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16 Jan 2008 : Column 1032

I also must acknowledge the effort that ECPAT has made in raising awareness and dealing with the problem, and I know how closely it has followed the debate today.

Bob Spink: Does my hon. Friend accept that the vast majority of women involved in the sex trade, particularly the young ones, are victims of the trade?

Mr. Bone: Indeed, they are victims.

When I first got to know about this issue, I talked to Northamptonshire police, which confirmed that it was a real problem in our area, just as it is throughout the country. The Northamptonshire police quite often found that when it raided a brothel, the victims it discovered there would not co-operate. The force was pretty smart about that; it got the gangs who run the brothels on immigration laws, and got them expelled from the country, but that is not really a satisfactory way of dealing with the issue.

I decided to try to get to grips with the subject by producing a pamphlet called “Slavery in the 21st century—the trade of human beings for sexual exploitation”. The problem is that I have never been able to finish it. Every time I think I have finished it, I find out that the problem is greater and that there is more depth to it. I am grateful to Richard Britton and Miss Leigh Hooker for the research they have done on it. I had thought that the problem was simply one of bringing in people from abroad and putting them into prostitution. However, now we learn that people are trafficked within the United Kingdom, perhaps from Manchester to Cornwall. I hope that I will finish the pamphlet one day.

I want to give a couple of examples of the way in which people are trafficked into this country. The all-party group met some child victims, who had been brought into the country and forced into prostitution. One young lady was very black and had been brought here when she was 14 by a middle-aged white man on a passport that did not include her name or picture. She was taken to Liverpool and forced into prostitution. She escaped, made her way back to London, found somebody who spoke her language and who took her to the authorities. Thankfully, the NSPCC intervened to look after her. I asked her whether she was shocked at being forced into the evil trade and repeatedly raped. She said, straight faced, “Well, of course, I was being forced to do it in Kenya before I came to this country.” The hon. Member for Glasgow, North alluded to such matters earlier. The grinding poverty and the sort of activities that happen in the countries from where the victims come are also great problems.

We are considering modern-day slavery. The victims have no rights and they are often locked up, but they are sometimes taken to what one might call public brothels. One might ask why they do not run away. The answer is that they are worried that their families might be intimidated. They are terrified of the traffickers and frightened that the most appalling things will happen to them. One might ask why they do not go to the police. The simple answer is that, in their country, the police are as corrupt as the traffickers. One does not have to go far to find an example. A reliable source attested that, at St. Thomas’s hospital, a young lady ran out of the sexual diseases clinic along the corridor
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as fast as she could. She was pursued by an Albanian, who claimed that she was his property. That happened across the road from Parliament.

I want to deal briefly with prostitution. I understand where many hon. Members come from on the subject, and I am interested in the outcome of the debate. There appears to be no difference in the number of trafficked victims into the Netherlands, Sweden and this country, yet we all have different rules on prostitution.

Mr. MacShane: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bone: I would love to give way but I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak.

I agree with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, which is not always the case, that we must have stronger border controls. I do not want to get into a debate about border police and so on. However, when I ran a travel company, I took young female workers to Florida to visit our associated company and understand the way in which the travel trade worked. Every time we went to America, I was let through, and went to get the baggage, but the three young females were taken off and interviewed for up to an hour, even though they had letters from their parents stating that they could come on the trip. We do not do that. If we did that sort of thing, we would reduce the number of victims that come into the country.

We could do a host of things to help people once they are here, but if we could stop them at source, it would be useful. That is an example of a practical measure that could be introduced quickly.

6.25 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I thank hon. Members in all parts of the House who have supported my campaign to tackle the demand side in prostitution, because that demand is specifically directed at trafficking. I should also like to apologise to House if, because of the shortness of time when I moved new clause 2 to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, my remarks misled people about the numbers of women involved in trafficking. I direct hon. Members to the corrected Hansard on the matter.

We need to start by asking what constitutes trafficking. I want to deal with that question, to ask why the most significant issue for Britain is trafficking for sexual exploitation and to argue that the Government must now do two things to reduce the impact of such trafficking: first, reduce the demand for prostitution; and secondly, adopt a human rights approach to the victims of trafficking.

