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Human Trafficking

Volume 579: debated on Monday 28 April 2014

I am determined to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. Later this year we will introduce a Modern Slavery Bill, to ensure that our laws properly protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, together with an action plan, to galvanise those involved in stamping out this horrific crime. In addition, we are reviewing the identification and provision of care for victims. Earlier this month at the Vatican, I launched the Santa Marta group, which will bring together senior law enforcement chiefs from around the world and play a critical role in taking practical steps to end modern slavery.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she is also working with other countries to stop people being trafficked into the United Kingdom, to stop criminals targeting vulnerable people and, primarily, to protect our communities from those criminals?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, because working internationally and co-operating across borders is a key part of our being able to deal with this issue and tackle modern slavery and the human trafficking that often lies behind it. The action plan, to which I have referred and which I intend to publish later this year, will set out very clearly how we will undertake a range of activities with source countries. It will include the work of British embassies to prioritise the issue of trafficking, encouraging greater use of joint investigation teams and providing support to victims who want to return home. Of course, there is always more to do and I am always keen to explore any further efforts we can make.

I welcome what the Home Secretary has said, but does she agree with my constituent, Jane Launchbury, that this is also a key opportunity to introduce a system of legal guardianship to ensure that the most vulnerable children can be supported through the numerous interactions they will have with officialdom? Will the Home Secretary outline which steps the Bill will take to ensure that victims of child trafficking will be protected?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to make sure that we provide properly for all victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and, obviously, we all have particular concerns about child victims. The Modern Slavery Bill will enable us to strengthen our response to human trafficking and modern slavery, for both adult and child victims. We are taking some important steps. I announced in January our intention to trial specialist independent advocates for victims of child trafficking. They would support and guide the child through the immigration, criminal justice and care systems, ensuring that the child’s voice is heard and that they receive the best form of support and protection they need. Of course, we have to consider that matter following the passing in the Lords of an amendment to the Immigration Bill that has put on hold our proposals for those pilots.

I thank the Home Secretary for the initiative she has taken on this front. The Joint Committee of both Houses has reported to her. Does she know yet when she may able to respond?

I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman a date as to when I will be able to respond, but we are grateful to the Joint Committee for the detailed work it did and the commitment it showed in looking at this issue. That is why I want to look at it and to make absolutely sure that we respond to all the points the Committee raised.

I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee, which concluded unanimously, across all the parties, that key to prevention of human trafficking is improved protection of its victims. In view of the 47% increase in the number of victims identified, can the Home Secretary assure us that she knows what happens to them when they leave shelters, often after 45 days, and whether there is continuing support and protection available to victims beyond that which is automatically provided?

The hon. Lady refers to the Committee’s report and she is right to say that we want to ensure the protection of victims. Part of that is ensuring that the perpetrators can be caught, because if the victims have support and protection, they are more likely and willing to come forward to give evidence. In dealing with modern slavery and human trafficking, we must never take our focus away from dealing with the perpetrators. The Modern Slavery Bill will give us an enhanced ability to deal with those who are perpetrating this abhorrent crime.

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Many people will leave the refuge or protection they have been in after 45 days, but in many cases they will be able to go into a further form of protection that will have been discussed, and the charitable and voluntary sectors are working very well on that.

I commend the Home Secretary for her lead on this issue. I am sure that she realises that the Modern Slavery Bill could be a world leader. A lot of countries are looking at us with regard to the Bill. I just want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that although it is absolutely right to go after the perpetrators and give them the strongest possible sentences, it is incredibly important that we support the victims in order to get those convictions.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am grateful to him for the work that he has done on the particular issue of modern slavery and human trafficking. We will follow a twin-track approach: the legislation will obviously enable us to strengthen our law enforcement ability, particularly to deal with those perpetrating this crime, and it will also of course set up the anti-slavery commissioner. The action plan that I intend to publish will focus very clearly on the support that we can give victims. We want to ensure that victims are supported and we want people to give evidence against the perpetrators, because if we can reduce the number of perpetrators, we will reduce the number of victims.

The Home Secretary refers to having limited voluntary pilots, which is all very well, but numerous charities, the cross-party Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill and the other place all support having independent guardians or advocates to protect trafficked children and support putting this on a full statutory basis. Will she say whether she will attempt to overturn the new clause—clause 65 of the Immigration Bill—and if so, why?

We, of course, want to ensure that we provide that support for child victims and, as I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), that is why we have brought forward the trials of independent advocates. They align almost entirely with the role of child trafficking guardians, but with some exceptions: our advocates support all child victims of trafficking, whether trafficked into the UK or within the UK, and obviously focus on the needs of children, not on those of adults. We are trialling them because the support currently given is inconsistent—some local authority areas give better support than others—and we want to ensure that the system introduced is the one that will work and provide the best level of support.