I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of Anti-Slavery Day.
It is probably close to 200 years since this House has debated slavery. As the chairman of the all-party human trafficking group, it is my great pleasure to open this debate, but it should not have been me opening it; it should have been the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate her on her pitch to the Backbench Business Committee and her success in securing this debate. However, once she had done so, she was immediately put into the shadow Government. She has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, and is now sitting by the Dispatch Box to answer for the Opposition. I congratulate her not only on securing this debate, but on her promotion.
William Wilberforce is a name that is synonymous with anti-slavery. In 1807, led by Wilberforce, an Act for the abolition of the slave trade was passed by Parliament. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed. Why, therefore, are we here debating slavery, more than 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade? Perhaps we are celebrating the success of William Wilberforce; or are we here to congratulate ourselves that no slavery remains within the United Kingdom? We cannot do that. Slavery and trafficking are still far too common an occurrence. A frightening statistic is that there are estimated to be more than 27 million slaves in the world today. One in eight of them are in Europe, and at least 10,000 of them are here in the United Kingdom. How can that be true? When I walk around London or my constituency, I do not see slaves sweeping the streets or working in the fields. The fact that the problem is not as visible as it was in the time of William Wilberforce does not mean that it is not as important or as serious.
The hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but will he join me in paying tribute to the work of Anthony Steen, his predecessor as Chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking, for all his excellent work on bringing to the House’s attention the slavery that is human trafficking? I am sure that he was about to mention him in his speech.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend—I shall call him my right hon. Friend today—for that intervention, but he will have to wait just a little longer before I mention the former Member for Totnes.
The three most lucrative criminal activities in the world are those associated with narcotics and with firearms, and the trafficking of humans. The first two criminal activities are well documented and vast sums of money are rightly invested in catching the criminals involved. Why then is the trafficking of humans—modern-day slavery—so badly documented, and why is so little invested in the fight against it? It takes place on the same scale as narcotics and firearms offences, and that gap needs to be addressed.
So where are all those slaves, and whom does this affect? In the United Kingdom, the main victims are women and children. They are often tricked into coming to this country, usually with a promise of some sort of job. When they arrive here, they are often locked up and forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day. I shall give the House an example. I met a 14-year-old Kenyan girl who had been trafficked into this country by a middle-aged white man on a passport that did not bear her name and did not have her picture on it. She was taken to Liverpool, locked in a house and forced to have sex with numerous men. Luckily, she escaped after a few days and was helped by a national charity. She was one of the lucky ones, if you can call it lucky to endure what she had had to. She managed to escape, but how many girls do not manage to do so? How many girls are locked in houses such as those while we are debating this issue today? Even if there were just one, that would be one too many, but there is not just one; there are thousands.
We have some fantastic non-governmental organisations working with trafficked victims, including ECPAT UK, the POPPY project, the Human Trafficking Foundation, the Bromley Trust, the Tudor Trust, and Kalayaan, to name but a few. Their work must not stop. I have one single goal, however: I want all those NGOs and charities to become redundant, because they are no longer needed. That is my aim. As I mentioned, they do fantastic work with trafficked victims, but I believe that prevention is the key.
How do we prevent human trafficking? That is a very difficult question to answer. I believe that making the public more aware of the issue is a good first step. On 18 October, the UK will celebrate anti-slavery day for the first time. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my former colleague, Anthony Steen, for working tirelessly to make the Anti-slavery Day Act 2010 his lasting legacy to the House. He pioneered an approach to human trafficking that I am very happy to follow. Quite simply, he put modern-day slavery on the parliamentary map. Anti-slavery day will mark out what we all hope will be the beginning of the end of slavery in the United Kingdom and make the public aware of the gravity of the problem.
What can be done? First, we need to identify victims better. Very few ever approach local authorities to complain, and even if they do, those authorities might not realise that the problem has resulted from trafficking and modern-day slavery. The police are on the front line of trafficking. The individual police officer on the beat is the best and probably the first person to meet a trafficked victim, but does every police officer know what to do, how to help and to whom they should send the victim? We need to help the police and make them more aware of trafficked women. There needs to be a national protocol to help victims.
We also need to enhance the border control system and stop the traffickers from bringing in the victims in the first place. That is the very best way to end trafficking. The UK must be a country that it is just not worth the traffickers using.
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to some of the excellent work done by the Metropolitan police in combating the evil of human trafficking in London? I echo the point I believe he is making well—I seek to reinforce it—about the lack of awareness and training in other police forces across the country. They will often come to dealing with a problem such as prostitution without having the wherewithal to understand, albeit with the best will in the world, that it is linked to the evil of slavery and human trafficking.
My hon. Friend puts the case perfectly and I entirely agree with him.
Returning to the point about making this country one into which traffickers do not want to come, traffickers are interested only in the money. We need to make it so difficult for them that they do not want to try to operate here. That is why the coalition Government’s new proposal for a border police provides an opportunity to put trafficking right at the heart of this new initiative. Trafficking must stop, but it will stop only with the help of everyone—here and across the nation. William Wilberforce did not pass the legislation to abolish the slave trade and to abolish slavery for political gain or to achieve votes; he realised there was a fundamental problem that needed to be addressed.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. One difficulty dealing with trafficked women is that they often believe that they are here illegally. They do not go to the police because they are terrified that, if they do, terrible things will happen and the police will prosecute them. What does my hon. Friend think should be the immigration or legal status of people who find themselves trafficked here? Clearly, they are not asylum seekers in the accepted meaning of the term, so how do they fit into the immigration system?
I am conscious of time and of the fact that many other Members want to contribute to the debate. I shall wind up shortly, but to answer my hon. Friend’s point, these people are victims and they should be looked after; there are organisations such as the POPPY project that do look after them. We have a strange system at the moment whereby an adult victim of human trafficking gets better treatment than a child. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into this further, as I note that so many Members want to speak in the debate.
Finally, I am ashamed to stand here as a citizen of this great nation and admit that we have failed William Wilberforce. After 200 years, the slave trade is still very much alive. In 200 years’ time, I do not want another Member of this House to stand where I am today and admit that he is ashamed that they have failed in what we are trying to achieve today. The first anti-slavery day must mark the start of the decline of modern-day slavery in our country.
Back in 2007, when Labour was in government, it was my great privilege to be asked by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to help the country to prepare for the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade. That was an important moment for this country, which brought people together across the House and, indeed, across the country to remember another very important moment in our history. Certainly in the cities of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Hull it was a hugely significant event. We recalled, of course, William Wilberforce, but also people such as Thomas Clarkson and Equiano and Ignatio Sancho—black and white men and women who made a difference to bring this awful trade to an end.
