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Westminster Hall

Thursday 20 December 2012

[John Robertson in the Chair]

Backbench business

Human Trafficking

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

1.30 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, the first we have ever had in Parliament on the Government report on human trafficking. I welcome the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), to this debate on the first annual report by the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking. I also welcome him as chairman of the group, and I look forward to his input. The first thing he could do is to rename the group something catchier and easier to pronounce. It would also save a lot of trees if it were a shorter name to print.

I welcome the publication of the first annual report on human trafficking, promised by the Government as a fulfilment of the group’s role as the equivalent of a national rapporteur, as set out in the EU directive. As my colleagues may know, I am not always wholly supportive of the European Union, but on this occasion I think it was absolutely right that we opted in, and I think the pressure from the all-party parliamentary group against human trafficking helped the Government come to their sensible conclusion.

To pick up on something the Government have put into legislation as a result of the directive, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 now allows UK nationals who commit trafficking offences to be prosecuted even if those offences are not connected with the UK. That is a welcome change in the law, as is the power to prosecute traffickers for non-sexual trafficking offences for the first time.

Before moving on, I thank the Government for what they have done and for their commitment to fighting the evil crime of human trafficking. What I say in this debate will be constructive criticism; I will delve into the report and suggest areas where the Government could improve. My hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised if I start with the rapporteur situation. I had a great deal of difficulty finding the relevant part of the report, but it is right at the end, in chapter 10, paragraph 19.

Under the EU directive, it is recommended that a national rapporteur report independently on the Government’s action against human trafficking and be the overarching body for collecting intelligence. In my view, setting up a national rapporteur could reduce the cost within Departments. An independent rapporteur might also be more approachable by non-governmental organisations that might be sceptical of a Government-led organisation, which would lead to greater data sharing and a better picture of the real number of trafficking victims.

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Other European countries have appointed a national rapporteur. The rapporteur for the Netherlands is a former judge, and the Finnish rapporteur is a former Member of the Finnish Parliament. They do an excellent job in scrutinising their respective Governments’ action against human trafficking, as well as acting as a liaison with NGOs. The problem is that our Government have read the small print in the EU directive saying that countries can have an equivalent of the national rapporteur, which is what the interdepartmental ministerial group is.

The group did not start as a great success. In the first 18 months, it met twice, and two thirds of the Ministers gave their apologies. I know the Minister will say that that has been dealt with, the group has published its annual report and it is doing its best, but I still do not see how a group of Ministers can independently scrutinise what the Government are doing. That is also the view of the all-party parliamentary group. Of course, we will wait to see whether the interdepartmental ministerial group is successful, but we have a big question mark over that.

The Government have rightly given over a whole chapter, chapter 2, to data and a true picture of human trafficking. The report says, and the UK Human Trafficking Centre’s baseline assessment of the nature and scale of human trafficking in 2011 highlights, that the true number of trafficked victims is likely to be higher than the 2,077 reported in 2011. The figures recorded by the UK Human Trafficking Centre and the national referral mechanism are only for victims who have been rescued and have agreed to go into the system. That is a bone of contention, especially with the NGOs. I am grateful to all the NGOs that gave input into the research that went into my speech, and I particularly thank my researchers Adam Trundle, Jack Spriggs and Emma Wade for their efforts in putting it together.

Irrespective of how we come up with the number of victims, it is a number of victims. Let us suppose that the figure of 2,077 is the correct number of rescued victims in the UK last year. The NGOs would say that it is higher, but assuming that it is correct, does that represent 10% of the overall number of people trafficked? If so, more than 20,000 people were trafficked into this country last year. If the figure represents 5%, we can double that number. Whatever figure we use, trafficking is a huge problem. It is an evil crime, and we are not yet getting to the bottom of the scale of it. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) may wish to talk later about what was in effect a slave camp in his constituency that existed for almost 30 years without anybody noticing. I think the level of trafficking is a great deal higher than has been recorded, and we must work towards a solution.

I turn to the section I consider the most important. To be fair to the Government, they highlighted it in their initial strategy as one of the most important. In chapter 6, the Government recognise the vulnerability of child victims of human trafficking. However, the report says little about care arrangements for trafficked children. There is just one paragraph about it, 6.1.

Support and care for child victims of trafficking is one of the most important issues that need addressing in the UK. Under current legislation, child victims of trafficking are treated much like any other at-risk children and are under the primary control of local authorities, which often means they are placed in care homes with

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non-trafficked children, where security and staff observation are limited. Unfortunately, that has led on many occasions to the horrifying situation of a child who escaped trafficking being trafficked once more.

To put that in perspective, let us take a 15-year-old child who has been trafficked into this country and forced into prostitution. If we actually think about what prostitution is, anyone in prostitution who does not want to be there is suffering repeated rape day after day. Lo and behold, the police come and rescue her, and they do a really good job of it; the police are very good at rescuing victims. If all that happens is that she is put in a care home, and the traffickers know where she is, they can re-traffic her. That is a scandal. There has been some national publicity relating to internal trafficking, but the problem remains.

Many local authorities are not even aware of the dangers of human trafficking of children in care. They often report missing children as just missing, without investigating the possibility that they have been re-trafficked. Responsibility for children’s care locally falls on local authorities, but nationally it falls on the Department for Education. Instead of a clearly defined Department or authority in charge of trafficked children’s care and welfare, there is confusion over who is ultimately accountable.

For the first time in this country—I certainly cannot think of another example—the provision of care for trafficked adults is better than that for trafficked children. How we treat child victims of trafficking is the key issue the Government face in our fight against this great evil. A Government contract of nearly £2 million to the Salvation Army includes support and accommodation for adult victims of trafficking. The big society model of allowing the Salvation Army to allocate resources to local charities around the country leads to a system of care and protection that allows adult victims of trafficking to return home, or recover and live a worthwhile life in this country. There is no such independent, specialised provision for child victims of trafficking.

The welfare of children is the responsibility of local authorities, which often do not recognise that trafficking is an issue in their areas and often provide substandard care to trafficked children. As co-chairman of the all-party group on human trafficking, I issued a freedom of information request to all local authorities on the number of trafficked children in their care; very few were able to give me any numbers whatsoever. When I asked the few who took the matter seriously how many of those children then disappeared, the answer was that a staggering 80% to 90% went missing again. That is not good enough. I do not criticise the Government; they have recognised the problem and initiated a pilot scheme.

Barnardo’s currently leads the pilot scheme for children-centred, care-orientated safe homes. They are designed for child victims of trafficking only and provide them with the necessary support, which the local authority care system does not provide. Recently, nine child-centred non-governmental organisations, including Love146 and Barnardo’s, formed an alliance on care for trafficked and exploited children. The alliance recently made a bid to the Department for Education to deliver specialised residential care for child victims. If successful, it will be able quickly to set up five residential care homes. It is an

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excellent example of how Government funding can be used in conjunction with committed, child-focused NGOs that can set up and run safe homes for child victims.

We always think we are ahead of the game and on top of social care. In 2010, I went to see a safe home in the Philippines. Children who had been trafficked in the most horrible way came into the home traumatised, and left within two years. I attended the wedding of one of the trafficked children. We should be able to run that sort of project in this country, and not let these poor children be re-trafficked.

I strongly urge the Minister and the Government to expand the Barnardo’s pilot scheme into a national policy and seriously to consider adopting child safe homes as an alternative to local authority care for trafficked children. It will have cost implications for the Government—in that it will save them money. For example, local government pays £30,000 a year to look after a child in the normal system; but give just a part of that money to the NGOs and they would look after that child far better. The child could go into society, could go home, as a proper individual. It is the biggest single element of the problem.

I am sorry that my speech is running a little longer than I had hoped. I want to cover a couple more points. Chapter 5.50 of the report refers to the joint investigation teams. The Government rightly recognise the good job that JITs do. I recently attended a seminar hosted by the all-party group for global uncertainties. Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sumner, from the specialist and economic crime command at the Metropolitan Police, gave us a good insight into the law enforcement side of human trafficking. He mentioned the vital role that JITs play in combating trafficking at home and abroad, the results of which can be seen already, for example in Operation Golf in 2008. That joint operation between the Romanian and British police and prosecution services was a resounding success, with 87 people arrested for trafficking offences and 272 victims rescued.

Detective Sumner raised the issue that funding for JITs is not guaranteed in the future. I strongly recommend that this vital resource be well funded and supported, because the results of such bilateral operations seem to show that they are the most successful way to tackle and destroy these gangs. To get on top of human trafficking, we must destroy the gangs of serious criminals involved. Trafficking is the second most profitable organised crime, behind drugs. The advantage of it is that there is much less chance of being caught. We must protect the funding for JITs.

Chapter 6.57 mentions international development aid. The Government have only just started to realise the great advantage of such aid, and a little bit is happening. Overseas aid money could be usefully spent in source countries in two ways. First, it could be spent on prevention measures, which we would all welcome, such as paying NGOs to promote education, perhaps in schools and universities, warning of the dangers of trafficking. I saw such schemes in Moldova.

Secondly, we need the money to be given to NGOs, in Romania for example. There are trafficking victims in this country whom we are looking after at taxpayers’ expense—£30,000 or £40,000 a year—and who want to go home but cannot, because their families would be persecuted or, worse still, they would be re-trafficked if they went back to their village. Sending them home to

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safe houses—in Romania, for example—run by local NGOs with the support of our overseas aid money would be a good use of that money. I have discussed this with the Secretary of State for International Development and she seemed sympathetic. I wrote to her with suggestions.

I shall pass over the next point I was going to make and move on to my last couple of points. Chapter 4.28 covers victim prosecutions. It is a difficult issue and I understand the Government’s problem. The non-governmental organisations and I say that if someone, perhaps a young child, is trafficked to work in a cannabis factory in this country—a criminal activity—and that factory is raided and broken up by the police, the child working in the factory should not be prosecuted, because they were trafficked. They were not given an option; they were forced to perform the illegal activity. The Attorney-General has repeatedly given Government assurances that it is not Crown Prosecution Service policy to prosecute such people, but NGO after NGO has cases of people forced into illegal activity and then prosecuted.

I agree with the Government on one issue. The report states:

“A small number of trafficked victims may be prosecuted for offences they have committed as a consequence of their trafficking situation”.

The NGOs that I work with would throw up their hands in horror at that and say that it is wrong, but I understand that there is a moral dilemma. If someone is trafficked for sexual exploitation, they get into prostitution, though they may not want to, and move up the gang chain. They then become a recruiter of young girls, by moving back to their home country and trafficking girls, while knowing full well what the girls will have to go through. I agree that there is a case for prosecuting those people.

Finally, I turn to an omission that I hope was made in error. Nowhere in the report is there mention of the all-party group on human trafficking. It may be that the Prime Minister deliberately wanted my name removed from anything relating to Government; I quite understand that possibility.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): But not Mrs Bone’s.

Mr Bone: No. Mrs Bone is not mentioned either, which is an even greater sin.

I am sure that the Prime Minister recognises the great work done by the all-party group, which I want to speak more about. It was originally set up by the most knowledgeable and brilliant person in the fight against human trafficking—Anthony Steen, the former Member of Parliament for Totnes, who I think is following this debate closely. It is one of the largest all-party groups in Parliament, with more than 60 members from the Commons and the Lords, and representatives from every political party. This parliamentary group, which I am honoured to co-chair with Baroness Butler-Sloss, has put pressure on the Government to sign up to the EU directive, asked parliamentary questions to hold the Government to account on human trafficking and scrutinised the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking to ensure that it meets regularly and delivers an annual report, which we are now happily debating.

