My Lords, I am very pleased to have secured this debate today. The 18th of this month is Anti-slavery Day and human trafficking has been described as a modern form of slavery. Indeed, it has many of the features of slavery. Slavery is about power over individuals; it is about degradation and the removal of rights and dignity; it is about loss of personality and self-worth; it also often carries financial gain. All of this applies to the terrible practice of human trafficking.
I thank noble Lords-not only those in the Chamber today-for the support that they have given on this topic. There have been debates across the House and in another place on trafficking and we should today hope to build on those debates. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, recently held a useful meeting with representatives of organisations concerned with child trafficking; I am grateful to her for that and for her commitment in this area. I have received more briefings for this debate than I have ever received before. This shows the degree of concern about human trafficking and a commitment to improve systems to deal with this abuse. Many organisations-too many to mention, although I shall draw on their experiences-are doing a remarkable job in their advocacy for and support of trafficked people.
I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF and a patron of the University of Bedfordshire unit on trafficking. All the organisations, often working together, are totally dedicated, but they need recognition and support. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer that recognition and support today.
I shall begin by offering a few statistics on trafficking and I shall then focus on child trafficking in the UK, surely one of the most abusive and wicked of practices. I shall mention the proposed European directive; I know that many noble Lords are interested in this. I am also aware that noble Lords have a variety of issues that they want to raise and that there is great expertise around the Chamber. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, cannot be present today. She has particular concern and knowledge about the trafficking of children in London, highlighted in a recent Evening Standard report.
Here are a few statistics. Estimating the number of people trafficked is difficult due to the hidden nature of trafficking. It has been estimated that, globally, the number is 12.3 million, with prosecutions numbering barely more than 4,000 in 2009. In the UK, it is estimated that there are more than 5,000 victims of trafficking and between 100,000 and 800,000 victims in Europe. These were the findings of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in 2008-09. As we can see, the estimated numbers are diverse and unreliable. It has been estimated that the total economic and social cost of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK was as much as £l billion in 2003. We are talking about huge sums of money, second only to arms dealing. We are talking also about great human suffering and misery, particularly for women and children.
As I said, I shall focus mainly on the trafficking of children in the UK. This includes for sexual exploitation, including pornography, and for domestic or other employment purposes. These children are sometimes prosecuted through no fault of their own.
I shall cite a couple of real-life situations that illustrate some of my concerns. In Doncaster, a 15 year-old Vietnamese boy was recently jailed for a year after pleading guilty to helping farm £85,000-worth of cannabis. He was found on the stairs of a house during a police raid. He had been trafficked via France with the promise of a job in a nail factory. He had been working since he was 12. His family wanted him to have a better life in Europe. He had been beaten and threatened. He had realised that he was involved in criminal activity only nine days before his arrest. The magistrates were obliged to give him a custodial sentence of 12 months. The sentence would normally have been three years but was mitigated due to his age and good conduct. The new European directive on human trafficking, which I shall discuss later, contains provisions on the prosecution of victims.
Another example is a girl of 13 who arrived in the UK from Africa. She was used as an unpaid domestic worker by a couple who knew her family. She was assaulted by the couple on numerous occasions. A member of the public noticed her unusual behaviour and clothing and spoke to her, but the child's story was not believed. She finally turned up at the offices of the local social services department for help. The investigation took a long time, but she was eventually taken into local authority care, with a designated social worker. She then found herself able to disclose the physical and sexual abuse that she had been subjected to. The couple who trafficked her have been prosecuted after a two-and-a-half-year investigation.
The report from the NSPCC and the University of Bedfordshire, Breaking the Wall of Silence, gives many such examples. I have met young people who have been trafficked and suffered abuse and who have had their passports-where there was a passport-taken from them. They have been prisoners, not allowed contact with the outside world. These young people often have no English and little education. There has been little support, except in enlightened cases, and inadequate accommodation.
There are provisions to tackle child trafficking in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2008, the UK lifted its reservation on Article 22, thus entitling asylum-seeking children the same protection and access to services as other children. The Council of Europe convention of 2008 was the first international treaty to oblige states to adopt minimum standards to assist trafficked persons and protect their rights. Supplementary guidance has been issued to local authorities in England to promote early identification and partnership approaches to the protection of trafficked children. Guidance for safeguarding children at risk from sexual exploitation was revised and published in 2009. The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 places a duty on the UK Border Agency to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Much has been done. There is awareness of the need to protect vulnerable children, but problems remain. Early identification is difficult. Prevention measures are difficult. There are legal entanglements. There is a need for advocacy and key workers. There is a need for visionary co-ordination of services at a local level.
Barnardo's, which runs 22 services for children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation, found in its research that identification of child victims of trafficking is still very low. Authorities do not seem to have developed adequate procedures and guidelines to improve detection. Barnardo's found a general lack of awareness of child trafficking and its indicators among practitioners. It recommends more specialist services for such young people and the provision of a safe and trusted environment where they could disclose abuse and be helped. That would include safe accommodation.
ECPAT, an umbrella organisation on trafficking, is running, with the Body Shop, a campaign to promote effective guardianship of trafficked children. It has identified gaps in independent monitoring, inadequate legal advice and representation, and a lack of people to co-ordinate the agencies working with children and understand the wishes and needs of children. The agency Stop the Traffik has launched many campaigns, one in conjunction with Cadbury, Nestlé and Mars, to improve education about trafficking and local initiatives such as work with the police.
Initiatives are happening. However, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group report Wrong Kind of Victim? suggests that the UK's anti-trafficking measures are not fully compliant with the Council of the Europe convention of 2008 in relation to child trafficking in its obligations of protection and prosecution. That needs investigation along with the proposed European directive. Organisations working in the field of human trafficking need a firm and sympathetic lead from the Government to underline their efforts. How will the Government do that? Who will examine the different facets of trafficking?
There is still much to tackle. All the reports that I have read make a series of clear recommendations, none of which seems to be impossible to implement. Many simply mean a change of practice, such as assessments based on the best interests of the child, benefit of the doubt about issues such as age assessment, safeguarding by the provision of a dedicated key worker, systems to support the child, adequate accommodation-not distant and often unsafe bed and breakfast accommodation-the storing and sharing of information in local authorities and the use of the national referral mechanism to ensure that different forms of trafficking are considered and that cases can be identified at different stages. As someone said, trafficking is a process, not an event. Adequate time is needed to allow for counselling of young people under the age of 18 to disclose their circumstances if they are seeking asylum. The prosecution of child victims such as the example that I gave needs to be reassessed.
The coalition Government have indicated that they will not opt in to signing the proposed European directive on trafficking in human beings. Will the Government reconsider? I know that there has been confusion about the directive and between the meanings of the various conventions. Rather than getting into that confusion here, I suggest a meeting between Ministers, interested NGOs and parliamentarians to get total clarity on these directives and conventions. The organisation CARE points out that the European directive would add support to trafficked persons in relation to the non-prosecution of victims, assistance and support for victims such as in medicine or accommodation, special representatives in court for children, mandatory review of the results of anti-trafficking policies and assessment of trends.
