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Trafficking: Children

Volume 765: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether there has been an increase in the number of cases of child trafficking reported since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed.

My Lords, the Modern Slavery Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. The first package of measures was implemented on 31 July 2015. The number of children referred into the national referral mechanism has increased year on year, but it is too early to tell whether there has been an increase in the number of child trafficking cases reported to the NRM since the Modern Slavery Act was passed.

I thank the Minister for that response. I should like to ask about the Home Office counting rules used by the police to record crime statistics, which has been recently updated to take account of the Modern Slavery Act. Will he please explain why there is no specific category to record child exploitation cases, such as domestic servitude? Instead, these crimes against adults and children are lumped together, which will obscure the recording, investigation and monitoring of these heinous crimes against children. Surely this is not the way the Modern Slavery Act was supposed to work.

The noble Baroness makes a very interesting point and I will look at this. It is of course something that the Crown Prosecution Service will produce guidance about, working with the police forces. Also, the national policing lead, Shaun Sawyer, is leading the Modern Slavery Threat Group, which will monitor this very carefully indeed. We are conscious that we need to get to grips with this problem. If in the process of this law—it is just coming into being, with the offences having been introduced on 31 July—that proves to be helpful, I am sure that it is something that we would look at very carefully. I am happy to continue the discussion with the noble Baroness.

My Lords, what will be the impact of reductions in police budgets on training of police officers to identify victims—I am sure that the Minister will agree that that needs a degree of training and skills—and to question victims in the most supportive and effective way?

The question of police funding will obviously be for the spending review on 25 November. There is a change to the formula there. We have made it very clear that this is a high priority. That is why the national policing lead is taking such a strong role on this. Significant amounts of training are already being done through the Crown Prosecution Service, but we will continue to keep that under review.

My Lords, what progress are we making in dealing with the problem of vulnerable children being referred into the care of a local authority but subsequently getting lost?

We are looking at a number of issues, particularly with child trafficking advocates. The care of children, under the 1989 Act, continues to be at a very high level. We are looking at whether the appointment of child trafficking advocates alongside each child, to help them navigate their way through the many different services and the many situations they face, would help tackle the problem referred to by my noble friend.

Further to the very important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, in her supplementary question, surely Ministers should insist, now, that statistics on children and adults should be separated. The noble Baroness made an enormously telling point—of which I was ignorant—and I hope that the Minister can give her a positive assurance about it.

I will certainly try to go further. The crime statistics, which were published this morning at 9.30 am, contain a revision to the way in which crime is reported and gives new categories, such as fraud and cybercrime. I simply use this example to say that the Government are not immune to the argument that the nature of crime is changing and therefore how we report it ought to change too. In consultation with the national policing lead and, crucially, with the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who also produced his strategy today, we will look at this very carefully and keep it under review.

Will the Minister say when the results of the pilot project in relation to the child advocates will be available?

We have had trials in 23 local authorities, as the noble and learned Baroness, who has done so much work in this area, knows. They are now being reviewed by the University of Bedfordshire and we expect to receive a report shortly. The full details of that report will be laid before Parliament, along with regulations as to what we intend to do.

My Lords, what is being done to ensure that the responses of police forces to their new responsibilities is uniform across the country, because it may be very patchy with budget pressures? Will the Government take a lead to ensure a uniform response of police forces to these responsibilities across the country?

Of course I can, and I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for the significant work he has done, consistently, in this area. The College of Policing has changed its programme for providing information to and training for police officers on this; we have the national policing lead, Shaun Sawyer, working on that. The task force has been established, and the Crown Prosecution Service is also updating its guidelines and has already undertaken a number of training sessions for regional polices forces. There is still much more to be done, but a strong start has been made.

The Minister will obviously be aware of speculation about the size of pending police cuts. How will any cuts in the size of police forces, of the kind suggested that the Government might be contemplating, contribute to addressing child trafficking?

On the wider issue of policing, the noble Lord will be aware that the crime figures have again shown a fall in crime. Today, in England and Wales, the figures are down a further 8%—down 30% since 2010—and that has been done under a period of very tough settlements for the police, which we recognise. That is a tribute to the police and also to the police and crime commissioners. This is something we need to keep under review. I am confident that the Government have made it clear that this is a heinous crime; the powers in the Modern Slavery Act offer a real hope that we can get to grips with tackling the perpetrators of this crime and that it ought to be a priority.