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The all-party group seeks to increase awareness of the evil of human trafficking, not only at home but across Europe. Through funding from the EU Commission, members of the all-party group have travelled to other countries’ Parliaments to create a European network to raise awareness of the national and transnational nature of human trafficking. Some European countries have been very good, but the French and the Germans say that there is no trafficking in their countries, which is completely absurd. We want to create a network of European groups or sub-committees that are similar to the all-party group—APGs are not recognised in other Parliaments—and we are working towards that.

The Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010 was skilfully taken through Parliament by Anthony Steen in the dying days of that Session. While we were all worrying about our seats, Anthony was busy railroading it through. As a result, anti-slavery day is celebrated on 18 October each year. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who held a reception at No. 10 Downing street, for his key interest and support in this area, which is a key priority of the coalition. I also thank Anthony Steen for his extraordinary work. If it had not been for him, that Act would not have happened and, more importantly, there would not be this level of awareness about human trafficking.

There is one action that I want the Minister seriously to consider. The Prime Minister has appointed ambassadors in many other fields; if he appointed Anthony Steen as one on this issue, he could be introduced with the authority of the Prime Minister when we visit overseas Parliaments. I welcome all that the Government and the Minister are doing, but I think that that would be one easy step to take.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s proposal. There is a recent precedent, in that the Prime Minister has appointed several trade envoys to different countries—from, I think, all parties—so the proposal would be similar to steps already taken by the Prime Minister.

Mr Bone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I agree with him. Such a step would be a clear indication to Parliament that the Government are taking human trafficking very seriously.

1.55 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I was not expecting to be called at this point, Mr Robertson. I have not carefully prepared a speech, because I have just hauled myself off my sick bed to be here.

I care passionately about this issue, and I am concerned that the report has initially been half-buried by the Home Office. It was not scheduled for debate by the Government. After I raised in business questions the issue of debating the report, I had a very nice letter from the Minister—it arrived on 18 December, so very recently—saying, “Oh, we are doing all these things”.

The problem with the report is that it does not do what it says on the tin. We are told that we have an Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking. I share the view of the chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), that the title would be a long one for any organisation. The group was originally conceived by the previous

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Government as a mechanism for driving achievement on a set of targets in their anti-trafficking strategy by ensuring that different Departments took the actions required to achieve those targets. Departments had taken responsibility for that, but frankly they are not doing so now.

I wrote to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 19 November about the important issue of slavery in company supply chains. That is absolutely an issue for BIS, which is currently considering how regulations will apply. It has said that it will regulate human rights reporting, which in my view ought to include reporting on the use of slavery in company supply chains, particularly after the shocking revelations about a company of the status of Marks and Spencer using slave labour to supply chickens. Some time later, I received an e-mail from something called the BIS transfers team—obviously, there is a whole team to get rid of irritating letters from people such as me—that stated:

“Thank you for your letter about use of slavery in the supply chains of UK companies. Your correspondence has been transferred to the Home Office in view of that Department’s responsibility for the matters raised in your letter.”

It suggested that I should follow that up with the Home Office, which has not responded, and it also apologised

“for any delay in advising you of the transfer of your letter.”

It seems to me that the job of an interdepartmental ministerial group ought to be to do what Ministers do, which is to run things, to ensure that policy is delivered and to develop new policy. I do not think that the group’s members are doing that and, as the chair of the all-party group said, neither are they an independent rapporteur. Britain has a great tradition of independent inspectors and rapporteurs helping our public services to do a good job. If we look at the chief inspectors of prisons and of schools or at the ombudsmen, we can see that we have pioneered independent reporting mechanisms. Yet the group is not one of those, and the report is weaker for that, because it does not have a comprehensive picture of all that could be or is being done.

Unfortunately, because the report was made by the Government about the Government, in my view it suffers from spin. As I have said, I have not been able to prepare a detailed speech from my sick bed, but I will give the Chamber two examples of that spin, which are to do with legislation and its effectiveness. Paragraph 5.97 of the report proudly cites a piece of legislation that I helped to push through Parliament. The hon. Member for Wellingborough mentioned Anthony Steen’s efforts to push through his Anti-Slavery Day Bill in the dying days of the last Government. Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 was the legislation that I pushed through. Many Ministers thought that I would not be able to do so in the dying days of a Government, but I did. The paragraph states:

“The UK is committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with the sex industry”.

It refers to good progress

“in terms of legislation. In 2010 an offence which criminalises those who pay for the sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force was introduced. Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 created a strict liability offence”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) has uncovered the fact that there were 43 prosecutions for that offence in 2010, which was a year

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when we had a high public campaign on the matter. I remember looking at the artwork for a poster that suggested to young men using men’s lavatories that they could go in a punter and come out a criminal. There was a campaign that was designed to raise public awareness of the offence and to secure a commitment in police forces to prosecute the offence.

The figure for subsequent years is not available—I fear that it might be fewer than 43, and yet we all know that many more than 43 men are paying for sex with women who are under duress.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, in addition to the facts that she has so eloquently expressed, the maximum sentence under section 14 is £1,000, which is a lot of money to some people and not a lot to others, and yet none of those 43 people who were found guilty of the offence was fined that? They got away with paying sums of £200 to £300 for what is a very serious offence.

Fiona Mactaggart: Indeed. Unfortunately, that is one of the risks of a strict liability offence; it tends to have a lower penalty. It would have been good had there been something tougher, but what I am hearing from the police is, “Oh whoops, we can’t prosecute because we have to prove both that she is under duress and also that he has offered to pay her.” The police keep telling me that they cannot do two things at once, which is a bit sad really. What they need is someone to drive them to do it. The only person who will do that is the Minister who will reply to this debate. I am expecting him to do that, and I hope that the figures that we see over the next couple of years will be an improvement on the 43 prosecutions that we know of already.

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): On that specific point about the priority that police forces should attach to prosecuting the offence, it is not I who should drive that. The right person to do that and for MPs to raise this with is the police and crime commissioner. The police and crime commissioners will be setting out the policing plan for their particular areas and they will need to tell the chief constable that this matter is important and is something that they should be making a priority. Then they should make it clear that the resources are available.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Minister is right from a month ago, but up until a month ago—for the whole of 2011 and for most of 2012—it was he and his predecessor who were responsible. In 2011 and 2012, I expect to see a pathetic number of prosecutions, because the number in 2010 was pathetic. I have already spoken about the matter to the police and crime commissioner in Thames Valley whose main concern seems to be with wildlife crime—I will not go down that route right now. That is what happens when a person does not prepare a speech and has just got out of their flu bed.

This is a very serious issue for the Government, and it is not sufficient to say that the police and crime commissioners must let the flowers bloom. Human trafficking is an international crime that needs national effort to solve. There will be parts of the country that say, “It does not happen here,” and the Minister knows that they are wrong. I remember the hon. Member for

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South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) telling the all-party parliamentary group that that had been his experience after the discovery of the horrible events in his constituency. He described how shocked people were to discover that in a very pleasant part of the country, such exploitation could occur. This matter needs national Government leadership. It is spin to claim, as the report does, that action, which I am proud to have been an author of, is going to do much more than it has done so far.

The second claim of spin is in paragraph 7.29, which states:

“Whilst traffickers’ attempts to move victims”—

of domestic servitude—

“to the UK illegally are likely to continue, the changes to the route of entry for overseas domestic workers coming to the UK to work in the private household of their employer means that”—

wait for it—

“fewer will be eligible to come to the UK and as a result the risk of abusive relationships developing in this visa category should reduce further.”

Well, that is nonsense. Every single study of this matter, of which, I think, there have been three by the Home Affairs Committee, has concluded unanimously—many of the parties involved had believed that kind of nonsense to start with—that the overseas domestic workers’ visa was one of the best protections against human trafficking. In the report “Service not Servitude”, which I wrote last year to mark international slavery day, there is compelling evidence to show that the introduction of the overseas domestic workers’ visa reduced exploitation. It did not end it—I am not claiming that—but it reduced the levels of abuse and exploitation experienced by migrant domestic workers. If we compare the level of reported abuse in 1996 with that in 2010, we will see that the number of migrant workers who were expected to work 17 hours a day or more was halved. The visa cut significantly the proportion of such workers who were denied time off and who had faced psychological abuse. It more than halved physical abuse and it reduced sexual abuse by a quarter. Those are just one set of figures showing the impact that the visa has had on migrant workers.

This Government are not alone in thinking that abolishing the visa might be one way of controlling immigration and that it actually might be a sensible thing to do. Previous Labour Governments thought so too, and started consultations on doing it. I was part of the campaigns that prevented them from doing so because we were able to produce compelling evidence that showed the extent to which trafficking for domestic servitude increases. I am shocked and sad that the report, which is supposed to be the report of a rapporteur, is actually promoting spin about Government policy. Every single independent analysis of the overseas domestic workers’ visa makes it quite clear that it was one of the best protections for overseas domestic workers against domestic servitude.

Consequently, I am depressed about this debate, not only because it has got me out of my sick bed but because we are better than this, we care more than this, we can do more than this and we do not want to be “spinners”. We believe that we can be transparent, frank and honest about our successes and failures in dealing with this appalling crime. However, as can be seen from just the two examples I have given, the report

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falls down on those requirements. I do not believe that the Government want to fall down on this issue; I do not believe that. I am not saying that the intentions of the Government are malign—they are not.

Nevertheless, there is an ineffectiveness to this kind of report. It attempts to big up things that are good, for example joint investigation teams. However, when we look under the surface of those things, difficulties arise. When I talked to Steve Gravett, it looked like joint investigation teams had a short future.

Is it not time for us to be big enough to be completely open about the effectiveness of what we are doing on international trafficking? What we are doing is not as good as we want it to be; it is not good enough, but it is better than what we did before. That is fine, but it is not fine for the Government to produce something that is too much in the way of spin. That is sad and I expected more of this Government, and of any British Government.

2.11 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Robertson, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on lobbying the Backbench Business Committee for this debate, and it is good to see Members from all parts of the House debating this really serious and important issue.

I will focus on one aspect of human trafficking that I became aware of in my constituency back in September 2011, and I will go on to show that, sadly, it was not an isolated case, because something along similar lines was reported in the press the next week. I will end by suggesting a number of ways that all of us—MPs, police officers, local councils and above all the public—can come together to play a combined part in trying to eradicate human trafficking from our country.

The first thing that I will say in that regard is that human trafficking is not just about people being trafficked from Asia or eastern Europe into this country. That is, of course, a very big part of human trafficking, and it is appalling. Human trafficking is, at one and the same time, both a global scourge and capable of being so intensely local that it can be happening right under our noses.

When more than 200 police raided a Traveller site just outside Leighton Buzzard in my constituency in September 2011, they rescued 22 victims. Among them, there were Romanians, Poles and people from other eastern European countries, but the vast majority were British citizens who had been trafficked from all around the country to come to work as slave labourers in Bedfordshire, so I want to set a marker at this stage of the debate to say that when we are talking about trafficking, yes, we are talking about people from Romania, Ukraine, Thailand and Nigeria, but also about people from Wembley, Southampton, Leeds and Birmingham, who are taken against their will and forced to work in other parts of our country. I just want to be clear that that is recognised, that it is part of this debate, and that it is as much human trafficking as is the international dimension.

Going back to September 2011, after a considerable period of surveillance, Bedfordshire police and Hertfordshire police got together more than 200 police officers to go on to the Greenacres Traveller site outside Leighton

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Buzzard early one Sunday morning. They rescued 22 victims of slavery or human trafficking. Some of them had been on that site for 15 to 20 years—a very, very long time.

