Following the tragic discovery of 39 bodies in a shipping container in Essex this morning, I want to take this opportunity to update the House on the facts that are available so far.
At 1.40 this morning, Essex police were alerted to an incident at the Waterglade industrial park on Eastern Avenue, Grays. At the scene, Essex police discovered a lorry container with 39 bodies inside. Early indications suggest that 38 of those found were adults and that one was a teenager. From what the police have been able to ascertain so far, the vehicle is believed to be from Bulgaria and to have entered the country at Holyhead in north Wales, one of the main ports for ferries from Ireland, on 19 October.
Essex police have now launched a murder investigation. A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder. He remains in police custody as inquiries continue.
The whole House will agree that this is a truly shocking incident. My thoughts and condolences are with the victims and their loved ones at this utterly terrible time. I am sure the whole House will convey its condolences at this sad time.
While the nationalities of the victims are not yet known, I have asked my officials to work closely with the investigation and to provide all the assistance we can in these horrific circumstances. That is on top of the joint working that is taking place already between the police, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to ascertain exactly how the incident occurred. Day in and day out, they work tirelessly to secure our borders against a wide range of threats, including people trafficking. We will continue to work with international partners to keep people safe.
This is a tragic loss of life. I and everyone in my team will continue to update the House as more facts on this dreadful incident become known.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement.
Any death under these circumstances is truly appalling. The fact that there are 39 reported deaths in this incident makes it a terrible tragedy—one of the worst of its kind. Each of the 39 will have partners, family and friends who perhaps even now do not know how their loved one died and in what horrible circumstances. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts, prayers and wishes go out to the bereaved and all the loved ones of the victims.
I commend the emergency services for their work and share with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) the horror that these emergency service workers will have seen sights that will live with them forever.
It is important to remember that these 39 poor, unfortunate people are the victims in this; they have been preyed on by the greedy, the unscrupulous and people with a wilful disregard for the lives of others. However, we should take account of the wider context. Nobody leaves their home on such a journey, with so much risk and fear, on a whim. They often do it because they are desperate; they can be the victims of economic privation, war, famine, catastrophic climate change. There are many adverse conditions that people flee from, but we should not lose sight of the fact that these people are victims.
I would like an assurance from the Home Secretary that the co-operation with the EU27 on people trafficking, which is vital to ensure that such events do not happen in the future, will not become harder or be imperilled by our leaving the EU.
It is important to raise the general conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. The Opposition have long argued that the Government should establish safe and legal routes for genuine refugees to make their way here. If they do not, I fear there may be further tragedies like this. When one thinks about the events of this incident, when one thinks about how these people died and how terrifying their deaths must have been, it should remind us that whenever we talk about migration, refugees and asylum, these people are people. There is an obligation on us to ensure that where people are moving legally, we provide safe and legal routes.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and reflections following the tragic incident this morning. She was, of course, right in a number of the points she made, such as about our emergency service workers who are dealing with the incident on the ground. We will work collaboratively with the investigation teams—not just with Essex police, but with the National Crime Agency, Border Force and many others—to further the investigation into this appalling incident.
It is important to emphasise a few other points. This is now a murder investigation. We are still ascertaining various facts, but given the sheer humanity that we all feel following the deaths of 39 individuals in such circumstances, some fundamental points arise: potential links to criminality, and also what we should be doing as a country to make sure we stand by those who really should not be trafficked in any way.
As a country, we lead the world in many of our ways of working internationally, on modern-day slavery and through our own legislation. Fundamentally, there is always the point of international co-operation and collaboration—we must never lose sight of that—whether it is with our EU counterparts, as the right hon. Lady said, or with other international counterparts through the many multilateral forums we work with to prevent upstream migration, illegal human trafficking and all the terrible things we want to stop and prevent. At the end of the day, we must do the right thing as a country and uphold the right kind of values, to ensure that particularly for those who are fleeing war zones, conflicts and some of the most horrendous situations we see in the world, we are able to give people asylum in the right kind of way, which is exactly what we do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I thank her in particular for offering to make her resources available to identify these people, because the fact of the matter is that their loved ones have no idea what has happened to them. They think that their loved ones have gone to a better life, and that is an absolute tragedy.
