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People Trafficking

Volume 734: debated on Thursday 2 February 2012

Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the trafficking of adults and children into and within the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships that this is a timed debate and a lot of speakers are down to speak. With the exception of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and my noble friend Lord Attlee, all speeches are limited to two minutes. As your Lordships know, I have a responsibility to everyone who wants to speak so I ask noble Lords to keep to time. If anyone is still speaking after the clock strikes two it will be necessary for me to intervene so that we can be in Committee again at 2.33 pm.

My Lords, my purpose in introducing this short debate in your Lordships' House is to rectify something that, in normal circumstances, is quite understandable. Spasmodically, our attention is drawn to cases involving human trafficking but the media centres on individual cases. With our preoccupation with such crimes and issues as drug trafficking, we are inclined at times to forget the constant nature of this trafficking disease affecting men, women and little children.

Slavery was abolished in this very House 200 years ago; a fact for which we can be justly proud and grateful. But the harsh reality as we meet is that slavery under different headings has grown 10 times in size and complexity since 1807. No longer is human slavery visible, acceptable and legal as it was in Wilberforce's time. Today it is invisible, hidden and so hard to detect. According to the United Nations, it is the second largest criminal activity in the world after drug smuggling, netting $36 billion annually to traffickers.

Statistics highlight the scale in the United Kingdom with people from 40 different countries arriving here in the past six months. Yet that is only the tip of the iceberg as only a small percentage of those trafficked are in fact referred to the national referral mechanism which keeps these figures, a procedure that is run by the Immigration Service. This determines whether victims can remain legally in the UK for the permitted 45-day reflection period.

The Government established the UK Border Agency to give clearer control over, among other things, trafficking through our airports and ports. Despite this, we continue to read in the press of trafficked women incarcerated in brothels, of young boys forcibly brought here from Vietnam to work in such places as cannabis farms, of men brought in as victims of debt bondage and turning up in East Anglia, of internal trafficking of men in Bedfordshire, or of Taiwanese fishermen ending up as victims of trafficking on trawlers off the Irish coast. Then there are children, just like Fagin's children, being caught pickpocketing, shoplifting or stealing from ATMs, earning thousands of pounds each year for the traffickers. These are only some of the tragic human tragedies being played out in our own country even as we debate this issue.

The right honourable Prime Minister has stated on many occasions that his Government will be tough on traffickers and compassionate towards victims. He said just that in Downing Street last October to mark Anti-Slavery Day. I do not doubt the good intentions of the Government in this regard, but I fear that much remains to be done if we are to be freed of modern-day slavery.

Let me make some suggestions to the noble Earl who will respond to this debate. In doing so, I thank him for the concern that he has shown in my preparation for this discussion. First, can the Prime Minister give the lead in better co-ordinating the seven major government departments that share responsibility for different aspects of anti-slavery policy? An interdepartmental ministerial group used to meet monthly, but in the past 18 months it has met twice only. What message does that send out of a Government really taking slavery seriously? Surely greater co-operation and co-ordination are essential at that level.

Secondly, 2012 is surely a wonderful opportunity to use the advent of the Olympic Games to make a monumental effort in the spirit of the Games to make another attempt at ending slavery within our shores in the United Kingdom.

Traffickers are astute, sophisticated and ruthless. They use the most advanced technology, and their networks spread beyond frontiers. Pickpocketing and ATM thefts by Roma gangs in Westminster can overnight be moved to another part of Europe. Sex slaves destined for the United Kingdom can be redirected to the Gulf states. The use of forged passports, fictitious uncles accompanying equally fictitious nephews and nieces, and the use of different routes—particularly in our own case the United Kingdom border with the Republic of Ireland—involving road, rail, air and sea all mean that traffickers will continue to find gaps in the border and the entry points.

Are the Government satisfied with the levels of identity checks at our points of entry, particularly in relation to the so-called domestic—yet international—flights from the Republic of Ireland? Then there are the numbers of child asylum seekers who arrive on our doorstep every year, many without passports, which have been destroyed in transit on planes or even eaten and digested on lorries and trains prior to arrival. A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England has recently drawn our attention to the urgent needs in this respect. Aftercare of victims in this country raises serious questions. What is being done about those children who disappear from refuge institutions and homes? Between 2007 and February 2010, 942 children trafficked into the United Kingdom were rescued; but no less than 301 went missing from so-called safe homes. Is this nothing less than a disgrace?

