Human Trafficking

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th July 2006.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities 11:30 am, 19th July 2006

For what reasons the Government has not ratified the Council of Europe Convention against human trafficking.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

The UK Government are currently considering the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking agreed last year. At present only one country, Moldova, has ratified that convention, but let me be clear that we are determined to tackle human trafficking. The police have set up the UK human trafficking centre to continue the fight against that crime, and Operation Pentameter resulted in over 150 arrests and the rescue of 75 trafficking victims.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

I am grateful to the Prime Minister. Thirty of the 45 Council of Europe countries have signed the convention, but we have not done so. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Coaker, and his officials said in the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the fear of "a pull factor" was preventing the UK Government from signing the convention. But is the Prime Minister aware that in Italy there is no evidence of a pull factor, and a hundred times as many women have been saved and there have been a hundred times as many prosecutions? Will he reflect again for the sake of the victims of trafficking, and allow the UK to sign the convention?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I will reflect again. The hon. Gentleman rightly puts his finger on the reason for our refusal to sign and ratify the convention so far. An absolute 30-day reflection period is required for victims who are here without leave, to enable them to recover from the experience that they have been through. Our worry is that, unless we are very careful about the way in which that is implemented, it will cause a major problem with people who come here under the auspices of organised crime and are not proper asylum seekers, as we would be obliged to keep them for a fixed period. I am afraid we have to examine what that means in practice for our system before we can agree the convention.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Last week, the Prime Minister agreed to meet a delegation led by myself on the issue. There is widespread support in the House for the signing—not ratification, which is different—of the convention, as well as widespread support among the police, Anti-Slavery International and Amnesty International. I would rather not meet him, because I do not want to discuss a problem. I would rather that the Home Office provided a solution without too much time passing.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I entirely understand what my right hon. Friend is saying, and he made his point in a very reasonable way. I will look at the issue again, but we need an answer on that point. It is not only Britain that has not signed the convention—countries such as Spain have not done so because they, too, are worried about the same problem. However, if we can find a way around it—and we may be able to do so—that would obviously allow us to sign.