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20 Mar 2007 : Column 750

We heard the example of the British version of the free-trade state, next door to the American version, which has also been racked by a destructive civil war. It can be difficult to know where blame lies when there is poor quality local leadership. I believe that we should apologise unreservedly and show shame for our actions, but that we must also challenge, and acknowledge that the world cannot go on trading apologies instead of delivering leadership and action that move things forward and create change. There must be a partnership between us and the leadership in the communities that we are considering. Our approach is not to tell countries what to do—we are not neo-colonialists—but to work with them and help them achieve what they want to do. That requires integrity, good governance and transparency. The good news is that, where that exists, we are beginning to see benefits.

Some countries in Africa clearly provide the beginnings of potentially sustainable growth. I hope that that example will persist, and that people perceive the benefits of a partnership that provides real money from developed to developing countries, gives genuine ownership to developing countries and adds to open, transparent good governance, so that those countries that do not benefit realise that they must follow the same route. We cannot have a position whereby people are enslaved by their leadership and the elite does not understand the need to share and include.

One of Africa’s tragedies is that it remains probably the richest continent on the planet yet it has a high concentration of the world’s poorest people. More poor people live outside Africa, but the proportion of the population of Africa that is poor is much higher than elsewhere. Those people live in the middle of great wealth, which is not properly shared in some African countries. Partnership between the Department for International Development and other international agencies will flourish only if we get the balance right.

One of the least edifying spectacles in the world at the moment is the continual bickering between the two great developed trading blocs about who is to blame for the failure to deliver a trade deal that constitutes a development round for the poorest countries. The best testament to the end of slavery that we could provide is to drop our protectionist barriers, if we genuinely believe in free trade, and open our markets. We should also provide the capacity, through aid for trade, for developing countries to flourish in their own way so that they can access their markets in real terms, not only in theory. That means delivering the Doha round. If that does not happen, we must find another, better way of ensuring that such partnership can continue.

Whether the colonial legacy or that of slavery is to blame, we cannot look at the state of Africa and feel anything other than shame. It may not be all our fault—I believe that we have now got our approach right—but we must deliver our part of the bargain before we can honestly expect the countries of Africa to get their fair share of the world’s resources and an ability to participate as full and growing partners who are not dependent on aid. Dependence on aid is neither in their interests nor in ours. Escape from aid dependency restores dignity, and the restoration of dignity abolishes aid dependency. It is a perfect circle, if we can only break the current cycle. It is up to us to deliver—we have not yet done so.

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7.46 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): It is an honour and a privilege to speak in the parliamentary debate on such a great historic occasion. I found the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler) deeply moving. I am sure that their ancestors will be looking down with pride on their great-great grandchildren.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). His exposition of the life of Wilberforce was a tour de force. I thought for a moment that I had strayed into a viva voce examination for a PhD thesis, such was his aplomb in dealing with interventions on all sorts of historic details. I hope that I shall not be tested on my historical knowledge to the same extent, and that I shall not be found wanting.

I should like to speak briefly about the issue that the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) raised, and that confronts us today in the United Kingdom and Europe—the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking. Through the phenomenon of globalisation, victims are lured to this country by promises of work. They are then effectively enslaved into sex work. The Home Office figure for the number of women and girls who have been trafficked here is estimated to be 4,000. The Home Office probably minimises the figure, so perhaps the true number is much higher. One of the problems with ascertaining figures is that we are considering a secret trade. That makes it hard to glean numbers.

I pay tribute to the Government for agreeing to sign the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. It is the first step to according victims the status of victim rather than that of immigration offender. However, unlike 200 years ago, when Wilberforce and Parliament led the world, today we lag behind other parts of Europe in our treatment of victims. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, they are certainly victims. He cited the tragic case of the 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who was lured by the promise of a summer job selling ice creams in Sheffield but was then sold on and on, and brutally raped on many occasions.

