Human Trafficking

Women and Equality – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham 10:30 am, 22nd February 2007

What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on efforts to eradicate the trafficking of women into the UK.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

I regularly discuss these issues with the inter-ministerial group on trafficking, and I recently wrote to Cabinet colleagues to support our signature to the Council of Europe trafficking convention. At our last meeting, we discussed the progress of the UK human trafficking centre, the first of its kind in Europe.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham

I thank the Minister for her response and welcome the UK finally signing up to the convention, following Conservative pressure.

The Minister will be aware of last June's massive and authoritative report by the US State Department on human trafficking in the world. In a mixed review of the UK, it stated:

"There is no specialised immigration status available for trafficking victims, and shelter capacity for victims continues to be limited ... The Government should continue and expand specialised training to include screening and referral of potential trafficking victims for all front line responders among law enforcement, immigration, medical, educational and social services."

Will she tell us the Government's response to the suggestions from the US State Department?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

The Government are doing a great deal on trafficking, which is why cross-government work is going on. We have had successful operations in relation to people coming into this country, such as Operation Pentameter. We are leading Europe on providing for victims and ensuring that people are recognised at ports. This must be an international issue and it needs to be dealt with through international action. We are making great progress, and we are recognised as a leader in Europe.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

I agree that we are making progress, but what steps are the Government taking to ensure that schemes that are designed to help victims of trafficking are available outside London?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

My hon. Friend asks an enormously important question. The Home Office funding for the Poppy scheme, which is based in London, between 2003 and 2006 totalled £2 million. Last year, we entered into a £2.4 million funding agreement to provide 25 crisis places, 10 resettlement places and the first ever outreach service for UK victims of trafficking. Work is going on to develop places outside London, and we are examining the situation as part of our overall review of support for vulnerable people.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

The whole House understands that it is very difficult to take effective measures against this contemporary form of slavery, given the desperate circumstances that many of the women face in their own countries and the ruthlessness of the criminal gangs, but the key point has to be to try to stop those women leaving their country and coming here. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Policing Minister with a view to sending senior police officers, perhaps even retired ones, to some of the countries that are the worst offenders to see what action they can take to try to tackle the problem at source?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

The hon. Lady raises an enormously important issue, and indeed such work is ongoing. I am also pleased to say that this week the Department for International Development has produced a booklet called "Breaking the chains - eliminating slavery, ending poverty", which is designed to recognise that it is poverty and social exclusion that make people vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of contemporary slavery. DFID's work in supporting long-term programmes to help tackle the underlying causes of poverty, including social exclusion and conflict, are also adding to our work on the issue.