This is not a party-political issue but an issue of moral imperative. I know that the Minister is sympathetic, but what will he and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, do next? The problem of trafficking is complex, but we cannot stand by and see unaddressed inadequacies in our systems to convict perpetrators and protect victims. I look forward to the debate and the Minister's response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this most important debate on human trafficking and on her wide-ranging speech. Given that it is one of the most ancient and lucrative criminal activities in the world, it is with the utmost urgency that we in the United Kingdom do our best to combat modern slavery. As the other place takes note of anti-slavery day today-I think that it is today-so do we with this timely debate. We in this country have a tremendous record in abolishing the slave trade and slavery in the early 19th century, so it was a proud moment for me as a Conservative Member of your Lordships' House to see the Anti-Slavery Day Bill passed into law before the general election this year. Anthony Steen's Private Member's Bill not only codifies recognition of our anti-slavery history, but also stimulates the general public to address this most significant issue.
As emphasised by the noble Baroness, the figures concerning this subject are appalling. More than 800,000 people are trafficked across borders every year. Furthermore, as she said, 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labour, bonded labour and forced prostitution worldwide. Human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry and is the second largest criminal industry in the world today-and, sadly, is also the fastest growing. Effective tackling of the global modern slavery trade would, of course, substantially diminish the $32 billion annual turnover for the traffickers. Would the Minister explain the Government's strategy at least to contain this enormous criminal industry, particularly in the field of traffickers of prostitutes aimed to take advantage of the 2012 Olympics and the large number of people coming over to watch that?
Human trafficking is not only of criminal benefit to traffickers but also a human disaster. One in six sexually exploited children and young people with whom Barnardo's is currently working appear to have been trafficked within the United Kingdom. The August 2010 report from the Association of Chief Police Officers on Project Acumen found that of 30,000 women involved in off-street prostitution, 17,000 were migrants. Through not fighting human trafficking effectively, we are destroying children's lives in the UK and fuelling our off-street sex trade. Can the Minister detail what the Government are doing to break the cycle of human trafficking to sexual slavery?
I mentioned the role of Barnardo's in caring for young people affected by human trafficking. This is just one of a number of righteous organisations working together to fight human trafficking. I must mention the Legatum Institute, which briefed me, and Stop the Traffik, which does great work in this field.
I hope that the Minister is able to explain how the Government intend to work with community organisations to combat modern-day slavery. The previous Government have left us with a terrible economic legacy, doubling the national debt and leaving us with the biggest deficit in the G20. Nevertheless, we should not allow this to exclude us from our crucial global role in counteracting this vile practice. Improving our response to modern-day slavery should not be excluded on cost grounds. We must improve our agencies and redouble our efforts not only to tackle organised international groups who profit from these crimes but to identify and protect victims. I look forward to the other speakers and of, course, to my noble friend's response to this very worthwhile and important debate.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has afforded us of considering what has been done already to deal with the horrible crime of human trafficking and what still needs to be done. She made useful suggestions on that, and I agree with her wholeheartedly that it is wrong in principle to prosecute child victims of trafficking for minor offences such as having the wrong documents. I certainly hope that the noble Lord will give a favourable answer to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness that this offence be struck out, because it seems to me outrageous that children are spending time in custody when they had no other means of getting into the United Kingdom than the use of false documents, as many asylum seekers do.
I also welcome what the noble Baroness said about the European directive. I agree that it would be useful to have a meeting with the Minister to discuss the arguments that have been rehearsed in both Sub-Committee E and Sub-Committee F on what we should be doing about this directive. If it is possible for the noble Lord to say that he would agree to that meeting, I would be very grateful.
"we have no good information on the scale of the problem, enforcement is patchy, prosecution rates are low and there is little protection for victims".
There has been a bit of an improvement since then, although we are still looking at the tip of the iceberg. The Select Committee said that on a conservative estimate, as has been mentioned, there were 5,000 victims of trafficking-of whom only a fraction have been identified-while the number of arrests as a result of the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in 2009-10 reached a respectable total of 417. Yet there were only 73 convictions of traffickers in the latest three-year period for which figures are available.
One reason it has been so difficult to get convictions is that the prosecution has to prove double intent: first, that the offender was moving the victim across a national border and, secondly, doing so to exploit that person here in the United Kingdom. Because of this difficulty, the CPS often charges the trafficker with a lesser offence such as living off immoral earnings, which is easier to prove, but that sentence may be so short that the offender is out before the victim's immigration status has been determined. Does the Minister think it would be possible to expand the definition of the trafficking offence so that it was only necessary to prove that the victim was not lawfully in the UK, not that the accused had been concerned in unlawfully bringing the victim here?
The noble Lord, Lord Luke, mentioned Barnardo's, and I, too, pay tribute to its work. It published the very useful report, Whose child now?, on what is known about the practice of moving a child around the UK or from town to town for the purposes of sexual exploitation, a crime punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment under Section 58 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This crime is recognised as trafficking in the UK action plan and covered in the remit of the HTC. Since that penalty is the same for a child trafficked from another country, it gives the prosecution an alternative charge where it is easier to prove that the trafficker was responsible for the move within the UK, rather than for the original trafficking from overseas. Is the HTC building up a database of cases that can be referred to by the police and the CPS to help them decide what is the most appropriate charge?
In the Government's response to the sixth report of the Home Affairs Select Committee last August, they said that the HTC would continue to improve its role as a central point for the collection and analysis of data through its responsibility as the national referral mechanism. This process requires that a suspected victim of trafficking is referred to a competent authority for a decision on whether he has been correctly assessed, and the HTC not only provides the central co-ordination and expertise to combat trafficking but is also one of the two main agencies acting as a competent authority. It is dealing with a steadily increasing number of cases expeditiously and, of the 543 decisions in the year to
There does not appear to be an appeal procedure against a decision not to accept an individual as trafficked; the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but presumably that question will be dealt with in the course of an appeal against refusal of leave to remain. Alternatively, the refused victim may wish to return to his or her country of origin, and I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that if the victim was under 18, he would get financial assistance from the IOM under their AVRFC scheme. Also, why should adult victims of trafficking not be eligible for the same benefits? Will the Minister give us any information about the fate of the 192 who were not accepted in the year to
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for initiating such an important debate so close to anti-slavery day, which is next Monday. I also want to add to the congratulatory words of the noble Lord, Lord Luke, about Anthony Steen for the tremendous work that he did in combating human trafficking during a large part of the period that he spent as a Member of the other House. I declare an interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
We all have concerns, which have already been expressed, about the extent of human trafficking in the United Kingdom and the failures to deal effectively with it. The Metropolitan Police, however, have done some extremely good work, although police work across the country is patchy. I congratulate the Metropolitan Police on a recent operation in east London in conjunction with Redbridge Council on
Trafficking, as noble Lords will know, is big business; your Lordships might be interested to know that it is worth as much, or nearly as much, as drug trafficking, and begging is more profitable than prostitution. My concerns are particularly about children and young people trafficked not only for prostitution but for begging and forced servitude, and the lack of sufficient help for these young people.
I want to raise several issues for the Minister's consideration. First, I am concerned about the operation of the national referral mechanism, the NRM, set up in April 2009. Children who come illegally into the United Kingdom are often identified by safeguarding teams of local authorities or by the police as probably trafficked. They are then referred to the NRM, which makes a separate decision as to whether these young people are trafficked. Sometimes the NRM makes decisions without any input from the local authority or from the police. Between April 2009 and June 2010, 215 children, potential victims of trafficking, were referred to NRM. Twenty-eight were British, 187 from abroad. The largest single group, of 59, was from Vietnam, and the largest type was labour exploitation. In only 77 cases was it decided that the child or young person had been trafficked. Twenty-four were British and 53 were from outside the UK. Many children not accepted by the NRM as having been trafficked are considered by police to have been trafficked. It seems extraordinary that where the police consider a child or young person is likely to have been trafficked, the NRM none the less decides that they are not a victim. There also does not appear to be any appeal process against the NRM decision, which is leading to expensive and time-consuming applications for judicial review of those decisions.
