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Human Trafficking Convention

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Meg Hillier.)

Let me introduce the debate by saying that, by and large, the Government have done a pretty good job regarding human trafficking. That strangely corresponds with the inauguration of the all-party group on trafficking of women and children two and a half years ago.

It is worth saying, for the record, what has been achieved since the group was formed in July 2006. A number of people and organisations have visited us, including the POPPY project and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, who explained why so few charges and convictions are directed against traffickers. In October, we asked the director of children’s services at Manchester city council and the co-chair of the social services asylum taskforce why trafficked children go missing from social service care so quickly. In December, we heard about Operation Pentameter 2 and the police prioritisation of tackling human trafficking, received presentations by the head of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, and heard the chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency speak about how trafficked children slipped through the immigration system.

In conjunction with the all-party group, the police launched the Blue Blindfold campaign in the House of Commons to raise awareness about trafficking in and around the United Kingdom. Officers visited the asylum screening unit in Croydon and immigration control at Gatwick, and I had the privilege of going with a Home Affairs Committee delegation to Ukraine and Russia as an expert. The group heard a presentation by the chief constable of Gloucestershire police, and a pan-European campaign to establish parliamentary groups such as ours in EU member states’ Parliaments to press Governments to take action against trafficking was launched at Speaker’s House.

While all that was going on, there were parliamentary debates and more than 100 parliamentary questions were asked. Since the formation of the group, the Government have done a great deal across the UK to publicise and make people aware of human trafficking problems. They announced the review of the current reservation on the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. The Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings was signed in 2006, but will come into force only this year.

I am sorry that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is unable to attend this morning. I am told that that is not because of the snow, but because he is speaking for the Government in the Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee. The House knows that he is committed to ridding the country of trafficking. I nevertheless welcome the Under-Secretary—not only have I always found her sympathetic, understanding and well informed, but I think we see eye to eye on the problems of new slavery. I realise that this subject is not her ministerial responsibility, and that she has been wheeled in at relatively short notice. She will enjoy fielding the range of questions that I will be asking; although she might not be able to answer some of them today, I know that she will write to me and members of the all-party group later.

Not only is the group a force to be reckoned with in the Commons, but it is also a force in the Lords. Baroness Butler-Sloss takes a particular interest, as a vice-chairman of the all-party group, in what is being done to tackle child slavery, and Baroness Nicholson who, as the Minister will know, virtually single-handedly caused the Romanian orphanages to close, has helped immeasurably with the plight of children in Iraq. We are, indeed, fortunate that we have such women of distinction serving as officers, including the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride).

One of the things we achieved collectively was to persuade the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. That was, in fact, in March 2007, and nearly two years passed before its ratification, the week before Christmas. The Home Office said there was a delay because it was, understandably, the Government’s policy not to ratify until everything was in place. Now the Government have ratified the convention, there is another delay and it will not take effect until 1 April. Will the Minister explain what will happen between ratification just before Christmas and 1 April? How will 1 April be different from the situation just before Christmas? What will be the changes in Britain if someone who is trafficked is found either just before Christmas, just after Christmas, or after April?

May I ask the Minister some specific questions about the convention? I shall mention a number of articles. First, article 10 deals with the identification of victims. The European convention suggests that international good practice is that there is no lead department—a single competent authority—and that decision making should be devolved across a range of authorities at a regional and local level, so that it is closest to the location of the victim, rather than being hundreds of miles away. Support services could then be agreed, co-ordinated and provided quickly. For children, that would be through local authority children’s services.

Competent authorities are the key to getting support flowing to the victims of human trafficking as soon as they are found. However, the Government propose to make the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield the single competent authority, with decisions made by UK Border Agency staff inside the UK Human Trafficking Centre. There is now a groundswell of opinion from nearly every non-governmental agency that that is precisely the wrong way to proceed. Although the Government have delayed another three months, it is a great pity to get it wrong at the outset when there has been so much progress on getting the convention ratified. If the UK Human Trafficking Centre is, in fact, the only competent authority, the suspicion is that decisions will not be transparent because it is within the police authority and the immigration focus will be organised by the UK Border Agency—the UK Human Trafficking Centre will have a number of UK Border Agency staff. There will be no appeals process, so nobody will know what is going on.

Instead, the Government must ensure that decisions are made quickly and efficiently to enable the fast referral of victims to support services. Therefore, all local authorities, the police, the UK Border Agency and the UK Human Trafficking Centre should all be competent authorities. Perhaps the Minister will explain why we cannot have four competent authorities. I know that it is tidier to have one, but it will not work. It will not be good, and it will not get the support of those who are working in the field. That is the view of those who know what they are talking about, rather than of the officials, who often do not.

If the UK Human Trafficking Centre is the sole competent authority, there will also be operational problems. Let me give a vivid illustration. I did not believe that human trafficking would come directly to south Devon, but just before Christmas I became aware of the case of a young Czech woman, who was flown into Bristol airport—rather than London—and believed she was going to work in a gym or something similar. She was trained as a gymnast and a masseur dealing with sports injuries. She was collected from Bristol airport and ended up not in a gym in a salubrious hotel, but in a less salubrious brothel in the centre of Paignton. Needless to say, that is not in my constituency, but that of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders)—although it is a stone’s throw from mine.

I am glad to say that the girl was absolutely appalled by what she was asked to do. I think that she was raped at least eight or nine times on the first night that she was there. She managed to escape—I do not have the exact details—and went to a nightclub or pub at about 3 in the morning, where she sought refuge, asking the owner to protect and help her. So distressed was the lady in the club or pub that the owner called the police. No sooner had she done so than the owners of the brothel, two Czech ladies, arrived to drag the girl away. I am pleased to say that the brothel has been closed, the owners have been apprehended and the girl was rescued by the police, who behaved in the most impeccable way. They managed to find a hotel in Torbay that would take the girl, and they have flown her back to the Czech Republic.

Let me explain where the problem is. The first problem is that the detective inspector responsible for rescuing the woman said that although he was trained in dealing with victims of trafficking, no one else in his team was. It might be said that in Devon and Cornwall, one would not expect a large number of trafficked people, but only two officers in the whole of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary, which is 3,500 in strength, have been trained in the past 12 months in how to deal with trafficking, and one of those two has retired since then.

