I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to raise a matter that I am sure will have the support of the whole House. I am grateful to see so many hon. Friends and hon. Members here today who have been enormously supportive of my campaign to draw attention to the extent of human trafficking in this country.
As I have a little time, I shall make a little speech. I hope that it will be helpful to the House to reflect that William Wilberforce headed the parliamentary campaign in this House against the British slave trade for 26 years before the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. His later campaign resulted in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which—it was thought—abolished slavery in most of the British empire. Today, however, more than twice as many people are in bondage around the world than were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African slave trade. Despite the abolition of slavery, modern forms of trading in human beings continue, whether for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic slavery or organised crime.
It is impossible to gauge the numbers involved in human trafficking, because the crime takes place unseen and undetected. It is often not identified, or, in other cases, mis-identified. However, a conservative estimate puts the number of trafficked victims in the world at any one time at 800,000. That is the figure from the United Nations. We also know that human trafficking affects every region of the world, and that it generates tens of billions of dollars in profits for criminals each year. It is now apparently the second largest and second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs. It has jumped up the list, year after year.
In the United Kingdom, many thousands of individuals are bought and sold as commodities and forced into modern-day slavery. This is commonly known as human trafficking. A little later in my speech, I propose to tell the House of the devastating experience that I had yesterday, when I met a girl who had been trafficked into the UK and treated unbelievably badly. The experience is red hot in my memory, and I shall share it with the House in a moment. The Home Affairs Select Committee’s report last year suggested that at least 100,000 people were trafficked into the EU each year. That figure is from the European Commission.
Today, in the UK, the majority of indentified victims are women and girls. They come from poor, unstable countries where there are few opportunities for education or employment. Eastern Europe continues to be a fruitful source of women trafficked into this country. In fact, if we look at the map of Europe, we can see that the former communist countries of eastern Europe are the source countries of women and children coming into the more prosperous western countries. Denmark, Holland, Britain, France, Spain and Italy are the countries that receive these women from the source countries—Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Moldova, among others.
The evidence of convicted traffickers suggests that the worst offenders in the trafficking business are Albanians, Romanians, Russians and those in the Balkans; they are in the lead in people trafficking. We might not get the numbers immediately, but they are considerable. We are talking about tens of thousands of traffickers who are part of this criminal network.
Trafficked children are highly vulnerable in their home country, as we have seen in Haiti recently, and they might already have been exploited and abused before they are targeted by traffickers. Victims can be deceived by false promises of opportunity or coerced into working in slave-like conditions. In some of the really poor eastern European countries, there is absolutely no work, no opportunity and no hope for many of the young people living there. I know this from my experience in Chernavoda in Romania, where the girls and boys leave school at 14 or 15, and there is nothing for them to do. The boys tend to become pimps, and the girls tend to be trafficked or become prostitutes. That is not a way of life that we would accept, but in towns and counties such as those—which have no opportunities, even though they are in the EU—the girls and boys have terrible lives at a very young age.
Some of the women I have met have been sold by their parents. I met a girl of 21 in Rome who had been sold by her parents to her uncle for £5,000 in Albania. She was on the streets in Rome at 16. I have met her, I know her and I know her problems. I have spoken to her through interpreters over many days. This is not an academic problem; it is very real. The street value for a 15-year-old girl, as long as she is a virgin, it is between £8,000 and £12,000—that is the money exchanged to buy somebody. The price of a woman goes down dramatically with age; when she reaches 30, she is worth only £500. These people are treated like second-hand cars; they are traded in the same way.
At a conservative estimate, there are at least 5,000 trafficked victims into the UK each year, and the Home Office states that approximately 360 children are trafficked into and within the UK each year. There are wild remarks about the figures really being as high as 25,000. There could be that number—we do not really know—but I suspect that the Home Office conservative estimate is probably more like it.
Women victims are forced to work—many against their will—in brothels, saunas, massage parlours and private houses; children, other than those who are sexually exploited, are, like Fagin’s children, on the streets. As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am fortunate enough to be involved in the parliamentary police scheme, which has allowed me to concentrate on seeing human trafficking first hand in London with the Met. In fact, I think that I am the oldest policeman on the street; I have been working in the off-the-street Marble Arch area and met a number of trafficked children.
Over the last two years, I have been on police raids and seen children at 6 o’clock in the morning who are just being prepared for their work during the day. Of 1,017 children, most are known to the police, many of them are under 10, so prosecutions cannot be launched. Some have been identified as shoplifters and pick-pockets—those are their tricks of the trade—but the biggest category is automated teller machine theft. I am told by the police superintendent in charge of the Operation Roma—no, I mean Operation Golf, although it is concerned with Roma children—that a really clever child can earn traffickers up to £80,000 a year.
Forced labour on farms and the land is another category. This is just becoming a visible issue, thanks to the work of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which the Home Office supports. It is also finding that large numbers of men involved in work similar to that of the Chinese cockle pickers are living in the most appalling dormitory-like conditions. They are paid virtually nothing, having been duped into believing that if they gave £3,000 or £5,000 to the traffickers, they would secure a very good job in Britain. Construction workers and those involved in the hospitality and care industries are other groups that are currently exempt from the Gangmaster Licensing Authority controls.
The number of women in domestic slavery continues to grow. Many hundreds are identified each year as suffering abuse. This is particularly true of those employed by foreign nationals in the consular service of their own country in the UK. The worst cases of abuse apply to those who are effectively held prisoner in their employer’s home, receive no pay and are expected to be available seven days a week. What is particularly significant here is that all these domestic slaves have their passports removed. Many of them do not speak English. The idea of their escaping, which to us would be normal, is impossible for them even to contemplate. They are working in the homes of consular diplomats in Britain and are treated as slaves. As I say, their passports are removed—an issue I discussed with the Minister in connection with the all-party trafficking of women and children group; I would like to thank him for his sympathetic and understanding approach to this problem.
As an aside, anyone coming here as a domestic worker—one of the 18,500 people granted domestic visas every year—is able to move to another employer if the present employer treats them badly, but anyone working with a visa for the diplomatic or consular service cannot move. All they can do is go back home, which is difficult for people from third-world or poor countries or from some of the middle east countries because the problem is that if they go back, they then get marked as people who have fallen out with their consular service. Many girls in these circumstances are trapped in the kitchens of the consular service, living there seven days a week and having to sleep in the kitchen as well. The conditions are very bad.
Human traffickers use many physical and psychological techniques to control their victims, including the use of violence or threats of violence against the victim or the victim’s family, leading to isolation from the public, isolation from the victim’s family and the community. There is a language and cultural barrier; there is shame and control of the victim’s possessions; and there are confiscations of passports, as I mentioned, and other identification documents. There are constant threats of arrest, deportation or imprisonment if the victim attempts to reach out for assistance or to leave.
Not all policemen are trained or are aware of the trafficking phenomenon. In this country, thanks to the rising profile of this issue, that understanding is getting better. This is one of the reasons why I believe we need a national anti-slavery day to make people more aware. In many countries of the world, particularly in eastern Europe, there is tremendous corruption among the police and the border guards. Money is passing between gangs and the police and border guards, which makes it difficult for these trafficked people to get a sympathetic or responsible response from the authorities when they turn to them for help.
The POPPY project in London is a shelter project given considerable funding by the Home Office, to which I pay tribute for its foresight in this matter. It offers practical help towards that project. I have been greatly assisted by the Minister and his predecessors, as well as by non-governmental agencies that receive Government support. It is to their credit that much of the work of the all-party group has made such progress. Between March 2003 and April 2009, the POPPY project received 1,233 trafficked women—a large number—over the age of 18. The POPPY project does not take in any girl under 18; that is for the local authorities to deal with through their care home services. The POPPY project is a very professional and extremely skilled organisation. Although I have occasionally had one or two problems with it, I none the less recognise the invaluable help it gives to trafficked victims.
Not only has it dealt with 1,233 referrals of trafficked women over 18, but it has also dealt with 200 to 300 victims of trafficking for domestic slavery. The non-governmental organisation known as Kalayaan, to which I also pay tribute, is run by some dedicated younger people. Domestic slaves have been able to seek its help in coping with the terrible problems they have gaining justice and recognition of how they are treated. I pay tribute again to Kalayaan and other NGOs for tackling domestic slavery and raising awareness of it.
POPPY has long-term Government funding for 54 safe accommodation beds for victims of sexual exploitation or domestic slavery. It is important to note that those beds are full. When I tried to get a girl trafficked for domestic slavery—this was a bad case—into POPPY, I was told that it was full. I would not have it; it managed to find an additional space. However, this is the only official body in London; none is officially established in other towns. If we established similar centres in other major cities, I am sure that they, too, would be full. There is a much bigger problem in this country than I would like to admit. It is going underground, so we will find it only if we provide shelters for these very unfortunate people. There is shortage of shelter in a country that has proved to become a magnet for traffickers.
ECPAT UK—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children—co-ordinates a coalition working for the protection of children’s rights, including Anti-Slavery International, Jubilee Campaign, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Save the Children UK, the Children’s Society, UNICEF UK, and World Vision UK. According to ECPAT—which, incidentally, does very good work for the all-party group—about 60 per cent. of suspected child victims in local authority care go missing and are not subsequently found. Unlike POPPY, which caters for those over 18, local authority care homes cater for the under-18s. They have no security, because if bars were installed, those in charge would be accused of running a prison. Children go into the homes and then disappear. In May 2009, The Guardian disclosed that a report by the UK Borders Agency had revealed that since March 2006 at least 77 trafficked children had gone missing from a home operated by the London borough of Hillingdon—presumably the Heathrow outlet.
I spent some time at Gatwick with the all-party group. I pay tribute to Lady Butler-Sloss, one of the vice-chairmen of the group, who accompanied me to Gatwick to study what was happening there. We found that the children who arrived at the airport from China, Vietnam and other countries were quite well trained. Many arrived without a passport. How had they got on to the plane at the other end? Either they had chewed the passport during the journey so that by the time they arrived at Gatwick there was no passport left, or they had put it down the loo. Alternatively, they had travelled via another country, and ended up not at Gatwick but at Bristol or Manchester.
These children then claim asylum. They cannot do much else. Once they have used the word “asylum”—if they do not speak another language—they are shunted into a children’s home such as the one in Hillingdon, near Heathrow. They have a mobile phone, or they have been told where they will be going. The traffickers are very much ahead of the game, whereas we are really quite pedestrian.
