My Lords, I thank noble Lords who support the Bill, and the charitable sector, which does so much to combat human trafficking, especially organisations such as ECPAT, Care and the International Organisation for Migration.
First, I wish to consider some key trafficking stories and then key trafficking statistics. I will then set out the rationale for my Bill and provide an overview of some of the key clauses. I was asked to keep to six minutes just a few minutes ago but there is no way that I can. I begin by sharing with noble Lords what has for me been the most salutary part of preparing for this Bill—not the reading of statistics but meeting the victims of trafficking.
I recently had the privilege of meeting Sophie, a young woman who experienced first hand the horrors of modern-day slavery. Sophie’s story is one that may surprise noble Lords, as her testimony demonstrates that trafficking is no respecter of persons. Sophie is a British woman who, at 24, was asked to accompany her boyfriend on a trip to Italy. Wooed by the enticing prospect of a holiday abroad, Sophie had no idea that what awaited her was a hellish situation. Her so-called boyfriend in fact lured her to Italy to pimp her out and make money to pay off his drug debts. Forced to service men in the back of a rundown petrol station, Sophie was physically, emotionally and psychologically abused by her trafficker. His threats terrorised her and meant that she feared leaving as she knew that his gang network was fully capable of tracking down not only her but her family members in the United Kingdom.
Then I think of Grace, a young woman who, since being rescued from her trafficking situation, is unable to sleep in her bed as a result of the memories she associates with her past sexual exploitation. Instead, she sleeps on her couch night after night, terrified of the thought of a bed. I also remember Anna, an adult woman who is receiving aftercare support in the United Kingdom but still suffers from night terrors because of the flashbacks she experiences, which are a constant reminder of the horror she endured. Then there is Maria, a young woman who was forced to undergo four abortions as a result of her exploitation in a brothel. Noble Lords can imagine the emotional scars with which she is living. I could go on but time is limited. Meeting the victims of trafficking is a deeply sobering experience which highlights the inadequacies of the current legislative and policy framework in place in the United Kingdom. My Bill seeks to address some of these shortfalls.
I turn from specific stories to the statistics. The number of trafficking victims here in the UK is horrifying. Between April 2009 and March 2011, the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is the government body responsible for formal identification of trafficking victims, recorded 1,481 referrals via the national referral mechanism. These referrals included 88 nationalities. Of the 1,481 referrals, 72 per cent were female and 26 per cent were children. The actual number of victims is presumed to be much higher by front-line organisations such as the Poppy Project and ECPAT, which have evidence that many victims avoid the national referral mechanism because of their underlying fear of deportation if their immigration status becomes known to the Government. This fear is precisely what the traffickers use to control their victims.
This Bill seeks to address the challenge of trafficking primarily through the provision of better care for the victims of trafficking. I shall address some of the key clauses, including those pertaining to legal advocates for child victims of trafficking, compensation, and the need for an independent rapporteur. The truth is that although Britain is a signatory to the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking, no changes in domestic legislation have yet been made to give effect to these new commitments. My Bill rises to this challenge.
There has been another development in the past month—in October, to be precise. The European Commission accepted Britain’s application to opt in to the anti-trafficking directive. As an opted-in country, we will now have no choice but to make legislative changes to give effect to the directive. To this end, the Government are fortunate that my team has already done much of the work. However, my Bill goes a little beyond the directive in some key aspects, which I shall highlight later.
I start by addressing the need for better protection of children who have been trafficked. The government agency, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, publishes strategic threat assessments every year that make it plain that, between 2007 and February 2010, 942 child victims of trafficking were identified, of which a staggering 301, or 32 per cent, are reported to have gone missing while in local authority care. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.
Clause 7 requires the Government to provide safe and appropriate accommodation for rescued victims of trafficking. Although one might argue that existing measures provide accommodation through local authorities, the large number of children who go missing clearly implies that the current safety measures for children are completely inadequate. Yes, we are providing children with accommodation, but a 32 per cent disappearance rate indicates that the accommodation is neither safe nor appropriate.
Clause 9 of the Bill, meanwhile, sets out parameters for a legal advocate who would protect the child’s welfare and work in the best interests of the child from the moment that they are identified as a victim of trafficking. There is currently a major problem with rescued victims being passed from one social worker to another, with very little continuity of care. Just last week, I met a young girl who was in tears about this. There are even accounts of children going to court to find that their social worker has not turned up. The legal advocate—some people prefer the term “guardian”—would provide a dedicated person to accompany the child victim of trafficking in all their interactions with the state.
The Government already consider that the existing system of care is sufficient to meet the requirements of the anti-trafficking directive, but my Bill raises the bar because it requires the provision of a system of guardianship through legal advocates, and would offer significant additional protection to child victims of trafficking from the moment that a child is identified as a victim by the authorities. With 301 children going missing between 2007 and February 2010, we clearly need more robust child protection than at present. Clause 9 provides for this.
I turn to Clause 8 on the compensation for the victims of trafficking. There are two rationales for compensation. The first is restorative justice. Trafficking takes place because there are large profits to be made, but the victims of trafficking rarely benefit from their labour. Traffickers will often provide the bare minimum—sufficient food, clothing and shelter—to ensure that they can continue to work. Even after a victim is liberated from their exploitive position, they seldom receive compensation for the work they have already done. Restorative justice teaches that part of rehabilitation is requiring the damage meted out against victims to be redeemed by the subsequent action of convicted perpetrators to the greatest extent possible. Compensation is one way in which this can be achieved. The second is the rebuilding of damaged lives. Trafficking is a completely devastating experience from which it can be very difficult to recover. Victims of trafficking need help to put their lives back together again beyond the influence of traffickers. This requires resources, to which end the provision of compensation is hugely important.
Retrafficking is a genuine concern. We know from research on this subject that trafficked persons who return to their countries of origin are met by economic circumstances similar to those which put them at risk of trafficking in the first place. Compensation, along with strong reintegration programmes, is one way to help victims to rebuild their lives upon returning home. Both the Council of Europe convention on trafficking and the EU directive make provision for compensation but they fail to properly address the UK problem, which is as follows.
At the moment, provision is made for the victims of trafficking to access compensation but it is rendered null and void by the fact that there is no parallel provision granting those with a credible claim permission to remain in the UK while the claim is being processed. Without this, the right to access compensation to rebuild their lives and make sure that they are not retrafficked is purely theoretical. To this end, Clause 8 of my Bill sets out provisions for compensation, including the necessary leave to remain to make a compensation claim.
