[Mr David Crausby in the Chair] — Human Trafficking

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 18th May 2011.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Jeremy Wright.)

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 9:30 am, 18th May 2011

It was only four short years ago that the United Kingdom reflected on the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. At the time, among all the self-congratulatory celebration, I suggested that our renewed focus should be on refreshing our resolve to tackle the modern equivalent of slavery—human trafficking. Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transfer and harbouring of men, and particularly women and children, so that they can be exploited for forced labour, sexual services or domestic servitude. It is the most unpleasant by-product of globalisation in the labour market and now scars each and every constituency.

The modern-day slaves that human trafficking has created are voiceless and vulnerable. They are stowed in the untouched shadows of our communities. They exist not just in the seedier corners of my central London constituency or of Manchester, because the backdrop to their exploitation can equally be the sprawl of suburbia, the fields of our countryside or even the beaches that line our shores. The means of their subjugation are varied. Sometimes, there is violence, but traffickers might equally threaten to harm a victim’s family; they might enslave people through debt; they might reduce them through shame; or they might manipulate them through deception.

As illicit ways to make money go, trafficking can be perceived as comparatively low risk. A busy brothel with five to 10 girls in central London, for example, can make £20,000 a week, without the violence and risk associated with the illicit drugs trade. As for those with even baser motives, trafficked victims working outside the established sex trade are attractively difficult to detect.

In putting my speech together, I was aware of the imminent publication of the Home Office strategy on human trafficking, which was promised in the spring, but which may now be released in June, owing in part to pre-local election purdah. I hope that the debate will prove timely and will, along with the strategy, help to create momentum by raising public interest and reigniting the will to tackle trafficking more robustly. I also hope that it will serve to clarify what progress the Home Office has made since October, when a number of Members, including some in the Chamber, raised legitimate questions about the Government’s strategy in the debates marking anti-slavery week.

A debate that took place as recently as last Monday helped to raise the issues before us, and I hope that the Minister will not find this morning’s proceedings too repetitious. I put in for this debate some weeks ago, but, alas, the unquenchable enthusiasm of the 2010 intake makes securing a Westminster Hall debate these days far trickier than it was in the past. Nevertheless, last week’s debate focused primarily on the European directive on human trafficking, so I hope that we can cover some new ground today.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I apologise, Mr Crausby, for not being able to stay until the end of the debate. In last week’s debate, a point was raised about there being an independent voice for children. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that there is an independent voice to support children in legally challenging the UK Border Agency, the police and other statutory or voluntary agencies, when the actions being taken are not in a child’s best interests?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I have particular sympathy with that point, not only because children are particularly vulnerable, but because having people acting in loco parentis in the way in which my hon. Friend has described is a well-known legal process.

It is important that we do not simply use the debate as an opportunity to produce an hysterical portrayal of the problem or to condemn Governments, past or present, for a lack of progress. I accept that this is an immensely complicated issue; it obviously has legal bearings, as my hon. Friend has suggested, and it touches on many parts of our system from policing to immigration, justice, housing and social services. I wish, however, to encourage a measured debate about how we can best create an environment that is hostile to traffickers. I also want to send out a clear message that we are firmly on the side of the victims.

In discussing human trafficking, I want to pay tribute to parliamentarians past. The erstwhile Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen, has probably done more than anyone to raise the profile of trafficking at the parliamentary level. He founded the first all-party group on the issue in 2006, and he continues to work as the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which is based at Blackfriars in my constituency. I played a small part in bringing Anthony together with the City of London corporation to ensure that the foundation was based in a high-profile place in central London. I cannot hope to emulate Anthony’s incredible passion for, and knowledge of, this subject, which he displayed in an extremely detailed debate that he led in the dying embers of the previous Parliament, but I hope that our discussion pays homage to some of his work.

Whenever we approach a subject such as trafficking, people inevitably demand numbers, so that they can grasp the scale of the problem. Unfortunately, as we all know, reliable statistics are difficult to come by. Some people contend that the number of trafficked victims is very low, while others contend that the figures are grossly underestimated. As a covert crime, trafficking is inevitably incredibly tricky to measure.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this important debate, and we have had numerous debates on this issue in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Government strategy that will soon be published, and I do not condemn the Government for having a strategy, but it is action that we need. Children in the United Kingdom are being sold on the streets at £15,000 or £16,000 a time, which is an utter disgrace. We surely need action and some serious penalties for these crimes.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I entirely agree. In fairness to the Government, it is important that we have a framework in place, but, as the hon. Gentleman has said, any framework is pointless if action does not follow. One hopes that the robust measures that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will form an integral part of what the Government propose shortly.

There is no uniform story for those who have been trafficked. Some of the markets in which they circulate are closed to outsiders. Victims are often disconnected from mainstream society, so they find it incredibly difficult to seek help. Others may fear the consequences of coming forward, whether that is punishment by their oppressor or, indeed, the UK authorities—many victims are illegal immigrants and fear deportation, for example. Migrants do not always understand that they have been trafficked, or they may be reluctant to reveal to strangers the full picture of their ordeal. Of course, some also embellish their experiences in the hope that their case will be looked on more kindly by the British authorities.

The most recent study of the number of women trafficked into off-street prostitution, Project Acumen, released its findings last August. Conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, it aimed to improve our understanding of the nature and scale of the trafficking of migrant women for sexual exploitation. It estimated—as I have said, we must always include a caveat with any figures—that 30,000 women are currently involved in off-street prostitution. Of those women, 17,000, or more than 50%, are migrants, with 2,600 believed to have been trafficked. Most were not found to have been subject to violence, but many were debt-bonded and strictly controlled. A further 9,600 women were considered vulnerable, but fell short of what police officers regarded as the trafficking threshold.

Acumen examined off-street prostitution in part because it is relatively easy to identify. Its organisers have to balance subtlety with the need to advertise their “product” in a competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, criticism has been levelled at the study from some quarters. As a result, I do not intend to use it as an unimpeachable benchmark, but rather as the best, and probably the most recent, research we have in what, as I have said, is a shadowy sphere.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as me about other statistics, which estimate that 80% of the 8,000 women who work in off-street prostitution in London alone are foreign nationals, many of whom started to work as prostitutes, or were indeed forced into prostitution, when they were still children?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am very concerned about that issue, and I will come to it a little later. As the hon. Lady will understand, my speech focuses on my constituency, and I have become aware of the extent of this problem through my dealings with local councillors and local police in central London.