Once the children have arrived at the home, they disappear within hours. Manchester’s director of social work, who co-ordinates social workers, says that the pattern is well established. The social workers are in difficulties. They cannot apprehend the children, and, once they have gone missing, there is no track of them. No one knows who they are. They may come from China or Vietnam, and we know that the Vietnamese will end up managing cannabis factories, but there are many children in this country whose identity and whereabouts are unknown to us. They could have been murdered, and we would not even know.
Between 1 April and 31 December 2009, 527 potential victims of human trafficking were referred through what is known as the national referral mechanism, a new mechanism established under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which provides a way of identifying trafficked people. That is done by the UK Border Agency and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. At least 145 of those referred between April and December were children. Since 1 April, accommodation and support has been provided for 68 people identified as victims of trafficking. Between 1 May 2004 and 22 October 2009, 118 people were convicted of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and seven were convicted of labour trafficking.
I do not think that those figures are good enough. What is the problem? The problem is that first the police must find victims, and then the victims must be prepared to give evidence against their traffickers, who have been brutal to them. The victims, however, fear that if they do give evidence, their families back home will be threatened. I shall describe a case history in a moment, because we have a little time—although I know we have not too much time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The traffickers do, in fact, threaten not only the mothers of the girls involved but, much more significant, their sisters and brothers.
Because the victims do not want to give evidence, the police cannot really prosecute. They certainly cannot prosecute for human trafficking. It is to the credit of the Director of Public Prosecutions that he seems to be moving into the right gear. It has taken him some time, but I hope that he is now moving out of the first gear and into the second and third, because we need to speed things up. The traffickers need to be arrested, not just for trafficking but for all the other offences that they may be committing. We are very slow in this regard. Far more traffickers have been apprehended in Romania. Italy is particularly good, and Austria even better. If we are to make this country an unfriendly and unhelpful place for traffickers, as the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that he wishes to do, we must be much sharper about apprehending them and ensuring that judges give them really awful sentences, which they often do not do at present.
I recently visited a high-security prison in Bucharest. There were many hundreds of traffickers behind bars, both men and women. It is not only men who are traffickers. There is usually a man and his assistant, who is a woman. They are a unit—an item. The woman goes to prison so that the man can continue his work as a pimp or an organiser of trafficked people. I met a number of women in that prison who were doing time for the men with whom they were living.
Many eastern European countries, having thrown off the yoke of communism, went in quite the opposite direction. The free market and criminal gangs moved in quickly to seize new opportunities, and the police and the border agencies have become tied up with criminal mafiosa activity. Last August, an article in The Times reported the rise of systematic trafficking of children in the United Kingdom by foreign criminals to defraud the British benefit system. I was involved in identifying that activity when I accompanied the police on raids in east and north London. I wish they would not start so early in the morning!
During an operation in August, the police found evidence of one suspected crime involving more than £100,000, including a backdated cheque for £24,000 paid to a family by the Benefits Agency. In another case involving trafficked children, a gang is believed to have forged documents for the purpose of at least 500 claims worth £4.5 million. In all, some £300 million is thought to be involved in benefit frauds.
Let me explain how the system works. These people are European Union nationals. A couple will bring in perhaps three or four children claiming that they are theirs, sometimes with forged passports. Ultimately, eight to 11 children may be found living in the same house. A house that I visited during a police raid in east London conveyed no sense that it had been lived in other than by the nine or 10 children—in one instance, there were 12—sleeping on the floors with rugs, upstairs and downstairs. It was quite a Dickensian picture. They were ready to leave at a moment’s notice, because they were aware that the police were circling.
We arrived soon after 6 am. Having lived under the communists, the people in the house were used to the arrival of authorities such as the police. They had all their documents, with them, beautifully prepared. There was not one possession that was not packed into a bag. It is likely that we had arrived the day before they were due to leave: such people move on constantly. We found letters from a fake company, probably Romanian or Bulgarian, inviting the “owner” of the children to work for him as a scrap metal dealer. Once he had been here for a year, he would be able to claim benefits for the children. We took a number of children back to the station, along with their parents or, in some cases, their uncles and aunts.
If you go to Slough railway station first thing in the morning, you will see gangs of kids turning up and waiting for instructions. All these things are happening in this country, and they are visible to those who know where to look. Taken together, they form a picture which some of the more intelligent and interested police officers are identifying as the involvement of kids in human trafficking.
Thanks to the Minister and the Home Office, they are beginning to realise the significance of this, but their approach to it needs to be better focused.
To the escalating problem of children trafficking and benefit fraud, one must add what is happening in the cannabis trade. This problem is not peculiar to Britain, but we seem to be ahead of the game in recognising it. In Britain, we have Vietnamese children tending plants in terraced houses on the outskirts of our large towns. I do not want to mention specific areas of London, but this is happening in all the suburbs, in what look like normal houses. A couple who are part of a gang rent the house, paying cash. To anyone glancing through the front window, the interior looks like an ordinary drawing room, but upstairs there is a cannabis factory. They have ripped out the electrics and the water meters, and they have put in high wattage bulbs, so that the rooms are very hot, and in them, cannabis plants are being tended by young Vietnamese boys, who understand how to do so.
Let us talk about numbers. The first investigation into cannabis factories was undertaken in 2004, so we have known about this problem for about six years, and 850 factories were found. According to recent police intelligence, 2,200 cannabis factories have now been uncovered in Britain, and a sizeable number of Vietnamese boys have been rescued, and other people have been prosecuted. There are up to 300 cannabis factories in London alone. Every time the police raid one, another one pops up, and even the next-door neighbours do not know about it, because to them it merely appears that a nice Vietnamese couple are living quite normally in the adjacent suburban house.
Human trafficking is everywhere. It is not just in the cities. Let us consider the case of a 19-year-old Czech woman who was flown into Bristol airport believing she would work in a gym or a similar environment; she mentioned a four-star hotel in Paignton—I think we have only one of them. She came through immigration control at the airport perfectly legally, as she is from the Czech Republic. Someone collected her from the airport, and she then found herself in a small private brothel on the edge of my constituency in south Devon—as I have said, this is not just an inner-city problem. She was appalled to discover that she had been placed in this situation. That night, five men assaulted her. She tried to escape—she ran out at about 4 o’clock in the morning. It so happened that somewhere in Paignton was open at that time—a nightclub. The traffickers had chased her, but she grabbed hold of the bar and refused to move. Thanks to the responsible nature of the nightclub owner, the police were called.
We must give credit to the Devon and Cornwall constabulary. It is not used to handling trafficking cases, but it took this case on and dealt with it magnificently, arresting the two Czech women running the brothel. Nobody knew about its existence; it was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), but he did not know about it either.
The girl agreed to give evidence against the traffickers, and she was returned to the Czech Republic. The police had to pay for that; because the Home Office will not cover such costs for an EU national, the police had to find the money out of their own funds. As she had agreed to give evidence, the two women who had been running the brothel agreed to plead guilty and were sentenced. However, although I mean no disrespect to the judge, I must say that he gave a really rather weak sentence. The judiciary, as well as the police, need to be trained to realise that trafficking is part of the scenery in this country and that it needs to be severely punished.
People trafficking is, in essence, about people being forced to do things against their will. Victims are deceived or duped into a situation that is not what it at first appeared to be. It is the criminal world misleading, using or exploiting the most vulnerable, the poorest and the most uneducated people for gain. It is all about pounds and euros. It is a wicked practice that people thought had died a death in the 1800s, when Wilberforce passed his legislation in this place. It has not died a death, however. There is now a new, more virulent, form of it in this country. That is confirmed by Home Office research, which estimates that the total social and economic cost of trafficking was £1 billion in 2003, so we are talking about a sizeable sum of money.
To combat human trafficking in the UK and globally, the British people, Parliament, local government, our other institutions and quangos, and the private as well as the public sector must be made aware of the realities of human trafficking and must be dedicated to stopping this contemporary manifestation of slavery. That is my principal purpose in proposing an anti-slavery day.
I do not want to speak for too long, but neither do I want to lose this opportunity to talk about this subject, as this may be one of my last speeches in this place. I want to give an account of a case I addressed yesterday with a firm of solicitors. It is an utterly horrific story that illustrates the points that I have been making. The name of the girl involved and her whereabouts will be kept secret, but I can say that she exists and she lives in London at a secret address. For the purposes of her story, I shall call her Gabriella. She was 20 when she was found, but she was trafficked from Moldova at 14. She was forced into prostitution at the age of 14, and did not finally escape until she was 20. She has been through so many horrific experiences in so many countries during that time that she cannot remember the exact dates and details of everything that happened.
When Gabriella was 14, she went for a picnic in the forest with her best friend and two older men in their late teens. When they were in the forest eating their picnic, Gabriella was very aware that the young men were using their mobile phones, and she overheard one saying, “We’ve got the girls here. When will you come and collect them?” When she tried to escape with her friend, she was hit against the side of her face; a piece of her ear is now clearly missing. They were going to rape her and her friend, but one of the men stopped that, saying they needed to remain virgins as they would make better money. She lost consciousness when they hit her with a Sten gun, and when she woke up she was on the Romanian border. She was then driven by two men to a flat in Romania. She was too scared to speak—she was 14. She stayed overnight there. They were given dark clothes to wear. The two men were with them the whole time. They walked to another country, which she thinks was Hungary. They went across a river in an inflatable dinghy, blindfolded and with hands tied, and during the journey they were told to lie in the middle of the boat.
Gabriella was driven to an apartment; she is not sure where it was. There were five other girls there, one of whom spoke Russian, as does Gabriella. She did not understand why she was being talked to and looked at in the way that she was, but she realised this was a transit point for girls. There were 15 girls in the house, and the other people there were weighing up how much she might be worth. She spent a number of days in that flat, and then was told she would walk to Italy. She is not quite sure whether she was in Slovenia or another country, but they walked through another forest, and were picked up by a car. She was put in a lorry. She then arrived in Rimini, Italy, where she was sold to an Albanian. She was then taken to Milan, where she was sold to another Albanian, and she had to work on the streets of Milan between the ages of 14 and 16. She repeatedly tried to escape but was always apprehended.
Finally, the gang who caught her said, “To teach you a lesson, we’re going to take out one of your front teeth with a pair of pliers.” When I met her yesterday, I had already read about that, and the first thing I realised was that one of her front teeth was stuck back in place. They then threatened to murder her. They tied a rope up a tree and put the noose around her neck, and said, “If you try to escape again, we’ll hang you.” The girl that she had left the forest with—her 14-year-old friend—was murdered by the gang. Gabriella was sold to one gang and the girl was sold to another.
