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Trafficking in Human Beings

Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

[Relevant document: The Twenty-fourth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 428-xxii.]

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. PE-CONS 69/10, relating to the Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA; and supports the Government’s intention to apply to opt in post-adoption under Article 4 of Protocol 21 on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice.

I thank members of the European Scrutiny Committee for giving us the opportunity to set out why the Government wish to opt in to the EU directive on human trafficking and the benefits it will bring to the UK. I hope that this debate will secure the Committee’s support for this important measure, which I believe further strengthens the UK’s position on tackling human trafficking. I also welcome this debate as a step forward for parliamentary scrutiny. We welcome the Committee’s consideration of the Government’s intention to opt in and its detailed report, in which the Committee acknowledged that the objective of preventing and combating trafficking cannot be sufficiently achieved by member states alone and can, by reason of both its scale and effects, be better achieved by action at EU level. Our intention to opt in is consistent with that view.

I know that Committee members recognise that human trafficking is an abuse of human rights that feeds on the exploitation of victims—men, women and children. The victims of this appalling crime are mere commodities in the hands of organised crime groups, and their exploitation causes severe and lasting harm. We are clear that tackling this crime is of the highest priority. Human trafficking is a complex, covert and cross-border crime that demands an international response. The UK is a world leader in its anti-trafficking work, but that does not mean that we should stand still. Rather, we have a responsibility to lead the way in the fight against trafficking and develop increasingly sophisticated responses to the changing nature of the organised crime landscape.

Does the Minister welcome the recent developments in the EU that will provide for more border checks within the Schengen area? When the Select Committee on Home Affairs last reported on this, it found that traffickers could pass through the Schengen area without being stopped. These new arrangements, which the EU seems to be putting in place, will mean more checks within the area, which might mean that we catch more people involved in this terrible crime.

The right hon. Gentleman might well be right. However, it would be unhelpful for me to comment generally on the developments in the Schengen area that, as he and the House will know, might be introduced as a result of events in north Africa. Certainly, however, I agree with the general proposition that each EU member state has to consider its own border arrangements and internal policing arrangements to make it easier for all of us to work together on an international basis in combating what is by definition an international crime. That means that to deal with this problem we have to work closely with our international partners, and applying to opt in to the directive is a positive step that Britain can take towards this goal.

As the House will be aware, we chose not to opt in to the directive when it was initially put on the table last summer, because the draft text had to go through an extensive period of negotiation between the European Council and the European Parliament. We wanted to be absolutely sure that the text would not change during those negotiations in a way that would be detrimental to the integrity of the UK’s criminal justice system. We wanted to consider a final text that had no risks attached and would not fundamentally change the UK’s already strong position in the fight against human trafficking.

No, I do not, because once the text was available, we looked at it and made the recommendation very quickly, so there has been no practical delay at all. We have examined in great detail the final text and its impacts on the UK, and have concluded that applying to opt in would benefit the UK as well as—most importantly—the victims of trafficking. Applying to opt in to the directive will maintain our position and will continue to send a signal to traffickers that the UK is very serious about tackling trafficking.

I am absolutely clear, however, that merely applying to opt in is not enough. We have much work to do to ensure that the directive is implemented in an effective way across the UK. There has been great interest in how we will implement certain measures in it, which I will deal with in a moment. The UK already complies with the majority of its measures. We have said from the outset that opting in to the directive will require us to make some legislative changes to ensure full compliance, and we are ready to do that. This will include widening extra-territorial jurisdiction. The directive requires us to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction when the offender is a UK national. It also gives us discretion about whether to establish jurisdiction over cases in which the offender is an habitual resident.

I know that that issue has caused much debate; another is that of child guardians. On this, the directive contains a number of important provisions about assistance and support for child victims of trafficking. We are confident that the UK is compliant with those measures. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of all children, regardless of their immigration status or nationality. We believe that this responsibility should remain with the local authorities that co-ordinate the arrangements for each child to ensure that they are safe and to promote their welfare.

Does the Minister agree that local authorities are going to need some training, direction and guidance on this matter? The record of child victims of trafficking disappearing from local authority care very soon after their admission is shocking and disturbing.

I agree that there have been severe difficulties in that regard. My hon. Friend will know that there tends to be a concentration of child victims of trafficking in certain local authorities, and one of the things that encourages me is the way in which local authorities—particularly those that are the most affected—are now learning best practice from each other and getting a grip on the problem of disappearance, which has afflicted many child victims of trafficking. For instance, Hertfordshire has, by adopting new systems, reduced the number of children who disappear from 36 to two in 12 months.

Great improvements are clearly needed, but we have already seen them being made in some local authorities, which are developing the kind of systems that are effective in enabling them to fulfil their statutory duty to protect children. They have comprehensive systems in place to do this, and adding another guardian to that framework would risk creating another level of complexity in arrangements that are already strong and that ensure the best interests of the child. Even worse, it would risk creating confusion for children themselves if plans for their care were not effectively co-ordinated.

What would be the difference between having an independent reviewing officer and advocate, and having a guardian? Is it the Minister’s view that the combination of an IRO and an advocate amounts to a guardian?

That is exactly my view, and having another guardian would be confusing and potentially bureaucratic. Indeed, in discussions with the very energetic all-party group on human trafficking, one of its leading officers, the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss, made the point that when the directive talks about a guardian, it does not, in her view, mean a guardian ad litem—a legal representative of the child—who would deal with the courts, as happens in “normal” child protection issues. The truth is that the concept of the guardian in the directive is slightly vague, and slightly declaratory, and we believe that our present system is already achieving what the directive wants us to achieve.

