I applied for this debate as a Back Bencher, but I have since been promoted to the Front Bench. In these unusual circumstances, I will be brief to let Back-Bench colleagues have time to debate the issue properly. However, I want to set out why I called for the debate in the first place, even if I cannot do justice to my original speech.
In opening the debate, I want to applaud in particular the work of Members on both sides of House in championing the fight against human trafficking. Members from each of the main three political parties have deep concerns about that modern form of slavery and have kept the pressure on successive Governments to tackle this egregious human right abuse. Today is an opportunity to continue to do that. In particular, we should recognise the tireless work of the all-party group on human trafficking, as well as the inquiries and reports in the previous Parliament of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
Over 200 years ago, the slave trade was abolished, but another form of slavery has taken its place, one which is more clandestine, underground and hidden, but which is still insidious and brutal. It is one of the most virulent crimes in today’s society, one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women and a grave human rights abuse. There are thousands of vulnerable people, mostly women and children, being trafficked into and within our country. They are suffering at the hands of criminal gangs and pimps and enslaved by their keepers; they are abused, raped, violently and sexually exploited, and forced into prostitution, slave labour and domestic servitude. With our country’s pitiful rate of conviction for trafficking, all too often such gangs and pimps enjoy impunity. There is still not enough being done to help and to protect the victims of trafficking and to prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.
The victims of trafficking are diverse. Some come from beyond the European Union and some from neighbouring countries at the eastern border of the EU, such as Moldova and Ukraine. Others come from countries further away, such as Nigeria and China. Victims also come from EU countries, and it is often overlooked that women and children are being trafficked within our country. There are indications that the Olympics will increase the demand for prostitution in particular, and, as a result, there will be human trafficking into London from other parts of the United Kingdom and beyond our borders.
Some victims of human trafficking are kidnapped from their families and some are sold by relatives. Tragically, some come of their own accord having been deceived into thinking that they are being helped into the UK on the promise of a better life, only to find when they get here that they are literally imprisoned, kept like slaves and forced into prostitution or forced labour. They are traded by criminal gangs or pimps who treat them like second-hand cars—the more profit, the better for their keepers. Each sex trafficker is estimated to earn, on average, £500 to £1,000 per woman per week. According to their evil and depraved view of the world, the younger the girl, the better, as their value decreases the older they get. Of the 8,000 women who work in off-street prostitution in London, it is estimated that 80% are foreign nationals and many are forced into prostitution while they are still children.
Wherever the victims of trafficking come from—whether within our country or beyond—they have one thing in common: they suffer the worst human rights abuses at the hands of their captors, keepers and pimps, and each have an unequivocal, equal and universal right to be helped and protected. I urge the Government not to be complacent in tackling this egregious human rights abuse. I am confident that colleagues will be more specific about what needs to be done and I look forward to listening to the debate. I hope to do all that I can to contribute to finding a solution to this problem in my new position on the Opposition Front Bench.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on leading this debate. Unfortunately she has almost had her hands tied; she was allowed to speak for only a short time because she has just been appointed to the shadow Cabinet. I congratulate her on that. It will be a loss to the Back Benches, but may I say in all honesty that I wish her very very many years—and I mean very very many—in the shadow Cabinet? I would also like to welcome the Minister for Immigration, because in him we have a Member of Parliament renowned for his care and humanity, and his understanding of the issue. I say that not only because it is true, but because I want him to do things. I notice that in the Chamber today Members from all parties are present, which is a sign that this is a cross-party concern.
At the outset I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Anthony Steen, formerly MP for Totnes. As the first chairman of the all-party group against trafficking of women and children, he pioneered an approach to human trafficking, which I, as the new chairman, am happy to follow. Quite simply, he put human trafficking or modern day slavery on the parliamentary map. I pay tribute to him and to his current work to establish the human trafficking foundation, together with Clare Short and my co-chairman of the all-party group, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
At the end of their 13-year term, the previous Administration could be given only a B for their work on human trafficking. The acid test has to be, were there more apprehensions of traffickers year-by-year? The answer is no. Were the police filing more charges and did more convictions take place? The answer, sadly, is no. Instead, the number of victims rose and rose. However, the previous Government did take two major initiatives, which were welcome. The two operations to deal with trafficking were Pentameter 1 and 2, and they involved every police force in the land. They did not just raid brothels, massage parlours and saunas, but went into private homes—wherever they thought there were traffickers. New initiatives such as those are urgently needed, and the House would like to know what plans the Government have. The Minister may not be able to say too much about that today and may be holding back for anti- slavery day next Monday, but we would like to know if new announcements and initiatives are on the way.
New initiatives are needed because a number of operations are being disbanded, such as the UK Human Trafficking Centre, a £2 million initiative in Sheffield that was absorbed by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. In itself, that might not have been a problem but now SOCA is also being wound down. We need a Pentameter 3, so that traffickers realise that we are on their case and that this Government will be tougher than the previous one. Is that planned?
We all know that it takes several years for new projects to be effective. What will happen to human trafficking during the apparent lull in the prosecution and harassment of traffickers? It took the previous Administration two years to implement the Council of Europe convention on action against human trafficking after they signed it, and it has never been fully implemented. Operation Golf at the Met has been a remarkable and successful operation. Superintendent Bernie Gravett and Chief Inspector Colin Carswell deserve the gratitude of the whole House for their single-mindedness in tackling child trafficking.
The traffickers will be breathing a sigh of relief that the superintendent’s team will be disbanded shortly, just as the human trafficking unit in the Met was disbanded nine months ago. Therefore, although the previous Administration pressed the right buttons, the reality is now coming home to roost: by the beginning of next year there will be precious few specific operational units in the UK specifically tackling human trafficking. Here is a great opportunity for the coalition Government to make some real changes and improvements to tackle this appalling crime, which should have disappeared when slavery was abolished 200 years ago, but is flourishing worldwide.
What is needed is a more robust Crown Prosecution Service that does not make deals with defence counsels on behalf of traffickers. We secure too few convictions, and those that we do secure are the result of plea bargaining, resulting in a lesser crime being admitted and a lesser sentence being given by Crown court judges, many of whom need better training about the nature and extent of human trafficking.
Our track record on dealing with foreign children, particularly from the far east, is lamentable. We need to ensure that the hundreds of children who are discovered here each year, and who are acknowledged as trafficked by the national referral mechanism, are treated more compassionately. Such children should have a guardian, and I am told by a legal friend that we need a guardian ad litem, which, as I understand it, means someone who will act as their parent and look after them, particularly in the court situation. These children are both victims and witnesses, and it is wrong to expect them to go through the system without help when we would not necessarily expect an adult to do so. The European convention on action against trafficking in human beings proposes such a guardian and so, too, does the new European directive.