People may say, why do the parents not do anything? Gabriella’s mother is poor—she comes from a backward agricultural community in Moldova. She went to the police, who laughed at her. We must realise that the police in many countries are corrupt. She was worried about the 10-year-old sister of Gabriella she is bringing up, and the son. There have been threats on the family, including the brother, who has now gone to Russia, and the other girl is living alone with her mother. The mother is desperately worried that that daughter will be threatened and taken away as well.
The story goes on, and it gets worse. Gabriella got pregnant, as happens in these cases. She could not look after the daughter she gave birth to—she does not know who the father is—who had to go back to the mother to be looked after. Gabriella kept trying to get back to Moldova, but whenever she went back there she was re-trafficked, which constantly happens. We talk about this issue in the House and to people in the field, and this case illustrates only too well why it is so important to bring people’s attention to the appalling trafficking disease that has hit western countries.
Fortunately, Gabriella has been rescued. I pay tribute to the POPPY project and to her solicitors, who have been having problems. The Minister knows about this because I mentioned it to him earlier. The trouble is that the girl now has refugee status because of her harrowing experiences, of which I have described only some—I have 20 pages of them. She has been rescued and is living secretly in a flat. She is so terrified that she will not come out of the flat. She is a most delightful person, on the face of it, but she is experiencing terrible psychological trauma. She is on the verge of suicide because she is desperate to see her daughter. She cannot go to Moldova to see her because she thinks she will be killed by these gangs.
The UK Border Agency, for which the Minister is responsible, has assured me that there is no problem at all with getting Gabriella’s 6 or 7-year-old daughter into Britain, which is all Gabriella is living for. I got hold of the director of the UKBA last night, who assured me that it entirely agrees with my assessment: the child should be reunited with the mother as soon as possible. However, I was told that it was a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is the problem one constantly gets in this place. The FCO says it is ready to issue a one-way visa for the child to come to Britain. She needs a visa because she is a young child and cannot get a passport. The parents could not sign one, and in any case Gabriella is here.
So now, the FCO is involved, and I hope that the Minister, when he winds up on this very short debate, will say something about this case, which is one of the most horrific I have ever seen. From the age of 14, Gabriella has been bludgeoned by gangs. She has a chance of a new life here. She is an intelligent girl and I hope the Minister may feel that he can help in some way to reunite the family.
That was a little aside. I just wanted to mention this case to the House and why it is so important to have an anti-slavery day, so that it can be constantly remembered that we have modern-day slavery in this country.
Order. As it is on the hon. Gentleman’s own admission that what he has just said was an aside, I hope he will not encourage the Minister to go into that issue in detail, because this is hardly the proper occasion. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman very considerable scope in introducing what is in fact a specific Bill. The House has obviously been stunned, to some extent, by what he has had to say, but we ought now to be reaching the point of examining the prime purpose for which he is seeking to introduce this legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is wonderful how both our minds were working in the same way. I can assure you that, at the very point that you stood up, I was just about to move on. I am most grateful for that guidance, which was entirely appropriate and I entirely accept what you say.
Although our Parliament has enacted good laws in the past 10 years to prosecute traffickers and to assist and protect victims of human trafficking—and, most recently, the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings—we need to increase awareness of the issues surrounding human trafficking on the part of those most likely to come into contact with victims. This is essential for effective enforcement, because the techniques that traffickers use to keep their victims enslaved severely limits their self-respect.
Thanks to this Government—we must give them credit for what they have done—we have the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That is all good legislation to deter traffickers, but it has to be implemented, and the police and judiciary are now important in dealing with this problem. Collectively, these laws were passed to criminalise the trafficking of human beings in the UK, reduce the likelihood of exploitation of others and make it possible to recover profits gained as a result of criminal activity.
The UK signed the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings on 23 March 2007, ratified it on 17 December 2008 and implemented it recently. We are one of 26 countries that have ratified and implemented the convention. It is the first legally binding regional European treaty on human trafficking. The convention recognises trafficking in human beings as a major human rights issue and seeks to strengthen the legal protection afforded to victims.
On 23 March 2007—the same day that the UK signed the convention—the Government published their first UK action plan on tackling human trafficking. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), who was then the Minister with responsibility for such issues, who for three or four years pushed, along with the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, for new legislation and action. His work was untiring and excellent. The aim of the action plan was to highlight current work on human trafficking across all Government agencies, identify gaps in existing work and outline future plans. However, it is not enough to sit back and rest on our laurels. Just as we have a salt awareness week to alert the public to the dangers of a high-sodium diet, an annual human trafficking awareness day would alert the public to the horrors of the modern-day slave trade, which they would not normally think about.
All of us here think in terms of political expediency and what needs to be done. If one mentions this issue to a taxi driver or a builder, he may have an idea of what human trafficking is in the back of his mind. With the problems in Haiti in our minds and on the news, he will have an idea of what human trafficking is. However, we desperately need to be reminded regularly of these issues, and regularly to identify for young people and others the dangers that exist.
The Government could say that there is already an international day to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, an international day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition, and an international day for the abolition of slavery, but I know they will not. All those days are very unspecific and not well established. The important thing is to let men, women and children know that modern-day slavery exists here in Britain and needs to be stamped out. We must reinforce the focus and understanding of the public. Slavery did not disappear when Wilberforce passed his legislation through this House. That is why we need an annual anti-slavery day.
A national anti-slavery day would continue to draw attention to the evils of human trafficking post-Wilberforce and how it is manifesting itself in British society. We would not be the first country to establish a day of awareness of human trafficking and modern-day slavery; the United States has already done this. In June 2007, the US Senate passed a resolution establishing a national day of human trafficking awareness on 11 January each year. The aim of the day is to raise awareness of and opposition to human trafficking and modern-day slavery, both domestically and across the globe. Various events are organised each year in the US on that day, including public debates, press conferences and a film screening, along with news items and media reports. It strikes me that 11 January is a good day to choose, as it is during the school term, but my Bill suggests that the Secretary of State should determine which date is used—I did not try to fix the date in concrete at this stage.
Similarly, schools in Britain could be encouraged to incorporate this topic into their curriculum to raise awareness among students. That would encourage teachers to receive special training to help their students learn about modern-day slavery in a sensitive and engaging way. Specialist training would also be a priority for social workers and the police, so they could develop expertise in the area and play an instrumental role in raising awareness among local communities. Thus, people across the board would start waking up; just as Holocaust memorial day was held earlier this week, so we would have a day to raise awareness of slavery, modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The efforts made by individuals, business, organisations, educational institutions and governing bodies to promote the observance of an anti-slavery day each year would represent one of the many examples of an ongoing commitment in the UK to raise awareness of human trafficking and to oppose such trafficking actively.
In December 2009—just two months ago—the US Senate approved a resolution to establish a national slavery and trafficking prevention month in January. The month-long observance is intended to enhance the fight against human trafficking. Given that the United States and the United Kingdom were the two main drivers behind the transatlantic slave trade, it would be fitting if they had the same anti-slavery awareness day. It would also be a fitting tribute to this Government’s commitment to making Britain a hostile environment for traffickers.
We have been subject to increasing media coverage of serious aspects of human trafficking; most recently, there has been much about Haiti and the risks of children going missing there. I raised the matter at Prime Minister’s questions on 27 January. There has also been widespread coverage of the risks taken by well-intentioned individuals who rented a bus to rescue Haitian children and attempted to bring them into the Dominican Republic and establish an orphanage. Films have been made about Roma children and about girls who have been brought from eastern Europe and the far east and forced into prostitution. A couple of weeks back, The Times 2 did a feature on domestic slavery and the problems that domestic workers face when they work in this country. Incidentally, I am sponsoring an exhibition, with the all-party group, that will be held in the hall upstairs on 22 January. It will be opened by the Home Secretary and will be identify the problems caused by human trafficking.
I am on my last paragraph, so I thought that I might just get that in.
By far the largest number of people trafficked into the UK may well be trafficked for forced labour. The UK Human Trafficking Centre is already making progress to highlight the extent of the problem in the agricultural sector. As the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is also involved in that work, there is a strong case for widening the remit of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to include the hospitality, construction, and care industries—those very important areas are often forgotten.
In the past three years, Britain has moved from behind the pack—the other EU countries—in tackling human trafficking to the head of the pack. Unfortunately, the problem of human trafficking is growing. It is the modern version of slavery, and it is virulent. Declaring a national awareness day would be the best way of recognising that evil for what it is. We could lead with our European partners, and I hope that we can complete the work that William Wilberforce rose in this very building to begin more than 200 years ago, as the majority mistakenly believe the illusion that slavery has all but disappeared.
I am sure that you will be interested to learn, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Inter-Parliamentary Union is holding a conference on this very issue for parliamentarians beginning on 22 February. Parliamentarians from all over Europe who are committed to and interested in this matter, many of whom I have visited in their countries, will be coming to the IPU to discuss and debate how they can work much better together. I believe that I have covered the matter and that the House will understand what I am trying to say. If I cannot say it in 50 minutes, there is not much point in my carrying on speaking for much longer, so I merely say that I commend this first-rate Bill to my colleagues.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on introducing his Bill. As he knows, I am one of its supporters. I also congratulate him on his speech. For a moment, I thought he was going after my record for the time taken in setting out one’s arguments, but I am pleased to be able to say that he did not break it—he was quite a long way short.
I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s all-party group on the work that it is doing and has done. It works in parallel with my Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has taken a particular interest in the issue of trafficking. Only last week, we had an evidence session with the Minister to follow up on our previous reports on the issue. A number of points arose from that, but I shall not go into them today because that would involve straying from the text of the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned William Wilberforce, I should say that he lived in what is now my constituency and founded my local church, so I have a particular constituency interest in seeing how this all progresses.
I have a problem with part of the text of the Bill, specifically the references to “modern-day slavery” and
“taking the place of the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.
The hon. Gentleman will know that, like him, I have attended IPU events to discuss trafficking. The phrase “modern-day slavery” is not really accepted by a number of the countries in Africa, which find it an offensive comparison with the old slave trade. Assuming that the Bill goes into Committee—I hope that it will—I urge him to consider whether he could remove that phrase because it is not needed to make the point about trafficking. If he were to do so, we would be left with a much more consensual Bill, particularly given how many people from Africa live in our country and who might otherwise feel offended.