What is trafficking? As the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) rightly pointed out, trafficking does not require the transport of people across borders. It does, however, require


Those oppressive, abusive means, which are quoted in all the international protocols and framework decisions, result in consequences for the victim. However, her consent is not relevant, because of the abuse of power
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that is inherent in those means. It is important to understand that point. I argue that all women in prostitution are the victims of trafficking, whether they have come from another country or this one, because of the route that they have taken into prostitution, which almost always involves coercion, enforced addiction to drugs and violence from their pimps or traffickers. It is important for us to understand that the experience of the prostituted woman is one of being trafficked, whether she was born in Moldova or Manchester.

If we start from that understanding, we see how critical it is that the Government deal with demand. Traditionally, the Home Office has seen the pull factor in trafficking as its immigration policy. In fact, the pull factor is the demand for prostituted women. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s recognition that trafficking does not require transport across borders. However, I query his claims about the statistics for the number of women trafficked into countries that have legalised prostitution, because there is no doubt—nobody would dispute this—that there are more prostituted women in those countries. I dispute his figures, although there is an argument to be had about how many of them were brought across borders to be prostituted in those countries. However, there is no doubt that there are more women who are prostituted in countries that claim to regulate prostitution.

Let us think about the ways in which the power over those trafficked women is exercised. Sometimes we are talking about women who are chained to radiators; more often we are talking about control in more subtle ways. As I have mentioned, control is frequently exercised through drug addiction, unpredictable violence, observing people or using witchdoctor techniques. A whole range of techniques can be used to keep women in a profession that puts their lives at risk. In every study, women in prostitution have been found to be 40 times more likely to die than other women of their age. In one US study, 50 per cent. of the prostituted women studied who had died had been murdered.

If we are to tackle this, we need to establish a mechanism to reduce the number of women being murdered and to save huge numbers of women from violent exploitation. The first step is to reduce demand. Men who buy prostitutes become part of the chain of trafficking. Unlike people who buy trainers that have been made by exploited labour, the men who buy prostitutes are directly part of the chain. We should therefore take action to prevent them from becoming part of it. According to the advice of the UN special rapporteur, that should involve taking legislative action against the demand for prostitution. In her excellent report, the special rapporteur argues:

If we were to reduce the demand in Britain, we would reduce the number of trafficked women.

In addition, we can reduce the supply of women by helping them to exit prostitution. That is part of the human rights approach. We should invest much more effectively in exit schemes for women in prostitution, whether they have been trafficked from another
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country or trapped into prostitution by pimps in this country. It is a hard business for a woman to leave her pimp. One of the reasons that women and children are likely not only to be trafficked but to be re-trafficked is that they are vulnerable in the first place. It is hard for them to resist being re-trafficked, but if we have effective exit campaigns and support mechanisms that can help those trafficked and prostituted women, we can save many of them from the fate that too many of them face.

It is striking that this is not only a human rights issue but a women’s rights issue. As the UN special rapporteur points out in her report, many of the countries that supply women into prostitution, and supply the demand, have attitudes towards women that belittle and degrade them. That makes it more possible to see women as objects to be traded. If we create a culture—as the advertisements in our local newspapers do—that sees women as objects to be traded, more women will be trafficked. We know how to stop this, and I urge the Government to take urgent action to protect women from that trade.

6.33 pm

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am delighted to wrap up the Back-Bench contributions to this debate. I have always believed that this country should be rightly proud of the abolition of the slave trade as an outstanding act of moral and political courage. We should indeed celebrate the vision and courage of many of our predecessors without embarrassment, caveat, deep sorrow or apology. More importantly, however, we must continue to demonstrate to the international community that Britain does not, and will not, rest on its 19th century laurels, and that it will lead the 21st century fight against contemporary forms of slavery.

The Bishop of Sheffield said in a sermon to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain that

It is one thing to point to the existence of a law, and quite another to uphold it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said:

The focus for today’s debate should be the enduring moral argument against slavery, not the achievements of the past or, indeed, the short-term initiatives of the present.

The first thing that we must focus on is strengthening the perception that human trafficking is slavery. Since we are left today with a modern evolution of an age-old evil, we should preserve the word “slavery” to describe it. It is a shame that we have updated and, in some ways, sanitised modern-day slavery by calling it human trafficking. It has the same quality of moral ambiguity or neutrality as another famously cruel misnomer—the notion of “honour killing”. I appreciate that the term is an international definition derived from the UN’s Palermo protocol and the Council of Europe’s convention, but
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“slavery” is a word that resonates with ordinary people, while “human trafficking” is more resonant with the mandarins than with the man on the street. I do not believe that that distinction is cosmetic.