Sadly, this is not the first time people have been found in metal containers in my constituency. I am sorry to say that it is an all too regular occurrence. It was only a matter of time before it ended in tragedy.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend said: this is a multinational problem that we need to fix. We will not be able to stop people trafficking just in this country alone. It needs to be worked on through international partnerships to ensure that we root out these evil people who profit from people’s hope while actually putting them into misery.
I thank my hon. Friend for her very considered remarks in the light of what has happened in her constituency today. We should reflect upon the fact that this is not the first example of such a horrific incident in her constituency. This incident was in an industrial park, but there have been equally horrific examples at the ports in her constituency.
My hon. Friend was right to reflect, as she did earlier with the Prime Minister, on the work of the emergency workers on the scene, who will have witnessed horrors that will live with them probably for the rest of their lives. We owe it to them to provide the support that they need post this event.
There is a fundamental issue here: we as a Government are naturally always committed to working with our law enforcement partners and multinational agencies to prevent all sorts of things of this nature from ever materialising and happening. We are committed to breaking up criminal gangs. We do, of course, work upstream and with our international partners. Perhaps I could highlight a few examples. Previous Governments have committed to legislation such as the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which, in fact, our previous Prime Minister very much campaigned for and secured. I have myself worked in the international sphere through my work in the Department for International Development, and DFID itself is obviously doing a great deal now when it comes to upstream work, working through the multinational agencies, the United Nations and other organisations.
There is so much more we can do internationally, because the fact of the matter is that where there is instability globally and a great deal of displacement, we see such awful events like this happening.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, and I think we all share the same sense of shock and horror at this unspeakable tragedy and terrible crime. The thoughts and prayers of my party are certainly with the victims and their families. We wish Essex police and their partners every success in bringing to justice those who are culpable.
As a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Freight Transport Association has pointed out, the route that this vehicle took in this case appears “unorthodox”, and he raised the prospect that it had been designed to avoid increased security at Dover and Calais. As she ponders a response to this horrific event, will the Home Secretary accept the general point that focusing security and checks on one route is not going to work if security and checks elsewhere are weaker? Most importantly of all, does she accept that a sole focus—an obsession almost—on border securitisation will never stop desperate people using desperate means and routes to try to get here? In fact, such a focus simply means desperate people taking even more desperate and dangerous routes.
Finally, does the Home Secretary accept that it is crucial that we are also generous in responding to this tragedy in the way that we provide safe legal routes for those with strong connections and ties to the UK—the very people who are most likely to risk their lives? Does she accept that there is much more this country can do to provide such safe legal routes through schemes such as Dublin, family reunion, relocation and resettlement?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for the questions he has posed. I am sure he will recognise, as will the whole House, that the United Kingdom is very proud of its record when it comes to a lot of the work on national resettlement schemes. He has alluded to principles such as Dublin, under which we do support resettlement. Those are absolutely the right principles that we as a nation stand by, and nobody would doubt or question that at all.