I learnt much that year. I learnt about the many women in Britain who boycotted sugar in order to bring the trade to an end, and the many petitions and marches organised in cities such as Sheffield to say, “Enough is enough”. It was an important year. Obviously it was an important year for me personally, because I stand here as the ancestor of those who found themselves—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I mean that they were my ancestors. That is how far back in history I was taken as I spoke. I stand here as the descendant of those who were enslaved.
As we remind ourselves of what the House has done to bring about the end of that terrible period in our history, we should bear in mind that it is hugely important for us to redouble our efforts in relation to trafficking as it exists in this country and around the world at this time. Tragically, it was in my constituency that the sad death of Victoria Climbié took place in the early part of this century. In the winter of 1999 to 2000, in a terraced house in Tottenham, she was terribly abused by a supposed aunt who had brought her here from Ivory Coast. Members will recall her dying, effectively, in a bathtub in that house, having been whipped, chained and terribly physically abused in this country. They will also recall the inquiry, the Laming report, and much that came out of her sad, tragic death.
That case put a spotlight on the nature of child trafficking in this country. We must all have hoped it would bring trafficking to an end, but it has not. Very sadly, in my constituency today I recall other children who have been trafficked. I think of Tunde Jaji, a young man brought here from Nigeria at the age of five. His case has now become a successful play, which was performed at the Edinburgh festival just this year. It, too, involved terrible abuse by a supposed aunt and her husband, again in the streets of Tottenham, and had a terribly dysfunctional effect on that young man. On this occasion, the story ends with some joy. A teacher at Park View academy, a wonderful woman called Lynne Awbery, took him into her own home, and nourished and supported him. He graduated from Bournemouth university with a fantastic degree in animation, and now dedicates himself to that.
Such tragic human cases sit alongside our concerns in the House, and in that context it is important for us not just to celebrate an anti-slavery day, but to ensure that we in this country, given our own past, honour and redouble our efforts in relation to this terrible crime. It worries me that the Government have chosen not to ratify the EU directive; I am hugely concerned about the fact that they have exercised the right to opt out on this occasion. I say that because of our own history in this country, and the important position that we have in the world in relation to these matters. It is very hard to encourage other countries to sign the protocol if we do not feel able to do so ourselves. It is very hard to say we are keeping our own house in order if we choose not to ratify. I therefore hope that the Minister might reconsider that position before he comes to wind up the debate.
I am also concerned that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is to be abolished, especially given the global nature of this country and the past that I have outlined, including the recent past in my own constituency. Events such as those that took place in my constituency are also happening throughout the rest of the country; estimates of the number of such children who might be here run into the thousands. It is also the wrong time to get rid of that organisation because of all we know about the sex trafficking of women, and younger women in particular. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect on that decision and to think of the great history of this country. Britain is a country that can make a huge difference in the fight against the human trafficking that is taking place across the country and the world. It is estimated that some 27 million people across the world are still in some form of bondage, whether in respect of a trade or domestic slavery.
This is an important issue therefore, and I ask the Minister to reflect carefully not only on our position in Europe but on the message we send in debating these matters and in choosing how to make a difference through treaties, directives and protocols.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on the significant and important role she has played in pushing this issue, and also on securing the debate. I echo the comments of various previous speakers about the role Anthony Steen has played in pushing this agenda and bringing it to the notice of Parliament; I agree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) that it is a great pity that he was not present today to participate in, and perhaps open, the debate.
Anti-slavery day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our ancestors’ role in this trade and on the fact that it is still an issue today. We are reminded of that almost daily. Literally a couple of minutes before the debate started, I had a chance conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) who has just been meeting to discuss the issue of St Helena. Apparently two of what he believes are the largest concentrations of graves of slaves anywhere in the world have just been found on St Helena. The island was used as a transit point and the slaves who had, presumably, died on the boats were off-loaded and buried on it. There are events even now that remind us of that past, therefore.
I also attended an event a couple of weeks ago to do with black history month. One of the speakers pointed out that although she was Jamaican her surname was clearly Scottish, and that that was because her ancestors had been slaves in an area where the landowner and keeper of the slaves—if I can put it that way—was Scottish and had passed on his surname to all the slaves working on his land.
Even more recently—just a couple of days ago—a Romanian gang was broken up. It is alleged—we will have to wait for the court case verdict—that it was responsible for using children for begging in the UK. Slavery is therefore not only a topic that we need to reflect on historically, but one that is present today.
I thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for drawing attention to the work of Thomas Clarkson, of Wisbech in my constituency, who did so much to gather the evidence on which the case was put by William Wilberforce in this place. Does the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) agree that one of the problems—one of the pockets—is to be found within the diplomatic community? Although this is a complex area in terms of the legal framework, diplomatic immunity should not be grounds for allowing conditions akin to slavery to exist.
That is a very pertinent and topical point, although it might be slightly beyond my pay grade to respond to it on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Perhaps the Minister may use his response as an opportunity to put across the Government’s perspective on that point.
Many forms of slavery are alive and well today, including bonded labour. People can enter bonded labour for something as simple as the cost of medicine for a sick child, and it then locks them into providing labour free or in exchange for food and shelter. That can be labour that they have to provide 365 days a year and it can be impossible for them to get out of that arrangement. As many hon. Members will know, Dalits fall into that category. Those are peoples in both India and other parts of the subcontinent who can end up in lifelong servitude, which often gets passed down through generations.
How does my hon. Friend suggest that we deal with that? Hundreds of thousands of people are involved in bonded labour in India, but India is a mature democracy, although one to which we still provide some development assistance. How and where does he suggest that we exert influence to help bring about the end of bonded labour in mature democracies such as India?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The only tool at our disposal is the one that we are using at this moment: raising the issue and using that as a gentle encouragement to the Indian Government, and other Governments in the subcontinent, to respond to these challenges.
The time available does not allow an in-depth discussion about trafficking, although we had a fairly full debate on it just a couple of days ago. Inevitably, and correctly, that debate touched on the EU directive, and I simply wish to restate what I said then. I welcome the fact that the Government are reviewing the directive, but I hope that if it is clear at the end of that review process that the directive pushes us significantly beyond where we are on tackling human trafficking, the Government will then opt in to the directive.
In order to allow others their opportunity to speak in the debate, I shall finish by discussing just one other important point—the legal framework to tackle slavery in the UK. It is only this year that we have legislated to deal with an offence of forced labour or domestic servitude. At least we now have clarity, because the legislation is in place. Is the Minister in a position to tell the House whether there have been any prosecutions or convictions under that legislation, which has recently come into force? People will want to express emotional views in this debate, so I wish to conclude simply by saying that it is regrettable that we are having to have an anti-slavery day debate, because slavery is alive and well in the world. I hope that in future years—perhaps a number of years from now—such a debate will not be necessary.
