I want to ask the Minister for progress in a number of areas. Can he talk to the Prime Minister, who has made human trafficking a priority for the coalition, about the advantages of driving the issue with not only his interdepartmental ministerial group but an independent rapporteur? We could learn something from those countries that have a rapporteur because, if we had one, does the Minister not concede that we might soon begin to get much more frequent and accurate data? Might we not also focus on proactive police investigations? We know what reply he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Slough—that we should all chase after our police and crime commissioners—but what guidance do the Minister and the Government have for such rating of police activity? What are the Minister’s plans for improved training of police and border staff? What target will he set for prosecutions? Deterrence has not yet featured in
Government plans. What plans does he have to examine critically and, therefore, to extend the help and protection we give to those slaves who come forward to claim their freedom?
I end with the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. Combating human trafficking is meant to be a priority of the coalition Government but, if so, it is one of their best kept secrets. No topic could be more important, not only as a priority for the coalition Government and the House of Commons but for the country. There would be huge support in the country if the Government wished to make it a priority. I hope, therefore, that we witness a Pauline conversion from the Minister and that we leave the debate with much lighter hearts and even greater determination to support him in his work.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate, which will be the last we speak in, in 2012. I could not think of a better subject to spend time debating. The subject is serious, and I want to associate myself with the comments of all speakers so far, and recognise not only their passion but their depth of knowledge.
Last Sunday, I spoke at a church in my constituency, and afterwards a woman came and talked to me about an issue that had nothing to do with human trafficking, but something she said stuck with me. She said, “Now is the time for a Wilberforce moment, and to make your stand.” Underlying that comment was the belief that what changes things is not a vote or legislation alone. It was not a detached moment in Wilberforce’s life that led to change; almost the whole of his life led up to the moment when something happened, and that was what changed things.
My short time in the House has confirmed my previous prejudice that what changes big and complex issues is not a vote or legislation, but clear, consistent and brave political leadership. I have enormous respect for the Minister. I have seen him up close working on difficult legislation, and I believe that he wants to do the right thing. To echo many hon. Members who have spoken, there is a real opportunity for this Government not just to give a commitment or set up a working group, but give clear and consistent leadership across the wide gamut of policy concerning human trafficking.
I want to say a few words about human trafficking, the sex industry, prostitution, and how we can live up to our commitments by examining the law in this area. Human trafficking accompanies many heinous forms of control, abuse and exploitation. Trafficking of human beings in the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains the most prevalent type of exploitation recorded through the national referral mechanism last year.
According to the most recent UN figures, trafficking for sexual exploitation accounts for 58% of all trafficking cases detected globally, and victims of all forms of trafficking are also at high risk of sexual abuse; there are reports that 87% of all trafficked victims are subject to sexual violence and exploitation. It is important that we do not directly conflate prostitution and trafficking, but we must take on those who would promote the myth that there is no direct relationship between those trafficked to the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation and our local prostitution markets.
During the previous Government, my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart courageously promoted section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and managed to get it on the statute book before the election. It introduces a strict liability offence for those purchasing sexual services from someone who is subject to “force, threats…or…deception”, and chapter 5 of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking report refers to that.
My hon. Friend explained that the fines are relatively low because the offence is one of strict liability. My research, as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, into how effective the law has been shows that only 43 people have been found guilty of the offence; we would have expected the law to be more potent, when it comes to convicting people. That is shocking, because we know that women and some men in many towns and cities throughout the country are being raped repeatedly, day after day, night after night. They have been trafficked to this country, and the men who have done that to them are walking away with fines of £200. That is truly shocking, and the step that was put in place to try to ensure that we send a clear and consistent message has succeeded only in highlighting how far we have to go.
I have spoken to the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office staff, the Association of Chief Police Officers and other organisations, and they say that to make the law work it should be set within a framework of clear and consistent political leadership and pressure from the Government. The Minister intervened to talk about the role of police and crime commissioners in setting their local policing plan. I have met the Labour police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire, Olly Martins, to discuss what more can be done, but I accept that this is a cross-border issue, crossing both national and county borders, and I encourage the Minister to provide clear and consistent leadership.
The hon. Gentleman—my parliamentary neighbour—mentioned leniency and lightness of fines, which picks up on a point that Mr Field made about the lightness of the prison sentences in the Bedfordshire case. Might not that be an issue to raise with the Minister, who should perhaps take it to the Sentencing Council, given that there is a strong feeling in the Chamber that the sentences being passed do not reflect the appalling nature of the crimes committed?
Of course I associate myself with that comment, but we must look at Government action in the round, and not just in terms of the sentences available on the statute book, and ask questions about the direction of future legislation.
My hon. Friend talked about going to see his police and crime commissioner. We will go to Jane Kennedy, our police commissioner, but she faces huge demands, and a cut budget, and she will have data on many other objectives. Where are the data that I can present to her in order to make the issue a priority in Merseyside?
My right hon. Friend makes a fantastic and insightful contribution, as ever. The pressures involved in highly evidence-based and research-based operations mean that there is an easy way out, and I do not mean
that in a derogatory way. Police and crime commissioners can say, “I have lost 20% of my policing budget, and trafficking is not a priority on which I was elected.” What would make the most difference are clear statements by this and future Governments that tackling abuse of people who are caught up in modern-day slavery is an overriding concern.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He may not have noticed something that is deeply buried in Government policy. When the National Crime Agency comes into being, the UK Border Force will have the right to enforce a trafficking operation on a police area. If it believes that in Bedfordshire, for example, the police are not doing something that they should be doing, it has the power centrally, for the first time, to direct them.
I accept that point, and it will be interesting to see in how many places that occurs, but equally, surely if we highlighted the places where we believe trafficking is an issue, we would not be able to stop listing places. There is a real problem in every police area. I am talking about the relationship between on-street and off-street prostitution and trafficking, but the problem goes far beyond that. I am always happy to commend my parliamentary neighbour, Andrew Selous, on the loveliness of his constituency. I occasionally journey there. It is a cliché to refer to leafy parts of Bedfordshire, but trafficking is an issue there.
It is not difficult to find the start of a trafficking trail. We could turn to the back pages of most free local newspapers and, just by ringing a telephone number, start an intelligence operation that could result in serious charges, if taken all the way through. The issue is the resources available. Local police authorities, police and crime commissioners, the Home Office, ACPO and the CPS are saying, “We will do more on this issue if there is more leadership and if we believe it is a priority,” so let us work together to make it a priority.