As I have said, the figures are pretty sketchy, and the grim reality of the experience tends to smack us in the face only when a case comes before the courts or because a raid has taken place in our constituencies. A recent example here in London is the grizzly ongoing case of a five-year-old Nigerian boy, who was identified only in March, 10 years after his murder. We believe that that tiny child was trafficked from Germany before being drugged and sacrificed in a ritual killing, his torso dumped in the Thames. Lucy Adeniji, a Church pastor, has been recently sentenced for trafficking two children and a 21-year-old woman to work for her as domestic slaves, locking them up and regularly beating them.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Conservative, Stourbridge

I apologise for being able to stay for only half the debate. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that with the various policing reforms we will lose some of the more targeted approaches to prosecution and the identification of victims, such as Pentameter 1 and 2 and Operation Golf, which were very effective in these difficult and complex areas of prosecution?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which bears witness to what I said earlier about this not simply being a policing matter but one with a focus on justice and social services, housing and the work of local authorities. The most important thing to learn is that solving the problem needs a multidisciplinary approach.

A pernicious trend emerged in my constituency of vans depositing women and children by Knightsbridge tube station in the morning to be picked up in the evening after a lucrative day’s begging. A couple of years ago, police raided properties in the constituency of Fiona Mactaggart to crack down on Romanian and Bulgarian gangs who had trafficked children to pick the pockets of Londoners in my constituency and beyond.

Tackling adult trafficking is co-ordinated, as the Minister knows, by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which was set up five years ago to bring together a range of stakeholders—police forces, the UK Border Agency, non-governmental organisations and so on. It acts alongside UKBA as one of the competent authorities for the national referral mechanism.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Government have signed up to the directive on human trafficking, which is good news, but they have refused to appoint an independent rapporteur who would have overseen it and ensured that they fulfilled their obligations. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that should be done as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I confess that I do. It is important, and I hope that the Minister will specifically pick up that point, because in this shadowy world beyond what one might regard as the normal scrutiny of the political process, it is all the more important that the voiceless are given a distinct voice of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has described.

The national referral mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring that they receive appropriate care. It essentially means that if the police, social services or NGOs believe that they have encountered a trafficking victim, a referral is made for a decision on whether they qualify for a place in a Ministry of Justice safe house for 45 days. The 45-day period is designed to allow the referred person to recover and reflect on whether they wish to co-operate with police inquiries, return to their country of origin or take other action to get their life back on track.

The situation with child trafficking victims is slightly different in having its focal point with the trafficking unit of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. Its work is assisted in the London area by Paladin, a dedicated team of Metropolitan police officers and UKBA staff based at Heathrow, who are tasked with stopping child trafficking through the entry points into London. Profiled compellingly by Bridget Freer in April in The Sunday Times magazine, Paladin is an absolutely tiny team with an enormous remit.

There are many deep concerns about the effectiveness of the approach being taken. UKHTC has been absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, a move criticised on the basis that the sheer size of SOCA dilutes the sense of purpose in dealing with human trafficking. With SOCA due to be replaced by a national crime agency, where do we anticipate UKHTC being placed?

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate, and I, too, must apologise that I have to leave before its end. Does he agree that the reorganisation has exacerbated the problem of the re-trafficking of victims, which needs to be urgently addressed? So many victims, who are initially secured in a safe house, are returned and re-trafficked by the very people from whom they were saved.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. One difficulty, even with the 45-day cooling-off period, is that a probably tragically high proportion of those who go through that process become known to the authorities later for other human trafficking matters.

The NRM has been rightly condemned for the quality of the decisions, the poor impression given to victims, the lack of an appeals process and the failure to gather comprehensive data on the scale of the problem. There is concern, too, that insufficient resources are directed at policing teams. In April 2009, for example, the Home Office decided to discontinue funding for the Met’s human trafficking unit—the only specialist police human trafficking unit in the country. The Met has since allocated a portion of its own budget to continue its trafficking work and to set up specialist crime directorate 9, which is the human exploitation and organised crime unit. I recently met Detective Superintendent Mick Duthie to discuss his work. There are now 38 people in his team, but their remit takes in not only trafficking, but a range of other street problems, vice, kerb crawling, casino fraud, money laundering and obscene publications, which, as one might imagine, are massive problems in their own right in the mere 6 square miles of my constituency. One wonders whether the other problems are crowding out trafficking.

We all appreciate that these are times of great financial austerity, and there is no realistic expectation of huge additional funding any time soon. The SCD team tries to be creative by setting up joint investigation teams and applying for EU funding streams, for example, but there are huge budgetary pressures, not least as trafficking investigations tend to be complex and lengthy, with overseas elements adding substantially to the costs.

Detective Superintendent Duthie is convinced that more must be done to educate police officers, local authorities and health workers to spot the signs of trafficking. Sometimes, the different teams that come into contact with victims do not get the right information from them or pick up the trafficking indicators.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

My hon. Friend has referred to local authorities, and one local authority department that has an eagle eye on what is going on in property is the planning or development control department. Perhaps we have missed a trick in not involving them in the partnership working of locating properties in which such activity is happening.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend is right. She has a background as a lawyer, and I am sure that she dealt with such problems on a day-to-day basis in her former career. As I see in my constituency, the reality is that agencies are generally only alerted to these issues when there is a tip-off from local residents—for example, we have all been contacted by people who live next door or very near to a brothel. I suspect that a significant number of safe houses—safe from the perspective of traffickers—operate for months or years without being detected.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Those properties are often residential properties in which a business is being run, and if that happened with many other types of business, the local authority would take immediate action due to the contravention of planning legislation. More initiative and activity from planning officers in that respect would greatly assist us.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend’s point is well made, although, without wishing to defend the planning officer fraternity too much, I suspect that the phenomenal financial constraints that most local authorities find themselves under mean that they are not necessarily prioritising this area, but it is important that we put those concerns on the record.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. He has discussed different organisations needing to be educated about the problem, so that they can tackle it more effectively. Does he agree that when the elected police and crime commissioners take responsibility for policing, it will be essential for them also to understand the importance that people place on tackling human trafficking? That should not be neglected.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am not sure that I want to go too deeply into concerns about precisely where that legislation goes, not least given yesterday’s comments by the Deputy Prime Minister, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If one considers the populist element of electing police commissioners, I hope that everyone—not only MPs, but interested residents, constituents and citizens—will make it plain that the problem needs to be tackled; indeed, it might be part and parcel of the manifestos of would-be candidates for such a role.

The Government have declared human trafficking to be a coalition priority; I mentioned earlier that we await a new strategy that will shortly step up our efforts in that regard. We recently put our name to the EU directive on trafficking, so the UK has signed up to various obligations. Nevertheless, and without wishing to pre-empt the strategy, I want to put some of my thoughts to the Minister.