Like the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I come to this debate very pleased that we are marking the end of one of the most horrific practices in legal history, but concerned that a significant problem still exists in the UK, with large numbers of women, boys and girls still sold into slavery in this country every year.
Over the past five years, at the Children’s Society, I have had the privilege of working with some of the remarkable children who have survived this horrific practice. Most were brought into the UK to be sold for sex, forced labour, domestic slavery or enforced begging. They were boys as well as girls and nearly all of them had experienced a combination of mental, physical and sexual violence.
This is a hidden crime, so it is incredibly difficult to persuade people that it still goes on. I can say to hon. Members that I am absolutely certain that this is happening in my Wigan constituency at this very minute, and in all constituencies across the country. I am pleased that so many Members have turned out to mark such an important debate.
The previous Government made significant attempts to tackle the problem and I want to pay tribute to the work that was done, particularly the ratification of the Palermo protocol and the Council of Europe convention. They were huge steps forward. The decision not to opt in to the EU directive was and remains the wrong decision, and I hope that the present Government will think again on that point. The Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, is known to be a humane man and is interested in this area. I hope that he will bring us some good news on that point.
It is simply not true that we already comply with the European directive on trafficking in human beings. Let me give hon. Members an example of a 17-year-old young man whom I have met and worked with. He was brought into the UK and forced to work illegally in a cannabis factory. After several years of that, he was picked up in a police raid at the age of 17. After several years of working in the most appalling conditions, with no natural daylight, subjected to cannabis fumes daily, he had significant mental health problems, as one would expect. Yet he was prosecuted for working illegally and for documentation offences. When I worked at the Children’s Society, I was told over and over again, along with colleagues from ECPAT UK— End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—and other tremendous organisations, that this problem simply does not exist, yet every day we were seeing for ourselves that it did. I am sure that it still does.
When I came across the young man in my example, he was serving time in a young offenders institution and had, thankfully, come to the attention of the British Refugee Council, which was able to find him a good lawyer who got him out. I am outraged that that vulnerable young man should have been subjected to such treatment at the hands of the state—at our hands. I cannot help but think that had that young man been British the response would have been quite different. It is unthinkable that a child or young person who comes to the state and alleges such appalling abuse should be treated in such a manner. Far too often these children are seen as perpetrators rather than victims, and as immigrants rather than children. We all—on both sides of the House—should seek to change that.
The EU directive sets out explicitly that it should be possible not to prosecute victims. That would be a major step forward in our treatment of these children. My experience of working with children who have been subjected to slavery is that it is often simply not recognised that they are vulnerable, particularly when they are older—when they are 17, for example. They do not look like the very vulnerable young people they are, so they are not treated as such.
I have been told over years and years that we can achieve the standards set out in the EU directive simply by changing our working practices. That might be true, but it has not happened. While it has not happened, children like the young man I have talked about are subjected to further harm by the state, because we simply have not got this right.
Let me give one more example before I let other Members speak. I have worked with very young children—aged eight or nine—who are adamant that the person exploiting them is their uncle, their daddy or some other relative who has their best interests at heart. When young children have been deceived in that way, we have a huge problem. Their lawyer is duty bound to act on the instructions that that child has given. The EU directive sets out very clearly that child victims must have a guardian to represent them in the courts, who would be able to instruct the lawyer on their behalf. Without that measure, which we have singularly failed to introduce—and in so failing, we have failed those children—we will not see prosecutions and we will never bring to justice the evil people who are doing so much damage to children in our constituencies.
It is a good sign that you have had to shorten the time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am pleased that so many hon. Members are interested in the subject.
The scale of this worldwide problem has not sunk in. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) opened the debate by saying that 27 million people are in some form of slavery around the world, which is just less than half the population of the United Kingdom. That is a truly shocking statistic.
Some passion has been expended in this House this week, whether on the date of a referendum, the reform of housing benefit, the European Union budget, or contaminated blood. This subject, above all, is one on which we should expend considerable passion. We should state how outrageous it is that 200 years after Wilberforce got rid of the visible slave trade, that cruel and inhumane form of treatment of our fellow human beings has crept back.
We are discussing a truly global phenomenon, which is happening not only in this country and in Europe but around the world. Last night I trawled the internet and picked out relevant press cuttings from the past two days. There are press reports about trafficking across east Africa, and countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda are forming a regional network to do something about it.
A national action plan has been established in Greece, where the situation is relevant to this country. Children and young people, often young girls, from Romania, Albania, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria and Russia are often tempted to travel to Athens. Their families may be in economic difficulties, and they are lured to Athens by the prospect of a better life having been told that they will be working as, for example, a hairdresser. They are taken to Athens before being sent to Amsterdam, London, Hamburg or another great European city, where they end up working in brothels as captives. It is good to see Greece taking the matter seriously.
In Malaysia nine people have been arrested in the past two days, seven of whom are immigration officials. I ask the Minister whether we are checking our staff to ensure that they are not complicit with gangs.
Those examples illustrate that we are discussing a worldwide problem, but at the same time it is a local problem that happens in our constituents’ streets. We know that brothels operate in private houses; we know that people are being used for domestic servitude in private houses; and we know that people are being forced to work as bonded labour in businesses that are close to us and to our constituents. We can all do our bit, because we can all be eyes and ears. We all need to look out and help the police and the authorities. Even buying Fairtrade chocolate provides us with an assurance that the chocolate that we are eating has not been produced by children who have been forced to work on cocoa plantations in Africa.
Prevention is obviously better than cure. How much public education and awareness raising is being done in the source countries from which people are being trafficked? How engaged are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in trying to spread public education and awareness, so that those young girls realise that there is great danger in being lured to be a hairdresser in Europe, and that it will probably not end up that way.
As Members of Parliament we all have a close relationship with our local newspapers, yet virtually all those newspapers—this is certainly true of the five newspapers in my constituency—carry advertisements for “adult services”, as they are euphemistically called.
The hon. Lady is obviously a mind reader, to add to her other talents, because that is exactly what I was about to say. The Newsquest group has set an example, and I ask all hon. Members to ask the editors of their local papers to follow that example. That is something practical that we can do. This is not just about asking the Minister to do things; we can do things in our constituencies and we can get our constituents involved in doing something.
Can we have a minimum sentence for traffickers? Diplomats have been mentioned briefly. Any diplomat who is found to be involved in human trafficking should not have the right to be an accredited diplomat at the Court of St James’s, but should be expelled forthwith. I think that that suggestion would find wide support in the House.