Another provision that has generated great interest is the idea of a national rapporteur on human trafficking. Again, we believe that we have equivalent mechanisms in place that fulfil that purpose, in the form of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, for data collection, and the inter-departmental ministerial group, for oversight. I recognise the concerns expressed by hon. Members and others that this function should be carried out by an independent body, and I will keep those arguments under consideration.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on these measures, which are welcomed by many of us. Will he tell us what new police initiatives he envisages as a result of the motion, given the evidence of the success of Operations Pentameter 1, Pentameter 2 and Golf? Focused police effort has made a major difference.

My hon. Friend is right to say that good things were done during the focused police action under the two Pentameter operations. One result is that combating trafficking has become much more a part of mainstream police work than it was a few years ago. There will be further developments on the activities of the national crime agency and, more specifically, on the new trafficking strategy that will be announced in the coming weeks. I will come to that in a second, if he will excuse me.

I absolutely welcome the Government’s decision to opt in to the directive, as does the all-party group on human trafficking. We are concerned, however, about the Government’s decision on the rapporteur. I am all European and I like that sort of thing, and I hope that the Government have not closed their mind to the idea. I do not think that the mechanism that the Minister has outlined is good enough.

I am sure that the whole House will echo my pleasure at my hon. Friend welcoming this opt-in to a European directive. I cannot say how delighted I am to be on the same side as him in this argument. As I have said, I will listen to the arguments about an independent rapporteur, but I would merely observe that only two EU countries have adopted the mechanism that he favours. It is therefore reasonable to say that the jury is out on whether that is the most appropriate way forward.

I want to be clear that applying to opt in to the directive is only one part of the wide range of work that we are carrying out to tackle trafficking. Despite the difficult financial climate, we have protected funding for adult victims. We have set aside £2 million a year for the next three years to fund support provision for adult victims of human trafficking. As part of our wider work to tackle trafficking, we have introduced a new model for funding specialist support for adult victims. This will ensure that each identified victim receives support tailored to their individual needs and in line with the standards set out in the Council of Europe convention. It will also ensure effective co-ordination and monitoring of the support on offer, while enabling a greater range of service providers to support victims of this crime. These changes will result in a more comprehensive system of care that will take better account of the particular needs of individual victims. The flexibility of the new model will also mean that we are better equipped to meet the victim care requirements contained in the directive.

The strategy on human trafficking will set out in more detail the direction of our work on trafficking, and this will be published shortly. As I have just mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), the strategy will set out the steps that we will take across four key areas: disrupting trafficking networks before they reach the UK; smarter multi-agency working at the border; more co-ordination of our law enforcement efforts in the United Kingdom; and improved victim care arrangements. As I said during the anti-slavery day debate in the House last October, the strategy will maintain the focus on victims and also put renewed effort into upstream enforcement, without compromising in any way our commitment to victim care. We will continue to work with a range of partners to achieve this. I hope that the House will support the Government’s intention to apply to opt in to the directive, and I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the Government’s decision. We asked for it some 40 times before they decided to do it, but that does not make the decision any less welcome. It is a recognition of the need to work between countries in this area of international abuse of human rights. Getting more effective collaboration between countries is critical if we are effectively to drive down the extent of human trafficking.

I genuinely welcome what the Government have done, but I think there is still a gap between refining the law, creating the right procedures and perfecting the administrative procedures that happen on the ground. If we look at our record on apprehending traffickers, we find that the numbers apprehended remain unconvincing. There is a huge gap between the estimated number of traffickers and the number of prosecutions. Victims largely remain invisible unless they are uncovered as a result of raids. Some victims have been identified through the national referral mechanism, but I am concerned about the way in which the NRM seems to have an attrition rate of about 50% after the initial recognition and 50% on the final recognition. Every organisation working in this field believes that a huge number of victims have not yet been identified.

Does the hon. Lady agree that although, as we heard from the Minister, there are hotspots around the country, there is a danger of forgetting that this can be a problem absolutely everywhere? There is a great deal of unreported trafficking in areas that might not be hotspots but still need to be the focus of Government attention.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I fear that I probably represent a hotspot—one of the few constituencies in which successful prosecutions for child trafficking have been launched—yet I recall hearing a police officer from rural Dorset talking about his experience of finding in a local brothel women who had been trafficked. Police officers involved in the post-Ipswich work were shocked at the number of trafficked women they found in brothels in very nice parts of East Anglia. I think it is clear that this is happening all over the country and that we are not yet drilling down to the bottom of the problem. I know that trafficking is not just an issue across international borders, as it also occurs within the UK. I welcome the fact that the directive reflects that, so that we will be able to deal with internal trafficking around the country, which is a critical issue.

My concern is that, without targets—Pentameter 1 and 2 provided them—the police do not have sufficient incentives to deal with the problem. I agree with the Minister that it is becoming more mainstream police business, but I also know that some police forces have not learned what we have just been reminded of by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton)—that the trafficking is happening here. It is not given sufficient priority and many victims fail to be identified.

Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about the level of cuts to the police forces, particularly in areas such as port security, where traffickers probe for a weak point when they are bringing people into the country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under Pentameter 2, an expert team was set up at Heathrow, which was able to identify children who came through the airport without their parents, as they were particularly vulnerable. That team is not replicated at other ports of entry, and there seems to be compelling evidence to show that Eurotunnel is a route increasingly used by child traffickers because that same kind of expertise is not deployed to identify and interdict child trafficking at the port.

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech and knows a lot about the subject. Would Her Majesty’s Opposition support the Government in respect of the border police, as one of its roles is to make sure that trafficked victims are not brought in through our ports?

The Opposition will support any effective border measures that help to protect this country’s borders against illegal immigration and to prevent the victimisation of people through trafficking. We are absolutely on side when it comes to both those things. The targets that existed under previous nationally initiated police operations are, in my view, necessary to make this kind of work, which I welcome, operate effectively.

