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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 72-i
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Tuesday 4 June 2013
MARK HARPER MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 90
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 4 June 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Dorcas Erskine, National Coordinator, Eaves’ Poppy Project, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Ms Erskine, thank you very much for coming. Can I begin with an apology? We were getting a briefing from the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner on the Woolwich issue, which arose, of course, after you were invited to give evidence. We also have a vote at 4 pm, so we are going to be very brief in our questions, giving you the maximum time.
Dorcas Erskine: That is fine.
Q2 Chair: I am going to start with a very quick question. Do you think that the issue of combating human trafficking is now better served because the Salvation Army is involved?
Dorcas Erskine: I come from the Poppy Project, as you know, and we used to hold the Government contracts before, so, of course, I have to declare that conflict of interest in my answer, and you can decide whether objectively what I say is right. No, I do not think, under the Salvation Army, that victims are better served. That is not because the Salvation Army is not a brilliant organisation; it is, and in a past life I have worked with them on different issues before I joined this. The Salvation Army is operating under a system that ties their hands. The Government only allows them to support victims of trafficking for 45 days. The Government has decided, around the identification of victims of trafficking who come from outside the European Union, that it is the UKBA who decides whether they are a victim of trafficking. An agency charged with delivering the Government’s challenging targets on immigration is not best served to identify victims of trafficking. All of these things make the Salvation Army unable to provide a good service.
Q3 Chair: As far as the Poppy Project is concerned-we will be hearing from other Members in a minute-the number of beds that you have at your disposal to help the victims of trafficking has come down from what I was told was in the thousands to 54, and now 14. This is all that you are looking after now.
Dorcas Erskine: I wish we had thousands of beds originally. That would be amazing.
Chair: It is obviously the wrong figure. Maybe 54 is the proper figure.
Dorcas Erskine: We had 56 bed spaces in about nine houses across the country, and we had reduced that to 14. Now we are on nine bed spaces.
Q4 Chair: That is a very, very small number.
Dorcas Erskine: That is a very, very small number.
Q5 Chair: In respect of human trafficking, in terms of the information you have received, is that now on the increase, or has it been kept at a capped level?
Dorcas Erskine: It would be amazing to know exactly how many victims of trafficking there are in the UK, but unfortunately, since we do not have a centralised body charged independently with addressing human trafficking, it is difficult to know. The sector would love for us to have a co-ordinator/rapporteur whose job it was to collect reliable data on human trafficking.
Q6 Chair: In respect of the work of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, are you again disappointed that perhaps they are not achieving what you would like to see them achieve, as far as this subject is concerned?
Dorcas Erskine: Let me just say I would rather choose my poison. I have on the one hand two competent authorities, the UK Human Trafficking Centre and then the UKBA, who only sees trafficking through an immigration lens rather than a human rights abuse lens. I would say that the UK Human Trafficking Centre could be much better if it had statutory powers, for example, to demand different agencies to supply data. That would be very good. I also think that they are operating under certain resource constraints. All the foundations are there for the UK Human Trafficking Centre to really take charge, but the problem is who is driving it and a lack of focus. But then if the Government has not made it a priority and sees it as an immigration offence, this is what you will get.
Q7 Bridget Phillipson: What generally happens when victims first come to the attention of the authorities, and what kind of support do victims of trafficking need?
Dorcas Erskine: There is quite a good system in theory. There are all sorts of different agencies who come into contact with victims of trafficking, and they refer them to NGOs such as ours as first responders. We go and assess the victims and we refer them into the Government’s formal identification system, which is called the National Referral Mechanism.
If you come through the Poppy Project and you are a victim of trafficking, you are likely to be quite afraid of authority. You have been told a lot of lies by your traffickers about authority and you are not very comfortable with referring yourself into the NRM system. That would not prevent us from supporting you, but for other agencies that have to operate under the Government system, that is not necessarily the case. There are good reasons to be sympathetic to the Government, which is unusual for me. There are good reasons for that, because they want to be able to record the number of victims, so they encourage that to happen.
Once you have been referred within that, you have what we call a 45-day recovery and reflection period. This is to give enough time for the authorities to decide if you are really a victim of trafficking. There are two stages. One is the reasonable grounds decision. The UKBA or the UK Human Trafficking Centre has to decide, "I suspect but I am not sure that this person could be a victim of trafficking". That decision is supposed to take five days. In our experience, it has taken 40 days. After that, they are supposed to come back at the end of the 45-day period and say, "I believe that there is a conclusive grounds decision to say that you are a victim of trafficking." In our experience, that has taken 164 days. In our service, we provide legal advocacy, counselling and support services, and we all know that the services in the UK are under a lot of strain. Getting the right counsellors and the right health services for the amount of trauma that victims have faced is nearly impossible in 45 days.
Q8 Bridget Phillipson: In the longer term, what happens to victims? Do they tend to remain in the UK, or will they return to their country of origin?
Dorcas Erskine: That is also another interesting question. Again, you may want to ask the Salvation Army, because it is a mystery to us. If you are in the Poppy service and you have strong legal advocacy, 87% of the victims in our service regularise their stay in the UK because they have been seen by the courts to be very vulnerable. There are gangs waiting for them in their countries of origin, so they have been granted asylum. The Salvation Army is best placed to answer, but I saw statistics on their website showing a different position.
Chair: We will ask them.
Q9 Bridget Phillipson: Are there any changes you propose now or in future to service provision for commissioning arrangements for services?
Dorcas Erskine: The first thing I would have a big plea for is to extend the 45 days. It is one of the reasons why we kicked up a lot of fuss. First it was 30 days. We kicked up a lot of fuss and it got extended to 45 days. We look after victims for a minimum of three months. That is how long it takes for a woman who has been raped 30 times a day to start revealing the levels of trauma. So that would be a good start.
Q10 Bridget Phillipson: How are you currently funded?
Dorcas Erskine: We are funded by a number of diverse sources. We got rescued when we first lost the contracts by a celebrity couple who want to remain anonymous. We get funded by a number of grants and foundations and by the general public, because they have strong support for our service.
Q11 Chris Ruane: Is there any difference between the treatment of EU and non-EU victims of trafficking?
Dorcas Erskine: In our view there is.
Q12 Chris Ruane: Can you substantiate that?
Dorcas Erskine: Sure. The Government’s interdepartmental report showed last year that 65% of the victims referred through the NRM system were non-EU nationals and the rest were EU nationals. In terms of the identification of victims of trafficking, 71% of those EU nationals got positively identified, compared to 21% of non-EU.
Q13 Chris Ruane: What difference does positive identification make?
Dorcas Erskine: The difference it makes is you get the support service. You get a claim. In our experience, it helps your asylum claim as well, so not being recognised as a victim of trafficking reduces your credibility as to why you are vulnerable.