We desperately need better co-ordination between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, because these cases often fall down. We need the Ministry of Justice to get the police and the CPS together to work out how we can have more success with getting convictions, of which there have been pitifully few in the UK. That is not for lack of trying, through legislation, by many of us in this Parliament. There is a real problem with things not working as well as they could.
We also need much better liaison between the police and local authorities. That is working well in some places, such as with West Sussex county council, Operation Paladin at Heathrow airport, and at St Pancras with the Eurostar. There are very good relations between the police and social services in that regard. In Westminster, too, there is a very good protocol between the police and the council on forced marriage and honour-based violence. They are looking into incorporating that further in relation to trafficking in connection with the MARAC—multi-agency risk assessment conference—procedures.
This is a big issue and a worthy cause for all hon. Members to pursue throughout their time in Parliament. We are called to this place to pursue big issues, and there can hardly be a bigger issue than this. Let me close with the words of Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). He is right that this is a big issue. The fact that it unites my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for South West Bedfordshire and others is a real tribute to the work that Anthony Steen pioneered in his many years in the House of Commons.
I have been here for 23 years; others have been here for as long as I have while others still have been here for a shorter period. What a legacy for the House and the country was Anthony Steen’s private Member’s Bill, which had the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and produced the marking of anti-slavery day. I wish that he were here. Perhaps he is—perhaps, in a moment, he is going to pop in to tell us that we have gone on for too long, and should hear the benefit of his expertise. I am glad that his expertise remains in this House, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) has said. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wellingborough for picking up this torch; he will become just as distinguished in his time in ensuring that this remains at the forefront of concerns among parliamentarians.
Of course, this is an important issue. The Select Committee on Home Affairs conducted a very long inquiry into human trafficking, which lasted a year. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington was one of the members of that Committee, which travelled to Russia and Ukraine. We took evidence from all the projects that have been mentioned today and we found, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan has pointed out, that victims were reluctant to come forward. We found out stunning statistics about what is the second-biggest illegal activity in the world after drugs. It is a billion-pound illegal industry, but it is very difficult to get people to come forward. That is why it is crucial that we have at our disposal the ability to track down the people traffickers.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said about the EU directive. It is very important that the Minister should reflect on this issue in the coming weeks and months and that we sign up to the directive. We cannot be kept apart from the rest of Europe when we need the support of other European countries to achieve the good and laudable aims that the current Government have in this area and that the previous Government certainly had.
I want to raise with the Minister three practical issues that will help us to achieve that aim. First, the Home Affairs Committee raised with the previous Prime Minister our concern about funding for the Metropolitan police’s people trafficking unit, which was disbanded nine months ago. Despite that, we have had successes, such as during Operation Golf this week, when people were found to be trafficking in central London. The Met should keep such relationships going with police forces in other parts of the world—in that case, for example, in Romania. The funding and the provision of resources for that unit are extremely important, because we require expertise.
Secondly, the UK Human Trafficking Centre was moved, as the Minister knows, away from independence and into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will now be abolished and form part of the new national crime agency. I urged the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice yesterday, during a debate about policing, to pause before the Government decide how the centre will sit within the national crime agency. The point about such organisations is that they have expertise beyond policing and act as a centre to co-ordinate many people and professions. It is vital that we retain such activity. I hope that the Minister before us will take up that issue with his ministerial colleague.
My final point is about the one issue that the Committee raised in its most recent report, because it is still a concern. There is no Europe-wide mechanism that brings together the origin, transition and destination countries of those who are trafficked. There is no such organisation. That work is done through conferences and meetings, and sometimes the European Union decides that it wants to be involved, but there needs to be a stand-alone organisation—a structure—to share good practice. When someone from Moldova travels through Greece, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, and ends up in Amsterdam, Bedford, Leicester, Wigan or wherever, they need to be tracked. That is not happening, but we have to ensure that those who are responsible for trafficking are prosecuted, because our record on such prosecutions is pretty bad.
I am absolutely delighted by the presence in the House of so many right hon. and hon. Members. We must keep debating the issue, because that is the only way in which we will effect real change.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this crucial debate. It is a credit to the decision to introduce Back-Bench business, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) opened it with great distinction.
I share the concern that there are no robust estimates for the number of victims of trafficking in the UK. Having the figures for victims of trafficking is fundamental to raising awareness of the issue and ensuring that human trafficking is given due attention by local police forces. Moreover, without accurate data, support services cannot be properly planned. I therefore believe that the UK Human Trafficking Centre needs to do more in that area.
The introduction of the national referral mechanism in April 2009 has gone some way towards recognising victims of trafficking. However, I am concerned that only 361 individuals were accepted as victims of trafficking in the mechanism’s first year, given that the estimated figure for such individuals is about 10 times that number. The dominance of the immigration authorities in the assessment and administration of the national referral mechanism is also a concern, as it emphasises the victims’ immigration status and inappropriately associates them with illegal immigration, as the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) clearly highlighted.
Although the exact figures for victims are not available, there have been six arrests for trafficking offences in Wiltshire, which includes my constituency, North Swindon. Human trafficking does not have borders; it is a problem for the whole of the UK and it must be addressed as such, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) said. More needs to be done to support victims of human trafficking, and I shall focus on that point.
I have been incredibly impressed by the work of the homeless women’s charity, Eaves. The POPPY project in London, which it runs, is invaluable in providing safety and support through accommodation, counselling, legal advice and outreach programmes. It provides 50 beds for victims of sex trafficking and nine beds for victims of domestic slavery, with a current occupancy rate of 100%. I welcome the further expansion that is occurring in London, Sheffield and Cardiff.
However, I remain concerned about whether victims from my constituency will have access to support and security services of that level. All too often, the victims are charged, then effectively released straight back into the arms of the gangs rather than being treated as victims. It is therefore vital that the new national co-ordinator sets out consistent standards of care, builds capacity, and raises awareness with local agencies and funders. Having been rescued from their living nightmare, all too often only temporary help is provided to them—a crying shame for these often exceptionally determined individuals, who rightly want to get their lives back on track and are hindered by their lack of formal education, qualifications and opportunities.
To tackle this, Eaves, along with partners Imperial college and the Women and Work initiative, has launched a scheme aimed at helping victims back into the workplace. HERA—Her Equality, Rights, and Autonomy—offers women from the POPPY project entrepreneurial skills and mentoring from some of the UK’s most successful business women and men, and aims to give them the life skills and confidence they need to set up their own businesses or get into work. In many cases, the victims arrived in the UK highly educated, and through this scheme go on to further or higher education, more often than not with an interest in human rights law, and 25% even go on to set up their own business.