I was told by a senior police officer this week that when some of these young people appeal to the immigration tribunal against refusal of asylum, police give evidence to the tribunal on behalf of some of them. I have concerns, therefore, about the training of those in the NRM who make these crucial decisions. I ask the Minister to look again at how the NRM is operating, the training of those who make the decisions, and whether weight should be given to the police and safeguarding committee's assessment that a young person has been trafficked. I also ask the Minister what level of support is being given to these 215 young people. Are the police investigating the cases and is there a crime report number for each child referred to the NRM?
The second matter is one that has been raised by several noble Lords: the prosecution of children and young people who are under the control of traffickers. There was a recent example when three Romanian women, two of them under the age of 18, were convicted and sentenced to prison in Manchester. They had a successful appeal last week. They had been forced by a violent gang into a brothel with other trafficked women and are now giving evidence against the traffickers. The UK Human Trafficking Centre and the Poppy Project both considered that the women were probably trafficked. The fact that they themselves were victims should have been established before the prosecution.
The largest group of such young people is made up of Vietnamese boys and girls. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, gave us an example of a case in, I think, Doncaster. These young people are trafficked into this country for labour exploitation-that is, to look after cannabis farms. There are thousands of cannabis farms in private houses around the country, but why on earth are these children prosecuted? I understand that this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. Will the Minister ask the Ministry of Justice to consider the matter?
My third point is about support services for children. I, too, am concerned about the Government's decision not to opt in to the directive. The previous Government ought to be congratulated on extending the law on the definition of trafficking to labour exploitation, domestic servitude and forced begging, but these welcome improvements do not go far enough. The most important point that I have raised today is the lack of proper provision for looking after individual children who are found to have been trafficked. There is no special representative, as required by Article 14 of the directive. Various organisations may look after them at different times but there is no one person in charge. There are gaps in the system of care for these children. The Government really cannot say that the existing legislation and procedures are compliant with Article 14. Will the Government look at the pilot project that is just about to start, or has just started, in Scotland?
Finally, opting in to the directive would focus the Government's mind and show that the UK continues to be a leader in the excellent work that it does in catching and deterring the trafficking gangs. I ask the Government to look again at whether they really want to opt out of the directive.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on securing this debate. As has been mentioned, the Home Office is reluctant to opt in to the proposed European directive because it says that it will make very little difference to the way that the UK tackles the problem. The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group published a paper in June 2010 suggesting that anti-trafficking practice in the United Kingdom is not compliant with key concepts relating to the rule of law itself and, specifically, relating to the principle-identified by the late Lord Bingham-that the question of legal right and liability should ordinarily be resolved by application of the law and not exercised on discretion. This principle seems to be routinely violated in the national referral mechanism, which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has already mentioned. It is regrettable that in numerous cases the authorities concluded that as the person concerned agreed to come to work in the UK, they could not have been trafficked. However, agreement is often obtained from trafficked persons by means of coercion, threats or deceit, and for this reason, according to the convention, the issue of whether the victim consented is to be treated as irrelevant.
It is perhaps helpful to consider individual cases so that one can be clear about the difficulties of fighting trafficking. I draw your Lordships' attention to the case of a girl of 13, in Africa, who was trafficked and brought to London, where she was locked in a basement and suffered repeated rape as a child prostitute. After six years of this hell she was considered too old for the clients and so her trafficker released her and provided her with false documents. When she tried to leave the country using those documents she was arrested, convicted and served a 10-month prison sentence. All of us would agree that this is not justice, but, of course, the key question is how we educate and train the relevant organisations so that people on the front line recognise when the person they are dealing with may have been trafficked and respond appropriately. I believe that this is best achieved by opting in. I have received advice from interested parties who believe that, contrary to the Home Office's view, the proposed directive contains greater protection for the victim of trafficking than is afforded under existing law.
If, as the Home Office believes, the proposed directive merely does what the present law requires, there can be no harm in agreeing to it. If, on the other hand, our present law provides less protection, that is a very good reason for opting in. An example of extra protection is Article 7, which proposes the possibility of not prosecuting a victim who has committed an offence as a direct consequence of being subject to trafficking. Of course, the victim would still have to prove that he or she had been trafficked. This would improve the present system under which the trafficked victim can be subjected to the further trauma and stigma of a criminal trial, albeit that the penalty or punishment may take into account the circumstances. It would be much better by far that no trial should take place if the trafficked person can prove that she or he is trafficked.
In summary, the proposed directive would build on rather than replicate existing legislation. It is quite clear that the number of criminal proceedings and the number of victims who are assisted remain very low compared with the enormity of the problem of human trafficking. The directive will streamline law enforcement efforts in cross-border cases and may well reduce costs. Provisions that decriminalise victims are urgently required, especially as many victims in the UK continue to be criminalised for offences committed while being deceived or coerced, yet the traffickers often evade criminal responsibility. We must protect victims before, during and after criminal proceedings, especially the children. This is essential to increase prosecution rates and prevent secondary victimisation through this process. The appointment of a rapporteur or independent body should ensure that shortfalls in the system are properly identified.
Trafficking is a cross-border activity often masterminded by sophisticated criminals. If one can agree a unified system of law to fight this evil trade, it will facilitate co-operation between the relevant enforcement agencies in the countries involved. The proposed directive affords us a chance to agree a unified system and we should take it. The directive would result in a very important change in our law so that rather than putting vulnerable trafficked people through the further trauma of prosecution, such people are treated as victims and neither prosecuted nor awarded penalties.
The unpleasant truth is that human trafficking in England is a big problem and a lucrative trade, as others have mentioned. The proposed directive would improve the rights of victims and ensure a co-ordinated approach with our European partners. We should not turn our backs on this opportunity. There has been some good news in that Professor Trevor Beedham, of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, has established a diploma to instruct those involved in this whole business on how they should deal with the victims. That is a welcome development.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for initiating this very important debate on the horrific subject of trafficking women and girls. While trafficking is not a new phenomenon, its magnitude, form and impact have become more alarming and devastating. As my noble friend said, trafficking is modern-day slavery.
The Project Acumen research, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luke, referred, also identified that a minimum of 2,600 victims were sex-trafficked into England and Wales during the 12-month period of the research, but given that trafficking is intrinsically linked to constant movement-women being moved from place to place on a weekly basis-this snapshot cannot give a complete picture. I am sure that the figure is much higher.
Other noble Lords have talked a lot about prosecutions. I want to talk a little about prevention. The Olympics and Paralympics are the greatest sporting events in the world, but there is ample evidence to show that trafficking of women increases when large sporting events are held. For instance, according to the Greek Ministry of Public Safety, there had been a 95 per cent increase in the number of identified human trafficking victims during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Following those Games, a Russian teenage Olympian was trafficked to the Canary Islands and was only found by the police three years later. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, there was not as much trafficking as might have been expected, but despite careful planning by the German authorities there was evidence of criminal networks trafficking across Europe. There was similar evidence from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and in South Africa this year there is evidence of trafficked women being transported across the continent in time for those games. This evidence cannot be ignored.