Let me briefly say something about the directive. At the last Prime Minister’s questions, there was a lot of argument between the Prime Minister and the now deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), over whether we should opt into the European directive. As someone with some reservations about the European Union, I do not really think that it is necessary to opt in, but we do need to do everything—and more—to help children, and the Prime Minister is more than open to suggestions that will help us to achieve that.
Sadly, domestic slavery exists in Britain and is another concern. Some foreign embassies and their officials, who have diplomatic immunity, are, sadly, the worst abusers, and that should worry us all. Currently, the visa for someone who comes here to work for a diplomat is very restrictive, and they can work only for the embassy. They really should come in on a normal domestic visa, which would allow them to go somewhere else if they were being abused.
The issue was well illustrated in the exhibition that the now Prime Minister visited in the Committee corridor last March. The event was sponsored by the all-party group, in conjunction with the Bromley Trust and the Tudor Trust. I pay special tribute to the work of Kalayaan in Notting Hill Gate, which supports victims and campaigns for the merger of diplomatic and ordinary domestic visas, 16,000 of which are issued each year. Such a step would allow diplomatic workers the same freedom as domestic workers with annual domestic visas.
Let me say a word about sex trafficking. We are fortunate in London to have the POPPY project, which, linked with Eaves housing, offers more than 50 units of accommodation to trafficked women. However, POPPY offers more than just accommodation; it offers social, psychological and medical support. Many girls have been viciously treated for many years and need not just a bed, but friends they can trust. That is what POPPY offers, and it does a professional, top-class job.
Although POPPY is technically allowed to accommodate women only for a 42-day period of reflection while they contemplate their future and whether they can assist the authorities, many women need a much longer period of sanctuary. In that respect, the current situation is absurd, although I do not have time to go into it today. Adults who are trafficked into this country are looked after better than children, because while adults will go into something such as the POPPY project, children will be lost in the local authority system—many of them will disappear and be re-trafficked.
POPPY not only provides a lifeline for 42 days, but forms many women’s futures, and it has developed its experience and knowledge over the past decade. There is no one quite in POPPY’s league. Other shelter projects around the country—in Bristol, Sheffield and Dover—do valuable work, but they are small, have few facilities and, sadly, no Government funding. Trafficking covers the country—not just the south-east and the cities. Caring for victims initially is important, but what happens to them afterwards? Who helps them? Who integrates them back into society? How many return to their home country and at what risk to them and their families? What is the number of deportations?
Human trafficking is the fastest growing business in the world. With increasing demand, the speed of growth is terrifying. Today, 27 million people worldwide are in slavery, with 300,000 in Haiti alone. Trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry and, according to the United Nations, nets more than $32 billion a year—that would almost help us to overcome our deficit. Hon. Members should just think about that: criminal gangs make $32 billion out of trafficking. The punchline is that the growth of human trafficking is fuelled by the ease of access, anonymity and secrecy provided by the internet, and that is why we do not see trafficking in our daily lives. That is the difference between slavery in Wilberforce’s time, which was highly visible, and modern slavery, which is underground and hidden..
My request is that our Government should take the lead and, while establishing a national border police force, which is a welcome move, do something specific to help victims of trafficking. There should be more compassion for victims who arrive from all over the world, and that could involve a range of different means. I doubt whether things will change overnight, but I hope that compassion will increase. There are also the victims from EU countries who travel here on legal passports. How, I wonder, will the border police stop those people being trafficked?
For all those reasons, anti-slavery day is very important. On the whole, people are just not aware of modern slavery; they do not realise that it exists around the comer from where they live. They cannot see it, so they do not believe that it exists. What we do know is that the numbers overall are increasing. Sadly, people are recyclable. Unlike arms or drugs, which the criminal gang can trade only once, human beings can be recycled and sold again.
As I said, there is interest across the House in the idea that Britain should lead the way and be known throughout the world for its effective and compassionate approach. In that respect, I am glad to see three Members from Northern Ireland, who represent the political divide there. We must congratulate the Assembly on passing a resolution last week making Northern Ireland
“a hostile place for human traffickers”.
That is what we need to do in the rest of the country. If we make the United Kingdom a place traffickers do not want to come to and where they do not believe that they can make money, we will stop trafficking. Congratulations to Northern Ireland on leading the way.
We are tolerating the closure of some of the most innovative initiatives, and I wonder how that squares with the Home Secretary’s statement in the House on 22 July, when she said:
“Tackling human trafficking is a coalition priority, and the Government are currently considering how to improve our response to this terrible crime, including through the creation of a border police force.”—[Official Report, 22 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 552-53.]
Perhaps, on anti-slavery day, and in the spirit of the big society, we could involve and support non-governmental organisations such as ECPAT—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children—POPPY, Kalayaan and the Helen Bamber Foundation, which have an enviable record, but which receive little or no Government funding. Those are exactly the organisations that the Prime Minister has in mind when he talks about the big society. The Minister may delight us all on anti-slavery day by announcing some real progress on beginning to tackle the problem of human trafficking with a vengeance.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Streeter, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) both on securing this valuable debate and on her promotion to the Front Bench.
I chair the all-party group on runaway and missing children and adults and I would like to raise some issues on its behalf. The group is very concerned about what happens to vulnerable children and adults when they go missing. Many get hurt in some way. They can fall into drugs and crime or fall prey to abusive adults, and can also get caught up in trafficking and prostitution. Our aim is to try to keep young people as safe as possible.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight and praise the work of the UK Missing Persons Bureau, which is part of the National Policing Improvement Agency. The bureau does some excellent work and is the UK national and international point of contact for all “missing” and “unidentified” cases. It is also the centre for information exchange and expertise on missing children and adults. The bureau has developed substantial knowledge on the issue of missing trafficked children and missing asylum-seeking children and works closely with police forces across the country. It has a valuable database, which stores data on missing people and unidentified bodies. It is an essential tool for the monitoring of missing people as it provides a national picture.
Missing trafficked victims are part of that database. Incidents—particularly repeated incidents—of children going missing are often an indicator of other problems for the child and can be an indicator of trafficking. The nature of trafficking means that children are often moved across force boundaries and therefore may be reported missing in more than one force area. On some occasions the same child may be reported missing to numerous forces under different names. A national database of those incidents is the only way in which links between cases can be identified. Following the reported incidents of potentially trafficked children going missing from local authority care in 2009, there has been understandable concern about and interest in the measures that are being put in place to ensure that those vulnerable children are adequately safeguarded and that steps are taken to prevent them from going missing from care.