Another theme in the directive is the importance of looking after victims. I am concerned about the recent decision to replace POPPY as the provider of victim care. I think that the POPPY project was the most exemplary pioneer in its work on victim care. One thing it was prepared to do because of its independence was to challenge decisions on behalf of victims who were not identified as victims by the national referral mechanism. Will the Minister give a guarantee that the present arrangements for providing victim care will include a willingness to act on behalf of those victims who have not been identified by what amounts, frankly, to a bit of a tick-box exercise when it comes to the questionnaires issued by the NRM? Will the new victim care arrangements allow decisions by the NRM to be challenged so that people who have not been designated as victims of trafficking can be properly protected?

I share the hon. Lady’s admiration for the work of the POPPY project. There is no doubt about the excellence of its organisation. It was, however, in receipt of nearly £1 million for doing its work. Does she accept that it is worth at least trying to allow the new organisation, which will provide care for more victims with the same amount of money—we have heard that the actual amount has been increased, but pro rata I believe it will provide care for more—to get on with its job?

That is what the contract requires of the new organisation. I did not make any criticism of it because I wish it well. It has the job now, although I am sad that POPPY’s talent might be lost as it had powerful experience to bring to bear on the problem. I asked for a specific assurance that the new organisation will be allowed to challenge—and provided with the finance, perhaps retrospectively—in cases where its advisers and support staff believe that a decision by the NRM has been inaccurate. I put that question to the Minister and I am sure he will come back to it in his reply.

I accept that we need value-for-money services. Personally, I thought POPPY provided pretty good value for money for the women victims whom it supported and I hope that the new arrangements will provide a similar quality of support for women, which is gender sensitive and so forth. I know that part of the ambition was to extend it beyond trafficked women to male victims of trafficking—an initiative that I welcome—but I hope we will continue to have the gender sensitivity that is required in the directive and that POPPY so exemplarily displayed.

As the Minister who announced the result of the competition this morning, I want to make it clear that although the Salvation Army, which won the contract, will expect to administer directly about 25% of the funds made available by the Ministry of Justice, 75%—£1.5 million a year—will remain available to organisations such as POPPY so that they can provide the services that they have provided in the past. Although the Salvation Army has taken over the leading role, it will not do all the work itself, and we will need to use the expertise of organisations such as POPPY.

As the Minister knows—because we have discussed the matter before—POPPY did bid for the provision and his system did not approve the bid. It is quite possible that the requirements that the Salvation Army will lay on the organisation to which it subcontracts will not be appropriate for POPPY. As the Minister knows, POPPY had to bite its tongue a bit to make the bid in the first place, and I encouraged it to do so. We cannot be certain that it will be able to continue—or afford to continue—to provide a service of this kind.

The Minister for Immigration referred to the rapporteur requirement in article 19. I welcome his recognition that—notwithstanding the memorandum that he supplied to the Committee, according to which this was provided by the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the inter-ministerial group on human trafficking—there is a question to be asked about whether some more independent mechanism might be appropriate. I strongly urge him to adopt that route, and I am glad that he has left the door open.

I believe that the inter-ministerial group has met once since the election of the present Government. I do not think that that suggests a great degree of oversight. It also worries me that UKHTC does not provide public reports of its work or accessible statistics. In contrast, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which is part of the same mechanism, provides detailed figures and reports which enable it to hold the body to account. I think that we need a body which will report to this Parliament, and which will provide it with the necessary figures and details.

I talked recently to representatives of ECPAT, an exemplary organisation that supports child victims of trafficking. They said that the most recent figures they could get out of UKHTC did not break down the details of victims of trafficking—even children—according to nationality and age, which would have enabled them properly to understand how that ghastly phenomenon operates. I urge the Minister to establish a mechanism which can report to Parliament, and which recognises that the job of a rapporteur is not to administer but to find information and report it. At present, the bodies to which he refers in his memorandum do not go in for much reporting.

Finally, let me deal with the issue of child victims. Shortly before the debate, a number of members of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking heard an excellent presentation by Barnardo’s about its work with children who have been sexually exploited. Some have been trafficked, and some are victims of a sexual exploitation of a kind that has parallels with child trafficking. Barnardo’s estimates that there are 1,000 sexually exploited children in Britain today, and that the experience of those children, when they come into contact with the criminal justice system, is of being criminalised rather than treated as victims. I believe that Members on both sides of the House feel shame about that.

There is an urgent need for us to provide proper protection mechanisms for child victims of trafficking, and that will require, among other things, a proper guardianship system. We know that although, in theory, local authorities take responsibility for the welfare of children, that is not always the case in practice. The Minister mentioned some good practice in Hertfordshire, which we welcome, but, as he is aware, that is the exception rather than the rule. We know that trafficked children disappear from local authority care every week, and that, rather than being found a few weeks later, they are never found. It is horrific that those most vulnerable, most exploited children are not being protected. It is not just a question of protecting them against an uncle, or whoever is trying to instruct a lawyer on their behalf when it comes to criminal proceedings; it is also a question of protecting them against continuing re-trafficking, which, as is fairly clear, is unfortunately what is happening to many children in Britain today.

Signing the directive would give Britain an opportunity to make a real difference, but we need a practical strategy to implement its proposals. We were promised that in the spring, and the Minister referred to it again tonight, but progress seems to be at best confused, and at worst even more confused. It is slow and a bit muddled. I have been told by voluntary organisations that have been consulted about what the strategy might include that different Home Office civil servants have been put in charge of it, that meetings keep being arranged and then cancelled, that people are not given papers before meetings, and that the timing of a meeting that was due to happen the following day is changed and no agenda is circulated.

I believe that the increasing number of voluntary organisations that deal with human trafficking—including the excellent Human Trafficking Foundation, which was created by a former Member of Parliament for Totnes—are beginning to feel that the Government are trying to use them as a free research resource without listening to their concerns. We want the strategy, and we want it to be as specific as the last strategy—which, I note, has disappeared from the Home Office website, and which had the benefit of specific targets.