Britain is a Mecca for the extremely profitable industry of human trafficking and, of course, the coming Olympics are an opportunity for a very lucrative trade. There is also the increased ability to facilitate entry of trafficked women as visitors to the Olympics. What training is being given to staff at points of entry about trafficking during the build-up to the Olympics? I am referring not only to airports and sea ports, but St Pancras station, which is important. There is already evidence in east London in particular of increased applications for massage parlours, saunas and strip clubs. A survey of the London sex industry carried out in 2008 showed that four out of five massage parlours and saunas offered sexual acts on site. Because of this, the organisation of which I was chair, the Women's National Commission-which I am sorry to say has been purged today-set up a working group alongside the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to help to co-ordinate their work on reducing the level of trafficking of women up to and during the Games and on looking at the services which could be offered as a consequence of prostitution, abuse and sexual assault. This work can no longer be carried on. Do the Government have an overall plan for bringing together and co-ordinating the work that is being carried out by many organisations on the different aspects of this issue during the build-up to the Olympic Games?
Like the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I congratulate the Metropolitan Police, with which we have been working, on its continuing efforts to try to do something about trafficking across the five boroughs that are particularly involved. There needs to be a holistic, multi-agency approach, and that is the Government's responsibility. I hope that the Minister can answer this in some detail and that he can say whether the Government intend to continue with the UK action plan initiated by the previous Government.
My final point to the Minister has been raised by every speaker so far. It concerns the Government's refusal to opt in to the directive. I support those who are asking for a meeting. Refusing to opt in to the directive is one of the most serious things that the Government have done. I am trying to be gracious about this. The Government have said that they are committed to human rights. Nothing violates women's human rights more than trafficking for the sex industry, which is what is happening. Every effort should be made to ensure that their human rights are safeguarded. That means opting in to the directive. Doing otherwise raises doubts, and one starts to question the Government's commitment to human rights. I hope that we can have a meeting and thrash it out, and that the Government will change their mind.
In conclusion, and to revert to the 2012 Games, it would be a tragedy if the UK were added to the list of countries where trafficking was a focus of the Games. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that that will not be so.
My Lords, I am pleased to join this debate with a brief intervention and to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for initiating it. We have all spoken with the same intent, including the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and my noble friend Avebury. I am glad to call my noble friend Lord McColl, "my noble friend"; I could not say that of every Member on these Benches. It is wonderful to say how much I agree with so much of what he said this afternoon.
The directive is designed to prevent slavery for sexual purposes of people trafficked into the United Kingdom. It includes a common Europe-wide definition of the crime of trafficking, to make it easier to convict offenders across the European Union. Co-ordinated action is vital, especially as many of the offenders are from new member states of the EU. As the EU might expand its borders again, there are predictions that the situation could get even more serious. I just do not know why we would opt out of the directive.
The directive is a very useful provision, to which the United Kingdom should be party. We cannot veto it, but we can opt out. What is the message to the rest of the world and other members of the EU if we opt out? It is that we are again the Johnnys-come-lately of Europe, as we have been on so many occasions. We missed the boat at the setting-up of the European Economic Community. We dragged our heels, and went in when the agenda had already been drawn up by those who were already members. We dragged our feet on the common agricultural policy. Because we were late going in, the regulations were already there, in favour of the members who were already on the inside.
On this occasion, at least, let us say that we will be at the heart of a humanitarian vision in Europe, which is where we should be. We should be making the European Union the leading agent of humanitarian causes in the whole world. We can make that contribution.
In conclusion, our record on the adoption of European directives has been laudable. We have adopted most of them. On this occasion, however, as my noble friend Lord McColl has said, if, as the Government say, what is in the directive is already covered in our laws, what objection can there be to our opting in to the directive? I ask my colleagues and others to give it their wholehearted support.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this important debate. She has performed a great service to the House. I speak somewhat reluctantly. Three years ago, when I first came to the House, the view in Northern Ireland was that there simply was no problem with human trafficking. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said that there were no signs of it in society. The then Minister, Paul Goggins, who had responsibility for the matter and who was very diligent, claimed that there was no clear evidence of human trafficking. When the UK-wide anti-trafficking initiative, Operation Pentameter, was launched in 2007, it was again thought that there was no sign of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
One could take some comfort from this from a Northern Irish point of view. One might say that the prevalence in Northern Irish society of stronger forms of religious morality than in the rest of the United Kingdom may have played a role. Less charming is the fact that in Northern Ireland the paramilitaries often control prostitution and therefore it would be difficult for outsiders to break in. For whatever combination of charming and less charming reasons, it appeared that Northern Ireland did not have this problem.
However, things have changed dramatically and sadly during the course of this year. The assistant chief constable, Drew Harris, has issued a statement saying that the police have now recovered dozens of individuals whom they suspect have been trafficked for the purposes of prostitution or domestic servitude or to work in some form of business. The assistant chief constable's statement continues:
"After we carry out operations and raid places, neighbours say that they wondered why lots of men were coming and going to and from the premises at all times of the night and day".
In June of this year, Northern Ireland's Minister for Justice, David Ford, again said that anti-racketeering officials had rescued dozens of victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland. He said that human trafficking is nothing less than modern-day slavery.
In this respect, the Northern Ireland Assembly's work has been good and strong. In June of this year, the Public Accounts Committee also issued a statement to the effect that it now acknowledged that there was a serious problem; and in September, talks were held with the relevant minister in the Republic of Ireland, Dermot Ahern, Kenny MacAskill, the relevant Scottish Minister, and David Ford, the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland, in order to co-ordinate policy. After this meeting, Mr Ford admitted that Northern Ireland was a staging post for human traffickers operating between Scotland and the Republic. This followed the arrest of a Scotland-based group, which was alleged to have been involved in forced trafficking and to have had a large budget for advertising sexual services in the local press. The sophistication of the operation was remarkable.
The Minister who replies at the end of the debate has no responsibility for the matters that I have just raised; they are devolved matters. In this respect, I am happy to say that the Northern Ireland devolved authorities are taking the matter seriously. Other noble Lords have raised the issue of the European directive and our compliance with it. My own view was that the Government had a reasonable case. However, while listening to the speeches this morning, in particular those of the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Roberts, with their emphasis on the significance of the European directive with respect to the cross-border dimensions of the problem, I began to wonder whether the Government's case was as strong or as reasonable as I thought it was yesterday.
Even more profound than the question of the European directive is that of our values. Precisely because we are at a moment of economic crisis in the United Kingdom, the decisions and tone of government must reflect a sense of what it is to be a civilised society. This is even more important now. Therefore, I ask the Minister, at the end of the debate, to address the seriousness of the moral issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this debate. Human trafficking is probably the world's third largest illegal trade.
I have raised the issue of human trafficking on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House, as it is a topic about which I feel strongly. This abhorrent practice is equivalent to modern-day slavery. Victims of trafficking are lured from their native countries with promises of greater opportunities in a foreign land. They are then traded by ruthless gangmasters like commodities. I make no distinction between those who engage in human trafficking and the slave masters of past years.
Women and children tend to be the main targets of the predatory gangs who engage in this immoral trade. I care about issues relating to women and children. I very recently attended the sixth Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership meeting in Brussels as a delegate of the British Parliament. At the meeting, which was attended by parliamentarians of 22 countries, I initiated discussions concerning the protection of females and children. I successfully tabled the following amendment, which was included in the final declaration:
"We stress the need to give priority to gender equality and empowerment of women. There must be progress on the reduction of maternal mortality and improving maternal and reproductive health. We totally condemn the awful practice of abuse of women and children as a weapon of war to instil fear amongst opposing sides in war-torn areas".