I want to draw to hon. Members’ attention two major operations that are currently going on to try to tackle the trafficking of children. The first is called Operation Paladin, which is a Metropolitan police-led operation involving immigration officers and social workers. It is based at Heathrow airport and the United Kingdom Border Agency asylum screening unit in Croydon. It also works at the St Pancras Eurostar terminal. The team specialises in identifying and safeguarding vulnerable children who are suspected of being trafficked. It also investigates specific trafficking and migration offences as well as advising other police force child abuse investigation teams on child trafficking issues.
The second operation is Operation Newbridge, under which Sussex police and West Sussex county council drew up an inter-agency protocol for managing potential child trafficking victims taken into social services care. That allows the sharing of information with a view to tracing young people from abroad who have disappeared from care. Since the operation started there has been a significant drop in the number of children suspected of having been trafficked into Gatwick airport and a reduction in the number of such children going missing from local authority care.
The two operations have two different approaches. Operation Paladin covers investigative and interview support while Newbridge focuses on multi-agency work. The bureau believes that we should now merge the two operations under one new name so that we have a co-ordinated response using both types of operation across the UK as a strong and effective example of inter-agency working to safeguard trafficking victims and prevent further trafficking. That makes perfect sense to me and to the all-party group and I urge the Minister to examine the proposal from the bureau as a way forward. I also urge the Minister to recognise, in any future organisation of police services, the valuable work that the UK Missing Persons Bureau does in a number of areas, and to safeguard that valuable resource.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on securing this timely and important debate on the trafficking of human beings, and forced prostitution. I can see that it is an issue that she cares about deeply, and I share that with her. We need to recognise the fact that human trafficking, and, by extension, the exploitation of vulnerable women and children through prostitution, happens in the UK, and is something we should continue to fight. I am pleased that the coalition Government have agreed to tackle human trafficking as a priority.
I also want to highlight the fact that the issue could affect any of our constituencies. Early last year, as part of the nationwide Operation Pentameter, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) referred to, and which was aimed at tackling human trafficking and raising awareness of modern-day slavery, the Cheshire police—who oversee my constituency among others—arrested a woman in a constituency near mine who had trafficked human beings for sexual exploitation. That woman had managed brothels and trafficked women, and was also in possession of drugs. She was given a custodial sentence, and rightly so.
We also know that what is happening is bigger than just a couple of cases. According to research published in August for the Association of Chief Police Officers, there are at least 2,600 women in prostitution who have been trafficked into the UK, and at least 9,200 who are considered to be vulnerable, whose situation is more complicated and who might be considered to have been trafficked within the UK, or who are controlled in some other way, such as through drug dependency. Those are large and distressing numbers and they do not include victims of trafficking and forced labour.
As I have said, I am pleased that the coalition is committed to tackling human trafficking as a priority. However, without wanting to go into the reasons for the Government’s decision to opt out of the EU directive on human trafficking, I want to ask the Minister to consider a concern that was put to me in a letter, which I am sure many colleagues have received, from a social policy charity that works with non-governmental organisations on the ground to help women exit prostitution. Its concern is that victims of trafficking who have undergone some of the most severe human degradation, often having been raped or forced to take drugs, may still face the trauma of prosecution. That needs to be reviewed.
The “Human Trafficking and Smuggling” legal guidance advises prosecutors who review cases in which a trafficked victim may have committed a criminal offence while in a situation of coercion that, where there is clear evidence that the suspect has a credible defence of duress, the case should be discontinued on evidential grounds. However, there is information to suggest that that approach is not being practised as robustly as it perhaps could be. For example, a prosecutor can take such steps to discontinue a case only if they have information from the police or other sources that the suspect might be a victim of trafficking; and that is relevant only where the criminality is a direct consequence of the trafficking situation.
In another case that has been brought to my attention an unopposed appeal against conviction was brought before the court, and was granted by Mr. Justice Cox on 26 June 2008. That is admittedly some time ago, but the case was brought to me by the POPPY project, which has already been referred to with applause during the debate. On 17 March 2008 the appellant had pleaded guilty at Canterbury Crown court to an offence of using a false identity card with the intention of using it as her own and was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, less 16 days spent on remand. Research by the POPPY project subsequently showed that the woman was the victim of trafficking into England for prostitution. I believe that the case may be one among many, but one is enough to require me, and the Minister, to look into the matter, and find out whether our current processes are sufficiently robust to protect such victims—for indeed they are victims, not offenders, and should be treated as such.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on initiating this important debate on human trafficking, which is a particularly brutal form of organised crime.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) reminds us that next Monday is anti-slavery day. Mankind has been guilty of many atrocities and crimes down the centuries, but I believe that one of the biggest travesties is slavery. Nothing is more degrading or humiliating for individuals than to have to live such lives. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, victims often being forced to work in the illegal sex industry.
As has been mentioned, this obscene trade was recently debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly. One thing that featured in that debate was the fact that, in many areas, people have suspicions about particular dwellings or establishments that they suspect are being used as illegal brothels. They report their suspicions to the authorities, but little action seems to be taken. That is a major concern. All parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly endorsed the proposal that Northern Ireland should be an unwelcome place for traffickers, but we need more than that. Although such matters are passed by our legislative chambers, we need to see action—and a large number of convictions.
Over the years countless initiatives have been taken by various Governments, but initiatives of themselves are not sufficient. Surely the courts should allow the sentence to fit the crime. We must have sentencing that will stop this terrible and despicable abuse.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). He is absolutely right. The judiciary has a lot to answer for. The police continually brought individuals before the Craigavon courts in my constituency, but I remember that one judge was nicknamed Father Christmas because every time those guys were brought before the courts they were let off. The onus is on the legal establishment to convict. I would be interested to know whether other hon. Members find the same situation in their constituencies as I and other Northern Ireland Members do.
This particularly vile trade often involves forced sexual slavery, predominantly of women but also of men—and, indeed, of children—into a nightmare world. There they are treated as commodities to be traded and sold in order to gratify people willing to pay so that they can prey upon them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. When the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) mentioned the Northern Ireland Assembly initiative to make Northern Ireland a trafficking-free zone my heart leapt with joy. However, I wonder what specifically is being done. Is there a new law? Is there a law to prevent demand? Thirty years ago, Ken Livingstone declared London to be a nuclear-free zone; it is true that no nuclear bombs have fallen on London since then. Without being trite, what is the Assembly’s legal proposal?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I have made the same point. Whether the matter is being debated here or in the main Chamber or in any of the regional assemblies, it may get all-party approval but it does not necessarily achieve anything. The Northern Ireland Assembly has taken the first step to bringing the matter to a final conclusion. We need to move quickly.
