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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate, and I am grateful to the noble Earl for initiating it.

As has already been said, youngsters are brought up to revere William Wilberforce and to think of Abraham Lincoln as the greatest hero of that century. I thought that slavery belonged to the past, but the more I listen to the various debates in this House, the more I realise the tremendous problems that we face.

In the past few months this House has debated the subject of human trafficking. People who are already victims of desperate poverty are sold to be transported for the most terrible purposes. Thousands reach the shores of the United Kingdom. They are people who have no control over their own lives or destinies. All they have is a life of hardship and cruelty.

It is difficult for us who were born free, with a say in our own lives and future, to even imagine what it must be like to be a slave. Someone may have potential but no opportunity. There is no hope of realising dreams. I do not know whether it is because I am Welsh, but we sang a lot. We sang the old spiritual, "When I get to heaven, I too will have shoes". There was no chance of shoes in this life—we had to look to the future because this life promised nothing.

Noble Lords have contributed their own experiences, which have been fascinating to listen to. My concern, as I have mentioned previously in this House, is for the fate of young children from Africa who are transported here to the United Kingdom. A month or so ago, we received the Metropolitan Police report of 300 missing children, African boys aged between four and seven from two London boroughs alone—Hackney and Newham. In one three-month period in 2001, 300 boys went missing from school registers.

That spot check is itself a cause of deep concern—two boroughs, three months, boys between four and seven. Is that more widespread? Are we talking of a hundred children a month? Are we talking only of London or of certain boroughs? Are we talking of the rest of the UK? I plead with the Government: please
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get to the bottom of this. Bring us a thorough-going report, because we must know the extent and are terribly alarmed by what we hear. Our alarm is even greater when the torso of a youngster then named Adam is fished out of the Thames and children are victims of witchcraft. If those are isolated incidences we are very worried; if they are but the tip of the iceberg, we could be facing the most terrible crime ever against children in the United Kingdom.

Both the Evening Standard and the "Today" programme have focused on this question. We are told that in some major African cities, children are sold for £10 each and then smuggled into the United Kingdom. What happens to them here? What harm becomes them? Are they involved in witchcraft? We need to know.

Finally, we ourselves must have the highest standards in our dealings with children and young people. Our hands must be clean. I notice that on Monday, the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence recommended that no youngster under 18 be recruited into the Armed Forces. I think that the Government must accept that, because we cannot have 15 and 16 year-olds recruited into the Armed Forces. I understand that we are in the noble company of Burma and North Korea. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child must be obeyed not only in the letter but also in spirit.

I plead with the Government to tackle that and to produce a report saying, "Right, these arguments have carried the day. We will first look at the problem of those missing children to see how widespread it is. Secondly, we will no longer allow youngsters under 18, boy soldiers, to be recruited into our Armed Forces. No cause has ever been more deserving of our greatest energy and commitment than the ending of abuse of children and young people. Slavery today is real. It destroys hope and is a total stain on our world.

12.23 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the sexual abuse of children and the trafficking of people, whether for sexual or labour exploitation, are current modern forms of slavery. The issue of abuse of children has recently been highlighted by the Victoria Climbié case and that of the torso in the Thames.

Those are the most spectacular known cases, but the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has raised the issue of disappearances of children not just from school but totally. To confirm that, in 2004, 32 out of 33 London boroughs expressed concern about children in their care who may have suffered from trafficking from overseas.

Can social services cope with this rather new kind of acute problem? Do they need better co-ordination? Could voluntary organisations be more helpful, especially over fostering and adoption? I once again ask the Government to examine with care whether the pay, expenses and training of foster carers are adequate for their heavy responsibilities. Once again, I express surprise that there are not even a few safe
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houses where children thought to have been trafficked can be cared for while they are assessed and plans are made for their future. This surely calls for leadership by Ministers to ensure that all departments co-operate to the full.

As regards adults trafficked into this country against their will or by deception, the Government deserve our congratulations for providing the legislation that was needed and for obtaining some spectacular convictions. Co-operation between immigration services, Customs and Excise and police has improved, and it is essential for preventing and countering the sophisticated gangs that specialise in trafficking and prostitution. Ministers should lead the drive for full inter-agency co-operation. For instance, have they noted the control of prostitution in London, often using trafficked women, by Albanians?