Q14 Chris Ruane: There are more non-EU victims and fewer EU victims?
Dorcas Erskine: That is right.
Q15 Chris Ruane: But the fewer EU victims get more help than the non-EU victims?
Dorcas Erskine: Yes, you could put it that way. You could say, if you would like to use a strong term, that it is a discriminatory system because the Government has immigration targets to fulfil, and I guess every person counts.
Q16 Steve McCabe: How does someone get referred to the Poppy service?
Dorcas Erskine: We are very well known because we were the first project in the UK to support victims of trafficking. This was before we had the Government contract. I come from a women’s organisation that has a history of starting innovative projects when we see need. We had a project around prostitution, and we started to see levels of trafficking within that. That is what we did. We have strong roots in different community groups, in churches, with prison guards-with everyone in the community. We even have-sorry to use language that may offend-punters call us and say, "I visited this brothel. I think this woman has been trafficked." We are quite a well-known project for that.
Q17 Michael Ellis: Can I ask about child victims in particular? What specialist provision do child victims of trafficking need, in your assessment?
Dorcas Erskine: I would plead for the Committee to have more evidence sessions and to have people who are better placed than I am to talk about child trafficking victims, but I will speak on behalf, with respect, of ECPAT, an organisation that advances the cause of child victims of trafficking. They would say, "Not much." That is because they also face a credibility issue. They are often disbelieved. A lot of children in the care system get lost. I think in the last ECPAT report they found that 60% of child victims of trafficking went missing.
Q18 Michael Ellis: I was going to ask about that. This is the problem of unaccompanied minors going missing from their accommodation. Do you have any possible solutions to that?
Dorcas Erskine: Well, yes. I believe that in the European Directive that the UK Government has very bravely signed up to-another credit to the Government we must acknowledge-there is a proposal that there should be a guardianship model, so that there is someone who steers children through all the different legal processes. The Government has so far, for reasons which maybe the Minister will be better placed to explain, refused to implement that.
Q19 Nicola Blackwood: The Government does have an inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking. Can you tell me, in your assessment, how that is performing?
Dorcas Erskine: With respect, not very well. I think there are a number of really good Ministers on the group who have very good intentions, but they run very busy Government Departments. Human trafficking is an issue that we might not like to acknowledge, but it has a lot of demand. It criss-crosses very sensitive topics of immigration, security, what we think about sex-all of these things-so it is important that you have an independent person who assesses how the Government is doing on trafficking. We really believe that the model that the Government should have taken from the directive was one of a national rapporteur. If you compare the system with that in the Netherlands, where they have had a national rapporteur since 2000, there is strong data and strong enforcement, and there is a reason for that. We have a really good structure, but we do not have anyone driving it because, I am afraid, the Ministers in that group are too busy with very busy Departments.
Q20 Nicola Blackwood: How often do they meet?
Dorcas Erskine: I believe, and others may correct me, only twice so far, but I understand that the Prime Minister has made it a priority to try to get some more meetings with the group.
Q21 Nicola Blackwood: I want to take you back to your answer to Ms Phillipson, in which you mentioned the fact that the UKHTC manages the victims who come forward who are EU nationals and UKBA handles the victims who come forward who are non-EU nationals. Can you say how you think that causes problems, because you mentioned that, and what you think the impact is, in terms of the different outcomes, and perhaps between yourselves and the Salvation Army as well?
Dorcas Erskine: It might be strange and strong language to use, but I feel it is a discriminatory system if you are a non-EU national, because the issue of whether you can stay in the UK does not arise in the UK Human Trafficking Centre per se. Other issues arise for EEA nationals about access to benefits and so on, and others, especially the AIRE Centre, would be best placed to tell you about some of the difficulties that they are having in taking the Government to court on some of the provisions not available to victims.
Q22 Nicola Blackwood: What do you think would be the solution to that particular divide?
Dorcas Erskine: I think the solution, first, is to take the identification from the UKBA. I think it is a human rights abuse and it is a criminal justice issue. If the UK Human Trafficking Centre is charged with looking at these issues, that is where it should lie. [Interruption.]
Chair: Thank you. We are not going to end your session-Mr Winnick still has a question-but we are going to adjourn so we can vote, and we will return. You are welcome to stay there or go and have a cup of coffee, but we will be back at about 10 past.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q23 Mr Winnick: Apologies, Ms Erskine. As the Chair said, that is democracy at work plus. How effective is the UK Human Trafficking Centre, in your view, in undermining what is happening in human trafficking?
Dorcas Erskine: Sorry, could you repeat? I was just a little bit distracted by the sounds.
Mr Winnick: How effective do you think it is?
Dorcas Erskine: The UK Human Trafficking Centre? I believe it could be a lot better than it is. As I said, it is a matter of choosing your poison in terms of the competent authority. In terms of identification of EEA nationals, others who work predominantly with that subgroup would say that identification issues there for them are less in terms of going through the NRM system than we face with non-EU nationals. I think that has to be acknowledged; that is a very good thing.
I think there are problems around investigation and around co-ordination with the different police forces around the country, and those seriously need to be addressed, but I really believe that is just because we do not have a driving force; we do not have an anti-slavery commissioner or rapporteur-however you would like to say it-that forces these bodies to do the jobs that they are able to do, because all the resources are there; all the things are there for them to do a much better job. I think if you spoke to a lot of police officers, if you have more sessions on this topic, you would find that they have a very mixed view of the performance of the UK Human Trafficking Centre around investigations in particular.
Q24 Mr Winnick: Your organisation was somewhat critical of the Salvation Army being awarded a contract by the Ministry of Justice to deliver effective co-ordination and monitoring of support services for the victims of trafficking. I think your colleagues, or you, or the organisation you are associated with, said of the Salvation Army that it was a prayer and fasting organisation and, moreover, were rather critical of the way in which the Salvation Army apparently were taking away mobile phones and restricting freedom of movement and so on. Do you stand by that criticism?
Dorcas Erskine: I did not make the comments, but I understand the comments came from the fact that we have many different victims of trafficking with varying religious beliefs. It is more, I guess, a concern around an organisation that has a particular religious belief being able to cater to the diversity of beliefs that victims may have. It is more about advocating. I am sure that when the Salvation Army representatives speak, they will be able to explain how they cover provision for all people of all faiths when they have a certain mission. In terms of standing by that comment, because of the diversity of need of the different groups that you look for, I think my organisation was right to make it.
Q25 Mr Winnick: The Salvation Army is obviously a religious organisation. Is there not a danger of indoctrination?
Dorcas Erskine: A lot of religious groups do a very good job, I must stress, of looking after a lot of vulnerable people. It is not the belief that is the problem. The problem is: where are the standards to ensure that a diversity of beliefs are respected, so that if a woman wants to have an abortion because she has been raped during her trafficking situation, she is supported to do so? If the organisation believes that that is not a belief system that they support, the rights of the victim are submerged under a religious belief, and that is not right. I believe no one in this room would support that.