There is arguably one thing that is worse than being trafficked and that is being trafficked and then caught committing a criminal offence under duress, for which one is then prosecuted. In such situations, the victims of trafficking must feel that the whole world is against them, as first they feel the wrath of the traffickers—the law-breakers—and then they feel the wrath of the state, the law-enforcer. In this context, far from compounding the trauma of victims of trafficking, the state should seek to help. Tragically, however, what is actually happening is that victims of trafficking are being pushed into the second trauma of prosecution. An example of this problem is provided by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, which reports that a 14 year-old boy from Vietnam, initially found by police working on a cannabis farm, was placed in local authority care but subsequently went missing. Four months later, he was rediscovered at a second cannabis farm and was arrested and convicted of drug crimes. This seems to me morally indefensible.
I am not saying for one moment that we should move to a situation where all that any criminal has to do is to say that they have been a victim of trafficking and they will not be prosecuted. I am simply saying that such claims should be taken seriously and, when they are found to be genuine, we should not put victims of trafficking through the trauma of prosecution. Clause 5 of my Bill addresses this challenge.
Significant concern has been expressed about the Government’s commitment to fight trafficking, in part because no independent body exists to monitor trafficking in the light of which it is then possible to assess the efficacy of trafficking policy in the UK. Attempts by front-line organisations seeking information on trafficked persons are met with a frustrating lack of information. This includes data on victim care, assistance and support, and victims’ post-recovery period. The deficiency in record-keeping does not allow the Government to properly measure the impact of the current legislative and policy framework.
An independent watchdog or national rapporteur would fulfil the measures set out in the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the EU directive on human trafficking with regard to the provision of a national rapporteur. As such it would be completely independent of government, but have access to all relevant government data and produce regular public reports in the light of which one could assess whether things are improving or getting worse and whether the current policy and legislation are working.
However, the Government have argued that Britain is already compliant with the national rapporteur provisions because of the existence of an interdepartmental ministerial committee on trafficking. That is problematic for several reasons. First, far from being independent of government, an interdepartmental ministerial committee is clearly right at the heart of government. Secondly, as answers to Parliamentary Questions have revealed, that committee produces no reports. We know that information-sharing among immigration officials, social services and charities across the UK is critical in the fight against trafficking. We must facilitate an annual assessment of the Government’s progress in the area in order to recommend robust policies in the future. Clause 12 of my Bill makes provision for that.
I could go on discussing other clauses in the Bill, but I conclude by saying simply that I am delighted that we are a signatory of the Council of Europe trafficking convention, that we have opted in to the anti-trafficking directive and that human trafficking is an explicit commitment of the coalition agreement. I am delighted by all this good intent but no amount of good intentions is any substitute for results. At present, our results—like losing 301 trafficked children in three years—are not very inspiring. We need to connect our good intentions to a clear political will that will follow through by introducing appropriate legislative changes to give effect to our good intentions. That is the reason for my Bill. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich on bringing forward this Bill for your Lordships' consideration. I have taken a long interest in the subject of human trafficking, as it is the cause of much suffering to large numbers of vulnerable people. I have spoken on the subject several times in your Lordships' House.
Despite concerted efforts in this country and across the world, the appalling reality is that human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing international criminal activities. I welcome very strongly the lead that the Government have shown in making this country one of the world's leaders in combating trafficking. The decision to opt in to the European Union human trafficking directive will extend our powers to prosecute United Kingdom nationals who commit offences anywhere in the world, even when there is no connection to the United Kingdom. I welcome the inclusion of Clause 4, which amends the current arrangements for trafficking involving a country other than the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation. The traffickers need to know that there is nowhere they can hide from justice. That is why I welcome Clause 1 of the Bill, which makes it very clear that consent to human trafficking shall be irrelevant. Part 3 of the Bill provides for special measures for witnesses. I hope that this will make it easier to bring successful proceedings. The European Union directive will also provide for a more co-ordinated and shared approach among the members of the European Union, which I welcome.
Just over a month ago, on Tuesday 18 October, we had the opportunity to mark Anti-Slavery Day. As a sign of the Prime Minister's personal commitment, a reception was hosted at No. 10 Downing Street. Human trafficking is a form of slavery and none of us should be prepared to tolerate that in the 21st century. That is why my noble friend's Bill is so timely and so important. If we are to bring an end to this practice, we need to understand how the traffickers behave. We have to recognise that these people will change their ways to try to evade the rules and regulations that we put in place. We need to make sure that we are one step ahead of them at all times.
I recognise that it has been a priority of the Government for a considerable time to act on human trafficking. We cannot afford to let down our guard. Some progress has been made but there is a lot more to do. The creation of the National Crime Agency will improve our capabilities, not least because it will bring together general law enforcement and border policing to share intelligence and conduct joint operations. Tighter immigration controls will also have a part to play, as will improved intelligence. We must raise the stakes for the traffickers.
The British people will not tolerate this activity, which often takes place behind closed doors and in secret. Very often, victims find themselves coerced into illegal working. They are compelled by the traffickers to break the law, and I am pleased by Clause 5, which will provide immunity under certain circumstances. It is also important that compensation will be provided, as proposed by Clause 8. Supporting victims is central to increasing the number of people who are successfully prosecuted, but it is easy to sympathise with a victim who does not wish to take the stand in court, and I support the provisions of Clause 5 in this regard. The Crown Prosecution Service is aware of this, and I welcome its public policy statement on developing further measures to help victims. We need to ensure that there is a greater range of specialist care providers able to support victims of this crime.
Part 2 provides a duty on the Secretary of State to set out the procedure for identifying a person who might have been the victim of a human trafficking offence. It also sets out the assistance and support that must be provided. That is also to be welcomed. Vigilance at local level is also important. Every locality must be aware of the dangers and prepared to act.
Intelligence must lie at the heart of our operations. We must make sure that traffickers are not able to enter this country, and we must proceed firmly against those responsible. They are often international organised groups that make profits from these crimes. I know that the Government are alive to the issue and are working on an ever more effective strategy to combat human trafficking. The Bill will provide an additional focus on the needs of those victims who have suffered much.
We need also to ensure that sentences serve as a realistic deterrent to those who perpetrate this evil. That is why Clause 2 offers scope to increase sentences by defining aggravating factors. The national referral mechanism enables the speedy identification of victims in this country, and the provision of specialist care and support. However, there are still those who manage to slip through the net. We need comprehensive cover to identify and support victims. It is time to do more to help support the thousands of vulnerable women and children who are smuggled across borders and forced to work or beg, or pushed into the sex trade. A number of victims also end up working in cannabis farms, which of course increases the criminal activity of producing illegal substances. The inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill is very much appreciated.
The launch, on Anti-Slavery Day, of the initiative with Virgin Atlantic to provide cabin crew with training to spot potential traffickers and victims was commendable. It is important that we put in place prevention and monitoring measures, and I welcome the commitment in Part 4 to the publication of an annual strategy.