What happens after a trafficked person has escaped or been freed is less satisfactory. At present, the Poppy Project accommodation and support service in London is the only one catering for victims of trafficking. Such people often speak little or no English and suffer from the traumas they have experienced. The Poppy Project, which I have visited, has places for only 25 women. The admission criteria are narrow and strict. Worse still, Home Office funding expired in March and has been extended only to September. How can so valuable a service be properly run on such a hand-to-mouth basis? There is surely a need for one or more properly funded specialised agencies to provide needed accommodation, medical and psychological help and legal guidance, together with language and training opportunities?

Immediate deportation must be avoided. If that happens, everyone loses. The victim may be murdered, or retrafficked to this or another country. Our police also lose the chance to gain valuable information for preventing and prosecuting traffickers. A reflection period—call it by any other name if you prefer—is essential for the reasons just given. It is also necessary to allow the victim to decide calmly whether to try to stay here or to seek to return to his or her home country. The EU directive on short-term permits, which came into force at the end of April, is directly relevant. Only this country, Ireland and Denmark have so far not ratified it. I urge the Government to delay no longer.

May I also gently but firmly ask the Home Office not always to turn down applications from clients of the Poppy Project for refugee status or humanitarian protection? In fact, six out of 11 such decisions have been reversed on appeal.

I conclude by mentioning China and North Korea, where trafficking and forced labour are serious issues. In China in early 2004, some 260,000 people were detained in camps for up to three years for re-education through labour. It is an administrative system without judicial process. I ask the Government to raise it at all human rights dialogues and in the context of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Following the famines of the 1990s in North Korea, many people fled across the border into China. Some of them were, and are, refugees from political and
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religious persecution but others are economic migrants, mostly women seeking work in China to help their families survive at home. Traffickers, however, seize on the women and sell them, either as brides in forced marriages or to work in brothels. Those who are in China illegally, whatever their status, are liable to deportation to North Korea, where they may face execution because leaving without permission is a crime in itself. In his 2005 report, the UN special rapporteur for human rights concluded that all Koreans in China are de facto refugees because they have a genuine fear of what will happen if they are expelled.

I ask Her Majesty's Government to raise these issues with both governments and, in particular, to press China to allow the UNHCR full access into that country.

12.30 pm

Lord Joffe: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandwich on securing a debate on this most disturbing issue.

I understand the distinction made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about the use of the word "slavery". However, for the purposes of this debate, we can use the label of slavery to apply to different types of injustice with common characteristics which have specific names, including bonded labour, early and forced marriages, forced labour, slavery by descent, trafficking and the worst forms of child labour.

A characteristic common to all these forms of slavery is that those in extreme poverty are more likely to be subject to forced labour practices, and those subjected to contemporary forms of slavery are unlikely to break out of a cycle of poverty as coerced labour. For example, research in Brazil shows that up to 40 per cent of workers freed from slave labour in the past eight years have been freed more than once.

From this, it is clear that development policy and the creation of viable economies are essential components in the fight to eradicate slavery. Land reform, fairer leasing arrangements, rural development programmes and micro-credit schemes would all help to reduce the incidence of debt bondage and serfdom which affect millions of people across the world. Access to basic education, the provision of stable employment and the enforcement of minimum wages are also key to ensuring that people do not become trapped in slavery-like practices.

Thanks to the brilliant leadership of Bob Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis, the Live 8 campaign has galvanised society throughout the world to demand that the eradication of poverty should be high on the world agenda. The splendid leadership of the Prime Minister, and the outstanding achievements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, backed by all the political parties and society as a whole, have created a sense of optimism that at last a real international start has been made in addressing the obscenity of poverty.
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It is naturally only the beginning, but some of the foundations, such as the cancellation of debt and increased overseas aid, have already been agreed. Even more important, however, will be fair trade and the removal of subsidies in the developed world, and good governance in the developing world.

There is much that can be done in the battle against particular forms of slavery, but the key driver will be making poverty history because poverty is the greatest enslaver of the most people. When poverty becomes history, slavery will become history as well.

I thank Anti-Slavery International and the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull for their briefing papers. I should also like to ask the Minister one question. What are the UK Government doing to ensure that poverty reduction strategies and programmes in the developing world include components that focus on removing people from slavery and, in particular, from forced labour conditions?

12.34 pm

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