Last year, I hosted the launch of an Amnesty International report entitled “Stolen Smiles”. It catalogues the abuses suffered by women trafficked for sexual slavery across Europe. The author, Cathy Zimmerman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, had interviewed 207 women in 14 European countries, aged between 15 and 45. The majority were between 18 and 25. I was deeply shocked by the report. To my surprise, a huge number of the women had suffered serious head injuries from brutal beatings by the people who imprisoned them. Another interesting finding showed that 60 per cent. of the women had been physically and/or sexually abused in their home country before being trafficked. That perhaps indicates that the trafficked women who arrive on our shores and at our airports were already vulnerable women in their home countries. We are not talking about well educated girls and women—those with college degrees and experience of the world. We are talking about women who come predominantly from rural areas where huge numbers of people are
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unemployed. That is one of the factors that push women out to seek a better life for themselves.

However, to return to the figures, 95 per cent. of such women are physically and/or sexually abused during their trafficking experience. Let me list some of the examples of suffering that were given to the researchers. Some were kicked while pregnant. Others were burned with cigarettes. One was choked with fire. Another had a gun held to her head. We simply cannot imagine what that must feel like, or the physical and psychological damage that those women endure on their journeys and at their destination in this and other countries.

It is unsurprising that those women suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences. More than half of them had symptom levels suggesting post-traumatic stress disorder—levels that we normally see in people who have suffered extreme terror or extremely violent events. They suffered headaches, fatigue, dizziness or memory loss equivalent to what the most acute 10 per cent. of sufferers in the population experience. One interesting aspect of the research was that they were re-interviewed and that that showed that their physical health improved after between 30 and 60 days in the care of non-governmental organisations or medical services and social services, but that it took longer for their mental health to improve. It improved after 90 to 100 days—after about 3 months in care.

That research is vital if we want to know about what the practical realities of ratifying the convention will be. Clearly, if such women are so psychologically and physically damaged, there will be implications if we want them to participate in the legal and administrative process by, for example, naming their attackers or enslavers and by co-operating with the authorities in order to bring those evil people to justice. Such women need time to recover their faculties and their emotional strength. Specialist health services are needed, too, as these women are a unique type of victim of crime.

Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member, conducted a major inquiry into human trafficking. The subsequent report was published in October 2006, and I recommend it to Members. One of the recommendations was to do with the signing of the convention, of course, but the report also stated that we should look beyond the minimum reflection period of 30 days, and the Amnesty report gives us reasons why these women need more time to learn to trust the authorities.

One of the issues that the inquiry uncovered was the lack of specialist legal advice and, in the case of children, the lack of specialist support for “an appropriate adult”—to use the legal term. We found that there was a wide variety of organisations and people—NGOs, police officers, Home Office officials and immigration officials—who could deal with people who had been trafficked, but that there was a lack of a joined-up and co-ordinated approach from those different agencies.

We also heard that during Operation Pentameter—the big police operation of last summer—there was unequal protection for victims. We heard anecdotal evidence that European Union citizens who had been trafficked were able to receive housing benefit, unlike
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victims from non-EU countries, and that people from outside the EU had to claim asylum in order to get the minimum level of support.

There is a lack of awareness among immigration staff. Some of the people who were being picked up were being treated as immigration offenders, instead of victims of this vile crime. When we sign the European convention, repatriation will breach the principle of non-return under articles 13 and 14 of the convention.

I am curious to hear from the Minister about the statistical research, and specifically about the 4,000 figure given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). As far as I can see, that has not been formally published, and I think that everyone involved in this debate would be interested to know about the statistical basis on which such figures have been extrapolated.

Meg Munn: I understand from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that that figure is now some years out of date. Greater numbers of people are being trafficked. Clearly, getting the statistical information right is very important.

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. That figure was first announced in a meeting with the Joint Committee only in March or April last year. That was the best available evidence at that time, and I am sure that the situation has moved on since then. It is hard to estimate the numbers of unaccompanied minors, people in private fostering arrangements and children. The police told us that 10 years ago 85 per cent. of sex workers working in brothels in the United Kingdom were from the UK. That has now been completely reversed: 10 years on, 85 per cent. are from outside the UK.

We visited the POPPY project. I agree with the hon. Member for Totnes that it is a wonderful project, but it is also far too small to cope with the huge demand and the huge and complex needs of the victims. I hope that the signing of the convention will mark the beginning of the end of such problems.