It was a great privilege to meet one of the founders of the scheme, Simon Stockley, who kindly set out three brief recent examples of where this support and training has made a real difference. First, a Russian lady has set up a successful Russian specialist bakery. Secondly, a west African lady has set up a fashion label, designing and making clothes. Finally, a Moldovan lady, with mentoring from a senior member of Saatchi and Saatchi, was not only able to secure work at a large H&M store but is now the manager. These real-life examples show just how important it is to provide these opportunities nationwide.
We are rightly stepping up our game to rescue victims; let us not then fail them. We have seen that by empowering the victims and restoring their confidence, we are providing an opportunity to start a new life. I urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that victims have access to the support that they require and rightly deserve.
We should be focusing not so much on what is happening in the UK as the fact that there are still 27 million people in some form of slavery throughout the world. We should look seriously at the heritage left behind by Anthony Steen. He was not talking about the UK; he never talked about the UK. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, he travelled around Europe urging other Parliaments to set up similar organisations and to get their Governments focused on the problem, whether they were in the transit countries, the departure countries or the countries where the criminal gangs organised.
It is interesting to look back in history. Oddly enough, the story of Oliver Twist is based on factual historical records of the trafficking of Italian children who were scooped up in the villages and promised jobs, and then brought to the UK to be thieves and robbers in the Paddington area of London. There was never a Jewish Fagin organising that—there was an Italian gangmaster and an Italian gang.
This is not just something that happens locally, but, as we have heard, it is happening locally in people’s constituencies, and in mine—two brothels were broken up, and trafficked women were found in both. Positive Action in Housing, based in Glasgow, does wonderful work in Scotland. Many Members have spoken about their own local organisations that are helping people who are then released from such bondage—not just sexual bondage, but low pay or poverty pay. A Chinese gentleman came to see me after I spoke at the annual general meeting of Positive Action in Housing. He had been moved from one Chinese restaurant to another, throughout the whole of the UK, for nine and a half years, and told that if he ever went to see anyone he would be sent back to China. It is going on all the time. Sixteen children were recently rescued in London. In Scotland, in the three months up until August, the newspapers reported that 18 children were found in some sort of exploitation.
I urge us, as a Parliament, to look wider than we are at the moment. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is not completely carrying on the heritage of Anthony Steen if he does not focus on broadening the outlook. We should stop trying to throw a ring around the UK, and we should expand our movement outside.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, of course—the ring needs to be around everywhere. I will let him into a secret. Anthony Steen and his Human Trafficking Foundation are working with the all-party group on human trafficking every week, and we intend to set up all-party groups across the whole of Europe, as Anthony wants.
Sign me up to that.
I wish to ask the Minister—I have never yet heard a decent reply to this question, including when I wrote to the Prime Minister in September—why the Government are not clear that we need to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said that we need a Europe-wide organisation, and that is on offer in the directive. It is not a protocol, and it would be binding on all countries. We have sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, but they are not capable of dealing with cross-border trafficking in the EU.
The EU directive would give us extra powers. It would give us not just the power but the duty to pursue any UK citizen, or anyone habitually resident in the UK, who was involved in trafficking anywhere in the world, with the support of the EU. It would be our jurisdiction, so we could do our duty by people who were trafficked and enslaved. It would also give us the option—it would be a power, not a compulsion—to decide to pursue anyone habitually resident in the UK who was involved in organising people trafficking, which can lead to slavery, outside the UK.
I give the following example quite seriously, not to diminish the terrible thing that happened to the McCann family. If Madeleine McCann were an adult young woman who had been trafficked out of Portugal by a gang of people who were not in the UK, we would not have had the power to take jurisdiction. It is true that we can go to Interpol. I went to Portugal during that terrible time, as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we met the policeman sent from Lisbon to try to pick up the pieces of the local police’s terrible approach immediately after the loss of Madeleine McCann. We realised the police’s inadequacy, but although we had liaison officers we did not have the ability to send in the Met to do the job properly. We could have that power for an adult if we signed up to the EU directive. That is its greatest attraction to me—we would have a duty and responsibility to people in this country who may end up being trafficked.
At the moment, young women and men affected travel around and live in other parts of Europe. They do not necessarily always live in the UK. If they are trafficked out of other countries by someone who is not a UK resident, at the moment we have no jurisdiction. That is a very strong argument for the directive.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) came nearest to expressing the aspiration that existed when the decision to mark anti-slavery day was voted through in the House. It is a worldwide business that we must fight against. We must recognise the clear link with organised criminal gangs in the advanced economies of the world, particularly in the EU states and those around them. We must do everything we can to be vigilant locally. All the organisations that have been mentioned deserve support, and we must try to build an anti-slavery, anti-trafficking alliance at Government and non-governmental organisation level. I hope that the Minister, and eventually the Prime Minister, will recognise that one major step will be taken if we sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking and join that battle properly.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). We sit together on the European Scrutiny Committee and also share a common interest in the subject of this debate.
This is an historic and significant debate, and it is pleasing to see that so many right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute. I welcome the advent of anti-slavery day, even though I was not in the House when the Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010 went through, not least because it is an important tool in bringing these issues into the limelight and giving them the prominence that they deserve. The one thing that is absolutely clear from the debate is that slavery is alive and well in our society and throughout the world. It is therefore right that the House discusses it. I should like to echo other hon. Members in paying tribute to Mr Anthony Steen, who is a great loss to the House. It is a great shame that he cannot be here to make his own speech today.
The simple fact is that it remains unacceptable 200 years after Wilberforce fought so long, so admirably and so hard against slavery that we live in a society in which slavery endures. It is perhaps not the same as in his time, but it is no less deplorable. In the 18th century, slavery was part of a distasteful and distorted economy, and was witnessed in the full light of day. Now, as the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said, it is to a large extent invisible, hidden and underground. It is a hidden abuse of people who more often than not simply cannot speak up for themselves.
Of course, slavery surfaces from time to time. Sex trafficking is the crime that most often captures the media headlines, but earlier this week, Romanian children who were forced into working on the streets of the capital like Fagin’s gang were rescued by Operation Golf. I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police for their work on that. I hope the Crown can in due course mount successful prosecutions of those responsible.
It is worth remembering, however, that that is not an easy task. The women and children involved are often a long way from home. They do not speak the language and are away from such family as they have, and the authorities can seem remote and unhelpful. Getting valuable witness statements from those individuals—most often, it is women and children—is very difficult, particular given what they have suffered. The prosecution rate for such offences is woefully low. Will the Minister say what the Government intend to do about that? We have the laws, as has been said, but we do not seem to enforce them to their fullest extent. That might be a problem of mechanics, but I should like to know what the Government will do.
