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16 Jan 2008 : Column 1000

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The whole House agrees that it is right that the Government should take the matter forward. As that is the case, does the Minister agree that as trafficking will now be a core subject for the police the necessary funds will be made available? That is particularly important because those elements of organised crime involved in guns and drugs are increasingly moving into sex trafficking.

Mr. Coaker: I shall deal with some of that later in my speech. The then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), wrote to all chief constables to point out that whereas drugs were the first priority, the second was organised immigration crime, of which human trafficking was a significant part. That is important in trying to clarify some of the points made by the hon. Member for Totnes. The debate is difficult because the question is not only about money for police forces but about expertise, knowledge and intelligence. If we simply make money available without taking account of other factors, we will not get the results that we want. The operations Pentameter 1 and 2 were in part about developing that knowledge and expertise so that the police service can reduce the level of harm to which people are exposed, and free them from the slavery that we all oppose.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister will know that we in Scotland have particular problems with human trafficking. The police say that the number of incidents seems to be rising more quickly in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, with the result that it now accounts for 13 per cent. of the total trade. Responsibility for the police is a devolved matter for the Scottish Government, but all the initiatives are UK-wide. Can he reassure me that he is working hand in glove with the Scottish Government to ensure that this pernicious trade is tackled effectively in Scotland?

Mr. Coaker: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. Home Office officials are in contact with their counterparts in Scotland, and I have spoken to Kenny McAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, asking for a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss how we can take this whole agenda forward.

Mrs. Moon: Recently, I visited Albania as part of a delegation from this House. One thing that became clear was that the British police had worked in partnership with that country and given guidance and advice about dealing with drugs, guns and people trafficking. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need police and border forces in the countries of origin to work with us and to contribute the same level of expertise in the fight against those crimes?

Mr. Coaker: I do agree, and my hon. Friend’s excellent question helps me respond to what the hon. Member for Ashford said about the importance of Europol, Eurojust and the cross-border work that we have to undertake. In a few weeks I hope to visit Romania, Bulgaria and Albania, where I will talk to police forces and Ministers about how we can work together to deal with what is a common problem.
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Unless we deal with it at an international level, in Europe and across the globe, we will find, for all our efforts, that it is difficult to make the progress that we want to make.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Coaker: I shall take a couple more interventions, and then I need to make progress.

Margaret Moran: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important that we look beyond Europe and the accession states? Last year I visited Ukraine, where I met representatives from both statutory and voluntary organisations. Even more than police forces, the latter are the key to tackling the problem of human trafficking. Does he agree that we need to work with the British Council and the voluntary organisations in those countries that, like Ukraine, are being used as the entry point for human trafficking in the EU?

Mr. Coaker: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. As I said earlier, there is a global dimension to a problem that affects countries all over the world. That is what makes tackling trafficking so difficult, but my hon. Friend makes a valuable point that deserves consideration.

Mr. Steen: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, and may I first of all reciprocate his kind words and good wishes? It has always been a pleasure to work with him and his Department.

When he goes to Albania, Bulgaria or other eastern European countries, the Minister might like to look at the problem that police forces have with Europol. That is the fact that every country uses different types of records. For instance, records can be based on fingerprints, DNA, psychological profiles or gun crime, but the categories vary from country to country. Europol is not effective as a result, because the necessary information is not being exchanged. Another problem is that most of the women recorded as being trafficked into Britain from Lithuania do not come from that country. The women involved come from other eastern European countries that do not belong to the EU, but the Lithuanian passport is used for them because that is the easiest to forge. Is he aware of that?

Mr. Coaker: I am aware of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, and we need to discuss how we can tackle them.

Mr. Greenway rose—

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Coaker: I shall take two more interventions, but then I shall make progress with my speech as I want to leave enough time for as many contributions to the debate as possible. I give way first to the hon. Member for Ryedale.

Mr. Greenway: I am most grateful to the Minister. This is a home affairs debate, but he was right to say that the problem demands international action and that that action should be focused on the EU’s borders. It is interesting that Bulgaria and Romania, to which
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my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) referred, both ratified the convention on trafficking some time ago, whereas I understand that Lithuania is not even a signatory to it. As a result of this debate, will he speak to his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and ensure that they too are engaged in the fight against human trafficking?