People are persuaded by these unscrupulous individuals that they will be helped to obtain a better life, but we know that the reality proves to be very different. They are tortured, trapped and treated as little more than pieces of meat. The hon. Member for Wellingborough brought to our attention debates in this Chamber on domestic slavery, which is another travesty, which arises through diplomatic immunity or other loopholes. It is a disgrace and should not be allowed.
As I said earlier, this is a modern form of slavery. It happens on a large scale. The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre reports that between April and December 2009, 527 potential victims of trafficking of 61 nationalities were referred to the national referral mechanism. However, that covers only what is known; I fear that it happens on a much larger scale than many imagine.
I am also concerned that good police work does not always lead to successful prosecutions, and I have mentioned the role of the judiciary in that respect. However, I congratulate the police on the successes that have resulted from the recent UK-wide Operation Apsis. We need many more such successes. I emphasise that although we might debate such an horrific way of life, we need to see those people brought before the courts and given the sentence that goes with the crime.
It is a pleasure, Mr Streeter, to see you in the Chair this morning. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on securing this important debate.
I echo what the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said about the excellent work done on human trafficking by the now retired Member for Totnes, Sir Anthony Steen. He was, it will be agreed, a colourful figure—he was often frank and occasionally unguarded in his comments—but he deserves to be remembered for his excellent work on raising the profile of the matter and for establishing the Human Trafficking Foundation. I also support what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for better training for officers and others engaged in dealing with the problem, and the need for guardians to support children through the unpleasant and doubtless un-nerving process of going through the courts.
We know that human trafficking is a big problem, but it is fair to say that the scale of it is a little hard to determine. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 new victims arrive in Europe each year and stay a couple of years; that compares with a total population working in the sex industry of something in the order of 140,000. The market as a whole is said to be worth €2.4 billion a year. A substantial amount of money is being spent on this horrific trade—or service, if I can put it that way. The Association of Chief Police Officers estimates that an estimated 30,000 sex workers in the UK have been trafficked into the country, coming principally from China, Thailand and other parts of south-east Asia, and from eastern Europe.
That report was fairly controversial in that it extrapolated from interviews with women who were working in brothels in London a national figure of 2,600 victims of sex trafficking. All one can know for certain is that those women would have been under huge pressure not to confirm the way in which they had arrived in the UK, which makes it difficult to establish how many victims there are other than it is a very large number. What is certain, however, is the number of convictions. Since the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force in January 2004, 46 men and women have been convicted and jailed for transporting willing sex workers—I am sure that we could argue about what constitutes a willing sex worker and discuss the economic pressure that they may have been under to come willingly to the UK for such a purpose—and 59 people have been convicted of transporting women who were forced to work in the sex industry. What is also clear is the excellent work that the POPPY project is doing and the number of women that it has been able to help. In the past six and a half years, it has helped and supported around 500 women.
Hon. Members who have local newspapers—as Members of Parliament, we all follow our local newspapers carefully—will be aware that the newspaper group, Newsquest, has been actively trying to ensure that no local papers carry ads publicising such services, and I commend such work.
What makes this issue even harder to resolve is the conflict that exists between trying to establish whether someone has been trafficked here or whether they have come here of their own volition. Hon. Members will be familiar with the research that was published by Dr. Nick Mai of London Metropolitan university—again, we have to read between the lines of the responses that were given—in which he conducted detailed interviews with 100 migrant sex workers in the UK. He astonishingly states that for the majority of people, working in the industry was a way to avoid the exploitative working conditions that they had experienced in their previous non-sexual jobs. I take that with a pinch of salt because such people are working in an industry that is illegal and on the margins, and their status in the country is uncertain. The suggestion that they come here to work in such an industry because it provides better working conditions than the ones that they might have experienced before requires some scrutiny, but that is what his research apparently found. That makes it harder for authorities such as the UK Border Agency to err on the side of thinking that people have made a conscious choice to come to the UK for this purpose rather than erring on the side of assuming that people have been trafficked, which is what we want. Such an attitude is also adopted in relation to children who are, all too often, treated as criminals rather than people who have fallen foul of trafficking.
Members will be familiar with the concerns expressed by the anti-trafficking monitoring group about trafficked children who have gone into care and subsequently gone missing. The review into 390 cases of suspected trafficked victims handled by the UK authorities gave some quite alarming statistics about how many of those victims subsequently disappeared.
In theory, the national referral mechanism, to which other hon. Members have referred, allows the police and social workers to refer suspected cases to the appropriate authorities, but again there is legitimate concern that the people who are being referred are being treated as part of an immigration issue rather than as a crime issue, or as victims of trafficking who require support. If the police are succeeding in identifying people who are responsible for human trafficking, it is not being followed through in terms of the number of convictions. For example, only five people were convicted of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the first six months of this year compared with a figure in the low 30s in previous years. Therefore, we are not seeing many successful prosecutions.
Will the Minister give us an update—I know that this is not his brief—on what the Crown Prosecution Service is doing to improve its prosecution policy in relation to these cases, and does he believe that it will be successful?
In conclusion, I will refer to the UK opt out of the EU directive, which was clearly a controversial decision by the coalition. The coalition has been criticised by many campaigning groups for not signing up to the directive, and I must say that I have some sympathy with the concerns that have been expressed. I know that the Government will consider the impact of the directive, and I strongly hope that if they decide that the directive will help to address the issue of human trafficking, they will not be put off adopting it simply because it is prefixed with the word “EU”. If the directive is effective at tackling the issue, it is incumbent on us as a Government to support it.
I have one more sentence, so I will not give way. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will get another opportunity to speak. I just wanted to conclude my remarks by saying that we have an anti-slavery debate on Monday and a debate on the issue on Thursday. Regrettably, it is clear that slavery is alive and well in our society today and it is something that all parties here this morning want to address, and I certainly want to play a role in doing that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on securing this very important debate. There is no doubt that a modern day slavery exists in many forms. I liked most of the speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) but I was rather disappointed by his limited UK-centric views and ambitions. He seems to feel that we can stop human trafficking by throwing up gates around the UK. However, it is not a UK phenomenon, but a worldwide one. There is no doubt that trafficking can be for sexual exploitation. In many cases, it exists down our street. In the Falkirk and West Lothian areas of my constituency, brothels have been broken up and trafficked women have been found. At Prime Minister’s questions in September, the deputy leader of the Labour party raised a scandalous case in London in which some of the organisers were Iranian who lived in London. They were not necessarily UK citizens, but people who were habitually in the UK. If they had not been captured in the UK, we would not have been able to pursue them outside the country. Under the present law, if they had gone to any other EU country, we would not have had the right to pursue them.