Q26 Chair: Thank you very much. I am sorry for the unorthodox way in which we have questioned you, with a big gap in the middle, but we are very grateful, first of all, to you for coming here, but also for the work of your project in supporting the victims of human trafficking. Long may you continue to do so.
Dorcas Erskine: Thank you very much. Before I scoot off from here, could I make two requests? One is that perhaps you could extend these sessions, because there are many more organisations who deal with a variety of victims. Secondly, I would ask that you perhaps look at visiting a prison and detention centre, because a lot of victims of trafficking are being criminalised. They now account for over 25 of our referrals, so I would make a plea for you to make a visit. Thank you very much.
Chair: We will certainly look at doing so. Thank you very much, Ms Erskine.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Ann-Marie Douglas, Project Director, Salvation Army, gave evidence.
Q27 Chair: Ms Douglas, thank you very much. Again, apologies; we have kept you waiting a very long time, and we are going to scoot through the questions, but not because we do not think it is an important subject. The Minister is coming as well, so we are going to put some of these responses to him.
Could I start with the question of whether the Salvation Army is the best organisation to deal with these issues? Clearly, you have won the contract from the Ministry of Justice. You are now conducting this work, but there has been criticism of the fact that you are a religious organisation. I think very recently on your website you were quoted as saying that you believed, in terms of unwanted pregnancies, that it is best for the foetus to be carried to term-not you, personally. On your website, you also made reference to sexuality, saying, "homosexual conduct is controllable and may be morally evaluated…society should be ordered on the basis of heterosexual unions". You will understand why people were concerned about the Salvation Army perhaps having these contracts, bearing in mind those comments.
Ann-Marie Douglas: I can fully appreciate why there would be concern among certain sections of society about statements such as that. However, the Salvation Army is a church as well as a charity, and the Salvation Army has particular religious views that it is not ashamed to declare and is not afraid to articulate. However, in terms of the delivery of this contract, we are bound by the terms of the contract, and within that contract there are very specific and very explicit requirements around equality and diversity to which we adhere. These are also extended to our sub-contractors, and it is a requirement that we provide a service that is equal to all victims of trafficking, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Q28 Chair: Thank you. That is very helpful. You have probably read the Centre for Social Justice’s report dated 11 March.
Ann-Marie Douglas: I have.
Chair: It says that slavery is making a comeback in contemporary guise and accuses Ministers of being "clueless". We will hear from the Minister responsible shortly, but do you agree with that sentiment?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I think there is an interesting definition that has been applied to modern-day slavery, one of abuse of power and ownership of an individual. My particular concern, and that of the Salvation Army, is that however we choose to define the problem, we actually seek to address the problem consistently and comprehensively.
Q29 Chair: I understand that. That is very important, but do you agree with the report’s main conclusion: that it is making a comeback-is on the increase, in other words?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I do not think anybody really fully understands whether it is on the increase, or whether we are simply getting better at detecting the problem.
Q30 Chair: Right, but are the numbers increasing?
Ann-Marie Douglas: The numbers are increasing.
Q31 Chair: What would you say the number of people was who have been trafficked in the UK? What is your estimate?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I can only speak on the basis of facts. The number who have been referred to the Salvation Army since July 2011 is just under 1,200.
Q32 Chair: You are currently caring for 1,200 people. Is that right?
Ann-Marie Douglas: No. We have had roughly 1,200 people referred to us since July. Not all of those have entered the service.
Q33 Chair: How many have?
Ann-Marie Douglas: In the region of 880 have entered the service since July 2011.
Q34 Chair: Just to be clear, in respect of where people are looked after by the Salvation Army, is it correct that you have mixed dormitories, or do you have one for men and one for women?
Ann-Marie Douglas: It is not correct to say that we have dormitories at all. We do have multi-occupied buildings in terms of gender, so we do have safe houses that provide accommodation for male and female victims, but as part of our process, the needs of every individual are assessed quite comprehensively, and if for any reason the victim did not wish to be placed in such an establishment, then we would not place them there.
Q35 Chair: I know this may be difficult for you, but of the 800 whom you have in your care, could you give us a rough percentage of how many may have been trafficked for sexual reasons, as opposed those who are trafficked for reasons of labour?
Ann-Marie Douglas: The majority have been exploited for labour, and the second-
Q36 Chair: The majority meaning 60% or more?
Ann-Marie Douglas: If you bear with me, I do have the statistics with me, I believe.
Ann-Marie Douglas: Since July 2011, 43% of all victims who have entered the service were victims of labour exploitation, 40% were for sexual exploitation and 10% for domestic servitude, and those are the three highest categories.
Chair: So the numbers are quite similar; 43% and 40%-hardly a big difference.
Ann-Marie Douglas: 43% and 40%, yes.
Q37 Chair: Finally, how would you deal with the criticisms that have been levelled against the Salvation Army by the Poppy Project today?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I think there may be a misrepresentation of the service that we are delivering. We have received some very positive feedback from the sub-contractors that we are working with, as well as other organisations that we have networked with, including the Human Trafficking Foundation and the Counter Human Trafficking Bureau. We have contributed to the work of Platform 51, who conducted a project to improve the awareness of front-line professionals in the health service.
Q38 Mr Winnick: I am sure the Salvation Army’s work has been commendable over a century at least, and we are all familiar with Shaw’s play Major Barbara, but is there not a danger of religious indoctrination? The Chair quoted the views of the organisation, if not yourself, which seem, to some of us at least, to be deeply reactionary and backward. Is there not a danger that those who are given refuge by the Salvation Army could be subject to what I would describe as fundamentalist Christianity?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I would not say that there is not a risk, but I would say in the way that we operate the contract those risks are minimised. The members of the contract management team are not Salvationists, but even if we were, I think we do work within professional boundaries, and we can separate our beliefs from the work that we do. Many Salvationists do support the work of the contract by way of transporting victims around the country, but even then the guidelines that they work to make it very clear what their role and responsibilities are, so we do not preach to our victims. We do, however, support victims to meet their own particular religious needs. If they raise those, if they bring those to our attention, and if they do wish to observe their beliefs by way of going to church or mosque, then we would support them in doing that.
Q39 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to speak a bit about the support of victims from the perspective of the Salvation Army. How do you become involved after the police or authorities are involved, or how do you intervene?
Ann-Marie Douglas: What tends to happen is this. The Salvation Army run a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week referral helpline, so once a first responder comes into contact with a victim-that may be the police or an NGO or many other organisations-they would contact us via that referral line, and we would undertake a needs assessment with the victim, using the services of an interpreter, if that were needed.
Q40 Lorraine Fullbrook: So you would immediately see the victim after the first responder?