I am pleased to say that there has been a trial, and that James Connors is now in prison for 11 years, Josie Connors is in prison for four years, and Tommy and Patrick Connors were convicted of holding and forcing men to work, so the justice system has worked, but I want to put on the record what life was like for the victims of human trafficking on that site during that period, and I think Members will be quite shocked when they hear some of the things that went on.

The people who were forced to work were often given next to no food. They were forced to wash in cold water. They often worked 19-hour days, and at the end of those days they were forced to come back and immaculately clean the caravans of the slave-owners for whom they were working.

They were also physically abused. When the police arrived at the site, they found that many of the victims had injuries. The victims had often been punched, kicked or hit with broom handles. The men were told that if they used the toilets and washing facilities in the caravans of the Connors family they would have their legs and arms broken. They were forced either to use a bucket or to go outside into the woods. One of the victims was forced into the boot of a family car and forced to sing children’s songs.

The people exploiting these men made millions of pounds by forcing these vulnerable people to work without pay, in some cases for nearly two decades. When the police turned up on that morning in September 2011, some of the victims had broken bones, scars and fresh wounds from abuse that they had recently suffered.

It is fair to say that most of the victims on that site had fallen on hard times of one sort or another. They had been found by members of the Connors family in night shelters, soup kitchens and jobcentres. They included a wide variety of individuals. One was a Gulf war veteran who had served this country with distinction; another was a former priest. Many others were just at difficult stages in their lives.

When the men arrived at the site, their heads were shaved, and their possessions and papers were taken from them, which is very reminiscent of what happened in the concentration camps. They were generally unable to shower, except on a Friday night, and there was a reason for that; it was because on Saturdays they were forced to go and knock on doors, to try to drum up more work for the block paving business that was the main business of the Connors family at the time.

The press reported the trial, which took place in Luton Crown court earlier this year, as

“the first quasi-slavery trial in this country for over 200 years.”

Many of the victims said that, rather than the Connors family hiring machinery, the victims had been used to carry out very heavy manual work. One man who had been promised £80 a day told the police that in the 15 years that he had worked for the Connors family he received a total of £80. Another victim described life on the site as “beatings, starvation and work.”

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That was in my constituency. We have had the trial; actually, there will be a retrial, because the police want to press further charges. Nevertheless, we have had some convictions. I pay tribute to those MPs who, in the last Parliament, ensured that the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 was passed. I am thinking particularly of section 71, headed “Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour”, because that section enabled Bedfordshire police to bring those successful prosecutions. That shows that what we do in this House can have an effect and does work.

I had thought that this incident in my constituency was perhaps an isolated, though particularly horrid, one; it is one that, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, I have often recounted to members of the all-party group on human trafficking. However, only last week I saw on the BBC website that in Gloucestershire, the county from which the Minister comes, there had been another trial, and five other people also called Connors—I do not know if they are related to the other Connors—had been found guilty of keeping their own private work force and of treating their victims in a similar manner.

On the site in Gloucestershire, some of the victims were from Leeds, and one had been picked up at the YMCA hostel in Birmingham. The victims had been forced to work in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, and had been trafficked to eastern Europe and Russia to work; the same happened in the case in Bedfordshire. This is a case of British citizens being trafficked to work in eastern Europe and Russia, as well as in different parts of this country. It is not just a trade into this country; British citizens are being trafficked to work outside this country, and are desperately exploited.

Mr Harper: I want to put on record that the case in Gloucestershire—I am pleased to say that the family members were found guilty last week and were sentenced to time in prison yesterday—required a year-long police operation, including a long five-month surveillance period by Gloucestershire constabulary. Picking up the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I am pleased that Gloucestershire constabulary takes such cases very seriously and is willing to put significant effort into them. That, and the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), should be a lesson to all police forces about taking such cases seriously across the country.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for making that point. The case required considerable resources from Bedfordshire police, which is a fairly small force. It, too, had to do months and months of surveillance, as well as all the work after the raid. Assembling all the information needed for the trial made a considerable demand on its resources. Now that convictions have been made, I hope that at least some of the ill-gotten proceeds of the Connors family in Bedfordshire will be used to recoup the costs incurred by Bedfordshire police in manning the operation. I hope that the same can happen in Gloucestershire.

Going back to what happened in Gloucestershire, some of the victims had been working on Traveller sites in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire—and also outside the United Kingdom—for nearly two decades. Physical violence was a regular part of what

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they endured. They were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake, and a shovel, and were punched and kicked. They were stripped and hosed down with cold water. They were given so little food that in many cases they had to scavenge from dustbins. The people they were working for—it was the same in Bedfordshire—had luxury caravans and top-of-the-range kitchens. They enjoyed expensive foreign holidays and drove a Mercedes and even a Rolls-Royce.

Similar levels of work were required. Again, the work was in the block paving business or laying manholes. The victims were often required to work six days a week, sometimes seven, from dawn until dusk. One of them said that slaps were a way of life. One of the victims ran away from the Gloucestershire site back to Leeds, where he was from, but Miles Connors went to Leeds that day to bring him back, which shows the level of fear and intimidation. I make no apology for putting graphically on the record the events in these two cases.

I want to focus on what all of us can do to try to bring such cases to an end. We all have a role, particularly the customers of the Connors in both Bedfordshire and Gloucestershire who actually bought block paving from them and had their drives block-paved. It is not simply up to the police, the local council and Members of Parliament to spot these things. Yes, we all absolutely have a role, but the police can fully do their job only if the public are their eyes and ears. If someone is having their drive re-laid and the people re-laying it look as though they have not had a square meal in ages, and look fearful, frightened and emaciated, that person has a duty to contact the police to alert them to their concerns. It is much better to make that call and find that nothing is wrong than to stay silent and allow victims to go on being intimidated year after year. It is not just Traveller sites; whether we are in shops or restaurants, or visiting factories, we all have a duty, and we all need to see what can be done.

I pay tribute to Councillor Kristy Adams from the Newnham ward of Bedford borough council. She shares our concern and passion on this issue. She has done something that I have been trying to do for a long time, which is to provide a checklist of signs to look for to try to spot victims of human trafficking. She has produced a little bookmark with a list of signs and information on what to do if someone has suspicions. I will read out what it says, if I may, so that it is on the record, because it is so helpful. At the top of the bookmark, it says:

“Is the person you are with a victim of Human Trafficking?”

It has a number of pointers:

“Doesn't know home/work address? Expression of fear, distrust, anxiety? As an individual or group, movements are restricted by others? Limited contact with family and/or friends? Money deducted from salary for food and/or accommodation? Passport/documents held by someone else? Recognise any of the above? Please call 101 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.”

Councillor Kristy Adams is going to make sure that the bookmarks are with the police, local authorities, and as many people as possible in Bedfordshire who can take action. She wants to provide the bookmarks to raise public and front-line workers’ awareness of human trafficking. She wants to provide training on how to identify a trafficked individual and who to contact, and she wants to set up a human trafficking working group in Bedfordshire to deal with these issues. That is a fantastic initiative from a local councillor.

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We all have a role—Members of Parliament, local councillors, local authorities, the police and members of the public. Here is a great initiative from Bedfordshire, and I commend it to colleagues. I am sure that together we can take further action.

Fiona Mactaggart: I commend the initiative of the local councillor. Stop the Traffik has produced resources that help people, including a “travel safe” resource. Can the Minister tell us whether posts overseas have produced such resources to give to those who are accompanying people, under the new visit system, as a migrant domestic assistant? That would be a simple way of helping to reduce exploitation in domestic servitude of the kind that I talked about.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. I can see my hon. Friend the Minister has made a note of it; I am sure that he will pick up that point when he responds to the debate.

2.27pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am pleased to take part in this debate, and particularly to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who has outlined horrendous events. For the reasons he explained, I joined the all-party group and went with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) —he is my hon. Friend for this afternoon—to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for this debate. It is incredible that we live in a country that has slavery. Indeed, the Government could take one small initiative and change the name of their working group to the “ministerial counter-slavery group”, so that we are very clear about what is going on here. It has been going on for decades.

Although I was shocked by the circumstances that have been described, I was also pretty shocked by the lightness of the sentences. When we think that two decades of some people’s lives have been taken away—there are several of them in several areas—to merely get a sentence of a decade or three or four years is pretty small beer for the wickedness committed. There are many wickednesses in this world. Of those that are human-made, this clearly must rank as one of the great ones. I find it puzzling that there is not much anger and interest in the country to counter this evil that stalks among us. What would Wilberforce have made of this if he had come back or been contacted in a séance? What would he make of his campaign and our behaviour that follows it?

Although I welcome and congratulate the Government on the landmark publication in October of the first annual report of what I would like to be called “the ministerial counter-slavery group,” which is a step forward, I do not want anyone to be complacent. I do not want to part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, but if we look at it, our record in Europe is pretty appalling. Most of us, including me, have a superior attitude to Europe, but we are many, many years behind our European partners. Belgium, for example, has published 15 reports, and we have published one; this is a priority of the coalition Government, and we have one report. That is not the only thing Belgium has done, because it has been quite active.

Although I thank the Backbench Business Committee, it is extraordinary that, for what is a Government priority, we had to go to the Committee to ask for a

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debate. If I were heading a Government and this was a priority, I would want to talk about it, report on it and gain as much support for it as I could. We should not get too complacent. One of the many things we might ask the Minister is: when are we next going to debate the topic on the Floor of the House in Government time?

Secondly, most European countries allocate parliamentary time to discuss and debate their reports and the recommendations made by their rapporteurs. Again, I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart): there is all the difference in the world between a group of Ministers occasionally coming together to debate a topic of the day, and having a person with a small number of staff and the responsibility to drive the policy. We would know that that person is responsible and will be ridiculed—or perhaps even sacked—if they do not do what Parliament wishes them to do.

The report is a small beginning, and I hope, as both my hon. Friends the Members for Slough and for Wellingborough said, that we have clear timetables from the Government on how they will achieve certain priorities. As my hon. Friend said, it is true that we had to use parliamentary questions to find out how many times the group met. It is extraordinary that for what is a Government priority—we did not have to use the Freedom of Information Act—we had to use parliamentary questions. The Government saw the priority as so important that they made the group secret. Although there has been some improvement in attendance, the group’s function, other than sharing information with other Government Departments, seems pretty unclear.

However good, the group will now be under the Minister. I do not underestimate his abilities. In a sense, we have events on our side, because he is at the stage of his parliamentary career where he wishes to advance quickly: self-interest and the public good, when combined, can promote many changes, which we will support. Things are clearly going to change, but, however good he is—and, obviously and quite properly, he wishes to promote his own career—conflicts will occur between making trouble and advancing further up that greasy pole. The first thing for a Government with that priority is to give us a rapporteur with the smallest staff possible. I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough on that point.

The report states that the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking—I almost want to give up the will to live with such titles—fulfils a role equivalent to a national rapporteur. All of us who have spoken so far know that that is not true, and the Government ought to drop it. The UK is obliged to establish a rapporteur by the Council of Europe’s trafficking convention and by the incoming EU directive, although there is weasel room to change things. Dishonourably, the Government have taken that little get-out to present a ministerial group without a rapporteur. Just imagine what it would be like if there were a ministerial group working with and supporting a rapporteur, advancing their interests and backing them when they are in difficulties. Might that not begin to match the issue we face? There is slavery in this country. People are taken against their will either inside the country or outside it

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and made to work. Is there anything more shameful going on? What a move it would be if we had a ministerial group driven by the Minister—I do not doubt for a moment that such a group would be ably driven—and backed up by a national rapporteur.