There are no more training courses. The UK Human Trafficking Centre ought to be running them for police forces all over Britain. If it is the only competent authority, it should be doing so. If it is not, why is the Home Office not inviting non-governmental agencies to run courses to train the police? Some very good non-governmental organisations work closely with the Government and are on Government steering panels. How is it that the Government plan to ratify the convention when one of our police forces in Britain has only two people—only one now—who understand anything about trafficking and can identify it?

Sadly, the situation that the hon. Gentleman described in his constituency is not unique. It is par for the course right across the country. The problem with NGOs doing the training is that the police must understand what the convention is about and the legal implications of giving protection to victims. It is not simply about getting them out of the situation that they are in; the police need training in advising victims of trafficking how they can be protected, give evidence and get ongoing support to remain in the country. Unfortunately, I do not think that many NGOs are equipped to give the police that sort of guidance. That is why I believe that it is up to the Government to provide that training, so that no police force in the country is deficient in it.

That will do; I am happy with Portsmouth, South. It can be Frome or Portsmouth, South. I apologise.

By all means, bring in lawyers to train the police, but most of the grass-roots intelligence and information that our Committee receives—it is extremely valuable—comes from the non-governmental agencies. I pay tribute to the quality of those that we have. I know that they do training—possibly not as entirely as the hon. Gentleman would like; perhaps it should be done in conjunction with them—and I am most grateful for his useful comments. However, there is no doubt that the training of the police must be a central feature of the implementation of the convention. Obviously it is early days, but I want the Minister to say that there will be a lot of training, that the UK Human Trafficking Centre will co-ordinate it and that the centre will also use non-governmental agencies.

I now want to deal with the second problem that emerged from the case in Paignton. To begin with, no money is allocated to repatriate victims of human trafficking who come from the European Union; there is only money available to repatriate victims who come from non-EU countries. So, if a trafficked person comes from Nigeria, the Government will find funds to send them back on a plane. I do not know if the Minister knows this, but if a victim comes from any of the 27 EU countries there is no Government money allocated for them. So there was the girl, desperate to get back to the Czech Republic, and there was no money to send her back.

Needless to say, I have a very ingenious and altruistic constabulary in Devon and Cornwall. Not only did the inspector who was put in charge of this particular case at 3 or 4 am find a very prestigious hotel in Torquay that would kindly accept this girl for the rest of the night, but he found the transport and air fare for her from the local police budget so that she could return to the Czech Republic.

However, let me explain to the Minister where the problem lies. Other than that hotel, where could the police have put that girl to ensure that she was safe? That is what we are concerned about. The police did not contact the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, or at least the centre did not know of the case. If it had known of it, the only place that the centre would ever have recommended is the POPPY project. The POPPY project gets more than £1 million from the Government in London. It does a splendid job, but it is only in London and it is for girls of 18 and over.

In fact, the girl was over 18, so she could have been sent to London. However, just imagine her trauma: having thought that she was going to a gym, she finds herself in a brothel; she is rescued by the police, and there is nowhere that the police know of where she can receive the support, consultation, advice and reassurance that she needs. She does not know what is going on and she has no money.

In fact, once again the ingenuity of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary helped the girl. I think that the constabulary found some refuge for her in a church hostel, but that was not ideal. In this case, the traffickers had been arrested so they were not able to take the girl away from the refuge, but that is what can happen. The police were completely at a loss as to what to do with the girl, other than to use their own ingenuity, because it was the first time that they had had that problem in Devon.

I say to the Minister that every police force in Britain should be linked up to the UK Human Trafficking Centre; all the forces should know that that centre is the port of call, at any time of the day or night, for this type of problem, and the centre should have a list of refuges for every part of the country. There are very few of those refuges, but the centre should at least know where they are. Most important of all, however, the centre should have contact with the non-governmental agencies in every part of Britain that can assist with these matters. That was not the case in this particular situation.

I point out to the Minister that we have been talking about these issues for about two and a half years; the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children has been in existence for that time. We have asked enough questions and had enough debates. I was really quite appalled that just before Christmas there was still no network. Despite all that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has said, there was no network that the police could tap into in order to help this girl, no funds to send her back and, much worse, no linkage to the non-governmental agencies in any of the EU countries.

The Czech Republic has a lot of first-rate non-governmental agencies. If the Devon and Cornwall police had been linked in to the non-governmental agencies in Britain through the UK Human Trafficking Centre, they could have alerted the non-governmental agencies in the Czech Republic and ensured that someone from those agencies was there to meet the girl off the plane. That did not happen. This is obviously sub judice, so I will not go into further detail. All I will say is that the networking and arrangements that could have been made were not made. I mention that incident so that the Minister can ensure that such a case does not happen again. As the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said, the matter is not confined to Paignton, but extends to Portsmouth as well.

The problem is that the Czech Republic takes little or no action on trafficking. It probably has close to the worst record of corruption in the EU, and little or no action has been taken to deal with the source of trafficking. Sadly, though, that is not unique. I am interested to know what happened to the people who were trafficking that woman. They were both Czech citizens in the UK. Were they deported from the country? What was the end result of the prosecution’s case against the brothel owners?

I am happy to answer those questions. I was mildly surprised to learn that the girl had come from the Czech Republic because the European Scrutiny Committee—of which I am a member—had been there before the Czech Republic took over the presidency. The Deputy Prime Minister told us that the amount of trafficking in the Czech Republic was so small that he did not consider it necessary to concentrate any time or resources on it, so there was a bit of a conflict. The problem is to persuade all the EU Parliaments to take an interest in such matters. After the European Scrutiny Committee visit, I met some MPs who said that they would be surprised if I found five Members of Parliament in the Czech Republic interested in discussing the matter.

Article 13 covers the recovery and reflection period. The Government decided to offer a 45-day reflection period to victims of trafficking. However, that is not nearly enough, although it is longer than the time outlined in the convention. I have spent time in a refuge in Rome, which is funded by the Catholic Church. It does a fantastic job in rehabilitating women who have been trafficked—many of whom are from Albania. The psychologists there said that a year’s rehabilitation was the minimum, but that three years is needed to get such women back into society so that they can play a normal part in it and get a normal job. Therefore, 45 days is a rather modest period. I also wonder when it starts. Does it start when the police find the victim, when they arrest them in the course of a raid or when they identify them as a victim of trafficking some time after they were initially discovered?

Before I move on to article 14, may I refer to something that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South said? What has happened to the brothel owners? I am told that they have been arrested and that they are in custody subject to a prosecution, which can only be brought if the girl in the Czech Republic is prepared to give evidence against them. I am told that she is, but the costs and the organisation required are clear.