Ann-Marie Douglas: In the majority of cases, we speak to the victim over the telephone, because often they are in different parts of the country. However, if there is a need for a face-to-face interview, then that can be arranged.
Q41 Lorraine Fullbrook: From your perspective, what kind of support do the victims need?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I would like to emphasise that there is no typical victim. We support adult victims and they come in many different guises; some are individuals, some come as couples, and we have families who are referred into the service. The needs of each individual or group referred can be quite diverse, but generally speaking they will often need advice around their legal rights and entitlements; some victims will need counselling to help them to deal with their experience of being trafficked; some will need assistance to claim benefits. If there are immigration issues-if they wish to claim asylum for example-they will be referred to a qualified immigration adviser to deal with that. We also give them advice about their right to claim compensation, and can assist them to do so if they wish to do that.
Q42 Lorraine Fullbrook: Does the Salvation Army have all the facilities to accommodate those diverse needs?
Ann-Marie Douglas: Those needs are delivered through our sub-contractors. The Salvation Army co-ordinates the provision, but the actual hands-on delivery is undertaken largely by our group of sub-contractors, although the Salvation Army itself does run a safe house in the north-east.
Q43 Lorraine Fullbrook: But you have an overview of a case, for example?
Ann-Marie Douglas: We do.
Q44 Lorraine Fullbrook: How effective are the current support networks, both in terms of capacity and the type of services available?
Ann-Marie Douglas: In terms of capacity, we have been able to provide for every individual who has needed to come into the service. We have contracted 97 bed spaces, and in addition to that, we have the capability to spot purchase beds, so we have never struggled to cope with demand. As I said, the actual delivery of support varies, but we manage what is being delivered to the victims and we monitor the outcomes to make sure that it is all focused towards the ECAT entitlements.
Q45 Lorraine Fullbrook: In terms of the 45-day period, we have heard the Poppy Project say that the initial five days actually runs to 40 days, and the 45-day period can run to 165 days. Do you find the same situation?
Ann-Marie Douglas: Those figures would relate to one of the two competent authorities, so they are not the average for the NRM decision-making.
Q46 Chris Ruane: Just some quick-fire questions on the legal framework. Has the creation of new specific offences of trafficking in the last 10 years made it easier to bring prosecutions? Would further changes to the criminal law make it easier to get convictions? Finally, should the objective of police activity be the prosecution of offenders or the disruption of trafficking activity?
Ann-Marie Douglas: In terms of the changes that have taken place to date, I still think there is more that needs to be done, because my understanding-although this is not my area of expertise-is that the legislation is still under different Acts, so there is no one offence of trafficking. That can make it difficult to determine, firstly, whether an offence has been committed and, secondly, under which legislation to prosecute. I am sorry, I have lost the second question.
Q47 Chris Ruane: Would further changes to the criminal law make it easier to get convictions?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I think further changes to simplify the arrangement around the legislation would be helpful, because if we did away with several different types of offences and perhaps had one offence of trafficking that captured all trafficking offences, more prosecutions would be brought because the cases would be stronger.
Q48 Nicola Blackwood: I want to take you back to some of the comments made about the fact that you are a faith-based organisation. To be clear, have you received any complaints from any of your service users about the fact that you are a faith-based organisation?
Ann-Marie Douglas: No, we have not.
Q49 Nicola Blackwood: Have you ever refused any of your service users an abortion or access to any other medical treatment on the basis of those beliefs?
Ann-Marie Douglas: No, we have not.
Q50 Nicola Blackwood: Have you ever refused any of your service users access to any worship opportunities of any other religion, or the right to avoid worship of any kind, because of your beliefs?
Ann-Marie Douglas: No, we have not.
Q51 Nicola Blackwood: Thank you. I wanted to ask you your view about this 45-day period. I attended the Human Trafficking Foundation’s exhibition a few weeks ago, and they made the point that this was the same as putting a spotlight on the problem of trafficking victims for 45 days. They come out of the darkness and then they go back in again, and many of them are sort of lost in that process. Do you think that 45 days is a long enough period for reflection, as it is called?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I think the 45 days is the minimum period, and some of our victims have remained within the service for more than 45 days.
Q52 Nicola Blackwood: Does the system that you are placed within and the contract that you have with MOJ allow you sufficient flexibility and resource to keep the victims with you for as long as they need to be with you?
Ann-Marie Douglas: We would always seek to keep the victims for as long as we think we need to keep the victims, but we have to be realistic that there is not a bottomless pit of funds. I think what we need to be careful about is having sufficient flexibility to provide for those victims who do need more than 45 days.
Q53 Nicola Blackwood: We heard from the Poppy Project the opinion that there is a significant problem with the fact that the UKHTC, after the NRM process, takes responsibility for EEA victims, whereas UKBA takes on board non-EEA victims. Do you think that the process would be improved if UKHTC took on the whole responsibility for all EEA and non-EEA victims?
Ann-Marie Douglas: I agree that it would be more effective to have one competent authority, because of the issues that have been highlighted. I think the current system disadvantages the victims from non-EEA countries, because it does bring the immigration aspect into play, and that works against the interests of a victim. An individual should be regarded as a victim of trafficking first and foremost, and the immigration aspect should be treated separately. There are two different determinations as to whether someone is a victim of trafficking or whether their asylum claim should succeed, and it is really important to keep those two issues separate because of the consequences. It is unfair on the individuals making those decisions to expect them to apply those two determinations on the same case, often in processes that run alongside each other.
Q54 Nicola Blackwood: Can you give any specific examples of problems that you have experienced with non-EEA victims who have gone through the UKBA system, or cases where you think they have been unjustly or inappropriately deported?
Ann-Marie Douglas: There have been a handful of cases where we have felt that the decision has not been fair or had full regard to the circumstances of the individual concerned, and where that has happened we have supported them to ask for reconsideration. The problem we face is that while that reconsideration is being undertaken, under the contract, we cannot continue to provide them with support. However, some of the sub-contractors that we work with do have other sources of funding and will continue to accommodate the individual outside of the contract until that reconsideration decision comes through.
Q55 Lorraine Fullbrook: Following on from Nicola Blackwood’s question, what happens to people who fall outside of the system? What do you let happen to those people?
Ann-Marie Douglas: We will do our best to signpost them on to another organisation that can assist. As I mentioned, some of the referrals that we receive are not entitled to our service for a number of different reasons. It may be that they are not a victim of trafficking, or it may be they are a potential victim but for their own reasons they do not wish to come into the service, often because of a fear of authority. They feel that we will pass their information on to either the police or the immigration authorities. What we do in those cases is liaise with their first responder, who often can be a solicitor or some other NGO organisation, and we would advise them as to what options they might pursue. If they wish to return to their home countries, there are agencies that we work with that can assist in those situations. The Salvation Army have on occasions supported individuals outside of the contract, where we feel that there is a strong case for doing so and, as I have said, other sub-contractors have done that as well through other sources of funding.