The Government have already signed up to a number of commitments. In March 2011, they signed up to the European directive on trafficking, which states:
“Member States should establish and/or strengthen policies to prevent trafficking in human beings including measures to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation, and measures to reduce the risk of people falling victims to trafficking in human beings”.
“Opting in would send a powerful message to traffickers that Britain is not a soft touch and that we remain world leaders in fighting this terrible crime”,
We have, quite rightly, opted in, but if the Government are not committed to legislation that tackles and reduces the demand for sexual exploitation, we will send exactly the opposite message: that Britain is a soft touch. We do not exist in a vacuum, but alongside nations—particularly on the continent of Europe—in which legislation has been used effectively to tackle the issues around sexual exploitation and trafficking. We have a duty to introduce measures that reduce both the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation and the risk of people becoming victims of trafficking in the first place.
It is currently illegal in the UK to have sex with a minor, to live off the earnings of women selling sex, and to solicit in a public place, but police practice still tends to focus on picking up women and girls who are soliciting, rather than on the men who use them. My right hon. Friend Mr Field talked about exploitation in legal and illegal markets, and about the sex trade being an illegal market; in some cases it is, but in many cases it is not, and that goes to the heart of the question of what we are doing to reduce the demand for human trafficking. Until we have enforceable legislation that protects the most vulnerable in our society, and transfers the burden of criminality to the perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence, we will struggle to say that we are doing all we can to tackle this atrocious affront to civil liberty and the dignity of persons. Too often, victims of trafficking and coercion are the ones facing fines and criminal records, while the perpetrators walk away scot-free.
The hon. Gentleman tantalised us by saying that other countries deal with this issue a lot better than we do, but he gave us no examples. Which countries could we look to for examples of good legislation?
Let me jump ahead in my speech, because that is a salient point. I could mention a number of countries, but merely as examples of places where there are different legal settlements. They certainly do not represent my view of how we should tackle this issue, and I think we should work together and appreciate that there is a problem before we reach a conclusion; indeed, my all-party group will look at many of these issues next year in an inquiry into the legal settlement regarding prostitution.
There is significant evidence to suggest that domestic policies on prostitution have a direct effect on the flow of trafficking. A recent report, which surveyed 160 countries, showed that countries that legalise prostitution experience increased trafficking inflows on average. This is not, therefore, as straightforward as introducing one simple measure. Sweden amended its prostitution law in 1999 by criminalising the purchase of sex, on the basis that prostitution is always, by its very nature, exploitative, which is an interesting point. The prostitution market in Sweden has contracted, and reported instances of trafficking are far lower than in comparable, neighbouring countries. Sweden also has a different criminal justice system, in which it is possible to use wiretap intercept evidence in court, and there are clear examples of traffickers attempting to sell women into the country, particularly for the sex trade, but being told that it is too difficult and that they should choose other countries, because of the draconian measures in place to criminalise the purchase of sex by men. I will come to that in more detail in a moment.
In its strategy on prostitution and the exploitation of prostitution, the CPS recognises that there is a link between trafficking and prostitution. It says:
“The increase in human trafficking for sexual exploitation is also fuelling the market for prostitution in the UK, although this is largely confined to off street and residential premises such as brothels, massage parlours, saunas and in residential flats. This is a lucrative business and is often linked with other organised criminal activity such as immigration crime, violence, drug abuse and money laundering. Women may be vulnerable to exploitation because of their immigration status, economic situation or, more often, because they are subjected to abuse, coercion and violence…there is evidence now that trafficked women are also working on the street.”
On the basis of anecdotal evidence, I also believe that to be the case.
The IDMG report recognises that trafficking does not merely involve crossing borders. In 2011, the Serious Organised Crime Agency recorded that 99 UK citizens were trafficked within the UK, although many of us believe the number is higher. Some 52 UK citizens were trafficked for sexual exploitation, and 80% of them were identified as female children. Even more alarmingly, SOCA reported that some potential victims, especially those subjected to criminal exploitation, continue to be incorrectly identified as suspects.
ACPO’s 2010 study of sexual exploitation in England and Wales—Project Acumen—estimated that 96% of women involved in prostitution in London were migrants. Home Office figures tell us that women involved in street prostitution are 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women, and murders of prostitutes constitute the largest single group of unsolved murders. Another Home Office report estimates that more than half the women involved in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted, and that at least three quarters of women involved in prostitution have been physically assaulted. Some service providers believe those figures to be underestimates.
One fundamental barrier to protecting those at risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation remains the ambiguous definition of exploitation and coercion. Many victims of sexual exploitation do not consider themselves to be exploited, as a consequence of cultural values, work ethics and levels of remuneration in their home country. However, we must be clear as a country about what we believe exploitation to be, and we must be consistent in applying that understanding. Some people may not be identified as potential victims of trafficking by those who encounter them. We therefore need to reassess the working definitions of exploitation and coercion—problems that lead to intolerable numbers of vulnerable people entering the UK sex industry, often unable to exit.
Current legislation focuses on selling sex or soliciting in a public place, contributing to an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to sex work. In light of increased awareness of the significant links between prostitution, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, it is imperative that we put resources into prevention and the protection of those involved in the sex industry, as well as into increased exit pathways and support. To return to my original point, such measures must be backed by appropriate legislation and clear political leadership, to make it clear that accepting abuse and violence towards marginalised persons is unacceptable under any circumstances, and that such practices will be punished through enforceable laws.
There are frightening statistics about sex workers experiencing violence, rape, drug and alcohol misuse, coercion, exploitation and cycles of abuse. How can we reconcile the Government’s commitment to reducing violence against women, protecting children at risk of sexual exploitation and combating trafficking with the tolerance and acceptance of men purchasing sexual services, primarily from vulnerable women, children and men?
To be frank, we cannot protect an individual’s so-called right to sell sexual services at the expense of those trapped in horrendous cycles of abuse. Notions of individual choice and consent cannot be dismissed, but
they must be examined in the context of increased vulnerability to coercion and the imbalances of power that, by their very nature, exist in this industry.
There are the simple rules of supply and demand: the supply of commercial sexual services is met predominantly by marginalised women and girls or other vulnerable persons, and the demand is driven by men who take advantage of these marginalised persons. In almost every case, prostitution is the result of the absence of choice—a survival strategy and not an empowered choice. The UN rapporteur on trafficking says:
“It is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experiences within prostitution do not involve, at the very least, an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include power disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, and poverty. Put simply, the road to prostitution...is rarely one marked by empowerment or adequate options.”