I also want to mention briefly, if I may, an issue alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), namely the plight of domestic staff working in conditions that amount to slavery right here in London for embassy staff protected by diplomatic privilege. Unlike those on ordinary domestic visas, those on diplomatic domestic visas are not permitted to change jobs. They are stuck in their employment and with their employer, and essentially have no legal status. They do not and cannot go to the police if they suffer abuse. It is about time the Government dealt with that. The House is entitled to ask why we cannot get rid of those visas and issue normal domestic visas to those workers, which would enable them to have the same access to help as anybody else who needs it. What is the Government’s position on that?
I end simply by reminding the House what Wilberforce himself said in the House of Commons in May 1789—of course, that was not in this building. He said that
“the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it; it is now an object placed before us, we can not pass it; we may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision.”—[Parliamentary History, 12 May 1789; Vol. XXVIII, c. 63.]
We are simply debating anti-slavery day today, but the decision for the future is whether we are prepared to continue to accept situations of slavery which pertain to our society some 200 years after Wilberforce and his colleagues successfully fought the battle to end slavery in this country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who introduced the historical context of the debate. I listened carefully to other hon. Members speak about the current situation, which is vital, but I want to say more about the historical context.
I am from Merseyside. Members may be aware that Liverpool was at one time described as the slavery capital of the world. No one associated with the city has any pride in that, but it must be acknowledged. Ships out of Liverpool carried about 1.5 million enslaved Africans on some 5,000 slave ship voyages. In 2007, I was proud that National Museums Liverpool opened the international slavery museum on 23 August, the anniversary of the Haiti uprising, when enslaved workers fought for their liberty. The museum is only metres from the docks that once repaired the slave ships. At the time, Sir Peter Moores rightly remarked that we can come to terms with our past only by accepting it, and to accept it we need knowledge of what actually happened. There is a lesson in that about what is happening today, and I am pleased that the House is having this debate to bring to light important issues such as trafficking and bonded labour, which still exist in the world.
The resistance of enslaved Africans and the actions of abolitionists in Britain ended the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, but in the north-west of England the cotton trade maintained links with slavery around the world for many years afterwards. We need to recognise our history and acknowledge that while our predecessors as Members of Parliament abolished the trade, the conduct of members of the public was even more astounding—another lesson from history for us today. In 1788, 100 petitions were presented to this House on the subject of slavery, and 2,000 people from Sheffield—or 22% of the adult population—signed one of the petitions. In 1972, 519 petitions were presented and every county in England was represented and stood up for enslaved people around the world. One in 10 of the adult population was involved—an amazing aspect of our history that should be recognised. The overwhelming opinion was that slavery was an utter offence to human dignity.
When we discuss this issue, we need to reflect on what caused the uprising of emotion and outrage. It included the testimony of freed slaves, published in this country. Olaudah Equiano is probably the most famous example. He was born in Benin and later captured and sold several times by slave traders. Eventually, he came to this country, where he bought his way out of slavery for £40. He published his autobiography in 1789 and brought to the public’s attention the horror of the middle passage. I need not remind Members of the conditions of those voyages on which people could be thrown overboard with little regard for their safety. The eyes of the British people were opened to the reality of slavery and they would not stand for it. That shows us about the morality that we all share. We care about each other and cannot stand by when others face pain and indignity. That is what makes change happen—human compassion and knowledge about what goes on.
Today has been important because we have reaffirmed our commitment as parliamentarians not to stand by in the face of human indignity. The POPPY project and its important work have already been mentioned. It has helped 700 women so far and we need to support its work. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks on how we can ensure that the victims of trafficking in this country are treated with the utmost respect and care, and enabled to find a way out.
The historical context of the debate is important. We need to enliven public outrage and think globally. As some people said at the time, and as we know now, charity and compassion do not begin at home. No matter where human indignity exists, it is everyone’s responsibility to promote action to change it.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who made an important point about the anger and determination of people 200 years ago to do something about slavery, and about how we need a similar fury now about the outrages we are aware of here. Funnily enough, my constituency played a major part in the abolition of slavery in so far as one of my predecessors promoted legislation to abolish it in the 1830s, and an archway was erected to celebrate the end of slavery—it is one of the few such archways still remaining. The sad thing is that it celebrates the end of something that has not quite ended, and we need to bear that in mind in this very important debate. We need to excite that sense of fury and anger about slavery.
I want to make several points. The first is that we have to get a measure of the problem, and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) did exactly that. The fact that 27 million people across the globe are in slavery is simply outrageous. We cannot tolerate it.
My second point is about the importance of border control. I hope that the Minister will highlight how that will be strengthened. It is critical that we tackle border control issues, and it is very important that we deliver meaningful results.
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), put his finger on an important point. It is not just that they have come here that matters; where they came from and how they got here also matter. That international dimension needs a focus too, because we cannot just sit here on an island and say, “We’re doing okay. How about the rest of you?” We need to take an international attitude. At the end of the day, as recipients of the problem, even if we deal with specific cases more satisfactorily, a threat will still remain, because people will still be trafficking from other places. We therefore need to use our influence to tackle the source of the problem and those who traffic.
That brings me to the EU directive against trafficking mentioned by several people today. As I understand it, we will be reviewing our position once that directive is confirmed. Furthermore, of course, we are signatories to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking, which is robust in its attitude. However, I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the EU directive, because if we are serious about taking action, we need to consider its impact.
I want to talk about the rule of law. A lot of people have talked about the legislation and measures already in place. Yes, they probably are in place, and we may need to strengthen some of them, but in this case the rule of law is being flagrantly abused by many. It is, therefore, a question of enforcement as well. We have to get the question of enforcement right, because, at the end of the day, a country such as ours should be able to pack a punch in that respect.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should applaud an initiative by the Metropolitan police to press for legislation that would allow editors who continue to publish sex adverts that can then be linked to trafficking to be arrested and tried in court? Does he agree with the words of the deputy Mayor for London responsible for policing? He said:
“We don’t allow drug dealers to advertise in newspapers so why should we allow traffickers to advertise prostitution?”
Before I was elected to this place, I was vice-chairman of my party for women. In that capacity I worked quite closely with the POPPY project, and also with the Eaves housing group, of which many Members have spoken highly. I echo those views, and would like to pay a special tribute to one of its founders, Denise Marshall. She has worked on the issue unstintingly over many years, going to places that I would not dare go myself, on behalf of the cause. Indeed, she has been awarded a CBE for her efforts. I would like to share a few of the learnings that I have picked up from Denise and her colleagues on this terrible problem, and to compliment everybody involved in getting anti-slavery day on to the statute book. It is so important that we have these hooks to remind the general public and all the law enforcement agencies of the terrible problem that still blights our country.