I hope that the Minister for Immigration will be able to reassure us that there will be proper consultation about the strategy, that voluntary civil society organisations will be involved as is required by the directive, that they will be properly involved and not asked to attend meetings without an agenda, and that the strategy will be not merely a high-level document with no specific facts and figures enabling people to be held to account, but a concrete set of promises. It is time that we had such a strategy. It was promised for the spring, and my gardening practice tells me that the spring is very nearly over.

Let me end by welcoming today’s decision, which I am sure the whole House will support, and by urging the Minister to do more to make the provision work well in practice. He has some of the necessary ideas, but we need to ensure that they are implemented.

I am very pleased that we are having this debate. The fact that we are doing so is a tribute to Members on both sides of the House and others, including the Minister for Immigration, the Home Secretary, the members of the all-party group on human trafficking, Anthony Steen and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). It is a collective achievement, therefore.

As Members will know, in Europe alone the estimated value of trafficking is £3 billion, and about 140,000 people are being held in conditions of effective slavery in Europe. This morning, I had a meeting with Croydon Community Against Trafficking, which has done very good work in identifying brothels. From its research, it concluded that there were 65 brothels in Croydon. It passed that information to the police in Croydon, who had identified only eight brothels. This shows the scale of the problem we are facing both in European terms and at the local level, and it highlights the fact that human trafficking, especially for the sex industry, is a significant issue.

I want to thank the Home Secretary again. We have had an extensive exchange of correspondence on this matter over the past three months or so, and there are a couple of points on which I seek clarification relating to the impact the EU human trafficking directive will have in the UK and any additional measures the Government might intend to take. When I intervened on the Minister on the topic of guardians, he said he was confident that the combination of an independent reviewing officer and an advocate was, in effect, a guardian or the equivalent thereof. I am sure he is right, and I hope so too because when we have to respond to the petition on guardians with 600,000 signatures that ECPAT is apparently going to be handing in on Thursday 12 May, it will be much easier if all Members can collectively say that the matter has been addressed. It will save us a significant amount of pain if we are in a position to say that.

It is my understanding that forced begging is already a crime in the UK. I ask the Minister to clarify either now or later whether a comparable legal penalty is attached to that, and whether as a result of the implementation of the human trafficking directive we will follow other countries in recording the figures for forced begging so that we can draw straight comparisons. In my mind at least, there was also some confusion as to whether other offences that are not currently covered in the UK are addressed by the directive and therefore whether we might now have other offences as well as forced begging.

Victims of trafficking receive free medical care, but what support in respect of accommodation, and especially safe accommodation, is there, and does the Minister expect that to be provided to all victims?

On the protection of victims in criminal proceedings, the Home Secretary confirmed that special measures such as witness protection and anonymity are not guaranteed, but are granted on a case-by-case basis. I hope the Minister can give some reassurance that they will be available in cases where that is clearly necessary. Also, there is a suggestion in the response that if legal aid is not available, victims should seek help from non-legal professionals or legal voluntary organisations such as citizens advice bureaux. Given the nature of these crimes, will the Minister consider whether victims should, in fact, receive proper legal support when they require it?

I referred in my opening comments to Croydon Community Against Trafficking, and I congratulate that voluntary organisation on the work it is doing. Following promptings from Anthony Steen, it is trying to expand its network to all the London boroughs. Many of its activities are based on following leads from adverts as they appear in newspapers. I am sure that Members will welcome the fact that Newsquest—which produces many of the local newspapers around the country, including my own, the Sutton Guardian—has given a guarantee that it will not carry these ads. That is not the case for others, however, such as the Advertiser group. I am afraid that on occasion its papers are in the bizarre situation of featuring on the front page articles about raids on brothels that have resulted in their being shut down, while on the back pages carrying adverts for the services of those brothels. I hope the Minister will address that. He has welcomed the actions of Newsquest, and I wonder whether he might like to put a challenge to other newspaper groups in respect of the adverts they continue to carry.

I also ask the Minister to set out how he sees the time scales developing from now on, in respect of any other measures that might be taken or hoops that might have to be jumped through, before we can finally say that the EU human trafficking directive has been adopted in its entirety and we can once again commend all the actions that have collectively been taken to ensure this becomes part of the UK’s legislation.

As always, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) in a debate on human trafficking. He served with distinction on the Select Committee on Home Affairs a few months ago when we published our report into human trafficking. That took over a year to complete, not because we were not seeking to inform the House more quickly, but because the more we investigated this very important subject, the more information came before us and the more we wanted to get to the bottom of the root causes of human trafficking.

This is a unique debate because Members on both sides of the House are lavishing praise on the decision of the Minister and the Government. That is an unusual situation for the Minister for Immigration, which he should appreciate and put in the bank for future occasions. He and the Government have done absolutely the right thing in opting into this directive. It will make a huge difference in respect of our uncovering the sources of human trafficking and dealing with those criminals who make such a vast amount of money—£32 billion worldwide, which makes trafficking the second largest illegal industry after drugs. If as a result of what the Government are doing today we catch more of these criminals, signing in will be worth it.

It is right that we pay tribute to Anthony Steen for the work he has done for many years. Even though he is no longer a Member of the House, his spirit lives on in the all-party group and I am sure he is watching the deliberations of the House today and that tomorrow I and other Members will be getting an e-mail pointing out all the things we should have said on this matter and all the things he feels we can help him with in the future.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who took over as chairman of the all-party group and has done a fantastic job in ensuring this issue remains at the forefront of the work of Parliament. Given his views on Europe, he is going to make a piece of incredible parliamentary history today in supporting an opt-in to something that has been proposed by the European Union. We should not forget this important piece of parliamentary history. We will hear from others involved in tackling trafficking, and may I say what a good thing it is that the House is relatively full for this time of night?