On the potential route that the lorry took and the hon. Gentleman’s specific remarks, it is important to reflect on the fact that across all avenues and all entries—through our ports, and our airports in fact—the UK operates intelligence-led controls, and we obviously have Border Force doing checks at every single level. However, the fundamental principle we cannot ignore is that the fact of the matter is that we are dealing with those who are using people for the most appalling purposes. What we have seen and are witnessing today is one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity and crimes against individuals. That is why, because we do not know the full facts or have the full details behind what is going on, we must give the police and other agencies the space to investigate what has happened, and then we can obviously look at what more we can do to prevent instances such as this from happening again.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are barely words available to cover the full horror of this, but she will also be aware, to pick up one of the points just made, that most of the efforts of Border Force in combating the disgusting and murderous crime of people trafficking have been concentrated on the channel ports and on unorthodox, non-official transport across the channel. Can she reassure the House that Border Force will be able to spread its efforts to cover not just Holyhead, as in this case, but other ports around the country where, if lorries are coming in regularly, this disgusting trade could clearly take place? It is going to require the defence of the whole United Kingdom if we are to be successful in saving lives in the future.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen today just one example or incident—a horrible, horrific incident in Essex—but my right hon. Friend has alluded to other examples, such as small boats coming to Kent or to Dover, and a great deal of work has taken place in preventing people trafficking through those particular routes. He is right and, in answer to his question, we are absolutely committed not just with Border Force but with our other agencies and through our intelligence network to work far more collaboratively to ensure, yes, that all ports are prepared— our staff are looking out for some of the most appalling behaviours and some of the examples we are speaking about in the House today—but, importantly, that we do more collectively as a Government to work with our international partners to stop this happening in the first place.
I am shocked and saddened at this incident and the appalling loss of life, and my thoughts go out to the families of those 39 victims. The Secretary of State mentioned the port of Holyhead, the busiest seaport with the Republic of Ireland. On 19 October, the lorry allegedly came through the port of Holyhead. I know it is early days, but can she tell the House how many checks were made on lorries at the port of Holyhead on that day? It is important because I know the important work that multinational agencies do on people trafficking and drug trafficking through that very important port.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I cannot tell the House that information right now; it is obviously subject to the investigation. I will of course come back to him directly myself, as this investigation unfolds, with the specific information that he has asked for, but I can assure him that of course everything had been done in terms of checks coming through Holyhead.
Those on both Front Benches and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) have spoken for the entire country at this horrific event. Is not one of the most specific lessons that the existing international conventions simply do not work any more, because of the events of recent years? We have seen this in the Mediterranean—off the coast of Libya—as well as in the channel in events such as that of today. This is what the modern equivalent of the slave trader is perpetrating. Will she use her past experience to try, along with other members of the Government, to persuade the United Nations to modernise and introduce a new convention that will, I hope, be more fit for purpose and avoid these terrible events happening in the future?
My right hon. Friend raises such an important point, and he speaks with great experience, insight and knowledge on this issue. He is right that as the world has changed and conflict has changed, we are seeing all sorts of desperate situations around the world. There is much more that we can do in leveraging in our own voice and our own influence with the big organisations such as the United Nations. There is no doubt that there is much more that can be done. He will also be familiar with the UN migration compact—I think it came about in 2015—which is doing great work. In fact, the United Kingdom stood up and spoke very convincingly about doing much more in this space. He is absolutely right that there is much more that we can do internationally.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. It is really unbearable to imagine people losing their lives in this awful way. Although we obviously cannot pre-empt the investigation, she is right to say that people trafficking is one of the most vile crimes there is. People are profiting from putting other people’s lives at risk and from other people’s desperation. Will she tell the House what engagement has taken place with the Irish police, the Bulgarian police and the European Migrant Smuggling Centre to make sure that there is full international co-operation on this awful crime and that more lives are not put at risk?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She will appreciate that this is now a murder investigation. As a result, all avenues of inquiry and collaboration are now under way. I will report back to the House in due course, and directly to the right hon. Lady too, once we are able to share much more specific information. This is of course highly sensitive because this is now a live investigation. As I have said, all collaboration is now taking place.