The UK is doing some things to combat the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking. I mentioned in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks the fingerprinting work done by consulates and embassies in highly vulnerable countries. That fingerprinting—and the collection of other biometric data—gives the UK authorities something to go on; if a child presents themselves to social services, we can trace them back to their country of origin.

I am also interested in the work that the Home Office has done with PunterNet, a website for men who use prostitutes. I must admit that until I participated in the inquiry I was not aware that such sites existed, and I have not dared to surf for it on the internet because I am worried that access might be denied on the parliamentary network. Conflicting advice is coming from the Home Office—on the one hand men who have sex with women who have been trafficked and therefore do not consent could be prosecuted for rape, while on the other there is an encouragement on PunterNet to
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men to come forward if believe that the women they are sleeping with may have been trafficked. That is a confusing situation to put such men in, and we need clarification so that more so-called punters come forward.

I pay tribute to the Home Office for setting up Reflex, the multi-agency task force to tackle immigration crime, as well as the human trafficking centre and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. However, more victims in the recent period have been arrested and deported than traffickers have been prosecuted. Recommendation 136 of our report is that more should be done to bring such people to justice and to seize the assets of traffickers. There is nothing more criminal than profiting from the trade in, and movement of, another human being. There is also no central database of victims and no clear statement of what should happen to them once identified. When our action plan is published, I hope that it will deal with many such issues.

We met the women at the POPPY project. They talked to us about what happened when they were involved in the court process to bring their attackers or imprisoners to justice and they were promised that they would be able to give evidence from behind a screen: in one case, the judge decided not to use a screen and the victim, who had been forcibly imprisoned, had to give evidence facing her enslaver, which was highly traumatic, of course. I also ask the Government to look at making trafficking one of the police performance indicators. We all know that what gets measured gets done.

Italy provides a shining example of what can be done, with good will and with investment, to tackle the trade and to stem it. We have heard a lot of analysis of some of the problems, but when we visited Italy we heard the beginnings of some of the solutions in terms of tackling the modern-day slave trade. Italy has a convention called Article 18. It is a legal framework that gives victims protection under the law. It was introduced in 1998, so Italy has had almost 10 years of offering, effectively, asylum—a residency permit for six months—to people who come forward and co-operate with the police, and provide information about their captors.

The Italian authorities have a centralised database, so they were able to tell us that between 2000 and 2004, more than 7,000 women claimed a residence permit under the scheme. That is a huge number. Some 4,000 gained a permit, and nearly 6,000 got vocational training. The authorities were also able to tell us the country of origin of these women: 52 per cent. were from Nigeria, and the rest, as we would expect, were from Romania, Moldova, Albania and Ukraine. Interestingly, the authorities said that the women from Africa and Nigeria were the least likely to co-operate with the police in bringing their attackers to justice. I do not know whether that is for cultural reasons, or because of a particular power in their home country, but there certainly seemed to be a problem with getting women from Nigeria to co-operate.

In 2003, the Italian authorities also increased the legislative penalty for “selling or purchasing slaves”, as they call it, from eight to 20 years in prison. That penalty can be increased by up to 50 per cent. for trading in minors aged under 18. We have heard today from Opposition Members about the number of such
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people arrested in Italy. In 2004, there were 412 arrests, and in 2005 there were 356 arrests. There is a single, central, national free-phone number for victims—or to enable ordinary citizens to provide information—which is printed on bus tickets. More than 500,000 calls have been made, but more than two thirds of them have come not from victims or punters, but from ordinary citizens. Such people include those living in apartment blocks who have seen or heard something, or those who have done so while driving past, and who believe that some form of dodgy dealing is going on behind closed doors or on the streets, and that that information should be passed on to the police. That shows us what ordinary citizens can do when the authorities empower them to show awareness and to say, “We will have zero tolerance of trafficking—this modern slave trade—and we will have justice and social justice for victims.”