The Association of Chief Police Officers released a publication in August that implied that 17,000 of the estimated 30,000 women who engage in off-street prostitution were migrants. More startling is the fact that 2,600 of these women are thought to have been victims of trafficking. I am pleased that such victims are given a 45-day reflection period, along with the option of temporary accommodation. However, a number of organisations have indicated that that might be insufficient. What plans do the Government have to ensure that victims of human trafficking are given adequate assistance to rebuild their lives?
I welcome statutory guidance to support collaboration across government agencies in areas such as finding suitable accommodation for child-trafficking victims. Reports suggest that a growing number of children are being trafficked into Britain to work in domestic cannabis factories. A study by the Association of Chief Police Officers reveals that child exploitation for the purposes of cannabis production has increased in recent years. Last year, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published a threat assessment of child trafficking, which revealed that Vietnam was the country of origin for a number of children trafficked to work in cannabis factories. I should be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships' House of the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking as part of co-ordinated action with the Vietnamese Government to tackle this worrying trend.
I welcome the announcement by the Home Secretary of the new National Crime Agency. This new organisation will make it easier for police forces to collaborate on national issues, and it will tackle organised crime while protecting our borders. I also look forward to learning the contents of the imminent national plan on trafficking.
I support the increased efforts, announced by the Government, to detect and rescue victims of trafficking by allowing border officials to conduct separate interviews at all airports for women and children travelling with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. I am also in favour of efforts by the Royal Navy, as part of the Africa Partnership Station initiative, to strengthen maritime safety and security in the western and central parts of the continent by training the Nigerian naval forces to police their waters effectively.
I am proud that the United Kingdom has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. We must work closely and successfully with our European partners to combat this evil practice.
I welcome the United Nations global plan of action against trafficking in persons, as it calls for a common approach to combat this practice that is co-ordinated and consistent across continents. I particularly welcome the creation of a United Nations voluntary trust fund for victims of trafficking, where the task will be to protect the vulnerable while supporting the physical and psychological recovery of victims. I am committed to seeing all forms of human trafficking eradicated. The exploitation of people is horrific and cannot be tolerated in any society.
I was born and brought up in Africa, a continent that has been ravaged by slavery. It is where great men such as General Gordon and Dr Livingstone lived and died-people who passionately believed in abolishing slavery. I have great admiration for Dr Livingstone, and with my father visited Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where HM Stanley first met Dr Livingstone.
As a nation, we have a proud history of defending the rights of those who have been oppressed. We must make every effort to deal with the plight of the many individuals who have the misfortune of falling victim to this shameful practice.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Massey on having made this debate possible. I want to say a little about the nature of the problem and what can be done about it and to refer briefly, as others have, to trafficked children.
It is important to distinguish between people smuggling and people trafficking. The better an understanding we have of the problem, the better we can tackle it. Smuggling is clearly an activity where the person being smuggled wants to be smuggled, whereas trafficking involves force, violence, deception, intimidation and perhaps coercion. Indeed, a person might start their journey to this country being smuggled and then be trafficked on arrival, so it is quite a complicated problem.
The figures are very hard to come by. We are probably dealing with the tip of an iceberg when we talk about, say, 5,000 people trafficked into this country. Estimates are hard to get. It is clear that the majority of the victims are women and children and it is clear that it is an extremely lucrative activity for those engaged in it. The Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings came into force in April 2009 and it helped by including provisions to identify victims and to bring more cases to court.
Child trafficking is the most appalling aspect of the whole issue that we are debating. It has already been said that it includes exploitation in terms of domestic servitude, helping with cannabis farms, street crime and pickpocketing. It also includes sexual exploitation, child abuse, benefit fraud, illegal adoption and even forced marriage.
UNICEF has put out some positive statements. It says clearly that the victims of trafficking should not be punished for illegal entry or stay in the European Union or for forced involvement in illegal activities, but that, as victims, they are entitled to protection, assistance and compensation. That should surely be the basis on which we approach these unfortunate people. As regards children, it is absolutely clear that the needs of the child must come first and that any intervention should be based primarily not on concerns about immigration status but on the needs of the child and what can be done to secure his or her well-being.
I understand from various figures that about half the people trafficked into western and central Europe come from the Balkans or former Soviet Union countries, although I also understand that a disproportionately large number of children may be coming from Vietnam. I was in Moldova a year or so ago, where I met people from a number of NGOs. They were all concerned about trafficking-either about informing and warning local people of the dangers of trafficking or about helping those who had been returned. Very few people from Moldova are trafficked to the UK but it is clear that, as a country, we need to provide more support for NGOs and other bodies in the source countries to help them in preventive work and in securing the safe return and well-being of those who have been removed from western countries.
I have seen an estimate that one in seven sex workers has been forced into prostitution through trafficking, although that is a lower figure than was bandied about in the debates in this House a year or two ago. Nevertheless, it is an important issue and one that we should bear in mind.
Last June, the Home Affairs Select Committee produced a report and I want to refer to some of its recommendations and to other recommendations. The first key point is to increase public awareness, as the issue is known about by too few people and is only occasionally mentioned in the newspapers. Greater public awareness would lead to greater detection.
As has been said, there is a need to train all public officials who might come into contact with people where there are indications that they have been trafficked-for example, workers in the health service, social workers and even building inspectors and health and safety inspectors. We need to look closely at some industrial sectors where there must be a suspicion that a large number of trafficked people work, such as the construction industry, although that is probably an area less relevant to women. I believe that immigration authorities should issue sanctions against the employers of unregistered workers as a disincentive to exploitation, rather than having the burden fall heavily on those whom we should regard as victims.
Returning again to children, I have read that one difficulty with children is getting good interpreters. It is no good just getting someone who speaks their language, as sometimes an interpreter might not be on the side of the child. A sensitive approach is required. A social worker should be allocated to each child or young person where there is a suspicion that that child has been trafficked in order to provide support. Bed and breakfast accommodations are not suitable in that situation and one needs to provide far more support.
We have a responsibility to deal with this matter in this country but, as everyone has said, it is an international problem, which is why we must regret that the Government have not yet gone along with the EU directive. I hope that they will do so and that they will accept that we need to co-operate with other countries in dealing with the problems at source and support those countries that are trying to prevent their own citizens from being trafficked to the West.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this timely and important debate. I feel that the noble Baroness and I are kindred spirits, as we both work to promote the well-being of children. I agree with everything that she said in her introduction, as I do with everything that has been said so far in the debate.
I suppose that I should declare an interest in this debate, as my ancestors were enslaved people. Millions of Africans were taken from their villages, kidnapped, shackled, sold and transported to distant lands to toil and labour for the financial benefit of others. Many were murdered if they tried to escape. Men, women and children had to be strong to survive the beatings and abuse, stripped of their names, their culture and their dignity. Thankfully, hundreds of activists motivated the population to stand up against slavery and 200 years ago the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed and this horrific trade in African life was halted, bringing to an end a trade that involved most European countries. Yet here we are in the 21st century, taking part in a debate on human trafficking-slavery-which involves not just those very same European countries but almost every continent.
Slavery still exists; only its face has changed. Its victims are enduring the same indignities and horrors as my ancestors. I know that noble Lords will agree with me when I say that the trade in human beings is a foul and evil practice, which can be stopped only if society and government act. Like those brave activists in the past, we have to do whatever we can to bring an end to this barbaric trade. We must educate the public to be vigilant, to be aware and not to ignore the signs around them: children begging in the streets, Fagin-like characters often managed by sinister adults; houses in suburban streets frequented by numerous men; and sweatshops and backstreet factories. Let us not ignore these blatant signals for fear of getting involved.