My concern is that, unless we make that breakthrough, we will not make the progress that I hope the Minister will tell us he hopes to achieve. No other group in this country believes that it should act as judge and jury on its own case. It is important that the Government have an independent jury to consider what is going on, for the report goes into great detail on the number of initiatives introduced by the Government. That progress, of course, is to be cheered and welcomed by everyone with an interest, but little effort has been made to analyse the impact and effectiveness of those initiatives. Where in the report can we look at outcomes? What outcomes are being set by the interdepartmental ministerial group—when its members can find the time to turn up? Why should that be so? The answer is plainly obvious: there is naturally a conflict of interest between the Government retaining responsibility for both the design and implementation of anti-trafficking strategies, and the subsequent evaluation of their effectiveness.

An independent rapporteur is necessary to analyse Government policy robustly, to identify shortcomings and to suggest improvements. That is not an anti-Government move. I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, because an independent rapporteur would give the Government a lot of powerful ammunition to spin, if their aim is to put over what they are achieving.

Fiona Mactaggart: I was not suggesting that an independent rapporteur would be important as a powerful anti-Government move. My right hon. Friend is right that, where the Government have had successes, an independent rapporteur would strengthen the account of those successes, but it would also have the power of independence, meaning that those bits of the report that I cited, which spin legislation as working when there is no such evidence, would not have been part of the report. The report was damaged by such things existing within it.

Mr Field: I agree. I will develop that point, because the interdepartmental ministerial group lacks statutory powers to request information from all relevant Government authorities. I am sure the Minister will not have difficulties in getting such information, but he lacks the statutory authority to do so. That statutory power could be given to the rapporteur.

As a result, the interdepartmental ministerial group relies heavily on information from what is called the national referral mechanism, which is a data-gathering mechanism that can supply only a snapshot of the reality. It cannot give us a moving picture, as mentioned by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, which we would get in these reports if there were somebody the only point of whose existence, as far as paying the mortgage was concerned, was to report on this great evil.

Where can we look for best practice? In the Netherlands, the Dutch rapporteur is chaired by a former judge and in Finland by a former Member of Parliament and a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation

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in Europe. Both have a small team of staff who sit apart from the Government, the police and public authorities and actively work full time—unlike the ministerial group—at all levels and with all groups in the community. In contrast, the ministerial group only managed to gather information from one public agency, the UK Human Trafficking Centre. That is entirely at odds with what happens, as other hon. Members have said, in other European countries. In Portugal, for example, the Portuguese Observatory collects and manages information from a wide range of sources and sets benchmarks that we should follow. If we had greater and more accurate data, it would be easier to set those benchmarks.

A glaring failure of the Government’s report is the lack of accurate and meaningful data. I accept that the statistics in this area will always be difficult to collect, but the report is undermined by statistical inconsistencies. Let me illustrate. In 2010, the police’s Project Acumen found 2,600 female adult victims of trafficking. How is that consistent with the report’s predicted total figure of 2,000 for human trafficking victims in the UK, which is for 2011, just one year on? The figures do not add up, which again suggests that if one Minister in the ministerial group had had time to read the whole report, they might have actually spotted that.

The report offers a good overall view of activities undertaken by the Government, but it reveals little in terms of analysis of the problem or the impact of the work undertaken. The picture is clearly so much more complicated than can be provided in a snapshot. How can people be imprisoned in this way—for example, in mid-Bedfordshire or Gloucestershire—for such periods without anybody coming across it, without anybody noticing, and with nobody saying anything or raising the matter? Goodness, gracious me! What level of human sympathy do we have when that can occur?

More of these examples would come to light if we had a situational analysis and impact assessment of how we can more effectively combat trafficking. For example, the report lists the training that was delivered, but no information is provided about the impact of training on improvements in services, the numbers of victims identified, and so on. Similarly, in a number of places the report mentions different Departments or authorities being responsible for implementing elements of the policy. Where is all this brought together? However, it does not go into detail about how and whether these responsibilities are carried out, how they are assessed and what the concrete outcomes of the work undertaken were. We need to see an evaluation from each of the Departments and authorities of the implementation work that falls within their areas of responsibility, and for them to report to the Minister, and for the Minister to report to the House of Commons.

We need a much better analysis of what is happening within the various sectors where victims are exploited, including explanations of rises in particular nationalities, of geographic distribution and of flows and movement of the problem across the UK over time. Again, it would appear that the problem is static and that, somehow, we are dealing with a group of people who do not change their approach. People may say, “Why should they change their approach? They are doing so well with a single approach now.” But they will change if the Government get serious. Spotting and guessing the movements are crucial if we are going to save people

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from slavery. By “various sectors”, I mean areas into which victims are trafficked. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough cited companies whose products we use that are produced by slaves, including in legal sectors such as agriculture, construction, hospitality and care and domestic work, and illegal sectors such as the sex industry and drug production.

We are also provided with little detailed analysis of the methods of recruitment. How are people trapped in this way, and stripped and publicly humiliated in the way that we have heard? How can that go on for decades? In other countries, breakdowns of incidence of trafficking by region are available, as well as an overall view of police force activities, which courts have dealt with cases, what the outcomes of those cases were, and what the sentences were.

Why do I raise these questions? The answer is pretty obvious. Our lack of data is a key barrier to a more effective response. Much effort in combating human trafficking, or slavery, has focused more on anecdote and sensationalism than on analysis of the problems. We simply do not know to what extent industry in this country, or sections of industry, are dependent on slaves to be viable or what the profit margins of using slaves are for those firms and sectors of our economy. If we had such information, that would alert us to where slavery is operating in our country.

Human trafficking, which, as the Government acknowledge, is modern day slavery, today functions for the same purpose as slavery throughout history: to maximise profits by minimising or eliminating the cost of labour. But there are several key differences with modern slavery that make it more expansive and more insidious than ever before. Slaves today can be exploited in dozens of industries that are intrinsically woven into the global economy, as opposed to just domestic service and agriculture, as was the case when Wilberforce dealt with the issue. It is much more difficult now to locate where slavery is going on.

Of course, the costs today of acquiring a slave and the time taken to transport him or her from the point of acquisition to the point of exploitation are minuscule, compared with those of old world slavery. Victims of human trafficking—again, I would insist on the word “slaves”—are more accessible, expendable, exploitable and profitable than ever before. That is why this evil is so terrible, huge and growing.

Two centuries ago, the average slave could generate, we are told by the experts, a 15% to 20% annual return on the investment for his or her exploiters. It is of course vulgar to use such terms when describing victims, but it is not unhelpful, sometimes, to look at the economic power and force behind the problem. Today, the return is several hundred per cent. per year—not over the life of the slave, but per slave per year—and more than 900% per year for those who are trapped as slaves in the sex industry. This is perhaps the primary reason why there is such demand among exploiters to acquire more slaves through the practice of slave trading. There are more people in slavery today than in the entire 350-year history of the slave trade: more today than ever before, collectively. A snapshot is set against that collective total. A lack of detailed understanding of how and why slave-like exploitation functions in various sectors of the global economy is a primary barrier to a more effective response.

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That brings me to the all-party group on human trafficking, and NGOs. Perhaps we also need to change the name of the all-party group, so that it is clearer and shorter. Since 2006, the activities of the all-party group, both inside and outside Parliament, have resulted not just in a significant raising of awareness about the extent of human trafficking in the UK, but also a number of concrete achievements. It influenced the previous Administration—our Labour Government—to join the 2005 Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking and persuaded the current Administration to sign the EU directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims. Were I Prime Minister, the thought that I might get the hon. Member for Wellingborough out to support me would have made me sign the directive without even reading what it was about. Were it not for the demands in February of the hon. Gentleman, the chairman of our group, no annual report would have been written, nor would his efforts have been debated. That is, however, only a snapshot of a few of the many important achievements of the group.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): My right hon. Friend makes a bold statement. Is he suggesting that the Government would not have reported or would have hidden their work had it not been for the all-party group and its chairman with his particular influence? That is quite an accusation—that the Government would have hidden things had they not been pressured into the report before us.

Mr Field: Of course that is true—my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and Mrs Bone achieved it—but it might be a good point for the Minister to take up. Would the Government have conceded the report without the pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough?

Despite the achievements of the all-party group, there is no mention of us in the report—an almost childlike response—and nor is recognition given to the Human Trafficking Foundation, which services our group and of which I am proud to be a co-vice-chairman. The foundation is chaired by the former Member for Totnes, Mr Anthony Steen. We have all, properly, mentioned him, and no current or former Member of this House had done more to put human slavery on the agenda than he has. As others have, I pay the warmest possible tribute to him and to his continued interest since he ceased to be a Member.

The report makes no mention of the extensive work of the foundation to bring together non-governmental organisations throughout the country in forums and related working groups, or of the recognition that NGOs deserve, although their work is essential and a prerequisite for disseminating good practice and for following up with action. There was no acknowledgement of the practical contribution of NGOs in identifying trends and helping victims. Britain is particularly fortunate in the number of NGOs working on human trafficking, so it is disappointing that even in the spirit of the big society such recognition is largely bypassed in the report. In some EU countries, Governments recognise that without NGO involvement as equal partners, with equal

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status, they would neither make progress nor be able to stem the tide of slavery, let alone help the victims to free themselves. We have yet to see evidence of similar Government recognition in the UK.

What should, therefore, be done? Of course, raising awareness among our voters and everyone else is crucial, but the report omits recent good work. It was silent about the Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010, introduced by the then Member for Totnes. In September of this year, the Council of Europe’s group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings—GRETA—published a report analysing the UK’s trafficking strategy. The GRETA report recommended that much more needs to be done to raise awareness about internal trafficking and the risks that British nationals face of being trafficked around the world.

Andrew Selous: May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his point about the profitability of and the numbers involved in slavery? Bedfordshire police detectives believe that during the past 30 years hundreds of vulnerable men may have been picked up for the site in that county, which absolutely confirms his point.

Mr Field: It certainly does, and I am immensely grateful for that intervention, because it gives us another glimpse of the numbers, which we could have had in the report had we had a more effective system in this country, with a rapporteur, who would have wanted to work with such groups from the start.

On the international scene, Israel is taking human trafficking immensely seriously. Israel has not solved slavery as a world problem, but it has largely dealt with it in its own borders—if we pass over the Palestinian issue—although that means that the trade must go somewhere else. People who wish to make money are carefully examining the countries that they can go to, which are lackadaisical in their approach to countering the trade and where traffickers are unlikely to be caught and can tap the large gains.

A key interest of the Government should be to protect more effectively those people who are slaves who come forward to claim their freedom. The Government protect them for a period, which is wonderful, and work with them, but after that they are thrown out on their own, even though we know what awaits them when that happens.

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

I want to ask the Minister for progress in a number of areas. Can he talk to the Prime Minister, who has made human trafficking a priority for the coalition, about the advantages of driving the issue with not only his interdepartmental ministerial group but an independent rapporteur? We could learn something from those countries that have a rapporteur because, if we had one, does the Minister not concede that we might soon begin to get much more frequent and accurate data? Might we not also focus on proactive police investigations? We know what reply he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Slough—that we should all chase after our police and crime commissioners—but what guidance do the Minister and the Government have for rating police activity? What are the Minister’s plans for improved training of police and border staff? What target will he set for

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prosecutions? Deterrence has not yet featured in Government plans. What plans does he have to examine critically and, therefore, to extend the help and protection we give to those slaves who come forward to claim their freedom?

I end with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. Combating human trafficking is meant to be a priority of the coalition Government but, if so, it is one of their best kept secrets. No topic could be more important, not only as a priority for the coalition Government and the House of Commons but for the country. There would be huge support in the country if the Government wished to make it a priority. I hope, therefore, that we witness a Pauline conversion from the Minister and that we leave the debate with much lighter hearts and even greater determination to support him in his work.