Under the previous Administration, the Pentameter 1 strategy was introduced, whereby each police force was required to give greater priority to combating trafficking. What has happened since? The number of successful prosecutions in the UK is low, even compared to no less a country than Romania, where over 500 traffickers are in jail. The detection and prosecution of traffickers must be intelligence-led. Surely greater priority must be given to this issue—such as that evident in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, here, in the Metropolitan Police.

NGOs are very active in the aftercare of victims, but I believe from what I have learnt that there is a need for greater co-operation and sharing between many of those NGOs. It was encouraging that the present Government agreed to sign up to the EU directive, but this does not have to be implemented until 2012. The government strategy document published last July has made little progress with its implementation.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to Anthony Steen, the former MP, for establishing the most effective all-party parliamentary group, of which my colleague in this House, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is joint chairman.

With the time available, it has only been possible to scale the tip of this iceberg. However, I hope that by debating it even for this short time, we will do something to keep this human tragedy before our attention.

My Lords, on 12 January, the Government announced that they were making the UK compliant with the European human trafficking directive by introducing two amendments via the Protection of Freedoms Bill. I warmly welcomed this, but although I fully appreciate that Britain was already compliant with much of the directive even before we chose to opt in, I was struggling to see how all the remaining areas of non-compliance could be addressed by secondary legislation. I asked the Minister whether he would write to me, setting out all the planned secondary legislative changes to make us fully compliant. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Henley for the very detailed letter that he sent me yesterday.

I am pleased that the Government are looking at how they can make victims automatically eligible for special measures to ensure they are supported and protected during criminal proceedings against traffickers. I am also pleased that they are considering whether the need for effective investigative tools needs to be transposed into legislation and whether more is required beyond the national referral mechanism on assistance and support for victims.

However, I am still disappointed by the Government’s position on the lack of civil legal aid for trafficking victims to claim compensation, other than through the exceptional funding route. It seems that by signing up to the directive, the UK has, by definition, committed to funding legal aid for trafficking victims as part of the routine victim assistance and support, not as something exceptional. Having said all this, I stress that my horizon is not defined by the directive. I want to see the UK regarded as a beacon of good practice in this area, not as simply doing the minimum to toe the line. Thus, I could not agree to the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when responding to the Second Reading of my Bill, that those aspects of it that were not required by the directive could be dispensed with, as if its ambitions were defined by the directive. To that end, I very much look forward next week to moving my child trafficking amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, generously supported by co-signatories from all sides of the House. I also look forward to the Committee stage of my Bill.

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for instigating this very important short debate. I shall focus on child trafficking, possibly the most horrendous form of this evil, as children are so vulnerable to abuse and to legal ramifications that are too puzzling for them to follow. That is why they need help, support and advocacy.

Along with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, I ask the Minister about the co-ordination of services at a national and local level. Children are clearly slipping through nets and many do not get the support they need. The very useful ECPAT booklet, Top Ten Questions on Child Trafficking, sets out very clearly many of those problems. A report from CARE argues, as does ECPAT, that although there is an inter-departmental ministerial group on trafficking, what is needed is an independent monitor, or a national rapporteur, who would assess policy and practice. We have no systematic collection and analysis of data. I believe that the Netherlands and Finland do have rapporteurs and that this has facilitated better analysis and reporting.

I know that there is good practice at a local level. I hope that it is being shared. I will give two brief examples. The Community Partnership Project was set up in 2006 by the London Safeguarding Children Board to improve the safeguarding of children through collaboration between statutory services and communities and faith groups in eight boroughs. One issue was child trafficking, and the board has been very successful in engaging those groups. One recommendation is that partnership with local communities and faith groups should be maintained across London. Such an initiative would surely be effective in other areas of the country.

The same safeguarding board has produced a best practice multi-agency toolkit, bringing together council services and the police. Is anyone collecting and disseminating all the examples of good practice? I return to my concerns that we need systems to deal with child trafficking that are co-ordinated across agencies, and that the Government must provide a strong and sympathetic lead. I submit that a national rapporteur and child advocates for children would be a great help, and that we ought to take account of this debate today.