Let me go back to article 14, which covers residence permits. I am very interested in such permits and have seen them operate in Italy. The trafficked victim gets a year’s identity papers and that is sufficient for them to get a job. Many of them do get jobs. A friendly pizza parlour employed many of the girls who worked in the refuge. The owner was well disposed towards them because he found that they were very good workers, but they needed the identity papers to work. The Minister will know that most trafficked victims do not have passports. That is because their passports have either been destroyed or taken away by the traffickers, so they—especially those from Europe—have no identification. Some of the younger people crossing from China and Vietnam swallow their passports on that journey or flush them down the loo so that they have no passports when they come off the plane. If they have no passports and no identity papers they do not technically receive entitlement to health care or education. Will the Government ensure that some kind of identity card or paper is given to the victims of trafficking? That is another key point of the convention.

Article 15 deals with compensation for victims. That is an interesting issue. Hon. Members may remember that The Observer identified several cases six or eight months ago. It reported that sex slaves who had been trafficked into Britain were to receive millions of pounds for their “pain and trauma,” following a decision to compensate victims of people trafficking. The first payouts, of more than £140,000, were made early last year to four women who had suffered

“a sustained period of sexual abuse”.

The problem is that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which paid out that money, gave away public money—taxpayers’ funds. Why cannot the law be changed to use money confiscated from traffickers to compensate victims? Why does the money have to come from the public purse? How much of the more than £500,000 confiscated from traffickers under Pentameter 2—the police operation involving every police force in Great Britain—has been given to victims? I know the answer—none of it. The money has gone into the Treasury.

The recovery-of-expenses provision in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 could have enabled the proceeds from traffickers to fund support programmes for trafficked victims, but it did not. Does the Minister agree that we could add a new clause to the Policing and Crime Bill, currently in Committee, to allow the proceeds from traffickers to go to the victims? I would be grateful if she considered that. We could add a new clause when the Bill comes back before the House.

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from articles 12 to 15, may I raise this point? He touched on the 45-day period, but he clarified earlier that the Government have not yet introduced that and it will be introduced only in April, along with the residency provision. It is important to understand why that need cannot be provided for now and whether a shortage of accommodation prevents the victims from being treated even for 45 days—I think everyone recognises that they really need a period of 90 days.

It is a pleasure to have a question from one of the three joint secretaries of the all-party group. We did have a problem in that regard. I think that, given that we had two secretaries, the powers here thought it was a bit excessive to have three, but I explained that the hon. Gentleman was a medical doctor and that given the subject of the group, it would be useful to have a medical doctor on board. For that reason we are, I think, the only all-party group with three secretaries.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. What he says is absolutely right. The Government’s approach is that they will give the women a so-called period of reflection—a strange phrase—but at the moment that is linked to whether they are prepared to give evidence against the traffickers, and many of them are terrified to give evidence. They have been warned of the consequences for their brothers and sisters or other members of their families of their giving evidence. The gangs are very powerful. If a girl has been trafficked into Britain and turns against the gang, she knows that she could be in for a very rough time for the rest of her life. The reflection period ought to be longer, ought to start now and ought not to be linked to giving evidence against the traffickers.

I shall move on to article 28 in the short time left—I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and I would be glad to hear what they have to say. There is a serious problem about how to treat vulnerable victims. The problem is that social services cannot treat vulnerable victims. The victim strategy is one of the biggest challenges facing the police. They can make arrests all right, but they cannot do anything further with the victims, such as putting them in social services care. Often, the children are released by the police, go back to the traffickers and go back on the streets or move on to another country. There is a big trade in trafficking between Britain and Spain. One merely needs to look at what is happening on many streets. Much of the begging in London involves young people, and women with babies, who are fluent in Spanish as well as English, but are not from Spain or Britain.

I have the privilege of participating in the police service parliamentary scheme. As part of my police duties, I went out on patrol with Baroness Butler-Sloss and the police in the Marble Arch, Edgware Road and Paddington area. We were looking for young Roma children overtly begging on the streets. Some 1,015 Roma children have been identified by police as trafficked from eastern Europe. They are organised by criminal gangs for the purpose of criminal exploitation on our streets: begging, shoplifting and the commission of ATM thefts. Some are under 10, the age of criminal responsibility.

It is a major problem for the police. They are trying to tackle it, but they cannot do so without greater help. The problem is that they can offer the children, whom they arrest in order to take them to a place of safety, little incentive to tell their story or testify against their traffickers, because the children do not see themselves as victims and have developed a relationship with their traffickers similar to what is known as Stockholm syndrome. They see their lives as ordinary rather than as lives of exploitation or slavery.

Local authority care is proving a major headache. The local authority where a child lives is responsible for the child’s care, but the child is often found on the streets committing crime in another local authority area. As the local authorities do not communicate with one another to arrange transfer of that child’s care, the responsibility falls on the police, who can offer no provision of care except a police cell, as they have been known to do at the Charing Cross police station. I have visited it, and I have seen what the cells are like. They are certainly not up to even the bed and breakfast standard. I would not wish a child to stay there for a single night. It is clearly not suitable.

The recent case of a child arrested by the West End Central police team in Westminster was rather indicative. Westminster has one of the best social services departments in the country, yet no one turned up to do an assessment. Westminster understandably claimed that with only one social worker on duty during the night, it was unable to assist, despite the fact that the police believed the child to be a victim of trafficking. That child was never placed in care but was released back into the community. Examples such as that make the implementation of the convention urgent and crucial so that local authorities can finally have practical guidelines, strategies and resources to deal with victims of trafficking, especially children.

On my police visits, I discovered a young woman in her teens in Marble Arch underground station. The situation was only too familiar. She knew that after five hours’ questioning in Marylebone police station, with an interpreter paid for at the public expense, she would be released back to her family in Seven Sisters. She said that it was her uncle, but we did not know. On that occasion, Haringey social services, again understandably, said that they could not take the teenager into care because she would abscond within hours and there was no place of safety to put her.

Furthermore—this is also significant for the Minister to understand—many such children are from Romania and Bulgaria, and there are no Romanian or Bulgarian foster families on the Government lists. That is something on which initiatives should be taken. As she will know, there is no POPPY project for children under 18; the project deals with adults, principally in London. The police can place children in local authority care only. The problem must be addressed. How can social services, which have enough problems dealing with children from our own country, deal with the children from every EU country who happen to be found on our streets? We have not got to grips with the problem, and the police are despairing.

