorists, although we are obviously interested in those. Human rights have a much wider application to causes that chime more with what the public are really interested in—decency and fair play, particularly to people in such disadvantaged cases as we have discussed today.
The report was the first of its kind that we did, and I am pleased that it has proved the purpose of what I was trying to achieve in trying to work in a slightly different way. It has vindicated the approach of a much broader consideration of human rights. The Minister said that the matter was thought of by the public as a fringe issue, but the report has been shown to be of its time, in that it has stimulated the debate that we have had not just today but in the country since we published it and before.
The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) was right to highlight the issue of missing children, and the graphic way in which he did so illustrated the fact that there is a bit of an out of sight, out of mind attitude on migrant children generally, not just trafficked children, who sometimes face appalling circumstances. We can get very excited about one child, and quite rightly, but that prompts the question: what about all the others?
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is a distinguished member of my Committee and assiduous in his work on it, mentioned one of his pet subjects, to which we return from time to time—not just evidence-based policy making, which is important, but his particular hobby-horse of prostitution. It was interesting that he particularly mentioned our field visit to Italy, on which we thought an awful lot about good practice and what could be done. I was pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who is a relatively new member of our Committee. She did not take part in the inquiry but she has certainly picked up the issues in it and raised them effectively.
I was a little concerned by some of the comments from the Conservative Front Bench. I sympathise with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for having been dropped into the debate at relatively short notice, but I am not sure whether he was on the same wavelength as the rest of us. He focused particularly on immigration control and enforcement, whereas the tenor of the debate has been the importance of rebalancing towards the interests of victims.
I take issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman also on the timing of the debate. Although it would have been very nice to have had a debate straight away, and perhaps tried to put some pressure on the Government at that stage, his comments were rather oppositionist politics, if I may say so. A debate now, some time after we had the opportunity to see the Government’s response and not a draft action plan but the actual action plan, and after the signature of the convention, is a good time to take stock of what has happened since we produced the report, consider what remains to be done and push for further progress. If we had had the debate right at the beginning, the Government would have said, “Well, we’ve got all these things in train,” and that would have been it. Now we can actually see how far we have got.
I am pleased that the Government are considering the issue of visas for domestic workers, which is extremely important, and that we are going to get some new statistics soon. We shall return to the issue of the UN convention on the rights of the child and the reservation in relation to it. It is a theme that runs through not only this report but many others that we have done, most recently our report on the treatment of asylum seekers. The review of section 11 will be helpful, but there is no justification for not fully implementing the convention. That suggests that some children’s rights are worth less than others and that some children are not entitled to the same treatments as others. That cannot be right.
We look forward to Operation Pentameter 2, and I am pleased that the Government are starting to implement the requested reflection periods, although they are not quite as long as we would have preferred.
As the hon. Gentleman is clearly winding up, I wish to say how grateful we are both for his report and for the way in which the Minister answered the debate. It has been one of the best debates of its kind and, if the Minister does not remain in his present job, he deserves a promotion.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister has heard those remarks. As the hon. Gentleman said earlier, the fact that we have been able to conduct the debate in a non-politically partisan way has been important. We are all trying to sing from the same hymn sheet on where we are going, even if we have little differences on the timetable for arriving at our destination.
When we debated the UK Borders Bill—I think it was last week or the week before—I was given a commitment that although we cannot have a formal timetable, we will be given regular progress reports on the implementation of the action plan. That is very welcome. The Minister is right—I posed an awful lot of questions, and I did not expect all the answers today. It would be helpful if he could write to us about the ones to which we did not have answers today and keep us fully informed. I am grateful to him for his offer to come back to discuss the issues with us in the future.
There has been a bit of out of sight, out of mind about the issue, and I wish to conclude with two quotations from General MacArthur on the second world war. When surrender was signed, he said:
“These proceedings are now concluded.”
I do not think that we can say that. We will be saying his other famous quotation, after the Americans were thrown out of the Philippines: “We will return.” He did, and we will.
He said “We will”, I think.
When we go home after our work tonight and nod off in front of “Newsnight” with a glass of wine, or whatever we do, we need to reflect on the fact that while we are doing that in the safety of our own homes, thousands of trafficked women will be being raped. Trafficked domestic workers, locked away, will be slaving for abusive employers. Trafficked workers will be being forced to labour for excessive hours in illegal conditions, and trafficked children will be being subjected to all manner of abuse. That is why the debate is important and why we have pressed the Minister for urgent action. I understand his reservations, but we are doing that on behalf of all those people, not on our behalf.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Five o’clock.