My Lords, as the co-chairman of the parliamentary group on trafficking and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation, I am also delighted that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has introduced this debate. I also congratulate the Government on opting into the European Union directive and on their excellent strategy policy. I do not doubt the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Government to working to combat the evil of human trafficking, but the issue—as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already said—is a question of implementation. Following the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I will also focus on one requirement of the directive—the national rapporteur.

A central requirement of the directive is to have a place where information from different sources and actors is systematically gathered and analysed, to be provided by a national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. The requirements include the collection of data; independent status; a clear mandate to have access to all involved agencies, including law enforcement; and competency to report directly to the Government and/or Parliament. In this country, the agencies include the NRM process, which does not take in all victims, so its statistics are incomplete; the human trafficking centre at Birmingham, which has incomplete statistics; the police, who are involved mainly through SOCA, and there will be the National Crime Agency; the UKBA and, in due course, the UK Border Police; the Salvation Army, which has a contract to help adult victims; and local authority social services, which help child victims, but there are no accurate statistics on how many missing children are actually trafficked.

There are, of course, a considerable number of dedicated NGOs filling many gaps, but there is no data collection and analysis agency independent of government. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already referred to the inadequacy of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, but I would like to add to the two meetings to which he referred. In February, five Ministers attended, with nine apologies; in October, six Ministers attended, with 11 apologies. That is not compliance with the directive, or indeed an adequate equivalent mechanism. If we are to be seen as in the vanguard of fighting effectively the horrors of trafficked adults and children and denying to traffickers some part of the huge financial rewards of their appalling trade, the obvious answer is a national rapporteur.

My Lords, in a short time I just want to give a couple of headlines from the grass roots, where I work in this area with people in Derbyshire. First, I want to underline the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, about the scale of this. My contacts in the police force in Derbyshire assure me that the scale is much greater than anything that is admitted on the surface in the strategy, so there is a real question about how we are going to resource the strategy that is on the table if there is much greater need than has been identified. Even in Derbyshire, even last week, young women from eastern Europe have been rescued from a small market town where people are being trafficked by international gangs. Very young Chinese girls have been rescued from brothels. People in the city of Derby tell me that at the local sexual health clinics the number of young women in the trafficking scheme who are under 18 is increasing dramatically. The scale is a really big issue.

With increasing demand, there is the problem of making a proper response. In Derby we have Safe & Sound, which is an excellent organisation working with many people being trafficked. The local authority has just removed two people who have been seconded to them, because of the cuts, and it also asks how the police are going to fulfil their role when cuts are being made in police resourcing.

My final point is that we need to see this very much as a moral issue. My contacts in the police force are horrified to see human beings treated by commodities—just being sold. That is a gross moral issue, not just about supply but about demand. There is obviously enormous demand to take advantage of sexual exploitation. What does that say about moral standards and understanding of sexuality in our society? What does it say about a lack of discipline and taking other people seriously as human beings? I ask the Minister that if we withdraw RE from such a central role in schools, who but the great religions is going to provide any moral framework to give people guidance about sexual behaviour in our society?

My Lords, I too congratulate and thank the noble and right reverend Lord on and for securing the debate. Trafficking of adults and children, as is clear from the debate so far, is a really important issue that we must address. I commend the Government for the action that they have taken in fighting against human trafficking this far. In particular, I wish to mention three key steps that they have taken to address modern-day slavery. First, the release of Human Trafficking: The Government's Strategy in July 2011 was an encouraging move in setting out the Government's plan of action to tackle this trafficking. Secondly, the Government have introduced primary legislation to bring about compliance with the European directive on human trafficking through amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, currently on Report. This action is most encouraging. Thirdly, as the letter to my noble friend Lord McColl demonstrates, the Government are actively considering how to make changes to secondary legislation to complete the process of meeting the directive's requirements. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his commitment to the fulfilment of the directive in bringing forward these legislative measures.