I will continue for a while, but the hon. Gentleman can intervene later. That is the problem that we need to address. Many people are trafficked not just for sexual exploitation, but for domestic exploitation. They think that they are coming here for good, well-paid jobs, and they end up being handed over as domestic servants. They are paid a low wage, trapped in the house, have their passport taken off them, and told that if they go out they will be reported and sent back to wherever they have come from. There are thousands of people in this city who are living like that. We had the scandalous case of the Saudi Arabian prince who murdered a domestic slave in his household in London, and that happens in large homes in this city. It is a scandal and something that we should be worried about.
Many other people are in poverty-wage jobs. For example, someone came to see me recently who, over nine and a half years, had basically been moved from Chinese restaurant to Chinese restaurant around the UK. They were told that if they ever went to see anyone, they would be exposed and sent back home to China where, for various reasons, they do not want to return. They came to see me because I had spoken at the annual general meeting of an organisation that deals with such people in Glasgow, which of course is the only city in Scotland that takes people who are asylum seekers who have been dispersed from London. So human trafficking is a very big trade that, in fact, has sexual exploitation at one end, but, as has already been said, that sexual exploitation is not necessarily the biggest part of the trade.
Many people are trafficked with the promise of a good job or a better life. When I spoke at the AGM that I just referred to, a young man also spoke who had been here in the UK for 10 years. He was the last remaining member of his family, having escaped from a violent situation in Africa. He was told that he was going to a better life and was dumped in Glasgow. Quite frankly, being dumped in Glasgow would be a frightening experience for some English people, on the basis that they cannot always understand the language. [Laughter.] That young man was dumped in Glasgow and was totally impoverished. Thank goodness that there was an organisation in Glasgow, called Positive Action in Housing, which deals with such people. It has now been going for 15 years and I pay tribute to Robina Qureshi, its director and the person who set it up. It rescues people from exactly that kind of domestic slavery and exploitation, whereby people pay to be trafficked. Indeed, sometimes their families gather large amounts of money to pay for them to be sent through human trafficking routes run by gangs in Europe and elsewhere in order to get a better life, only for them to end up being dumped on the streets of the UK or other EU countries. So it is a much bigger issue that we are talking about. There are two parts to the issue—one is about people trafficking and the other is about enforced prostitution—and we must focus on both parts.
The reference to Anthony Steen was very timeous. He was the former MP for Totnes and a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. He did an excellent job in setting up and becoming the chairman of the all-party group on human trafficking and then in setting up and chairing the Human Trafficking Foundation.
I think that the way that Anthony Steen worked was a key to how we should go on as a Government, regardless of which party is in power. He used his travels as part of the European Scrutiny Committee to go round Europe trying to convince every Parliament in Europe to have an all-party group against human trafficking. I am sorry, but we cannot set up a ring around Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or the UK as a whole—it cannot be done. We have to work with everyone across all the countries involved.
No doubt Anthony Steen aspires to do things beyond the EU, but when I talked to him he said that basically it was the countries that were used as transit countries, or the countries of departure, that had to be focused on. It was the countries where the criminal organisations exist; those organisations do not necessarily exist in the countries that were targeted for trafficking people into. It was not just the reception countries, such as the UK, that should be focused on. Therefore, it was important to Anthony Steen that the UK Government should sign up to and opt into the EU directive on human trafficking because that directive is necessary, so that we can have bigger and more useful powers than we have at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful speech. Regarding the opt-in to the EU directive, I just wanted to say that what concerns me as chairman of the all-party group is that, if we opt in, we are saying, “That’s it”. I do not think that the EU directive goes far enough and I do not want signing up to it to be an excuse for not doing more.
That is a wonderful ambition and if that is the case then I will now give the hon. Gentleman some reasons why we should do what is necessary now and take the first step by signing up to that directive.
During Prime Minister’s questions on 15 September, when the issue of human trafficking was raised, the Prime Minister invited me to write to him and I wrote to him, to explain why the powers that we have at the moment are not good enough. What powers do we have? We have the Sexual Offences Act 2003; that is the power that we have to deal with these matters. We have heard from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), a Liberal Member, that there have been 46 convictions under the 2003 Act of people who were willingly trafficked, which is not a great record.
Under section 57 of the 2003 Act, basically we can take action against anyone who is outside the UK and trafficking people into the UK, if they are UK citizens. Under sections 58 and 59 of the Act, anyone who is in the UK and planning to traffic people out of the UK can also be taken to court. The other actions that can be taken, regarding brothels and all the rest of it, are contained within that same Act. But those three sections—57, 58 and 59—are the sections that cover what I believe is identified as being the “outside” problem of what is happening outside the UK.
What does the EU directive bring, in terms of the powers that we require? It actually requires member states to assert jurisdiction on their own nationals. In other words, under the directive the UK could and should prosecute any UK national involved in human trafficking anywhere in the EU. It also gives the power, but not necessarily the obligation, for member states to take jurisdiction—that is, the power of prosecution—of a habitual resident in the UK who commits these crimes anywhere in the world. So, if they go anywhere in the UK, we can pursue them.
The EU directive also gives a power regarding a victim who was a UK national or a habitual resident in the UK who was trafficked anywhere in the EU. In fact, that gives the UK the power to protect a young woman who is working around the EU. There are now many young women who work around the EU, who do not necessarily live in the UK any longer, but who end up getting trafficked by, for example, a Bulgarian gang. Do we really think that the Bulgarian legal system will protect that young woman? However, the British jurisdiction given under the EU directive would give us the power to pursue that gang.
I want to end by saying that I want to hear why the Government are not signing up to the EU directive. Let me be quite frank. If Madeleine McCann had been an adult—a young woman—and had been trafficked out of Portugal to somewhere else by someone who was not a UK citizen, we would have no jurisdiction. Under the directive, we would have that jurisdiction, so why are the Government not signing up to it?
Thank you very much, Mr Streeter, for calling me. I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), both on securing this debate and on her promotion to the Front Bench.
I do not disagree with much of what has been said. I am here simply to assert that we can do something. Wilberforce should be living at this hour. We have slavery, but it is not known. Slavery in the late 18th century was not much known about; it was incorporated into people’s conservative traditional thinking. It has required strong individuals such as Sir Anthony Steen, who is no longer with us in this House, and other colleagues to take up the campaign against it.