2.58 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate, which will be the last we speak in, in 2012. I could not think of a better subject to spend time debating. The subject is serious, and I want to associate myself with the comments of all speakers so far, and recognise not only their passion but their depth of knowledge.

Last Sunday, I spoke at a church in my constituency, and afterwards a woman came and talked to me about an issue that had nothing to do with human trafficking, but something she said stuck with me. She said, “Now is the time for a Wilberforce moment, and to make your stand.” Underlying that comment was the belief that what changes things is not a vote or legislation alone. It was not a detached moment in Wilberforce’s life that led to change; almost the whole of his life led up to the moment when something happened, and that was what changed things.

My short time in the House has confirmed my previous prejudice that what changes big and complex issues is not a vote or legislation, but clear, consistent and brave political leadership. I have enormous respect for the Minister. I have seen him up close working on difficult legislation, and I believe that he wants to do the right thing. To echo many hon. Members who have spoken, there is a real opportunity for this Government not just to give a commitment or set up a working group, but give clear and consistent leadership across the gamut of policy concerning human trafficking.

I want to say a few words about human trafficking, the sex industry, prostitution, and how we can live up to our commitments by examining the law in this area. Human trafficking accompanies many heinous forms of control, abuse and exploitation. Trafficking of human beings in the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains the most prevalent type of exploitation recorded through the national referral mechanism last year.

According to the most recent UN figures, trafficking for sexual exploitation accounts for 58% of all trafficking cases detected globally, and victims of all forms of trafficking are also at high risk of sexual abuse: there are reports that 87% of all trafficked victims are subject to sexual violence and exploitation. It is important that we do not directly conflate prostitution and trafficking, but we must take on those who would promote the myth that there is no direct relationship between those trafficked to the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation and our local prostitution markets.

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In the previous Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) courageously promoted section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and managed to get it on the statute book before the election. It introduces a strict liability offence for those purchasing sexual services from someone who is subject to “force, threats…or…deception”, and chapter 5 of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking report refers to that.

My hon. Friend explained that the fines are relatively low because the offence is one of strict liability. My research, as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, into how effective the law has been shows that only 43 people have been found guilty of the offence; we would have expected the law to be more potent when it comes to convicting people. That is shocking, because we know that women and some men in many towns and cities throughout the country are being raped repeatedly, day after day, night after night. They have been trafficked to this country, and the men who have done that to them are walking away with fines of £200. That is truly shocking, and the step that was put in place to try to ensure that we send a clear and consistent message has succeeded only in highlighting how far we have to go.

I have spoken to the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office staff, the Association of Chief Police Officers and other organisations, and they say that to make the law work it should be set within a framework of clear and consistent political leadership and pressure from the Government. The Minister intervened to talk about the role of police and crime commissioners in setting their local policing plan. I have met the Labour police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire, Olly Martins, to discuss what more can be done, but I accept that this is a cross-border issue, crossing both national and county borders, and I encourage the Minister to provide clear and consistent leadership.

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman—my parliamentary neighbour—mentioned leniency and lightness of fines, which picks up on a point that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) made about the lightness of the prison sentences in the Bedfordshire case. Might not that be an issue to raise with the Minister, who should perhaps take it to the Sentencing Council, given that there is a strong feeling in the Chamber that the sentences being passed do not reflect the appalling nature of the crimes committed?

Gavin Shuker: Of course I associate myself with that comment, but we must look at Government action in the round, and not just in terms of the sentences available on the statute book, and ask questions about the direction of future legislation.

Mr Frank Field: My hon. Friend talked about going to see his police and crime commissioner. We will go to Jane Kennedy, our police commissioner, but she faces huge demands, and a cut budget. She will have data on many other objectives, but where are the data that I can present to her in order to make the issue a priority in Merseyside?

Gavin Shuker: My right hon. Friend makes a fantastic and insightful contribution, as ever. The pressures involved in highly evidence-based and research-based operations mean that there is an easy way out, and I do not mean

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that in a derogatory way. Police and crime commissioners can say, “I have lost 20% of my policing budget, and trafficking is not a priority on which I was elected.” What would make the most difference are clear statements by this and future Governments that tackling abuse of people who are caught up in modern-day slavery is an overriding concern.

Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He may not have noticed something that is deeply buried in Government policy. When the National Crime Agency comes into being, the UK Border Force will have the right to enforce a trafficking operation on a police area. If it believes that in Bedfordshire, for example, the police are not doing something that they should be doing, it has the power centrally, for the first time, to direct them.

Gavin Shuker: I accept that point, and it will be interesting to see in how many places that occurs, but equally, surely if we started highlighting the places where we believe trafficking is an issue, we would not be able to stop listing them. There is a real problem in every police area. I am talking about the relationship between on-street and off-street prostitution and trafficking, but the problem goes far beyond that. I am always happy to commend my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), on the loveliness of his constituency. I occasionally journey there. It is a cliché to refer to leafy parts of Bedfordshire, but trafficking is an issue there.

It is not difficult to find the start of a trafficking trail. We could turn to the back pages of most free local newspapers and just by ringing a telephone number, start an intelligence operation that could result in serious charges, if taken all the way through. The issue is the resources available. Local police authorities, police and crime commissioners, the Home Office, ACPO and the CPS are saying, “We will do more on this issue if there is more leadership and if we believe it is a priority,” so let us work together to make it a priority.

The Government have already signed up to a number of commitments. In March 2011, they signed up to the European directive on trafficking, which states:

“Member States should establish and/or strengthen policies to prevent trafficking in human beings including measures to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation, and measures to reduce the risk of people falling victims to trafficking in human beings”.

The then Minister for Immigration, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), said:

“Opting in would send a powerful message to traffickers that Britain is not a soft touch and that we remain world leaders in fighting this terrible crime”,

We have, quite rightly, opted in, but if the Government are not committed to legislation that tackles and reduces the demand for sexual exploitation, we will send exactly the opposite message: that Britain is a soft touch. We do not exist in a vacuum, but alongside nations—particularly on the continent of Europe—in which legislation has been used effectively to tackle the issues around sexual exploitation and trafficking. We have a duty to introduce measures that reduce both the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation and the risk of people becoming victims of trafficking in the first place.

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It is currently illegal in the UK to have sex with a minor, to live off the earnings of women selling sex, and to solicit in a public place, but police practice still tends to focus on picking up women and girls who are soliciting, rather than on the men who use them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) talked about exploitation in legal and illegal markets, and about the sex trade being an illegal market; in some cases it is, but in many cases it is not, and that goes to the heart of the question of what we are doing to reduce the demand for human trafficking. Until we have enforceable legislation that protects the most vulnerable in our society, and transfers the burden of criminality to the perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence, we will struggle to say that we are doing all we can to tackle this atrocious affront to civil liberty and the dignity of persons. Too often, victims of trafficking and coercion are the ones facing fines and criminal records, while the perpetrators walk away scot-free.

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman tantalised us by saying that other countries deal with this issue a lot better than we do, but he gave us no examples. Which countries could we look to for examples of good legislation?

Gavin Shuker: Let me jump ahead in my speech, because that is a salient point. I could mention a number of countries, but merely as examples of places where there are different legal settlements. They certainly do not represent my view of how we should tackle this issue, and I think we should work together and appreciate that there is a problem before we reach a conclusion; indeed, my all-party group will look at many of these issues next year in an inquiry into the legal settlement regarding prostitution.

There is significant evidence to suggest that domestic policies on prostitution have a direct effect on the flow of trafficking. A recent report, which surveyed 160 countries, showed that countries that legalise prostitution experience increased trafficking inflows on average. This is not, therefore, as straightforward as introducing one simple measure. Sweden amended its prostitution law in 1999 by criminalising the purchase of sex, on the basis that prostitution is always, by its very nature, exploitative, which is an interesting point. The prostitution market in Sweden has contracted, and reported instances of trafficking are far lower than in comparable, neighbouring countries. Sweden also has a different criminal justice system, in which it is possible to use wiretap intercept evidence in court, and there are clear examples of traffickers attempting to sell women into the country, particularly for the sex trade, but being told that it is too difficult and that they should choose other countries, because of the draconian measures in place to criminalise the purchase of sex by men. I will come to that in more detail in a moment.

In its strategy on prostitution and the exploitation of prostitution, the CPS recognises that there is a link between trafficking and prostitution. It says:

“The increase in human trafficking for sexual exploitation is also fuelling the market for prostitution in the UK, although this is largely confined to off street and residential premises such as brothels, massage parlours, saunas and in residential flats. This is a lucrative business and is often linked with other organised criminal activity such as immigration crime, violence, drug abuse and money laundering. Women may be vulnerable to exploitation because of their immigration status, economic situation or, more often, because they are subjected to abuse, coercion and violence…there is evidence now that trafficked women are also working on the street.”

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On the basis of anecdotal evidence, I also believe that to be the case.

The IDMG report recognises that trafficking does not merely involve crossing borders. In 2011, the Serious Organised Crime Agency recorded that 99 UK citizens were trafficked within the UK, although many of us believe the number is higher. Some 52 UK citizens were trafficked for sexual exploitation, and 80% of them were identified as female children. Even more alarmingly, SOCA reported that some potential victims, especially those subjected to criminal exploitation, continue to be incorrectly identified as suspects.

ACPO’s 2010 study of sexual exploitation in England and Wales—Project Acumen—estimated that 96% of women involved in prostitution in London were migrants. Home Office figures tell us that women involved in street prostitution are 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women, and murders of prostitutes constitute the largest single group of unsolved murders. Another Home Office report estimates that more than half the women involved in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted, and that at least three quarters of women involved in prostitution have been physically assaulted. Some service providers believe those figures to be underestimates.

One fundamental barrier to protecting those at risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation remains the ambiguous definition of exploitation and coercion. Many victims of sexual exploitation do not consider themselves to be exploited, as a consequence of cultural values, work ethics and levels of remuneration in their home country. However, we must be clear as a country about what we believe exploitation to be, and we must be consistent in applying that understanding. Some people may not be identified as potential victims of trafficking by those who encounter them. We therefore need to reassess the working definitions of exploitation and coercion—problems that lead to intolerable numbers of vulnerable people entering the UK sex industry, often unable to exit.

Current legislation focuses on selling sex or soliciting in a public place, contributing to an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to sex work. In light of increased awareness of the significant links between prostitution, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, it is imperative that we put resources into prevention and the protection of those involved in the sex industry, as well as into increased exit pathways and support. To return to my original point, such measures must be backed by appropriate legislation and clear political leadership, to make it clear that accepting abuse and violence towards marginalised persons is unacceptable under any circumstances, and that such practices will be punished through enforceable laws.

There are frightening statistics about sex workers experiencing violence, rape, drug and alcohol misuse, coercion, exploitation and cycles of abuse. How can we reconcile the Government’s commitment to reducing violence against women, protecting children at risk of sexual exploitation and combating trafficking with the tolerance and acceptance of men purchasing sexual services, primarily from vulnerable women, children and men?

To be frank, we cannot protect an individual’s so-called right to sell sexual services at the expense of those trapped in horrendous cycles of abuse. Notions of individual choice and consent cannot be dismissed, but

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they must be examined in the context of increased vulnerability to coercion and the imbalances of power that, by their very nature, exist in this industry.

There are the simple rules of supply and demand: the supply of commercial sexual services is met predominantly by marginalised women and girls or other vulnerable persons, and the demand is driven by men who take advantage of these marginalised persons. In almost every case, prostitution is the result of the absence of choice—a survival strategy and not an empowered choice. The UN rapporteur on trafficking says:

“It is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experiences within prostitution do not involve, at the very least, an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include power disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, and poverty. Put simply, the road to prostitution...is rarely one marked by empowerment or adequate options.”

