Damian Green (Minister of State (Immigration), Home Office; Ashford, Conservative)
I am happy to assure Michael Connarty that I will be generous in allowing interventions, even though I am restricted by time, because I appreciate his contribution and his long-standing interest in this subject.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bone on making a uniquely Europhile speech, on securing this debate and on his work for the all-party group. I am grateful for his kind remarks, although I am deeply worried when he says that lobbying me is like pushing at an open door. I make it clear to all non-governmental organisations that that should not be taken as precedent.
There is, rightly, a lot of interest in this issue. Everything that my hon. Friend said about its seriousness and the importance of having an effective anti-trafficking strategy is, of course, true. The one point where I would slightly disagree with him, apart from on the central argument—I will come on to why I disagree with him about that—is on the lack of public awareness. It has struck me, over the past few years, not least through the actions of the all-party group, NGOs and successive Ministers in both Governments, that there is consciousness throughout the country of the evil of trafficking and the fact that it is present not just in our inner cities and the sex industry, but in many small communities, including rural communities, and all parts of the United Kingdom, as we have heard. Indeed, it is everywhere. That consciousness has grown in recent years, which is good, because we will be much more effective in fighting trafficking if, out there, the general public knows about it.
In that context, it is fair for me to outline some progress that we have made since we published the human trafficking strategy in July last year, which focuses, as my hon. Friend said, on four key themes: improving victim identification and care; enhancing our ability to act early; smarter action at the border; and more co-ordination of our law enforcement efforts in the UK.
Officials have been working across the Government to build a more collective and collaborative response to fighting human trafficking, bringing in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Education and the Department of Health. Equally importantly—I take the point that there must be collaboration between the Government and extra-governmental bodies—this response is specifically supported by stakeholder groups on specific themes, attended by a range of NGOs. The current groups are focusing on five key areas within the strategy: raising public awareness; working with the private sector; working with child victims; tackling demand; and international engagement. Those groups have already instigated action to support the aims of the strategy. For example, they are considering how we can expand the awareness-raising initiative with airlines—something that I helped to launch with Virgin Airlines as part of the activities on the most recent national anti-slavery day.
We have already provided additional information to posts in other countries to raise awareness of trafficking and to support collaborative working with NGOs in those countries. Part of that work includes gathering information from posts, so that we have a better
understanding of their challenges and issues to help inform how we might best support anti-trafficking efforts around the world. We recently agreed an awareness-raising campaign with a major supermarket in Lincolnshire to provide information to potential vulnerable workers in the agricultural sector.
Officials continue to review and refine the national referral mechanism to ensure that victims can be identified appropriately and to ensure that the picture on the extent of human trafficking within this country is clearer.
My hon. Friend was disapprobatory about the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Clearly, it can get better and is doing so, but improvements can always be made. That is what we are trying to do in respect of its intelligence function and organised crime group mapping, which will help inform the Government’s view of the priority areas to combat human trafficking.