My Lords, the UK is working closely with international partners on clarifying the agenda and scope for the forum of the global initiative to fight human trafficking to be held in Vienna in February next year. Discussions are ongoing, but the UK Government remain committed to tackling human trafficking globally and we are happy to contribute wherever we can best add value.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Can he say what mechanism will be used to gather information from the numerous organisations deeply concerned with the problem? Following the signing of the European convention against trafficking and the introduction of the action plan earlier this year, what new initiatives are the Government going to introduce to tackle this evil trade?
My Lords, in March we published the UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking, which pulls together all the work that is currently under way across government to tackle human trafficking and sets out what else we plan to do. The plan was developed after an extensive consultation exercise and an advisory group was set up; it will build on the work that we have already done to tackle this horrendous crime.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. We are aware of the particular problems of Romania and Bulgaria; since those countries joined the EU there have been increased fears that there would be an increase in trafficking. We have launched an awareness and prevention campaign disseminating information to prevent victims being trafficked into the UK, building on campaigns under way in these countries. We are also developing the expertise and working practices of the law enforcement agencies within these countries with respect to human trafficking, which has helped considerably.
My Lords, one of the pieces of hard data which the Minister’s department has—it was published in 2003—shows that at any time in excess of 4,000 women are being trafficked for sexual exploitation in the UK, yet there is only one project, the POPPY Project, with 35 bed spaces for those victims. What plans do the Government have to expand this much needed form of support?
My Lords, I have already referred to the group that has been put together to co-ordinate all the work of non-governmental organisations. It will be the focus for trying to add to that work. Also, we have had various initiatives such as Operation Pentameter, which last year managed to free 88 women from what is effectively a form of slavery. As the House may be aware, on 3 October this year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched Pentameter 2. This is a very wide UK operation. It aims to rescue and protect victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and to identify, disrupt, arrest and bring to justice those involved in these activities. We are clear that there is a great deal of work to do to identify exactly the full scale of the problem. We are working very hard with all agencies to try to get to grips with it.
My Lords, the Government have signed the Council of Europe’s convention on human trafficking, but have not yet ratified it. Does the Minister agree that such a gesture is insufficient and that the convention ought to be ratified? When will it be ratified?
My Lords, how compliant is the UK with Article 35 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in undertaking national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction, sale and trafficking of children for any purposes or in any form?
My Lords, in assisting the Government’s drive to tackle child trafficking, leading NGOs and children’s organisations played a very important role developing policy. Many of the children’s organisations have worked closely with the Government in a number of areas affecting our response to child trafficking and victim support. For example, the Government have developed best practice guidance for practitioners on safeguarding children who may have been trafficked and improved arrangements for better outcomes and support for unaccompanied asylum- seeking children. We recently completed extensive consultation on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children reform and a comprehensive response was received, including input from leading children’s organisations.