There is significant evidence to suggest that domestic policies on prostitution have a direct effect on the flow of trafficking. I spoke, in response to comments by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, about those countries that tackle the matter differently, with a different legal settlement. Sweden, of course, amended its law in 2009, but at the other end of the scale, the Netherlands, which in 2000 lifted the ban on brothels, has experienced a significant rise in the incidence of trafficking, forced prostitution, serious organised crime and money laundering. The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, was forced to admit that, five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, the aims of the law—to reduce and regulate the prostitution market—had failed, and measures to tackle the spike that had emerged in trafficking would have to be implemented.

Mr Bone: That is the really important issue. I do not know the answer to this. The hon. Gentleman is right about the Netherlands, where one would think that it would be easy to identify trafficked women, because things are open and above board, although with the lover-boy syndrome, they do not even recognise that they are victims of trafficking. Yet in Sweden, where there is a ban, the evidence is that activity is driven underground and the treatment of those who are trafficked is even worse. I struggle; I do not think that there is a particularly easy answer.

Gavin Shuker: The hon. Gentleman is right about one thing, which is that there is no obvious and easy answer—that is why we debate these things. However, I disagree with his interpretation of the data on Sweden. I would cite the example of New Zealand, where recent studies have considered the effect of legalisation and openness without measures to criminalise purchase. There was an increase in the number of people who felt able to come forward as victims of trafficking; but that was easily overwhelmed by the massive increase in the scale of the industry, which drew in many more trafficked women. Any review of prostitution law has to consider all those factors. However, it is laughable to claim that the current legal settlement is successful, and helps women to exit—I appreciate that it is not only women who are affected, but in this context I will talk about women involved in prostitution—or that it helps to achieve the aims and ambitions of Parliament and the Government, and our commitments to international parties in relation to trafficking. From the evidence of the document, I do

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not believe that there is enough focus on the issue, given the scale of its contribution to the inflow of human traffic. Any review should examine the subject in detail. Perhaps that is an issue that we can pick up outside the Chamber; I appreciate that time is moving on.

Tackling the roots of increased vulnerability through action against poverty and economic coercion is key, but a commitment to reducing the demand for sexual exploitation will go a long way towards tackling the supply, through trafficking, for forced prostitution. By recognising the links between trafficking and prostitution through robust legislation to tackle demand for all forms of sexual exploitation, the UK could send out a strong statement that we are not open for business, to discourage both the supply and demand for that horrendous affront to human dignity. This afternoon we have had an opportunity to discuss one of the most important issues that Parliament can discuss, and I hope that it will lead to Government action.

3.24 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Mr Havard, I have been on the rugby field with you, where I think you have given me one or two suicide passes, in your time, but it is a thrill indeed to be here under your chairmanship.

It is important that this debate has been called and that the Government have produced a report. If the abilities of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) are up to persuading Ministers to do things that others cannot persuade them to do, I commend him for that; but I wonder—and he knows this—whether it is a two-way street, and whether things that we should press the Government on are not happening, while they concede small benefits like producing a report.

I wish the Minister well. I hope that his career flourishes for the few years the Conservatives and the coalition are in power, but I hope that he takes on the admonition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) that, with an issue such as the one we are debating, there should be times when the Minister asks things of his Government that they have not asked him to carry out, in his remit. I do not think that his predecessor did so. It is unfortunate, as he knows, in my view, that the issue is given entirely to a Minister in the Home Office, who also has responsibility for immigration, because it is not an immigration issue. It is not about immigration: it is about justice, victimhood and a business model perpetrated by people around the world and in this country, in which human beings are the products and the things of commerce, regardless of how they have to be dehumanised and degraded. It is in those terms that I always approach the matter.

To respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), there is a massive problem of exploitation of people. It is a form of slavery and is sometimes related to trafficking into the country; but I remarked on the fact, at a recent forum, that of the people and groups named as being trafficked the vast majority were people who live in the EU and have the right, under the Single European Act, to come here freely, without anyone having to bring them in secretly; there is no requirement for a visa. They still end up, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough said, by the use

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of lover-boy tactics or promises of jobs, moving slowly but surely into other degrading forms of work—particularly the sex trade.

I have Human Trafficking Foundation correspondence dated 1 November 2012, about London, where it is stated:

“Officers from the London Regional Intelligence Unit and the Metropolitan Police’s SCD9 (Human Exploitation and Organised Crime) unit collected 43 newspapers from across 32 London boroughs and over 3000 cards from telephone boxes.”

All of those newspapers and cards were advertising sexual services. The letter continues:

“Additionally, 380 premises were identified from police databases, and 268 premises and 44 escort agencies from internet research”—

in London alone.

It went on:

“All the data was analysed to remove duplicates”,

so those are net figures for London alone. The Human Trafficking Foundation has asked for those premises to be publicly exposed—and all the addresses on the cards and in the adverts—and for follow-up, so that those are made public, and people are made aware.

There is something that I find happens when anyone raises the question of human trafficking. For example, a young woman came down here because of a BBC Scotland blog. They were looking for people who were critical of MPs—who regarded them as a waste of time and so on—and they invited a couple to come down and meet their Member of Parliament. One of them came to meet me. She had been well trained by reading The Sun and all the other newspapers that spread the malicious rumours that all we do here is hang about the bars and line our pockets. When I asked her about human trafficking, and told her about the work we do on it, she said, “What’s that to do with me?” I pointed out that in two towns in my constituency—the town she lived in, and another one—brothels had been broken up by the police, and women were found who had been trafficked from the EU and from as far afield as China. They were working in those brothels under constraint. She still did not seem to think it was anything to do with her, which perhaps shows a great divide between such people and a young woman from a middle-class family who does not have such pressures. I tried to convince her that these are not people who volunteer or have no other option; they are entrapped into that life, thinking they are going to do something else. I think she began to see the point.

The Minister has to ask himself whether he is really appointed by the Government to protect the Government—Ministers often feel that is their first task, and that it is how to get up the greasy pole—or to protect those who are trafficked and trapped into what was correctly defined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead as modern-day slavery. Which side is the Minister on, at the end of the day? It might not be the one that gets him up the promotion ladder quickly, but I hope, when he looks at what is available, what has been spoken of, and what has been revealed, particularly by the Human Trafficking Foundation and all the non-governmental organisations working in that field, he will decide that he is on the side of the victims, and not necessarily those who wish to see migration figures go down.

We know that the Government are under great pressure. There is no doubt about that. The economic clouds are very thick above their head and everyone else’s, but

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when I talk about this issue to people who give their lives to fighting human trafficking, they see something much brighter. I wonder whether the Government’s obsession with the migration element of the public perception of Government is blinding them to the vision that they should have of what this is about. It comes down to the question of who is afraid of an independent rapporteur. When we signed up to the convention of the Council of Europe and—eventually—to the directive against human trafficking, the elements I have described were clearly in it.

The Government basically say that a committee of Ministers—where most do not bother turning up—that met once in nine months is a substitute for a rapporteur. We have met a number of rapporteurs—I have met rapporteurs from Finland and the Netherlands—but there is also the fabulous example of what has happened in Portugal with its observatory, which has had the backing of the Government over 10 years. I met one of the Ministers who was involved in it yesterday on a Council of Europe committee. He was there for another reason, but he remembers the beginning of it, when people said, “You cannot do it. It is impossible. How can you track people?” What they are using is technology for the movement of shipping and other transport, and they are able to map the movement of people for trafficking to different areas for different reasons. People often go into the cities for labour and on to the tourist areas, and others go to those same areas for prostitution, for satisfying the demands of the tourist trade, which often seems to be connected in many areas.

There is a vast array of non-governmental organisations, and the Government report clearly does not reflect that. It relies on the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is a worthy organisation. I have visited SOCA—I have just finished a second attachment to the police—and I have talked to people in that context as well as through the all-party group on human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Centre is the only organisation the Minister relies on, yet there is a large number of NGOs. For example, at the Human Trafficking Foundation’s forum, which I and the hon. Member for Wellingborough attended, there were over 50 NGOs, all dealing with victims in all their forms—domestic slavery, and exploitation for employment and for sexual favours. Only three or four of those NGOs have responded to the UKHTC’s request for information, because they do not see such formal organisations, attached to Government, as being independent enough. They are looking after and protecting victims—people who have been traumatised—and they fear that people will then be criminalised and sent out of the country.

One of the conclusions of the Human Trafficking Foundation’s report is that the fear of being turned from a victim of trafficking into an illegal immigrant makes many people run away from formal institutions. The Government think they can deal with the matter through a committee of Ministers, which is responsible to Ministers and the Government, who are under pressure for other reasons—we accept that. Because immigration is an emotive subject, political parties, red-tops and broadsheets can use it to make people prejudiced against the policies of a Government. How much better would it be if the people doing this work were independent of Government, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said, supported by Ministers?

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Mr Bone: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is an excellent vice-chairman of the all-party group, and he is making a powerful point about the rapporteur. As he rightly says, many of these people do not have any immigration problems anyway, because they are EU citizens. However, the great example from the Netherlands to the Government, who have not grasped this point, is that a rapporteur is hugely to a Government’s benefit. The rapporteur is able to prove what the Government are doing independently, and the Netherlands has found it to be so good that it now has two more rapporteurs in different fields.

Michael Connarty: That is very true. The hon. Gentleman and I met the rapporteur from the Netherlands at a meeting; interestingly, he had been given the additional responsibility of protection of children from abuse; that relates to another Council of Europe convention—the convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. That role has been extended, so that it is much wider. One of the great criticisms of the way in which we deal with human trafficking is that we do not deal well with children. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

I want to quote some other organisations, because when it comes to this subject, I am probably a bit too subjective at times; that can happen when a person decides to immerse themselves in an organisation such as the all-party group, or to work alongside someone like Anthony Steen, who has been doing this work for such a long time. When he was on the European Scrutiny Committee, we would go off with the Committee and stay on extra days, wherever we were, to connect with people who were dealing with the countries of origin and transit. That is why, with support from ECPAT UK—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—he has got a project going, called Parliamentarians against Human Trafficking. That is an EU-wide, EU-funded organisation that aims to build these networks in every area. However, it is possible to become somewhat frustrated, and to see things a little bit too emotionally.

The Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking has produced a review of the rapporteur for trafficking. It talks about the Finnish, the Dutch and the observatory in Portugal, which we have been to, and we had discussions there. It also talks about the UK, and what it says is not flattering. It argues that it should follow Finland and the Netherlands in appointing a designated national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings. It discusses the independence of the role from Government, with the ability to call the Government to account. I know that the Minister has a promising career. He has a style that will probably take him far, but he is not yet powerful enough to hold his own Government to account, because that is not what happens in junior Ministers’ careers. If they try to hold their Government to account, they find that they are soon on the Back Benches. It is a very nice place, the Back Benches—I have been here for 20 years—and, in fact, it is probably more effective than toadying up to any Minister. It is the death knell of their career if a junior Minister thinks that he can hold the Government to account, but a rapporteur can do that, which is why we must have one.

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The review discusses

“A place where the widest possible information can be gleaned on the numbers considered to be trafficked”.

That is the point that we found in the Netherlands. We are talking about being surrounded by non-governmental organisations that clearly believe in the purposefulness of the rapporteur and their ability to make a difference to the issues to which people in NGOs give their lives, even though they probably do not have a great incentive in terms of money or career. That means people from faith groups, non-faith groups, civic society and elsewhere. It comes down to it being a post

“which clearly defends human rights and acts as an independent monitoring party regardless of party or governmental vicissitudes of attention.”