On the other reference, the hon. Gentleman has explained at length that his Bill deals with the modern problem of trafficking, which, as he said, is a worldwide one. He has mentioned the trafficking of children from Vietnam in order to grow cannabis in factories and the problem of young women who are trafficked from eastern Europe to work in the sex trade. None of those things relates in any way, shape or form to the transatlantic slave trade. Equally, he knows as well as I do that people are trafficked not only into the UK, the US or even Europe, but throughout the world. As he said, trafficking is the second biggest criminal activity after the drugs trade. Thus, not only might people with an African heritage find the comparison in the simple reference to the transatlantic slave trade a little insulting, because they are very sensitive about that issue, but the reference does not get across what the Bill is actually about, which is to highlight the worldwide nature of the problem. The comparison between what happened in the 18th and 19th centuries with what is happening now is not really one we should have in this Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment, so may I ask his advice? He is one of the sponsors of the Bill, so he supports it. Given that we wish to expedite its progress, does he agree that the reference could be removed in the other place or on Report? That would avoid our delaying the Bill’s progress in this place.
That is a difficult issue, because it is important to ensure that Bills leave this House in as good a shape as possible. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope we will have time to put that right here because he is quite well up the batting order. I leave the Minister to discuss further the possibilities in that regard. I think the hon. Gentleman accepts that the Bill is not perfect on those two points.
To that extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That brings me to my second point, because I support the principles behind the Bill and the Bill itself.
I wish to remind the hon. Gentleman of my experience when I introduced my Holocaust Remembrance Day Bill some 11 years ago, on which, in many ways, I suppose his Bill is modelled. I produced the Bill after a visit to Auschwitz. I came back wondering what I could do to sort this out. Given what he has been saying, it would appear that he has had a similar experience in respect of trafficking: he is very exercised about the issue, as I hope we all are, and he thus wants to do something about it and his Bill is a way of achieving that. I moved Second Reading and I raised the matter with the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair. In response to a parliamentary question, he said he thought it was a good idea and all the doors unlocked. The Home Office, which had previously been a little reticent, suddenly became extremely enthusiastic—I cannot understand why. In the end, we did not need the Bill to establish Holocaust memorial day. I think that everybody in the House accepts, or, at least, I hope they do, that that national commemoration has been a great success—we had the 10th only the other week—not only as a commemoration but in the way it has spread awareness of the issues of the holocaust throughout the country.
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might not need a Bill or an Act to achieve what he wants to achieve. The naming of the day is not important; what is important is the Government’s commitment to making the things happen that need to happen to make it a success. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the three other similar day-type commemorations, and I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration replies to the debate we can consider bringing those together in one form of commemoration and education under the Government’s auspices with their commitment to making it a success. The hon. Gentleman does not need legislation for that; he needs commitment. Even if the Bill is passed in its present form or in a slightly amended form, it does not necessarily mean that anything will happen other than a little name will appear in everybody’s diaries. We have to have commitment to make that happen—commitment from the Government, local government, voluntary bodies, schools and everybody else, and that needs a strong lead from the Government.
There is nothing between us; we are agreed on this. But there is a difference. We have a Holocaust memorial day that has focused public attention—let us remember that we sign the book downstairs. This is an opportunity to say, “We don’t like the title,” “We don’t like this,” or “We don’t like that.” We have an advantage—and it is a very small window of advantage—and an opportunity today, I believe, to push for the identification of a day a year to focus on this issue, although of course the Secretary of State would decide the day. If we lose this opportunity, another will not come along for a very long time, if at all. It is a question of which is better on balance: to have something that is not perfect or to have nothing. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, in view of his sponsorship of this Bill, that he would not wish it to founder.
Yes, I am a sponsor of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and I do not particularly want it to founder. However, I have explained that I think the Bill is a tool to make something happen, just as the Holocaust Remembrance Day Bill was a tool to make something happen. In the end, we did not need the legislation, because the Government took it on, with all-party support, and now Holocaust memorial day is well established. I hope that the hon. Gentleman sees this Bill as a tool that can be used to make something happen.
We were a lot more advanced in the debate on Holocaust memorial day: we had signed up all the constituent parts of the argument, identified the day—which was somewhat controversial at the time—and, using the Bill as a tool, we were able to make it happen. I hope the hon. Gentleman will see that his Bill does not necessarily have to become an Act, but can be used as a tool to ensure that things happen in the same way.
I have nothing against that, except I will not be here to see it happen. Bearing in mind the time and the fact that his Bill follows mine, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give the Bill a chance to be pushed through, even if it founders somewhere else, and used as a vehicle in the way that he has been thinking. However, if it does not move on today to the other place, it will not be a vehicle, because it will not have any leverage.
I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but I think I have made my point. In fact, I was about to sit down, but I thought that he would like to get his intervention in.
I approve of the concept of an anti-slavery day, but there are problems with the text. If the Bill does not become law or if the Government are not prepared to support it, I hope that the Government will give the concept, at least, their blessing and, at the same time, see what they can do to show the Government’s commitment to tackling these issues.
I greatly welcome the work of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). He has a long-established reputation and is held in high regard in this House, and in his speech he was able to talk at length about the issues and the work that he has done in this connection. It is worth saying that it commands enormous cross-party support and respect and the hon. Gentleman has done us a real service.
Whether through the Bill or simply because the issue has been raised, I hope that the Government will act. There are two big points to make. First, although the hon. Gentleman did not dwell on it, this country has every reason to be proud of its history on this issue. This House, in particular, has every reason to be proud of its history. All of us who count ourselves as progressives—I think the hon. Gentleman would be one of them—can claim some credit for progressives in this place in the past, who challenged established views and succeeded in the anti-slavery legislation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the generous things he has said; I am most grateful to him. The fact is that Britain led the world on the anti-slavery legislation. On human trafficking, we were quite slow, compared with other European countries, to realise what was happening. We have caught up. The Government have consistently had good Ministers in the Home Office who were committed to doing something and they have done as much as they can. This is what is needed now and it is an opportunity for Britain to take the lead again in the EU. That is why I am concerned that we should not lose that opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman intervened just as I was about to turn to the present. He made his point very clearly, and he is right. There is a desperate need to awaken people’s consciences to what is going on. The Government have made huge strides in this regard, but, as the hon. Gentleman made clear, there is more to be done. Tackling the issue will be done best if people are aware of it, because the problem is often in the house next door or the flat across the road. Making people aware of the issue, and getting them to report it and no longer turn a blind eye to it, is how we will effectively overcome it. That is all I want to say and that is why I believe that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal is a good one.
It is, indeed, a pleasure to rise in support of the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I congratulate him not only on his powerful and compelling speech, but on his exemplary use of an all-party group to pursue an important campaign. I wish the Bill well.
I found it unique and slightly surreal that the only objection to the Bill so far has come from one of its sponsors. That is made more surreal by the fact that I might have thought that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) was doing what he often does on a Friday morning, and extending the debate in a creative way, but I looked at the Order Paper and discovered that the next Bill for consideration is from the hon. Gentleman. I am not entirely sure what his contribution was designed to achieve.
I want to make it clear that the Opposition support my hon. Friend’s Bill. It is an important initiative that is aimed at raising public awareness. As has been said by several hon. Members so far, this is not a problem of inner cities and of big cities. It is now a problem that unexpectedly affects every community—or many communities—in this country. I know that it is a problem in my constituency, which is not the sort of area where one would expect to find this sort of problem. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill, which takes a significant step with no apparent public spending commitment, which is not only admirable but extremely sensible.
I assure the House that no public expenditure whatever is intended. It will be up to organisations and institutions in this country to decide how they wish to recognise modern-day slavery. That is what the Bill seeks to do, along the lines of what has been done in the United States, where the whole month of January is dedicated to the issue. I am suggesting only one day, and I suggest that the Secretary of State would name that day. It would give a focus to the issue, and I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging that it is needed.
My hon. Friend makes his point. It is important to have a day devoted to increasing public knowledge and awareness that slavery and human trafficking are a contemporary problem, not simply something that people read about in history books.
I hope that the House can pass the Bill because, this week of all weeks, it is important for the House to be seen to be doing something useful, relevant, creative and constructive. Conservative Members are wholeheartedly committed to the cessation of the modern slave trade and, along with many of the things that my hon. Friend has already said, we have proposed an integrated and coherent strategy to achieve that. The hon. Member for Hendon made a few remarks about whether modern-day slavery is the appropriate phrase to use, but clearly human trafficking is the modern form of slavery, and it is deeply depressing that it is becoming so prevalent 200 years after William Wilberforce famously succeeded in beginning the abolition of the slave trade in this country.
Human trafficking is a particularly serious problem for this country. The Minister and I spend much of our time arguing about our lax border controls, but clearly Britain is not just a target country for human traffickers; it is also a transit country. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made the point that the international trafficking trade, which the UN estimates affects about 800,000 people a year, is now the second-biggest international crime, after the drugs trade. One fact that my hon. Friend did not mention, which I find equally depressing, is that it is the fastest growing of the big international crimes. Drugs, guns and people are trafficked around the world by some of the world’s most unpleasant and organised criminals, and of those three horrors human trafficking is growing the fastest and will, if things carry on as they are, become the biggest international crime.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the other items, arms trading and drug trafficking, do not involve human life? This is the one crime that human beings are subject to. They are treated in the most appalling and despicable way—not much different from how they were treated under the old slave trade. This is modern slavery; I am afraid that it has not yet been abolished.
I do not want to try to establish moral distinctions between three particularly unpleasant crimes, but my hon. Friend is right. This is the nearest thing that we have to the old slave trade. Anyone who has grown up during the past 50 years will read the history books with horror, wondering how people could have treated other human beings like that as recently as 200 years ago, but sadly and depressingly we come to the conclusion that they are still doing that now. That is a horrific fact on which we need to reflect.
I am glad that my hon. Friend made the point that human trafficking is not simply to do with sexual exploitation—it is wider than that and includes labour exploitation—because it is important that we do not get sidetracked into a debate about prostitution. Clearly there are hugely important debates to be had about that, and a significant amount of human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but the trade is more than that. Labour exploitation should be regarded as equally important, particularly as it affects children. I do not want to repeat many of the things that have already been said in the debate, but many of us will find it particularly appalling that a large and apparently growing number of children are trafficked. The physical mistreatment that is often part of the trafficking process seems particularly disgusting. Many of the victims are lured under the false pretence of more favourable work or pay and made financially dependent on arrival.