May I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who is my constituency neighbour, and express my own shock and horror at the loss of 39 poor souls? I pay tribute to all the emergency services, but also to the local authority officers who I know are involved in dealing with this in a very professional way in very difficult circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend commit to supplying them with all necessary resources to be able to conduct their investigations and deal with the situation as speedily and as effectively as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, his comments and the points he has raised. He is right that our emergency services are obviously under great strain in dealing with this horrendous incident. At the same time, our local authorities and our emergency services—Essex police and others—will be coming together for support. As I said, we will provide all the necessary support that is required not just for the murder investigation but to provide help on the ground, because this is obviously a deeply traumatising time. It is complicated because other agencies are involved and now, of course, there is a murder investigation, too.
I share the horror and sadness at the news of these deaths. What these individuals went through is unimaginable. Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about more international action and her recognition of the need for safe legal routes to sanctuary, does she agree that we have to look at our own immigration system and repair it to ensure that what we provide is fair, compassionate and effective for those who want to come here?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about what has happened. Today is not the time to be talking about our immigration system. We have migration challenges, which we see across the world. People are being displaced in record numbers, and many are being preyed upon by the appalling behaviour of organised criminal gangs.
At this stage it is right that, as a country, we work with all our partners, both domestically and internationally, and with law enforcement agencies to do our utmost to stop this horrific crime. [Interruption.]
I had the pleasure of serving as a firefighter at the old Hogg Lane fire station in Grays. When the firefighters and other emergency crews went on duty last night, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected to witness the sort of trauma they saw when that container was opened. And it will not just be the emergency services; it will be the local authority workers and even the mortuary attendants, who will never have seen such destruction of life. I ask the Home Secretary, not just for now but going forward, that all the post-traumatic stress support is made available to them, because it does not always show straightaway. Sometimes it takes months or years, as I have experienced with my firefighter colleagues.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He speaks with great personal insight and experience, and he is right that the trauma following such an incident will be shattering for all those involved in the recovery and emergency services. It is an important point that, for anyone who works in a frontline service or an emergency service, the trauma and post-traumatic stress of being involved in such incidents, as well as in life-saving incidents, comes back later. We will therefore not only be investing but ensuring that we support those individuals who are doing so much work locally today.
This was an act of unconscionable criminality organised by gangs across Europe. Has the Home Secretary approached Europol? We are still a member of Europol, which has, at its heart, a three-year plan to tackle criminality and gangs through co-operation across Europe to track down the perpetrators of this type of crime.
This is now a live murder investigation, so all agencies will be activated in sharing information and working together. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is a degree of organised criminality and, whether we are inside or outside Europe, we will always stand firm against this and make sure that we collaborate with all our partners.
These international serious and organised crime gangs, which are trading in weapons, drugs and humans, are ruthless, and we need to be just as ruthless in our prosecution of them. We have to end this wicked trade in human misery, and I saw at first hand the huge efforts in the Home Office, working with our international partners across Europe, to tackle this issue. Will my right hon. Friend redouble our efforts in countries like Bulgaria and Romania, where so many people are coerced, bribed or persuaded to participate in human trafficking, to prevent it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and reflections. She speaks with great experience from her previous work in this area, and she knows what happens in other countries—the criminality, the coercion, the pressure put on people and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. We want that to stop, and we will continue to work collaboratively. The way to do it is to have the right deterrents in place and to ensure that we can prosecute through the criminal justice system.
For those who missed the announcement yesterday, I advise colleagues of a notable event, namely the re-election of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. He has now discharged the role with consummate skill for a number of years. More particularly, he is a most extraordinary specimen in this place, in that he has secured re-election unopposed, which is a commentary on the esteem in which he is held.
I am even more grateful than usual, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much.
In my constituency of Gateshead, the bulk of my face-to-face casework is with refugees and asylum seekers. I am very mindful that we need to establish the identity of the victims as quickly as possible. We need to identify them and their points of origin, because many of the victims may well have relatives and friends who are already settled in this country. They are our constituents. We need to think about what we will do to assist those people when they discover the dreadful fate of their loved ones who died in this container today.