As has been said, this is of course an issue for this country, but we need primarily to go to the sources of human trafficking to try to find out why and how people are trafficked. As part of that, we need to examine the developments in the European Union, and I raised that issue when the Minister spoke just now. The recent developments on the Schengen arrangements will help us to try to catch some of these criminals. This country is, rightly, not part of those arrangements, so we are observers and we have no direct interest in those matters. We are not the decision makers—this will be done without the United Kingdom’s involvement—but of course we are the beneficiaries of any changes to the Schengen arrangements that mean that the borders of Schengen countries are protected and measures are in place to ensure that those who seek to use the freedom of movement in the European Union for criminal purposes, be it illegal immigration or human trafficking, are checked very carefully. I hope that, although we are only observers, the Minister and the Government will make relevant comments to our colleagues in the European Union about how these measures will affect not only illegal immigration, but, more particularly, because of the nature of this debate, the way in which we deal with those involved in human trafficking. These measures are not an end but a beginning and this Government, Members of this House and others have a constant desire to make sure that we are vigilant against those who are trafficking people.

I have spoken in debates on this subject before and I must say that a lot of the trafficking goes unnoticed. It is now being targeted in new development areas that have a high prevalence of rented property, where people cannot name their neighbours and do not necessarily spot anything untoward when people come and go at early hours. We need to be vigilant in our communities to ensure that we are feeding that information to the police and the local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the need for vigilance. We sometimes talk about trafficking as if it were a global problem—and of course it is—but it is found in our neighbourhoods. It is a problem for local communities and we need to collect that information and make sure the police are in a position to act on it. In a real sense, this is a neighbourhood watch issue; it is about whether people are prepared to spot what is happening locally and report it to the police.

During the recess, I took the opportunity to visit Tandarei, in Romania. I felt that I had got closure, because I had been trying to do that for a number of years, including with my Select Committee. We had heard about this town in Romania that had been transformed because of the money that had been sent by children who had been begging on the streets of London, Madrid, Paris and other major European cities. We received the co-operation of the Romanian Government, and I wish to pay tribute to the excellent work that they have done. I also wish to pay tribute to the work of the Romanian police, in concert with the Metropolitan police, on Operation Golf, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is no longer in his place. That international co-operation goes beyond directives of the kind that we are discussing, but the close co-operation of the Metropolitan police and the Romanian police led to many people being arrested in Tandarei.

In Tandarei, we saw a number of very expensive villas that had been built as a result of the proceeds of trafficking and a number of very expensive cars. We spoke with the mayor and other officials there and I must put on the record the fact that they, of course, denied any involvement in human trafficking and denied that children were being sent from this remote Romanian village to London, Madrid, Paris and other major cities. However, they did say that money had been flowing into Tandarei. The figures that we were given showed that £2.8 million had been transferred through legitimate means—through Western Union and by other means of transferring money—into that town last year, and it is estimated by the authorities that many millions more had gone there. Those who live in that town have said that the children go voluntarily, with the consent of their parents, to raise money for the betterment of their local communities. We therefore have a duty to engage with these communities, through the excellent work of the Romanian authorities and the Romanian Government, to try to explain that this is not the right thing to do with young children and that the best place for them is with their parents and families. As neighbours, partners and colleagues in the European Union, we should also provide whatever help is necessary.

Some people may think that this problem cannot be solved, but I think that it can. I believe that this will be solved by going to the source countries, such as Moldova, a third of whose population has left that country over the past 10 years, and origin countries in north Africa from which people are being trafficked. We have read the stories of those who are now coming from Libya, some of whom are paying huge sums to get out of that country. Some of them end up in Italy, and I spoke this morning to the Italian ambassador about the problem. Last week, I spoke to the Greek ambassador about the number of people from Moldova and Afghanistan who end up in Turkey. Many of those people have just one ambition, which is to live in the United Kingdom, and they will pay any amount of money in order to do so.

A lot of tonight’s debate has focused on the supply and the trafficking, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need a double-pronged approach and that we should also put emphasis on those who use these establishments? Does he agree that the police and local authorities need to educate and prosecute the people who make use of these establishments?

The hon. Gentleman is right. Of course, the previous Government introduced legislation making it an offence for someone to engage in sexual relations with someone who may have been trafficked. We had a debate about that and it is an absolute offence. He is right to say that we must limit the supply by intelligent policing and co-operation, and that we must reduce the demand by being very firm on those who are part of that system—he leads me to an excellent place to end my speech. If this Parliament can do that and if the Government can opt into this directive, we will have moved a step closer to eradicating this terrible, terrible problem.

It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and, as usual, I agreed with every word he said. I very much appreciate his kind words about me and, in return, I shall say that the work of the Home Affairs Committee under his chairmanship is most welcomed in this field.

It would be wrong of me to start without mentioning the two excellent Ministers on the Treasury Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), and my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, who have played an important role in bringing us to where we are tonight. They have both had the time and the patience to talk to the all-party group on human trafficking and we appreciate that.

I welcome the directive and I should also congratulate the previous Government, because, on a non-party political basis, we are building on their work. They took us into the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, which is now being embodied in EU law. The all-party group, under Anthony Steen, did much in the previous Parliament to push that Government in that direction and it is the role of our group to continue to push this Government. Although we welcome the debate and will lavish praise on the Government tonight, we will return to particular points and push the Government hard. My great concern about the EU directive, which I have expressed on many occasions, is that it must be seen as the minimum, not the maximum. We must go much further than it does.