Many Members have spoken about the international dimension. I would like to mention another dimension. Tragically, trafficking is not confined to a cross-border business. I am afraid that I hear increasing numbers of examples of intra-country trafficking. I should remind Members that children, and in particular young girls, who are residents of care homes in their constituencies are particularly vulnerable to the ruthless and evil people who try to get them out of that home environment, so that they can be trafficked to another part of the UK- where they will be more difficult to identify-and put to work in the evil, forced sex trade.
Another matter that I would like to pick up on was raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He talked about the need for expertise in the enforcement agencies and the concerns of some Members, on both sides of the House, about the dilution of some of our specialist policing forces. As he said, there is undoubtedly a need for concentrations of expertise. That is most important. However, no matter how much expertise we can afford to fund, there will never be enough. There will always be a need for good, solid training of the wider police and of enforcement agency staff and personnel. As hon. Members have said, we are talking about a problem that can arise in any of the constituencies that we represent. Nowhere is safe, so we need to ensure that all the police are trained, and not just the specialist forces.
I know that Members will forgive me if I do not respond or refer to every contribution, but what is striking about this debate—a debate that I am rather proud to have provoked from the Back Benches, and which I am now responding to from the Front Bench—is the extent of concern and the shared views across those on all Benches. Ten months after he introduced his Bill—now the Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010—I think that Anthony Steen would be proud that we are about to celebrate anti-slavery day. That must be some kind of record for implementing a policy.
I want to focus on an issue that Members on both sides of the House have raised, which is the EU directive. The Minister has said that the Government’s position on the matter will be reviewed, and I am grateful for that. I hope that he will forgive me for being boring about this subject—for continuing to persist with it—because he will recall that his party did exactly the same in opposition. Indeed, I recall the Prime Minister—then the Leader of the Opposition—claiming credit in March 2007 for the Government’s signing of the convention, when he asked a question about it across this Dispatch Box and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said, as I recall, “We’re doing it on Friday.” The argument that he made at that time still holds: this is an international problem, and we need the best possible international collaboration between the countries that create movements of people across borders and those that receive them. I hope that the review will be concluded speedily, and that we will opt into the directive. Members have made the need for that clear today. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) also explained in very human terms why we cannot possibly opt out of providing guardians for children.
My next concern is about policing. There is a risk that centres of expertise, such as the one that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) has just mentioned, could become diluted by being merged with other institutions. I recall the words of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), when he was the Opposition spokesman, in the debate on Anthony Steen’s Bill. He said:
“The existence of one central point of information on trafficking has clearly been valuable to police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 555.]
He was talking about the UK Human Trafficking Centre, and told the House how such centres of excellence improved the quality of policing. I am worried that we now risk losing some of that specialist focus. We began to sense that risk when the UKHTC was merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and further mergers into the proposed national crime agency and a move to elsewhere in the country will mean that it will continue to exist. The widely respected director of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, told the Home Affairs Committee recently that he believed he would be “fighting for airtime” in a national crime agency.
We need to focus on how we can improve the policing of human trafficking. It is not enough to depend on a specialist border force, because many trafficked people are unaware that they are being trafficked when they cross the border. At that point, the trafficking experience has not kicked in. We need all-through expertise in order to police the issue properly. I am deeply concerned that we are about to see a cut in the number of police officers, and, without these centres of expertise, we might find ourselves policing the problem much less effectively.
I urge the Minister to make another commitment, which involves one of the requirements of the EU directive. We need to lead the training of police officers in the policing of this issue. We know that, in the best forces, where there is effective collaboration between the police and social services, we can make a real difference on this issue. If there were a proper cascading of policy and information, so that every police organisation could be at the level of the best, we could make better progress on this matter. I hope that the Minister will tell us that that is going to happen.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) told the House that the national referral mechanism was overloaded. I heard from Kalayaan just two days ago how often it has to hesitate before referring someone to the national referral mechanism because to do so would be too burdensome, because its client would not be guaranteed advocacy, or because the bureaucracy involved would add to the stress being experienced by an already-stressed person. We need to ensure that the UK Border Agency’s domination of the processes is squeezed out, as the hon. Gentleman rightly suggested, and that we use the voices of the voluntary sector and of those people who have advocated on behalf of trafficked women and children. Of course, it is overwhelmingly women and children—people who are already vulnerable—who are the victims of this vile trade. We should therefore use this expertise to protect women and children.
I hope that the Minister will also be able to assure us about prosecution policy—that there will be more prosecutions for trafficking crime, that they will be effectively conducted and that specialist prosecutors who understand the experience of the vulnerable people who have been trafficked will be used. I would like the Minister to inform us whether the offence of paying for sex with someone who has been subject to exploitation is being effectively prosecuted, as I am anxious that it is not. Will he also tell us how many prosecutions are happening, as they provide an important mechanism to prevent trafficking by reducing the demand for it?
After all, Anthony Steen passed his Bill and we are marking anti-slavery day because we want slavery and trafficking to come to an end. We have talked about ways of prosecuting those engaged in this vile trade and we have talked about ways of protecting the victims, but what we really need to do is to prevent it. To achieve that, we need effective international collaboration and effective international policing, and we need to ensure that the people who have been trafficked are not trafficked again.
One of the most horrific things about the victims is how vulnerable they are to being re-trafficked. Many trafficked people, after they have been rescued, are re-trafficked. We know, for example, that trafficked children brought into this country to work in cannabis farms—we have heard something about that experience today—who are taken into local authority care usually, and I mean usually, disappear within weeks or months into the hands of their traffickers. If they are rescued again, they disappear again. It is unacceptable—and I believe every Member of this House believes it is unacceptable—for that to continue to occur.
I believe that the European directive provides a quite powerful mechanism that can be used to help in those circumstances by providing each child with a guardian. I want the Minister to sign up to the directive and I hope that he is going to tell us that he is taking steps to do so. If he does not sign up to it, however, the least he can do is to ensure that he really does what I am sure the Prime Minister believed we were really doing, which is doing everything in that directive.
I have been a Home Office Minister and, frankly, I know that Home Office officials have form in telling Ministers, “We are already doing that, Minister.” I believe that this Minister might have the guts to say to those officials, “Actually, show me how. Here is the provision in the directive; show me precisely how it works. If you cannot show me precisely how, let us implement a policy to do it.” I am scared that, with the cuts in policing and other expenditure cuts, even the protection that we are currently able to offer women and children will be watered down. I hope, however, that this Minister will not let that happen.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). She instituted the debate from the Back Benches, as she said, but she was miraculously and rightly transformed to the Front Bench before this debate, so she can now reply on behalf of the Opposition. In listening to this debate, I have been struck not only by how passionate, but by how erudite many speeches have been. There is a huge amount of expertise in the House on this vital issue, as Members of all parties have said, and I will certainly take that away with me as we contemplate future policy.