With our international hat on, we also need to think about we will do as a country to assist the families and relatives of the victims back in their points of origin. Those people will not know that their loved ones are dead. They will think they have gone off to a better life in Britain, only to find they have died dreadfully in the back of a steel box in Grays, Essex.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his considered remarks, and I congratulate him on his election.
There are a number of points. As there is a live investigation, it is right that we focus on identifying the countries of origin of the victims of this horrendous crime. It is fair to say that all Members need to work together, and I am happy to assist any hon. Member who has family connections in their constituency. This is not just about case management. We have to consider the impact on those people, who may themselves also be part of the lines of inquiry on the routes through which the victims travelled.
We definitely need to consider the international routes but, right now, we have to give the police space to investigate. I will, of course, pick up with every single hon. Member should there be anything specific to their constituency.
Finding those responsible and bringing them to justice will be a priority for our police, our border agencies and, I am sure, the Home Secretary. May I urge her to ensure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service use the full force of the law that this Government have put in place to tackle modern slavery, particularly by freezing, at an early stage, the assets of those who could be involved so that they are not able to squirrel away their criminal funds from such a murderous activity?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There have been recent cases where that has taken place, and rightly so. Criminals must be pursued and prosecuted, and we must use every single lever of law enforcement to confiscate their funds and assets. I know that has recently happened in other cases.
My right hon. Friend is right that, as a country, we have levers in our own legislation that enable us to send out a very strong signal internationally. We must do more of that.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments and the tone with which she made them. We are all horrified by what has happened. May I stress the importance of international co-operation and ask the right hon. Lady to make herself aware of the work going on in the Council of Europe? Led by the Foreign Secretary, the aim is to improve concerted action on human trafficking in all Council of Europe member states and beyond.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I thank him for his work through the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery. He gives a good example of collaboration not just in the House but across other organisations—in the Council of Europe and across Governments multinationally. We must pursue that, because of what we are witnessing and experiencing right now. One case is too many, but when 39 people die in our country in such an awful way, that is not acceptable. We have to do much more work together to stop such things from happening.
This is a shocking incident involving appalling loss of life. Although the vehicle appears to have begun its murderous journey in Bulgaria, there is less clarity about where the victims began their dreadful journey to death. Is the Home Secretary working with international agencies and forces here, including immigration forces, to ascertain where these people’s journey began, so that contact can be made with their families and loved ones?
My hon. Friend is right to make that point. That is an active line of inquiry in the full-on murder investigation. The investigation is led by Essex police, working with other agencies including the National Crime Agency, and they will be able to determine the countries of origin. I pay tribute to Essex police for their leadership in an incredibly challenging investigation—any police force would find such a dreadful case deeply challenging.
I thank the Home Secretary for the tone and content of her remarks. I want to press her further on international co-operation. She rightly praises the work of the Council of Europe and the cross-party, cross-national co-operation to expand refugee resettlement and other safe and legal routes. Does she think it would be a good idea to expand that further, so we could increase the very low number—only 27—of countries worldwide that take refugees on the resettlement route via the UN, which is a safe and legal route that we have much to offer? We do very well, but what will the Home Secretary do to increase other countries’ involvement?
As I said, and as the hon. Lady recognised in her remarks, we lead the way. We have led other countries through multinational forums, through much of our engagement and through migration compacts. It is pretty clear that more could be done and the United Kingdom Government, working with our counterparts, will continue to do that work. In such an unstable world where we see such great displacement of people, with more people on the move than since the second world war, because of terror and conflict and the awful events we see in the news every single day, we can lead others and we have great skill and experience in doing so.
This incident is beyond horrific. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for speaking for all the people of Essex today. As an Essex MP, I think in particular of the Essex police. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will have seen how police and emergency services in Essex go out day after day, night after night, working on the frontline to keep the rest of us safe. I thank all the Essex MPs in the Chamber today, including the Home Secretary, who I thank also for her reassurance that our emergency services will get the support, both short term and long term, for all their needs. Will she also assure us that, no matter what happens in the coming days over Brexit, we in the UK will continue to work with police forces across Europe and agencies such as Europol and Interpol to make sure that such crimes do not happen again?