My noble friend Lord McColl is a very distinguished Member of your Lordships' House and is well respected in this place and beyond for his compassion, generosity and honour. I am very happy to support him and the Bill.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has properly said, this is a vital Bill affecting a large number of vulnerable people exploited by evil gangs. I therefore think it quite wrong that the government business managers attempted to muzzle the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and to restrict him to six minutes, and to encourage the rest of us to finish all we have to say within what is now about 50 minutes.
I shall make two preliminary points. First, like the sad individual stories which the noble Lord, Lord McColl—I am tempted to call him “my noble friend” for all sorts of good reasons—has given, I was most moved by an episode of “From Our Own Correspondent” relating to a woman from Moldova looking forward to going to work in a cafe in Italy. The correspondent describes her wearing her best dress and, carrying her small number of belongings, waving goodbye to him. He felt quite sure that she was probably on her way, unwittingly, to a brothel.
This is not an evil restricted to London. I shall give one or two thoughts on the Welsh connection. I am delighted that the National Assembly has an all-party committee and that we in Wales have established a national co-ordinator, a former senior police officer, who, a few months ago, pointed out that the looser controls at our ports may well lead to an increase in trafficking by these evil individuals and organisations.
My chief interest is that I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and, as noble Lords are aware, the Council of Europe introduced a treaty on action against trafficking in human beings which came into force in February 2008. The UK ratified the convention in December of that year, and it has been in force in our country since April 2009. Our compliance with the convention is now monitored by the Council of Europe group of experts on the convention—known as GRETA—which visited this country at the end of October to evaluate the implementation of the convention, so this issue is not far from the Government’s mind.
I congratulate the Government on the coalition agreement on tackling human trafficking as a priority, but I have concerns about the lack of effort to make us compliant with the demands of the Council of Europe convention, and I suspect that those concerns are shared by GRETA. They are twofold; first, the Government seem to have taken action only at the level of policy, not at the level of legislation, which raises real concerns about long-term enforceability within our legal system; and secondly, the Government seem to relate to the subject of trafficking as if it were an immigration problem when the Council of Europe’s convention against trafficking is in fact a human rights convention. Anyone reading the recently published government anti-trafficking strategy could be forgiven for thinking that we are not a signatory to the Council of Europe convention because of the overwhelming focus on immigration and lack of recognition of and focus on the human rights dimension, which is covered strongly in this welcome Bill.
In this context, of course I welcome the Bill because it provides the most concrete device to appear since we became a convention signatory for giving our new commitments effect within UK law. The Bill is, I am sure, precisely the kind of innovation which GRETA would approve and without which I suspect we are unlikely to get high marks when GRETA’s report is published in June.
For time reasons, I shall not go through the individual clauses of the Bill and their relation to the convention, save to mention that Article 12 of the convention requires the Government to provide assistance to victims of trafficking. However, as the noble Lord described, the situation on the ground suggests that service provision is far from ideal and Clause 7 addresses those issues.
Article 10 of the convention states that as soon as an unaccompanied child is identified, that child must be provided with representation,
“by a legal guardian, organisation or authority which shall act in the best interests of that child”;
However, in the UK we still have no system of guardianship as have other developed countries in the European Union. The noble Lord mentioned the sad figures of children who have escaped or been taken from local authority control, which is covered in Clause 9.
Finally, Article 29 of the convention requires states to consider appointing a national rapporteur. The UK Government have not taken serious action on this point thus far, which is covered in Clause 12. There are aspects of the convention not in the Bill, including Article 15, which deals with using assets seized from traffickers to fund assistance for the victims of trafficking. I hope that the Government will look at that.
The Government have done some good things. I particularly welcome the fact that expenditure has continued at the same level. However, we cannot take the convention seriously just through policy commitments. There is a need for some change within domestic legislation to give proper, enforceable, accountable expression to key convention commitments. This is the end purpose of the Bill, which I find timely and I wholly welcome. I congratulate the noble Lord on the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for introducing this Bill, which proposes some significant changes and much needed improvements on the current system. Clause 9, which provides for the appointment of a legal advocate for child victims of human trafficking, is sensible and in line with the ECPAT proposals. It would also fulfil the UK’s obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I should like to focus my remarks on the problem of the international trafficking of children through our airports, ports and railway stations. I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
An unfortunate side-effect of the globalisation of the economy is the globalisation of crime. The trafficking of people into slavery, although reprehensible, is nothing new and has been going on in one form or another for many centuries. But the increasing ease of international travel has brought fresh challenges and the law must keep up with these changes because the current system is not adequately equipped to deal with the problem. The greatest challenge is the large number of children brought into Britain as domestic slaves. The number of unaccompanied children entering Heathrow Airport gives some indication of the scale of the problem.
Some years ago, the Metropolitan Police and the UK Border Agency jointly set up a pilot project at Heathrow called Operation Paladin Child. In just three months, it found that 1,800 unaccompanied children came through the airport. Of these, it judged that 600 were vulnerable and almost half were under the age of 11.
Children are trafficked for a variety of reasons. Many are put to work as domestic slaves or childminders. Some, like Oliver Twist, are forced into street crime. Others are used for benefit fraud and, when they come of age, many are sexually exploited. Criminal gangs make very big money out of children. The Metropolitan Police estimates that each child forced into street crime makes £100,000 a year for their gangmasters. Benefit fraud is also hugely profitable, particularly the widespread practice of passing one baby from one gang to another so that gang members posing as the child’s relatives can make multiple benefit claims in many different parts of the country. Often, the children’s parents are tricked into sending them to the UK with a promise of a good education but, instead, their children are condemned to a life of slavery. Perhaps the most notorious case is that of Victoria Climbié, who was brought into Britain by her aunt to be used for benefit fraud.
Let me give two examples of the pain and suffering that these children often endure. A 14 year-old boy from South Africa was smuggled here on a containership with a number of other boys. By day, they were locked into the containers; by night, they were taken out and gang-raped by the crew. When the ship docked in the UK, one of the boys was put to work in a London factory by his uncle. After a while, he could not cope with it much longer. When he complained, his uncle showed him a photograph of his mother, dead from gunshot wounds, and gave him a choice: he could either continue to work in the factory or he would receive another photograph of the rest of his family who would suffer the same fate.
My second example is an eastern European woman accompanied by three children who was stopped at a regional airport in the UK. After much questioning, she finally admitted that the children were not hers—she did not know them; she had just met them; and she had been paid to deliver them to a central London address. More shocking still was her admission that this was her third such trip. Each time, she had been accompanied by three children. Who knows what fate awaited these children?
The team at Heathrow is very successful and has made it much more difficult for child traffickers, so the gangs have simply moved to easier points of entry such as the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International railway station. Entry to the UK by train does not have such rigorous standards of security as air travel. Children of 12 and above may travel unaccompanied provided they have a form signed by their parent or guardian. However, there are no checks on the authenticity of the parent or guardian who signed the form, so the whole procedure is less than useless. Unaccompanied minors are on their own from the time they get on the train until the time they get off at St Pancras. To make matters worse, there are no dedicated child protection measures in place at St Pancras, so children can just get off the train and simply disappear into the ether.
