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Human Trafficking

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2011

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of human trafficking or slavery. (72849)

I have had no recent discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving human trafficking or slavery. However, the Crown Prosecution Service is working with law enforcement agencies and others, both in the UK and in source countries, to improve the investigation and prosecution of those involved in human trafficking. The CPS is also encouraging victims of human trafficking to support criminal proceedings.

Having worked with the remarkable children caught up in this appalling trade over many years, I can tell the Minister that the most effective way to increase the number of prosecutions is to provide support for victims. Will he mark anti-slavery day by announcing a formal system of child guardianship, so that we no longer have the appalling spectacle of children as young as five having to instruct their own lawyers, simply because there is no one else to do so?

The specific matter that the hon. Lady raises is, I am afraid, outside my immediate remit in terms of my responsibilities for the CPS. As she will be aware, the Government announced the decision to opt in to the EU directive on human trafficking in March 2011. We are now working closely with the Commission on its implementation, which includes the review of our domestic legislation to ensure that it complies with the provisions, and that it does not inhibit our ability to bring successful prosecutions. The Government, the CPS and I will continue to give human trafficking a high priority. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Lady’s point will be given consideration at the same time.

I read with interest the CPS report on prosecuting human trafficking cases, and I cannot understand how the Minister can say that the matter is not within his remit, because it quite clearly talks about vulnerable children, the need for adequate support and safeguarding. It is difficult to get prosecutions if those children flee, and we do not know how many are in care or how many are missing. Surely the obvious thing to do would be to have a scheme of guardianship, in which the children are looked after individually. They could then be supported through the process of going to court, so that we can get prosecutions for this heinous crime.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, and for the reasons that I gave in answer to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), I can see that it has considerable force, but I do not think that it is the specific responsibility of the CPS to deliver on this. It would require work with other agencies to achieve it and, for those reasons, it is something that I am happy to see taken forward, but it is not something that the CPS on its own can deliver.

The Attorney-General is right that the issue of guardianship is for other parts of the Government. However, he is responsible for sentencing. The Government, in their human trafficking strategy, promised a review by December. Will he update us on how that review is going and congratulate the Prime Minister on marking anti-slavery day by having a reception in Downing street on 19 October?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Prime Minister on properly commemorating anti-slavery day. I am afraid, however, that I am not in a position to give my hon. Friend an update. There is a timetable for this report to come out. If I have any further information on the matter, I shall write to him.

Human trafficking is a crime that crosses borders. What discussions have been held with Europol and Eurojust to try and catch the real perpetrators of this terrible crime?

I know that there are frequent discussions between police services and the CPS and its counterparts about co-operation. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the EU directive on human trafficking is designed to provide a measure of co-ordination in this area. I have to say again to him that I would be happy to arrange a briefing for him from either the police or the CPS, if that would be of assistance to him in understanding the details of how that work is carried out. However, I am confident from what I know of the work being done that a high level of co-operation is achieved with our partner countries.

The original question was about how the Attorney-General will increase the number of prosecutions. According to an answer that I received not long ago, there have been only six prosecutions for holding someone in slavery since the introduction of that specific offence 17 months ago. What will he do to increase the number of successful prosecutions for holding people in servitude?

There has been at least one reference by my office to the Court of Appeal of an unduly lenient sentence in which that sentence has been increased. In addition, I think that the CPS acknowledges that trafficking for forced labour is a particularly difficult area in which to get people to come forward and give evidence. The CPS will therefore continue to work with other agencies, including the police, to try to provide an environment in which that can better happen.