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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we support the amendment in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The reason is as quite rightly explained; there is already provision for accommodation for women trafficked for sexual exploitation through the Poppy project, and local authorities have responsibility towards children. However, for adults trafficked other than for sexual exploitation, or for men trafficked for sexual exploitation, there is a gap in such a provision. The clause would give the Secretary of State a power to fill that gap, either where the person is victim of the criminal offence of trafficking under UK law or where a person may be such a victim.

The section imposes a power only, and would put the Secretary of State in a position not to have to return to Parliament when he has made a decision on the basis of the consultation on the Home Office action plan on trafficking, "Tackling Human Trafficking". That would assist in dealing with the problem.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I spoke several times during the passage of the Bill about the trafficking of women and this amendment is worthy of support, because it covers not only trafficking of
 
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women for sexual purposes, but general trafficking of people for exploitation. Obviously, we must all take seriously the business of trafficking undertaken by criminals across Europe and I know that my noble friend does. I await what she has to say.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend's amendment. It gives me the opportunity to ask the Minister whether the Home Office will think again about the reflection period that we discussed briefly in Grand Committee. The reflection period helps trafficked people to recover from any traumatic experience, to take advice and to make an informed decision on whether to co-operate with the police. The Netherlands currently operates a three-month period; in Belgium and Norway the period is 45 days. Other states provide at least 30 days, which is a requirement of the Council of Europe convention. Without such a reflection period many victims will face immediate deportation, which is in neither their interests nor those of the police. While the Government are considering the Council of Europe convention—and I am sure that they recognise this as a key issue—perhaps they might consider whether the minimum of 30 days is an adequate period of reflection.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It seems to be helpful, and it should be helpful to the Government. How many such people are we talking about and what is happening to them at the moment?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Dholakia, for raising an important issue that we debated in Committee. I hope that noble Lords have had the chance to study the detail in which I sought to set out where the Government are looking to deal with the issue of victims of trafficking and also to deal with the perpetrators of trafficking.

The amendments change something that is important—that, irrespective of individual needs and circumstances and without any limit in time, we provide unconditional support. While I understand the sentiment behind the amendment we must recognise that a critical factor is that we do all that we can to find the perpetrators of trafficking and seek the assistance of victims to achieve that. We rightly talked about that at great length in Grand Committee.

I hope that I made it clear then that the provision of targeted and appropriate support is already an integral part of the Government's strategy to tackle trafficking. The Home Office-funded Poppy scheme is at the heart of current support. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has had the opportunity to discuss with Home Office Ministers his concerns that we ensure that funding continues. I believe that he has received a commitment from the Minister that it would continue for the next two years and that there should be recognition of the need to think regionally about the operation of the Poppy scheme. I hope that the noble Lord was reassured by that.
 
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For the first four weeks of the scheme, all victims accepted onto it are provided with shelter, support, medical attention, information and any other services they need to meet their immediate needs. That gives them time to recover, reflect and make decisions about their future. After four weeks, support is provided in return for co-operation with the authorities. It is envisaged that victims will be on the scheme for around four months but may remain on it longer if necessary.

We believe that that is the right approach. It enables law enforcement agencies to act on vital information and, one hopes, to secure prosecutions and convictions to prevent any future trafficking. That is in line with the approach taken across Europe and in other destinations and transit countries. Looking at those who abuse and exploit victims is not just in the Government's interest; it enables current victims to be protected and in the longer term helps to prevent future victims. Existing arrangements operate successfully on a case-by-case basis, with care and support packages delivered on the basis of an assessment of the individual, ensuring that we meet their particular needs. This enables us to target support effectively on those in greatest need.

Although I understand what is behind the amendment, operating on an unconditional basis would risk stretching the resources to the point where some victims may be unable to access the help they require. It may also open up the system to abuse. We have no evidence that the flexible case-by-case approach we have adopted is any less effective in meeting the needs of victims of trafficking than the approach proposed.

I take on board what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about 30 days. I will perhaps consider that and write to him, if I may. One matter of which the noble Earl will be aware, which we discussed in Committee, is the obtaining of evidence. That is why we have the present process to acquire as much information as possible. While we know something about the exploitation of trafficked women, we know very little about the exploitation of others in the workforce who have been trafficked. Our ambition is to gather information and to be able to provide the right kind and level of support to the people involved. An information-gathering exercise on that is currently taking place. I hope that noble Lords had an opportunity in Committee to look at the documentation that I provided.

With full recognition of the particular concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Dholakia, I resist the amendment. We believe we have the correct balance in trying to secure the appropriate support for individuals while recognising the need to gather as much information as possible so that we can capture the perpetrators of trafficking and ensure there are no future victims. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I noticed that they all spoke in support of the amendment. I particularly
 
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thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for what he said about reflection periods and those who may have suffered the most undesirable fate of immediate deportation—perhaps because no accommodation was available when they were arrested or rescued, and therefore they were sent back to a very uncertain fate in another country. I emphasise that my amendment was wholly permissive and did not place any duty on the Secretary of State, though he might find it quite convenient at some future stage.

I should also mention children and young people, some of whom may have been trafficked into this country for purposes of what one might call domestic slavery, and others who may have been trafficked here for a whole range of purposes. My understanding about such children is that they are usually fostered by local authorities when they become known. I simply question how well that works in practice. In passing I thank the noble Baroness's Home Office colleague for indicating not only that funding for the Poppy project would continue but also that it might be replicated in parts of the country other than London. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 pm

Clause 52 [Refugee Convention: construction]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 45:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment and Amendment No. 47, which I will speak to with it, is to knock out from the clause the references to Article 1F(c) of the refugee convention. We believe that it is wrong in principle for the Government to construe an international treaty in statute against the advice of the custodian of the treaty and without any consultation with the other 146 states that are party to it.

We have objected to the progressive narrowing of the exception in Article 1F in previous legislation, and we object to the proposal in this clause to fetter the discretion of the courts to take account of all the circumstances in deciding whether a person is disqualified from the protection afforded by the convention. As your Lordships know, the UNHCR has made repeated representations to the Government on this matter, first in a letter of 10 November 2005 and then in another letter in the middle of December. I quote one paragraph from the first letter in which the UNHCR said:


 
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I would like to know whether the Minister has had consultation with the UNHCR since that letter was written and, if so, what was the outcome of it? We have talked about consultation with many organisations in previous clauses. I can hardly think of any provision of the Bill in which it is more important for us to have engaged in consultation with—to use new Labour jargon—the "stakeholders" than something which affects 146 other countries and the treatment of vulnerable individuals who seek protection in any of those countries and who are to be deprived of it in this country because of the narrow interpretation that we choose to place on Article 1F.

I would also draw the Minister's attention to the memorandum sent by the UNHCR with the letter to the Home Office on 10 November. I am not going to read the whole thing as it is rather long. However, in the fifth paragraph it says:

I hope the Minister is listening to what I am saying, because I want to ask her whether she does not think that the Government should have seriously considered the objections of the UNHCR, which are based on a longstanding interpretation of the exclusion clauses, which everybody has accepted since September 2003 when these guidelines were issued.

Your Lordships will remember that the UNHCR engaged in a very thorough international consultation on the application of the convention in which, to my knowledge, our own Government took part. I do not believe that at that time the exclusion clauses in Article 1F were queried or that the guidelines were disputed. For the noble Baroness to come along and tell your Lordships that now we want to unilaterally abrogate from certain of the responsibilities, particularly the interpretation of Article 1F, in the context of the convention as a whole, is an unsatisfactory way to treat our obligations under the convention and I think breaks the spirit of our adherence to that treaty. I beg to move.


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