The way we treat our children defines us as a society. It is totally unacceptable that, in the 21st century, children are still being trafficked into this country. This Bill will go a long way towards helping stamp out this evil trade.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking. I support the Bill and I make no apology for also talking about Clause 9, which relates to the legal advocate.
This Bill is necessary, despite the good intentions of government. I congratulate the Government on signing the European Convention and the European Union directive and, even more, on their policy, including the important support of the Prime Minister.
Much of what is required in the directive is in our legislation and, in theory at least, in our practice, but there remains much more to be done. There are real issues over implementation of policy, and the Government may be oversanguine in their belief that they have done enough. I would suggest that the devil is in the detail.
There are 2.4 million people who are trafficked around the world. Human trafficking is the second most valuable illegal trade in the world and is worth billions of pounds. My greatest concern, from my own background, is in trafficked children. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, gave some details, but I shall add a few more.
From January to September of this year, 202 children were identified as trafficked: 67 from all parts of Africa; 50 from eastern Europe, mainly Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria; 22 from other regions; and 63 from Asia, mainly from Vietnam. Your Lordships have already heard about Vietnamese children coming to this country. Why do they come? They are mainly boys who go into rented accommodation where the house has been stripped and turned into a cannabis factory. There are over 3,000 cannabis factories in London and something like 7,000 factories identified across the United Kingdom, most of them staffed by Vietnamese boys. It is a real problem because those boys in the factories are taken out by the police and Romanian Roma children are thieving on the streets. I do not know whether noble Lords have heard of “mobile surfers”. The police told me when I went along the Edgware Road with them some time ago that a boy of 12 or so we could see on the street was a mobile surfer. The child would run into a café where young people leave their mobiles on the table, pick one up, run out and go into the next café. They, along with Bulgarian children who steal on London Transport, are the victims rather than the criminals because their traffickers take the money from them. It is very important that we do not see these children as criminals when what in fact they are doing is providing money for their traffickers.
The system of adult victims in this country, although not perfect, is undoubtedly better than that for children. If a child is recognised as a victim, he or she is placed under social services’ care. There is a great danger, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, pointed out, of a child being retrafficked, and he gave some worrying figures for missing children. The problem is that the social services who take these children in do not necessarily identify them as having been trafficked. My co-chairman of the group, Peter Bone MP, inquired of local authorities how many of them knew that their missing children had been trafficked. I think that only 11 authorities out of those which replied across the whole country knew that the children had actually been trafficked. That is of great concern.
Clause 9 would offer help that is not being provided by social workers. The proposed legal advocate would be able to support and advise children at each stage up to the age of 18. An extremely powerful letter from the ECPAT UK, signed by 25 different organisations including the children’s commissioners, the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, was sent to Tim Loughton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children at the Department for Education, on 14 October this year. It stated that the Government are failing to meet international obligations and that the general child protection services for these children are not sufficient. Child victims of trafficking require independent and dedicated guardians with parental responsibility to look after their educational, medical, practical and legal requirements. Who speaks for these children at the moment? There is a real problem here in that social workers cannot be expected to speak for them across the multiplicity of procedures that they have to go through. What the legal advocate would do is befriend the child, become a person the child could trust, and on the end of a telephone could advise and guide them through all these procedures. As I have said, local authorities mostly do not even know that the children who are missing are trafficked children.
Some of the NGOs, particularly Barnardo’s, offer legal advocates, but the major problem for an NGO in doing so is that the agencies do not recognise that they have any serious influence and do not take any notice of them. What is therefore required in the Bill is a legal advocate either with parental responsibility or with some other authority of which the various agencies would have to take account. Has the Minister looked at the interesting pilot scheme in Scotland where, I think, eight guardians are working in the Glasgow area with what has been so far a real degree of success? Will the Minister look not only at that scheme, but also at those NGOs which are offering advocate services to see whether, as long as they are given sufficient authority that the agencies must listen to them, that could be built on? If the Government do not do this, these children will continue to fall through the system and continue to be denied their absolute basic requirements. Let us face it: these children are victims and they are not receiving the help in this country that they should.
My Lords, from these Benches, I offer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and thank him very much for bringing this timely and urgent Bill to our attention. It is ironic, coming from a diocese where Clarkson, one of Wilberforce's companions, is buried in the churchyard just outside Ipswich, that 180 years later we are having to debate again in this House slavery, which is what we are really talking about.
I endorse from these Benches everything that the noble Lord said about the care of children, their need for advocacy and the danger of their being retrafficked. I will concentrate particularly on Clause 8 and the whole matter of compensation. As I understand it, at present victims of trafficking can seek compensation through a compensation order granted in criminal proceedings, through an application to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, through civil litigation and, where applicable, through an employment tribunal. However, Anti-Slavery International’s report makes it clear that victims of trafficking are seldom aware of their rights, particularly to compensation, and rarely have an opportunity to use them.
Again, putting this into perspective with a real person, there is the case of Lucy, a domestic worker from Indonesia who was employed by a diplomat in the UK for two years and paid something like £250 a month for full-time work. She was abused by her employer and prevented from returning home. Even though Lucy received a positive decision on her trafficking case by the UK Government, she was granted only temporary leave to remain for 30 to 90 days. That was not nearly enough time to make a compensation claim under the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
The option of leave to remain in Clause 8 of the Bill would allow people such as Lucy to stay in the UK while securing the compensation that they rightly deserve. While it is not open to the UK Government to affect some of the economic and social circumstances in which trafficking originates in other countries, it is open to us to offer this sense of restorative justice.
The Christian churches are particularly supportive of anything that offers that sense of restoration. It is not just a matter of monetary compensation; it is about offering the chance of gaining life skills that will prevent the retrafficking that is such a curse in these situations.
I am very aware of the pressures of time. There is much more that I would like to say, but I would like to close on this. Recently we were confronted again in our Sunday readings by the rather disturbing gospel that reminds us that what we do and what we fail to do to the least of others we do to Christ himself: “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me”. That is a salutary thing for Christians to think about, but I would also say that for all of us, of any faith or none, protecting and helping victims of trafficking is about our common humanity and our sense that no one should be treated in this way. We on these Benches support this Bill wholeheartedly.
My Lords, globalisation has brought many benefits. Cheap flights mean that this is the most well travelled generation. Internet communication gives to many more choice over where to live and work, and our food reflects a global supermarket. But all these benefits are also used by those who wish to trade in human lives, who have taken advantage of the portrayal of western countries as having streets paved with gold, so that human trafficking is now surpassed only by drugs as the most profitable illegal trade.