Q56 Lorraine Fullbrook: Where their asylum has been refused and you are prepared to help them contest that asylum decision but you can’t keep them in your system, you say, where do they go on that day?
Ann-Marie Douglas: They would be supported by other charities.
Q57 Steve McCabe: Ms Douglas, I notice in your biography in the Committee brief that you are described as a former civil servant who has spent your career in customer-facing public sector services. Do you mind if I ask what you have done and how it has equipped you for what you do with this particular group of victims?
Ann-Marie Douglas: For 21 years I worked for what was, at the time I joined, the DHSS, which then became the Benefits Agency, so I have worked with individuals who have needed state assistance. I am also a magistrate and I have worked in the national health service. In terms of equipping me for this particular role, most of my career has been spent in operational management, strategic management and formulating policy.
Q58 Chair: Finally, what percentage of your service users are refused asylum?
Ann-Marie Douglas: We do not collate that information.
Q59 Chair: Are you able to collate that information? You may not collate it at the moment, but is it possible for you to do that?
Ann-Marie Douglas: It is possible for us to acquire that information from the UKHTC. We are colocated with UKHTC, so we regularly obtain information from them that we need specifically for our contract.
Q60 Chair: So it could be easy to do that; could you do that and write to the Committee? Do you have a list of the top three countries from which people who are trafficked come into the country? We had some figures in our last report, but I am thinking of the 800 whom you deal with.
Ann-Marie Douglas: The top five nationalities between July 2011 and April 2013 were Nigerian, Polish, Albanian, Romanian and Slovakian.
Q61 Chair: So apart from Nigeria, it is Eastern European?
Ann-Marie Douglas: Yes.
Q62 Chair: Obviously, you have not had the contract for long; you have had it for a year, so you do not-
Ann-Marie Douglas: Nearly two years.
Chair: Yes, nearly two years. You do not know whether the number from those countries is increasing or decreasing?
Ann-Marie Douglas: The figures fluctuate, because the top five nationalities for year 1 differ from the top five nationalities for year 2 so far. In year 2, we had a large operation in which a number of Lithuanians were rescued, and so for year 2 so far, Lithuania is in the top five, and that is simply as a result of one large operation.
Chair: Thank you. We will put some of these points to the Minister when he comes. We are most grateful. We are moving on swiftly because the Minister is here, and we are taking him 40 minutes after the due time, with apologies.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Mark Harper, MP, Minister of State for Immigration, gave evidence.
Q63 Chair: Could we welcome the Minister for Immigration, who has responsibility for human trafficking, with an apology?
Mark Harper: That is all right, Chairman.
Chair: I am sorry to have kept you waiting but, as you know, we have had a vote and also-
Mark Harper: 15 minutes of it was not you.
Q64 Chair: I know. I am so sorry. Let us go straight into this. A report by the Centre for Social Justice said that Ministers were clueless. Was that a reference to you or other Ministers?
Mark Harper: On the CSJ report, I would say two things. I thought it was slightly unfair. I met with the CSJ and set out, I thought quite clearly, the scope of the work that the inter-departmental ministerial group-I apologise, not a catchy title-did. I thought we set that out. Clearly we did not agree on all of the issues, but I do not think any reasonable person could have come away from that conversation saying that we did not have a grip of what was going on. We have looked at their report and we are obviously considering the various recommendations they have made, and we will do a formal response in the report that the IDMG publishes in this coming October.
Q65 Chair: Yes. So you refute this allegation that you do not know what is happening? You feel you have a grip on what is going on?
Mark Harper: Yes. They have a view about things we could do better and things we could do differently-of course they do; people will, and that is perfectly reasonable. But I did not think their central contention that nobody knows what is going on and nobody is interested and it is all hopeless was a fair analysis of the very good work that is going on across the piece by Government and, as you have heard today, the work that, for example, the Salvation Army is doing in looking after victims.
Q66 Chair: We will come on to that. Do you think the problem is increasing? The issue has been raised in the House, previously by people like Anthony Steen, now by the chairman of the group, Peter Bone, and others, including Nicola Blackwood, who is on this Committee, and who has taken a very special interest in these issues. Is this something that is increasing? Are we getting a grip of the subject? The last time the Committee looked at this was two years ago, and what worried us was wherever we went-and we did travel around Europe to try to find out what was happening in the source countries-we could not get a feel for the number of victims, but everybody told us, "This is the second biggest illegal activity on the planet Earth." Do you know whether it is on the increase or decrease? Are we stemming the flow of these people?
Mark Harper: Two things. In terms of the actual numbers of people we track, the numbers of potential victims referred to the National Referral Mechanism are going up. They are large in one sense, because it is quite a lot of people-it is over 1,000 people-but it seems to be small when you look at some of the macro figures for the size of the problem. I think the honest answer is, in the same way as many of the people you have talked to, we do not have a very good handle on the size of the problem. Are we getting an increasing number of people referred into the various mechanisms, and the number of prosecutions we are doing, because we are getting a better grip of a problem that is stable broadly, or is the problem getting worse? I think the honest answer is we do not really know.
Q67 Chair: But Ann-Marie Douglas gave us some countries, I think four of which are in the European Union, so this is not just a problem for the UK. They are obviously coming from countries like Poland, Romania and Slovakia. They are crossing the whole of Europe and ending up in the UK, and it is not being stopped before they get here. This is what is worrying, isn’t it?
Mark Harper: Not just coming to the UK. If you look at the numbers of cases referred into the National Referral Mechanism, of those where they have been conclusively identified as victims, which is 429, 60% of them are either UK or EEA nationals who have freedom of movement, which is I suppose in a way not entirely surprising, since EEA nationals are people who can enter the United Kingdom without immigration control and find it much easier to travel through the European Union. They are not just coming to the United Kingdom; they are obviously going to other countries as well. So it is not entirely surprising that that is a larger number. The honest answer is that I do not think anyone has a very good handle on the size of the problem.
Q68 Chair: No, but what is your estimate? We know the referral figures-800, the Salvation Army tells us-and Poppy has 14 beds. It is more than 814, isn’t it? What is the estimate?
Mark Harper: Yes. The number of people referred in 2012 is 1,186. Two thirds are female, one third are male; 70% are adults, and 30% are children. That is how it splits down, and nationality-wise, the countries broadly are those set out by your witness from the Salvation Army. Those are the things we know, and then you get into the whole realm of the Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns and unknown knowns and things, which is probably not a very good place for me to speculate.
Chair: We will not take you there, but we will take you to Wales and Mr Ruane.
Q69 Chris Ruane: The Minister will be aware that Committee D of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly is also looking at this issue, and the Minister gave evidence to that Committee. A month or so after that, I put down about 30 parliamentary questions.