One of the challenges of combating human trafficking is raising awareness among those who create a demand for it—a point made by many hon. Members—and reducing demand is indeed a key factor in controlling the scale of the problem. Initiatives such as the Fairtrade label and Rugmark help prevent legitimate consumers from purchasing goods that have been produced using slave labour. Changing purchasing habits is clearly a step in the right direction. However, as operations such as Operation Pentameter and its successor demonstrate, the bigger challenge lies in raising awareness that human trafficking is very much akin to slavery so as to reduce the demand for its victims.

Secondly, and more importantly, I am glad of the opportunity to focus on the Government’s proposals for the future. Reading the Library briefs left me with the impression that the Government have been slightly drifting, if not actually stalling, on this issue in recent years. The Joint Committee on Human Rights referred in its 2006 report to some admirably alliterative goalposts for the Government’s policy on trafficking: to prohibit and prevent trafficking, to prosecute and punish traffickers and to protect the victims of trafficking. One of the criticisms of the Government at that time was the failure to sign up to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings.

Along with every hon. Member, I welcome the recent moves by the Minister to speed up the ratification process, but it is a scandal that it took the UK so long even to sign the convention, let alone to proceed with the ratification process. The circumstances of the UK’s very late signature of the convention were scarcely more edifying than those of the Prime Minister’s signature to the Lisbon treaty. For the more cynically minded among us, it would be possible sometimes to see the Government’s response in terms of gesture politics. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House is saying “Oh, no”, but the convention opened to signatories on 16 May 2005, while the Government did not get around to signing it until 23 March 2007, which—by coincidence, I am sure—was just two days before the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. I assume that the Minister would have signed on 25 March, had it not fallen on a Sunday in 2007. On 21 February last year, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave the House a commitment to look into the issue of ratification of the convention and to report back. Yet it has taken nearly a year for a Minister to make a statement to this House; indeed, the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box only to respond to an Opposition motion. It is a great shame that the convention will enter into force next month without Britain at the fore.

Thirdly, I want to conclude by challenging the Minister on some of the Government’s specific objectives. Operation Pentameter was hailed as a great success and its successor is halfway through its six-month life. Can the Minister make any commitments about the Government’s long-term strategy for the policing and prosecution of human
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trafficking, particularly in light of the decline in prosecutions under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 between 2006 and 2007?

The UK’s action plan for tackling human trafficking has been described as a living document that will continue to develop in order to accommodate evolving best practice, so what lessons have been learned from Operation Pentameter that will inform the Government’s policy in future? Is the Home Office meeting with any success in its research into the nature and scale of the problem, which has historically been bedevilled by a lack of concrete statistical evidence? More specifically, how is the strategy continuing to evolve in the light of the continuing impact of EU enlargement?

Finally, what steps are the Government taking to move away from ad hoc support for victims, paid for by periodic grants to the voluntary sector rather than by sustained funding? The POPPY project, for example, of which we have heard much this afternoon, was given a £2.4 million grant in April 2006, but the grant is to run over two years. I suspect that that decision will need to be revisited in the future. We need sustained funding, but we should also make full use of the capacity of safe accommodation—a point made earlier—by encouraging referrals and broadening referral criteria to include those under 18.

I hope that the Government will act decisively to consolidate all the work that has already been done, and I hope that the United Kingdom will once again lead the world in the fight against slavery instead of allowing the pace of change to be set by others.

6.40 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): The debate has been characterised by a generally constructive attitude among members of all parties, and there has been a large measure of cross-party agreement. Where there has been disagreement, it has been expressed both across the Floor of the House and within political parties, but I think that all who have spoken have been united in a shared loathing of the evil practice of human trafficking, and a determination to do all that lies in our political power to bring that trade to an end.

The debate was graced by no fewer than three chairmen: the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on trafficking of women and children.

I think there was a consensus that the debate focused on three themes: the need to disrupt supply, the need to protect the victims, and the need to seek measures to reduce demand for trafficking. I want to say a little about each of them.

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