That is a wonderful idea that we should grasp, and that the Minister should take away from the debate. The report is welcome—no one would doubt that—and it is good that it has been produced, but it shows the inadequacies, rather than the adequacies, of what the Government are doing, and it highlights the problems that we should be dealing with but are not.

I must say a little about domestic slavery, because the report says that one of the rising figures is that for trafficking for domestic slavery or domestic service. Every organisation that I have spoken to outside Parliament has been not just critical but condemnatory of the Government for withdrawing the domestic servants visa, which was brought in after a lot of pressure and discussion, and late in the life of the previous Government, because it was clear that people were being kept as slaves. There were reports of people living on the scraps from the table. They were being fed after the dogs. That was in some of the big, palatial houses in west London, where people from the diplomatic and business communities live.

I have been reading a book put together by Baroness Caroline Cox and Dr John Marks called “This Immoral Trade”. It talks about the 27 million men, women and children in the world who are in slavery. Some in Sudan and Burma are enslaved after a war and are sold on, or traded, to people who willingly hold them and sell them back to their communities. It turns out, when we read the book, that many of those women and men in Burma and Sudan are held in Arab communities. In fact, disturbingly, arguments are made in present-day Islamic law that slavery is all right, is acceptable. That is in sura 16:71 and sura 30:28 of the Koran. Sura 4:3, sura 23:6, sura 33:50-52 and sura 70:30 recognise concubinage, whereby slaves can be held by a master and used as concubines—for sexual favours. The Koran bans the sale of those people for prostitution, but they can be used as concubines. We would think that all these things must be ancient history, because there was also support for slavery in the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, but in fact Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzam has written a religious textbook in the 21st century that is used in Saudi schools that says:

“Slavery is…part of Islam…Slavery is part of jihad”.

The book goes on to say that he argued against the idea that slavery had ever been abolished, and said that those who espoused that view were

“ignorant, not scholars…Whoever says such things is an infidel.”

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In the far reaches of the world, slavery is still associated with capture because of war. Clearly, we can do little about that unless we can have a dialogue with people who believe that they can justify slavery. The question of domestic servants—why are people kept in such terrible conditions in the homes of people from those countries who come here as diplomats and business people?—may be too close to that debate for us to talk about comfortably, because saying anything against someone’s beliefs is somehow taken as a form of racism, but it is not. There are human rights that run through everything—that challenge the ethics of any organisation.

The domestic servants visa recognised that. It said that people who were being treated like that should be able to leave a bad master and transfer to another employer. Kalayaan, the organisation that such people could go to, was well known to the police in London. To take that away from people, the Government argue, will expose those who come in as domestic servants and are illegal; it will make them easier to see. It is funny that the hon. Member for Wellingborough agrees with that; I thought that he made a very good point when he said that in Sweden, when people are told that they cannot sell their body for sex, the practice goes underground. If we say to people, “You can’t leave a bad master because you don’t have a visa,” that does not mean that people are not brought in. It does not mean that people are not kept in captivity and treated as domestic slaves. It just means that they have no right to leave a bad master. It is important that the Government examine that. I am surprised that there was not a hue and cry about it among the faith groups—perhaps they did not know that it existed—and among people of ethics and principle. What worries me is that the all-party group did not have a debate and come to a conclusion on that. I therefore feel that we are complicit, as an organisation, in not calling for Members of this Parliament to debate the issue and make their voices heard. I hope that at some time in the future we will.

The treatment of children is criticised by everyone who reads this report, because 67% of children who are found to have been trafficked and are put into care run away. They vanish—no one seems to know where they go—and they end up being re-trafficked, and back among groups that re-abuse or reuse them. There are cases of 14-year-olds who are trafficked, caught thieving, put into care and run away. They are found working as “farmers” in houses that are being used for growing cannabis, and are criminalised for being caught taking part in a cannabis-growing organisation. There is no question that at the age of 14, 12 or even earlier—whenever it started—these people decided to have the life of a criminal.

As has been said, some people get involved in prostitution at a very early age. One of our colleagues came back from India recently. He came along to one of our forum meetings—brought by the chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Wellingborough—and he said that, in India, children were being kidnapped or taken from their parents on the promise of a better life and brought to cities to have sex with men who thought that if they had sex with a virgin, they would have a cure for HIV. The vast majority of those children were of primary school age, and some were under school age—under five years old—when they were kidnapped. There are

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things going on in the world, but that does not mean that they are not going on in our communities and within the EU.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend mentions an example of what is happening beyond these shores, which is truly shocking, but is it not also truly shocking that the evidence we have—I think there is even Home Office evidence—is that about half the people involved in prostitution started before they could legally consent to sex? That is how young they were.

Michael Connarty: That is shocking. It is an indictment of the society that we live in, at every level. I am married to a former director of education and social services in the city of Glasgow who was also the head of education in Southend-on-Sea in England. That was a Conservative authority, I should say, but the principle there seemed to be better, in that there was an attempt to create a wrap-around service, including health and social services. That was about looking for the signs early on of chaotic families and children who were not in a responsible social environment. The more we do in that way—the more we do by looking, through all the lenses, at society, and at where children are in communities, in schools and in the home—the more we are likely to expose those things that stick out as clearly indicating errors and dangers, and the more we can probably rescue people.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. I would like to give the two Front Benchers the opportunity to start winding up the debate fairly soon, so may I ask the hon. Gentleman to start drawing his remarks to a close?

Michael Connarty: I am happy to do so, Mr Havard.

The Minister should read the Children’s Society briefing for this debate. It is very much concerned about trafficked children being detained. The issue of victims being turned into the punished exercises the Children’s Society greatly. It states:

“Due to a lack of documentation, trafficked children are often refused support because their age is disputed.”

That is always a favourite. Those children tend to live unsupervised in hostel accommodation, and end up dropping out or running away. Will the Government commit to reviewing the impact of immigration policy on child protection, as recommended in a report by the Select Committee on Education? Many people other than those in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are considering the issue.

The quality of decision making is called into question. The number of people who end up in the national referral mechanism is a low percentage of the number of people found to have been trafficked. I recently met people from organisations that work with those who become asylum or illegal immigration cases, and they say that a high percentage of the people who do not make it into the national referral mechanism are not from the EU or Europe more widely; they are African or Asian. The organisations say that there is a tinge of racism in how the national referral mechanism is being used. The Government must consider that seriously. Some 29% of non-British nationals were accepted as victims of trafficking, whereas 88% of UK nationals were. There is something odd about that. Will the Government undertake an urgent review of the quality of decision making within the national referral mechanism?

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Finally, the other major recommendation that the Government have ignored is that children should have guardianship. It is important that children are treated as children. There is a report by Tam Baillie, the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, called “Scotland: A safe place for child traffickers?” The Minister is now considering Baroness Kennedy’s report for Scotland, which is well ahead of anything brought out by this Government. A Justice Minister said recently that he would introduce a law under which crimes can be aggravated by human trafficking, just as they can be aggravated by racism and, in Scotland, by sectarianism—two major flaws. Will the Minister seriously challenge his own Government? He should not be complacent.

This is a report on where we are, and the Human Trafficking Foundation has not written in complimentary terms. It is nice that the report is there, but the very wide flaws are shown. Will the Minister seriously consider raising this question, or, as I asked in the beginning, is he just here to protect the Government?

3.52 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr Havard, and I congratulate all the hon. Members who have spoken, especially the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), both on his opening speech and on all his work on the issue. It has been a privilege to listen to all colleagues’ speeches.

Human trafficking is despicable. It denies our common humanity. It strips its victims of their human dignity, threatens their safety and well-being and denies their human rights. The fact that it continues in civilised society shames every one of us. I welcome the focus that the work of the all-party parliamentary group has given to the issue, and I am pleased that we are debating the first report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking.

The debate can send a powerful signal from Parliament that we abhor and absolutely condemn the practice. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) called it: it is modern-day slavery. We cannot live with such a state of affairs. Listening to some of the speeches in this debate, particularly those made by him and by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), I felt how little we have progressed as a society; those speeches could have been given in the House 150 years ago, and similar speeches probably were.

We have discussed many aspects of the problem and the different purposes for which people are trafficked: forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation. We have talked about who is trafficked: children, women and men, often desperate to make a better life for themselves. Sometimes, they arrive in this country with no idea that they face the fate of being forced into servitude.

We have talked about the global dimension of trafficking, but I endorse right hon. and hon. Members’ comments that whatever the source country, although it is right that we consider actions to help prevent trafficking from those source countries, the problem also lies significantly in this country. We could hear no more powerful description of the challenge that we face at home than the truly shocking experience described by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous).

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I want to repeat some of the points made in the debate that I hope the Minister and the interdepartmental ministerial group will address as they pursue their work. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) highlighted, there is a tension between enforcement and protection. There is also particular concern about the fate of trafficked children. Where the authorities become aware of such a situation, the overriding consideration must be to protect the child’s best interests and welfare. No one disputes that, but too often we fail in practice.

Children suffer from a wall of general disbelief that can face those who seek to report their experience. The pervading culture of scepticism takes a particularly pernicious form when a young person is not even believed to be a child. Although there are no statutory guidelines, the UK Border Agency’s policy is that where there is doubt about a young person’s age, they are to be given the benefit of that doubt, presumed to be a minor and entitled to the special protections that we afford to those who are under age. However, that does not always happen in practice.

I invite the Minister to comment on what steps are being taken to reinforce the message to all decision makers and enforcement agencies, including the UK Border Agency and the police. I point out that those agencies are not necessarily always the best equipped to make decisions about the best interests and welfare of children. It is of concern that there is no mandatory training for those who deal with trafficked children. Will he comment on that? As colleagues have highlighted, we too often fail trafficked children, particularly when they come into our care system, where much more effort is necessary to address their special needs.

The culture of disbelief and responses that are often more about enforcement than protection are felt by more people than just children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South said, they are also felt by those who have been sexually exploited.

Mr Bone: The hon. Lady is making some important points. Does she not agree that it is strange that a child from an EU country who comes into this country would actually want the Border Agency to recognise them as an adult, because they would be better looked after than a child?

Kate Green: It is clearly a terrible irony that we are incapable of looking after children and meeting their needs properly. It is of particular concern that when children are identified as children and enter the state care system their needs are so inadequately met. I hope that the Minister will discuss that, because it is a genuine concern for right hon. and hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South discussed those trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some of his points were also highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who has done powerful work in the field. The debate about how best to protect those engaged in sex work through criminal law is a live one, and there are undoubtedly differences of view about criminalisation. It is important that we learn lessons from international experience, including experiences on our own doorstep, in Scotland. Will the

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Minister tell us whether the UK Government are considering the criminal law on sex work, particularly its application to trafficked sex workers?

The Minister will also be aware of the Home Office-funded national “ugly mugs” programme, which encourages sex workers to share reports of violent perpetrators. I would welcome his assurance this afternoon that the very modest funding for the programme will continue. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough on the shockingly low number of prosecutions and the lenient sentences that result when a prosecution and conviction ensue. I invite the Minister to comment on whether victims’ concerns, which make them hesitant even to report their experiences, can be traced back to that. If they feel that the law will treat them as criminals, rather than victims, and they hear about the lenient sentences and low number of prosecutions when stories are told, they will be unlikely to report their own experiences.

We discussed those trafficked into the labour market—both the formal and the grey labour markets. There are examples of good practice, which we have not talked about. Companies signed up, including during the Olympics, to the tourism child protection code of practice and to take action on corporate supply chains as a mechanism for enforcement, which has been touched on. Those steps are welcome, but I hope that the Minister will say what more the Government will do to encourage more businesses to follow suit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk promoted a Bill to legislate along the lines of the Californian approach. Given the Government’s lack of enthusiasm for regulation, I fear that the Minister will be reluctant to adopt such legislation. He must surely accept that, if Government intervention is to be avoided, business needs to take rigorous and more determined action. There is clearly a role for the Government in promoting that.