Mr. Coaker: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We talk not only to our European colleagues but to colleagues outside the EU. Indeed, I shall be speaking at a United Nations conference in a few weeks’ time. The problem throws up a range of issues, not least of which is the need to ensure joined-up government in this country. An inter-ministerial group has oversight of taking the agenda forward. I take his point.

Mrs. Cryer: Does my hon. Friend regard forced marriage as part of the problem? It is a form of trafficking, yet it is not regarded as a criminal offence, despite the fact that many girls are taken from this country to the Indian subcontinent and forced to consummate so-called marriages. It is a form of rape.

Mr. Coaker: To be honest, I do not know the whole answer to that question. If anybody is trafficked for any reason, it is obviously a crime, but I shall look into my hon. Friend’s point. If I get some inspiration before the end of my speech, I shall come back to it.

If the House will allow me, I shall make some further points. The Government are totally committed to eradicating the abhorrent crime of trafficking in all its forms. On Monday, the Home Secretary demonstrated that commitment by announcing the Government’s intention to accelerate plans to ratify the Council of Europe convention against trafficking, and to review the Government’s reservation to the UN convention on the rights of the child. I want to highlight that, because it is of huge significance to many organisations outside the House as well as to Members.

We have worked hard and consulted widely since signing the Council of Europe convention. For example, we piloted a model of victim identification within Operation Pentameter 2, identified gaps in compliance and developed victim support models. There is much to do, but thanks to the progress that we have made, we now believe that we can make the necessary legislative and procedural changes to achieve ratification later this year. Ratification will be a significant milestone in the fight against this horrendous crime.

To answer the hon. Member for Ashford, we need to make four or five pages of legislative changes if we are to ratify the convention. Many of them will involve secondary legislation. There are four or five issues to do with article 10 of the convention, four or five to do with article 14, and four or five to do with article 23, as well as others. I shall talk to him later and perhaps share some of that information with him. We are taking the ratification agenda forward, but many of the changes can be made through secondary legislation. I hope that if we need to proceed through primary legislation, he will help us to do so as quickly as possible.

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Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): One of the legislative changes being considered involves a measure to allow victims of trafficking who were brought here illegally and who help in prosecutions to stay here permanently. Is that being considered seriously?

Mr. Coaker: We are considering it.

As I said, ratification will be a significant milestone in the fight against the horrendous crime of trafficking, but it is only one stage in the ongoing battle against human trafficking. The Government have launched a series of offensives on different fronts as part of our wider anti-trafficking strategy. On 23 March 2007, the same day that we signed the convention, we signed the UK action plan on tackling human trafficking, which set out our national strategy and pulled together all the work under way across Government to combat the trafficking of adults and children domestically and internationally.

The measure covers four key areas: enforcement, prevention, victim support and child trafficking. It also applies to trafficking for forced labour as well as other forms of human trafficking. The Government’s commitment to enforcement is exemplified by the introduction of anti-trafficking laws that have resulted in a number of successful prosecutions. For example, since the commencement of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 on 1 May 2004, there have been 70 convictions for trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. However, those convictions do not represent the full extent of prosecution of traffickers, who are often charged with other serious offences, including rape, false imprisonment and serious assault.

In April 2006 we launched the Serious Organised Crime Agency, one of whose top priorities is the fight against human trafficking. To complement that work, we established in October 2006 the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is tackling all forms of human trafficking as part of its remit. The police-led multi-agency centre was instrumental recently in the success of Operation Glover, which rescued 33 female victims aged between 12 and 15 who are believed to have been trafficked internally within the UK, and prosecuted and convicted a number of individuals. The case highlights the fact that human trafficking is not always about the movement of victims across international borders, but can involve the movement of UK nationals within the UK.

In 2006 the first major national anti-trafficking operation took place. Operation Pentameter 1 was a great success, resulting in the rescue of 88 victims, 12 of whom were children. As a result, 232 arrests were made and 134 people were charged with a variety of offences. Following this operation the UK Human Trafficking Centre was set up.

Pentameter 2, launched by the Home Secretary in October 2007, is another catalyst designed to assist police forces in developing their response in this area. Back in June 2005, the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South, wrote to chief constables setting out what forces’ priorities should be in relation to organised crime. Organised immigration crime, including human trafficking, was the second priority after drugs. It will interest all hon. Members to know that we are discussing performance
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indicators as part of the new performance assessment framework for policing and community safety from April 2008. One of those indicators could relate to human trafficking.

