|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
It is clear to me that we need to do what we can to increase the risk to the traffickers that they will be caught and then convicted. Several Members made the point that, despite the hopeful trends announced by the Minister, the number of prosecutions and convictions, not only in the United Kingdom but in many other countries, looks incredibly low when set against the sheer scale of the problem. According to United
Nations figures cited by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, more than 1 million people are being trafficked each year, and the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Costa, said in his most recent report that he was disappointed by the low rates of convictions for perpetrators of human trafficking.
To an extent, the answer clearly lies in our doing what we can to improve the criminal law and measures of enforcement. The Minister outlined some of the measures that the Government have undertaken and continue to undertake, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and other Conservative Members have advocated further ideas. In particular, we have strongly urged the creation of an effective border police force for the United Kingdom. However, looking at the criminal law and policing will not be an answer in itself. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes pointed out, we must use diplomatic pressure as well, not least to persuade other members of the Council of Europe that they too should ratify the Council of Europe convention without further delay. We must put diplomatic pressure on countries, wherever they are in the world, that are simply failing to address the challenge posed by this evil trade with adequate energy or dedication.
In its most recent report on trafficking, the US State Department lists a number of countries friendly towards the west that are among those that are failing even to enforce the duties imposed by international law and United Nations resolutions. I believe that, in the last resort, we should be prepared to follow the United States example, which it has written into its law, and consider withholding non-humanitarian and non-trade assistance to countries that consistently fail to comply with their moral and legal obligations.
In that context it is important that the Government reflect on the extent of their network of embassies and high commissions. A number of hon. Members have talked about how this trade is a particular curse for much of Africa. When I have met representatives from the embassies of north African countries, from Egypt to Morocco, they have told me how societies are being disrupted by large-scale criminal trafficking of miserable human beings brought from western and central Africa through their territories, with the traffickers wanting to move them on to Europe.
There is now no British post in more than 20 African nations. I think that it is true that if we were to land in Mauritania and walk east, the first UK embassy or consulate that we would encounter would be in Khartoum. I ask the Government to reflect on whether that gap in our diplomatic coverage reflects the seriousness with which we should approach this problem today.
We also need to do more to integrate the aim of reducing trafficking into our development policies. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said that the victims of trafficking often succumb to the temptation of traffickers out of desperation and dire poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) said that this is a problem that has victims worldwide, not just in the UK, so I would like our objective of disrupting trafficking to be built into our bilateral development and assistance programmes. In addition, I would like Britain to do
whatever it can to ensure that the objectives of multilateral development programmes such as the International Monetary Funds poverty reduction programmes take account of the need to reduce human trafficking.
A particular challenge is facing the UK. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) talked about how Germany saw an upsurge in trafficking in connection with the World cup in 2006. The German Government organised a comprehensive anti-trafficking initiative at that time. I hope that the British Government even now are planning what we need to do in respect of what I suspect may be similar pressures at the time of the Olympics in 2012. We would all support the Minister in planning early for that occasion.
On protection for victims, I think that every Member who has spoken wants the Government to develop further the laudable initiatives that they have undertaken. One thing came through strongly from the comments by my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran)the importance of taking seriously the plight of trafficked children.
The right hon. Member for Rotherham and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) argued passionately that one way to reduce demand would be to create new criminal offences to tackle the sex trade in particular. The Opposition Front-Bench team supports the review that the Minister has announced. We agree with the Home Secretary that we should look carefully at the evidence. There are questions that need to be tested in that examination, but we will approach that debate in a constructive spirit.
I want to make a further point about reducing demand. I do not think that this is something to which politicians alone have the answer. When William Wilberforce was rallying British opinion against the slave trade he said that
the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it.
It is true not only for Members of Parliament, but for every man and woman in this country who has eyes to see and ears to hear, that this accursed trade in men, women and children disfigures our world and that individual citizensas consumers of products, sometimes made by people who are the victims of trafficking, and as people some of whose neighbours are customers of the sex tradehave the power to do something through their voices and their actions.
Those Members who have spoken in terms of outrage and shame are not exaggerating. We are rightly accustomed in this House to sober, rational debate and to considering evidence, and we should certainly continue to look carefully at the evidence on what measures will work effectively. However, it seems to me that, in the end, we need to combine political commitment with that sense of moral outrage. I believe that political action inspired by that clear moral purpose will enable us to reduce, and I hope one day eliminate, this trade.
The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): I thank all Members who have participated in this excellent debate. It is obvious that there is total abhorrence of this evil crime across the House, and many voices have been raised. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has demonstrated not only by the sense of what he said, but by his obviously open, willing and committed attitude, how deeply the Government are committed to tackling this horrible crime. I will try to weave a response to Members contributions into what I have to say, but I hope that they will forgive me if I do not name them all; as there have been 17 contributors so far, if I were to try to do so it would sound like Bairds guide to parliamentary constituencies.
