My Lords, I wish to draw attention yet again to the terrible crime of human trafficking and slavery. There are more slaves today than there were 200 years ago. I am pleased that the Victims Minister said recently that the Government’s ambition is to eradicate all forms of slavery, and I would warmly welcome measures in the Session ahead.
One month ago, the deadline passed for the Government to make sure that our laws comply with the EU anti-trafficking directive. Although some very welcome changes have been introduced, I have to say with some reluctance that I am not convinced that the Government have seized this opportunity as they might have done.
One area where there is significant need for greater action is the welfare of trafficked children. The NSPCC recently published statistics demonstrating that nearly
7,900 children went missing from local authority care in 2012, almost 3,000 of whom went missing more than once. The NSPCC highlights the risks that these missing children face, none more so than those who were trafficked. We know that between 2005 and 2010, 301 of the 942 trafficked children who were rescued went missing from care. The Government have admitted to there being problems with the system of data collection, but it is astonishing that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, was unable to answer my Written Question about how many trafficked children had gone missing from care in 2012 because those data are not recorded separately from those for other missing children. This simply is not good enough if we are really serious about eradicating human trafficking.
I read in the Centre for Social Justice’s report, published in March, about a trafficked child who had been rescued and was later in foster care. One day, the boy went missing when he was supposed to be at his English lessons. The boy was missing for several months until, thankfully, he was found again in a different part of the country, having been trafficked again. After he was rescued for a second time, his foster carer asked him what had happened. He told her that his traffickers had been ringing him on his mobile phone telling him to meet them on the corner of the street. He had been terrified, so did as he was told.
Stories such as this demonstrate that children who have been trafficked are in desperate need of special care due to the particular dangers that they face. Last September, GRETA, the treaty monitoring body for the Council of Europe anti-trafficking convention, published its first report on the UK’s compliance with the convention, which I commend to your Lordships. Among its recommendations, GRETA urged the British authorities to take steps to address this very problem.
In closing, perhaps I may remind your Lordships’ House of our deliberations on the Protection of Freedoms Bill in February 2012. During that debate, I highlighted the problems which rescued trafficked children face, particularly the large number of rescued trafficked children who are lost while in local authority care. I put forward an amendment to provide for a legal advocate for trafficked children to accompany, support and advocate for a child victim from the moment he or she is discovered. On that occasion, I withdrew my proposed amendment in the light of assurances from the Minister that our care for trafficked children would be examined. I welcome the research into the practical care arrangements for trafficked children that has been commissioned by the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society and eagerly await publication of the review, which is due next month. The Minister can be confident that I will be reading it very carefully and looking to the Government to respond, taking appropriately robust action in this Session of Parliament.