The legislation on baby trafficking is not quite strong enough. It uses the double intention: it must be proved that the trafficker arranged or facilitated the travel and that the trafficker intended to exploit. Those two things are necessary. The police often have evidence that they did arrange and facilitate the travel, but cannot prove intent to exploit, or vice versa. That is especially true if the victim is as young as they often are and therefore unable to express themselves at all. The problem is that there is a gap in the legislation as it relates to babies. Clause 4(4)(d) of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 states that a person is exploited if

“he is requested or induced to undertake any activity”,

but a child is not able to do that.

I wrote to the Home Secretary before Christmas after she suggested that I should send her a letter highlighting some of the non-governmental organisations that had the best possible practices in trafficking, and for the past two and a half years we, as a group, have worked with several of them. The problem they all have is funding administrative costs. They can always get grants to do research, run conventions or arrange training, but they do not have funds to underpin the administrative costs, which are modest but essential. I feel sure that the convention could be implemented better if the five NGOs that I specified in my letter to the Home Secretary were taken more seriously—it has been nearly two months since I wrote the letter, but I am sure she will acknowledge it soon.

NGOs are terribly cheap for what they do, as their work is invaluable. For every £1 the Government give, they probably get £3 more from private enterprise and other charitable trusts. I wonder whether the Minister, or at least her officials, could look at my suggestions and meet those organisations, because the convention could be implemented better in many fields if they were on board. The amount of money required by each of them is probably the equivalent of one civil servant’s salary from her Department. I am not suggesting that she should make redundancies, but that is the amount of money we are talking about.

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner on trafficking, and has put it on the map and done a great public service. On adult trafficking and the convention, Pentameter 2 revealed that many victims come from Africa and countries in the far east, such as China and Thailand, and that they are procured in a different way and have different problems when they come to this country. Is the convention sensitive enough to deal with the different issues that arise from the trafficking of adults from different countries and cultures?

My hon. Friend—I will refer to him as such because I expect him to come back to the party soon, as perhaps this is just a little mid-life crisis—is absolutely right that there are different approaches from different countries: the Vietnamese boys tend to specialise in growing cannabis and an enormous number of Chinese come for work, the largest figure in fact. All those people have an economic thrust in wanting to better themselves, and I am sure that there is sufficient flexibility in the convention.

The Government’s track record is one of the best in Europe, and it is now a question of implementation and of whether the new Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be as flexible and passionate as the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has been. I do not know the answer to that, but we will keep an eagle eye on it.

I am interested to see that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is present. He is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—there are so many Select Committees that it is difficult to keep up with them all—and much more of an authority on the international aspect of trafficking than I am. My understanding is focused much more on trafficking in Europe, but I know that the big problems in that regard come from the far east.

I have had a good run and given a few answers to a few questions, but I am sure that colleagues would now like to join the debate. I hope that the Minister, whom I am delighted to see, will be able to deal with some of those issues, if not now, then later, and make Britain one of the worst places—

I intend the winding-up speeches on this important subject to start at 10.25 am, starting with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, followed by the Conservative spokesman and then the Minister, so Members should exercise some discipline in the length of their speeches.

On a point of order, Mr. Olner. May I just say, so that the Hansard Reporters understand, that when I said, “the worst place,” I meant, “one of the worst places to traffic people”?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on securing this debate and on his tour de force of a speech. I will take your comments to heart, Mr. Olner, because he did not leave a great deal for the rest of us to cover.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am Chairman, has done a lot of work on the issue. We started an inquiry on it some three years ago and were all pretty horrified by what we found. The inquiry is still open, and we have been nibbling away at the Government throughout the period, as the hon. Gentleman has, to improve their response. Compared with three years ago, the situation now constitutes a significant and major improvement—I do not think that anyone would dispute that.

One issue that we raised in our report following the inquiry was the lack of hard evidence about the scale of the problem. That issue remains. Operation Pentameter 2 was helpful in that it found 167 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. However, the figures also show how difficult it is to track down the traffickers, because many operate out of private homes, and many victims are unwilling to co-operate with the police or simply disappear. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am particularly concerned about child victims of trafficking. Operation Pentameter 2 discovered 13, six of whom were returned to their home country. I am very concerned that not enough is being done to protect those victims.

A key issue on trafficking—the hon. Gentleman focused on victims, which I will address in a moment—is the importance of the police operation to track down, arrest and prosecute traffickers. I was concerned when I heard that the Government were withdrawing funding for the Metropolitan Police Service human trafficking team next year. I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), on behalf of the Committee on 9 December about that, and received a prompt reply from him:

“the Home Office has decided to provide additional one-off funding for the Metropolitan Police Service Trafficking Team”

for 2009-10. Everyone will agree that the team is the country’s leader but, obviously, that prompts the question: what will happen after that period? The reply stated:

“Human trafficking is now part of core business for all police forces. This funding is designed to enable the MPS to mainstream this work into its daily activities in a planned and organised fashion”.

The inference is that the money will not continue beyond the financial year. We were told that the idea is

“to find more efficient methods to mainstream this work effectively”,

but that is like trying to get a quart out of a pint pot. The MPS is always having its budget squeezed—London MPs have had lots of representations about that this year, as we do every year—and it would be very difficult for the team to be maintained in the absence of the relevant funding.

The hon. Member for Totnes did a good job when he spoke about victim-focused issues. I entirely agree with him on the recovery and reflection period. When we investigated the matter, my Committee recommended a far longer period than the 45 days that is currently provided.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on compensation to this extent: it is appropriate for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to pay the compensation, because to do otherwise would lead to significant delays. The CICA is slow enough as it is, but if we rely on the proceeds of crime, which might be seized much later than the orders are made, the victims would go uncompensated for even longer. That money goes into central funds. He had a point when he said that it might be useful to earmark it for particular projects of a more general nature, but it should not be for individual compensation—that would simply lead to delays and further problems.

The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the difficulties of accommodation. The Joint Committee received a note from the Home Office, in reply to inquiries that we made following a session last autumn with my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, saying that the Government are seeking to grant-fund 55 intensive crisis refuge places for victims in England and Wales. However, that will not begin until the next financial year, as the hon. Member for Totnes said earlier. It is difficult to understand why we have a hiatus of three months or so before such things are put into place. The hon. Gentleman also made the important point that the POPPY project does not cater for under-18s, so we have something of a lacuna in the provisions.