It is quite clear from my work on the subject that the current disparate, multi-agency approach has a multitude of fundamental flaws. I have alluded to some of those flaws, which others also recognise. Some are the result of the inherent difficulty in dealing with such a complex and varied problem. However, the Government should consider making a few reasonably small improvements.

The notion of a one-stop shop was put to me by Detective Superintendent Duthie as a means of improving the treatment of trafficked victims and the collection of intelligence. Victims tend to have a variety of needs, and at the moment they are dealt with by a huge range of organisations based in different places. A one-stop shop—a human trafficking centre, as it were—might assist in dealing with health, housing, legal aid, counselling, immigration, repatriation, family reunification and more. I wonder whether the Minister would let us know his thoughts on that idea.

When researching the subject in advance of this debate, I was struck by the poor information available on the internet of all places. If I were a trafficked victim, the first resource that I would use to find a way out of my situation would be the internet. Although a one-stop shop might be seen as too expensive, has the Home Office or any other body considered setting up a presence on the internet that would provide easy, comprehensive and readily available advice to trafficked victims on how to report their experience and, more importantly, how to escape? As things stand, information is dotted across a range of sites, which is incredibly confusing.

Earlier, I mentioned Paladin, the police unit tasked with identifying trafficked children at London’s ports. Concern has been raised by the recently ennobled Baroness Doocey about alternative trafficking routes. Her fear is that Paladin’s vigilance at Heathrow and other points of entry might persuade traffickers to use other routes; in particular, she is concerned that there are no specialist child protection officers working full time at St Pancras, even though that station is within Paladin’s remit.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (International Development), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He has touched on routes into the UK. Does he agree that we also need to establish the source from which many of the unfortunate victims of trafficking come? If it includes the small number of nations that have recently joined the EU, we need comprehensive discussions and negotiations with those member states to ensure that the tap is switched off at source.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be wrong to suggest that the entirety of the problem is caused by the 10 nations that joined the EU over the past seven years, particularly Romania and Bulgaria, to which I referred earlier. However, it is clearly a substantial problem, and the relatively open borders in much of the EU play a part.

I was discussing St Pancras. Eurostar has relatively lax controls, and children under the age of 12 can travel unaccompanied from Brussels and Paris, so long as they have a letter from the parents or guardians. Have the Government considered making points of entry more robust, not only at St Pancras but in those parts of the country not covered by Paladin?

Turning to the EU directive, one of its key requirements is to provide every trafficked child with a court-appointed guardian to look after their interests. That idea, which was championed by Anthony Steen, was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington. I note from last Monday’s debate that the Minister is not convinced of that route, believing that local authorities are best placed to fulfil the guardianship role. With local authorities under the most enormous budgetary pressure, how will the Minister ensure that that duty is being fulfilled, and can he convince all stakeholders that the Government are not merely absolving themselves of responsibility?

I am reminded of the problems encountered by my local authority, Westminster city council, where there was a marked increase in homelessness following EU enlargement in 2004 and 2008. It had terrible difficulty extracting additional funds from the Home Office to deal with the localised effects of a national policy. As a quick aside, I secured a debate here some four years ago and the Home Office—at that juncture we had a Labour Government—mysteriously arrived an hour before the debate with cheque in hand. I accept that these things can happen—

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

I hope it happens again.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

That is wishful thinking. It would probably have to be the right hon. Gentleman making the speech.

In a similar way, the matter of trafficked children is probably bearing more heavily on certain local authorities. For example, I imagine that the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow take a great number of the children that come through Heathrow. If the guardianship role is to be taken on by local authorities, will the Minister assure hon. Members that, if there is evidence of certain areas being badly affected, those local authorities will be adequately funded and not be forced to choose which of the competing aspects of child protection to fund?

I have referred to the Government’s commitment to making human trafficking a coalition priority, but there is concern that the slipping time scale for producing a robust anti-trafficking strategy is pushing some of the best experts away. The Minister may have seen a report by Mark Townsend in The Guardian this weekend on the loss of key UK staff in this area—it is an excellent piece. A former police officer, one of the most senior figures involved in investigating trafficking, reportedly stated that one of his greatest concerns is the lack of continuity in the Home Office team. Mr Townsend also highlighted concerns that the inter-ministerial group on trafficking has met only once. I would appreciate hearing the Minister’s response to these specific criticisms.

Does the Minister believe that an independent rapporteur to track our progress on tackling trafficking—such an appointment was suggested last Monday by my hon. Friend Mr Bone—might prove useful in reassuring those who criticise the Government by introducing a genuine sense of accountability?

In last October’s Westminster Hall debate, it was suggested that we should have a Pentameter 3, Pentameters 1 and 2 being two police operations to raid brothels, massage parlous and private homes where trafficking was suspected. The idea is that Pentameter 3 would send out the message that we are and continue to be tough on traffickers. The fact has been highlighted that precious few operational police units specifically target trafficking. I appreciate that those matters are essentially operational police matters, but I wonder whether the Home Office has had discussions with the police teams.

Yet more issues could be covered today, such as the role of the Crown Prosecution Service, the responsibilities of local authorities and details of how the UKHTC operates. Unfortunately I do not have time to touch on them, as others wish to speak.

Without being able to assess accurately the extent of the problem, I accept that it is difficult for any Government to be sure of the level and type of resources that are best suited to tackling it. It is all too easy to ignore trafficking. In short, if we do not go looking for the victims, we can too easily pretend that they are not there. When money is tight, the problem can only get worse. I sincerely hope that today’s debate will give some small voice to that forgotten group of the most vulnerable in our midst, and that it will provide the Government with an opportunity to reassert their commitment to rooting out this most despicable ill.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham 9:58 am, 18th May 2011

I congratulate Mr Field on securing this debate and on making an excellent speech. I should make it clear at the start that I consider this an all-party matter, but the fact that it is an all-party campaign does not mean we should let the Government off the hook.

I have been enjoying reading the Foreign Secretary’s biography of William Wilberforce. There are some parallels. Wilberforce started his campaign to eradicate slave trafficking in the late 1780s. It took a long 20 years—with ups and downs such as fighting a little war against Napoleon, and having to divert money to other causes—before the legislation came into effect, and a number of decades passed before other countries followed suit.

We are at the start of a long campaign, and certain fundamental issues must be addressed. I invite the Minister, who has a wholly responsible approach to this matter, to reread his speech to the House of Commons in 2008 in which he made a powerful plea for guardianship, an increase in resources to the Human Trafficking Centre, and more joined-up work between local authorities and the police—all the points that were made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. It was a compelling speech in which he attacked and criticised my right hon. and hon. Friends who were then in the Home Office.