The Governments approach to trafficking involves being as inclusive and as multi-agency across the board as it is possible to be. Not only do we have a joined-up approach at policy levelwe are always open to constructive suggestions such as those put forward todaybut, for instance, the inter-ministerial group has a stakeholder group from non-governmental organisations with which it frequently engages in very unvarnished ways. There is also a practical approach on the ground: we have collaborations such as POPPY project outreach workers working at the UK Human Trafficking Centre to give advice. We are as inclusive as possible, and after this debate I can only expect that that will get better.
Having some responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service, I am pleased that there have now been 70 successful convictions since the Sexual Offences Act 2003 brought specific legislation on trafficking into UK law. However, let me assure those voices of concern that have been raised that this does not reflect the full extent of prosecution against traffickers. On many occasions and for many reasons, traffickers are prosecuted for rape, kidnapping, sexual assaults and physical assaults, and I assure the hon. Members for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that large numbers of them are convicted. It is important to remember that those convictions do not show in the simple statistics on trafficking convictions, but they are a significant part of the weaponry we use.
Sentences have been long; the courts also understand the serious nature of these offences and send out strong messages. Despite that, however, we need to go further. The CPS is in the forefront of Operation Pentameter. It now has specialists on trafficking in all its areas, and it has lawyers seconded to the trafficking centre. There is also national guidance. The hon. Member for Totnes made the point the most powerfully, although several other hon. Members mentioned it, that to prosecute successfully one needs evidence.
In Pentameter 2, a specific piece of work is being done on victim attrition, but it is not simply offering supportwe are obviously trying to do that. The reality of trafficking is that the levels of intimidation are sky high and the trauma is intense. It is a hugely difficult matter. Many people are simply unable to help, so we must additionally look to other ways of preventing this trade from flourishing.
One of the Serious Organised Crime Agencys top four aims is tackling trafficking through prevention, disruption, asset recovery and prosecution. In addition,
the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 has been introduced. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has revoked 42 licences, and 36 applications have been refused. Those cases do not show up as prosecutions, but bad gangmasters have been put out of business. Concerns were raised by the hon. Member for Eastleigh and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about work restrictions and the perhaps unforeseen consequences that they can have. We are committed to working on that.
As the Home Secretary said on Monday, we will ratify the Council of Europes convention by the end of the year. Let me be clear that we are compliant with much of it now, but we need to make some changes to domestic legislation. This is not any kind of delay by, or deficit of, the UK, and to call it a shame or anything of the kind is bonkers. The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) did so briefly, but then he rightly became more urging of consensus. It is only a pity that his urging of consensus did not reach the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark).
Some signatories have legal systems that mean that they allow ratification even before implementationindeed, some systems demand ratification before implementation. Our system works the other way round. We cannot ratify a treaty until we have implemented it in our domestic law, so the process takes longer for us. May I reassure the hon. Member for Totnes, and my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) and for Hendon that the monitoring mechanism GRETA does not come into force until February 2009, and if we ratify this year, as we intend to do, we will not miss participation in that process? We will ratify as quickly as we can, but we will not stop there. Our existing action plan goes further than the convention requires us to go. Now that we have got this constant returning to the issue of ratification out of the way by giving that undertaking, I hope that we can all move on more consensually.
On demand, let me reassure the hon. Member for Ashford, who led for the Opposition, that no one is muddling up prostitution and trafficking, but they are clearly integrally connected. I was glad to have the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) on board on that point. I hope that he will speak to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and put him right. I was glad of the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). We think the correct figure is that about 4,000 women are trafficked for sex at any one time, so we think that his numbers from the Daily Mirror are off.
There is work to be done on reducing demand. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has led a campaign on that. She put forward some of the reality that requires us to look honestly at whether we should follow the Swedish model of legislation and criminalise the purchase of sexual services across the board. We shall also look at tackling the advertising of any sexual services in the mass mediathe hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) endorsed thatthrough stricter guidance at the very least, but if prosecution appears to be necessary, it will doubtless follow. We will also consider call-barring on phones that are obviously being used for brothels.
There is a good deal that I cannot directly answer because of the time available. Essentially, we are modelling a proper system of victim referral and identification, as
we must to implement the convention. The difficulty of identification is at its height in respect of children. Let me reassure everyone that we are working as hard and as well as we can on that.
I reiterate the Governments commitment to bring to justice as many perpetrators of this heinous crime as possible, while at the same time ensuring that victims get protection and safety. So much more remains to be done, but
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|