Although these achievements should be rightly celebrated, there is obviously still much more to be done. While I recognise that there is no need to introduce a system of guardianship for trafficked children or an independent national rapporteur in implementing the directive, I hope that the Government will not dismiss any opportunity to improve our care for victims in these areas so that Britain can lead the way. It is in fact appropriate that we find ourselves discussing this issue today as, only yesterday, the BBC reported the plight of British men who are trafficked out of the UK and forced to work as slaves on construction sites throughout Europe. At least 30 victims have been identified to date, but it is believed that that number is just the tip of the iceberg. I know that you will agree that stories such as these ought to spur us into swift action to address these awful human rights abuses.

I close by saying that I look forward to supporting the Government as new laws are introduced that will further protect all individuals who are subject to this violent injustice.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s response to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and their plans to bring the UK into full compliance with the EU directive.

I make three quick points. First, I urge the Government to continue to facilitate the involvement of the voluntary sector in the care of trafficked victims, particularly children, and to look at the practice in Wales following the guidance issued last year, in addition to looking at the introduction of an anti-human trafficking tsar in England, as already happens in Wales. Perhaps that is the national rapporteur. Secondly, I urge the Government to respond positively to the recommendation in last month’s report of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Landing in Dover, on the opportunity for trafficked children to instruct a legal representative, which is in the same spirit of Amendment 57 to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which the noble Lord, Lord McColl, seeks to move next Monday. I hope that the Government will respond positively to that.

Finally, as a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I understand that the Government will shortly receive the draft GRETA report on the UK’s conduct with respect to the Council of Europe convention on trafficking. Will interested Members of this House be able to have sight of that draft report and an opportunity to comment? As the current chairman of the Council of Europe, we in the UK surely have the opportunity to be a model and show leadership in this area of great social concern.

My Lords, I want to concentrate on the children who are trafficked into the UK. One key problem is the points of entry. Children as young as 12 may travel unaccompanied from France and Belgium via Eurostar, provided that they have a form signed by a parent or guardian, listing who will be collecting them when they reach St Pancras. The problem is that there are no checks at all on who signs the forms, no facilities on the trains—the children are not supervised—and no controls when they arrive at St Pancras, so the entire process is completely and utterly meaningless.

I call on the Government to do three things which would not cost much money at all but could make a very big difference. First, we could ensure that border staff check the identity of the parents or guardians before allowing unaccompanied children to board the Eurostar. This could easily be done by making it a requirement for parents to turn up with their passport and/or with proof of guardianship. Secondly, we should persuade Eurostar to provide a dedicated space in one of their carriages for unaccompanied children, and for this to be supervised throughout the journey. Finally, we should ensure that a small room is provided at St Pancras International where children can wait to be collected by a nominated person, who must also produce their passport to prove their identity.

If these three simple measures were put in place, it would go a long way to alleviating the suffering of many of these unfortunate victims of child trafficking.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames for securing this debate. As he made clear in his remarks, this problem has a long-term historical and international context, something that anybody can read in the more grim passages in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, published in 1864. My noble and right reverend friend also referred to the Irish context, which, as he made clear, is also important to the United Kingdom. I would like to follow in that spirit. Just this week the Italian judge Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, who is the OSCE special representative on human trafficking, referred to what she called a new trend involving Ireland: the trafficking of people from Bangladesh and Pakistan for labour exploitation, particularly in agriculture, construction, hotels and restaurants. Given the porous nature of the border within Ireland we have to bear these things in mind, as my noble and right reverend friend has already indicated.

I want to say two very specific things about the Irish context. Thanks very much to some excellent journalism by writers such as Henry McDonald of the Guardian, there is a good public opinion on these questions but I have one technical question for the Minister. Will the Minister confirm that after the government amendments on human trafficking to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, Sections 57 to 60 of the Sexual Offences Act remain unchanged in relation to the provision for human trafficking in Northern Ireland, and that these will be in place until the Northern Ireland Assembly introduce their own provisions on human trafficking for sexual exploitation? I am worried—I hope it is a false worry—that we may have created a gap by the recent benign move that the Government have made.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on initiating this debate. As he said, our nation can rightly take pride in its pivotal role in abolishing the worldwide slavery trade during the 19th century—a decision taken primarily with regard to the force of the moral imperative to do so. Yet it saddens me that the modern guise of slavery, human trafficking, is on the rise in this country and across Europe. Human trafficking is a vile and foul crime that condemns its victims to the most base and inhumane of treatments, be they men, women or children.