Sadly, the Minister is now in the position of having to resile, deny and turn back almost everything that he called for at the time. We have shut down the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Pentameter is no more, and we will not appoint a guardian. After six months of campaigning—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds for that—we have signed up to the EU directive, but without the core element in it of a rapporteur. However, we cannot sign up to a directive without finding the resources to give effect to it. Moreover, it requires us to work collaboratively across the European Union. There again, for good or ill, we have a Government who prefer not to work collaboratively to build a stronger EU and stronger cross-border policing and judicial procedure.

The hon. Member for Derry—[Interruption.] Forgive me—given my particular Irish descendancy, I cannot easily stick “London” in front of “Derry”. Mr Campbell said that we must be robust with the new EU member states and any others that may be trafficking people into this country. I agree with him, but is not the real robustness that we need on the demand side? These women—girls, children even—are here only because honest British men think that if they put down £20, £30 or £50, they have a God-given right to the use of a woman to put their penis into at will. I am sorry to use such strong language, but we must face up to the fact that unless we tackle demand, the supply will continue to increase, and all the words that the Minister will say—I do not for a second doubt his sincerity and I understand that he is working within terrible financial constraints—will come to nought and we will be having this debate next year and the year after that.

We have laws. Without opposition from the Minister, who was in his shadow post at the time, my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart and other former Ministers changed the law to say that it is a crime to pay for sex with any person who may have been coerced or forced to work as a prostituted woman. To my knowledge, and I stand to be corrected, there has not yet been one single arrest, prosecution or conviction using that new law. The police have the ability to go into massage parlours and brothels—they are not that hard to find; a couple of phone calls and they can find where to go—and challenge the men and put them in front of magistrates courts. Those men should be named and shamed. It is not just a certain French gentleman in New York who should attract all the attention—and yes, I know that he is innocent until proved otherwise. There are hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of British men who are clients of this trade. They are providing the demand and the money. The police must be asked why they have not used their powers.

I regret the shutdown of the different police agencies dedicated to trafficking and their absorption within the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is to face a further dilution. The police are there with every energy in the world to tackle driving offences and to find out how many points somebody has or has not got on their licence, and to take part in other worthy investigations. None the less, the language of Government should be the choice of priorities. I put it to my colleagues here and to the Minister—not in a critical way—that the police have not focused hard enough on this matter. We do not know the figures and I do not want to enter into the figures debate. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster cited some that were available, but as he acknowledged, they have been widely criticised by other expert groups. We could have a row on figures, but suffice it to say that we are talking about a substantial number; it is not just one or two people, as this odd organisation the English Collective of Prostitutes claims, with occasional support from journalists as well.

We need a rapporteur. Appointing an individual and giving them a task to achieve can change policy. We need to have a guardian for each child taken into care. I can produce the figures on the children who disappear from care. Children are put into care in Hillingdon, from Heathrow; their traffickers come round, and out they go through the door—obviously we cannot lock up a child—to work as sex slaves.

Moreover, we must change the culture of making the victims of trafficking into associate criminals. The approach of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency is to catch and deport. The figures can then be produced. It happened under Labour because of the mass hysteria from some organisations and the right-wing press. Almost any foreigner in Britain was unwelcome; it was said that there were too many of them. We have this tick-box culture of wanting to report the numbers that have been deported. Of course, women are the most vulnerable; they are easy to catch and deport.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Conservative, Stourbridge

The right hon. Gentleman makes some good points about how the system treats children. Is it not a scandal that according to ECPAT, children are more likely to be convicted of offences—often they are forced through their trafficked status to commit offences such as growing cannabis—than the perpetrators themselves?

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

It is a scandal, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. This question of criminalising the victims is one that should shame us. I know that it is hard because everybody loves to kick the immigrant, the asylum seeker, the economic migrant and the person here without papers, and they are easily victimised. We even had the noble Lord Glasman saying in Progress Magazine that Labour lied about immigration. He is a Labour lord accusing the Labour Government of telling lies. We may have got some things wrong, but he was expressing the notion that Ministers had lied. That was the language of the election and it is a culture that we need to change.

In his 2008 speech, the Minister eulogised the work of Eaves and its POPPY project, which was a standard-bearer and a model. The Conservative party was right behind it and called on the Government of the day to give it more resources. I am now extremely distressed to find that Eaves is being shut down and its money handed over to a religious organisation that has its proselytising and evangelising duties. I have worked closely with many church charities, so I am not condemning it. None the less, we now have a mono-religious organisation, the Salvation Army, being told that it must be in charge of women from different cultures and different faith backgrounds. I am not criticising the Sally Army for one second; it is a great outfit. However, it is not appropriate for it to replace the Eaves organisation and its POPPY project.

The Salvation Army wrote to MPs—I do not know if it wrote to all MPs or just those who are interested in combating human trafficking—to say that it is now going to transfer hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds to an outfit called STOP UK. I have tried to find out about STOP UK. It has a website, but that is all. It has no publications and there is no board of directors. It has a chief executive whom I think works in the Serious Organised Crime Agency. One of the big problems with victims of human trafficking is that they need to be dissociated from potential police and criminal investigations for being prostituted women. STOP UK has a couple of people with mobile phones, and I tried to call them. It has an office somewhere in south London. I do not doubt the sincerity of the outfit, but it is almost virtual and the Government, having shut down the support for Eaves and the POPPY Project, are now potentially giving it hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. I put it to the Minister gently—I respect him—that that is opening the way for a scandal further down the line.

I also worry that the National Register of Unaccompanied Children, which was set up in 2004, has been shut down. Why? We have still got children leaving care—in Rotherham, Hillingdon, London and elsewhere—and we also have the problem of unaccompanied minors coming into the UK. My view is that no airline should be allowed to fly somebody under the age of 14, possibly even under 16, if they are unaccompanied. There is also the problem of St Pancras. We had the remarkably complacent answers in the Lords from the noble Earl Attlee, saying, “Oh, there’s no problem, they’re all checked when they get on the train and go through passport control in Paris or Brussels.” For heaven’s sake: any of us who have gone through the maelstrom of getting people on to the Eurostar train as quickly as possible know that the notion that the hard-working officials in Paris or Brussels—I do not criticise them—are spotting potentially trafficked children is ludicrous. It is exactly that complacency that is the problem.

I will finish there, as other colleagues want to speak. There are other points that I want to make, but I think there will be further debates on this issue. My sense is that the House of Commons is seized of this issue. My hon. Friend Mr Bone—I call him my hon. Friend and my colleague—is not here in Westminster Hall today, but he is one of my heroes because he is working so hard on this issue, as did Anthony Steen. Indeed, Anthony Steen is still continuing his work on combating human trafficking. I have visited his offices down at Puddle Dock, and I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster for helping to arrange those very good facilities there.