The Committee welcomes the decision to lift the reservations on the UN convention on the rights of the child. That is an important development, and I hope that it will lead to additional protection.

The ratification of the Council of Europe convention has been a long and painful process. The hon. Gentleman’s all-party group and my Committee were bashing away at it for some time, as were hon. Members in all quarters of the House. I do not know how many debates we had about the issue, but, eventually, they bore fruit, and, although the hon. Gentleman has highlighted many of the bad things that we have seen, dealt with and haggled for over the years, it has become apparent that we in the UK do receive international recognition for our good practice.

We have much to learn from other places, however, and my Committee, like the hon. Gentleman, learned much from what happens in Italy. He and I went to the Inter-Parliamentary Union special conference in Vienna last year. We both made presentations to people from around the world, and it was linked to the United Nations conference. In April 2008, I was invited to speak at the IPU assembly as its rapporteur on the issue of people trafficking. Again, I described the good practice in this country and what ought to be done in other countries, so we are able to put our experiences to good use around the world. This week, we have the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, which will focus on trafficking. Again, the hon. Gentleman and I will participate in it to try to spread our good practice.

Although we beat up the Minister and the Government because of all the things that have not been done, we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. We should recognise that over the past three years, since the problem started to hit the news, we have moved on an awful lot.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). He does not need to be reminded by anyone in the House of the debt that we owe him and his all-party group. In two and a half years, it has achieved an awful lot, and that is much to his credit. Even though I have disagreed with some of his views on the matter during that time, I congratulate him first, on his consistency, and secondly, on his determination to bring the issue to the fore time and again.

I am delighted to say that as a member of the Council of Europe, I am pleased that the United Kingdom has at long last ratified the convention. The big disappointment of UK colleagues on the Council of Europe is the failure of other member states not only to sign and ratify the convention, which is the easiest part, but to implement it. The real failure has been on the part of those countries that know they are the origin of so much pain and suffering, whether it is to do with children, organs or women, or the economic exploitation of men who are brought in for cheap labour. Those countries, with very few exceptions, know that it is going on, but little or nothing is done to offer protection to the trafficked women, children or others when they are returned to their country. It is a bitter disappointment to me, as somebody who has written reports on the issue for the Council of Europe, to see the abject failure in many countries of origin, where little or nothing is done to protect the victims on their return home or their family—to give them some assurance that the process will not be repeated.

I have interviewed people and seen at first hand the consequences, when people are returned—indeed, from the United Kingdom—simply to be recycled through the machine. They are trafficked once again out of Moldova, through Romania, into Turkey, the Balkans and then Italy, only to be returned yet again. I met one young lady who was trafficked five different times through seven countries, because her parents were held almost captive back home by the ringleaders. They were well known to the authorities, but nothing was done about it.

In my own city, a brothel was recently raided and some Chinese girls were removed. Those victims were out of the country within a matter of days. Where were they returned to? China. Anyone who knows anything about the Chinese system will know that their families will pay a very high price for their return. It was as if the women were to blame for their traffickers’ arrest. The prosecution of those traffickers has still not taken place. They received asylum here, have become British citizens and will not be returned to China. They will serve a prison sentence, if we are lucky, and then be back in the game.

The whole issue of what to do with the people who continue to perpetrate the trade needs to be reconsidered. It is no good allowing the people responsible for trafficking to be granted British citizenship. We should be able to remove it from them and they should be deported from the country. They should be forced to serve the length of their sentence in this country. We should not make any concessions to them at all, because the one thing that traffickers do not do is give any concessions to the people whom they traffic, whether they are children, women or men. One can read story after story, but when one physically meets these people and hears their stories first hand, distress does not even begin to explain how one feels. I have done so on numerous occasions and have felt sheer frustration and anger about not being able to do anything to save these people from the ongoing evilness that has surrounded their lives for so long.

My hon. Friend speaks with great passion. Does he agree that the tragedy has been—and I hope that the Government will change their policy—that victims are seen as immigration offenders and are removed even before there is any consideration of them helping with prosecution? Does he agree that it is a further tragedy that the funding for the Metropolitan police to deal with this vicious crime has been cut, as the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said? At the same time, against official advice, the Government have decided to increase the criminalisation of the possession of cannabis, which will take more police resources.

I agree entirely with all that my hon. Friend has said. One has only to look at the case of the Chinese girls, who were deported before the case was even brought. They could not give evidence, but it was as if we had achieved a breakthrough because we had removed people who were immigration problems. As if those people had not been through enough, although they were victims, it was not considered what would be in their best interests.

My hon. Friend is also right about the lack of resources. We only need to consider the pitiful number of prosecutions in relation to trafficking that have taken place in this country. If we were really tackling this issue, there would be a damn sight more prosecutions than there currently are. I realise the time and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that he would not take part in the debate to give me some extra time. I also checked with our colleague with no party affiliation whether he would make interventions rather than speak, so I am aware of the time issue.

I hope that the Government will put considerable pressure on the Council of Europe and the Council of Ministers to say, “Come on. Don’t just have good reports and nice conventions so that everyone can claim the moral high ground by saying they have signed and ratified them.” Conventions are not worth their salt if the situation does not get better and we do not start to prevent such things happening.

Has my hon. Friend any confidence in the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings that will be set up? It has its first meeting in February and its purpose will be to monitor the implementation of the convention. Does he have any confidence that it will be able to do the job properly?

It is good to know that implementation will at least be monitored. Whether it is the right body to do the monitoring or it has the capability to do it remains to be seen, but I hope that a year after April there will have been a significant improvement in the situation in our country.

More importantly, as I said, the Government must press the Council of Ministers and the Council of Europe. The EU should particularly be pressed on the amount of support it gives to countries that are outside the EU—in Africa and the far east. Part and parcel of that support should be that if we give aid, they must do something about this trade. I hope that it is made clear to all the embassies in London represented through the various Government bodies that it is unacceptable for Governments in Thailand, China and elsewhere not to take action on this matter. The Chinese Prime Minister is here today begging us not to take action on trade, but we should be begging him to take action on trafficking. We should say that we want a real commitment from the Chinese to do something about it.

West African trafficking in children continues to take place and to persist. So many lives are lost in journeys of horror and despair from Africa through Spain, or across the Canary Islands. Every day, people’s lives are lost in the Mediterranean, in one way or another. People are thrown overboard when the hideous crafts that they are on are approached by military or police vessels off the coasts of Spain or Italy.