Mark Harper: You did. I have answered most, if not all, of them.
Chris Ruane: The Minister will know I have a penchant for parliamentary questions. Not all of them-I will come to that in a moment-have been answered. One of those that has been answered shows the defendants proceeded against at magistrates courts and found guilty and sentenced at all courts, with sentence breakdown for human trafficking offences. In 2009 it was 33; in 2010-the year the Coalition took over-it was 24; in the following year it was nine, a massive decrease. That is for sexual exploitation. For the purpose of exploitation, the figures were 14 in 2009, six in 2010 and seven in 2011. So there was a massive drop-off in the number of prosecutions at magistrates courts over that intervening period. Can the Minister say why this was?
Mark Harper: Yes. I think the important thing is to recognise that it is not always the case that traffickers are prosecuted for trafficking offences, because usually a number of offences have taken place. The CPS will proceed on offences that either give the toughest possible sentence and/or the offences for which they can assemble the most compelling evidence in order to get a prosecution. It is perfectly true that for a relatively small number of cases the principal offence is trafficking, but there are a larger number of cases where trafficking is part of the package but it is not the trafficking offence that is the principal one.
Q70 Chris Ruane: Can you send those statistics to the Committee? Or I will put down a PQ.
Mark Harper: Yes, I can. It would helpful to know, as context for the Committee, that one of the things that we have started doing since April 2010 is that the CPS now flag cases where they start off with a trafficking offence but where they may then proceed to prosecution on a different offence, so we have a bit more of an idea about what is going on there, and we keep this area under review. The Solicitor General is one of the Ministers on the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, and we keep under review the prosecution record, what we are prosecuting for and whether we think that that is working sufficiently. It is misleading if you just look at trafficking offences, because obviously other offences will have taken place as well.
Q71 Chris Ruane: Mr Steen’s organisation has made recommendations that a tsar or commissioner be supported. I think that the EU want this; I think that the Poppy Project want this; in Wales we already have one. I think in the UK we have 17 Ministers with little bits of responsibility for it. A question that I put down that has not been answered is: when this ministerial team met, of the 17 members, who attended and who did not, and what were the outcomes of this? That power seems a little bit diffuse to me. I think we need forensic focus on these issues. On a number of questions that I put down, the answers have come back, "This information is not held centrally"; "This information is not routinely recorded"; "Arrest data is not held centrally"; "This information is not held centrally". This information does need to be held centrally across the four jurisdictions of the UK. I think a commissioner, a tsar, a head person with overall responsibility is what many organisations want, and it is a recommendation that I will be putting forward. Does the Minister feel that we do need a commissioner who can oversee all of this?
Mark Harper: It depends. It is interesting, what you just said there, because the way you have characterised the role of a commissioner is not how the role of a commissioner has been characterised elsewhere, and it is not the role of the commissioner in the couple of member states where they have implemented it. What you are suggesting is an executive commissioner who has actual executive authority over a range of organisations. That may be something that people want to consider. That is not what people have argued for. In fact, my argument about why we have not yet been persuaded of that argument is that having the IDMG with Ministers in charge means that when we make decisions, we are in a position either to make legislative changes or to make executive changes to make things happen.
The argument for a commissioner, where you have somebody whose job is effectively to monitor what is going on and produce reports and make recommendations, may well be effective, but only to the extent it can influence those who make decisions, as opposed to being able to take them itself. So far my judgment, and the judgment of the Government, is we are more effective having that role held by Ministers. Others disagree. The evidence so far from the couple of European countries that have a commissioner is that they produce reports. They may be quite effective reports, but there is not a lot of evidence that they achieve a real difference to the way we disrupt this activity, prosecute it or look after victims, and that is what we will keep under review.
Q72 Chris Ruane: Finally, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, GRETA, made a criticism of the UK. They said, "The proportion of persons who are identified as victims of trafficking varies depending on the nationality. The positive turnout in the case of non-EU nationals, 21%, is strikingly lower than for EU nationals, 71%. This variance raises questions as to the identification decision-making process". Could the Minister explain this variance? It seems to suggest that while non-EU nationals make up the majority of referrals to the Government, in the identification system, they disproportionately seem to receive negative decisions.
Mark Harper: First of all, I will need to go and check the data, rather than answering this off the top of my head, but in terms of the figures that I set out to the Chairman, 60% of those people who have conclusive grounds decisions are EEA or UK nationals, and around 10% are non-EEA, so I am not sure that the proposition there that we are doing a very poor job at identifying non-EEA nationals is true. Let me go away and, as part of the other things I have committed to do, I will write to the Committee with that information and I will set out our view on that criticism from GRETA for the Committee’s benefit. Then at a future appearance, Chairman, the Committee can come back on that if they are not satisfied with the response, if that is helpful.
Chair: That would be very helpful. Thank you, Minister.
Q73 Steve McCabe: Minister, our witness from the Poppy Project concluded her evidence by inviting members of this Committee to go and visit some of our prisons or custody centres so that we could see how victims of trafficking are being treated and criminalised. Would you accept that in our custody settings, people who may well be victims of trafficking are being mistreated and criminalised?
Mark Harper: There are two separate questions there. I would not accept that people are being mistreated. The argument about whether people are correctly identified as being victims of trafficking is obviously a difficult one. If someone is encountered as part of a criminal activity-for example, if somebody is engaged in cannabis production or whatever and are taken into the criminal justice system-clearly one of the things we are trying to improve is the ability of the police to think about and test the proposition of whether the person is a perpetrator or a victim. We clearly do not get that right all the time. Sometimes people do not recognise that they are victims, or feel able to come forward, so I am sure there are people in the criminal justice system who have not been accurately identified as being victims of trafficking. We have very clear processes in place; for example, with the CPS, when they do identify somebody as a victim of trafficking, they are able then to not prosecute them.
I am sure there are some people who are wrongly criminalised, but even where that is the case, I do not accept that they are being mistreated, because I think generally the criminal justice system treats people in a humane manner, but there is clearly an issue about identifying people who are victims as opposed to perpetrators of crime, and we need to do better. That is where some of the work we have done training front-line police officers, front-line health professionals and others who are going to be the people that identify victims on the front line is clearly very important.
Q74 Steve McCabe: I am grateful for that. Would you welcome the Committee going to visit some of these centres, so that we can establish what is happening?
Mark Harper: Yes, I have no objection to that. Obviously I can’t speak for the prison estate, but I do not see any particular reason why there would be a problem for the Committee going to investigate. I think that would be very welcome and clearly the Government will look very carefully at any evidence that the Committee comes up with and produces in its report. I think it is very helpful.
Steve McCabe: Thank you.