I put it to the Minister that the debate on this issue will continue, and I invite him to make a name for himself on it. I also invite him to read the Foreign Secretary’s biography of Wilberforce, and to try to put himself in the shoes of that great Yorkshire MP at the end of the 18th century. Everybody, independently of party affiliation, will appreciate it if there is substantial change on human trafficking on this Government’s watch. However, as is apparent from the points I have made, I am concerned that we are going backwards, not forwards, on this issue.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:13 am, 18th May 2011

Thank you, Mr Crausby, for calling me. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I want to start by applauding the work of Members—current and former—from all parties in this House who have championed the fight against human trafficking. I was elected just over a year ago, and there have been many opportunities since then to debate this issue and to raise concerns with the Minister responsible for dealing with it.

As was outlined by Mr Field in his excellent opening speech, the slave trade was abolished in our country 200 years ago, but another form of slavery has emerged since then. It is a more clandestine and underground form, but it is just as insidious and brutal. Unfortunately, it is also pervasive in modern Britain.

Thousands of vulnerable people, mostly women and children, are being trafficked into our country this year. As the hon. Gentleman said, we do not have a grip on the figures for the number of people involved. Nevertheless, behind the figures are real lives. Tragically, many of these women and children come to the UK on the promise of a better life, only to find on arrival that they are imprisoned and forced into slave labour or prostitution. The criminal gangs and pimps who trade these women consider them to be like second-hand cars—like a commodity. According to some estimates, each sex trafficker earns an average of £500 to £1,000 per woman per week. It is the most unimaginable treatment of one human being by another, that they should think of people and treat them in this way.

The Observer recently highlighted the case of a 17-year-old woman, Marinela Badea, who was abducted from Romania, trafficked to Britain and forced into prostitution. She was repeatedly raped, violently abused and held captive. Her experience is indicative of what happens to thousands of trafficked women in our country and across the developed world. It is a great victory that her traffickers are now serving the longest sentence for human trafficking ever imposed in British history, but it is extremely rare for the perpetrators of this horrible and hateful crime to be caught and brought to justice. Prosecution rates are pitifully low, and proactive policing operations to root out trafficking, such as brothel raids, are apparently being scaled down.

Like other Members, in all parties, I am concerned that the Home Office is not doing enough to tackle this most egregious human rights abuse. The new anti-human trafficking strategy, which was promised earlier this year, is late. Can the Minister explain why there has been a delay, and say when we are likely to see it? I echo the comments of Members from all parties: the words in that strategy and in the new EU directive on human trafficking, which the Government have finally opted into, are welcome. However, it is the actions taken because of those words that count, and by which we need to judge them.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster made such an excellent opening speech that I fear I might repeat some of the points he made. Nevertheless, I want to echo what he said about the concern, expressed in recent reports, that key specialists in this field have left the Home Office human trafficking team. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is real concern at the lack of continuity among the staff taking on this important issue. Moreover, the inter-ministerial group on human trafficking has met only once since the election of the present Government. What does that say about this Government’s resolve and seriousness regarding human trafficking?

There is also evidence to suggest that many victims escape their traffickers but are then classified as “illegal immigrants”—a problem outlined by my right hon. Friend Mr MacShane. We must ensure that that does not happen. Can the Minister reassure the House that something is being done to ensure that victims are properly identified and treated as such, rather than being put down as “illegal immigrants” when they are in fact brought here, often against their will, and forced into the most horrendous type of work?

I want to say more about the protection of victims, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham also mentioned. I am deeply concerned that the POPPY project’s funding has been withdrawn and given to another organisation that I am not sure has the project’s specialism and experience in helping the victims of trafficking. Human trafficking is a hugely complex issue, and it is sometimes very difficult even to help these women talk about their experiences, because they have been so violently abused. I worry about the rationale for withdrawing the funding for the POPPY project. Can the Minister explain why the funding was stopped for that organisation, which has great expertise in this field?

I turn to the Olympics. International sporting events are a magnet for pimps and traffickers—that is the evidence from elsewhere in the world when there have been Olympics or World cups. Can the Minister say what measures the Government are taking to ensure that the rise in demand for prostitution as a result of London’s hosting the Olympics next year—and, therefore, the rise in human trafficking that will also unfortunately happen—will be dealt with? Have the Government considered whether they could work with hotels and, if so, how? Hotels often turn a blind eye to prostitution, and the Government could raise their awareness of the fact that many women in prostitution have been brought across borders and forced into it.

Now, 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade, this Government and future Governments have a great responsibility to root out this modern, pervasive form of slavery. I would like reassurance from the Minister that the Home Office and the wider Government are taking the matter seriously enough.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 10:20 am, 18th May 2011

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I compliment Mr Field on his excellent analysis of the issues, particularly of prostitution, and of the scale of the problems we face in dealing with what is a very well organised, multinational business in the criminal fraternity. Sometimes that business has technologies way beyond those available to even the forces of Government.

No community is untouched by the problem. Small, peripheral communities on the edges of cities are very attractive to people who are trafficking and setting up brothels. It is amazing where brothels pop up, and how ill-equipped the police are to distinguish between communal living by immigrant workers and the very common phenomenon of people being used for sexual exploitation—people who go into the cities in the evenings to ply their trade and come back to live in houses of multiple occupation.

The debate is about not just prostitution but all types of human trafficking, and I will make my speech in that context. The question for me, and for the Minister, is: are the Government equipped to carry out the responsibilities that they are about to take on by opting into the human trafficking directive and signing up to the directive on sexual exploitation and abuse of children? There are very serious concerns about that. In a debate in the House on 9 May, the Minister said:

“We are confident that the UK is compliant with those measures.”—[Hansard, 9 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 977.]

He was talking particularly about measures to do with trafficked children, and I want to challenge him on that statement. I do not believe that the UK, using local authorities under the present arrangements, is equipped to deal with the problem of the trafficking of children, many of whom are trafficked for other reasons but many of whom, sadly, are trafficked for sexual exploitation of various kinds.

I refer Members to the article in The Sunday Times of 3 April 2011 about a woman who was multiple-trafficked—three or four times—in and out of the UK and back to her home country. She was treated as a criminal and not as a victim, and that also happens with children. On Sunday 15 May 2011, The Observer highlighted something that we have been aware of in the all-party group on human trafficking: the collapse of the Home Office structure to focus on human trafficking. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster talked about the specialist police force, which has been absorbed—some say swamped—due to the changes that the Home Office is making.

The all-party group had a meeting last week, during which we were supposed to be addressed by the director who was setting up the response from the Home Office and the UK Border Agency, but we received an apology saying that he had been sacked seven weeks previously as part of the cuts in the Home Office. So the person who is organising the team has gone, and the people who are supposed to be in it have gone. Where are the Government travelling? They are travelling in one direction, because of political pressure, into the EU directives, but in the other direction they seem to be stripping away the very facilities we require, and that troubles me.