Work is under way with the Association of Chief Police Officers to improve the capability of the police and their partners to deliver effective protective services. The UK Human Trafficking Centre will assist in the development of law enforcement expertise and operational co-ordination, which will improve the proactive policing response.

Intelligence from Pentameter 2 is already furthering our understanding of the nature and scale of trafficking across the UK. I do not want to spark a huge debate as I am trying to complete my speech within the next few minutes, but it may interest hon. Members to know that as part of Pentameter 2—for operational reasons which I understand, the police are reluctant to give too much information to us at present—according to Chief Constable Tim Brain who has done a fantastic job in this area, along with Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, over 542 premises have so far been visited, a large percentage of which were residential, demonstrating the hidden nature of the crime. That is a significant change from some of what was happening in Pentameter 1. The number of arrests has already exceeded the number under Pentameter 1.

Following the conclusion of Pentameter 2, the UKHTC in conjunction with SOCA will produce an updated strategic assessment—the hon. Member for Ashford asked about this—of the scale of human trafficking of adults and children in the UK. That will help us to improve on our previous research which, as he pointed out, indicated that there were 4,000 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK in 2003, and it will help us to respond more accurately to the reality rather than the perception of the crime, and ensure that the counter-measures that we put in place are targeted and effective.

Ratifying the Council of Europe convention will build on existing arrangements to provide a framework for minimum standards of support for all victims of trafficking. We are already doing considerable work. We have worked in partnership with the POPPY project to support adult women trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation since 2003. We know that trafficking can have a devastating impact on a victim, and it is not enough simply to provide accommodation. That is why our UK action plan includes a range of measures to help identify and support victims and to try to prevent re-victimisation, which is crucial.

A comprehensive victim strategy has been developed for Pentameter 2, in consultation with a range of stakeholders to ensure a consistent end-to-end approach. The campaign also provides an opportunity to develop local measures on trafficking. This includes scoping suitable service providers for victim support. The POPPY project, and the TARA project in Scotland, have been working with the UK Human Trafficking Centre and others to develop the capacity and expertise of other providers during the campaign.

Following last year’s campaign, the Salvation Army and the Medaille Trust established projects for victims. This year, partnerships are in place with a number of women’s aid projects that cover areas such as Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield, Leeds, Kirklees,
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Keele, Huddersfield and Harrogate. Is that enough? No, it is not. Is it an improvement on where we were? Yes it is, and we will make considerable progress. I think that the hon. Member for Ashford would agree that we have made a start and a move forward and have a positive statement to make to the House.

The Government have also directed efforts towards combating child trafficking, one of the most abhorrent crimes of all. We have worked with the NSPCC.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con) rose—

Margaret Moran rose—

Mr. Coaker: I shall give way first to the hon. Gentleman and then to my hon. Friend. Then I shall need to finish.

Mr. Atkinson: Can the Minister report any progress in negotiations with the UK newspaper industry to persuade local papers in particular to stop taking advertisements for massage parlours and similar organisations, which encourage trafficking? That is something that we can deal with quickly in our own country.

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Solicitor-General, the Leader of the House and the Minister for Equality met representatives of the Newspaper Society, the Advertising Association and others. We are trying to take that agenda forward and hope to say something on the issue in due course.

Margaret Moran: The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, or CEOP, estimates that about 50 per cent. of trafficking involves children. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the work of the university of Bedfordshire, which is working with the NSPCC on that issue? Is he aware that it has found that children who are trafficked into this country are likely to go missing within 72 hours of being taken into social services care? There are traditional trafficking routes, so we need much greater monitoring and support for children in particular.

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend has made a hugely important point. A number of children whom we believe have been trafficked come into the care of the state and then go missing. That is unacceptable for all of us, and it gives us a policy dilemma in respect of what we should do. The hon. Member for Ashford legitimately and fairly said that we needed more safe houses. The hon. Member for Totnes and others will know that safe houses are sometimes a magnet for the traffickers. What seems a really good idea can have an unintended consequence.

We are considering what we can do about the safety of children—particularly trafficked children—who come into the care of the state. We have issued and updated guidance to local authorities. However, let me be clear: if there was one thing that I knew would definitely work, I would do it now—but there is not an easy policy solution.

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