My hon. Friend mentioned the terrible case of Gabriella, whom he met yesterday. I am sure that Members will have heard similar examples. There is one of a woman in her early 20s, who we shall call Suzanne, from Lithuania, who after the death of her husband was offered a job in London by two Lithuanian men. They said that it would enable her to better provide for her two children. Escorted by one of the men, she flew to London, where she was met by two other Lithuanians who were already living here. They took her to a flat where she was locked up and forced to have sex with up to 10 men a day. Her pimps kept all the money, claiming £10,000 was owed to their boss for bringing her to the UK and for her living costs. After four months, she became pregnant. I regret to say that that is the routine sort of story that one hears in this field.
As I say, young women are affected, but so too are children. In introducing his Bill, my hon. Friend talked about the problems of children’s homes. I draw to the attention of the Minister and the House the problems of the homes in the London borough of Hillingdon. No blame at all attaches to the local authority, because we cannot make those children’s homes secure unless we make them prisons, and none of us wants to do that. It has been identified that since 2006, more than 70 Chinese children have gone missing from a home there; obviously, it is close to Heathrow. Only four have been found—two girls returned after a year of exploitation in brothels in the midlands. One was pregnant, while the other had been surgically fitted with a contraceptive device in her arm. We seem to know that the absconding is straightforwardly at the facilitation of organised crime groups.
On the problems of Hillingdon, I have met the leadership of the council and its senior officers, and we believe there is more that we can do together. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the cross-party approach that his party is taking on the issue. We clearly need to help Hillingdon, and we intend to do so.
I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks. Of course, the approach is not just cross-party, as he will be well aware. Hillingdon and Kent are the two local authorities most exposed to the problem of unaccompanied children. Indeed, one of the new centres for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is in my constituency—I visited it recently—so wearing almost every hat that I have, I am deeply concerned about the issue. Those local authorities that have to grapple with the matter have serious problems funding and organising all the arrangements for unaccompanied children, and having international criminal gangs trying to exploit and take away those children is clearly an enormous difficulty.
In this country, exploitation of labour is common in agriculture, construction, domestic cleaning, contract cleaning and the care sector. We all know the more tragic examples of what happens as a result of that kind of labour exploitation: there were the Chinese cockle pickers who died in Morecambe bay and the lorryful of Chinese workers who suffocated in Folkestone. We also know that something like 60 per cent. of illegal immigrants arrive in the UK by illegal means, the majority in the backs of lorries. Many of them will have paid huge sums of money to agents—up to £22,000—and many of them are forced into debt bondage, are kept in appalling conditions and are victims of organised criminal gangs.
Terribly, even in those conditions, many of those people prefer to be here than in their home country, because their life in their country was even worse than the life that they are forced to live here. We have to accept that as an issue. Incredibly perversely, many of them prefer to be illegal workers. In an evidence session for a previous immigration Bill, Jack Dromey said that his union had found evidence of Portuguese workers—who could, of course, have come here perfectly legally—pretending to be Brazilians and operating under false Brazilian passports, because that way, they could work illegally, take jobs at below the minimum wage and allow themselves to be exploited. They thought that it was easier to get work that way. One can see the depths of the perverse effects.
Many of these victims are unwittingly involved in organised crime. We know that there are many crimes associated with human trafficking, including the employment of illegal immigrants, drug crimes and money laundering, as well as prostitution and child abuse. I expect the Minister would agree that we need to ensure that campaigns such as the cross-borders Blue Blindfold campaign continue to help raise awareness of this despicable trade, as the Bill would do.
We on the Conservative Benches have previously urged the Government to focus on the countries of origin. We were pleased to see a mention of that in the millennium goals. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend mentioned what happens in the countries of origin. It is clear that prevention work in such countries will be hugely valuable as part of the long-term package of measures that we need to take to combat human trafficking.
We were pleased when the Government responded to pressure from us and others and signed up to the European convention on trafficking in human beings. We know that that is not just a UK problem. It is one for the whole of Europe, and we can learn a great deal from studying the work done in other countries, particularly Austria and Italy, which have shown some creative thought in this area.
An important development that has not been mentioned was the formation of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. The existence of one central point of information on trafficking has clearly been valuable to police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies. The existence of the UKHTC demonstrates the importance of specialisation when tackling new and growing types of crime. I hope that expertise does not disappear in the future.
I visited the UK Human Trafficking Centre with the Joint Committee on Human Rights. If the centre co-ordinates statutory organisations, gets statistics and provides information, we should support it, but we should not forget the non-governmental agencies, which receive little or no help from the Government, other than the POPPY project. Bearing in mind that £1.8 million goes to the Human Trafficking Centre, does my hon. Friend agree that a similar sum should go to the non-governmental organisations who do such amazing work in victim protection?
My hon. Friend has just broken the covenant whereby he was not going to ask for more public spending—[Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position, “Get rid of the UK Human Trafficking Centre.” I do not agree. The UKHTC does good work and it would be short-sighted to shut it. I take his point that some of the NGOs are clearly doing valuable work as well.
I have some concerns about the current action plan because there appear to be problems with the national referral mechanism at a local level. I hope the Minister would agree that better information needs to be provided to local authorities and police forces so that they are aware of the problem, better able to identify victims and confident in using the mechanism.
The figures show the scale of the problem. In October 2008 the Government published an assessment stating that 360 children were trafficked into and within the UK each year, but only 57 under-18s were referred to the national referral mechanism as suspected victims of human trafficking last year, out of a total of 527 referrals. In the five years to 2009, 452 people were arrested for human trafficking offences, but fewer than a quarter, only 110, were convicted. Those figures are worrying.
One important area that is often neglected is trafficking for forced labour. In 2008 there were only four convictions for trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, despite the problems that we know about in relation to organised immigration crime. As a country, we could do much better at cracking down on rogue employers. That is why we differ from the Government on a series of proposals about better border policing.
We have made a number of suggestions: instructing immigration officials to check the date of the return ticket of the adult accompanying minors and look for discrepancies; better work with countries of origin to help reintegrate victims, prevent the re-trafficking that my hon. Friend mentioned and educate potential victims; more robust law enforcement to bring to justice more traffickers and employers of forced labour; and better co-operation with the national authorities of other countries within Europol and Eurojust.
All those measures would be useful, but our most important defence against human trafficking is our own borders, and we suggest replacing ad hoc police operations by mainstreaming trafficking as a police priority through a national border police force. The Government’s failure to tackle the problems at our borders has resulted in a disastrous rise in organised immigration crime, and the Conservative party believes that we cannot tackle crime in the UK effectively without addressing the problems at our borders. They could be better policed, and we could prevent significant illegal immigration while cracking down on the trafficking of people and, indeed, weapons and drugs.
We believe that the specialisation of police services is most effective in fighting those new crimes, and that is why we commissioned Lord Stevens to conduct a review of our border security. We conclude, with him, that only a unified force can best protect our borders, so an incoming Conservative Government would make setting up a national border police force one of their priorities. We want to replace the current system, which, as we have seen over the past few years, lacks a comprehensive, joined-up strategy. That significant practical measure would improve the protection of our borders generally, and give us a better weapon in the fight against human trafficking, specifically.
Many measures can be taken, however, and my hon. Friend’s Bill, which would significantly improve public awareness of the problem, would be another significant and welcome step forward. I am therefore very happy to support it, because we need to ensure that Britain once again leads the way in fighting slavery. We need to continue Wilberforce’s work, so that this new slavery is eradicated as soon as possible.
I shall be brief, because I am anxious for this and the following business to be discussed. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for his work on these issues. He has talked to me about many of them for some considerable time, and he has opened my eyes to a very serious issue; occasionally he has caused them to close after a very lengthy discussion, but mostly he has opened them.
We all think that my hon. Friend’s proposed day will raise awareness of this incredibly important and serious issue, which many people are not as aware of as they should be: we had the 200th anniversary celebrations of Wilberforce’s Act, and most people think that slavery is long gone. I pay tribute once more to my hon. Friend for his work. The House will lose a doughty crusader on this issue, and I hope that he will—indeed, I urge him to—continue that work wherever he finds himself.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on bringing this Bill to the House as the latest stage of his important campaign to focus attention on awareness of, and action against, human trafficking. He said that his speech today might be one of his last in this place, but I hope that it is not, because we benefit from his knowledge. Today he has brought to the House the benefit of what a comprehensive, campaigning Member of Parliament can do, and I am thinking not only of the hon. Gentleman’s time in the House.
In preparation for this debate, I have been reading the current edition of The House Magazine, No. 1330 volume 35. There is a profile of the hon. Gentleman that is very relevant to the Bill. It is headed “Pioneering spirit not extinguished”, and that sums things up rather well. He informs the House, through the magazine, of his intention to continue in this place working on this campaign, albeit in a different capacity. I congratulate him on that and wish him well; with a long career behind him, he has, I hope, many years ahead of him to campaign on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman did not explain his Bill in the legalistic jargon that we sometimes hear; I am probably as guilty of that as others. He expressed himself in very human terms, which my constituents would understand, as he related the human stories behind the issue. I suspect that he shares my burning frustration at the fact that the Press Gallery is vacant this morning. There are some stories that the public need to know about, and it is sad that it is left to just a few journalists to bring attention to them. People say that this place is not relevant, but they ought to listen to or report our debates on these issues. Unless I say something sensational, I doubt whether this debate will be reported; I think the hon. Gentleman knows what I am referring to.
The House is extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this subject to our attention and for the work of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, many of whose members are sponsoring the Bill. I know that there was a recent meeting about consular domestic workers, an issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised today.
Obviously, the Government have been giving consideration to the hon. Gentleman’s proposal that the United Kingdom should introduce a national day of awareness about human trafficking and slavery. The Bill lays out its purpose clearly, and that purpose can be supported. The provisions in clause 1(2)(a) to (c) lay the purpose out. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made reference to how they might be interpreted.
I should say at the start that the Government will not oppose the Bill; we think that it is for the House to decide whether it is appropriate that there should be a statutory anti-slavery day. Should the House move the Bill on to the next stages, we will offer the services of parliamentary counsel to address some of the concerns identified as we considered the Bill in Whitehall.
I know that I am not meant to read out the brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will on this occasion, as it will be helpful. It raises some of the concerns about wording, the usual advice on meaning—particularly about words such as “proactive”—and concerns about presentational issues, to which the hon. Gentleman himself referred, in relation to the existing European Union anti-trafficking day and the UNESCO day on slavery. The brief also refers to how and why this day, as opposed to other days, needs statutory backing. Armistice day has no statutory backing, but I guess that the House would say that it does not need it; no Government would want not to focus resources on it.