If one goes to Lampedusa, in Italy, one can see the horrendous problems being faced there. Although the Italians have tried desperately hard, they have a serious problem, as Italy is a hotspot for trafficked women. The Italians may say that their non-governmental organisations are working effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) tells me that one reason why more of the men who procure women are not prosecuted is that many of the women are saved after clients report matters to the authorities.

It is estimated that, on any day in Italy, 10,000 underage girls are working the streets. If they each have five men a night, then 50,000 criminal offences are committed every day by Italian men and visitors to Italy, but there are fewer than a handful of prosecutions for illegal sex in Italy. If we took a fraction of the resources that are spent by men in Europe on trafficked women, and put that into the countries of origin of those girls, perhaps many of them would not, as the hon. Member for Totnes said, see this as a means of escape and betterment. We should be looking to do more in those countries of origin, but only when those countries give us a firm commitment that they will tackle this issue. That is the good thing about the Council of Europe’s convention. The bad thing is that many of the 40-odd countries that have signed up to it are not going to do anything about it.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and other hon. Members, all of whom are articulate speakers and campaigners on this issue. I shall restrict my comments to allow the Minister time to respond to the many points that have been raised, perhaps at the start of her speech.

Some 200 years ago, slavery was abolished by William Wilberforce’s campaign, but about 12 million people are now estimated to be living in slavery, at least half of whom are children and many of whom are trafficked. We have thus not eradicated that scourge yet. The statistics are very depressing. A May 2000 report from the university of North London estimated that between 142 and 1,420 women were trafficked into the UK every year. The range of that estimate underlines the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about how difficult it is to obtain accurate statistics about the scale of this problem, even though we know that it is significant and alarming.

The profit from traffic in human beings amounts to about $7 billion a year. In financial terms, human trafficking is on a par with drugs trafficking, so that gives us an idea of the scale of the problem with which we are dealing. Estimates suggest that half a million women were trafficked into the European Union in 1995. Many Members have mentioned Pentameter 2. During that six-month operation, back in July 2008, 167 victims were found, including 12 children, and there were 522 arrests, with the seizure of £3 million-worth of money and assets. Those statistics lead me to my first question. Is the Minister in a position to confirm how many of the people who were arrested were taken to court and how many were convicted? What lessons have been learned from that operation, and are they now being implemented? UNICEF’s report found that 183 of 330 trafficked children who were put into care in the UK later went missing, which leads to further questions about what work the Government are doing with local authorities to tackle that problem and to ensure that children who go into care do not simply disappear a few days later.

The Council of Europe’s timeline for taking action against the trafficking of human beings dates back some years—the oldest reference I have seen was from November 1996—so clearly this situation has been ongoing for many years. A recommendation was put to the Council in 1997, and much action—through many early-day motions, reports and so on—has been taken in Parliament. Obviously, it is pleasing that we have now reached the point of ratification, but it a great concern that that has taken so many years. I am sure that the Minister will argue that the Government have been taking action on other fronts—perhaps the most recent example is action on prostitution in the Policing and Crime Bill. However, there is not a unanimous view on the likely effectiveness of their approach, and there is a risk that their proposals will simply push prostitution further underground, perhaps leaving women even more vulnerable.

We have also heard references to the reduced funding for the Metropolitan police initiative, the welcome establishment of the Human Trafficking Centre and funding for the POPPY project. However, as the hon. Member for Totnes underlined, the latter scheme is available only to over-18s, and because it is based in London, it will not be readily accessible to people in other parts of the United Kingdom. Some progress is being made, however, and I believe that 25 places are available on the POPPY project. Has the Minister assessed the demand for such a service and, therefore, whether there is a shortfall in the number of places? If there is a shortfall, what plans are in place to ensure that additional provision is made?

The convention has some clear benefits. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), confirmed in a letter that the Government believed that, in some cases, the 45-day period would be increased to 90 days or perhaps even longer. In what circumstances does the Minister expect the period to be extended from 45 days to 90 days or beyond? Various organisations, such as Amnesty International, are keen for the Government to deliver on that.

The hon. Member for Totnes said—I think—that the Human Trafficking Centre would be the only specialist organisation able to investigate whether trafficking had occurred, but the look on the Minister’s face suggested that that was news to her. Perhaps she did not believe that that was necessarily the case. I hope that she will clarify whether the Government have made a decision on what a competent authority is and that she will bear in mind the view of a variety of organisations that specialist organisations should be involved. That is our best chance of helping the victims of trafficking early on.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office explanatory note on implementation states:

“Primary legislation through an amendment in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 ensured that automatic deportation of victims of trafficking under the UK Borders Act 2007 cannot take place where it would breach our obligations under the Council of Europe Convention against Human Trafficking.”

Will the Minister clarify whether the counterpart of that would be that in some circumstances—I assume that there are no such circumstances—the automatic deportation of victims would be allowed because it was not in breach of the UK’s obligations under the convention? If there could be such circumstances, however, what would they be?

I will draw my comments to an end to enable the Minister to respond, hopefully in some detail. Clearly progress is being made in this area. However, there are concerns about the effectiveness of the convention. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) has expressed his concerns that the convention might simply be ratified by many countries, but observed by far fewer. I hope that the Minister can reassure us about the effectiveness of the monitoring organisation that will be set up, with the group of experts. Will it be able to ensure that the very large list of signatories, from Albania to Romania, observe the convention?

I think that we should offer more than the conventional pieties of congratulation on securing a debate to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). He and his all-party group have done extraordinarily good work in the past two and a half years. Unlike, frankly, most all-party groups, that group has moved the boulder a few inches up the hill, for which it deserves a lot of congratulations.

The Conservatives are grateful that the Government have at last ratified the convention. We called for ratification as long ago as the beginning of 2007, not least because of the powers of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes to persuade me and the then shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). Having called for ratification for more than two years, it is good that we start 2009 with the position resolved. However, as has already been said, implementation of the convention is clearly key and the relatively slow progress that we have seen up to now is in danger of being repeated.

I have some suggestions and questions for the Minister. One important point, although it has barely come up in this debate, is that we should not merge debates and disputes about human trafficking with debates and disputes about prostitution. That point was briefly referred to by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats in this area. However, previous debates on this issue have been almost entirely about prostitution, which is obviously a hugely difficult and sensitive subject in itself. My fear is that if the debates get merged, action on trafficking might be delayed. Not all prostitutes are victims of trafficking and not all victims of trafficking are prostitutes.