We are all aware of stories from across the kingdom of trafficked people being subjected to abuse of a kind we thought we had largely dispelled from the civilised world. In Northern Ireland, which is hardly a mainstream location for international criminal gangs, the police have rescued around 75 victims since 2009, many connected to the sex trade. As a senior PSNI detective superintendent told the Northern Ireland Policing Board last December, this figure is just the “tip of the iceberg”. There is a need for the United Kingdom to take controlled and concentrated measures to intercept those gangs, both from home and overseas, who are trading in this human misery to supply demands for cheap labour and—

Can I start again at two minutes? While tackling this supply may require greater resourcing for the UK Border Agency and the police forces throughout the kingdom, tackling demand is a more difficult issue. It strikes me that we need to do more to drive home the message that those who are abusing trafficked people, particularly in the sex trade, need to be aware that they are complicit in an offence which is akin to slavery. They should face severe consequences for their actions but unfortunately, for too many, this is currently a crime without fear of consequences. That needs to end.

For instance, customers who pay for sex with those who have been trafficked—people who are clearly under duress or false pretences—should face the prospect of being charged with rape. As the law stands, successful convictions would be difficult to secure but it would certainly help put out a clear message that society will not turn a blind eye to this problem. The same moral imperative which lay before Parliament to eradicate slavery in the 19th century lies before this generation: to do all that it can to eradicate human trafficking in this world.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate as I have a long-standing interest in human trafficking. Some 200 years since the abolition of slavery, it is depressing that there is a continuing need to confront this evil. I very much appreciate the efforts made by the Government to address this problem, and I support the human trafficking strategy launched last July. The strategy focused on raising awareness of trafficking and ensuring victims are safeguarded and protected. We need to redouble our efforts to help victims: this needs a local, as well as a national, focus. I commend the work of local anti-trafficking groups. We cannot hope to overcome this crime unless we are successful in raising the profile among communities.

I wish to speak about the effects of trafficking on children and young people who are its victims. In doing so, I congratulate Professor Jenny Pearce of the University of Bedfordshire and the ongoing commitment of the NSPCC. Professor Pearce's research highlights considerable variations in practitioners’ understanding of the meaning of trafficking and problems with the delivery of child-centred practice. Trafficked young people are especially vulnerable, and I welcome the guidance relating to child trafficking issued last October. Those responsible for their welfare, as well as those tasked with law enforcement, need to be equipped to respond fully to their specific, individual needs. We need a system whereby there is adequate signposting to national agencies and professionals providing appropriate support. We must ensure that vulnerable children are protected. Their safety and welfare ought to be prioritised. I look forward to the Minister’s response about what more we can do.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on arranging to have this short debate. As short as it is, it is very important to raise the profile of human trafficking. I declare that I am a pro bono member of the Vital Voices Global Partnership board, and chairman of the Women Leaders’ Council of the United Nations. I congratulate this and the previous Government on what they have done in taking the lead on human trafficking globally but today, in the few minutes that I have, I will concentrate on the question of forced labour. That is now becoming a huge issue in this country in the agricultural trade, in the diplomatic service and in the building and construction industry.

I ask the Government and the Minister to consider looking at the Athens protocol, which was agreed two years ago, and setting up a government inquiry, like the Davies report, to persuade companies to sign up to the Athens ethical agreement. This would mean that companies would look at the source of their goods and the source of their labour. If this was signed up to and the BIS department was involved in this, we could help to eradicate the question of forced labour in the whole of the United Kingdom. This is an area where we have very few prosecutions—and where we have them, they are not very large. There are sometimes very small fines. We also have to remember that no trafficked person lives a very long life and that this is a cash industry. That is why the Government now have to take a longer stand on forced labour, in particular, as I said, in the agricultural trade, in diplomacy and in the building trade.

My Lords, the number of speakers today may reflect an increasing awareness of trafficking and modern slavery. I have heard it said that that awareness is somewhere like where domestic violence was 20 years ago. I stress that because awareness must be the foundation of tackling the issue. It was only when I was in the middle of one of my own speeches at a conference that I realised that children whom one often used to see at major road junctions in London advancing with a soapy squeegee were probably themselves slaves.