Like many of the problems in our wounded, materialistic world, there is no simple solution. Only an attack from all sides will have any effect. One of the strongest weapons that we have at our disposal is education and some of the strongest educational weapons that we have, which the anti-slavery activists did not have, are film, television and the internet, which can be used for good. Today, these weapons allow us to highlight and to bring to the attention of everyone in the global society in which we live the problem of human trafficking, which takes place all over the world and in some of the most unexpected places. I am proud that the media industry, to which I have devoted the past 40 years of my life, can make a difference-and television the most.
The television series of the book Roots had a profound effect on me 33 years ago, as it told the story of my ancestors and their journey through enslavement. But in the past 10 years or so, many shocking, hard-hitting films and television programmes have been made, dramatically increasing public awareness of the modern trade in human beings. The most recent was "I Am Slave", which was shown on Channel 4, a true story about a 12 year-old girl, kidnapped from her village in Sudan, who ended up as a domestic slave, right here in London, chained, beaten and abused. I wept when I watched that programme, for that was someone's child, someone's daughter, someone's sister. It is said that over 5,000 more like her are working behind closed doors here in the UK. That is shameful and something has to be done about it.
Another film that illustrates the horror of human behaviour is "Trafficked", a haunting and chillingly shocking film about the sex trade in Ireland. It gives a graphic insight into what is happening when we are tucked up safely in our secure comfy beds. The beds that those victims lie in are far from safe and cosy.
More and more people are being inspired by documentaries, films and newspaper articles to become proactive, such as the young musician whom I head about just recently, who saw the documentary "The Journey" and recorded a CD to tell the story of young women sold into sex slavery and continually moved across borders. He did so because he felt compelled to do something to raise awareness. I believe that, in order to engage more people like him, we should encourage the media to search out stories that highlight the evil trade in human beings.
In centuries past, slavery was out in the open and was more visible, but now it is in the shadows. In many ways, society is unwittingly feeding it by demanding cheap labour, by buying cheap products and by visiting brothels. If the men who use those brothels thought for a moment, they might become aware that the young girl with whom they are having sex-perhaps the same age as their own daughter-is a victim of human traffickers.
Eradication of human trafficking has to be given the highest priority by all Governments. It has to be tackled on an international scale because it is an international problem. We must remain constantly alert and on guard, because, sadly, evil is a human condition, which only a powerful sense of morality, honesty and spiritual good can overcome. Some may think that slavery has been consigned to the dustbin of history, but how wrong they are. Slavery and human trafficking are alive and kicking; they are still here on our doorsteps and they are gaining strength. So for the sake of my ancestors and my descendants, let us bring an end to human trafficking. Together let us go into battle and fight it with all our hearts, or this wicked, evil trade will continue to be a shameful stain on humanity.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on initiating this important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is right to draw a distinction between smuggling and trafficking but, sadly for the victim, the end result is often the same. I say that because if I were to ask each one of us to think about where we were on, say, the evening of
Victoria then lived with her parents and siblings in a small community in the Ivory Coast. She was then eight years old. She was very intelligent and energetic-a very lively child-and her parents worked extremely hard to get her into a local school, where the head teacher judged her to be one of the brightest students whom he had taught. On that October evening, a great aunt visited them. Although from the Ivory Coast, she was in fact a French citizen and she was on her way back to Paris. She pressed Victoria's parents to allow her to take Victoria back to Paris with her so that she could provide her with a better education and greater life opportunities. A combination of Victoria's excitement and the numerous reassurances that the parents were given helped to overcome their understandable hesitation and Victoria left with her aunt the following morning.
What the parents could not have known was that the aunt had earlier persuaded the French authorities that she had a daughter in the Ivory Coast and that she had arranged there for that mythical daughter to be registered on her passport. Of course, she did not have a daughter; she had instead selected a girl called Anna for that purpose. Alas, at a very late stage, the arrangements to get Anna back to Paris fell through, so in desperation she put great pressure on Victoria's parents. Before the aunt and Victoria boarded the flight back to Paris, Victoria had her head shaved and the aunt acquired a wig in order to pass her off as Anna. Victoria was told that from now on she was not Victoria Climbié but Anna Kouao.
Once the two had established themselves in Paris, the French authorities began to ask questions about Anna because they were concerned about her welfare. Kouao did not welcome those questions and her response was quickly to move to London. Once in London, she presented herself and Anna as a homeless family. As in France, the presence of a young child meant that the authorities sought to help with accommodation and financial benefits.
I mention all this because what followed in respect of that child should give us all deep concern about the dangers of what can happen to trafficked children in our country. In the following 10 months, Anna was known to no fewer than four different social services departments, three housing departments and two specialist police child protection teams. Moreover, she was admitted to two different hospitals, because the staff in accident and emergency suspected that she was being deliberately harmed, and she was referred to a specialist children's centre managed by the NSPCC. Yet despite the involvement of all those key agencies and literally hundreds of staff, Anna was never registered at school and never attended school for one day in those 10 months. Worst of all, nobody asked what a day was like for her in her life.
We need not dwell on the appalling suffering that Anna experienced or her terrible death. Suffice it to say that it was only after she died that the police did some remarkable work and discovered that she was not Anna Kouao but Victoria Climbié and that she was not a French citizen but had parents in the Ivory Coast.
I mention this only because, as we all recognise, millions of children cross international borders every day and it would be terribly naive of any of us to think that within that number there is not a high proportion of children who are potentially seriously at risk. The challenge for us is to ensure that those children who are at risk are recognised and identified and that steps are taken quickly to protect them.
What we do not know is how many children come to this country to meet someone at an airport or a port purporting to be their parent who is not their parent, how many young adults are made to look like children or how many young people have been brought to this country having been promised a wonderful future only then to experience the most ugly and destructive aspects of human behaviour. It is impossible to get accurate figures, but precisely because of that we should do everything to work together across national and international boundaries to ensure that we identify and protect children and young people who are subject to some of the most appalling things.
I hope that the Government will give further thought to opting in to the EU directive.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Massey on her timely and moving speech on human trafficking-or modern slavery, as my noble friend Lady Gould described it. I pay tribute to all the other speakers in our debate, which has raised some very important questions for the Government to answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, gave us a very clear wake-up call.
The scale of the problem has been the subject of some debate both today and among a number of the relevant organisations. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Massey about the difficulty of obtaining statistics which can be deemed to be accurate, but there seems to be a consensus that we could be talking about as many as 12 million adults and children in forced labour, bonded labour and forced prostitution. Behind those statistics is a huge scale of human misery.
In the UK, in 2008-09, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee found real challenges in estimating the numbers and, in the end, settled for more than 5,000 victims, while the EU estimates that between 100,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked into the EU every year. Those statistics are an interesting contrast with the number of prosecutions in both this country and other countries. In 2007-08, there were 87 prosecutions for trafficking. In 2008-09, there were 114 prosecutions. There were 18 convictions in 2007, 38 in 2008 and 35 in 2009. I understand that a further 35 cases are currently progressing through the criminal justice system. That shows some progress, but there is a long way to go. I echo the congratulations given by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to the Metropolitan Police but, as she suggests, other forces need to learn some of the lessons that the Met has learnt in developing their own programmes.