For a few years now, many Members, including me, have been citing figures showing that one of the shocking changes in prostitution is that 85 per cent. of prostitutes working in Britain now come from abroad, and most are the victims of trafficking. However, in recent weeks and months, those figures have been questioned and there is now a legitimate debate about them. Therefore, I fear that framing legislation on combating prostitution might delay necessary moves against trafficking, which would be wholly counter-productive.

Mr. Jorgen Carling, who has studied the trafficking of Nigerian women to Europe, says that

“it is rarely possible to draw the absolutely clear line that policymakers want between ‘innocent victimhood’ and ‘willing participation’”.

There is clearly a spectrum, so I hope that the Government will not get drawn into merging the two debates on prostitution and trafficking.

I now want to talk specifically about trafficking. The steps that the Minister will take between now and April will clearly be welcome. As she has already heard from hon. Members from all parties, there will be some urging of faster movement and questioning about why we have to wait until April for the implementation of the provisions on the reflection period, the renewable one-year residence permit and the formal identification measures, which are the first steps that we are assured that the Government will take. I hope that she can give hon. Members an assurance that the Government will hit those target dates and address the practical problems raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, particularly about the length of time of the reflection period.

I would also like the Minister to deal with enforcement, as people have legitimately questioned the effectiveness of the policy. So far there have been 92 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation, and four for trafficking for forced labour. In 2008, 19 people were convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation and, of those, four received suspended sentences. In 2008, there were four convictions for trafficking for the purpose of forced labour. The average length of sentence for the offence of trafficking is 4.69 years and the maximum sentence is 14 years. The Home Secretary has said, in response to parliamentary questions, that since 2006 the Home Office has invested almost £4.5 million in the law enforcement response to human trafficking, and that 15 per cent. of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency’s resources are committed to tackling immigration crime, of which trafficking is a significant part.

Looking at those figures as calmly and objectively as one can, it does not seem that the amount of resources devoted to this is being reflected in the amount of effective enforcement activity. Even when the relatively few people who are caught and prosecuted go through the process, the sentencing seems relatively lenient compared with the maximum sentence that the Government have rightly put into legislation. I hope that the Minister will address those issues in her closing remarks.

Thirdly, I hope that the Minister can respond to the recent remarks of the French immigration minister, who said that the problems at Calais—of which trafficking forms a significant subset—are essentially Britain’s fault. He said that officials in London had failed to act against human trafficking and that there was poor border security at Calais. She and I are veterans of many debates over Calais, and everyone agrees that things have improved since the darkest days of the Sangatte camp and the large illegal movements across the border. I was not only disturbed by the remarks of the French Immigration Minister, but surprised. I hope that the Government were too, because if conditions at Calais are getting worse again, we will experience an increase in trafficking. Given the progress we have seen, that would be a significant and unfortunate step backwards.

In addition to the questions that I wished to ask the Minister, I have some suggestions. She has already heard from various hon. Members that the POPPY project, while doing good work, is clearly constrained and should be allowed to take in girls under the age of 18, and perhaps to expand its reach geographically. We have also suggested the need for separate interviews at all airports for women and children travelling alone, or with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband, so that identification is easier; for better co-operation between the relevant Government departments and SOCA, because the lack of a properly coherent approach has dogged this issue for many years; and to ensure that each police force and each local government authority has a strategy for dealing with suspected victims of trafficking, because as my hon. Friend said, those who think that trafficking victims are only to be found in our big cities are, sadly, wrong—this crime also takes place in small rural communities. We also suggest that a proper helpline should be set up to provide information to women who have been trafficked and those who suspect exploitation. As an overall point, of course, we believe that there should be a proper border police force and that that force should have the necessary powers to act effectively against trafficking, as well as other cross-border crimes.

In every debate that we have had on this topic, Ministers have had to curtail their remarks because responding to questions has taken longer than the time allowed, so I will conclude. I wish the Government well on this issue, but everything seems to be happening slowly and without enough of a sense of urgency. I hope that the Minister will convince us that that sense of urgency is now coming through in this important policy area.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) about the role of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and his all-party group. I will rattle through because, as the hon. Member for Ashford rightly said, I have an awful lot of questions to answer. I am always keen to take interventions but, given the time, I will try to get through those questions if I can.

The hon. Member for Ashford dangled something in front of me about the French Minister’s recent comments. It is important to make it clear for the record what happened with our French counterpart. He did not say that Britain was not doing enough. He was visiting Calais to talk to residents there about immigration issues. He said that we, meaning France and Britain, need to do more. That is not the same as saying that Britain is not doing enough, but we know how good stories for journalists can emerge from such comments.

The French Minister was there to reassure Calais residents. He has since spoken to the Minister for Borders and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), to make it clear that he was not criticising the UK. My hon. Friend will continue, as will the Home Secretary and I, to work with the French Government to ensure that we maintain controls at Calais.

The hon. Member for Ashford raised the issue of trafficking in general. I will touch on local strategies and local issues, which were raised by the hon. Member for Totnes. I was interested by the comments about children and how to identify them at the border. Clearly, biometrics help. We are already preparing one case for prosecution involving a child identified by the new biometric system for visas and foreign national identity cards. I am sure that that is one reason why the Conservative party will eventually come around to the idea that identity cards help on a range of issues, including this one.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes, who raised a number of important points. As it is his debate, I will do my best to focus on answering as many of those points as I can. I apologise in advance to any hon. Members whose questions I do not answer. I will write to them if I cannot reach their questions.

This is an opportunity for me to set out what work the Government have done on the issue. The implementation of the Council of Europe convention plays a crucial role in our overall strategy. Clearly, human trafficking is an important crime. It is important that we create an environment hostile to it in the UK, identify victims and take action as appropriate. We unveiled an action plan in March 2007, as hon. Members will be aware, and updated it in July last year. Ratification of the Council of Europe convention is the first of 85 specific actions laid out in the plan.

Hon. Members raised the issue of time scales and delay. We have to get 85 specific actions right. We have got to make it work. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that making it work is what is important. I am impatient, as we all are, to ensure that proper action is taken. It is no good rushing headlong into something unless we make it work properly. We are making good progress. I thank hon. Members across the party divides for their support. We continue to bear down on traffickers and to offer help and support to their victims. The convention will help us in both those areas.

Last July, the Home Secretary announced the results of Operation Pentameter 2, the largest UK-wide police operation against trafficking for sexual exploitation. It succeeded in recovering 167 victims of trafficking and made 528 arrests.

Hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), raised the issue of scale. By its nature, that is difficult to quantify. We need to keep investigating and catching people. In response to the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Ashford, who asked about the numbers of people convicted, I can say that so far 94 sex traffickers have been convicted. Although the headline figure on trafficking for illegal working is only four, many more have been convicted for related offences, including rape, kidnapping and facilitation.

I am keen to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), to write to hon. Members with more detailed figures. It is important that we do not run away with the idea that no action is being taken on illegal working—action does not always come under that heading. It is important that we recognise there is more than one way to skin a cat. We have to get these bad people out of the system, and if we can do it by other and more effective means, that is fine by me. We do not need to dance on a pin head about which particular type of conviction we bring as long as these people are caught.

We have also established the UK Human Trafficking Centre, as hon. Members have mentioned. It is a multi-agency organisation, and that fact is worth stressing. Although it is a centre—the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked whether I agreed with the description of it as a single centre—it is important to recognise its multi-agency nature. It is a central point of co-ordination for intelligence, analysis and operational activities. In addition, it works closely with law enforcement agencies throughout the country, with the Government and with non-governmental organisations.

There was a suggestion that we would be getting an annual report at the end of the financial year from the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Is that still going to happen?

That sounds like a sensible suggestion. I shall make sure that I clarify the position with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, and get him to write to my hon. Friend to confirm whether that is the case.

In addition, we have already invested £5.8 million in the POPPY project over the past six years to provide high-level specialist support for victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. That includes safe accommodation, advocacy and access to counselling, legal advice and interpreting services. This year we are giving £1.3 million to that project. I must slay the myth that the POPPY project is London-focused. It is based in London, but much of its work, which we are funding, is to capacity build outside London. It started during Operation Pentameter 2 and continues. I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and for Totnes about how well, or otherwise, it is working in their areas. I will highlight the issue to the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), to ensure that the project is working as effectively as it should.

The Home Secretary has a letter from me detailing five NGOs that receive no money from the Government; the POPPY project gets it all. It should be more fairly distributed.

I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives an answer to his letter very soon. We are still considering the matter, but the POPPY project has been given Government money and work has been done to regionalise that. Not all NGOs want to be so closely associated with the Government that their core funding comes from the Government, so it is clearly a matter for discussion. We are still considering the matter and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a letter fairly soon.

As part of our efforts to ratify and implement the convention, we have made some significant decisions, including the granting to victims of the 45-day reflection period, but longer if necessary. I think it was the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington who asked how we would decide whether it should be longer. The answer is that it depends on individual circumstances, and that is why we need to rely on the expertise of the UK Human Trafficking Centre. I am happy to write to him with more detail on how such decisions would be made, or to get the UKHTC to do so. We also offer one-year temporary residence permits in certain circumstances. Both measures go further than the minimum standards outlined in the convention, which are for 30 days and six months. We have therefore already set the bar higher, and I hope that European colleagues will learn from that.

We are also setting up a national referral mechanism. It will be a nationwide system that will enable the proper and consistent identification of victims to ensure that they receive the necessary care and support. That applies to all victims of all ages—children as well as those over the age of 18. I hope that that addresses some of the points made by the hon. Member for Totnes about co-ordination and access for local forces and services. We will be making announcements in the near future about how that will work. We are working out the full details, but we will work collaboratively with all key external organisations, including non-governmental ones, whose expertise, as the hon. Gentleman said, has proved invaluable throughout, whether on the action plan, Pentameter or the convention.

We have made an announcement on the competent authority function. There has been some concern about having a single competent authority, but we are considering something that is multi-agency and we are working closely with other partners. It is important that we set off with a body that can do the job well and effectively, but, once things have been going for a while, we can always look at how it is working. If hon. Members have issues and concerns, we will be keen to review the situation, and we will study the work of the all-party group and others. However, it is important that we start as we mean to go on, with an organisation that can do the job effectively, identify victims and provide support. Several organisations can refer to it. If the police find someone, they can work with a local non-governmental organisation, and that body can refer to the UK centre. It is important that we get that right.

The competent authority will be based at the Human Trafficking Centre, and that will be the key, central point of contact. The UK Border Agency is a separate but linked competent authority. The link with immigration is important, because trafficking is often raised during an asylum claim. It would be foolish to decouple the two issues. Immigration is not always an issue, but that is a sensible approach, and in my work on immigration, the issue often arises.

On immigration, I asked whether there are circumstances in which the automatic deportation of a trafficking victim could take place if it were not in breach of our obligations under the convention. I hope that the Minister will clarify whether there are any circumstances in which that might happen.

We are applying the rules of the convention. It would not be our intention to deport anyone who was identified as a victim, but I can obtain further clarification, if necessary. I think it is clear, however, that if somebody is identified as a victim, we would not intend to deport them. Many victims choose to return voluntarily, and we have assisted voluntary packages to help those young women—they are mostly young women—to return to their families, which is actually where they want to go. It is important to differentiate between deportation and removal, and voluntary removal is often beneficial for the victim.

I shall try to rattle through the many questions that were raised.

I am afraid that I shall not give way, because I have only two minutes to answer several questions.

I cannot comment on the individual case that was mentioned, but I commend the work of Devon and Cornwall police and hope that the measures we are introducing mean that there will be easier routes in. Front-line police, UK Border Agency staff and all new staff in police forces are being given training that will raise awareness. Other training packages are in place, and I shall happily write to the hon. Gentleman with details about them.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of support for returning a victim home. I have mentioned the EU returns programme, and we are drafting amendments to extend voluntary return for EU trafficking victims as part of the immigration Bill that will be introduced after the Easter recess. I am sure that his all-party group will be keen to analyse that.

I have covered the fact that we provide a residence permit. The hon. Gentleman also discussed the proceeds of trafficking and the Pentameter 2 results. The policy is that 50 per cent. of asset recovery goes to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and that is important for ensuring proactive enforcement. The CPS can, however, ask for a compensation order, so that the victim receives some money from the offender. We do cover some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, if not all of them.

It is important that we recognise that the convention is part of an ongoing process. It is a continuous exercise. From 1 April, I will see two interesting deliveries: first, the next stage of the process and, secondly, the happy result, I hope, of my pregnancy. I hope also that I have reassured the hon. Member for Totnes, in particular, and other hon. Members that the Government are taking the necessary steps to tackle the issues that he has raised. We are not complacent about the issue, and nor should we be.