Clause 27

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:45 pm, 15th March 2007

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his probing amendments and for his approach on these matters. It would send entirely the wrong message if we could not reach agreement on issues such as this, and I am heartened that we are able to do so. I can tell him that we seek to sign very shortly, but I cannot give him an exact date. Of course, upon signing, we will be able to implement the convention. He is right that his amendment provides for some key measures from the convention, but we could probably implement those sooner by signing the convention than by waiting for the Bill to be enacted, although, of course, we can implement some of those measures without legislation or the convention.

To assist the Committee, I shall provide some information about measures that we have taken already and comment on the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. On proposed new subsection (6) to section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, we have provided staff with guidance for identifying victims of trafficking at the earliest possible stage. The Home Office has developed an online tool kit aimed at practitioners to increase awareness of trafficking and to provide training on identifying and handling potential victims. That is being provided for all regional enforcement officers.

On reaching a decision to pursue repatriation of an individual, consideration is given to our obligations under immigration laws and the Human RightsAct 1998, including any risk that those individuals face on return and humanitarian or other reasons for allowing them to remain in the United Kingdom. On proposed subsection (7) to section 4 of the 2004 Act, when the IND encounters children and identifies child protection concerns, they are referred to local authority children’s services, in line with the IND’s existing procedures.

Any child aged 17 or less, in the UK, who cannot be cared for by a parent or established care giver must be accommodated by a local authority children’s services department. Those departments are charged with the responsibility for the care and well-being of children in  the UK, as set out in the 2004 Act, and reinforced by statutory guidance subject to independent inspection. The support is mandatory, regardless of immigration status, and is automatically given to any children granted refugee or subsidiary status. To support the identification of children in need, the immigration service has also provided specialist training to about 600 operational members of staff in the United Kingdom. The message that children arriving in the UK might be here as a result of coercion or criminal activity, including trafficking, is central.

As we have always said, we are wholly sympathetic to the objectives of the Council of Europe convention, which will provide greater support for all victims of trafficking and support the fight against organised immigration crime. The convention will build on our strategy to combat human trafficking by providing minimum standards of protection and victim support. As I have outlined already, we have done some very good work to develop an effective enforcement response and last year we established the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

The convention provides the framework for victim provision to be enhanced for victims of sexual exploitation and to be created for victims of forced labour. That will also improve the effectiveness of our enforcement strategy. The measures in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment are extremely important. As he said, two of them are taken from the convention, which we will sign and implement as soon as possible. As I have said, however, we have already taken some significant measures to afford protection and care to victims of trafficking.