ECPAT UK is very keen on having formal guardianship that is not just a local authority’s social work department being given charge of young people and putting them into what Barnardo’s referred to, when it spoke to the all-party group two or three weeks ago, as “just bed and breakfasts”. The young people are not supervised, and many of them run away and are picked up and trafficked into some other environment.

There is a huge ring in the Chinese community. Respectable Chinese businessmen that we meet in our business community meetings often use people who have been trafficked from mainland China, and do not pay them. One man, who came to see me after a speech, had been trafficked out of mainland China 11 and a half years previously. He lives in communal housing. He has been moved all over the UK and now lives in a house in Armadale in my constituency—now that I have said “Armadale”, he will probably be whisked away somewhere else. He does not receive wages; he is told that he is still paying back the cost of his trafficking. There are thousands like him: every time one of my local restaurants is raided, trafficked people are found. The industry is massive, and we are not equipped to deal with it with the facilities that we have.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Solicitor General

My hon. Friend makes a compelling argument for the Government looking seriously at the issue of a formal guardianship programme for children.

Some of the statistics have worried me. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the 2007 ECPAT UK report that found that of 80 children trafficked over an 18-month period 56% had gone missing from the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands. That shows the scale of the problem, and although the report is from 2007 I do not believe that things have improved much since. A 2009 Child Exploitation and Online Protection CentreCEOP—report identified 325 potential victims, 23% of whom have gone missing without trace. It is unacceptable to carry on with that situation.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

If we had the facilities and the teams, those statistics would pop up in any region in the UK. Voluntary organisations that are in touch with such people, but are not formally responsible for them, can give a large number of worrying figures.

ECPAT UK points out that children from China, Vietnam and Nigeria are consistently ranked highest in CEOP national referral mechanism statistics, but there have been no trafficking convictions of people who traffic child victims from any of those countries, and there are no specialist child trafficking police units left. More trafficked children have been convicted by the courts for cannabis-related and other offences than have child traffickers for trafficking, as Margot James said earlier. CEOP, the only Government agency to produce reports on child trafficking, has disbanded its child trafficking unit, and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre has never published any reports on child trafficking. The Government say that they are going to go in and match the best in the EU, if not the world, but they are ill-equipped to do so.

I wish to refer in more detail to something I have mentioned a few times in debates: the report of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People. Despite being a commissioner in Scotland, the commissioner is part of the UK structure. I hope that the Minister has read the April 2011 report, because it has recommendations for the UK Government. It expresses deep concerns about having multiple responsibilities in the UK Border Agency, and states that with guardianship there is conflict regarding the responsibilities of local authorities.

The report recommends that the UK Government should have a rapporteur and go and look at other European countries that have such people to look at Governments’ performance and oversee whether they are just all talk and no action. It also recommends a guardianship scheme, and clearly refers to the overarching responsibility that we have because we signed up to the Council of Europe convention on sexual abuse and exploitation of children. We have, however, not ratified that convention, and can therefore avoid doing anything. We have put a signature on paper, but have not followed it up with resources.

I hope that many of the report’s recommendations will be considered, including that for an independent rapporteur on trafficking. The report also suggests that the Government should consider the values of the guardianship scheme being run as a pilot by the Scottish Refugee Council and the Aberlour Child Care Trust and seek a guardianship that satisfies ECPAT’s expectations without necessarily being as burdensome as the Government think it will be.

Apart from words on paper, will the Minister give us some examples of why the Government believe that they are capable of dealing with child trafficking and some indication that we can train police forces to see it not as an extra but as fundamental to their duties? They must see trafficked children as victims—I mean children up to the age of 18, not just children of four or five, or as young as Baby P—and treat them as victims, which means looking after them properly.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Shadow Minister (Equalities) 10:30 am, 18th May 2011

As is usual on this subject, we have had an excellent debate with a great deal of consensus among Members of all parties. I thank Mr Field for bringing this subject before the House once again. As he pointed out, it was an accident that we discussed it only last week, but it is often helpful for Members of Parliament to be able to follow up on a previous debate. Some issues in the last debate were not resolved, and I hope that when the Minister responds, we will hear some of the answers that have been re-requested during this debate.

I welcomed the hon. Gentleman’s call for a multi-agency, one-stop approach. I agree that we need a strategy: not just broad aims, but specific commitments. In order to deliver that as the House and society would want, we need a rapporteur of sufficient independence for everyone to have confidence in the information that they produce. I welcome all those aspects of his remarks.

My right hon. Friend Mr MacShane reminded us that to tackle trafficking, we must have an effective strategy for driving down demand for the products of trafficking. I was concerned to hear his remarks about STOP UK, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that in his response.

My hon. Friend Emma Reynolds reminded us that the women and children involved in trafficking are treated as commodities, like used cars. It is not enough for us to say the right words across parties; we need action to tackle the problem, and specifically action to prevent the threat from coming to London along with the Olympics in a year’s time.

My hon. Friend Michael Connarty remarked on the Home Office’s problems in managing the process and advised us of the opportunity to consider whether what Scotland is doing on child guardianship can provide models or lessons for the rest of the United Kingdom.

In my view, we are a little complacent about our quality of victim care. I was rather shocked to read a research report by the London School of Economics and the university of Goettingen suggesting that the United Kingdom was less effective than Albania at tackling human trafficking. The reason why the report came to that conclusion involved our treatment of victims. Most of the study was done while the POPPY project, which we all admire, was providing victim services, but the researchers felt that the UK habit of convicting the victims of trafficking—we have heard about children being convicted of cannabis cultivation, for example—means that the quality of our trafficking strategy is less good than that of many countries that we would expect to outperform.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

My hon. Friend mentioned the London School of Economics. Is she aware of its feminist political theory course, taught by Professor Anne Phillips? In week 8 of the course, students study prostitution. The briefing says:

“If we consider it legitimate for women to hire themselves out as low-paid and often badly treated cleaners, why is it not also legitimate for them to hire themselves out as prostitutes?”

If a professor at the London School of Economics cannot make the distinction between a cleaning woman and a prostituted woman, we are filling the minds of our young students with the most poisonous drivel.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Shadow Minister (Equalities)

I share my right hon. Friend’s view about those attitudes. I hope that the LSE provides sufficient contest to Professor Phillips’s frankly nauseating views on that issue.