We are here because, although the first anti-slavery day fell on 18 October, the Government have decided to align Britain’s anti-slavery day with the existing EU anti-slavery day, partly as a reminder of the need for international co-ordination in this regard—a point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and many other Members in all parts of the House. I am sure that Anthony Steen would approve of our alignment with the EU in this context, although I am less sure that his successor as chairman of the all-party group would be quite as enthusiastic.
Anyone outside the House who is listening to the debate or will read the report in Hansard may be led to believe that Anthony Steen is no longer with us. I am happy to assure everyone that he was e-mailing me this morning, and I hope to see him somewhere on Monday so that we can jointly celebrate anti-slavery day.
The day will provide a focus for not just the work of Government, but—this is important—the contribution of the many voluntary sector groups that raise awareness and deal with the practical consequences of this terrible crime.
I am most grateful to the Minister. Will he also acknowledge the voluntary groups in the countries from which many people are trafficked? This week we have had the honour of a visit by Joseph D’souza of the Dalit Freedom Network, who will be in my constituency tonight. The network does tremendous work in India.
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. There are voluntary groups all over the world.
At the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said that prevention was essentially better than cure. In the short time available to me, I want to inform the House of the future direction of trafficking policy.
We all agree that trafficking is an appalling crime which treats people as commodities and exploits them for criminal gain. Combating human trafficking is a priority for the Government; what we have been discussing today is how it can best be achieved. We are seeking to improve the United Kingdom’s response to the wider threat from organised crime, which includes trafficking. The Government’s consultation paper “Policing in the 21st century” sets out our intention to produce a new strategy on organised crime, as well as referring to the creation of a national crime agency to make the fight against organised crime more effective. We therefore have an opportunity to ensure that there is specific consideration of the challenges involved in fighting human trafficking.
The Government intend to produce a new strategy on combating human trafficking, which will take up many of the points raised in the debate. I am sorry that I do not have time to deal with each point individually. The new strategy will be aligned with and published alongside the strategy on organised crime. It will reiterate the Government’s intention to take a comprehensive approach to combating trafficking, both by combating the traffickers and by looking after the victims. It will mark a greater focus on combating the organised crime groups behind the trade. I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee that an end-to-end approach is necessary.
The new strategy has four main components. It will enhance our ability to act early, before the harm has reached the UK; there will be smarter, multi-agency action at our border; there will be more co-ordination of our policing effort inside Britain; and victim care arrangements will be improved. Let me deal with those components in turn.
Human trafficking is obviously a cross-border crime, and our earliest opportunity to counter the threat is therefore in the source countries and the transit regions. By intervening early, we can prevent harm from being done to people and reduce the impact here in the UK. As many Members have pointed out, interventions abroad can appear far removed from a flat or a brothel somewhere in a British city or small town—or, indeed, in a factory or farm where people are exploited for labour services—but we know that early intervention produces results. For example, a three-year trafficking investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Lithuanian police, which concluded in 2008, led to the dismantling of six crime groups in the UK, prison sentences totalling 145 years for 17 people in the UK and Lithuania, and the recovery of 32 victims. That is the kind of action that is needed all over the world.
What we are proposing is to bring together our political and diplomatic activities along with our enforcement efforts. We want to ensure they share common objectives, focused on places where criminal operations are based. That will be done in partnership with the source countries. We will therefore look at the full range of interventions open to us. Through political and diplomatic dialogue, we will build political will to combat trafficking and translate that into initiatives on the ground in other countries. We will protect potential victims by intercepting the traffickers before their activities impact on the UK. That is the first step.
The second step is at our border, which is the next line of defence against traffickers. As many Members have said, combating trafficking at the border is difficult, not least because victims will often be unaware of the traffickers’ real intentions. Increased vigilance and more effective deterrence and interceptions are key. This will be one of the tasks of the national crime agency and its border police command. We want to embed that thought inside the new BPC in order to enhance our response at our borders. We will also look at how we can build on the success of the multi-agency child safeguarding and investigation teams at some of the UK’s ports, and we will continue to roll out the e-Borders programme. That captures passenger and crew movements into and out of the UK and can be used to identify and intercept those suspected of a number of offences including trafficking.
The third step is inside the UK. Our domestic law enforcement response to trafficking will remain a vital part of our overall enforcement efforts. Significant progress has been made in raising awareness of trafficking and the capability to combat it among police forces through enforcement operations and mandatory training on trafficking for all new police officers. That is a step forward. The UK Human Trafficking Centre is an important resource in helping police forces by offering tactical advice, co-ordination and intelligence. Through the new strategy we will ensure that there is more effective strategic co-ordination of our existing efforts and that that leads to more targeted enforcement action on the ground. What that means in practice is that there needs to be clarity about the roles and responsibilities of police forces in combating human trafficking on the streets of Britain and better co-ordination, for example through tools like the control strategy on organised crime, which provides a framework for action by law enforcement agencies.
The fourth step is victim care, which is very important. As I have said, we want to have a greater focus on enforcement, but our aim is to prevent harm being done to people. Trafficking is a covert crime and the victims are often unaware that they are being trafficked until it is too late. When that happens, we need to ensure that we have the right arrangements in place to meet the care needs of victims. That will remain central to our approach. The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK meets its obligations to victims as set out under the Council of Europe convention on trafficking, which was signed a few years ago. More than 700 potential victims were referred in the first year after the convention was implemented, which is a significant achievement. We are committed to improving our response. We also plan to introduce a more effective system of victim care that takes better account of the needs of individual victims and ensures that each identified victim receives an appropriate level of support. We will announce further details of these proposals shortly. I should add that many practical suggestions were made during the course of the debate, which I will take up and feed into the process.
Of course, the comprehensive spending review will be announced next week. As we have already made clear in relation to the NCA, we will make sure that more law enforcement activity is undertaken against more organised criminals and at reduced cost. To achieve that, we will prioritise resources by targeting the most serious criminals and being more joined-up, particularly in our activities overseas; we often have different agencies operating in foreign capitals and other large cities who do not work together as effectively as they should.
The European directive has been a dominant theme in many Members’ contributions. The draft directive does not contain any operational co-operation measures from which we think we would benefit. It will improve the way in which some other EU states combat trafficking, but it would make little difference to the way we combat it. As I have said however, the directive is not yet finalised so if we conclude later that it would help us fight human trafficking, we can opt in then.
In conclusion, we will re-focus our efforts and make sure that this country maintains its reputation as a world leader in trying to end the disgusting and unacceptable survival of slavery in the modern world.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).