Q75 Nicola Blackwood: I want to follow on from the points that you were making to Mr McCabe about the criminalisation of victims of trafficking. The evidence that we have received from the Poppy Project says that 25% of the victims who they have referred to their project are from prisons and the detention estate, which implies that there is a quite significant problem with identification. If the victims are already within the prison and the detention estate, that is quite far through the criminal justice system. What training is available for the front-line officers to ensure that they are properly identifying victims and whether they know the right routes to take them through the NRM?
Mark Harper: Training about being aware of and able to identify victims is something that all front-line police officers get now. As I said in my answer to Mr McCabe, I am sure it is the case that we do not identify everybody who is involved. It is one of the things that we need to do better, and other Government agencies, I think, have recently, in the last few months, set out things. For example, I know the national health service has just rolled out some front-line training for its health professionals to better identify victims of human trafficking. That is clearly something that all front-line professionals need to get better at, and again, through the criminal justice system, prosecutors and others involved in the system.
Q76 Nicola Blackwood: What is the training mechanism within the UKBA, and when was it last updated?
Mark Harper: In terms of the Home Office, as it now is, I don’t know what the answer is on when it was last updated, but we are obviously one of the biggest referrers of people to the National Referral Mechanism, so my sense would be that that training is very good; it is of a high standard. Is it perfect? I am sure it is not. Do we miss people? I am sure we do, but we make up one of the biggest referrers to the National Referral Mechanism.
Q77 Nicola Blackwood: My concern is that if 25% of victims are getting through the net, and the training is right, is there, and is available to all front-line staff, whether they are Home Office-although they are the same people-or police officers, then is the problem with the NRM?
Mark Harper: One of the issues is it is partly around people being aware and understanding that they are victims, rather than people who are committing crimes, and there is clearly an issue with people who are worried about outcomes, people who have been led into activities and are not aware themselves and therefore slip through the system. Clearly, part of the issue is about making people more aware of the problem themselves, so that they self-refer and identify themselves as victims, but also getting front-line professionals to be better at proactively spotting it. As I say, it is one of the real problems. This is an area that is often under the radar for people.
Q78 Nicola Blackwood: In some of the evidence that we received, there is a bit of a disparity between the percentage of asylum applications turned down from the Salvation Army versus the Poppy Project. I do not know how robust these figures are, but the figures that I have been told are that 87% of Poppy Project applications are approved, whereas it is only around 50% of those at the Salvation Army. Do you think that there is some problem within the system, if that is occurring?
Mark Harper: I heard the tail end of the evidence, and I heard the Chairman asking, so I think clearly-
Nicola Blackwood: I didn’t hear that from the Salvation Army; I heard that a long time ago.
Mark Harper: Yes. Clearly, the two organisations can only give you information about those people they deal with. I suspect it would be helpful for the Committee, Chairman and Ms Blackwood, if we were to set out the overall numbers of those claiming asylum who were identified as victims of trafficking. That may well be helpful for the Committee.
Nicola Blackwood: It would be helpful.
Mark Harper: It seems to me that the difference could be-as I said, I do not know whether the numbers are accurate-clearly the mix of the type of people you have. For example, it is less likely that people that come from a European Union country are going to get an asylum decision in their favour than people who come from outside, and it rather depends on the mix of people that you have going through the different services. Perhaps we could get the data for the Committee and just have a look at what the facts suggest. In both cases, as I say, without knowing the mix and the background and therefore looking at how that varies compared to people getting asylum decisions generally, it is difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions.
Q79 Nicola Blackwood: Of course. What is your conclusion from the consistent evidence we are getting from everywhere about the problems with having EEA nationals being considered by UKHTC and non-EEA nationals being considered by UKBA-or the Home Office now-and having that split? Do you have a reason why UKHTC should not take over considering the cases for both EEA and non-EEA nationals?
Mark Harper: The reason why the Home Office looks at those people who are subject to immigration control is that, just from a purely factual perspective, they are the only people able to make decisions about the legality of people being in the country, and about whether people have leave to remain here, which is why we look at the non-EEA people who are affected.
Q80 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but isn’t this about deciding whether they are a victim of trafficking or not?
Mark Harper: Yes, but if we are going to be sensible and joined-up about it, part of the whole point is to make a decision and certainly, at least for their 45-day period, allow them to remain in the country. It would be a little odd if one organisation was assessing whether they were victims of trafficking and another organisation was then trying to pursue them and remove them from the country because you did not have them joined-up. It makes sense to have the Home Office looking at people who are subject to immigration control in a holistic way, and of course it will be the Home Office that is also making the decisions for that significant number of people who are then going to make an asylum application. It seems to me very sensible. I am not clear; you said there were issues-
Q81 Nicola Blackwood: I thought that UKHTC was still part of the Home Office, but obviously there is a conflict of interest if you are deciding an immigration or asylum case in which there are certain pressures, political and otherwise, to meet targets that we know we have, although this is an asylum case, whereas deciding on whether an individual is a victim of human trafficking is quite a different kind of process. We have just been through a process of deciding that we need to reform the structure of UKBA, precisely because we needed to look at whether visas and applications were a completely different kind of mindset to enforcement.
Mark Harper: Given that we are largely talking here not about immigration applications but about asylum cases, I am not sure that is true. The decisions that asylum case owners make are made according to a set of clear rules, looking at experience. They are subject to appeal through an independent appeal mechanism. Certainly on asylum decisions, there is not pressure to make particular types of decisions. We look at cases on a case-by-case basis according to the evidence. I do not accept the premise that in some way either asylum decisions or human trafficking decisions are being made for reasons other than looking at the evidence. There have been some changes in how we look at these things within the Home Office to speed up the decisions, which I think is welcome, and I think there was mention of that in the written evidence that you had from the Salvation Army. That is welcome, but I do not think there is any evidence that the decisions are not being well-made and looked at in a sensible and evidence-based manner.
Q82 Lorraine Fullbrook: Minister, I would like to talk a bit about policing and law enforcement. How effective do you think the UKHTC are at disrupting trafficking and, on the other hand, supporting victims?
Mark Harper: I listened to the question-I cannot remember who asked it-about whether it is an either/or, and where you put the focus.
Lorraine Fullbrook: I did not say "either/or"; I just said "and".
Mark Harper: No, I know you did not. It is an interesting one, because clearly both bits are very important. There is dealing with those people who have been victims and properly supporting them, but a really important part of this job, which goes back to the Chairman’s opening remarks, is the extent to which we build up our intelligence and use the information we get as part of these investigations to disrupt networks, both in the United Kingdom and working with our overseas partners, which we do very closely.
How effective do I think it is? I think it is effective. It is difficult to say how effective, given that we do not have a very good sense of the size of the problem. I think we are getting more effective. The UKHTC obviously provides tactical support to police forces across the United Kingdom. It has advisers, intelligence and tactical officers, and those who do the National Referral Mechanism work. I think it is effective. Could we do better? Yes, we could, and we are working like that. I think it will become more effective when it is part of the National Crime Agency in October. That will more effectively draw together our intelligence and crime-fighting capabilities, which I think will improve matters. So I think we are moving in the right direction, in terms of effectiveness.