For me, the great thing about opting into the directive is that it sends a message to EU countries that in this country we are serious about the problem, which will encourage other EU countries to do more. We cannot stop human trafficking on our own; we must work with our European neighbours to stop it. To that end, I am pleased with the all-party group’s initiative to try to set up similar all-party groups in other parts of the EU. We have obtained a grant from the EU to do that.

I praise both Ministers for the decision on victim support. The Under-Secretary has not blown his own trumpet enough tonight, as, at a time when there are cuts, it is quite amazing that the Government have managed to increase the funding for victim support. Personally—this is my view, not necessarily that of the all-party group—I think it was right to award the contract for looking after adult victims to the Salvation Army. I have seen the proposal and how it will spread a network of safe homes across the country, involving many different organisations. In a way, it is a big society solution to the problem. Although the POPPY project did an excellent job, it was very London-based. More victims will be looked after better by the new solution and I congratulate the Ministry of Justice on that.

There is one great scandal on which we will continue to press the Government. Adult victims of human trafficking are looked after in this country, previously through the POPPY project and now through the Salvation Army, and they are put into safe homes and helped back into normal life. They can either go home to their country of origin or settle properly into this country and they are given help in bringing prosecutions against the dreadful people who do the human trafficking. It must be far worse for a child victim of human trafficking than for an adult. A young child, aged 15 or so, might be brought into this country having been told that they will have a job in a store, but might suddenly find that they are in a brothel and repeatedly forced to have sex. That must be far worse for a child than for an adult.

What happens to those child victims? As a child, the local authority has to look after them, but there is no particular provision for local authorities to look after trafficked children. They do not even identify them—the provision is a bolt-on to the local authority system. All that happens is that these children are taken into care and then re-trafficked. That scandal must be sorted out. I am pleased that the Government have just awarded a grant to Barnardo’s to set up a safe-home system for children. Admittedly, there will be only 16 children to start with, but that has to be the way forward. We must treat trafficked children differently from ordinary children who come into local authority care. The all-party group will be pressing the Government on that issue over the next few months.

I also welcome the Government’s four-pronged approach to trafficking and to setting the new goals. I also welcome the fact that they are taking time to reach a decision, as I would prefer them to take as long as possible and to get it right. I do not really care whether in Government terms the spring finishes at the end of July, so long as we get it right. There was much criticism of the Government before, saying that they would not opt into the EU directive, but they have done so. Now, there is a lot of chatter that the Government will make a mess of the strategy on human trafficking, but I do not believe that. I hope that when it comes before us we can have another debate and can push the Government further. We are clearly moving in the right direction.

There are two issues about the directive that I want to mention which I think the Government are going to have to consider seriously over the next few months. The first concerns the rapporteur—I have only just learned how to say that word because it is foreign. It seems to me that the Dutch model is better than any of the others. It has a rapporteur and a secretary and they account for the whole cost of the system, so it is a minimal amount of money. The rapporteur reports independently to Parliament once a year on how trafficking is going in the Netherlands and how the Government’s policies work—that is her entire role. It would be really good if we could replicate that system in this country. Of course, I think that our first rapporteur should be Anthony Steen, who was in the Palace of Westminster earlier talking about this very debate, but whomever we might consider for the role, we should look into doing that.

The second issue, which is perhaps more difficult, is the requirement under the directive to have guardianship. I shall be at No. 10 Downing street on Thursday, helping to deliver a petition about guardianship that I believe has more than 600,000 names as a result of a campaign by the Body Shop and ECPAT—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. This is a difficult issue—I do not want to pretend that it is not—but we have to get to grips with it and I hope that we in the all-party group can work with the Government to find a solution.

The Government have done an excellent job on this and I respect the effort and time that the Ministers have put in, as well as the constructive criticism that has come from the Opposition. This is a night to celebrate, but I shall come back in future weeks to criticise.

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening to welcome the Government’s proposals. I know that we are going through the European scrutiny process and that we have a right to our debate, but there might be a small tinge or last flourish of Euroscepticism in the forcing of a debate after the date on which the Government had hoped to sign up to the directive. I have seen the letter to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, so I know that the Government have respected the scrutiny process and the Committee’s wish to have a debate on these issues. That is to be commended for scrutiny purposes and I do not think it will take anything from the eventual signing up to the directive.

I once asked the Prime Minister about his moral compass in relation to this issue, and it seems that our collective moral compass has come through the magnetic storm of Euroscepticism and out the other side pointing in the right direction. I welcome that greatly. I do not think that the probing questions asked by those who perhaps did not want us to do things on the basis of an EU directive, but wanted us to set up 27 arrangements with other countries, were unhelpful because they made the Government think hard about what was in the directive. Some of the issues that I pressed hard on, such as extraterritorial jurisdiction, are very important and I hope that the Government might join the European Parliament in getting the same clause on extraterritorial jurisdiction into the directive on sexual exploitation and the abuse of children, as that is currently being resisted.

We have done this just in time. The ECPAT and Body Shop petition has been running for some months and when I looked after it had been closed on 5 May it had 887,575 signatures calling for guardianships to be set up as part of our response to the trafficking of children. I believe that the petition will be presented on Thursday at No. 10 Downing street on behalf of those organisations. ECPAT has also been supported by the Body Shop financially in its work.

A month ago, the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland reported on his research into the trafficking of children. From the evidence he had collected, he said there were at least 80 cases he could verify and possibly 200 of which he had had notice. For a small country such as Scotland, that is a lot. If the figure were extrapolated for the UK, the number would be massive—much higher than the figure of 1,000 mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and that is just for children. It worries me that there is a massive amount of trafficking going on—perhaps for the purposes mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who talked about what he had seen in Romania. Clearly, there is a lot of trafficking going on that we have yet to find out about—much more than some estimates. Some of it might be just to reunite families; some of it might be for benefit fraud; some of it might be for exploitation through cheap labour or begging, as I have seen in other European countries; and some of it might be for other, more nasty, reasons, including sexual exploitation and abuse.