To return to victim care, one of my absolute concerns is that victims should be supported to be identified as victims. I am anxious that the national referral mechanism requires a referral, through a multi-tick-box questionnaire, by an appropriate authority, does not accept all attempts at referral and does not always make good decisions. During our recent debate, I asked the Minister whether he would ensure that the new victim care organisations—the Salvation Army and its subcontractors—were supported in challenging decisions under the national referral mechanism if victims were not initially identified as such, and that they were funded to support those people. The experience of the POPPY project is that many trafficked victims were not originally given reasonable-grounds decisions or conclusive decisions on their trafficking status.

The Minister reminded me that

“support providers are asked to, and helped to, provide information about victims’ experiences and circumstances to the competent authority precisely to ensure that the correct NRM decision is reached”.—[Hansard, 9 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 994.]

I hoped, in the cut and thrust of debate, that that was a positive answer, but my view on reflection is that it is not. I would like a specific commitment from him today that if an organisation supporting a victim helps that victim challenge a decision by the NRM, it will be funded to support the victim. One of the tasks of such organisations, if they believe professionally that someone is a victim of trafficking, is to advocate on their behalf with the competent authorities. I hope that he can give us that assurance.

In addition, I am concerned, as are other hon. Members, about the transparency of the process. The Serious Organised Crime Agency has not produced an annual report since Jacqui Smith was Home Secretary. We do not have any compelling data about decisions under the NRM or enforcement actions taken by police. One reason for calling for a rapporteur is to ensure that such data exist.

The Minister suggested that the role of rapporteur could properly be fulfilled by the inter-ministerial group, the NRM and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. At the moment, that is not happening. Will he make a commitment during this debate to a specific mechanism for ensuring transparency? Unless we have a formal rapporteur charged with providing that transparency, we cannot properly interrogate what the Government are doing.

A specific example is the disappearance of children from care, which Members have mentioned. If we believe that local authorities are providing adequate guardianship services, can we please have a national study of how many trafficked children are in local authority care and of which local authorities lose children and how many, and a report to Parliament on how those issues are handled?

The Minister makes a reasonable point when he says that it is possible for the directive’s guardianship requirements to be fulfilled by local authority responsibilities. I think that that could be possible. I am not saying that his decision to do that is mere penny-pinching—although it obviously is, partly because of pressure on funds—but it cannot be done under the present arrangement, because so many local authorities are, frankly, incompetent in this area. We do not know how many are involved or which ones are making good progress. I hope that the Minister will commit to that, because without that kind of transparency, any claim to fulfil a rapporteur-type function is unfounded.

My final concern relates to the role of the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned how Vic Hogg was invited to address the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, but did not turn up because apparently, at the last moment, he did not have a job. I have spoken to representatives from civil society organisations involved in this field. They feel that meetings with the Home Office to discuss the strategy have been frustrating, disorganised and unclear.

I do not believe that the Minister wants a disorganised and unclear strategy—I am not accusing him of a deliberate policy. Nor do I believe that he wants to exclude those excellent organisations—ECPAT UK, the POPPY Project, the Salvation Army, the Medaille Trust and so on—from contributing to the strategy. I am concerned, however, that there is a real risk, because the former strategy was extremely specific and connected police operations, which have been the most powerful way of discovering the extent of trafficking.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has pointed out how the research is not very good, because the subject is an illegal activity. Actions by the police have been more effective. They have illustrated more powerfully the range of trafficking and where it is to be found, and have led to some successful prosecutions. I am concerned that, at present, we do not have any nationally directed operations, and that the consequence of that will be that we will lose expertise among the police.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us that, even if the Home Office does not wish, at present, to direct police forces to mount those kinds of national operations, it will support and enable them to do so. Without Operation Golf, the excessive trafficking of children from the town of Tandarei in Romania, many of whom were trafficked into my constituency, and the grotesque profits made by criminals in that town, would have continued unabated.

Strategic national interventions that are properly directed can protect people more effectively than a strategy and the warm words that we are able to produce in this Chamber. I believe that we are all on the same side, but we need a strategy to ensure that the shared ambition to eradicate this modern form of slavery actually works in practice.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration 10:43 am, 18th May 2011

Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Field on securing this debate, which, interestingly, follows a previous debate on this issue. I should point out that it was not an accident that the Government called that previous debate, because I made a commitment that we should have proper scrutiny when we decided to opt in to the European directive.

This is a matter of undeniable significance to both Houses. Many thoughtful points have been raised today, along with one or two slightly less thoughtful ones. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to Anthony Steen—it has become almost compulsory and certainly de rigueur to pay tribute to him in debates such as these—for all his work. I also thank Fiona Mactaggart, who speaks for the Labour party, for her extremely constructive and thoughtful contribution. She and I disagree about individual details, but what she said at the end of her speech is exactly right. We all need to be—indeed, we all are—fundamentally on the same side on this issue. We are discussing how best to eradicate trafficking as much as possible. My hon. Friend said in his introductory remarks that it is much better to conduct this debate in terms that are not hysterical, which, as we progress, will be important not only for our debates in this House, bur for debates among wider groups that are concerned about the issue.

A wide range of issues have been raised this morning. Members have reflected on the complex nature of tackling human trafficking. Many have acknowledged the challenges inherent in tackling this appalling crime. Britain has a good record, under Governments of all hues, of tackling it, and this Government intend for that to continue. I am, however, happy to acknowledge that we can always improve. Indeed, it is striking that, while many Members have paid tribute, as do I, to the work of the POPPY Project, the hon. Member for Slough produced a report that says that Britain is doing worse on victim care than Albania. I think that that point was designed to gain an effect rather than to offer a truthful analysis of what is going on, but it illustrates the complexities and difficulties.

The Government are rising to the challenge of developing more sophisticated ways of tackling traffickers in the changing landscape of organised crime, while continuing, of course, to care for the victims of this trade in human misery. I listened eagerly to many of the contributions. It is clear that the subject of trafficking is close to the hearts of many Members. I acknowledge the point that our work should be transparent and responsive to criticism, when that criticism is well founded.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Does the Minister accept that one of the key problems that we all face in our efforts to raise the profile of this issue is that, to be brutally frank, there are no votes in it? All too often, some of the people who suffer most are regarded by many of our constituents as a troublesome problem. It is, therefore, all the more important that we utilise this opportunity. I hope that the Minister does not see politics as a platform for his views and that he can try to do something fairly constructive. I hope that he will keep that in mind as he continues his speech.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend has made a good point. This is not an issue that tends to gain huge headlines or create partisan politics, and nor should it. This is, therefore, an opportunity for Ministers and Governments simply to seek to do the right thing by some very vulnerable people.

