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People Trafficking

Volume 710: debated on Monday 11 May 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle human trafficking and to provide assistance to its victims.

My Lords, we continue to make the UK a hostile environment for trafficking and to ensure that victims are protected as part of our comprehensive victim-centred, end-to-end strategy, as set out in the UK plan to tackle human trafficking. This approach has been reinforced by our ratification of the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking which came into effect on 1 April and which strengthens our identification and protection arrangements for victims.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I have a number of concerns but will confine myself to two points. First, bearing in mind that victims of human trafficking are all over the country, what is being done to ensure that training is provided to all the police forces? Secondly, as human trafficking is a global problem, what liaison is being maintained between us and other European countries and other foreign countries?

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord on both the points he makes. Our strategy regards the fight against human trafficking as a core part of police business, and the training of all police officers in all regions is an essential part of that. Providing funding for that activity through the core funding of police is also important. The noble Lord makes a very important point; in many cases we are a destination country for trafficked people. Some years ago when I chaired a major conference with Interpol I came across the most horrific story involving deaf and dumb people who were trafficked from Russia to sell dolls in France, and the evidence suggested that they never returned to Russia if they failed to sell the dolls in question. It is most important that we use Interpol and our European colleagues and the UK is playing a leading part in that task.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the House the benefits that he believes will accrue from the Government’s decision to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which I believe came into force on 1 April? What benefits does he expect to accrue from the Government’s ratification of that convention?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question because it allows me to say that not only have we ratified the convention, we have gone beyond the minima it sets down. The key aspects of the convention include: the granting of a 45-day recovery and reflection period for identified victims during which removal action is held in abeyance—the convention requires only a 30-day minimum; the issuing of one-year residency permits for identified victims, crucially entitling the identified victim to access public funds—the convention requires a minimum of only six months; and the establishment of a national referral mechanism which allows for the systematic identification of victims by the competent authorities and their onward referral for support. We have established two competent authorities based in the UK: the UK Human Trafficking Centre and the UK Border Agency.

My Lords, if the strategy is so strong, how can it be that children, particularly young girls, are disappearing from the care system into trafficking and the sex trade? What practical steps are the Government taking to ensure that local authorities do not allow this to happen?

My Lords, we are providing considerable financial support to local authorities. The noble Baroness may be referring to a horrific case that was brought to our notice by the media some weeks ago involving young Chinese girls who were brought into the UK via Heathrow Airport and subsequently trafficked. They were brought in believing that there was a better life here for them and they joined the people trafficking them in the hope of finding that better life, which does not exist. I am pleased to say that, in tackling this, the police have reduced the number of such children coming in through Heathrow from some 70 or 80 cases to only a small number, none of whom have subsequently disappeared from local authority homes. So it is a success.

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to counter trafficking in respect of both exploited labour and prostitution in connection with the 2012 Olympics?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises a very important point. We are on our guard: we are forewarned, we are responsible for the Olympic Games, and this matter is at the forefront of our strategy. We have already been successful but it is still right to ask what we are doing. The Metropolitan Police will have responsibility for this in the London area and we are strengthening provision for them in the next 12 months to ensure that they are prepared.

My Lords, since a child can get on to a plane scheduled to arrive in the United Kingdom only with the most thorough documentation, which is available to the airline, what discussions have the Government had with the airlines so that this problem can be stopped at source, so that the 327 children who arrived in the UK to be trafficked last year might have been prevented getting on the plane in the first place? Secondly, with regard to Hillingdon and other local authorities which look after the children once they arrive, if the children were dispersed away from Heathrow—or Gatwick as the case may be—would it not be far more difficult for the traffickers to prey on them in the children’s homes where they are located?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, we are in close contact not only with the airlines but with the police authorities in the countries of origin. One aspect is that the traffickers’ agents—not agents in a welcome sense—and false travel bureaux issue false documents. There is also the transport aspect whereby the child’s nationality is changed en route. It is an unfortunate fact of life that most immigration officers in Europe cannot tell a Korean from a Chinese, and quite often a Korean passport is used to bring somebody in and then recycled to bring in someone else. As for how we deal with it, I do not think that dispersal is necessarily the answer. We have had great success in tackling the issue of children coming in via Heathrow simply because we have got to them and counselled them through social workers. As they have not then sought to leave, the traffickers are deterred from sending more children because they lose the asset if the child is persuaded that they will be regarded not as part of a trafficking crime syndicate but rather as a victim of trafficking and as someone we will take care of.

My Lords, the game of leapfrog is played well in this House, but it is not a game that I play. That question requires me to leap a long way. My own view is that the answer is no. It is also not a question that I would care to answer on the Government’s behalf.