We have a long way to go. According to the reports I have seen, there were only eight successful prosecutions for people trafficking in England last year. What seems to happen, according to the data that I have, is that the accused plead guilty to a lesser charge. There is not supposed to be plea bargaining in this country, but we know that it happens. The number of proper cases and final prosecutions is very low. There was one well publicised case of a woman police officer who pressed for research into human trafficking, because she had seen it going on, and was told by her senior officer, “We’re not interested in human trafficking. In this force we’re interested in burglaries.” In a case reported today by Barnardo’s, a judge commented to a 14-year-old who had been trafficked and used in a sex ring that it was just a lifestyle choice that she had made. That is frightening in this day and age.

We have much to do about the scale of the problem. I sent the Minister a number of parliamentary questions. I was told that the trafficking toolkit from 2003 was available to all law enforcement agencies. That was the answer to my question about how many people had been trained by the police forces in this country to handle human trafficking. It was confirmed today by the people from Barnardo’s that only a quarter of police forces have proper child protection units running, so we have a long, long way to go.

I have received information from contacts throughout the EU. The Human Trafficking Foundation run by Anthony Steen is keen that we should reach out and form organisations such as the one run by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) in all the countries of Europe. For example, when I went to Hungary, I met representatives of three organisations who could give me lists of 400 women trafficked and re-trafficked—turned over, new women brought into Switzerland by one organisation, and children trafficked from Kosovo to Albania and elsewhere in that part of the world for begging, theft and possibly sexual abuse. It is important that we get round Europe, make contacts, recognise the scale of the problem and see it as a European problem and one that is much wider than the EU.

We need a new approach to victims, as was said from the Front Bench and supported by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. We should realise that, if we can separate the victims from the traffickers, we can deal with the traffickers better, but when they are mixed up and it is suggested that those involved in prostitution rings are somehow accepting of it, we blur the images and people start to think that those in the brothels are the trouble and the problem. It is a massive money-making operation exploiting women as they have been exploited for generations, but now that is transnational and we must do something about it.

We should take a new approach to the many active organisations. I do not know how the Salvation Army bid will work and who it will work with, but following the debates that we have had here on slavery and trafficking, I have been contacted by organisations that work with Moldova, for example, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) mentioned. One organisation in London works with an organisation in Moldova trying to stop the young girls coming out of care homes being picked up immediately and offered work which ends up as prostitution in other European countries. We must break the cycle in the country of origin, as was said from the Government Back Benches. There are many organisations actively working in this field that we must pull together and see as a great force.

Barnardo’s commented that sometimes the authorities think that people who act as guardians—that was not the term used, but the role is similar—looking after the women and children coming out of those rings are treated as though they are amateurs, because they are not professionally paid and they are not formal social workers. In fact, they are more highly skilled and have done more sensitivity training and skill training than many receive in their wide curriculum as social workers. We must start treating such volunteers as part of the force that we can turn to the advantage of those children.

I will finish by making one further point, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) is present. We have had a debate on the EU directive on combating the sexual abuse of children. I hope that our Government, who do not have a statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes, will persuade the EU that in its directive there should be no statute of limitations on those crimes. The current bid from the European Parliament is for a 15-year statute of limitations, which would expand provision in many countries. We need that to be taken out, so that when we catch a person involved in such crimes, at any time, they will be prosecuted and jailed.

I have been made a UK representative of the Council of Europe’s ONE in FIVE campaign, which is intended to promote the Council of Europe convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, which the UK has signed up to but not yet ratified. I think that we should ratify that convention. I hope that Members who are listening to the debate do not see this problem just as something that happens on their streets and that they have to worry about only in the context of their constituencies. Every time Anthony Steen went abroad with the European Scrutiny Committee, he took the chance to reach out by making contacts, talking about the issue and convincing people that they should join in and act as the all-party group does here, and I will do the same every time I go abroad. When Members who are listening to the debate are in contact with parliamentarians in other parts of Europe and beyond, they should talk not just about the positive things, but about the need to come together to shut down that network and protect the people who are exploited from country to country, for whatever reason. That will defend the people on our streets and in our communities much more than thinking that we can do it alone.

The details of this European directive are to be welcomed. They will strengthen Britain’s ability to prosecute those who carry out these horrendous crimes and ensure that adequate care is provided for victims of human trafficking. This debate is taking place close to the 224th anniversary of the first meeting of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. On 22 May 1787, 12 men, led by Thomas Clarkson, met in a printing shop in London and sparked a movement that led to the abolition of the slave trade within the British empire in just 20 years.

Human trafficking is a modern-day version of the slave trade. When people think of slavery, they think of 17th-century ships transporting Africans across the Atlantic. When children study slavery, they look at the role slaves played in the British empire or the impact slavery had on the American civil war. For many, the issue is resigned to the history books. However, the United Nations estimates that 12 million men, women and children are enslaved today. This is likely to be a conservative estimate, with the actual number closer to 30 million. In other words, slavery and human trafficking is very much a contemporary issue. The nature of slavery has changed dramatically, so it is important that we continue to review how we combat human trafficking.

The changing nature of slavery can be demonstrated by a study conducted on the retail cost of a slave. The study looked at slavery over the past 4,000 years and concluded that in the period up to the 20th century, the average cost of a slave was around £24,000 in today’s money. After advances in technology and the population explosion of the past 100 years, the cost of a slave today is estimated to be around £55.

