|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I associate myself with the comments of my colleagues and thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for giving us the opportunity to make our points. Most of what I was going to say has been said, so I shall make one central point about co-ordination. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, pointed out how important it is that all the authorities work together to ensure, not only that they are identified when they enter, but that they are quickly allocated the right placement, that they are given the right kind of support, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, that they do not then disappear. I refer particularly to children, as that is where my knowledge and interest lie.
The Minister may be aware that the Government have recently set up a project to look at the co-ordination of services to prevent illegal meat imports. I declare an interest as a member of the Food Standards Agency. The project looks at co-ordination between DEFRA, local authorities and the Food Standards Agency. If we can work so hard to ensure that illegal meat does not enter the country, we might work equally hard to ensure that children who enter the country illegally are cared for and co-ordinated to that high standard. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This has been an extremely useful and informative debate on the Question of whether the clause should stand part. Obviously, the subject will continue to exercise us, as it has done over many years. I have much respect for noble Lords who have campaigned on all those issues, certainly during the years in which I have been involved with them at the Dispatch Box. I am aware that many noble Lords who contributed to the debate support strongly the introduction of more comprehensive legislation to tackle the appalling trafficking of people for sexual exploitation and labour exploitation generally.
Let us work through some of the issues raised. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, is not present, but he asked me to make plain that his absence is not through lack of interest or concern. He wishes the Committee to be aware that he shared the concerns that other noble Lords raised today. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his introductory comments, focusing on trafficking more generally, rather than on trafficking for sexual exploitation. He focused especially, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, did, on the support available for victims and the need to ensure that all services involved work well together, and, in particular, that they are led well by the Immigration Service.
The Government have a comprehensive strategy to deal with trafficking. We set it out very clearly in the White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven. That set out a four-pronged approach, which we said was needed, covering the creation of appropriate offences in legislation, enforcement, victim protection, and, perhaps
The Immigration Service has a fundamental, critical role in combating trafficking of children. But, we argue, it must be seen in a multi-agency context. The Immigration Service has developed very close working relationships with social services and police, in locations including Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover, to identify children at risk and to ensure that they get help when most needed. A working group on unaccompanied children has been set up by the IND and the Department of Health, which are working together. It provides an active forum for social services and the Immigration Service to discuss identification and profiling issues. Furthermore, the Home Office has published a "toolkit" for practitioners in the field to help them identify and deal with trafficked victims. It offers guidance to, among others, immigration officers and the police on how to identify and deal with victims of trafficking. Although the recommendations are not obligatory, they are designed to raise standards.
Trafficking is a recent phenomenon. There is little hard evidence of the scale of the problem overall. There are various pieces of information of varying quality about adult and child trafficking. One of the key aims of the toolkit is to raise awareness of the issue of trafficking, so that police forces and social services recognise the warning signs. The best way of doing that is through that sort of awareness raising, rather than by making obligatory responsibilities that would place burdens on forces and local authorities in areas where there may be no trafficking problem.
Several members of the Committee rightly raised the issue of safe houses. As recently as last month, Beverley Hughes announced a pilot project. It focuses specifically on adult women in prostitution. That group has been targeted because there is no existing provision for them and they are recognised to be particularly vulnerable, on the basis of existing research on adult women. No such picture exists for child trafficking. It would be inappropriate to mix children with adult sex workers in a pilot scheme, and they are not included in the project.
Clear arrangements for children to be taken into local authority care already exist. They are set out, as the Committee will understand, in the Children Act 1989. That is in no way related to their giving evidence against traffickers. The provision of support and assistance to child victims of trafficking should be secureddirectly or through specialist agenciesby local statutory services in response to identified needs. Child victims of trafficking are likely to need specific, specialist, well developed welfare services. As we all
Several noble Lords raised issues relating to the important work that West Sussex County Council undertakes by virtue of the fact that Gatwick Airport is within its boundary. West Sussex County Council is considering whether to close the safe house that it runs for trafficked children and replace it with training and support. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised concerns on that issue, as, I think, did the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. Understandably, they also raised the issue of the particular burden on West Sussex County Council.
The council is considering replacing its existing facility with training. Several noble Lords mentioned the importance of properly supporting training. It is also considering providing support packages for carers of young people assessed as being at risk of being trafficked. Obviously, it is for West Sussex County Council to decide how best to provide services for children in need in its area. It is closest to the problem and is most likely to understand its nature and extent.
Government funding is allocated to councils with social services responsibilities on the basis of the needs of their population. A weighted capitation formula is used to determine each body's fair share of available resources. It is for councils, working in partnership with the relevant local agencies and stakeholders, to determine their spending priorities on the basis of local needs.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Can the Minister share with the Committee the number of children who have disappeared from care in West Sussex during the time that they were placed there? What does he know about their fate?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord quite properly raised this earlier. I am not in a position from the Dispatch Box to give him that precise information. He has asked this question on other occasions. We have tried to supply as much information as possible.
Baroness Blatch: I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. What the noble Lord has just said is very serious. If the noble Lord, Lord Alton, had asked that question off the cuff today, as indeed he did, it would be entirely understandable for the Minister to say that he needed notice of the question and that he would seek the answer. But the noble Lord said that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, had asked for the information on a number of occasions. Is the Minister admitting that the department does not know, not just the number of children who have disappeared, but to where those children have disappeared, or their fate? Are we simply admitting that the children have disappeared and that we are not certain how many or to where?
Baroness Blatch: I am sorry to press the point. The question is simple. Do the Government, West Sussex County Council or anyone know how many children have been taken into care and have disappeared? Are there any figures? If the answer is no, simply say, "No, we do not have the information and we cannot get it". If it is possible to obtain the information, the Minister should say that he will retrieve the information and let the Committee know.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page