The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was very apposite when he reminded us of the tragedy of Victoria Climbié. As I recall, the work that he and others did identified overwhelming failures of professional practice and the failure of professionals in different agencies to communicate and share information. I must say that the announcement by the Government of the abolition of ContactPoint is quite extraordinary in that context. I ask the Minister to explain to me why the Government really consider that necessary when the whole point of that initiative is to ensure that information is shared. Surely the lesson of Victoria Climbié is that had information been shared by those agencies, she might well be alive today.
I am proud of what the previous Government did in relation to this difficult issue. The UK action plan was published in March 2007. The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre was established. We signed the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The focus was widened to tackle issues such as forced labour and child trafficking. Since 2003, there have been specific anti-trafficking laws in force in the UK, including the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration Act (Treatment of Claimants, etc) 2004. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, the national referral mechanism was set up following implementation of ECPAT in April 2009. The Poppy Project was set up to provide accommodation and support for women who have been trafficked into prostitution and has 54 bed spaces in houses nationally.
I am proud of what was achieved, but I fully accept that there is much more to do. My noble friend Lord Dubs referred to the Home Affairs Select Committee report and its recommendations for making improvements in the services available and the co-ordination that is necessary. I was very taken by what he said about the need to improve preventive measures through increasing public awareness and the need to train a variety of public officers about the indicators of forced labour so that they can identify it and help victims to find help. There is concern that the identification system is geared towards viewing trafficking as an immigration crime, coupling it with facilitation or people smuggling, which are completely different. Those are interesting matters that need to be considered very carefully.
In relation to the UK national referral mechanism, there has been concern about the training of the staff involved and the fact that more emphasis is placed on the immigration status of presumed trafficked persons rather than on the alleged crime against them. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put some very pertinent questions to the Minister, and I hope that he will be able to respond to them. It is worth making the point that this problem was also referred to by the US State Department in its 2010 report which stated that although the UK fully complies with minimum standards, the Government need to take greater steps to ensure victims are not penalised for unlawful acts. My noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, gave some positive and powerful illustrations of what can go wrong.
We then come to the Government's policy. Mr Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, said that combating human trafficking is a key priority and that the Government are committed to identifying and protecting victims. I welcome that statement as a broad principle, but there are a number of questions that the Minister needs to answer. I shall raise three: on the directive, support for victims and the resources and effort available for education and prevention, which were raised by my noble friend Lady Gould.
This country played a pivotal role in the development of the trafficking directive. It contains a number of very important provisions. I still do not understand why the Government have decided to opt out. Theresa May told the House of Commons on
I shall make two other points. I think that the Minister will not commit himself on resources before the 20th of this month, but I hope that he will seek to protect the services currently available. I also hope that when it comes to prevention and education he will listen very carefully to the comments of my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lady Gould about the need to strengthen preventive programmes now and in the context, as my noble friend said, of the Olympic Games when, as she said, we might expect to see a major increase in trafficking activity. This is a very important debate, and I hope that the Government will be able to respond constructively.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this debate on this very important topic. I know that she has a long-standing interest in this area and, in particular, in the welfare of children and young people. The debate has been very interesting. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their helpful contributions on how to improve our efforts against trafficking. This is a matter on which I know there is much cross-party interest, and think I can go so far as to say agreement. The prominence of this topic is reflected in the fact that there are no fewer than three debates in Parliament on this issue this week, as we approach Anti-Slavery Day on Monday, which is intended to raise awareness of trafficking as modern-day slavery. My noble friend Lady Benjamin underlined that point in her passionate and eloquent speech.
I assure your Lordships that this Government take their responsibilities to combat these frankly disgusting crimes very seriously. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Laming, drew our attention to the important distinction between smuggling and trafficking, and they are right. Today we are debating trafficking, although as the noble Lord, Lord Laming said, there is crossover between the two. He also took us harrowingly through Victoria Climbié's experiences, which are still so vivid in our memories, and emphasised the importance of our urgent attention to this subject.
A major element of concern voiced by noble Lords today has been the decision not to opt in to the EU directive. I would be grateful if noble Lords would allow me to attempt to deal with that as comprehensively as I can later on.
First, as regards our overall approach, there can be no doubt that human trafficking of children and adults, whether for forced labour, prostitution, domestic servitude or any purpose, are appalling crimes in which people today are treated as commodities and exploited for profit. The Government take a comprehensive approach combining a determination to tackle the criminals behind the trade with a commitment to supporting victims. This approach is designed to provide the framework in which we can ensure the necessary joined-up activities. Through work across government with law enforcement agencies, including the police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency, and in conjunction with the voluntary sector, which plays such an important role in the care of victims, we must, and I believe we will, make substantial further strides towards tackling this menace.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin, mentioned the need for public awareness, and their comments are well taken. I should also like to pay tribute to the several wonderful charities working in this area. Noble Lords have mentioned several and there are many more, all of which have highly dedicated people who are doing marvellous work. The Government recognise, and are grateful for, the huge benefits that they bring.
On enforcement, we already have legislation in place which outlaws trafficking and makes it an offence to pay for sexual services with someone who has been subject to exploitative conduct. This is backed by a robust policing and wider law enforcement response. My noble friend Lord McColl referred to what Sweden is doing and I can assure him that we are watching what is happening there, as in all member states, closely. Improving our knowledge and understanding of the problem is a key component to ensuring that our response is effective.
As my noble friend Lord Luke said, in August, the Association of Chief Police Officers produced a new study on the nature and scale of trafficking for sexual exploitation in England and Wales. It found that there are approximately 17,000 migrant sex workers in what is termed the "off-street" sector. Of these, at least 2,600 are trafficked and a further 9,600 migrant sex workers are vulnerable, which means that they have elements of vulnerability to trafficking. But most are likely to fall short of the trafficking threshold, which is the term for a combination of indicators, perhaps the most important of which is that the individual is being exploited. These figures and others quoted by noble Lords show why effective enforcement action is so vital.
Police forces are supported in this work by the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, which plays a key role in providing operational co-ordination and advice to forces, including through its 24-hour tactical advice line. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, expressed concerns about the ability of the border police to stop trafficking at the border, emphasising the need to maintain enforcement activity across the whole country. That is part of the reason why the Government are committed to establishing the National Crime Agency, which will include the border police and is specifically committed to tackling organised crime.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. That trafficking is taken seriously there is perhaps demonstrated by the fact that, as I think he said, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a Private Member's Motion in September condemning the crime. The PSNI is active with other law enforcement agencies to recover victims and to secure convictions. Recently, it co-ordinated a UK-wide operation, which saw 15 potential victims of human trafficking recovered across the UK. It is as keen as anyone to make progress.
