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Trafficking of Women

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 7 June 2007

21. When the Government expect to implement article 13 of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings for women victims of trafficking. (140946)

Action Plan, published in March, sets out the actions that the Government are taking to implement the convention. Ratification without full implementation would be an empty gesture. The inter-ministerial group on human trafficking monitors progress on both implementation of the action plan and the convention. In line with convention requirements, we already operate a 30-day reflection and recovery period for victims accepted on to the POPPY project, but we will, of course, consider whether there is a need to adopt a longer period. The convention imposes a set of minimum requirements.

May I urge on the Minister the importance of setting a date for ratification? I appreciate, as she says, that it will impose on the Government certain legislative requirements, but I remind her that the UK Borders Bill, which would be an eminently suitable vehicle for those legislative changes, is currently before the other place. The necessary changes could be made in the Bill.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman in particular, and hon. Members across the House more generally, want to know the period over which we will be able to put in place all the actions to ratify the convention. However, I am not able to give a specific date, precisely because a range of issues need to be addressed, all of which will take different amounts of time, so it is not possible to say when exactly we will reach the final point of being able to say that everything has been done. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that we take this issue very seriously. Our action plan sets out exactly what we are going to do, and we will do it as quickly as we can.

I was just limbering up for it. Is the Minister aware that we need to encourage women who have been trafficked to come forward and give evidence against their traffickers? Bearing in mind that there have been only 30 convictions of traffickers in this country over the last four years, does she agree that a longer reflection period—in France, Germany and Holland, it is 90 days—would encourage more women to come forward, which they are not doing at the moment?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As I set out in my answer to this group of questions, we are considering whether a period beyond that minimum should be introduced. I also reassure him that, from my conversations with the head of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, I know that longer periods are allowed in individual situations. I take his point, however, that that may not be having the effect that he seeks because it is not known about more widely. We will certainly consider that point.

What would the Minister say to a number of groups who are increasingly concerned that women who have been trafficked are often treated as criminals rather than victims of crime? What discussions is she having with other Departments on the provisions for those women?

The point of the United Kingdom action plan on tackling human trafficking was to ensure that the focus shifted from the criminal aspects to the needs of the victims. The inter-ministerial group, which involves all Ministers concerned with this matter, meets regularly and monitors the action plan. Together, we are considering what more we need to do to provide for victims.

Child trafficking is an area of great concern, and we are doing more research on the extent of the problem and how we need to respond. The police have conducted a number of operations to deal with the matter, and we will continue to do more to address the issue.

Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to work closely with Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe, which, as she knows, is trying to develop a network of places in safe houses across the country to match the Government’s plans?

My hon. Friend is right, and I have regular contact with that organisation. We are considering how to develop facilities, services and support for victims, and discussions are ongoing in the Department for Communities and Local Government about how to make greater provision for victims in terms of accommodation and support.

Will the Minister tell the House what work is being done with the Department for International Development? Clearly one of the main issues is to address the source of the problem, so that we do not have to pick up the pieces in the UK. According to my discussions with many non-governmental organisations, more information is needed locally. Many people have been trafficked half-voluntarily, thinking that there would be something good at the end of it, so better education programmes would probably cut some trafficking at source.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am pleased to say that the Department for International Development has given the issue some priority. It has a strategy on the matter, and its actions in relation to preventing trafficking at source are integral to our UK action plan.

I accept the Minister’s point about the steps that need to be taken prior to ratification. But has the Minister considered best practice in other countries, such as Italy, which has a conviction rate for traffickers four times better than that of the UK, although it too has not ratified?

Clearly, we want to learn from best practice elsewhere. In that regard, one of the issues is how people are made aware of trafficking. From reading the information gathered by Select Committee members who visited Italy, I know that prostitution there is much more visible, which is not necessarily desirable. Therefore, although we must learn from best practice, we should also ensure that our practice is relevant to this country, and not merely lift wholesale something that works elsewhere.

The fact that so many questions about this subject are on the Order Paper shows the strength of feeling in the House, and rightly so. Fortunately, there is no need for the moral debate that took place in the times of Wilberforce, because every Member of the House hates the evil of modern slavery, and we all want to stop it. I commend the Government on what they have done so far, but will the Minister tell the House whether they are taking steps to co-ordinate the powers of the various public authorities who have responsibilities in this matter, such as those relating to police, immigration, licensing, health and safety and so on? Only through an orchestrated approach right across the board will we be able to counteract this dreadful, evil crime.

I entirely agree. That is why, when I talk about trafficking, I refer particularly to the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, which brings together a range of disciplines. The hon. Lady has raised some issues that go beyond what the centre does, but I know that it is aiming for the most effective practice possible, and I believe that through co-ordination—with people working together in the same centre—we can achieve the objectives that she has rightly identified.