I believe that William Wilberforce would tell us to get our eye back on the ball and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McColl for this Bill, which enables your Lordships to do just that. I know my noble friend's depth of concern is shared by many people, as I have received more e-mails requesting me to speak in this Bill than on any other legislation in my 10 months in this House. Although much of the Bill mirrors the European directive, which I am so pleased Her Majesty's Government will be implementing, I wish to speak specifically to two aspects of the Bill: the legal advocate and the national rapporteur.
The legal advocate seeks to address the terrible situation outlined by my noble friend Lord McColl that, in a three-year period, about one-third of those trafficked children in the care of a local authority just went missing. This problem urgently needs addressing, and the system of a social worker and advocacy support is not working properly. As I understand it, some social workers have not even heard of human trafficking, and apparently it is not part of the university curriculum for training social workers. Would it not make sense to have some specialist social workers for trafficked children, rather like the specialist foster carers that are currently being piloted by Barnardo’s?
Although I appreciate the particular vulnerability for trafficked children as they are in a foreign country and have to deal with a number of agencies, I understand the reluctance of the Government to provide a different system of support for these children. Many of the other children in local authority care who have not been trafficked are arguably equally as vulnerable. There will never be limitless resources and allocation must be just to all vulnerable children. However, if an increased focus in future on missing trafficked children and better training and awareness among professionals does not lead to a sharp decline in these statistics for missing trafficked children over the forthcoming year, would my noble friend the Minister agree to review the introduction of a legal advocate or guardian in those circumstances?
Secondly, I turn to the national rapporteur, which I think is such a lovely phrase, unlike the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking, which is the Government's fulfilment of Article 19 of the directive. But seriously, in most other jurisdictions the national rapporteur is independent of government, which means that they can scrutinise the Government on the prevention and monitoring of trafficking. However, the national rapporteur should also be a figurehead, an individual who could give much needed public awareness of human trafficking and ensure that a clear message is communicated. The pink ribbon is the symbol for breast cancer and the daffodil is the symbol for Marie Curie Cancer Care, but human trafficking has a blue heart, a purple ribbon, a blue blindfold and a purple teardrop. Consistent public messaging is clearly needed.
Necessary and admirable though this Bill is, it deals only with the supply side of human trafficking. I believe that a national rapporteur who is a respected individual—and please note that I do not use the word “celebrity”—could help with the demand side of human trafficking. Will young men consider a message from the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking about the possible plight of the woman who he pays for sex on a stag weekend? I think not. On such a vital issue, I cannot believe there is no suitable individual for this role.
With hundreds of thousands of people trafficked into the EU every year, it is so disappointing that only 100 to 300 prosecutions are brought each year. I think that the eurozone has more than one crisis on its hands. Many professionals are working hard to bring perpetrators to justice, and the evidence of the victim is vital. Many victims are prepared to testify, and we should be grateful that they are willing to remain here to do so. But is there not a mutual aspect missing here: that victims often need compensation for the crime committed in the UK to rebuild their lives and so should be allowed leave to remain here long enough to claim such compensation. Please would my noble friend the Minister ask that the discretion to grant leave to remain be used not just for the benefit of our judicial process but for the benefit of the victim? It is shameful that no human trafficking victim has successfully claimed compensation in the UK.
The sooner globalism communicates the message that our streets are not paved with gold, the better, and I sincerely hope that Anti-Slavery International is wrong that the figures reveal about a tenth of the problem. Sadly, I recognise the urgent need for this Bill and I commend it to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I, too, express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for seeking to make legislative provision for measures both to combat human trafficking and to provide appropriate support for its victims. I declare an interest as a patron of Anti-Slavery International; the long history of that organisation reiterates the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that trafficking in one form or another is, sadly, not a recent but a centuries-old phenomenon. What is relatively new, however, is the multifaceted, cross-border nature of it. Organisations such as ECPAT UK, CARE and Stop the Traffik, which several noble Lords have already mentioned, would like to see more vigorous action on the part of the Government to identify, combat, and prevent human trafficking, particularly in relation to child victims, which is where I will focus my brief remarks today. I thank those organisations for their informative briefings.
I want to draw particular attention to the plight of children who are trapped and caught up in the various forms of this odious, illegal practice. It is hard to accept the fact that there are those who seek to use children for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour, benefit fraud and involvement in criminal activity such as pick-pocketing, theft, begging and working in cannabis farms. Tragically, however, that is what is happening, as a recent report from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre demonstrates. Of course, the very nature of this activity means that it is hard to give the precise numbers of children involved, but the level of the problem is indicated by the data collated by CEOP.
Of the 202 children trafficked so far this year, more than a quarter were destined for sexual exploitation—with the majority being girls, of course. The data also show the international nature of this trafficking into the UK; my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss has already given a sense of that. She mentioned that 67 children were trafficked from Africa, 29 of whom were from one country, Nigeria. Again, they were mostly female and sexually exploited. We have trafficking from Asia, from eastern Europe, from western Europe, from South America and from the Caribbean. It is indeed a global trade. John Cameron, head of the NSPCC's helpline, is quoted as saying:
“The gangs who bring these vulnerable children into the UK are highly organised and ruthless. The trafficking is often carried out like a military operation with victims being taken through several countries and passed along a line of criminal ‘agents'. Even if the children are intercepted by the authorities and put into care they are frequently tracked down again by the people exploiting them and spirited away to a slave-like existence”.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has already pointed to statistics from CEOP which reveal that in the UK approximately one-third of the 942 children identified as victims of trafficking went missing from local authority care. A number of noble Lords also referred to that fact. It is clear that the Government want to combat child trafficking—I have no doubt about that—as do local authorities and child protecting agencies. But the fact that even when a child is supposed to be in a safe place, they are not secure means that we are failing and that something is not working. If, over the course of three years, 301 children can go missing from local authority care provision—an average of around two every week—we can only imagine how many others without even that level of protection might be disappearing every week of the year.
I am aware that there have been a number of exchanges between concerned NGOs, such as those I mentioned earlier, and the Government about the issue of guardians for these most vulnerable victims of trafficking. Members of your Lordships’ House may be aware that the Prime Minister does not currently feel there is a need for such a system as, in a letter to ECPAT UK, he wrote,
“we believe that existing arrangements for children are comprehensive—and that introducing a further professional … would be unhelpful”.
This approach is disputed by the majority of organisations working in this field and, indeed, by the majority of noble Lords this afternoon.
ECPAT UK believes that a system of guardianship is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of child victims of trafficking. It would minimise the risk of child victims of trafficking becoming “the disappeared”, help to break the connection to their traffickers and provide a base for a long and difficult journey to something approaching recovery. ECPAT has also reported that young people who themselves have been in these situations say that such a system would have helped them to improve their life chances.