I thank my hon. Friend for her considered and thoughtful remarks. She is right that all MPs feel a strong sense of solidarity with Essex police as they undertake the investigation. I think our police provide a remarkable service and do remarkable work. The chief constable of Essex, BJ Harrington, and his team will deal with this case in the right way in challenging circumstances. My hon. Friend is also right about our continued work with agencies across the European Union. That work is always ongoing—it is part of our way of working and our international collaboration—and that will not change. We work collaboratively to keep our country safe, and we can do more collaborative work to make sure that those who perpetrate such awful crimes are brought to justice.
To give some scale, there are approximately 39 or 40 Members sitting on the Opposition Benches right now. That gives us a way to measure visually the sheer loss and devastation caused. Without prejudicing the investigations the Home Secretary has announced today, may I ask her to look further into paramilitary and organised crime groups in Northern Ireland, which use unauthorised and illegitimate transport and trade links to carry out their own horrible and despicable crimes, and to see whether additional measures need to be placed both on our existing border in Northern Ireland and, in co-operation with the Garda Síochána, on ports in the Republic?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and comments. There are a number of points to make in response. First and foremost, a police investigation is taking place specifically into the events in Essex today. He is right about criminality, and we work collaboratively across all our agencies, including the National Crime Agency, and with other police forces, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a key partner. We will continue to investigate all avenues to make sure we stop this criminality happening—stop it flourishing—and bring its perpetrators to justice.
TRiM—trauma risk management—is a protocol adopted by Gloucestershire police to provide swift support to police officers who have witnessed deeply traumatic episodes. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if the support Essex police provide to their officers requires them to reach out to other police forces for additional advice, assistance and resources, they will not hesitate to do so? Gloucestershire police will be on hand to help.
I thank my hon. Friend and Gloucestershire police for that offer of support. He is right to highlight trauma management, which all police forces provide in some form. I will pick up his point with the chief constable of Essex to ensure that all officers involved in the current case and investigation are supported in the right way. If we need to go elsewhere and to collaborate with another police force, we will certainly do so.
The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Home Secretary have clearly expressed the nation’s concern and horror at what has happened. It is a terrible tragedy. Of course a police investigation is ongoing so we should not speculate, but I think we are all entitled to reach a number of conclusions about what has happened. It is not the first time that this has happened and we must do all we can to make sure it is the last time. We all strongly suspect that this will prove to be an international operation, not confined to the continent of Europe but extending well beyond, and a huge and complex investigation will be required into what is, no doubt, a long and complex chain of criminality, which has resulted in this terrible incident. Will the right hon. Lady assure us that all the agencies in this country will have all the resources they need to do a full and proper investigation, and to ensure that the people responsible are brought to justice for, we hope, the last time?
The right hon. Lady is right. The focus of my comments has very much been on collaboration across all agencies based in the UK, with other countries and the agencies based there and with international agencies. Our level of collaboration is first class. We will bring the skillsets together and ensure that all the resources are in place, so that we can bring the perpetrators to justice and stand up for the victims who lost their lives to this incident.
This is clearly an awful tragedy. The people in the container will have endured an unimaginable experience. It will also have had a profound impact on the emergency services who attended the scene in the early hours of this morning. I echo the comments of a number of Members that those emergency workers need to be given the necessary support. No amount of training can prepare them for such an experience. I know the Home Secretary cares deeply about the people of Essex and its emergency services. Will she commit to ensuring that support is provided, both in the short term and the long term?
I can absolutely give that commitment. Essex police and all our police forces deal with horrendous scenes day in, day out. It is a part of our public duty to them that we continue to support them, not just on the day when things happen but going forward. Having recently visited Kent constabulary, I have seen the first-class work it does for my hon. Friend’s constituents in Kent.