Within London, the Metropolitan Police Service has established the Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Unit within the Specialist Crime Directorate to lead on combating human trafficking gangs in London, particularly-I think that my noble friend Lord Luke and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked about this-in the five Olympic boroughs during the build up to the London 2012 Games. The activities of the Metropolitan Police in those boroughs provide an outstanding example of the very determined work that they are undertaking to ensure that the Games are not plagued by such crime and that those who seek to force women into prostitution will be met with the full force of the law.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked, among other things, whether the UKHTC maintains a database of cases that can be referred to by the police and the CPS to help them to decide on the most appropriate charge. From
Care for victims was emphasised by many noble Lords. Ensuring that victims receive the protection they need and deserve is vital to our overall efforts at combating trafficking. As part of the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention, the National Referral Mechanism has been established to improve identification and protection of trafficking victims. Identified victims get an extendable 45-day recovery period and, in certain circumstances, a temporary residence permit. Victims are also entitled to accommodation, advocacy, counselling, medical care, legal advice, interpretative services and reintegration assistance if they return home.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, raised several issues about the organisation of our efforts to tackle child trafficking and care for the victims. Child trafficking is a form of child abuse and, in front-line policing terms, falls within the remit of police child protection work, in partnership with local authorities and children's services. Responsibility for the care, protection and accommodation of child trafficking victims falls within the responsibilities of local authorities under the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004. Where a child is assessed as trafficked and therefore "in need", a social worker is appointed-I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about this-and will be responsible for putting in place an individualised care plan, covering the full range of the child's needs for accommodation, education and other support.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and others raised concerns about the NRM. We agree that we must continuously look to making improvements. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, specifically referred to training. A review of the NRM is being conducted. One of the key issues raised as part of that review has been a need to improve awareness of this process among the various authorities, including local authorities. We agree with that. Officials are working on the best ways to achieve this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also raised the type of accommodation provided. This will depend on the assessment of risk and the needs of the individual young person, together with the availability of accommodation locally. It might be in a children's home for younger children or with a foster carer employed or engaged by the local authority. I should say that separated and vulnerable children from abroad enjoy exactly the same entitlements as all UK-born and resident children.
Local children's services work in close co-operation with the police and the UK Border Agency to offer potentially trafficked children the necessary protection. At the border and within the UK, the UK Border Agency works closely with other statutory agencies, including the police and local authorities, to safeguard children. Arriving children and any accompanying adults are routinely interviewed at the port of entry. The UK Border Agency has for some time employed professional social workers who are available to give advice to UKBA staff on child welfare and child protection issues as they arise. As part of the NRM review officials are working to raise awareness of the NRM process which provides a mechanism to co-ordinate information and intelligence about a child's needs.
Turning to international and European Union co-operation, human trafficking is very often a cross-border crime. So we must ensure that there is sufficient international co-operation between Governments and law enforcement agencies. The Government remain committed to improving that. Several if not most noble Lords have, understandably, raised the fact that the United Kingdom has decided not to opt in yet to the EU directive on trafficking in human beings. Noble Lords have raised a number of specific points on which they have concerns with this decision. Let me now attempt to address some of these and if I do not pick them all up I will write to noble Lords after the debate.
It is important to underline that although the decision is not to opt in at this stage, we will review the position when the directive is adopted. Furthermore, we continue actively to participate in the negotiations. Several noble Lords raised their understandable concerns regarding the prosecution of those who are trafficked, making the important point that the focus must be on identifying and prosecuting those who are doing the trafficking. We certainly agree with that. However, a blanket ban on prosecuting those who are arrested or apprehended by the police and who later disclose that they have been trafficked would be unlawful under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 which sets out the statutory obligations of the CPS. Specific guidance has been given to the CPS which requires prosecutors to review each case with a full analysis of the relevant facts and circumstances in a manner that is retrospective and case-specific, and which makes it clear that it is not in the public interest to bring charges against those who are coerced.
The matter of funding support for victims between the time they approach an NGO and when they are determined to be a victim was raised by, among others, my noble friend Lord McColl. As I have said, children have exactly the same entitlements as all UK born and resident children. Where potential adult victims who are without accommodation come to our attention, the appropriate authorities will work with NGOs to find interim accommodation until a decision about their status is made. Although the point has not been raised particularly by noble Lords, perhaps it is worth saying that we are compliant with the directive in this regard.
My noble friend Lord McColl said that the directive goes further than the convention on the requirement to provide "necessary" medical assistance to victims. I have been assured that all victims have access to full NHS care. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, my noble friend Lord McColl and other noble Lords raised the matter of a special representative or legal guardian for child victims in court proceedings. Such victims currently receive the services of an independent reviewer, and it is the view of the Government that the distinction between this and a special representative is a fine one. However, it would be shocking if there were local authorities who could not or did not provide an adequate service of this type. If noble Lords are able to make me aware of specific examples of failures in this area, I shall take them to the department.
Another issue raised by my noble friend Lord McColl is the requirement in the directive to appoint a rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. The United Kingdom has an Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Trafficking which the Government believe fulfils the function of a rapporteur and that scrutiny by this group satisfies the requirements as set out in the directive. In terms of data gathering, the UK Human Trafficking Centre acts as a central repository for intelligence and data on human trafficking.
Adopting the directive would require some of its measures to be enshrined in legislation. Noble Lords will be aware that the Government have a general rule that they are keen to avoid extra legislation where reasonably possible. We are of the view that what matters is whether we actually tackle this terrible crime properly. We take it very seriously indeed and believe we have the tools we need, but as I said earlier, although the decision is not to opt in at this stage, we will review the position when the directive is adopted. I also take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about the moral message.
The UK has a strong record in the fight against trafficking and is compliant in both legislation and practice with most of what is required by the directive. It contains no operation or co-operation measures from which the UK would benefit. While it will indeed help to improve the way other EU states combat trafficking, it will make little difference to the way the UK does so. There are also risks that some of the concessions secured during the negotiations may be reversed by the European Parliament. By opting out now but reviewing our position when the directive is agreed, we can choose to benefit from being part of a directive that is helpful but avoid being bound by measures that are against our interests. Several noble Lords have asked for a meeting, and I should say that I will be delighted to meet interested Peers, should they wish.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we are satisfied that our decision will not affect our relationship with other European Governments. The UK continues to play an active role in helping to improve EU-wide efforts to combat human trafficking. We will continue to work constructively with those in Europe on issues of mutual interest. We have, for example, contributed to the Stockholm Programme, which contains a commitment to fight trafficking among the EU's priorities until 2014. We are also involved in a number of initiatives focused specifically on trafficking, for example, in improving data and sharing best practice. The importance of co-operation between our law enforcement agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and their European counterparts, including Europol and Frontex, will of course continue.
While I have attempted to highlight what has been achieved by the UK so far, the tasks ahead are certainly not easy. The very nature of this covert crime means that no one can be satisfied that it is totally under control. It is for this reason that we and all those involved in law enforcement and victim support must work relentlessly, and we need to keep under review all aspects of our work in this area. Noble Lords will be interested to know that my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration will shortly be announcing improvements in the ways we tackle these crimes.
Several noble Lords asked questions which I have not been able to answer adequately in the time allowed, and I hope they will appreciate that I felt it particularly important to attempt to explain the Government's thinking about their decision not yet to opt in to the directive. If I may, I will write to them.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Diverse issues have been raised very passionately and with utter conviction, based on the experience of noble Lords around the Chamber. I hope that some useful follow-up will ensue from this short debate. It is an international and a domestic issue, and indeed there are questions about training, accommodation, identification, prosecutions and victim support.
I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for his forceful and perceptive summary, and I thank the Minister both for discussions before the debate and his response during it. I know that he is concerned about this problem, and I respect his view. However, I have to say that I still cannot accept his explanation for not opting in to the European directive. It is a puzzling statement that will send negative signals around the voluntary sector and the parliamentary world when it is clear that we have done so much in the past to defend and protect the victims of trafficking. Now we seem to be saying that that is not important any more, and I urge the Government to think again. However, I welcome the Minister's confirmation that he will hold a meeting with those noble Lords who are interested in the directive, and I look forward to it. I also look forward to the completion of the NRM review and to future collaboration. Again, I thank noble Lords for their participation.