That, however, is a matter for the House. Should the Bill get to the next stages, we will offer the services of parliamentary counsel. I hope that that is taken in the spirit of helpfulness in which it is intended. It is always a good idea to read out the brief when it is intended to be helpful.
We therefore support the principle behind the Bill. Its stated purpose is to point out that
“modern-day slavery is taking the place of the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.
I understand that point, although my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon made us aware of a concern that some communities may have. The fact is that, as the Bill states,
“millions of men, women and children continue to be victims of modern-day slavery, depriving them of basic human dignity and freedom”,
That is taking place within the European Union, which is of particular concern.
The issue is simple. If we stopped people in the street today and talked about human trafficking, a great number of them would not know what we were talking about and a great number more would say, “Oh, it all finished years ago.” In other European countries, ideas are even vaguer. The whole approach in Europe, starting here today, should be that we are not going to have modern-day slavery. What Wilberforce did in the 19th century is what we need to do in the 21st, and we must apply it to a new kind of slavery involving human beings who are victimised, treated cruelly and abused for the sake of money for the traffickers. We have to do that today. Parliamentary draftsmen, for all they are worth, will find a reason to make the Bill meaningless, so we must not necessarily take all their advice.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about parliamentary draftsmen. They are very helpful to Ministers and we could not do without them, but his point is strong. I should explain that the lead responsibility for the matter in the Home Office rests with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), but of course we work extremely closely together, particularly because the UK Border Agency works with police forces. I shall return to the debate between the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and myself about the desirability or otherwise of a specific police force within UKBA, but the work that we are doing benefits from a partnership approach.
The Bill mentions the particular desirability of raising awareness among young people, which is very important. I share the views of the hon. Member for Totnes about the lack of awareness. The views that he described were my own misunderstanding before I took the job, and before I undertook research into the matter as a private citizen after the exhibition that the POPPY project held last year. As a father, let alone as a member of the public, I was horrified by the depth and breadth of trafficking. Of course, one could say that even if only one person was trafficked, they would deserve the action that we are trying to take.
Helpfully and in a non-partisan way, the Bill attempts to put into statute the desirability of drawing attention to
“the progress made by government and those working to combat all forms of modern-day slavery”,
and it is good for Parliament to make that point. Perhaps it would be helpful if I briefly outlined the work that we are doing in that regard. Central to our approach has been the desirability of reconciling the various objectives of enforcing the laws against traffickers, preventing illegal immigration, which is often associated with trafficking, and protecting victims. That approach was commended by the House through the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 26th report of the 2005-06 Session. It is worth quoting that report, which stated:
“We are encouraged by our further belief that the Government is also committed to achieving the best possible balance in its overall policy to combat trafficking, grounding that policy in human rights standards, and has an open mind about how this can best be achieved.”
In 2007, the year of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, we published the first UK action plan, which was updated most recently in October 2009, as the hon. Member for Totnes knows. That coincided with the European Union’s anti-trafficking day, which is held on 18 October each year, as hon. Members have said. In addition to the action plan, we also issued a publicity leaflet for victims of trafficking and advice for practitioners, to ensure as far as possible that the voluntary and statutory agencies are singing from the same hymn sheet. On the same day the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, who has responsibility for crime reduction, spoke on the issue in Brussels, outlining the work undertaken by the UK in contributing to the European effort.
The plan looks at the issue from end to end—from the source of the pipeline, if I can use that phrase, to the experience of the victim at the end of it. The hon. Gentleman has explained the circular nature of the problem, given the pressure put on victims through threats to their families in their home countries. The plan takes an end-to-end approach and focuses on four key areas: prevention; investigation, enforcement and prosecution; providing protection to adult victims; and providing protection to child victims. Let me look briefly at each.
The prevention of trafficking is essential. Our attention has focused on three areas: increasing our understanding of the problem; addressing issues that impact on the supply side of human trafficking; and deterring the demand for human trafficking. Those are not simple tasks. The covert and deceptive nature of the crime makes it difficult to assess the scale of the problem. One estimate of the scale of trafficking for sexual exploitation is that there were up to 4,000 victims in the UK at any one time in 2003. That is not 4,000 victims throughout the year; it is 4,000 at any one time, which is where the recent press reports, to which reference has been made, got confused.
In April the Government will publish a revised estimate of the nature and scale of trafficking for sexual exploitation in this country. That work will be taken forward in 2010. Alongside that we will do scoping studies of trafficking for forced labour and domestic servitude. I mention those things because the hon. Gentleman’s Bill says that it is desirable to draw attention to the problem. I hope that he does not regard those initiatives as a substitute for action; rather, they are part of it.
Is the Minister aware—I was not aware of this until last week, when I met some police officers concerned with sexual exploitation—that the police have now identified more than 2,200 brothels in this country? For instance, there were thought to be half a dozen brothels in Croydon, but they have now found that the figure is 60. All brothels apparently have so many trafficked women in them—indeed, the police believe that as many as half or two thirds of the women in many British brothels have been trafficked and forced to work there—that we might find that the figure of 4,000, which I accept, will double when we start to get more information.
I am not familiar with the specific figure, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has drawn our attention to that. I simply make the point, which I know the hon. Gentleman agrees with, that the figures are sometimes misunderstood because it is assumed that the problem is static, and of course it is not.
Our understanding of the scale of the problem is improving steadily. Particularly helpful in that context has been the introduction of the national referral mechanism, to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred, which was established as part of the ratification of the Council of Europe convention on 1 April 2009. The national referral mechanism is a multi-agency framework that assists in identifying victims of trafficking and then providing support. It is supported by significant investment to provide front-line officers and responders with the skills to assess whether an individual should be referred into the framework. That work includes training staff to respond to individuals in an appropriate manner. The hon. Member for Totnes mentioned the desirability of improving awareness and training in this area across the various agencies.
A serious point about the policy proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Ashford is that, although we would not want to rule out a police force within an agency on ideological or dogmatic grounds, we must acknowledge the practical question of what is the best framework for getting all the agencies to work in partnership on this issue. Is there a danger that a Border Agency police force would lead to other police forces and agencies de-prioritising this issue because they were working on the assumption that the agency police force was responsible?
My response to this proposal is that, whatever arguments we have about the border, it is not the border itself that needs the extra policing; it is the investigation and enforcement. That is why our preferred approach is through the local immigration and crime teams. They could adopt what I describe as the Eliot Ness approach. Members will recall that Al Capone was captured by a tax investigator, not by a man with a machine gun. Similarly, immigration and police powers working together are mutually beneficial because, more often than not, human trafficking involves illegal immigration activity and other crimes. I am sure that this debate will be heightened in the next few weeks. There is a serious, almost tactical, decision to be taken on this, as well as a strategic one.
Training is now mandatory for all UK Border Agency staff below assistant director level, and training modules for the police service have been inserted into mandatory mainstream training courses throughout the police. However, it is not enough simply to focus on human trafficking in the UK. Many victims are foreign nationals from the EU and beyond. The second strand therefore involves addressing the problem at source.
The Home Office works closely with our colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is an international organisation. I have recently met officers in Nigeria, for example, and it is possible to see the end-to-end approach working as intelligence comes through from such countries. Those organisations have a number of initiatives to tackle trafficking at source, and the work has four components, of which awareness raising is one. We hear horrendous stories about young people who are understandably naive. Perhaps naive is not the right word, but they lack awareness of what is going on. The hon. Member for Totnes has recounted stories of youngsters believing that they are going to get a decent job and ending up in enslavement. The second component involves capacity building in the source and transit countries to deal with organised immigration crime. The third involves working with Governments and other organisations within the EU and beyond. The fourth involves taking action to address the factors that make poor people vulnerable to trafficking in the first place. The strategy in the Czech Republic is an example of that.
DFID works in 150 countries, and plays a critical role in preventing trafficking at source, through work on combating poverty and social injustice and implementing long-term development programmes. For example, we are currently supporting a project run by the Salvation Army to combat child trafficking in Malawi. There are numerous projects like that in Africa. Similarly, the Crown Prosecution Service has undertaken programmes in a number of jurisdictions to improve the investigation and prosecution of offences. This has focused on the Caribbean, west Africa, China and Afghanistan, while we have also seconded Crown Prosecution Service staff to work in Sierra Leone and Ghana.
Within the European Union, in order to strengthen the international response, we take a joint approach, and we are negotiating a revised framework decision on human trafficking. The UK has played a key role in preparing for the Schengen evaluation of trafficking and supporting the development of ideas proposed by the then Swedish presidency to improve the EU’s external work to combat human trafficking. If one wants an example of why we were right not to join Schengen, this is a good one, in my opinion. Growing awareness and implementation of policy relating to the protection of the border and better sharing of data within EU countries is critical to this approach. The Swedish presidency recognised that, and a number of EU countries shifted their attitude, which is testament to the campaigning work going on in this country and elsewhere.
I assume from what the Minister is saying that he acknowledges that modern-day slavery crosses frontiers, but believes that there is no point in this country having a ring of steel around our borders if other countries are porous to human trafficking. Does he agree, therefore, that a major task for the European Commission is to stop funding conferences, seminars and research and to start giving money to NGOs and other organisations involved in the real fight against trafficking? For a very long time, the European Commission has spent money on things that are perfectly agreeable, so that there is a circus of attending seminars going on around Europe. People stop off at each country; they see each other; then they move on. Very few organisations, however, are doing the work that needs to be done and those that are trying to do it cannot get funding from the Commission because it favours conferences, seminars and a research approach rather than doing something to tackle the problem.
Let me answer that point very carefully. The answer is yes. I believe that we have seen a pendulum swing in the direction that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and I believe that the evidence to show it is there. The recent appointment of the new British head of Europol provides such evidence. We are now seeing a shift in attitude, particularly from the French and organisations involved in Frontex, towards a much more pragmatic approach.
My personal view is that there has been a failure to recognise the reality of the problem and that too much emphasis has been placed on the assumption that all accession states are at the level of the original member states, which is simply not the case. Secondly, there has been a growing realisation of the economic damage. I realise that it should not require economic damage to make agencies respond more effectively to this human issue, but the reality of today’s world is that it does.