Michael Connarty: My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I received a letter today from McDonald’s—Big Mac—apologising for being part of the trail. It pointed out that it hired Noble Foods, which then hired a company called McNaught’s—a Gangmasters Licensing Authority licence holder. Other people have now been arrested and charged for using basically gangsters to enslave the workers in the chicken factories that Noble Foods got its eggs from.

Kate Green: It is welcome that McDonald’s and other high-profile national and international companies are aware of the issue and prepared to take action and be exemplars. I would be interested to hear what steps the Government are taking to work with business to promote more such action.

The institutional framework was also touched on by hon. Members this afternoon. As was pointed out, the UK is required under the EU directive to implement a national rapporteur function, and the interdepartmental ministerial group is the mechanism created to do that. Many speakers highlighted the deficiencies in the model. It is not clear that a Government body can effectively and independently evaluate the Government’s own policies. Such a body will not necessarily be sufficiently proactive and has no statutory ability to require information from Departments.

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The national reporting mechanism appears to be of limited effectiveness in identifying the true scale of the problem. The Government’s wish to withdraw from the EU arrest warrant potentially weakens our ability to deal with people trafficked within the EU, those trafficked within the UK and those trafficked through the UK to other EU countries. I invite the Minister to comment on that.

I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government intend to monitor, guarantee and strengthen the effectiveness of the structures that have been put in place. Trafficking—slavery—is abhorrent and intolerable. We must have the most robust and effective processes in place to stamp it out. I am glad this important debate has taken place this afternoon. With all right hon. and hon. Members, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Before the Minister begins, may I say that I would like to give Mr Bone two or three minutes to respond at the end? Please keep interventions short.

4.5 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and the chairmanship of Mr Robertson, who preceded you. I thank, as most hon. Members have, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for securing the debate. I knew that he planned on doing so and it is timely that it arrived today—the last day the House sits before Christmas. This has been a good debate, with contributions from Members who are well informed about the subject and know their stuff—I think that is the general view. I have certainly picked up on points that were made, but I suspect that I will not be able to cover them in the 22 minutes I have left. The debate has provided me with food for thought on the steps the Government will take.

Echoing my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), I want to put on record my thanks to Anthony Steen for his work with the foundation he chairs. I found him to be an excellent colleague when he was in the House and very focused on human trafficking. He and I spoke about it occasionally, though it was not within my area of responsibility. When he left the House, he told me that he would continue to focus on it and promised that he would be back here regularly to highlight the issue. He has kept that promise. I add my tributes to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.

My hon. Friend reminded us that he welcomed the Government opting in to an EU directive. I suspect that it is the first and probably the last time he will ever utter those words, but I will treasure them.

Andrew Selous: Frame them.

Mr Harper: Indeed, I will frame them.

Rather than going through the remarks in the order I had planned, I shall do so in the order my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough raised them. I will deal with his remarks first, because he, with others, picked up the debate and got it going. I take his point, which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) repeated, about the group’s title. By repeating it, he raised a point

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that had occurred to me: the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking is not the catchiest of titles. I will go away and reflect on that. Having been in government, he knows that Governments do not come up with catchy ways to describe things.

The right hon. Gentleman might have a good point, but that should not detract from the fact that the group includes not only Ministers from across Government, but members from all the UK’s Governments—the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. We have not been reflected on that, but it is important partly because it addresses the points made about independence. If the UK Government wanted to sweep things under the carpet, there are members from three other Governments, who are not of the same political party, who would not let us.

When I was given the job and told that I was chairing the group, I thought about the arguments for an independent rapporteur and the effectiveness of a group of Ministers. A ministerial group is also effective in ensuring that action is taken, which was my prime reason for being in favour of it. If we want to get things done, whether requiring legislation or otherwise, it is important to have Ministers from across Government working with our colleagues in the other parts of the UK, particularly on an issue that several Members described as one that the Prime Minister takes seriously. If we cannot make things happen, no one in Government can.

I did not understand the criticism from several people about the group not being able to get information from within Government. We are all Ministers in the Government, and if we want to get information from Departments we do not need a statutory basis to do so because we are able to get it. Having thought about it, I genuinely believe that having a group of Ministers is effective in delivering change and making things happen in practice. This is the group’s first annual report, and I accept that it is not perfect. We can do many things to improve it, some of which I will set out.

Mr Frank Field: None of us argued for one strategy or the other; we argued for both—the ministerial group backed up by the rapporteur.

Mr Harper: I accept that, but I felt slightly beaten up about the question whether the interdepartmental ministerial group was effective. I was also worried by the almost unanimously positive comments from Opposition Members about me and my future career—it is never good when Opposition Members over-praise Ministers; I always think that does us great harm—but I will take them in the spirit in which I am sure they were intended.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead raised the question of data and of really understanding this issue, which is something I have raised internally. The cases referred through the national referral mechanism are only the tip of the iceberg. Globally, reports suggest that many millions of people are affected in the trade. One task that I have given my officials is to crunch those numbers and to understand the true picture, including how that plays out across the country.

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As some Members have said—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire made the point powerfully—and as the NGOs that I have met have echoed, the problem is not just in inner cities or parts of the country where people think this sort of thing goes on. On anti-slavery day, I met several people from what some might call leafy parts of the country, such as Surrey, who had seen this activity happening. They felt that, as my hon. Friend said, it is important to get people to think about the issue, to understand that it might be going on in their street or round the corner, and to be alert to what they should look for.

On data and understanding the problem, it is important to get the public to understand that there is an issue—picking up the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty): telling a constituent why it matters to them, and making them understand that—and to focus on it. That, in turn, picks up the point made by the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) about pressures on police forces and constabularies. People must understand that this is a big problem and that there are interconnections, in that people involved in trafficking are also involved in wider organised crime. This big economic problem generates lots of money that is then used for other criminal activities. It is not a small problem located in one place; it is very wide and police forces ought to take it seriously.

I will not go through this issue at length, but it is worth saying on police and crime commissioners—I take the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that they have been in existence for not quite a month—that the Government are making sure they are aware of their national responsibilities as well as their purely local ones. In other words, they must be aware of the types of crime with a national or international dimension that will impact on them, so that, in setting priorities, they understand that their police forces must think about such matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough mentioned the National Crime Agency. It will have within it the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Human Trafficking Centre and the Border Policing Command. It will be a repository of good intelligence gathering and an analysis operation. It will have its own operational police and law enforcement officers but, as my hon. Friend said, it will also have the ability, if necessary, to task police forces for particular operations. Clearly, it will be much better if it engages such police forces by debating and explaining the issue and getting them on board voluntarily, but it also has a tasking power that may ultimately be important, certainly in getting people to pay attention, as my hon. Friend rightly said.

My hon. Friend and other Members raised the issue of the protection of children, which the Government take very seriously. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) spoke about training in the UK Border Force and the UK Border Agency. On meeting front-line Border Force officers who are at the primary checkpoints as people come into the country, and the staff of the UKBA, I have been struck by how aware they are of the child protection issue and the need to be alert to it, of all the signs of children travelling with people who are not their parents, and of what we need

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to put in place to protect those children. I am not saying we are perfect—we can always do better—but I have been pleasantly surprised by that. Before doing this job, I was not really aware of how much training and expertise is available at the border for those officers as people enter the country. As I have said, I am sure we can do more, but we are very focused on that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough also raised the issue of how we look after adult victims of trafficking. We have the contract with the Salvation Army to look after adult victims because there was no existing process for looking after them. There is an established mechanism for child protection that, as my hon. Friend said, is delivered through local government. I absolutely heard what he said about its effectiveness. There have recently been several cases in which—if we are in any doubt—we can see that trafficked children are not always well looked after by local government. I listened carefully to the examples he gave of projects that are under way to find a better approach. I do not want to prejudge their outcomes, but I assure him that I and other members of the ministerial group will consider those results closely to see whether there is a better way. He specifically referred to the Barnado’s pilot project for safe homes for children, and that and various other pilots will provide us with evidence about what works best, and we will be guided by what the evidence shows is effective.

Another thing worth saying is that the failures there have been will drive change in how we deliver care for children generally. Not only have trafficked children not been as well protected in the care sector as they might have been, but many UK-based children who have not been trafficked end up not being well looked after. We will need to see what various reports suggest the Government should do instead before we respond. The protection of children is one of the most important things—my hon. Friend said it was the single most important thing—and that feeling was generally shared by the Members who have spoken.

My hon. Friend also flagged up that the report did not specifically mention the all-party group on human trafficking or the Human Trafficking Foundation. I assure him that, if so, that very much falls into the cock-up and not the conspiracy camp. There was certainly no deliberate intention not to mention them, and he was right to put on the record what he said about the Human Trafficking Foundation, which I have already echoed. He was too modest to mention, although others did, the excellent work of the all-party parliamentary group—that is not a catchy description either. It is important and helpful to get together people from across Parliament not only to take evidence, but to visit other countries and see what goes on. In a previous debate, my hon. Friend invited me to attend a meeting of the all-party group and if he wishes me to do so at an appropriate time, I would be delighted to attend, both to listen and to talk.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned child guardians, which we have not introduced because there are existing mechanisms. However, I have signed off funding for the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society, which he mentioned, to undertake a joint independent scoping review of the practical care arrangements for trafficked children in care. That will look at the experience of trafficked children and

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practitioners to find examples of how people have been treated in the care system, and will report by the end of spring 2013. When we commissioned the report, we wanted something that told us about the experience of real children who have been through the system rather than a piece of desk research. We will look very carefully at the evidence to see whether it leads us to change policy in this area.

There are trafficked victims who end up undertaking criminal activity. We want to protect them and ensure that they are not turned into criminals. Let me be clear: if the circumstances of the arrest, or the evidence referred to by a prosecutor, suggest that someone may have been trafficked, the guidance is clear, as was I think acknowledged. In such a case, prosecutors should obtain further information, and work with the police to get more evidence. Where there is evidence that a suspect has been under duress, the prosecutor should not proceed. That is clear in theory, but I understand the concerns of Members about the extent to which that theoretical plan is carried through in practice.

Mr Bone: If non-governmental organisations provide me with specific cases of people being prosecuted when they should not have been, will the Minister undertake to look into them?

Mr Harper: Yes, I will. My hon. Friend the Solicitor-General, who sits on the interdepartmental ministerial group, is obviously responsible for prosecution policy. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough gives me some specific examples of that policy perhaps having not been followed, of course I will look at them and, where appropriate, discuss them with the Solicitor-General to see whether we need to take further steps.

Fiona Mactaggart: About six months ago, I spoke at a meeting of the Thames Valley criminal justice association at which a number of defence barristers were present. They said that their universal experience was that young Vietnamese gardeners in cannabis factories were always prosecuted.

Mr Harper: The hon. Lady gives me a link into my next point, about children who are being ruthlessly abused to run cannabis farms. Again, the guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers is clear. It says that we should look at the circumstances and be alert to the fact that the children may well have been trafficked. If that is the case, there should be a child welfare response rather than a criminal justice response. I absolutely hear what the hon. Lady says about whether that is actually happening in practice. I will speak to my hon. Friend the Solicitor-General to see what data there are about the position on the ground—I know we have gathered some from Crown prosecutors—to see whether we can be better informed. She is quite right: if people have been trafficked and are under duress, we should treat them not as criminals but as victims. That is what we intend to do and what the guidance says, but I accept that what is supposed to happen in theory does not always happen in practice.