I must place on record my immense disappointment that one specific measure that was put to the new Government shortly after the coalition was formed—namely, a very sensible and practical EU directive—has been spurned. As we honour William Wilberforce, I cannot honour his biographer, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He made a most eloquent speech at the Upper Waiting Hall exhibition that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) mentioned, yet as the steward of our European policy he is not prepared to put his ministerial tick where his mouth was just a few months ago.
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I want to make one small point. The Government and some hon. Members have referred to a report published in August by the Association of Chief Police Officers that talked about 2,600 prostituted sex slaves. I dislike the term “sex worker”—it has an ideological loading. The vast majority of women and girls involved this area are there because of debt or drugs; they are under the coerced control of their pimps. The image of the “happy hooker” sex worker—the “Belle de Jour” sex worker—might apply to a tiny, tiny minority, but this is one of the most disgusting forms of exploitation in our society, whereby a young girl or woman is obliged to take 10 or 12 penises into her orifices each day in order to make money for her pimps and traffickers. So we should have no more nonsense about “sex workers”—these are prostituted women who are suffering horribly.
However, regarding that figure of 2,600 prostituted sex slaves that is quoted in the ACPO report, that report was shredded almost before it was published by the Eaves organisation and other investigators, who noted that it was based on police officers in full uniform going into massage parlours and other brothels and, within sight of the pimps and other controllers of these women and girls, saying, “Excuse me, love, are you trafficked?” and then coming up with that figure of 2,600. It is nonsense, given the world statistics about the level of sex slave trafficking, which are quite reliable. Even if Britain has a smaller share of that trade than other countries, we are still certainly talking about a five-figure number of prostituted sex slaves, at the very least.
There is an important mechanism to deal with this problem of sex slavery, which is tackling the demand side. I will not enter into that debate today; there is some division across the House about it. Nevertheless, until we put the responsibility on the men who pay for sex with coerced and trafficked women, I am afraid that the hope that we will find every pimp and put him behind bars is not a very realistic one.
I pray in aid the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who wrote a marvellous article in the Yorkshire Post about a month ago saying:
“Sex trafficking is nothing more than modern-day slavery. This is women being exploited, degraded and subjected to horrific risks solely for the gratification and economic greed of others. I am therefore stunned to learn that the Government are ‘opting out’ of an EU directive designed to tackle sex trafficking. Generally, I am no great supporter of European directives”
—that might incorporate the views of the hon. Members for the hon. Member for Wellingborough and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)—
“but this seems to be a common-sense directive designed to co-ordinate European efforts to combat the trade in sex slaves.”
The Archbishop of York is right, and I deeply regret the fact that the Liberal Democrat spokesman in this debate has not been able to back him fully and wholeheartedly. On the whole, those who lie down with Eurosceptic Tories get up with opt-outs.
We will keep pressing the Government on the issue. It is simply not good enough to say, as the Prime Minister said to the then Leader of the Opposition on 15 September, that the directive
“does not go any further than the law that we have already passed. We have put everything that is in the directive in place.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 873.]
I am happy to say that the Prime Minister misled the House inadvertently, but he did mislead the House, and that cannot stand. It is clear to anyone who has read the directive, as I have, that the UK is not in compliance. Article 2 deals with offences concerning trafficking in human beings. According to CARE, a Christian organisation working on the issue, the UK Government are only semi-compliant. Article 7 deals with the non-prosecution or non-application of penalties to the victim, a point made strongly by other hon. Members. Again, the UK is only semi-compliant. There is no requirement in UK law not to prosecute victims, even though the Council of Europe convention explicitly states that there should be.
As a delegate to the Council of Europe, I was part of a campaign to get the UK first to sign and then to ratify the convention. The Home Office was utterly resistant, as it is today, to the EU directive. It required the Prime Minister’s personal intervention to get the convention signed and ratified, but we are not yet applying its articles fully. We are certainly not applying the proposed articles of the EU directive.
Article 8 of the EU directive deals with investigation and prosecution. We are not compliant. No specific legislation addresses any of the requirements. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently consulting on its policy on prosecuting cases of human trafficking. Frankly, if the CPS had been around at the beginning of the 19th century, it would have taken until the 20th century to finish its consultation. Parliament itself must get to grips with the issue.
The UK is only semi-compliant with the directive’s article on assistance and support for victims of trafficking in human beings. On the general provision of support for child victims, one of the worst aspects of sex slave trafficking, the UK is, again, only semi-compliant.
I really do not have time. Forgive me; this is a short debate.
On one important measure in the directive—that there should be national rapporteurs on the issue—the UK is wholly non-compliant. The Prime Minister misled the House on 15 September. I hope that the Minister is willing to accept that and move forward.
The UK Human Trafficking Centre is being abolished. There will be no Operation Pentameter 3, which the hon. Member for Wellingborough rightly demanded. We are shutting down the initial steps taken by the last Government, who were working against “Whitehall knows best” syndrome and much of the mass media. Papers such as The Guardian and shows such as “Newsnight” have constantly downplayed the number of sex slaves and trafficked and prostituted women in our country. It is up to this House alone to persuade the Government.
I make no protest against the Minister who is replying to this debate—he is a sincere and serious Minister on this subject—but he has got it wrong. It is not just about UK law versus Brussels—the Foreign Secretary, in his speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, was pandering to the latent Euroscepticism of his Back Benchers—but about sending a signal to every other EU member state that Britain is part of the joint European campaign. It is also about sending a signal elsewhere in the world that we are prepared to change our law to conform fully to the EU directives, as have all the other EU member states that have signed up, and take the campaign forward internationally.
I know that the Minister will have to read out his brief today, but I say to him that the campaign will go on until we are prepared to support the victims of sex slave trafficking instead of saying, by opting out of the EU directive, that the pimps and traffickers have one or two people on their side in Whitehall.
It is a privilege to serve under you, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on securing this important debate and on her promotion to the Front Bench. I join other hon. Members in commending the long good work of Sir Anthony Steen, the former Member for Totnes, on this issue. I also commend his successor to the chair of the all-party group on human trafficking, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is an able and active campaigner on the issue at many levels.
Unfortunately, I differ with the hon. Member for Wellingborough on the EU directive and the question of the opt-out. I note that he said in an intervention that he did not object to the directive in principle but was concerned that if we opt in, we will say that that is enough. Reference was made earlier to the resolution recently passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly. There is a serious danger that if we opt in, we may adopt resolutions that become a badge for the system without being a shield for the citizen, so that caution was well stated. However, it applies equally to the Government, whose line is “We don’t need to opt in because we’re doing everything it requires anyway.” Surely there is a danger that people will say that they are already doing enough. As we have heard from other hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), it is not the case that the UK is doing everything required in the EU directive within its various jurisdictions.