There have been some significant developments in countries in south and eastern Europe. Let me provide a small, but not trivial example—the banning of speed boats in Albania, which took place last year because those boats were being used literally to fast-speed young kidnapped girls across to Italy. The banning of speed boats caused a tremendous hoo-hah in Albania, but the public realised that it was necessary, although people in Italy and Albania had previously not been aware of the extent of the problem. This is a cat-and-mouse game and the criminals involved in it are extremely sophisticated—they could even be heads of organisations. As I have said, there has been a pendulum swing, and I commend that approach.
Let me move swiftly on. All this work is complemented by the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre in developing the Blue Blindfold brand, which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. Blue Blindfold is the international campaign of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, which it uses to endorse specific projects to counter human trafficking and to ensure that those projects are sustainable and not just one-offs. The aim of the campaign is to encourage law enforcement agencies, other professional bodies and the public to develop greater awareness of the issue. The Blue Blindfold brand is increasingly being adopted by international partners, including Crime Stoppers International.
Our campaign, which is linked with the Blue Heart campaign run by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, encourages all sections of society to be aware of the dangers. The US State Department’s 2009 “Trafficking in Persons” report described the campaign as one of the “Commendable Initiatives Around the World”, and we were grateful for that recognition. We will, of course, continue to use the brand to raise awareness, collaborating not just internationally but, crucially, with local authorities in this country. As we have heard today, the problem is widespread. Many people assume that it is a particularly urban problem, but that is not the case. I am sure that the constituents of the hon. Member for Ashford have been horrified to learn of what goes on. We have seen many examples of exploitation of this kind, the Morecambe bay example being perhaps the most high-profile.
Our commitment to instituting a strong enforcement response against those who seek to trade in humans is clearly critical. That is why we included anti-trafficking legislation in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. The hon. Member for Totnes was kind enough to pay tribute to the Government for introducing legislation in an attempt to end trafficking. The House is often criticised for producing too many Bills, but an evolving problem such as this requires legislation.
Through the efforts of the UKHTC, enforcement bodies such as the police and UKBA, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, we have continued not just to strengthen legislation but to improve enforcement capacity, ensuring that human trafficking becomes core police business. Whatever the outcome of the debate about the border force, we must not lose sight of the importance of the mainstream police force’s prioritisation of the issue. That was the main topic of conversation at the recent West Midlands police federation Christmas event, an informal gathering of police officers from constable to superintendent level which was hosted by the House. I am sure that all Opposition spokesmen and Ministers hear similar views when they talk to forces around the country.
Let me list some of our key achievements. We have increased the number of convictions, including convictions for forced labour. The statistics given by the hon. Member for Ashford are, on the face of it, not as good as we would all like them to be, but our partnership approach means that prosecutions may employ other routes—for example, we can secure convictions through the taxman or through unrelated legislation. Criminal activity does not always take place in a single area. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for using those figures. Indeed, I want to see a conviction rate of 100 per cent., but that will take time, and we should not do down the officers who are using more sophisticated approaches. I wish that some tabloid journalists would understand that, rather than merely going for the quick headline.
As I said earlier, we have strengthened the legislation on labour trafficking to make it an offence to use a child or a vulnerable adult for gain. That is important, because of the fear that victims’ families will be threatened. I am not saying that it has entirely got rid of the problem, but it allows a villain to be prosecuted without the need to rely entirely on witnesses. I have already mentioned that we are ensuring that combating trafficking is part of core police business, and that is boosted by the introduction of the mandatory training on human trafficking for all new police officers.
A number of significant anti-trafficking operations have been, and are being, carried out. I was in Manchester on Wednesday, looking at the new headquarters of the local immigration crime team. About a dozen operations are taking place this week, as we increase our capacity to tackle not only trafficking itself, but connected activities such as the crime of sham marriage.
I have also already mentioned that we are working with international organisations. We are working to improve the situation in respect of prosecutions, too, through raising awareness in the judiciary. A key argument in the speech of the hon. Member for Totnes was that the judiciary are sometimes not as aware as they might be of the scale of the problem and the extent of the damage that can be done.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency is a key asset in countering the threat from organised criminals involved in trafficking. SOCA participates in the disruption and dislocation of the market for trafficked women for the UK vice trade and trafficking for labour. That disruption is a SOCA priority. We co-ordinate the work of the different agencies through two programme boards, both of which are chaired by senior SOCA officers. The boards focus on organised immigration crime within and outwith the UK, and their activities are aligned with the objectives set out in the UK action plan on human trafficking. To put this in layperson’s terms, a job does not get done unless it is somebody’s job to do it, and we have made this somebody’s job. I am sure Members support that common-sense principle.
The Minister’s comments are music to the ears of many of us. What the Government are doing is very good news, as is the progress that has been made over the past three or four years. The Minister must be aware, however, that there is a much bigger issue. The police are the key to detecting both the traffickers and the victims. Other police forces in Europe are not as up to date as ours is now, and many of them are riddled with links to the mafia and there is a tremendous amount of corruption. What can we do to establish a sufficient level of sophistication among the police forces of other EU countries and to make them aware of what we are doing here and of our successes?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, as do the Government. I have mentioned the economic damage trafficking does, and it is, perhaps, a sad world if it is the economic damage that causes people to prioritise this issue, but there is a discernible shift in attitude in Europe. There is also, of course, a debate to do with the client countries who wish to join the EU, and the Government’s approach to that is to say that we require not just intent, but evidence that those problems are being addressed. Indeed, I recently met the relevant Moldovan Minister. We discussed a range of issues, including this one. All the time, such meetings are taking place and work is being done.
As I have just said, one of the advantages now is that it is somebody’s job to address this issue. I think it was Chairman Mao who said that the goat that belongs to everyone starves to death. That is probably the most principled argument against communism—and damn right as well. If a task is nobody’s job and everybody’s job, it does not get done. The board we have created has the job of leading this work. Attention must be paid to getting across to the enforcement agencies and security services that there are huge advantages in respect of making progress in their work and achieving their goals in addressing trafficking, because, as we all know, crime is linked in with it.
Bringing together and focusing the work of SOCA with the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, to which we second staff, and with domestic law enforcement agencies to deliver this concerted response is the right way forward. The relationship will grow closer and stronger after 1 April, when the UKHTC falls under SOCA’s remit. That initiative is to be welcomed.
As I have said, a focus of SOCA is combating the threat abroad. In the last year, this has involved increased engagement on the part of our global network of liaison officers—I love that phrase, Mr. Deputy Speaker; you can imagine what the lads call themselves, and very decent, professional officers they are—in 40 countries around the world. They work closely with our own international directorate in UKBA.
Let us consider one of the advantages of bringing together into a single organisation—UKBA—immigration officials, customs officials and visa officers overseas. I can tell the hon. Member for Totnes, by the way, that it is now the Home Office that oversees issuing visas, not the Foreign Office, and I shall come on to the case of Gabriella in a moment. The staff who process the visa applications are employees of UK Visas, which is part of UKBA. This is a tremendous weapon that we can use, through the greater sharing of intelligence and joined-up working from start to finish.
Let me give one example that has been in the public domain. Our officers have been working in rural areas of Nigeria, following fraudulent attempts to gain visas and connecting that with sponsors of visas in London and elsewhere in the country. Giving intelligence to, in this case, the Metropolitan police at a divisional commander level is disrupting this type of activity. So the international directorate of UKBA is part of the jigsaw puzzle, as well.
I have mentioned raising awareness within the judiciary. The CPS published updated legal guidance on human trafficking in 2009 to reflect the changes arising from the implementation of the Council of Europe convention, which the hon. Member for Totnes campaigned for. To be fair, the hon. Member for Ashford has raised that issue as well. This guidance emphasises the role of the CPS in identifying potential victims who may have committed criminal offences under duress or coercion. The hon. Member for Totnes gave an example of this problem occurring in central London, whereby people are forced to commit crime through threat of violence against themselves and their families back home. An awareness of this issue on the part of CPS authorities is critical in order to provide help.
Of course, there is the question whether the 2012 Olympic games will be used by organised criminals to traffick people. We are very much aware of that, and I am grateful to the Minister for the Olympics for the work that she is doing. I want to reassure hon. Members that there is no indication so far of an increase in human trafficking to the UK linked to the 2012 games. The key agency that is on top of this issue is of course the Met, which has dedicated resources and officers to it.
The Met had an internal review of how it tackles organised immigration crime, including trafficking. It has decided that from 1 April this year—the new financial year—responsibility for tackling this crime will transfer to the clubs and vice unit from the Met trafficking team. In turn, the unit will be supported by the assets of the Specialist Crime Directorate. Again, that reorganisation is focusing exactly on what the hon. Gentleman is rightly campaigning for—implementation. The idea of his anti-slavery day is of course to draw attention to this type of activity. There is, therefore, a sensible strategy in place.
We agree with the following statement made in Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick’s assessment:
“investigating this key area into one single command will mean better co-ordination, less duplication and more accountability in the service we provide to victims.”
I am grateful to her for that, and I think the hon. Member for Totnes would welcome it too.
I think the Minister would like to know that the jury is out on the disbanding of the human trafficking team in the Met, which occurred when the Home Office withdrew its special funding. The jury is out on whether putting this work under one command—this particularly applies in respect of the clubs and vice unit, which is not known for its work on tackling human trafficking—will be a good idea. The all-party group has had a meeting with Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and we were very impressed by her grasp of the problem, but, as I say, the jury is out. We are working closely with her and we hope that an improvement will take place.
I understand that, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should always have an open mind on this. I know he will agree with this next point, because he is an experienced businessman and chief executive. The structure is not what is important; what is important is what is going on. Part of the solution lies in increased awareness, because the more the authorities see that this place, the public and the newspapers are interested in this issue and are demanding action, the more their activity will be focused. Thus, it does not matter, ultimately, in which bit the work is done. However, I take his point and I take his advice.
The hon. Member for Ashford said that the all-party group on trafficking of women and children is an “exemplar” of what an all-party group should be. I have found that it knows what it is talking about—my goodness me it does—and that surely is the benefit of it. Given what has been going on this week, I wish we could reflect on that recognition of that knowledge, dedication and skill; it is why I do not think the hon. Member for Totnes should be standing down from the House, but he has made up his mind.
In the past six years, the Government have worked increasingly well with a network of partners to improve the support and protection of the victims, and I come to the most important point. Our work has included the provision of safe accommodation to get people, often traumatised women, out of harm’s way and protecting them. The hon. Gentleman gave us one example of this, and anyone who looks at the POPPY project’s work, particularly the photographic exhibition, will be sickened to find that these things are happening in the modern world.