I appreciate that the investigation is at a very early stage, but given what we know about Bulgaria being used to support smuggling operations, is it right to assume that there are normally enhanced checks on vehicles that enter this country from Bulgaria? At some stage, will the Home Secretary ask whether something went wrong this time?
It would be wrong for me to comment on a live investigation, and I know the hon. Gentleman will respect that. Checks undertaken at our ports and airports are intelligence-based—they are all intelligence-led. I do not want to add much more right now specifically on this case, because, as I have said, a live investigation is taking place.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have literally just come from a meeting with the Romanian ambassador, which is why, although I was here at the beginning, I had to duck out.
This case raises great concerns for cross-European truckers, who do so much to keep our people fed and our businesses going. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she is reaching out to the nations that supply these truckers—Bulgaria, Romania and so on—so that drivers are aware of the risks they face and the protections they can seek if they ask for them? When she was on the Committee that I am privileged enough to chair, we did a lot of work on migration. What is she doing in relation to north Africa, where, as we both know from our inquiry, there are very, very serious problems?
My hon. Friend raises the right questions. Road haulage drivers come from specific countries, in particular Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. It is right that we work, through the road haulage network in the UK and across Europe, to provide the right care, guidance and awareness they need, because they can, unwittingly, become part of a criminal gang, organisation or trafficking process, and we need to stop that.
My hon. Friend is right: we spent many hours, days, weeks and months working together on migration in his Committee. The migration report he refers to looked at north Africa and the upstream work required. Much work is taking place right now through international co-operation, but more can be done.
There is of course a murder investigation into these sickening deaths, but does not every human trafficker who subjects fellow human beings to these appalling conditions know the risk to those people’s lives? In due course, will the Home Secretary commit to reviewing the sentencing guidelines for human trafficking? Is there not a case for bringing them into line with attempted murder, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The actions of traffickers are the worst of humanity. It is right that we use our law enforcement and all aspects of the law through existing legislation to ensure that justice is served and the perpetrators are prosecuted. He raises a point about sentencing. We have frameworks, through the sentencing guidelines, and I am very happy to discuss them with the Ministry of Justice to see what more we can do.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. It is with a sore heart and great sadness that I associate my party, the Democratic Unionist party, with the sentiments expressed by everyone and convey our deepest sympathies to the families of the 39 people who have died. Some families may not yet know that they will grieve today for their loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, each and every one. That is the sentiment of the House. Will the Home Secretary outline what arrangements will be made to identify the victims of this tragedy? How will contact be established with the families? It is so important that the families know what is going on.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He hits a raw nerve when he speaks about the families of the victims. The investigation is taking place. There is much more work to do to identify the individuals, their families and their country of origin, and that work is taking place. If I may, I have said that I will come back to the House or to individual Members. I will provide updates once we have more information.
Among those who will have information that could be critical in bringing the perpetrators of this awful crime to justice are people who have been trafficked by the same route and possibly by the same gangs. There is a good chance that some of them are now in hiding, afraid of the UK authorities but terrified out of their wits of those who trafficked them. What assurances can the Home Secretary give that anyone who has the courage to come forward with information on this terrible case will be treated as a victim of a crime, rather than persecuted or prosecuted as a potential criminal?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important and significant point. Anyone who has been trafficked or involved in criminality will be living in fear. However, with the modern slavery legislation and the national referral mechanism, we do have support structures. We actively encourage people—anybody who has any information—to come forward. We will work with them in the right way to ensure that those who have been perpetrating criminality are brought to justice. Where individuals have been victims of trafficking, we can support them in the right way.
With regard to the incident that happened today and what we are dealing with, I have made it clear that Border Force checks are undertaken through intelligence-led operations. We are dealing with a potentially illegal criminal act, so we have to leave this to the investigators to deal with. As I said, I will come back to the House and to individual colleagues to provide more information as we find out more.