I mean awareness not just on the part of the general public but right through the many relevant agencies, down to the very front line. It always seems quite difficult that the UK Border Agency, whose job is to protect our borders, which is fairly close to keeping people out, needs to be particularly sensitive to possible victims of trafficking. There is something of a disconnect there.

The sensitivity of all of Government and society must extend to what is needed for the victims to recover. We are the host country, and in many cases the people who are trafficked here think that they are coming to a better life. In some cases the trafficker thinks so, too—the mother living in poverty in Africa who is sending her daughter to live with an auntie in London.

I have one point regarding the care of victims, and I appreciate that there is a new consultation paper on the protection and support of all victims. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, mentioned 45 days, but that may be far too short a time for a traumatised young woman, say, to decide whether she wants to return to her own country. Within 45 days, she may not even have got to the point where she can discuss her own situation.

Trafficking is a huge-scale crime and big business with individuals at its heart, and they need both justice and care. As my pumpkin has not quite arrived, I have time to thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for introducing this debate.

My Lords, for nine years I was a council member of Anti-Slavery International. I heard of many cases of slavery in north Africa but there are now cases in the UK and the rest of Europe that show the depths to which our own criminal gangs can sink. We have heard already that British victims have recently been trafficked in Europe by rogue gangs that force them to work for long hours in filthy conditions for little or no payment.

Some 10 or 12 years ago, the Home Office showed that at an absolute minimum there were hundreds of children and women being trafficked; now we are talking of at least tens of thousands. The Government have changed their mind and opted into the new EU trafficking directive, but we have only a year in which to comply. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said, the Children’s Society says that child protection is being sacrificed to immigration rules. Will the Minister assure me that the legal framework will be revised for trafficked children to conform to international standards and that these children are not going to be treated as immigrants?

There is no single monitoring body in the UK tasked to look at the scale, nature and trends of human trafficking. I suggest, with Anti-Slavery International and others, including my noble friends, that an independent watchdog responsible to Parliament would be best placed to research and document that abuse. The Government may say that the National Crime Agency will have a key role in building on the existing arrangements once it is established next year, but without an independent monitoring system we cannot be sure how effective and co-ordinated its work will be.

My Lords, last month the Government introduced amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill to meet some requirements of the recent EU directive on human trafficking. However, they do not yet appear to be addressing the disappearance from the system of child victims of trafficking in this country. Some 32 per cent of identified child victims of trafficking went missing from care between 2007 and early 2010.

Since Articles 12 and 13 of the EU directive state that signatories must provide assistance, support and protection for child victims of trafficking, will the Minister say on what basis, and in the light of what consultations with which organisations, the Government have decided that the UK currently complies with those two articles? What is the Government’s response to calls by charities such as CARE and ECPAT UK for the introduction of a system of guardianship for child victims of trafficking?

The directive requires that the UK establishes a national rapporteur to independently monitor the implementation of the directive. Is it the Government’s intention to give this responsibility to an individual or a committee independent of government in order to ensure both effective oversight of the implementation of government policy on trafficking and accountability?

The Government have indicated that they believe parts of the directive can be implemented in full through secondary legislation and through operational measures and routes. Not everyone will share the Government’s view on that point, but we will wait to see the provisions of any such secondary legislation.

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for securing this debate. We welcome the progress that has been made in combating human trafficking, but it is clear that there is still much to do.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on securing a debate on this important matter and I thank him for raising it today with his usual skill and measured tone. I broadly accept your Lordships’ analysis of the situation. The Government certainly share the noble and right reverend Lord’s forcefully put view that human trafficking is a horrendous crime that needs to be addressed in a systematic and co-ordinated way. Right at the top of that process is my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and I can assure noble Lords that she takes this matter very seriously.