Opting into the EU directive would give us much needed greater reach against human trafficking and its perpetrators and users. More action is needed on both the control and demand sides. I know that other hon. Members do not want to go too far into that debate today, but it is one issue that featured in the recent debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We must recognise that we need to act not only at EU and the wider international level, as hon. Members have said, but within these islands. We must recognise that there is a corrupt carousel of seedy exploitation that uses various jurisdictional anomalies within these islands. We see it happening not just between Northern Ireland and the south, where there are activities in the border areas. As was mentioned in the Assembly debate, a victim uncovered recently in Stranraer was on her way to Northern Ireland, not to be exploited there but because that was her transit route to the south. We know from talking to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and people in Women’s Aid who work on such issues in the north and south that people border-hop not just within the island of Ireland but between islands in this country.
I hope that the Minister will consider taking a strong initiative at the level of the British-Irish Council as well as in Europe. There are eight jurisdictions within these islands. Not all of them have a role in prosecution and pursuit, but many can play a role in supporting victims and those who assist them. Action at the British-Irish Council level, as well as at the EU level, would show that the various Chambers around these islands that are passing resolutions want such resolve to add up to effective action against this very cruel, criminal trade.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on securing this important debate and on making a strong opening statement about why she secured it. I also congratulate her on her new role on the Front Bench; I wish her every success with it.
The contributions of hon. Members from all parties have clearly shown that there is cross-party support on the issue and that there is a resolve across all parties to tackle it. I pay tribute to all of this morning’s contributions, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on the role she plays in the all-party group on runaway and missing children and adults. She considered the issue of runaway children and how that impacts on the matter.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who mentioned important transnational issues, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who, as usual, made a compelling case for why we should sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) made a well informed and strong case for why the issue needs to be high up on the agenda. The hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Upper Bann (David Simpson), for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) also spoke eloquently.
This is my first opportunity to speak as a member of the shadow Home Affairs team. I was delighted to be given this debate to answer for the Opposition because I am the Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull North. One of Hull’s famous sons is William Wilberforce, who played an important part in starting the debate on the slave trade so many years ago, so I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this matter today.
I also pay tribute to Anthony Steen, the former Member of Parliament for Totnes. When he contributed to debates on the issue, he would invariably pay tribute to the previous Government’s role in making sure that the matter was properly addressed. Ministers in the previous Labour Government always paid tribute to Anthony Steen and the role he played in ensuring that the issues of slavery and trafficking were considered fully and properly by the House.
I was interested to hear that it was mooted at one point that Anthony Steen should be the adviser on human trafficking to the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister. I wondered whether Anthony Steen’s advice had been sought on the EU directive and what he might say to the Prime Minister about the Government’s stated positions on the directive. I use the word “positions” because the Government’s positions are very unclear. The Home Secretary has said that signing up to a particular directive had to be in the interests of the UK and, of course, we would all agree with that. However, she went to say that the UK is already achieving much of what is contained in the draft EU directive. A Home Office statement went further and stated that signing up would make very little difference to the way in which the UK tackles the problem and that there would be no operational benefits. On the other hand, the Prime Minister offered to go away and think again about the directive and said that there would be opportunities to opt in at any time.
The Minister’s first job this afternoon is to clear up the confusion. Is the directive in or is it out? If it is a maybe, how much of a maybe is it, and what will swing the argument either way? The Government say that the UK already complies with most of what is required under the draft EU directive but, as we have heard from various hon. Members today, there are key areas with which we do not comply. For example, paragraph 5 of the explanatory memorandum extends the definition of trafficking and inherent within that is recognition that exploitation takes many forms and that one form of exploitation, such as labour exploitation, often leads to another, such as sexual exploitation.
A clearer definition would help with the following matter. The debate about human trafficking has been dogged by the absence of clear estimates of the numbers involved, and many hon. Members have raised that this morning. In 2003, the Home Office estimated the number of victims to be more than 4,000 but, in 2008-09, the Select Committee on Home Affairs claimed there were more than 5,000. The Association of Chief Police Officers came up with the figure of 2,600 for the number of trafficked victims, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham has expressed strong views about that particular figure.
The absence of a clear estimate of the numbers involved was a concern of the Home Affairs Committee, and the previous Labour Government offered to do some work to get a more reliable figure. I ask the Minister whether that exercise is still under way. Do the Government recognise not only that it would be helpful to have a clear definition, but that, if we knew the numbers involved, that would allow a comparison to be made across the EU ?
Article 14 of the draft directive refers to the protection of children who are victims and calls for judicial authorities to appoint a special representative for child victims. The UK does not comply with that. The hon. Member for Wellingborough raised that issue and if we were to accept the directive and opt in, that would help his position.
Article 9 of the directive concerns extraterritorial jurisdiction. Criminals and victims may be in different countries at the time of the investigation—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned this issue—and article 9 would help British authorities to protect not only their own citizens, but other EU citizens. The position seems to be confused. Do we comply or do we not comply? Even if we reach the bar and do comply, surely the point is to work with other countries—not only to reach the bar but to go beyond it, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough mentioned.
ECPAT—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—rightly says
“Without international cooperation the Government will lose the battle with the traffickers. By choosing not to opt in to the directive the Government is failing in its efforts to combat this transnational crime.”
The Government say that they are working to shape the EU directive. We have experience in the United Kingdom of working on projects such as Operation Golf, where we led from the front. Having helped to shape the final document, why would we wish to step back from the directive? Is it because it is European? Is it because there is a hangover from the Lisbon treaty deliberations? Are the Government over-sensitive to criticisms on Conservative websites that they are giving away powers faster than the previous Labour Government? Is it because it would cost money? If that is the case, how much do the Home Office think it will cost? ECPAT says costs would be minimal. Is that true? Has a cost-benefit analysis been done?
The Government are in danger of getting this wrong and of compounding a catalogue of errors of poor judgment. There has been confusion over anonymity for rape victims and over domestic violence protection orders, which were designed to protect victims, not perpetrators. In addition, the multi-agency risk assessment conferences are now under review, as is the use of independent domestic violence advisers. Chillingly, there has also been the fallout that led to the resignation of Jim Gamble as chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, who I understand is giving evidence this morning to the Home Affairs Committee. I want to put on the record the appreciation that I think exists across the House for the invaluable work that he and his team did in protecting children. We support his view that to do its job even more effectively, CEOP needs more, not less independence.