That advice line gives 24-hour legal, psychological and medical information, and it monitors what happens to such people after the calls are made. Help is also provided by the International Organisation for Migration in the form of grants to help victims return home. However, it is very important that those women should not be sent home and straight back into the hands of their traffickers. While we were there, we heard some anecdotal evidence. When the UK was deporting nationals, the police would be phoned at the airports. Sadly, however, in some of the countries to which we were deporting people, the traffickers would be telephoned to be told that a particular person was on her way back. She would then be met at the airport and her bonded debt would be paid out in a brothel in Albania, Romania or Moldova.

We also saw the various awareness campaigns that were being run. Such campaigns are happening in the UK, which is also funding them in the countries of origin. Super-8 film clips are shown of children growing up and being looked after by their mothers. The mothers are then shown standing on the streets of Rome in their underwear. Such footage is very hard-hitting. The campaign slogan was, “Don’t burn your life”. Research was also conducted in the countries of origin. Of course, nobody thinks that they are going to be a victim of traffickers; however, it emerged that 85 per cent. of women did think that they would travel to another country and get a job there. Given the huge numbers of people who are looking for work in western Europe, they are extremely vulnerable.

When the Joint Committee was in Italy, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and I went for a night out with a local non-governmental organisation representative in Rome, a city in which I lived for a year as a student. I know some of the main prostitute runs in Rome, and in fact, I was propositioned myself as a 19-year-old, standing on the main Christopher Columbus boulevard outside Rome. There is a long tradition in Rome of street prostitution, and as a 19-year-old it was terrifying to have someone stop in a car next to me and invite me to accompany him.

What shocked me on my recent visit to Rome was the situation regarding children. I went out on the streets with three people—a driver, a social worker and a cultural mediator. Such mediators come from eastern Europe or from Africa, and they talk to women from their home country, reassure them and discuss living in
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Italy with them. We went out with a big box of condoms, and leaflets printed in every African and eastern European language that one can think of that gave the addresses of sexual health clinics. However, that is a “softly, softly” approach to these women and girls. When they go to the clinic in town, they are immediately told, “You have rights under article 18. You can claim residency and social justice in this country.” They can claim protection, and many of them do.

We also heard what happens to such women afterwards. They are given shelter in a network of safe houses and, crucially, information on finding work. Most of them have transferred to the work permit scheme. So Italy adopts an holistic approach to the victim, and it offers the UK and the rest of the Europe the beginnings of a model. However, investment and commitment are also needed, and it takes a long time to gain the trust of these women.

Each generation and century has its own challenges and has to defeat the dark forces that challenge our common humanity. Wilberforce, as we have heard, introduced his first Bill against the slave trade in 1791—in the 18th century. It took him 16 years finally to get the slave trade abolished, in 1807, but even that Act did nothing to free those who were already enslaved. They had to wait until 1833—until the Slavery Abolition Act, which granted freedom to all slaves in the British empire—another 26 years. Between 1791 and 1833, a whole generation of people were enslaved, born into slavery, and lived and died in slavery before Wilberforce’s great achievement and the achievement of the 1833 Act.

Human progress may be slow, but when it comes, it comes for good and stays for good. In the 20th century, it took the campaigner against genocide and holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin many years before his term for the great crime against humanity—genocide—was accepted by the new United Nations and recognised and confirmed in law in 1951. He wanted to impose on nations a duty of responsibility to protect those who suffer genocide, and a responsibility on other UN nations to protect them. Yet still no action has been taken collectively by that body on all the huge and terrible genocides of the 20th century—be it Cambodia, Rwanda or Bosnia—or of the 21st century, in Darfur. Will human trafficking be the great challenge to our still young 21st century? The forces of globalisation of trade, and the availability of ever easier and cheaper flights, raise endless possibilities for communication and leisure, but also for abuse, criminality and modern slavery.

If human trafficking is not to define our century as slavery defined the 18th and 19th centuries and genocide defined the 20th, we must act now. Strong laws, strong protection and recognition of our shared and common humanity across borders, gender and race are indeed principles of which Wilberforce himself would have been proud. They are the principles of human progress, for which Members in all parts of the House will doubtless continue to fight.

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