As noble Lords have rightly observed, estimating the numbers of adults and children trafficked into and within the UK is difficult owing to the hidden nature of this criminal activity, but through the national referral mechanism we are starting to gain some valuable data about the scale of the problem. We know how many victims are referred. What we do not know is how many trafficking operations were successfully deterred or disrupted by the policies of this Government and the previous Government. However, for those victims we do indentify, our systems are now much more able to support them, according to their individual needs. I do not accept that Ministers underestimate the scale of the problem just because we cannot accurately measure it.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, I agree that this is a moral issue. I am sure that Ministers would still not be happy even if we had reduced the numbers to only 100 people being trafficked. We would not stop until we could get it to almost zero. I assure the House that this Government continue to use all resources at their disposal to identify, prosecute and convict traffickers, often working with other countries to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, talked about the problem of forced labour within the UK. I can assure her that the Government are well aware of that problem.

We continue to review our approach to trafficking to ensure that we remain one step ahead of those seeking to exploit our borders. My noble friend Lady Jenkin raised the problem of men being trafficked out of the UK to places such as foreign construction sites. I was not personally aware of this but I will discuss it with my officials afterwards.

Free movement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland continues to be of immense importance to the economic, social and cultural well-being of both countries. I can assure noble Lords that the UK and Irish Governments are working in partnership to prevent abuse of the common travel area by strengthening its external border while preserving the right of free movement within it for those who are lawfully present. That is enforced by the UK Border Agency and the police carrying out intelligence-led operations to target the potential abuse of the CTA and to identify those who would otherwise seek to avoid UK controls.

Many noble Lords have expressed concerns about the vulnerability of children seeking to travel on Eurostar. Children and any accompanying adults looking to travel to the UK by Eurostar are routinely interviewed at our juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium. Officers seek to establish the relationship between children and the adults who are accompanying them or meeting them on arrival in the UK before allowing them to leave the juxtaposed border control. If trafficking is suspected, they are immediately reported to the appropriate French or Belgian authorities.

The UK Border Agency closely monitors all trains arriving from Brussels and Lille and carries out detailed checks on passengers where it is suspected that a passenger has evaded the juxtaposed controls. Full ticket controls are routinely mounted at St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford upon notification of a potential passenger who is seeking to arrive in the UK with a ticket to Lille. To supplement this, multi-agency child safeguarding periodic monitoring exercises advised by Paladin are also conducted at St Pancras. We are currently working closely with our Belgian counterparts and Eurostar to resolve the underlying issues.

My noble friend Lady Doocey raised the problem of unaccompanied children. The travel documentation and letter of consent for all unaccompanied children on Eurostar services are examined by border force officers at the controls. It is important to understand that the form signed by the parent or guardian is not designed to be a reliable check in itself; rather, it is the starting point for any inquiries that might be made by the authorities as they see fit. My noble friend also asked me to give undertakings as regards this being an operational matter for Eurostar. Officers regularly contact the parents or guardians of unaccompanied children to verify the letter of consent for travel to the UK. If there is any cause for concern on the authenticity of the consent of the parent or guardian or about the reception arrangements in the UK, officers will interview the parent or guardian. If doubts persist after all appropriate checks have been undertaken, the UK Border Agency may prevent the child travelling to the UK unaccompanied. For those children who do travel, staff at St Pancras identify unaccompanied children as they disembark and escort them to the concourse to ensure that the sponsor is present and is known to the child.

However, in my capacity as government spokesman for DfT matters in your Lordships' House, I have asked my officials to seek a visit by me to Eurostar at St Pancras. I would expect to include an examination of British Transport Police operations in that visit. I am sure that as a high-profile and responsible operator, Eurostar will be keen to show me first hand how it deals with the problems which my noble friend has identified.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, are concerned that we might not be compliant with the EU directive because we do not appear to have a national rapporteur. However, the UK is already compliant with this measure through equivalent mechanisms in the form of the UK Human Trafficking Centre as the central repository for data and the interdepartmental ministerial group for oversight. I believe that this meets the need identified by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. This equivalent mechanism is broadly in line with practice among our EU neighbours. We are aware of only two countries within the EU that have an independent national rapporteur on human trafficking—the Netherlands and Finland—and I am not convinced that they each operate in the same way. Several noble Lords have referred to the interdepartmental ministerial group. We recognise the need to work across government and we will consider how to strengthen the group to fulfil the national rapporteur role in the coming months. It is important to understand that the EU directive on national rapporteurs requires a national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism to assess trends in human trafficking and activities on anti-trafficking, and to work with civil society organisations and to report. It does not require the role to be independent.