Let me move on rapidly to address all the individual points that have been made by my hon. Friend and others. I reassure him that the work that was done by the UK Human Trafficking Centre will continue unaffected. The UKHTC plays an important role in our overall efforts to combat trafficking, and the Government are committed to ensuring its continued success. When it became part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, much work was done to ensure that the UKHTC retained its unique role, character and identity. That includes its focus on victim care and its competent authority role in identifying victims as part of the national referral mechanism. Merging the UKHTC into the national crime agency will not affect its important work or change its focus in any way. Specifically, as part of the NCA, the UKHTC will benefit from being able to draw on the resources and intelligence of the wider organisation, while retaining its focus.

During the debate, it struck me that two contradictory demands were often made in the same speech: first, that we need to work much better across different parts of the police, between police forces and between the police and different agencies; and, secondly, that specialist units should be set up. There is clearly a tension between those two entirely legitimate demands. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties recognise that.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

The Scottish commissioner identified that dealing with trafficking is seen as additional work within police forces. If specialist organisations are absorbed inside larger police forces, dealing with the matter will clearly become a marginal activity, particularly for those forces that are currently being slashed and are losing 20% of their resources.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

That is precisely why it needs to become a mainstream activity, which is what the strategy is designed to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has referred to the national referral mechanism, as have other hon. Members. The NRM is a framework designed to make it easier for agencies—the police, the UK Border Agency, local authorities and non-governmental organisations—involved in a trafficking case to co-operate, to share information about potential victims and to facilitate their access to support. The framework is designed precisely to achieve the kind of coherence that we are seeking.

The expert decision makers—the competent authorities—are based in the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the UK Border Agency, and we are committed to ensuring that there are multi-agency working arrangements in both. I recognise that victim identification is an area that can always be improved, and the NRM was set up by the previous Government for that purpose. In the first 21 months of its operation, more than 1,250 potential trafficking cases were referred to the NRM by a range of front-line agencies, and our expert decision makers went on to grant a period of reflection and recovery in 65% of the cases decided. We remain committed to working with partners to ensure that our arrangements for identifying and protecting victims constantly improve.

My hon. Friend recommended having a one-stop shop to gather intelligence and care for victims. I will obviously think about that but, at the moment, the strategy has been to draw on the expertise of anti-trafficking groups to develop a support system that offers victims a more diverse range of services and enables more providers to support victims of this crime. That has been the basis of the approach up to now. The new victim care arrangements, which have been referred to, will mean that the Salvation Army is responsible for the co-ordination and contracting of victim care and will ensure that all identified victims receive support based on their individual needs. Those arrangements continue to be in line with the standards set out in the Council of Europe convention.

It is important to bear in mind that victims must not be compelled to share information with the police in order to access support services. Emma Reynolds has referred to the POPPY project. I reassure her that money has not been taken away. A new contract is being let and we are having a different model. Rather than one provider doing everything, the Salvation Army will act as a gateway to other providers, so that a wider range of expertise is available.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Is it not the case that the resources available for that contract are much reduced compared with what was given to the POPPY project?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Straightforwardly, no. That is simply not the case. It is one of the areas that has been protected. While I am talking about the Salvation Army, I strongly reject the comments about that organisation made by Mr MacShane. As he knows, I agree with many of the things that he said, but his attack on the Salvation Army was deplorable. He seemed to suggest that a faith-based organisation could not deal adequately with victims of other faiths or of no faith. That is a disgraceful thing to say. If he is saying that a Christian-based organisation is not capable of fulfilling such a role, that is anti-Christian bigotry and he really should be ashamed of himself.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

For heaven’s sake! The Minister is rather spoiling a good debate. I am appalled at the bigotry against the Eaves organisation—the POPPY project. Yes, I do believe that an organisation based on women is best suited to help trafficked women from different faiths. That was my point. I said on the record that I have nothing but praise and respect for the Salvation Army. It is the decision to remove the money from Eaves and the POPPY project that is deplorable.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

When he reads the record, the right hon. Gentleman will wish to reflect on what he actually said about the Salvation Army.

The separation between sharing information with the police and access to services is important in ensuring that victims can reflect and recover, and to engage with law enforcement if and when they feel safe enough to do so. The strength of our approach to tackling human trafficking lies in its diversity and in having the UKHTC as our repository for collecting data and the NRM to draw together all those who may be involved in a trafficking case to make the right decisions on victim status. However, I recognise the importance of ease of access to the information that is available to victims of trafficking on how to report their experiences, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned. In that regard, my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster recommended having a website for all the relevant information. I suggest that, given the situation in which many victims find themselves, access to a website may not be the most useful solution. Victims of forced prostitution might be locked in basements and will not have access to any basic services, let alone the internet.

In response to my hon. Friend’s points about the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit, the previous Government decided to discontinue that funding, which was provided on a time-limited basis, because they believed that trafficking work should be mainstreamed into the Metropolitan Police Service budget, as it is core police business. The team’s expertise was therefore not lost and reorganisation ensured that it retained its capability to support victims and mount investigations against trafficking.

I agree with my hon. Friend in congratulating the team that runs Operation Paladin, which acts as a point of expertise and guidance for all UKBA officers and Metropolitan police officers. It is important to note that although Paladin is a Met-UKBA joint operation, advice is not only restricted to the ports in London. Paladin offers an advisory service and routinely offers support to officers outside the London area. A specific point has been made about St Pancras. Of course, all passengers arriving at St Pancras have been cleared for immigration purposes at juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium.

If there is any suspicion that a child arriving at St Pancras is at risk, UKBA will refer to the appropriate authorities. Specifically, Operation Paladin’s coverage extends to St Pancras.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have many points to respond to that were made in the debate.

The issue of re-trafficking has been discussed. That is precisely why, as a key part of our new strategy, we will be working much more in the source countries—the sending countries. I am sure that we all accept that prevention is better than cure. That has been lacking, and it is something that we will address in the new strategy. Much criticism has been based on the lack of provision of information across agencies, and another key part of the new strategy will be to improve our performance in putting information around the system.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham has mentioned STOP UK, which is indeed one of the organisations that will be part of the Salvation Army’s supply chain. It has satisfied the procurement requirements so far but, obviously, I will take what he has to say seriously. The hon. Member for Slough asked about NRM decisions and support providers. As I have said, support providers advocate for victims in the provision of care and ensure that competent authorities receive the information that they need to make the right decision. Although there is no appeal system for the NRM, the decisions can be judicially reviewed.

Let me move on to child guardians and the national rapporteur. I know that hon. Members found the previous debate useful. We will, of course, be applying to the European Commission to opt into the directive. The directive contains a number of important provisions on the issue of child guardians. Local authorities already have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of children. So it is not, as some hon. Members have suggested, an additional burden on them. Can local authorities do it better? Absolutely. I have no doubt that some of them can and should do so.