While I support the overarching principles of this human trafficking Bill, particularly on the matter of guardianship, I am also concerned about other strategies being deployed to prevent these wretched, illegal forms of child exploitation. A system of guardianship and an independent rapporteur, as suggested in the Bill, would be helpful in preventing children falling into a cycle of repeated exploitation, but what other measures are being taken to prevent trafficking in the first place?
Poverty and the lack of education and opportunity that many families experience in developing countries mean that parents and children alike can be tricked into thinking that the trafficker is leading these children towards a prosperous, happy life overseas. A basic desire to improve their situation makes these families vulnerable to the blandishments of such criminals.
Poverty is obviously a big issue and, as has already been suggested, will not be solved overnight. However, what steps are the Government taking to work with Governments and NGOs from the countries that are the source of many of the trafficked children who end up in the UK to raise awareness of the real dangers that they may face? Raising awareness of the realities of what will most likely happen to their children is one way of protecting vulnerable families. So is supporting NGOs in the UK in their efforts to educate communities here about children’s and women’s rights.
I mentioned earlier some of the countries from which children are consistently trafficked into Britain. A substantial number come from east Africa and Nigeria. AFRUCA, which stands for Africans Unite against Child Abuse, was formed in 2001 specifically to address the issue of all kinds of abuse of African children. This culturally specific organization has insider knowledge of some of the cultural traditions and beliefs that have led to children coming here from the continent and being subjected to harm. It organises activities, information-spreading, education and advisory services. I agree with World Vision, which recommends that the UK Government should work with African and other affected communities in the UK and with organisations such as AFRUCA.
It is important to conduct rigorous research on best practice, methods and strategies to identify and raise awareness of demand as the root cause of trafficking, something that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, alluded to. That should also be a priority.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on his Bill, which raises some very important issues. I am delighted to speak in support of it today and declare an interest as an adviser to the Community Foundation Network, whose members do a huge amount all over the UK to both fund and mobilise community-led solutions to local social problems. One such problem is fuel poverty, which it is tackling through its current Surviving Winter appeal where members of the public are invited to donate their winter fuel allowance to others in greater need of it in their community.
In the time available to me, I would like to home in on one specific challenge, protecting the victims of child trafficking, and one specific part of the Bill, Clause 9. The ECPAT UK child trafficking data and statistics briefing for May 2011 does not make for pleasant reading. As my noble friend Lord McColl and others have mentioned, it reveals that between 2007 and February 2010, 301 of the 942 children identified as victims of trafficking went missing from local authority care, mainly under the watch of stretched social workers, and with many children passed from one agency to another, sometimes with limited or no dedicated representation to help support them.
Clause 9 of the Bill addresses these challenges by providing a much more robust system of protection in the form of a legal advocate, who would have dedicated responsibility for supporting a child victim of trafficking in all their interactions with the state—the police, the courts, social services and so on. Such provision is based on international best practice in child guardianship, and we must afford child victims of trafficking in the UK nothing less if we are to demonstrate genuine compassion for these incredibly vulnerable and needy children.
There is a problem, however. Guardianship is generally costly and, as everyone knows, at present the Government do not have much in the way of spare cash. Some might respond to the financial constraints of the moment by resigning themselves to the sorry conclusion, “It will never happen”. While this may be logical if you subscribe to a narrowly statist approach to service delivery, it is not if you take a broader view. The truth is that there is an important alternative approach to service provision that trades on a commitment to localism and the principles of citizen-led social action which I and others have advocated and sought to help foster over the past decade. If 946 victims of child trafficking are identified over three years, that works out at just over 300 children a year. That is a significant number but rising to the challenge would not be beyond the capacity of the voluntary sector working in partnership with government.
In the run-up to this debate, I was approached by a number of different charities that said that they would be very interested in working with the Government to develop a guardian programme staffed by volunteers. Of course, there would be some cost implications. They made it very plain to me that it would be absolutely imperative that volunteer guardians were properly trained to deal with what can be very challenging situations. They would also need to have ongoing supervision. This would all cost money which would need to be raised somehow. Crucially, however, these costs would be very small when compared with a classical, salaried statist approach to guardianship. The analogy with such a solution would be that of local magistrates, who give huge amounts of time to serve their communities. Similarly I do not think it beyond the wit of man, even in these strained times, to find 300 people nationwide willing to give a few hours a week to help a trafficked child access justice and fair treatment after the trauma of having been kidnapped and enslaved, and of having been abandoned or of having escaped. This is where the drafting of the noble Lord’s Bill is so very helpful. It makes provision for a legal advocate but does not define the arrangements in great detail. Instead, it gives the Secretary of State an order-making power in Clause 9(1). This order-making power could be used to define a very expensive statist approach to guardianship or it could make provision for the Government to work with the voluntary sector to develop a very much more cost-effective guardian, prepared and provided by civil society.
In making this suggestion today, I anticipate two objections to which I would like to respond. First, some will argue that, if charities are expressing an interest but have not yet set anything up, things cannot progress through this Bill. The absence of an up-and-running voluntary sector proposal, however, does not prevent the Government from future-proofing legislation through the provision of regulations that provide for the possibility of working with the voluntary sector on child guardians as and when voluntary initiatives get off the ground. The second objection I anticipate to my proposal for an alternative approach to guardianship pioneered through a government/voluntary sector partnership is that it would be quite a challenge to create a nationwide network and organisation to rise to the guardianship challenge overnight. I agree, and in the spirit of the Localism Bill would like to suggest that either the regulations make provision for—or, if this is not possible, the Bill is amended to make provision for—charities and community groups to bid to take on the development of a system of voluntary local guardians for trafficked children within a local authority area. As with the community right to challenge in the Localism Bill, if the local authority does not deem the proposal to be sufficiently robust it should have the right to reject it, after which the charity should, in turn, have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State or seek a judicial review. Such a legal framework would facilitate a grass-roots approach to guardianship that, in time, would come to cover the UK, I hope. It would not be dependent on government moneys but I am confident that, if it worked, local authorities would recognise that it was in their interests to support the initiative.
In closing, this Bill’s time has come and I hope that the Government are able to support it. Do we want to continue as we are, losing children at a completely unacceptable rate and have no system of guardianship, or would we rather have some form of guardianship? We must not let the best become the enemy of the good. We cannot allow the current situation to continue. In particular, I ask the Minister whether he has recognised the scope for an alternative approach to guardianship, via the “legal advocate” order-making power, and specifically what his view is of the proposal that community groups be given the opportunity to bid to provide that function at no, or low, cost to the state to help these 300 or so children in need every year. Would he be prepared to meet with concerned Peers to discuss this possibility?
My Lords, I support the main principles of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I will concentrate my remarks on Clause 11 and the Irish and Northern Irish dimension of this problem, which Clause 11 deals with in a skilful and important way, as an attempt to strengthen the criminal law in Northern Ireland with respect to human trafficking as an offence. In 2007, at the time of the anti-trafficking Operation Pentameter, it was considered that there was in fact no significant problem of human trafficking in Northern Ireland. Since then, however, it has sadly become clear that this is not the case, and that there is a significant problem.