The Government have also worked on developing specialist emotional and practical support for these people, who have been traumatised, often over a number of years, by their experiences; assisting with voluntary returns to home countries in a safe way—the development of that strategy is crucial; ensuring minimum levels of service from the criminal justice agencies under the victims code of practice; providing access to compensation in certain circumstances; and providing training for agencies that may encounter possible victims. Those are a number of the approaches that we are taking to try to provide support. I hate the word “holistic”, but it is obviously desirable to provide holistic support, because it means that the state should look after the individual, rather than just the bit of the individual for which it is responsible—that approach can sometimes do more harm than good if we get things wrong.
Such protection is vital, not just for the individual that we have been able to help but for the message that it sends out. It gives victims confidence that there is a safe place to go and that the authorities in this country are aware of this problem. That is very helpful in breaking the code of omerta that sometimes exists in organised criminal activity and in giving encouragement to victims, be they children, young women or men.
The hon. Gentleman will want to know the answer to the question, “How much money?” We have invested in an expansion of supported accommodation with refuge places for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in London, Sheffield and Cardiff. That investment has also funded an increase in advocacy workers to help to provide tailored support to the victims and includes access to independent legal advice for immigration purposes. The most difficult decisions that one has to take in UKBA are often in this area—they are difficult in the sense that it is sometimes an awful experience to comprehend the background to them.
We are also committed to ensuring that front-line staff who come into contact with victims of trafficking have clear guidelines on their responsibilities when trafficking is suspected, as well as ensuring that victims are provided with safe advice.
I recognise that the Government have done a very good job with the police in making this police core business. In fact, part of the campaign of the all-party group was to make it core police business. The Minister will remember the questions that came from all parts of the House on that. However, the Government are weak on funding non-governmental agencies. They are the ones that are pushing forward the agenda, identifying the victims and explaining where the weaknesses are. Other than the POPPY project, which we both accept does invaluable work, the non-governmental agencies are not getting help at all. That is what concerns me—not the police, as I think they have it under control, not the statutory bodies, such as UKBA or the UK Human Trafficking Centre, but all those dedicated non-governmental agencies that are working on a pittance without a penny piece of public support.
That raises difficult areas of public policy that we all recognise in the debate between the desirability of the devolution of powers and the desirability of ring-fencing. The Supporting People housing support budget, which is about £2.1 billion, helps to address this problem.
There is an assumption that this is an inner-city problem. Support groups often find themselves unable to get finances and advice, because there is an assumption that this problem does not take place in Totnes and Ashford, to name just two areas. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would make that an argument for the Bill—it focuses attention. It has been difficult to find out the extent of the support that exists. Some of it is done through our network of refuge support centres—of course, there is an immigration tie-in there—and some through the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Local Government Association should be thanked, too. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and it is an argument for his Bill that I would certainly use if I were him.
May I remind hon. Members of the key elements of the Council of Europe convention, which we ratified, as the hon. Gentleman said, in December 2008? This represents a major milestone in the fight against human trafficking, and has strengthened the protection arrangements for victims by granting identified victims an extendable 45-day recovery period and one-year temporary residency permits in certain circumstances. These measures go further than the minimum standards outlined in the convention. The United Kingdom should be proud of that.
Let me explain to the Minister why he is wrong. It is good that the Government have gone for the option of 45 days, but two months for a girl who has been traumatised and subjected to violence is not nearly enough to get her oriented and to help her to give evidence against the very people who have been involved in that violence against her. The Austrians give a year and a work permit or identity card, as do the Italians. The Austrians have an outstanding record of convicting traffickers because the victims feel safe in that country. Here, they fear they might be deported because after two months the period of reflection ends and they are hassled to leave the country. Although it is an improvement on the Council of Europe convention’s 28 days—it might be 45 days; I might have it wrong—the Austrians and the Italians give a year and I would like to think that the British Government might consider so extending the period of reflection.
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the conjunction that I used: I referred to the granting of an extendable 45-day recovery period and a one-year temporary residency permit in certain circumstances. He may argue that the latter should be automatic. I shall provide a little of the background to decisions on these matters.
There is protection in immigration rules for victims of domestic violence, to whom we provide refuge and can provide indefinite leave to remain. That is desirable, and the House supported the idea. However, it has resulted, in a number of instances—I would say a significant number—of abuse of that route for organised immigration crime purposes, through the use of what I believe those in police enforcement call sleepers. We have had cases of women who have asked to be beaten up so that they can get indefinite leave to remain. It is a sad world, but one has to be aware of that.
I am not suggesting that there is any evidence of such activity in this area; I am saying that we have an obligation to look at the individual when granting the 45-day recovery period and the one-year temporary residency permit. However, it would be foolish of me to say that 45 days is the be-all and end-all; we shall have to see. The policy is welcome and it is above the minimum required under the convention.
In addition, the establishment of a national referral mechanism has provided for the systematic identification of victims within a framework designed to make it easier for organisations to co-operate and share information about potential victims. That brings us to the hoary old chestnut of data sharing. I think that civil libertarians sometimes need to get real about the obstacles that can be put in the way of well-meaning organisations. We have moved forward on that with support from all the parties and local authorities.
We have not been reliant on the ratification of the convention to provide support to victims. We have invested £5.8 million in the POPPY project since 2003 to provide specialist support for victims trafficked into sexual exploitation. That includes as a minimum safe accommodation, advocacy, access to counselling, access to legal advice and interpretation services. The POPPY project has provided support to more than 500 victims of human trafficking since 2003.
A further £3.9 million is being spent over the current and next financial years on specialist services for victims of all forms of human trafficking. That figure includes a grant agreement between the Home Office and Migrant Helpline to provide support and accommodation to identified victims of forced labour. That grant agreement represents a further development in the support mechanism for victims of forced labour. Migrant Helpline, our non-governmental organisation partner, supported 169 people between June 2008 and September 2009 and supported three police operations last year.
That area of work has been enhanced by the creation of the pay and work rights helpline, through which the Greater London authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, HMRC, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—because of the link to agricultural labour—and the Health and Safety Executive work together to deal with multi-complaint issues.
Victims of trafficking can also access the wider provision available to all victims of crime, including the Victim Support service, the service for victims of sexual crimes in England and Wales, on which we have spent £4.65 million, and increased funding for sexual assault referral centres, rape crisis centres and the Survivors Trust.
Child trafficking is a particularly emotive issue for us all. Measures to care for children who are victims of trafficking need to be attuned to the vulnerability of children. The hon. Member for Totnes gave the example of Hillingdon. We have done a great deal of work on biometric fingerprint reading and biometric photographs, which are required on all visas, which means that we are now able to identify a person even if their passport has been destroyed. Identity fraud or misuse is a key weapon of the criminal, and through biometrics we now know who people are, which is a huge advantage in prosecutions and enforcement activities. Again, I wish that Liberty would pay attention to that point. Sometimes, the taking of data can help to protect someone’s civil liberties. What if a victim of child trafficking were told, “We can’t identify you, and we can’t prosecute the criminal exploiting you, because we’re not allowed to take data”? That is not a civil liberties argument by any stretch of the imagination.
On the needs of children, we have established, by giving somebody the job of doing it, joint work with children’s services, the police and other law enforcement agencies, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and, of course, the Human Trafficking Centre. The missing persons taskforce, which was launched by the Prime Minister recently, is looking at how that joint work can be improved.
Recently, child trafficking training for immigration officers and other UKBA staff has been improved, and that ensures the continued awareness of our officers at the border. Let us remember that that now includes customs officials and immigration officials, and involves partnerships with police, including special branch—a special branch from outside London; I cannot remember the name—other specialist agencies and other parts of the security forces, including the intelligence agencies.
We have published revised arrangements and guidance for Crown prosecutors, including on the consideration of cases concerning juveniles found on cannabis farms and involved in other criminal activities. We have stepped up our efforts to tackle the problem of potentially trafficked children going missing from care, the Hillingdon example being prominent in that regard. We have introduced further measures to raise awareness among practitioners and improve their ability to identify children who may have been trafficked into the UK through the application of the national referral mechanism. We also published “Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation”. A significant amount of work has therefore been done, but we are far from complacent on the issue.
I have talked at some length to try to get across the desirability of that work, which is backed up by the Bill. Let me finish by repeating the offer that I made at the beginning of my remarks. We believe that drafting improvements could be made, but we do not want to stop the Bill, because that would not be right. However, there are some arguments that need to be had.
I thank the Minister for his marathon speech, which was riveting. I think the whole House was engrossed. He was going to talk about the Gabriella case, which he mentioned a short while ago. Before he sits down, will he just say exactly what is happening in that case?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I spoke at length not because I was instructed to do so by the Whips—although as a former Whip, I hasten to add that I would have done, had I been so instructed. Do they not say in this place, “Once a Whip, always a Whip”? I spoke at great length because the subject is hugely important. The core of the hon. Gentleman’s argument is absolutely right. I confess that up to 18 months ago, before I did this job, I did not have a clue about the depth and extent of the problem. I have been appalled as a human being, let alone as a politician, by what goes on.
The case of the lady referred to as Gabriella is one example. UKvisas is an operation of UKBA, and I have been in communication with the chief executive this morning. I have met our ambassador in Moldova in the past few weeks, and I will do what I can to reunite that family as soon as possible. I do not know what the objections of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are, although I can imagine. They are dedicated professional people, but they will have to help. We will do whatwe can.
Perhaps the good side of this job is that sometimes we can intervene and help someone. We brought a girl back from Iraq in similar circumstances a few weeks ago, after a campaign led by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), so it can be done. I give the hon. Member for Totnes a commitment that I will do what I can to ensure that that is the case.
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me to check that I have answered all the questions. I think I have done so. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) spoke for the Liberal Democrats in support of the Bill and it is good to see him in his place. We have our differences with the Conservative Opposition on some areas of policy, particularly on their futile idea of a cap on tier 1 and tier 2, and their misunderstanding of the partnership that exists between border force officers and Her Majesty’s constabulary, but overall we can say that police forces work very closely together.
The hon. Member for Totnes has built a powerful all-party consensus which does not take as its starting point the obvious statement that something should be done, but puts in place strategies that bring about enforcement. He argued for his Bill in that context, not as a token name or day. Some people will say, “Another day off, another week of action, another token gesture.” That is not the intention of the Bill, and it is not how the Government see it.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Ordered, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Committee this day.
Occupants of the Chair have deprecated proceeding at once from Second Reading into Committee without notice, since it makes it difficult for Members to table amendments.