Q83 Lorraine Fullbrook: What are the main nationalities for prosecutions of trafficking, as opposed to those people who are trafficked?
Mark Harper: I do not have those data available to hand. I will get them for the Committee.
Lorraine Fullbrook: That would be great, thanks.
Mark Harper: Can I just clarify whether that is for trafficking offences specifically, or for those connected to trafficking?
Lorraine Fullbrook: Connected would be great.
Mark Harper: Okay, fine.
Q84 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you think the support services for victims are sufficiently well integrated with the work of the police and law enforcement agencies?
Mark Harper: I think they are. The evidence you heard today was about support for adults. We are funding two organisations to do some work on looking at how effective our support for trafficked children is, particularly focused-and this was why we selected them-on talking to child victims of trafficking and getting lots of evidence literally on actual experience. That report will be available later this year and will inform decisions we take. One of the things, for example, the all-party group has pressed us on is the effectiveness of how we look after child trafficking victims particularly, and what I said to them was that we wanted to wait for this piece of work to be done by people involved in delivering services to support children before we took a view on whether we need to make any changes.
The sense I get is that the services that are provided by local authorities for children, and what we provide for adults, is good support. We provide support for a longer period of time than the Council of Europe recommendation-45 versus 30 days-and I think the quality of the support is good. I have not had, and I do not think there has been, any criticism of the quality of the support that has been provided. I think the contract that we have with the Salvation Army has been very satisfactory.
Q85 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you think the new EU directive will add any value to the existing international conventions and agreements?
Mark Harper: Honest answer, I am not sure. From an international co-operation basis, I do not think I am aware of any particular issues where we are not able to have a very good level of co-operation with law enforcement colleagues, either across Europe or in source countries. I think that co-operation is very good at dealing with what is, of course, a global and international crime. Generally the law enforcement co-operation is very good.
Q86 Chair: There is a lot of passion on all sides of the House to do something about this subject. You clearly want to do something about it, but the difficulty I find is with people coming together to try to sort it out. That is why I go back to what I said to you at the beginning: if you stop the source of human trafficking, it is much easier to deal with the consequences in our country. I understand we are now no longer a destination country; we are a transit country that people are brought to, to be taken elsewhere. You have done this job for a year. With immigration, it is easy and simple: you either toughen up the rules, or you make it easier for people to come in, but with human trafficking it is finding the right mechanism to deal with this problem. People like Nicola Blackwood and others have been campaigning very strongly on this over a number of years, but we do not seem to have really sussed out how to stop it. This is successive Governments; it is not directed at you.
Mark Harper: Three things. First of all, it might feel like a year, but it is only nine months I have been doing this job, Chairman.
I am not quite sure about immigration, and I think when you are wearing your other hat you would not necessarily suggest that that is straightforward and unproblematic as a subject area. The problem with this is that it is a range of issues. It is partly organised crime, partly trafficking in an international sense, and of course, regrettably, it is also not trafficking in an international sense. We also have some domestic examples. In my own area in Gloucestershire, the Gloucestershire constabulary had a very successful prosecution that they put an enormous amount of work into-which is why I like congratulating them for it, to encourage other police forces to do likewise-where they found what was a slavery ring, where some UK nationals as well as foreign nationals were basically kept as slaves and forced to do work, such as tarmacking and so forth. We need to raise people’s awareness by saying, "If you are being offered services, and you look at the people delivering them and they do not look like they are in good shape, you should think about telling somebody about it." We have seen that in other places such as Bedfordshire, including in Andrew Selous’s constituency. There are problems here.
If we look at the issues around those victims of trafficking providing sexual services, there is clearly a problem there. I do not mean not to sound positive about it, but it is a big challenge. After many hundreds of years of trying, we have not managed to eliminate prostitution. It is a big problem. We need to deal with it, and we need to be more effective about it. Are we ever going to be able to get rid of it completely? I hope we are, but I am not sure we are going to be able to do that very swiftly. It is a difficult problem, because it encounters lots of source countries, and lots of different economic and criminal pressures, and as you tackle one area, you see challenges elsewhere. I think one of our challenges is to try to improve the information. That is one of the things I think has come through in this Committee’s questioning. One of the things we identified in our IDMG report last October is improving the information on where we see these crimes taking place and where we see victims, so that we give Members of Parliament and others the tools to raise awareness and put pressure on our local front-line services.
Q87 Chair: That is very helpful. As you are before us, could you just clarify this point? The Government decided to introduce in the Queen’s Speech legislation to require landlords to check passports of people to make sure that they are legally in this country. This is with your Immigration Minister’s hat on. There was a report in the press that it is now going to be targeted on particular cities and towns, as opposed to applying generally across the country. Would you like, very quickly, to clarify whether that report is correct or not?
Mark Harper: No, as the Housing Minister made clear in questions in the House of Commons, it was complete and utter nonsense and bore no relation whatsoever to reality.
Q88 Chair: So it is the whole country. Has there been any work or any discussions concerning the removal of foreign-born hate preachers from this country, following what has happened at Woolwich?
Mark Harper: I do not have anything to add to what the Prime Minister covered in the House yesterday.
Q89 Chair: Are you on the task force, or are you assisting with the Home Secretary’s task force?
Mark Harper: The Home Secretary is leading for the Home Office on the task force, yes.
Q90 Chair: Finally, the Committee has been to Romania, as we promised we would when you last appeared before us. They are eagerly awaiting your arrival. Almost everyone we met said that they had no intention of coming to work or live in the United Kingdom. I am sure that is a message that you would like to hear when you get there. But one thing was very interesting. When we left Heathrow Airport, they were no longer checking our passports. It could have been because it was the Home Affairs Select Committee, but all they were looking at were people’s boarding passes. In respect of what happened at Woolwich, it worried us that people were not being counted out. We know e-borders are coming, but is that a new policy not to check passports?
Mark Harper: When you were at the departure gate?
Chair: Yes, at the actual gate. They looked at passports, then they looked at your boarding passes. Now you hand over your boarding pass and you just go through.
Mark Harper: Just from my own personal experience, when I have exited the country-
Chair: This is last week for us.
Mark Harper: Less recently than that, I have had both checks, so let me check on that one, rather than guess an answer.
Chair: That would be very helpful.
Mark Harper: That was on an EU flight to Romania?
Chair: To Romania, from Terminal 3. That would be very helpful.
Mark Harper: Let me investigate and report back to the Committee.
Chair: Thank you. My apologies again for keeping you waiting so long.
Mark Harper: Not at all.
Chair: Thank you very much.