A very important step along the way in increasing public understanding was the publication by the Institute of Conflict Research in 2009 of the document The Nature and Extent of Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland. In June 2010, Mr David Ford, the Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly reported that anti-racketeering officials had rescued dozens of victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland that year. He rightly said that,
“trafficking is nothing less than modern-day slavery”.
Mr Ford has also suggested that Northern Ireland is a staging post for traffickers operating between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. In September of this year the Press Association drew attention to a joint NSPCC and Barnardo’s report which suggested that Belfast International Airport was indeed being used as a point of entry to the United Kingdom by human traffickers. Belfast was described, in a horrifying phrase, as “a child-trafficking hub”.
There is an additional problem here—the open border that exists with the Irish Republic. In your Lordships’ House there may be a sense of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as something that is closely guarded and monitored. However, in the years since the end of the Troubles that has ceased to be the case. It can be crossed with the greatest of ease by anybody, including human traffickers.
We have to be aware that there is a significant problem in the Irish Republic. Only this week, Marion Walsh, the chief executive of the anti-trafficking unit in the Department of Justice in Dublin, said that since the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 was passed, around 215 serious allegations and cases have come before the Garda, the local Irish police. Why does it matter? It matters precisely because that border is so porous. That is why Clause 11 is so important. It is skilfully drawn and draws attention to the ways in which we can deal with the Irish and Northern Irish dimensions of this problem.
I support the broad principles of the Bill. However, because of our increasing awareness of the particular difficulties that relate to the island of Ireland, I personally want to lay particular emphasis on Clause 11.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for introducing this Bill on human trafficking. He does a great service to this House and to Parliament. This is an all-party and cross-departmental issue. It is, as the right reverend Prelate said, an issue for our common humanity.
I am delighted that my guest appearance on the Front Bench is concerned with trafficking. It is an issue with which I have been associated, particularly in relation to children. It is an honour to be in this Chamber today following so many distinguished speeches full of compassion and concern about this horrifying issue. I know that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, works tirelessly and organises meetings about trafficking. I appreciate her attempts to raise awareness of these issues, as I appreciate the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. Other noble Lords are also committed to improving the situation both nationally and internationally, as expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Doocey and Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Bew.
This is a very serious issue. We have been presented with a wide-ranging Bill. I hope that the House will allow me, like other noble Lords, to dwell somewhat on the issue as it affects children. Children would have been the subject of my speech from the Back Benches, and now that I am on the Front Bench, I still want to dwell somewhat on children. Child trafficking is perhaps the most appalling aspect of trafficking. I want to touch briefly on the issues of safe accommodation, advocacy and employment.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, about a national rapporteur and compensation, but she has covered that. I am of course pleased that the Government have made progress on trafficking. They have signed the EU directive on preventing and combating human trafficking, and they have produced a strategy. Indeed, the strategy has useful sections on identification and care, acting at the border, co-ordination of law enforcement efforts and child victims. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, it needs an extra focus.
The Bill asks questions and plugs gaps. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, has already eloquently described the Bill, so I will simply touch on a few questions and areas of concern. I want to speak briefly about my experience of meeting young women and some young men, which illustrates the problems expressed by the Bill. One young woman I met was sold into a gang of traffickers in Nigeria. She was locked up in a room in London with others and was hidden away with no contact with the outside world except with men who came for sex—sometimes up to a dozen or more a day. She finally escaped and attracted the attention of a neighbour who went to the police. The girl was allocated to the support programme at the University of Bedfordshire. Others have also been saved by the police and other charities, including Barnardo’s and Stop the Traffik. Young men and boys involved with cannabis farms have been mentioned. It is simply outrageous that they may be given custodial sentences whereas the bosses get off. Last year a CEOP report found that children were being arrested and imprisoned for cannabis cultivation.
Prevention of trafficking is absolutely key. I hope that the Government will look into prevention measures very vigorously. Identification of children who are trafficked may be very difficult. They may be terrified and simply not know what to do or where to get help. This, of course, applies also to adults who are trafficked. The first 24 to 48 hours after identification of being trafficked are important as the child may still be under threat or coercion. This is particularly important as they are often groomed to mistrust police and social workers. They must have immediate access to legal aid and counselling. Children are often not told that they are entitled to legal aid. The Bill would address this. Trafficking cases are very complex and require expert legal advice and representation. This relates back to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which had its Second Reading in your Lordships' House on Monday. Legal aid is crucial. Child victims of trafficking may have immigration claims that are not asylum claims and will therefore no longer qualify for legal aid.
The government report and this Bill recognise that identification of trafficked people is important and that there should be a plan to safeguard and promote the long-term welfare of the child. Barnardo’s, which runs 22 services for children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation, found that identification of child victims of trafficking is low. The Bill seeks to address this.
Safe accommodation is dealt with in Clause 7(3). ECPAT has set out principles for the safe accommodation of child victims of trafficking. The principles include: that children should be asked about what makes them feel safe; safety measures should be implemented to reduce a child’s risk of going missing; and that such children should be given access to a range of psychological, educational, health, social, legal, economic and language support that brings safety to the child and helps them recover. Efforts to make children safe should involve the wider community in ways that help create an environment in which it is difficult for traffickers to operate. One of ECPAT’s youth groups has stated:
“Safety has to be taken seriously. I think it should be the main priority as there’s no future when you’re not safe”.
Like many others, I am concerned about advocacy not just for children. There should be a legal guardian for each child victim of trafficking. This would minimise the risk of trafficked children going missing, help to sever links with traffickers and build a foundation for recovery. Young people themselves support such a system. As we have heard, many children disappear without trace and are never seen again. Safe accommodation and guardianship could improve this situation. I hope that future strategies will address these issues, even though much has been made of the costs of such a system. The issue of costs was set out well by the noble Lord, Lord Wei, but we do not seem to know what the cost comparisons are of a legal advocate for a child in relation to a child going through criminal proceedings. That is just the financial costs. The cost in human terms would favour advocacy support. In Scotland there is now a requirement to ensure that children going through the children’s hearing system will for the first time be able to get advocacy support. Under existing legislation in Scotland, a child can take any person with them into a hearing and this person could be an advocate. Many children go into hearings unprepared, and advocacy support should be available to children and young people so that they can understand the process that they are going through before, during and after a hearing.
The Bill recognises that victims of trafficking need support, legal aid and guidance through systems of which they can have no knowledge or experience. I speak again of adults and children. It may seem initially costly, but we should think of the savings that might be made regarding the need for services at a later level and date—and of the costs of human suffering.