Rather than being kidnapped, many of those enslaved today walk into it. They are searching for employment in order to improve their families’ lives. When a seemingly legitimate offer of moving away from home with the promise of a decent paid job is made, many take it. They give all their savings to groups or individuals who transport them thousands of miles away from home. However, they soon find that the job is not what they were promised, and when they try to leave, they are forced through violence, or the threat of violence, to stay. Given that they are often in a country illegally, with no documentation, they have no choice but to stay. Those who are most at risk from human trafficking are therefore among the world’s most vulnerable people. In addition to providing support and prosecuting those who commit criminal acts, we need to ensure that the root causes of why people become trafficked are addressed.

In conclusion, the measures in the EU directive will strengthen our ability both to prosecute criminals and to support victims. Britain has a long history of leading and shaping international responses to issues such as human trafficking, a crime that is transnational and in all our interests to eradicate. I hope that Britain will continue to do that under this Government, and that any latent Euroscepticism will not get in its way.

We have seen that this is a matter of considerable importance to everyone in the House this evening, and there has been a remarkable degree of cross-party consensus. I am very reassured by the level of support for our intention to opt in to the directive. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said that it was a unique experience for an Immigration Minister to receive unanimous support from the House, but I think that he was being characteristically understated: the House appears to have given unanimous support for opting in to a European directive. This debate may have been low key, but it is genuinely historic in that regard. In the last few minutes of it, let me address the points that have been raised.

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who speaks for the Opposition. I smiled at her opening remarks, because I remember sitting in her position when the previous Government were deciding whether to opt in to the Council of Europe convention. I spent about 18 months urging them to, and I probably used exactly the same words as she did when I welcomed their decision eventually to do so. I take her point about wanting more referrals under the national referral mechanism, and, as several hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, the new national crime agency and the border command within that will be helpful in toughening up the whole response to trafficking, including the police response to the national referral mechanism.

Several hon. Members questioned the police commitment in certain areas to fight trafficking, and there is more to be done. That is one reason why we are introducing the national crime agency, but in defence of the current system I should say that tackling organised immigration crime is the second-highest priority of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, after fighting drugs, so it is high on the list of those who fight organised crime.

The hon. Lady mentioned the POPPY project, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) explained the new system, whereby there is not just a new provider in the Salvation Army, but a new process of using a prime contractor. Different contracting agencies will buy a range of skills, and I hope that that will make the new system less London-centric, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) rightly pointed out.

There were also questions about protection at the railway border, St Pancras, where Eurostars arrive, but I should point out that Operation Paladin, a successful exercise run jointly by the UK Border Agency and the Metropolitan police, operates there, so it is not true to say that the station is a soft spot. Of course, all passengers on those trains will already have gone through controls in France or Belgium, too.

The hon. Lady also asked whether the new protection regime would allow for the challenging of NRM decisions. All support providers are asked to, and helped to, provide information about victims’ experiences and circumstances to the competent authority precisely to ensure that the correct NRM decision is reached and to advocate on behalf of victims in the provision of services. That will continue to be the case under the new contract.

I slightly parted company with the hon. Lady when she said that the process of coming to the new strategy had been slow and confused. I gently point out to her what she, as a former Minister, will know perfectly well: this is the first day for six weeks that the Government have been able to make policy announcements, because we have been in pre-election purdah. That is one reason why the definition of spring in Whitehall is reasonably elastic. We have this period every year when we simply cannot make announcements, but it is now coming to an end.

I am grateful for the general support of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). He asked about forced begging and criminal offences, but the directive requires the UK to criminalise only trafficking. The UK is already compliant with that requirement, subject to the requirements that I mentioned to amend our offences regarding extra-territorial jurisdiction and internal trafficking for labour exploitation. The required penalties for the offence of trafficking are as set out in article 4 of the directive. There is no requirement for any penalties specifically relating to forced begging or any other provisions about forced begging or other offences. I hope that that answers the question. He also talked about legal representation. In the UK, victims of crime are not a party to criminal proceedings and therefore do not need assistance with legal representation.

My hon. Friend mentioned the role of the local press and the acceptance of adverts that many of us would prefer not to see in local papers. I completely agree with the points he made. It has always struck me that this is an example of where consumer power might be useful. If the readers of those newspapers told them that they found such adverts offensive and therefore would not buy the newspapers or products that were advertised in them, I dare say that newspaper groups would stop carrying those adverts.

On the time scale, as I said, we are applying to the Commission to opt in because the directive has already been completed. The Commission has to decide within four months to let us in, which I presume will not be a problem, and then, over a period to be determined by the Commission—a number of years, possibly two—any primary legislative changes will need to be put through this House.

I particularly welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough about the Salvation Army. I hope that this measure leads to a spread of expertise and a greater tapping into new expertise in helping victims. I am grateful for his kind remarks, and I echo what he said about Anthony Steen and praise his own successor chairmanship of the all-party group on human trafficking.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) has developed great expertise in these matters. In response to his first remarks, we are seeing the scrutiny procedure working. The substance of this measure is very important, but the process is quite important as well. Proper parliamentary scrutiny of a European directive is leading to a good legislative result in this country, so this is good for Parliament as well.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the number of convictions. Since May 2004, there have been 166 convictions for trafficking, including 153 for trafficking for sexual exploitation, of which three are for conspiracy to traffic. Since December 2004, there have been 13 convictions for labour trafficking and six for conspiracy to traffic. Those figures all run to the end of January this year.

Finally, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) for putting the matter in its proper historical perspective.

The measures set out in the directive very much reflect the existing position in the UK and the work that we are already doing to combat human trafficking. Subject to Parliament and the Commission agreeing with our intention to opt in, I look forward to working closely with the Commission, the practitioners and our corporate partners to implement those measures. It is simply intolerable that in 2011 human trafficking still plagues this country. We should not rest until we have it under better control, and opting in to the directive will mark an important step towards achieving that aim. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Document No. PE-CONS 69/10, relating to the Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA; and supports the Government’s intention to apply to opt in post-adoption under Article 4 of Protocol 21 on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice.