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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I recognise its importance and the sensitivity of the issues raised. We have rehearsed it on several occasions at Question Time and I understand its seriousness. West Sussex is not far from where I live. I read the local press and I understand the sensitivities
 
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surrounding the work that the council has had to undertake. Several noble Lords have drawn to my attention some of the frailties of the evident provisions.

I agreed most with the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on the need for successful prosecutions. We need those high profile prosecutions to make the point that this is not something that we can tolerate and that it will be dealt with very firmly.

I also thought that the reference to the research made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was very useful. Obviously we need at all times to take very careful account of that. It clearly reflects on the experience of victims and gives some very important insights into their treatment and the way they are abused and exploited. I found the statistics particularly depressing.

We have debated the issue over a long period. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us that we had an important debate in 1999. I also thought that there was great value in reflecting on the work undertaken by voluntary organisations—a matter referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in her contribution to the discussion.

I want to turn to the amendments as they bear some reflection. The first and most important thing to say—and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made the point in his comments—is that Amendment No. 19 does not provide for the Secretary of State to do anything more in relation to traffickers or the victims of trafficking than he is already able to do.

Section 21 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 already allows the Secretary of State to supply information to bodies, such as the police, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) where that information is required by those bodies for their particular purposes. For example, information may be passed to the police for the purposes of the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences. So in those terms the amendment is not really required. It is already there and unnecessary.

It is worth adding that Ministers already enjoy considerable power to exercise discretion much as they see fit with regard to the victims of trafficking. Options can range from holding removal action in abeyance to the granting of leave to remain, even for an indefinite period. Ministers exercise that power on a case-by-case basis.

Similarly, we can, and indeed do through the Home Office funded Poppy Project—Eaves Housing project—make provision for victims to be supported while they remain in the United Kingdom, but again that too has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

So this clause does not require the Secretary of State to do any more than he is already able to do. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, not only acknowledged that, but he was trying in a sense to encourage the use of that discretion and to draw attention to it perhaps—and importantly through this debate.

Perhaps I may turn to Amendment No. 20, which has a bearing on the Palermo protocol. Perhaps the first assurance that I need to provide to your Lordships
 
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is that we have signed the United Nations protocol on this issue. We will ratify that once domestic legislation provides us with the opportunity. So it is our intention to act on the Palermo protocol. Perhaps it is worth reminding your Lordships of Article 6.3 of the Palermo protocol. It makes clear:

That is obviously a laudable objective, which we believe we already undertake. Nevertheless, it is an important statement of principle.

I am satisfied that we are able to provide—and, indeed, do so in many cases—to the victims of trafficking many of the services the noble Lord proposes in his new clause. The Home Office has already recognised that need. We have worked very much in partnership with the voluntary sector—and we are very grateful to it—over the past couple of years in particular to put in place provision for adult victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. The Poppy Project is currently being evaluated and, based on that information, we shall take decisions on the type and extent of support needed in the future. That evaluation is very important to us. We want to understand the value and worth of developing that service, in particular through the Eaves Housing project.

It is also worth reminding noble Lords that the Children Act 1989 places an important duty on social services departments to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need. That includes those who have been assessed as victims of trafficking. However, we are reluctant to place a duty on the Secretary of State to provide care where trafficking is merely suspected but not proven. I have no doubt that many social services departments will err on the side of caution—and do err on the side of caution—and will provide active support where there is little evidence of trafficking. But we must avoid providing what could be described in some circumstances as a "perverse incentive" for parents to send their children to the United Kingdom, often in highly dubious and unsafe circumstances, so that they might avail themselves of the provisions of this clause.

However, we recognise and understand the importance of working very closely with social services. We have regular liaison with them and are seeking to encourage and ensure that they are sensitive to the issues trafficking raises. I think that we already do what the amendments propose and valuable work is being undertaken.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised the issue of the ECPAT report. Perhaps it is important to say that those who may have to deal with victims of trafficking are aware of the particular issues that it presents. The ECPAT report is extremely valuable. We are grateful to that body for the research that was undertaken. I want to reassure not only the noble Earl but other
 
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noble Lords who have participated in the debate that we shall consider the lessons that can be drawn from that report and will see what more needs to be done.

With that, I remain in favour of retaining the current system where the provision of care is based very much upon a careful assessment by local social services because I think they are best placed to provide those services. They are closest to the problem. I hope that the noble Lord, having valuably aired many of the important issues relating to trafficking and the care and support of the victims of trafficking will feel able to withdraw his amendment this evening.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am a little puzzled by the Minister's objections to Amendment No. 19. I see the point he makes well enough, but I am not certain what the logic of his argument is. He is presumably not telling us that every time a Minister has a discretion, which may be exercised in favour of an asylum seeker, that he uses it. He is presumably not telling us either that Ministers object to being given a little gentle encouragement on occasion, which is all the draft of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, would do.

So, if the noble Lord does not say that a Minister always uses his discretion, and that he does not want a little gentle encouragement, is the noble Lord suggesting that we ought to use a blunter instrument next time? That really would be a rather perverse incentive to give us.

On the subject of the Palermo convention, is there any possibility of its incorporation in the Children Bill at present before this House?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his intervention. It would be wrong of me to assume great powers with regard to the Children Bill. That is not a proper consideration for me to make at the Dispatch Box this evening, although it is an interesting invitation, and one of which I shall certainly take note.

With regard to the noble Earl's earlier comment about giving the Secretary of State a nudge and some gentle encouragement, the amendment simply seeks to do what the Secretary of State already does. It would allow the Secretary of State to provide subsistence and to grant victims of trafficking leave to remain. The Secretary of State can already do that. It would be irrelevant to have an amendment that simply repeated what was already there. I see no good reason for putting this in the statute books. What is proposed is already actively undertaken in respect of traffickers and victims of trafficking. It does nothing more than we can already do. It adds nothing.

Earl Russell: My Lords, our parents sometimes used to give us sweets. We sometimes encouraged them to do it a little oftener.


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