I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. First, will the Government accept that trafficking for sexual exploitation should be an offence anywhere in the world? Secondly, how will the government strategy be monitored in relation to the important issues it raises, particularly of prevention? Will the private sector be encouraged to record how it is trying to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from supply chains? Will the Government support charities and community groups that do so much to combat the terrible effects of trafficking? What the noble Lord, Lord Wei, said in this regard was very interesting indeed.
I welcome the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his insight in bringing it to the House again, and for encouraging such a wealth of informed speeches. As many noble Lords have said, we need resolve and determination. We do not need just structures and strategies but wide-ranging, forceful, practical means to tackle this insidious and evil practice. I hope that the Government will take note of the Bill and this debate. I look forward to the Minister’s response and the progress of the Bill.
My Lords, bearing in mind the strictures of my noble friend the Deputy Chief Whip, I will endeavour to be brief. I therefore from the start offer to write to noble Lords if I fail to answer some of their points.
I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to what she described as her guest appearance. I hope that there will be many more such guest appearances, and we look forward to them. I also thank my noble friend Lord McColl for introducing the Bill and providing the opportunity for a debate that has raised a wide number of issues, reflecting the complex nature of the problems of tackling human trafficking. It is clear from the strength of feeling throughout this debate that human trafficking is an issue that profoundly affects us all—of course, no one more so than the victims of this appalling crime.
Human trafficking is a complex and covert crime that demands an international response. In the UK, we have a very good story to tell, but that does not mean that we can rest, and we obviously have a responsibility to lead the way in the fight against trafficking and to develop increasingly sophisticated responses to the changing nature of the organised crime landscape.
The Government’s decision in May this year to opt in to the EU directive confirmed our commitment to this goal. It might be useful if I set out in a few words a little about the directive and our response. Noble Lords will be aware that we chose not to opt into the directive when the draft proposal was initially published last year. We knew that the draft text would go through an extensive period of negotiation between the European Council and the European Parliament, and we wanted to be absolutely sure that the text would in no way be detrimental to the integrity of the United Kingdom’s criminal justice system. The feared widening of the text of the directive did not happen and we examined in great detail the final text and its impacts on the UK, and concluded that applying to opt in would benefit the United Kingdom.
We must now ensure that we achieve compliance with the requirements of the directive by April 2013. Failure to do so would be very damaging to the United Kingdom’s reputation in this area, as well as open up the possibility of infraction proceedings. While we are, I must stress, already compliant with the majority of the articles within the directive, we have identified two existing areas of primary legislation that must be amended within this short timescale. The remainder of the directive can be implemented in full through secondary legislation and through various operational measures and operational routes.
My noble friend’s Bill is obviously to be commended—it is a very good, detailed and thoughtful piece of work. It sets out to transpose the directive fully into United Kingdom domestic primary legislation and brings together a range of human trafficking provisions into a single piece of legislation. Again, I congratulate my noble friend on his commitment to this important issue. As I said, we are obviously fully committed to implementing the directive, but it must be emphasised that the United Kingdom already complies with the majority of the measures in the directive and will bring forward the necessary primary legislation required for its implementation as necessary.
To comply with the directive, we will establish extra-territorial jurisdiction where the offender is a United Kingdom national, and I hope that that deals partly with one of the noble Baroness’s questions. We will also widen one existing offence of trafficking for forced labour so that it is an offence where trafficking takes place wholly within the United Kingdom.
However, we believe that, in seeking to implement the directive, the Bill introduces unnecessary legislation and implements measures beyond what is required in the directive. For that reason and others relating to timing and other matters, I obviously cannot give it my wholehearted support today. However, I recognise that it provides a very welcome opportunity to debate these matters.
I want to be clear that implementing the directive is only one part of the wide range of work that we are carrying out to tackle trafficking. In July this year, the Government published a new strategy on human trafficking. The strategy has a clear and single aim: to stop trafficking being a viable and profitable crime and to end the harm that it causes. We want to tackle the problem at source, improve intelligence-sharing and the co-ordination of law enforcement in the United Kingdom, and address the demand that fuels this appalling crime, as well as improve victim identification and care.
My noble friends Lord McColl and Lady Berridge and others raised the question of the national rapporteur. My noble friend Lady Berridge did not believe that the expression “inter-departmental ministerial group for oversight” exactly rolled off the tongue and caused much joy. I assure her that we have a number of inter-departmental ministerial groups. However, the idea of a national rapporteur has generated a great deal of interest. We believe that with our group, even with its fairly inelegant name, we have an equivalent mechanism in place, and that its remit, which includes the assessment of trends in human trafficking, will be sufficient to comply with the EU directive. We have recently revised our arrangements to better support the Government’s work on human trafficking and to ensure effective oversight of the human trafficking strategy and implementation of the directive.
The question of child guardians was raised by a number of noble Lords, and I understand the concerns. The directive contains a number of important provisions about assistance and support for child victims. Again, we are confident that the United Kingdom is compliant with these measures. As noble Lords will be aware, local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of all children, regardless of their immigration status or nationality. We believe that this responsibility should remain with the local authorities, which co-ordinate the arrangements for each child to ensure that they are safe and to promote their welfare. Local authorities obviously have comprehensive systems in place to do this. Adding a “guardian” to this framework risks creating yet another level of complexity to these arrangements, which are already strong and ensure the best interests of the child. Even worse, it risks creating confusion for children if plans for their care are not effectively co-ordinated.
There was also considerable concern, quite rightly, about the number of children who are going missing from local authority care. As I stressed, local authorities have an overall statutory duty to safeguard children and that includes responsibility for preventing and mitigating the risk of them going missing from care. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised concerns about the numbers of such children going missing. There are good examples of measures that have been put in place by various local authorities to reduce the number of children going missing, such as the installation of CCTV, the greater use of interpreters and ensuring that children are aware of the situation and the risks. A number of local authorities have ensured that there are placements for potentially trafficked children and that they are protected by maintaining confidentiality about the location of the placement and by limiting the direct contact of the young people with adults who have not been formally assessed or vetted. Recently published guidance on the safeguarding of trafficked children highlights these models and seeks to encourage agencies to adopt similar approaches.
In addition, we will continue to work with CEOP and I was very grateful for all the references that noble Lords have made to the work of that agency, which I visited only last week. It takes the national lead for missing children and combating that issue and it has issued the guidance to promote the spread of good practice. Our forthcoming strategy on missing children and adults will also help to provide a framework for local areas to put in place a more effective arrangement to tackle this issue.
Bearing in mind the time, and the fact that I shall write to noble Lords on some more detailed comments that have been made, I hope that they will understand if I cannot answer, at this stage, all the questions that have been put. We believe that it is intolerable that in 2011 human trafficking still plagues this country and the whole world and that we should not rest until we have it under control. I am very grateful to my noble friend for providing us with the opportunity to debate these matters. I look forward to the support of the House as we continue to strengthen United Kingdom’s response to human trafficking.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.