Responsibility for the care, protection and accommodation of child trafficking victims falls within the designated responsibilities of local authorities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children under the provisions of the 1989 and 2004 Children Acts. To support local authorities, we recently revised practice guidance on safeguarding trafficked children with the Department for Education, which will aid practitioners in identification and safeguarding of child victims of this horrible crime. Once a child is placed in care, a care plan is drawn up by their allocated social worker bringing together a range of information and support. The social worker will assess suitable accommodation, educational support and other services based on need. This care plan is regularly reviewed by an independent reviewing officer to ensure that the child’s needs are being met. This will include stability, safety and emotional well-being. IROs are also able to assist the child in obtaining legal advice. My noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich talked about his important amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Henley is looking forward to responding in due course. New guidance for IROs makes it clear that every child has the right to be supported by an advocate. The advocate must accurately represent the child’s wishes and feelings, irrespective of personal views on the child’s best interests.

Another key area is that of missing trafficked children, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, among others. Your Lordships should not underestimate the progress the Government have made on this. The first CEOP scoping report on this issue, published in 2007, found a shocking 55 per cent of trafficked children missing from their care placement, but with effective work at a local level to tackle this issue, the most recent CEOP strategic assessment showed that this figure had been reduced to 18 per cent. Local authorities such as Hillingdon, Hertfordshire and Harrow are leading the way with proactive, multi-agency partnerships to identify and safeguard trafficked children from going missing from care. Simple changes to the way they handle, for instance, a child’s access to accommodation front doors, mobile phones and other issues have allowed them to make great progress in reducing the number of children going missing. The national picture is still not good enough but the figures are undeniably heading in the right direction. The new human trafficking strategy commits us to working to raise awareness of these issues locally to ensure in all areas where there is evidence that a child has been trafficked, care planning and activities to support the child must minimise the risk of traffickers reinvolving the child in exploitative activities.

As usual, where I have not been able to respond fully to noble Lords’ substantive points, I will, of course, write. In summary, I can assure the House that this Government will lead the fight with our partners at all levels to ensure that our response to this crime remains an effective deterrent to drive down the number and level of people affected.

As the Minister is closing his comments, in the light of what he said about the Government’s determination to fight human trafficking—I am sure that is the case—is it the Government’s view that sentences for human trafficking are appropriate, bearing in mind that the average determinate custodial sentence for drug trafficking appears to be some 50 per cent higher than that for human trafficking?

My Lords, that is a detailed question on which I shall have to write to the noble Lord. An interesting problem is that it can be very difficult to secure prosecutions for trafficking. Often we see criminals being prosecuted for offences other than trafficking because it is easier to secure the evidence. I neglected to answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about a possible gap in the legislation in Northern Ireland. I can assure him that we have not revoked anything and that there will be no gaps.

Before the noble Earl sits down, I hope that I may ask one question. I do not have a copy of the directive with me in the Chamber but my recollection—it may be wrong—is that the national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism is required to be independent. Perhaps the noble Earl will check that.

My Lords, I received inspiration from the Box, saying that that was not a requirement. If I am wrong about that, I will, of course, write to noble Lords. However, the key point is that we are in line with what other European states are doing.

I am very pleased that the Minister will visit Eurostar. I am sure he will find that he is knocking at an open door. Will he also agree to speak to the specialist agencies concerned with child trafficking that work at St Pancras and the Paladin team as I think he might get a slightly different view of the situation regarding the border controls and how the whole thing operates than he has given us today?

My Lords, I am sure that interested organisations will read this debate in Hansard. If they want to send me the right questions to ask interested parties, I will take careful note of them.

Will the Government consider fining Eurostar for letting in trafficked people, as happens with airlines?

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness is referring to the controls imposed on airlines where the passenger does not have the correct document. I am confident that Eurostar will not willingly allow someone to be trafficked. However, we need to understand that this is an activity of those involved in organised crime who are extremely skilful at achieving their ends.

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for adhering to the speaking time limit. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, for interrupting him inappropriately.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.