When Sara Payne, Shy Keenan and Fiona Crook say that what has happened is a devastating blow for UK child protection, we ought to listen, because if we do not, the Government will be in danger of throwing away in five months progress that was built up over five years with regard to child victims. The Government need to listen to the concerns rightly raised today about the EU directive on human trafficking. I look forward to hearing the Minister clarify exactly what the Government’s position is on that directive—do we comply or do we not comply?
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) not just on securing the debate, but on having a rise so meteoric that it is faster than my excellent officials can keep up with. My brief invites me to congratulate her on her election to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and already in the few days since it was drafted she has gone on to greater things. At this rate of progress, she will be Leader of the Opposition by Christmas. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) on her elevation to the Opposition Home Office team—I am sure that she will have many happy years there.
I join other Members in congratulating, and expressing their admiration for, my old friend, Anthony Steen, who helped to set up the all-party group on human trafficking. Work on tackling human trafficking is now being carried on by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), Clare Short, Baroness Butler-Sloss and many others.
The debate has raised many issues, and I will try to deal with as many as possible. I am conscious that I have only 10 minutes, but I suspect that we will reconvene in two days’ time for the debate on anti-slavery day. I will pick up first on two important contributions that were slightly out of the mainstream but seem important. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) noted that victims of trafficking are found everywhere and that it is not just an inner-city or big-city phenomenon. I think that that is right. Secondly, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said that it is a question not just of what we do in Britain, or even in Europe—I will address the European issue shortly—but of what we can do around the world, which is a good point, and one that infuses the thinking that I propose to bring to this important matter as a Minister.
The Government take seriously our responsibility to fight human trafficking and forced prostitution. On the points made about enforcement, the UK Human Trafficking Centre and on what is happening to SOCA, our response to trafficking will be enhanced and strengthened by the establishment of the national crime agency, which, with its border policing responsibilities, will help to combat organised crime more effectively. That is our aim for the national crime agency, which will be set up by legislation in the coming months.
There is no difference between any of us on this issue: human trafficking and forced prostitution are appalling crimes in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for profit. The Government take a comprehensive approach, combining a determination to tackle the criminals behind the trade with a commitment to support victims. That approach provides the framework with which we can ensure the necessary joined-up activities, through work across Government with law enforcement agencies and in conjunction with the voluntary sector, which plays such an important role in the care of victims, as many Members have said. We need to take further strides towards tackling that menace. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for her thoughts on Operation Paladin and Operation Newbridge. She is right that they have both been successful and useful, and I am grateful for her thoughts on what should happen on that.
On enforcement, legislation is in place that outlaws trafficking of all kinds, and relatively new legislation makes it an offence to pay for sexual services with someone who has been subject to exploitative conduct of any kind. That legislative framework needs to be helped by robust policing and a wider law enforcement response to trafficking and forced prostitution. Improving our knowledge and understanding of the situation is a key component of ensuring that we have that effective law enforcement response.
Several Members mentioned the number of victims and what might be the most credible number. I think that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and to some extent the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North are being unfair to the ACPO study, which provides the latest and most accurate number we have. It is sensible to proceed on the basis that, although it is obviously a difficult figure to compute with absolute accuracy, that is the best and most up-to-date information that we have, so I think that we should work on that number. That study shows that there are 2,600 victims, which shows the need for effective enforcement work. Police forces have been supported in that work by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which deals with trafficking as a high priority under SOCA, which had trafficking as its second priority, and further work will be done under the national crime agency.
In London, the Metropolitan police service is leading on combating human trafficking gangs and on disrupting prostitution, particularly in the five Olympic boroughs during the build-up to London 2012. The Met is effective in that in many ways. I am happy to say that this morning 17 children were safeguarded as part of a major joint operation by the Metropolitan police, Redbridge council and the NHS in that borough. The children have been taken to a specially set up assessment centre. We believe that they are victims of a Romanian-based gang of child traffickers. Six people have been arrested. That is extremely welcome news and a good example of the work that is being done in London and obviously will continue to be done in the run-up to 2012.
We of course recognise the point made about the European dimension; that trafficking is essentially a cross-border crime. Accordingly, we must ensure that there is sufficient international co-operation between Government and law enforcement agencies. The Government remain committed to working with our international partners in the European Union and the wider world.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said that she was confused about our response to the EU directive on trafficking. I will ease her confusion. I have heard from Members from both sides of the House that our decision not to opt in at the outset of the EU directive on trafficking has raised anxieties among some of them. We did not opt in at the outset, but we have the capacity to review that position once the directive is finally agreed, and that is what we will do. We have a strong record in the fight against trafficking and are compliant both in legislation and in practice with most of what is required by the draft directive. It contains no operational co-operation measures—I think this was the point that the right hon. Member for Rotherham was trying to get at—through which the UK would benefit. Although it might improve the way other EU states combat trafficking, it would make little difference to the way the UK does so. By opting out and reviewing our position when the directive is agreed, we can choose to benefit from a directive that is helpful but avoid being bound by measures that are against our interests.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk talked about extra-territorial jurisdiction. Of course, we already have extra-territorial jurisdiction in a number of serious offences, such as child sexual exploitation. We will continue to play an active role in helping to improve EU-wide efforts at combating trafficking by working constructively with our European partners. As a practical example, we have contributed to the Stockholm programme, which contains a commitment to fight trafficking as an EU priority until 2014.
We are also involved in a number of initiatives focused specifically on trafficking, such as improving data and sharing best practice. The important co-operation between British law enforcement agencies and European partners, including Europol and Frontex, will continue unaffected. Therefore, if any Opposition Members were worried that our attitude to this would be in some way infused with any kind of ideological anti-Europeanism, I can set their minds at rest; there will be none of that in this field—[Interruption.]
I appreciate that convincing the right hon. Gentleman might be difficult, but it is nevertheless the case.
The effectiveness of the police and law enforcement agencies was mentioned. Each of the UK’s 55 police forces now has an investigator trained to deal with human trafficking operations. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) rightly mentioned the importance of prosecutions. There have been 140 convictions for trafficking under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and 10 convictions for labour trafficking. I agree that those are not big numbers, but some traffickers may not be charged with the specific offence of trafficking, depending on the facts of the case. I suspect that we all agree that it is better to get some sort of prosecution to get them out of their criminal businesses than to have none. Some of them have been convicted for a range of serious charges, including rape and brothel management.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough mentioned the idea of child guardians. Local authorities already have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of all children, and each child is allocated an independent reviewing officer who is responsible for regularly chairing reviews of their care plans. I am very aware of the problem of children going missing from local authority care and welcome the work by the London borough of Hillingdon and Hertfordshire county council, both of which have taken some practical and effective measures to try to minimise what has been a long-running problem. I have highlighted what the UK has achieved so far, but—