There is significant evidence to suggest that domestic policies on prostitution have a direct effect on the flow of trafficking. I spoke, in response to comments by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, about those countries that tackle the matter differently, with a different legal settlement. Sweden, of course, amended its law in 2009, but at the other end of the scale, the Netherlands, which in 2000 lifted the ban on brothels, has experienced a significant rise in the incidence of trafficking, forced prostitution, serious organised crime and money laundering. The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, was forced to admit that, five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, the aims of the law—to reduce and regulate the prostitution market—had failed, and measures to tackle the spike that had emerged in trafficking would have to be implemented.
That is the really important issue. I do not know the answer to this. The hon. Gentleman is right about the Netherlands, where one would think that it would be easy to identify trafficked women, because things are open and above board, although with the lover-boy syndrome, they do not even recognise that they are victims of trafficking. Yet in Sweden, where there is a ban, the evidence is that activity is driven underground and the treatment of those who are trafficked is even worse. I struggle; I do not think that there is a particularly easy answer.
The hon. Gentleman is right about one thing, which is that there is no obvious and easy answer—that is why we debate these things. However, I disagree with his interpretation of the data on Sweden. I would cite the example of New Zealand, where recent studies have considered the effect of legalisation and openness without measures to criminalise purchase. There was an increase in the number of people who felt able to come forward as victims of trafficking; but that was easily overwhelmed by the massive increase in the scale of the industry, which drew in many more trafficked women. Any review of prostitution law has to consider all those factors. However, it is laughable to claim that the current legal settlement is successful, and helps women to exit—I appreciate that it is not only women who are affected, but in this context I will talk about women involved in prostitution—or that it helps to achieve the aims and ambitions of Parliament and the Government, and our commitments to international parties in relation to trafficking. From the evidence of the document, I do
not believe that there is enough focus on the issue, given the scale of its contribution to the inflow of human traffic. Any review should examine the subject in detail. Perhaps that is an issue that we can pick up outside the Chamber; I appreciate that time is moving on.
Tackling the roots of increased vulnerability through action against poverty and economic coercion is key, but a commitment to reducing the demand for sexual exploitation will go a long way towards tackling the supply, through trafficking, for forced prostitution. By recognising the links between trafficking and prostitution through robust legislation to tackle demand for all forms of sexual exploitation, the UK could send out a strong statement that we are not open for business, to discourage both the supply and demand for that horrendous affront to human dignity. This afternoon we have had an opportunity to discuss one of the most important issues that Parliament can discuss, and I hope that it will lead to Government action.
Mr Havard, I have been on the rugby field with you, where I think you have given me one or two suicide passes, in your time; but it is a thrill, indeed, to be here under your chairmanship.
It is important that this debate has been called and that the Government have produced a report. If the abilities of Mr Bone are up to persuading Ministers to do things that others cannot persuade them to do, I commend him for that; but I wonder—and he knows this—whether it is a two-way street, and whether things that we should press the Government on are not happening, while they concede small benefits like producing a report.
I wish the Minister well. I hope that his career flourishes for the few years when the Conservatives and the coalition are in power, but I hope that he takes on the admonition of my right hon. Friend Mr Field that, with an issue such as the one we are debating, there should be times when the Minister asks things of his Government that they have not asked him to carry out, in his remit. I do not think that his predecessor did so. It is unfortunate, as he knows, in my view, that the issue is given entirely to a Minister in the Home Office, who also has responsibility for immigration, because it is not an immigration issue. It is not about immigration: it is about justice, victimhood and a business model perpetrated by people around the world and in this country, in which human beings are the products and the things of commerce, regardless of how they have to be dehumanised and degraded. It is in those terms that I always approach the matter.
To respond to my hon. Friend Gavin Shuker, there is a massive problem of exploitation of people. It is a form of slavery and is sometimes related to trafficking into the country; but I remarked on the fact, at a recent forum, that of the people and groups named as being trafficked the vast majority were people who live in the EU and have the right, under the Single European Act, to come here freely, without anyone having to bring them in secretly; there is no requirement for a visa. They still end up, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough said, by the use
of lover-boy tactics or promises of jobs, moving slowly but surely into other degrading forms of work—particularly the sex trade.
I have Human Trafficking Foundation correspondence dated
“Officers from the London Regional Intelligence Unit and the Metropolitan Police’s SCD9 (Human Exploitation and Organised Crime) unit collected 43 newspapers from across 32 London boroughs and over 3000 cards from telephone boxes.”
All of those newspapers and cards were advertising sexual services. The letter continues:
“Additionally, 380 premises were identified from police databases, and 268 premises and 44 escort agencies from internet research”—
in London alone.
“All the data was analysed to remove duplicates”,
so those are net figures for London alone. The Human Trafficking Foundation has asked for those premises to be publicly exposed—and all the addresses on the cards and in the adverts—and for follow-up, so that those are made public, and people are made aware.
There is something that I find happens when anyone raises the question of human trafficking. For example, a young woman came down here because of a BBC Scotland blog. They were looking for people who were critical of MPs—who regarded them as a waste of time and so on—and they invited a couple to come down and meet their Member of Parliament. One of them came to meet me. She had been well trained by reading The Sun and all the other newspapers that spread the malicious rumours that all we do here is hang about the bars and line our pockets. When I asked her about human trafficking, and told her about the work we do on it, she said, “What’s that to do with me?” I pointed out that in two towns in my constituency—the town she lived in, and another one—brothels had been broken up by the police, and women were found who had been trafficked from the EU and from as far afield as China. They were working in those brothels under constraint. She still did not seem to think it was anything to do with her, which perhaps shows a great divide between such people and a young woman from a middle-class family who does not have such pressures. I tried to convince her that these are not people who volunteer or have no other option; they are entrapped into that life, thinking they are going to do something else. I think she began to see the point.
The Minister has to ask himself whether he is really appointed by the Government to protect the Government—Ministers often feel that is their first task, and that it is how to get up the greasy pole—or to protect those who are trafficked and trapped into what was correctly defined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead as modern-day slavery. Which side is the Minister on, at the end of the day? It might not be the one that gets him up the promotion ladder quickly, but I hope, when he looks at what is available, what has been spoken of, and what has been revealed, particularly, by the Human Trafficking Foundation and all the non-governmental organisations working in that field, he will decide that he is on the side of the victims, and not necessarily those who wish to see migration figures go down.
We know that the Government are under great pressure. There is no doubt about that. The economic clouds are very thick above their head and everyone else’s, but
when I talk about this issue to people who give their lives to fighting human trafficking, they see something much brighter. I wonder whether the Government’s obsession with the migration element of the public perception of Government is blinding them to the vision that they should have of what this is about. It comes down to the question of who is afraid of an independent rapporteur. When we signed up to the convention of the Council of Europe and—eventually—to the directive against human trafficking, the elements I have described were clearly in it.
The Government basically say that a committee of Ministers—where most do not bother turning up—that met once in nine months is a substitute for a rapporteur. We have met a number of rapporteurs—I have met rapporteurs from Finland and the Netherlands—but there is also the fabulous example of what has happened in Portugal with its Observatory, which has had the backing of the Government over 10 years. I met one of the Ministers who was involved in it yesterday on a Council of Europe committee. He was there for another reason, but he remembers the beginning of it, when people said, “You cannot do it. It is impossible. How can you track people?” What they are using is technology for the movement of shipping and other transport, and they are able to map the movement of people for trafficking to different areas for different reasons. People often go into the cities for labour and on to the tourist areas, and others go to those same areas for prostitution, for satisfying the demands of the tourist trade, which often seems to be connected in many areas.
There is a vast array of non-governmental organisations, and the Government report clearly does not reflect that. It relies on the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is a worthy organisation. I have visited SOCA—I have just finished a second attachment to the police—and I have talked to people in that context as well as through the all-party group on human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Centre is the only organisation the Minister relies on, yet there is a large number of NGOs. For example, at the Human Trafficking Foundation’s forum, which I and the hon. Member for Wellingborough attended, there were over 50 NGOs, all dealing with victims in all their forms—domestic slavery, and exploitation for employment and for sexual favours. Only three or four of those NGOs have responded to the UKHTC’s request for information, because they do not see such formal organisations, attached to Government, as being independent enough. They are looking after and protecting victims—people who have been traumatised—and they fear that people will then be criminalised and sent out of the country.
One of the conclusions of the Human Trafficking Foundation’s report is that the fear of being turned from a victim of trafficking into an illegal immigrant makes many people run away from formal institutions. The Government think they can deal with the matter through a committee of Ministers, which is responsible to Ministers and the Government, who are under pressure for other reasons—we accept that. Because immigration is an emotive subject, political parties, red-tops and broadsheets can use it to make people prejudiced against the policies of a Government. How much better would it be if the people doing this work were independent of Government, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said, supported by Ministers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is an excellent vice-chairman of the all-party group, and he is making a powerful point about the rapporteur. As he rightly says, many of these people do not have any immigration problems anyway, because they are EU citizens. However, the great example from the Netherlands to the Government, who have not grasped this point, is that a rapporteur is hugely to a Government’s benefit. The rapporteur is able to prove what the Government are doing independently, and the Netherlands has found it to be so good that it now has two more rapporteurs in different fields.
That is very true. The hon. Gentleman and I met the rapporteur from the Netherlands at a meeting; interestingly, he had been given the additional responsibility of protection of children from abuse; that relates to another Council of Europe convention—the convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. That role has been extended, so that it is much wider. One of the great criticisms of the way in which we deal with human trafficking is that we do not deal well with children. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
I want to quote some other organisations, because when it comes to this subject, I am probably a bit too subjective at times; that can happen when a person decides to immerse themselves in an organisation such as the all-party group, or to work alongside someone like Anthony Steen, who has been doing this work for such a long time. When he was on the European Scrutiny Committee, we would go off with the Committee and stay on extra days, wherever we were, to connect with people who were dealing with the countries of origin and transit. That is why, with support from ECPAT UK—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—he has got a project going, called Parliamentarians against Human Trafficking. That is an EU-wide, EU-funded organisation that aims to build these networks in every area. However, it is possible to become somewhat frustrated, and to see things a little bit too emotionally.
The Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking has produced a review on the rapporteur for trafficking. It talks about the Finnish, the Dutch and the observatory in Portugal, which we have been to, and we had discussions there. It also talks about the UK, what it says is not flattering. It argues that it should follow Finland and the Netherlands in appointing a designated national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings. It discusses the independence of the role from Government, with the ability to call the Government to account. I know that the Minister has a promising career. He has a style that will probably take him far, but he is not yet powerful enough to hold his own Government to account, because that is not what happens in junior Ministers’ careers. If they try to hold their Government to account, they find that they are soon on the Back Benches. It is a very nice place, the Back Benches—I have been here for 20 years—and, in fact, it is probably more effective than toadying up to any Minister. It is the death knell of their career if a junior Minister thinks that he can hold the Government to account, but a rapporteur can do that, which is why we must have one.
The review discusses
“A place where the widest possible information can be gleaned on the numbers considered to be trafficked”.
That is the point that we found in the Netherlands. We are talking about being surrounded by non-governmental organisations that clearly believe in the purposefulness of the rapporteur and their ability to make a difference to the issues to which people in NGOs give their lives, even though they probably do not have a great incentive in terms of money or career. That means people from faith groups, non-faith groups, civic society, and elsewhere. It comes down to it being a post
“which clearly defends human rights and acts as an independent monitoring party regardless of party or governmental vicissitudes of attention.”
That is a wonderful idea that we should grasp, and that the Minister should take away from the debate. The report is welcome—no one would doubt that—and it is good that it has been produced, but it shows the inadequacies, rather than the adequacies, of what the Government are doing, and it highlights the problems that we should be dealing with but are not.
I must say a little about domestic slavery, because the report says that one of the rising figures is that for trafficking for domestic slavery or domestic service. Every organisation that I have spoken to outside Parliament has been not just critical but condemnatory of the Government for withdrawing the domestic servants visa, which was brought in after a lot of pressure and discussion, and late in the life of the previous Government, because it was clear that people were being kept as slaves. There were reports of people living on the scraps from the table. They were being fed after the dogs. That was in some of the big, palatial houses in west London, where people from the diplomatic and business communities live.
I have been reading a book put together by Baroness Caroline Cox and Dr John Marks called “This Immoral Trade”. It talks about the 27 million men, women and children in the world who are in slavery. Some in Sudan and Burma are enslaved after a war and are sold on, or traded, to people who willingly hold them and sell them back to their communities. It turns out, when we read the book, that many of those women and men in Burma and Sudan are held in Arab communities. In fact, disturbingly, arguments are made in present-day Islamic law that slavery is all right, is acceptable. That is in sura 16:71 and sura 30:28 of the Koran. Sura 4:3, sura 23:6, sura 33:50-52 and sura 70:30 recognise concubinage, whereby slaves can be held by a master and used as concubines—for sexual favours. The Koran bans the sale of those people for prostitution, but they can be used as concubines. We would think that all these things must be ancient history, because there was also support for slavery in the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, but in fact Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzam has written a religious textbook in the 21st century that is used in Saudi schools that says:
“Slavery is…part of Islam…Slavery is part of jihad”.
The book goes on to say that he argued against the idea that slavery had ever been abolished, and said that those who espoused that view were
“ignorant, not scholars…Whoever says such things is an infidel.”
In the far reaches of the world, slavery is still associated with capture because of war. Clearly, we can do little about that unless we can have a dialogue with people who believe that they can justify slavery. The question of domestic servants—why are people kept in such terrible conditions in the homes of people from those countries who come here as diplomats and business people?—may be too close to that debate for us to talk about comfortably, because saying anything against someone’s beliefs is somehow taken as a form of racism, but it is not. There are human rights that run through everything—that challenge the ethics of any organisation.
The domestic servants visa recognised that. It said that people who were being treated like that should be able to leave a bad master and transfer to another employer. Kalayaan, the organisation that such people could go to, was well known to the police in London. To take that away from people, the Government argue, will expose those who come in as domestic servants and are illegal; it will make them easier to see. It is funny that the hon. Member for Wellingborough agrees with that; I thought that he made a very good point when he said that in Sweden, when people are told that they cannot sell their body for sex, the practice goes underground. If we say to people, “You can’t leave a bad master because you don’t have a visa,” that does not mean that people are not brought in. It does not mean that people are not kept in captivity and treated as domestic slaves. It just means that they have no right to leave a bad master. It is important that the Government examine that. I am surprised that there was not a hue and cry about it among the faith groups—perhaps they did not know that it existed—and among people of ethics and principle. What worries me is that the all-party group did not have a debate and come to a conclusion on that. I therefore feel that we are complicit, as an organisation, in not calling for Members of this Parliament to debate the issue and make their voices heard. I hope that at some time in the future we will.
The treatment of children is criticised by everyone who reads this report, because 67% of children who are found to have been trafficked and are put into care run away. They vanish—no one seems to know where they go—and they end up being re-trafficked, and back among groups that re-abuse or reuse them. There are cases of 14-year-olds who are trafficked, caught thieving, put into care and run away. They are found working as “farmers” in houses that are being used for growing cannabis, and are criminalised for being caught taking part in a cannabis-growing organisation. There is no question that at the age of 14, 12 or even earlier—whenever it started—these people decided to have the life of a criminal.
As has been said, some people get involved in prostitution at a very early age. One of our colleagues came back from India recently. He came along to one of our forum meetings—brought by the chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Wellingborough—and he said that, in India, children were being kidnapped or taken from their parents on the promise of a better life and brought to cities to have sex with men who thought that if they had sex with a virgin, they would have a cure for HIV. The vast majority of those children were of primary school age, and some were under school age—under five years old—when they were kidnapped. There arethings going on in the world, but that does not mean that they are not going on in our communities and within the EU.
My hon. Friend mentions an example of what is happening beyond these shores, which is truly shocking, but is it not also truly shocking that the evidence we have—I think there is even Home Office evidence—is that about half the people involved in prostitution started before they could legally consent to sex? That is how young they were.
That is shocking. It is an indictment of the society that we live in, at every level. I am married to a former director of education and social services in the city of Glasgow who was also the head of education in Southend-on-Sea in England. That was a Conservative authority, I should say, but the principle there seemed to be better, in that there was an attempt to create a wrap-around service, including health and social services. That was about looking for the signs early on of chaotic families and children who were not in a responsible social environment. The more we do in that way—the more we do by looking, through all the lenses, at society, and at where children are in communities, in schools and in the home—the more we are likely to expose those things that stick out as clearly indicating errors and dangers, and the more we can probably rescue people.
Order. I would like to give the two Front Benchers the opportunity to start winding up the debate fairly soon, so may I ask the hon. Gentleman to start drawing his remarks to a close?
I am happy to do so, Mr Havard.
The Minister should read the Children’s Society briefing for this debate. It is very much concerned about trafficked children being detained. The issue of victims being turned into the punished exercises the Children’s Society greatly. It states:
“Due to a lack of documentation, trafficked children are often refused support because their age is disputed.”
That is always a favourite. Those children tend to live unsupervised in hostel accommodation, and end up dropping out or running away. Will the Government commit to reviewing the impact of immigration policy on child protection, as recommended in a report by the Select Committee on Education? Many people other than those in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are considering the issue.
The quality of decision making is called into question. The number of people who end up in the national referral mechanism is a low percentage of the number of people found to have been trafficked. I recently met people from organisations that work with those who become asylum or illegal immigration cases, and they say that a high percentage of the people who do not make it into the national referral mechanism are not from the EU or Europe more widely; they are African or Asian. The organisations say that there is a tinge of racism in how the national referral mechanism is being used. The Government must consider that seriously. Some 29% of non-British nationals were accepted as victims of trafficking, whereas 88% of UK nationals were. There is something odd about that. Will the Government undertake an urgent review of the quality of decision making within the national referral mechanism?
Finally, the other major recommendation that the Government have ignored is that children should have guardianship. It is important that children are treated as children. There is a report by Tam Baillie, the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, called “Scotland: A safe place for child traffickers?” The Minister is now considering Baroness Kennedy’s report for Scotland, which is well ahead of anything brought out by this Government. A Justice Minister said recently that he would introduce a law under which crimes can be aggravated by human trafficking, just as they can be aggravated by racism and, in Scotland, by sectarianism—two major flaws. Will the Minister seriously challenge his own Government? He should not be complacent.
This is a report on where we are, and the Human Trafficking Foundation has not written in complimentary terms. It is nice that the report is there, but the very wide flaws are shown. Will the Minister seriously consider raising this question, or, as I asked in the beginning, is he just here to protect the Government?
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr Havard, and I congratulate all the hon. Members who have spoken, especially Mr Bone, both on his opening speech and on all his work on the issue. It has been a privilege to listen to all colleagues’ speeches.
Human trafficking is despicable. It denies our common humanity. It strips its victims of their human dignity, threatens their safety and well-being and denies their human rights. The fact that it continues in civilised society shames every one of us. I welcome the focus that the work of the all-party parliamentary group has given to the issue, and I am pleased that we are debating the first report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking.
The debate can send a powerful signal from Parliament that that we abhor and absolutely condemn the practice. I endorse what my right hon. Friend Mr Field called it: it is modern-day slavery. We cannot live with such a state of affairs. Listening to some of the speeches in this debate, particularly those made by him and by my hon. Friend Gavin Shuker, I felt how little we have progressed as a society; those speeches could have been given in the House 150 years ago, and similar speeches probably were.
We have discussed many aspects of the problem and the different purposes for which people are trafficked: forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation. We have talked about who is trafficked: children, women and men, often desperate to make a better life for themselves. Sometimes, they arrive in this country with no idea that they face the fate of being forced into servitude.
We have talked about the global dimension of trafficking, but I endorse right hon. and hon. Members’ comments that whatever the source country, although it is right that we consider actions to help prevent trafficking from those source countries, the problem also lies significantly in this country. We could hear no more powerful description of the challenge that we face at home than the truly shocking experience described by Andrew Selous.
I want to repeat some of the points made in the debate that I hope the Minister and the interdepartmental ministerial group will address as they pursue their work. First, as my hon. Friend Michael Connarty highlighted, there is a tension between enforcement and protection. There is also particular concern about the fate of trafficked children. Where the authorities become aware of such a situation, the overriding consideration must be to protect the child’s best interests and welfare. No one disputes that, but too often we fail in practice.
Children suffer from a wall of general disbelief that can face those who seek to report their experience. The pervading culture of scepticism takes a particularly pernicious form when a young person is not even believed to be a child. Although there are no statutory guidelines, the UK Border Agency’s policy is that where there is doubt about a young person’s age, they are to be given the benefit of that doubt, presumed to be a minor and entitled to the special protections that we afford to those who are under age. However, that does not always happen in practice.
I invite the Minister to comment on what steps are being taken to reinforce the message to all decision makers and enforcement agencies, including the UK Border Agency and the police. I point out that those agencies are not necessarily always the best equipped to make decisions about the best interests and welfare of children. It is of concern that there is no mandatory training for those who deal with trafficked children. Will he comment on that? As colleagues have highlighted, we too often fail trafficked children, particularly when they come into our care system, where much more effort is necessary to address their special needs.
The culture of disbelief and responses that are often more about enforcement than protection are felt by more people than just children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South said, they are also felt by those who have been sexually exploited.
The hon. Lady is making some important points. Does she not agree that it is strange that a child from an EU country who comes into this country would actually want the Border Agency to recognise them as an adult, because they would be better looked after than a child?
It is clearly a terrible irony that we are incapable of looking after children and meeting their needs properly. It is of particular concern that when children are identified as children and enter the state care system their needs are so inadequately met. I hope that the Minister will discuss that, because it is a genuine concern for right hon. and hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South discussed those trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some of his points were also highlighted by my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, who has done powerful work in the field. The debate about how best to protect those engaged in sex work through criminal law is a live one, and there are undoubtedly differences of view about criminalisation. It is important that we learn lessons from international experience, including experiences on our own doorstep, in Scotland. Will the
Minister tell us whether the UK Government are considering the criminal law on sex work, particularly its application to trafficked sex workers?
The Minister will also be aware of the Home Office-funded national “ugly mugs” programme, which encourages sex workers to share reports of violent perpetrators. I would welcome his assurance this afternoon that the very modest funding to the programme will continue. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough on the shockingly low number of prosecutions and the low sentences that result when a prosecution and conviction ensure. I invite the Minister to comment on whether victims’ concerns, which make them hesitant even to report their experiences, can be traced back to that. If they feel that the law will treat them as criminals, rather than victims, and they hear about the low sentences and low number of prosecutions when stories are told, they will be unlikely to report their own experiences.
We discussed those trafficked into the labour market—both the formal and the grey labour markets. There are examples of good practice, which we have not talked about. Companies signed up, including during the Olympics, to the tourism child protection code of practice and to take action on corporate supply chains as a mechanism for enforcement, which has been touched on. Those steps are welcome, but I hope that the Minister will say what more the Government will do to encourage more businesses to follow suit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk promoted a Bill to legislate along the lines of the Californian approach. Given the Government’s lack of enthusiasm for regulation, I fear that the Minister will be reluctant to adopt such legislation. He must surely accept that, if Government intervention is to be avoided, business needs to take rigorous and more determined action. There is clearly a role for the Government in promoting that.
My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I received a letter today from McDonald’s—Big Mac—apologising for being part of the trail. It pointed out that it hired Noble Foods, which then hired a company called McNaught’s—a Gangmasters Licensing Authority licence holder. Other people have now been arrested and charged for using basically gangsters to enslave the workers in the chicken factories that Noble Foods got its eggs from.
It is welcome that McDonald’s and other high-profile national and international companies are aware of the issue and prepared to take action and be exemplars. I would be interested to hear what steps the Government are taking to work with business to promote more such action.
The institutional framework was also touched on by hon. Members this afternoon. As was pointed out, the UK is required under the EU directive to implement a national rapporteur function, and the interdepartmental ministerial group is the mechanism created to do that. Many speakers highlighted the deficiencies in the model. It is not clear that a Government body can effectively and independently evaluate the Government’s own policies. Such a body will not necessarily be sufficiently proactive and has no statutory ability to require information from Departments.
The national reporting mechanism appears to be of limited effectiveness in identifying the true scale of the problem. The Government’s wish to withdraw from the EU arrest warrant potentially weakens our ability to deal with people trafficked within the EU, those trafficked within the UK and those trafficked through the UK to other EU countries. I invite the Minister to comment on that.
I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government intend to monitor, guarantee and strengthen the effectiveness of the structures that have been put in place. Trafficking—slavery—is abhorrent and intolerable. We must have the most robust and effective processes in place to stamp it out. I am glad this important debate has taken place this afternoon. With all right hon. and hon. Members, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Before the Minister begins, may I say that I would like to give Mr Bone two or three minutes to respond at the end? Please keep interventions short.
It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and the chairmanship of Mr Robertson, who preceded you. I thank, as most hon. Members have, my hon. Friend Mr Bone for securing the debate. I knew that he planned on doing so and it is timely that it arrived today—the last day the House sits before Christmas. This has been a good debate, with contributions from Members who are well informed about the subject and know their stuff—I think that is the general view. I have certainly picked up on points that were made, but I suspect that I will not be able to cover them in the 22 minutes I have left. The debate has provided me with food for thought on the steps the Government will take.
Echoing my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, I want to put on record my thanks to Anthony Steen for his work with the foundation he chairs. I found him to be an excellent colleague when he was in the House and very focused on human trafficking. He and I spoke about it occasionally, though it was not within my area of responsibility. When he left the House, he told me that he would continue to focus on it and promised that he would be back here regularly to highlight the issue. He has kept that promise. I add my tributes to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.
My hon. Friend reminded us that he welcomed the Government opting in to an EU directive. I suspect that it is the first and probably the last time he will ever utter those words, but I will treasure them.
Indeed, I will frame them.
Rather than going through the remarks in the order I had planned, I shall do so in the order my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough raised them. I will deal with his remarks first, because he, with others, picked up the debate and got it going. I take his point, which Mr Field repeated, about the group’s title. By repeating it, he raised a point
that had occurred to me: the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking is not the catchiest of titles. I will go away and reflect on that. Having been in government, he knows that Governments do not come up with catchy ways to describe things.
The right hon. Gentlemanmight have a good point, but that should not detract from the fact that the group includes not only Ministers from across Government, but members from all the UK’s Governments—the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. We have not been reflected on that, but it is important partly because it addresses the points made about independence. If the UK Government wanted to sweep things under the carpet, there are members from three other Governments, who are not of the same political party, who would not let us.
When I was given the job and told that I was chairing the group, I thought about the arguments for an independent rapporteur and the effectiveness of a group of Ministers. A ministerial group is also effective in ensuring that action is taken, which was my prime reason for being in favour of it. If we want to get things done, whether requiring legislation or otherwise, it is important to have Ministers from across Government working with our colleagues in the other parts of the UK, particularly on an issue that several Members described as one that the Prime Minister takes seriously. If we cannot make things happen, no one in Government can.
I did not understand the criticism from several people about the group not being able to get information from within Government. We are all Ministers in the Government, and if we want to get information from Departments we do not need a statutory basis to do so because we are able to get it. Having thought about it, I genuinely believe that having a group of Ministers is effective in delivering change and making things happen in practice. This is the group’s first annual report, and I accept that it is not perfect. We can do many things to improve it, some of which I will set out.
None of us argued for one strategy or the other; we argued for both—the ministerial group backed up by the rapporteur.
I accept that, but I felt slightly beaten up about the question whether the interdepartmental ministerial group was effective. I was also worried by the almost unanimously positive comments from Opposition Members about me and my future career—it is never good when Opposition Members overly praise Ministers; I always think that does us great harm—but I will take them in the spirit in which I am sure they were intended.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead raised the question of data and of really understanding this issue, which is something I have raised internally. The cases referred through the national referral mechanism are only the tip of the iceberg. Globally, reports suggest that many millions of people are affected in the trade. One task that I have given my officials is to crunch those numbers and to understand the true picture, including how that plays out across the country.
As some Members have said—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire made the point powerfully—and as the NGOs that I have met have echoed, the problem is not just in inner cities or parts of the country where people think this sort of thing goes on. On anti-slavery day, I met several people from what some might call leafy parts of the country, such as Surrey, who had seen this activity happening. They felt that, as my hon. Friend said, it is important to get people to think about the issue, to understand that it might be going on in their street or round the corner, and to be alert to what they should look for.
On data and understanding the problem, it is important to get the public to understand that there is an issue—picking up the point made by Michael Connarty: telling a constituent why it matters to them, and making them understand that—and to focus on it. That, in turn, picks up the point made by Gavin Shuker about pressures on police forces and constabularies. People must understand that this is a big problem and that there are interconnections, in that people involved in trafficking are also involved in wider organised crime. This big economic problem generates lots of money that is then used for other criminal activities. It is not a small problem located in one place; it is very wide and police forces ought to take it seriously.
I will not go through this issue at length, but it worth saying on police and crime commissioners—I take the point made by Fiona Mactaggart that they have been in existence for not quite a month—that the Government are making sure they are aware of their national responsibilities as well as their purely local ones. In other words, they must be aware of the types of crime with a national or international dimension that will impact on them, so that, in setting priorities, they understand that their police forces must think about such matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough mentioned the National Crime Agency. It will have within it the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Human Trafficking Centre and the Border Policing Command. It will be a repository of good intelligence gathering and an analysis operation. It will have its own operational police and law enforcement officers but, as my hon. Friend said, it will also have the ability, if necessary, to task police forces for particular operations. Clearly, it will be much better if it engages such police forces by debating and explaining the issue and getting them on board voluntarily, but it also has a tasking power that may ultimately be important, certainly in getting people to pay attention, as my hon. Friend rightly said.
My hon. Friend and other Members raised the issue of the protection of children, which the Government take very seriously. Kate Green spoke about training in the UK Border Force and the UK Border Agency. On meeting front-line Border Force officers who are at the primary checkpoints as people come into the country, and the staff of the UKBA, I have been struck by how aware they are of the child protection issue and the need to be alert to it, of all the signs of children travelling with people who are not their parents, and of what we need
to put in place to protect those children. I am not saying we are perfect—we can always do better—but I have been pleasantly surprised by that. Before doing this job, I was not really aware of how much training and expertise is available at the border for those officers as people enter the country. As I have said, I am sure we can do more, but we are very focused on that area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough also raised the issue of how we look after adult victims of trafficking. We have the contract with the Salvation Army to look after adult victims because there was no existing process for looking after them. There is an established mechanism for child protection that, as my hon. Friend said, is delivered through local government. I absolutely heard what he said about its effectiveness. There have recently been several cases in which—if we are in any doubt—we can see that trafficked children are not always well looked after by local government. I listened carefully to the examples he gave of projects that are under way to find a better approach. I do not want to prejudge their outcomes, but I assure him that I and other members of the ministerial group will consider those results closely to see whether there is a better way. He specifically referred to the Barnado’s pilot project for safe homes for children, and that and various other pilots will provide us with evidence about what works best, and we will be guided by what the evidence shows is effective.
Another thing worth saying is that the failures there have been will drive change in how we deliver care for children generally. Not only have trafficked children not been as well protected in the care sector as they might have been; many UK-based children who have not been trafficked end up not being well looked after. We will need to see what various reports suggest the Government should do instead before we respond. The protection of children is one of the most important things—my hon. Friend said it was the single most important thing—and that feeling was generally shared by the Members who have spoken.
My hon. Friend also flagged up that the report did not specifically mention the all-party group on human trafficking or the Human Trafficking Foundation. I assure him that, if so, that very much falls into the cock-up and not the conspiracy camp. There was certainly no deliberate intention not to mention them, and he was right to put on the record what he said about the Human Trafficking Foundation, which I have already echoed. He was too modest to mention, although others did, the excellent work of the all-party parliamentary group—that is not a catchy description either. It is important and helpful to get together people from across Parliament not only to take evidence, but to visit other countries and see what goes on. In a previous debate, my hon. Friend invited me to attend a meeting of the all-party group and if he wishes me to do so at an appropriate time, I would be delighted to attend, both to listen and to talk.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned child guardians, which we have not introduced because there are existing mechanisms. However, I have signed off funding for the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society, which he mentioned, to undertake a joint independent scoping review of the practical care arrangements for trafficked children in care. That will look at the experience of trafficked children and
practitioners to find examples of how people have been treated in the care system, and will report by the end of spring 2013. When we commissioned the report, we wanted something that told us about the experience of real children who have been through the system rather than a piece of desk research. We will look very carefully at the evidence to see whether it leads us to change policy in this area.
There are trafficked victims who end up undertaking criminal activity. We want to protect them and ensure that they are not turned into criminals. Let me be clear: if the circumstances of the arrest, or the evidence referred to by a prosecutor, suggest that someone may have been trafficked, the guidance is clear, as was I think acknowledged. In such a case, prosecutors should obtain further information, and work with the police to get more evidence. Where there is evidence that a suspect has been under duress, the prosecutor should not proceed. That is clear in theory, but I understand the concerns of Members about the extent to which that theoretical plan is carried through in practice.
Yes, I will. My hon. Friend the Solicitor-General, who sits on the interdepartmental ministerial group, is obviously responsible for prosecution policy. If my hon. Friend gives me some specific examples of that policy perhaps having not been followed, of course I will look at them and, where appropriate, discuss them with the Solicitor-General to see whether we need to take further steps.
About six months ago, I spoke at a meeting at the Thames Valley criminal justice association at which a number of defence barristers were present. They said that their universal experience was that young Vietnamese gardeners in cannabis factories were always prosecuted.
The hon. Lady gives me a link into my next point, about children who are being ruthlessly abused to run cannabis farms. Again, the guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers is clear. It says that we should look at the circumstances and be alert to the fact that the children may well have been trafficked. If that is the case, there should be a child welfare response rather than a criminal justice response. I absolutely hear what the hon. Lady says about whether that is actually happening in practice. I will speak to my hon. Friend the Solicitor-General to see what data there are about the position on the ground—I know we have gathered some from Crown prosecutors—to see whether we can be better informed. She is quite right: if people have been trafficked and are under duress, we should treat them not as criminals but as victims. That is what we intend to do and what the guidance says, but I accept that what is supposed to happen in theory does not always happen in practice.
The hon. Lady made a number of points. I am pleased that she is here, and I wish her a speedy and full recovery from the flu. I would not have known that she was ill apart from the odd cough. Her illness did not
seem to detract from her performance. If that is how she performs when she is suffering from flu, woe betide me in the next debate when she is not.
Let me disabuse the hon. Lady of her main point. We absolutely did not try to bury this report. We chose to launch it to coincide with anti-slavery day. We did our very best to make people pay attention to it. We had some success on social media. We worked with NGOs to promote it and we did a very good piece on the BBC, which took this matter very seriously and covered it extensively on its news bulletins to raise awareness. I am pleased to talk about the report at every opportunity, and I do not think that we buried it at all.
I thought that the hon. Lady was a little unfair about the report, and, by the way, if she could only find two examples of what she called spin—I do not think that they were spin—she cannot say that this whole exercise is about saying that the Government are doing a great job. Genuinely, I looked at her two examples, and did not think that spin was a fair characterisation of the report or the way it outlines what the Government are doing. I am sorry she thinks that, because that is not in the spirit of the way in which we have engaged in this report. The report was an attempt to give a fair picture of some of the data that show what the Government are doing to develop a human trafficking strategy. I rebut what she says and feel just a bit disappointed.
In what way does the Minister believe that the abolition of the domestic worker visa makes it less likely that people will be trafficked into domestic servitude?
May I remind you, Mr Harper, that we must leave three minutes for Mr Bone?
Absolutely. Let me just deal with that issue. We have made changes to reduce the numbers of overseas domestic workers who are eligible to come here and to protect them, so I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation. We can have a debate about it, but it is not fair to say that it is spin. The changes include insisting that domestic workers work for an employer for longer. We have ensured that they have to provide more evidence of that relationship, that they have proper written terms and conditions, that they know their rights and that they are given information in their local language, setting out the position when they apply for their visa. We want them to be properly alert to the position in the United Kingdom. Her specific point was about whether we had given them information produced by Stop the Traffik. I am not sure whether that is the particular document we give them, so I will go away and consider that matter. I think it was the “travel safe” resource that she talked about. If that is good information, I will look into supplying it to the workers as well.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I need to leave at least three minutes for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough to sum up the debate.
Let me conclude, then.
I am sorry I have not managed to cover all the points raised in this detailed debate. I agree with what everyone said about slavery being one of the great man-made evils, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead described it. The Government are determined to do what we can to combat it. I am grateful to the Members who have spoken today. This will not be the last debate on this subject, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough for securing it and look forward to his summation.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Havard, for allowing me to sum up what I think has been one of the most interesting debates that I have attended. It has benefited greatly from the fact that the speeches have been thoughtful, constructive and in no way party political. I thank all the Members who have spoken for that; of course, they are all members of the all-party group on human trafficking.
Briefly, I want to thank the Members who spoke, starting with Fiona Mactaggart. I thank her for getting off her sick bed, coming in and powerfully making her point, partly in relation to the rapporteur and partly in relation to domestic visas. I will make a quick comment on domestic visas. I say to Michael Connarty, who is one of the deputy chairs of the all-party group, that a debate on that subject would be a very good debate that we should press for. The Backbench Business Committee method is something that the all-party group should look to use
in the new year. That would allow us to debate all the issues and to highlight the different opinions on domestic visas.
What I recognised from the debate was the fact that, although there was no collusion, everybody from the Back Benches acknowledged the need for an independent rapporteur. We will come back to that issue again, especially if we feel that the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking does not do its job. If the Minister does not change the group’s name, that will be good enough reason for anyone to think that we need a rapporteur.
I thank all Members for speaking. My hon. Friend Andrew Selous told an extraordinary story, and he put it most powerfully. Anyone listening to that story realises that such events can happen anywhere.
Mr Field, who unusually made a prepared written speech for this debate—
Indeed; it is unique. The right hon. Gentleman’s speech was really powerful, but everyone who spoke did so exceptionally well. I am very grateful to everyone who attended today and to the Backbench Business Committee.
Thank you very much, Mr Bone. It is my duty now to bring this debate to an end. Cyfarchion y tymor i chi—season’s greetings to you all—and if we survive the Mayan new year tomorrow, we will resume in 2013.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (