Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Nov 2009 : Column 601

Lord Martin was a member of Glasgow Corporation between 1973 and 1979, and a Member of this House for 30 years, being returned with prodigious majorities in seven consecutive general elections. Key to his politics was his passion for better housing. His own experiences growing up in Anderston, together with his vision to improve his community, led him to champion the development of new social housing. He was a founder-member of what is now North Glasgow Housing Association, and the more than £100 million of investment in homes in the constituency is an achievement of which Lord Martin and this Government can justly be proud.

As Speaker, Lord Martin was a resolute defender of the rights and privileges of the legislature from Executive encroachment. His wit, fairness and humour are missed from this House, but are now at the disposal of the other place. I wish him and his family well for the future, and it is a particular pleasure to work with his son, Paul, who is an outstanding Member of the Scottish Parliament for the area.

Every Member representing Glasgow is also a successor to the tradition of progressive politics championed by John Wheatley and James Maxton. Their commitment to equality finds new expression in our debate today. Most of my working life has been spent in education, and I was pleased to visit recently both colleges in my constituency: John Wheatley college in Haghill, and North Glasgow college in Springburn. They provide people with high-quality further and higher education and training, transforming the life chances of, and outcomes for, my constituents.

The most pressing issue in this debate, and for the country at large, is unemployment and how to move our economy into recovery. Although the increase in unemployment has slowed in recent months, the International Monetary Fund anticipates that it will continue to rise until 2010, and this particularly impacts upon young people. Our constituents will judge us harshly if we fail to act now. That is why we need not only a continuing fiscal stimulus, but a continuing jobs stimulus. I welcome the additional £5 billion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has to invest in jobs for 18 to 24-year-olds and the long-term unemployed. I welcome the impact the future jobs fund is having in Glasgow, where 470 jobs have been created so far, but there is an urgent need for many more. I will shortly bring together employers, the city council and voluntary groups in my area to develop bids to bring more of this investment to Glasgow, North-East. At present, there are 1,275 jobless young people in my constituency, but only 617 employment vacancies. Had it not been for the policies followed by this Government on the new deal, the flexible new deal and the future jobs fund in the past year, the number of unemployed would have been far higher.

We have faced the biggest shock to the global economy for more than 60 years and our European Union partners are struggling with high unemployment too. Tough economic times make the burden of child and family poverty even greater, which is why I support the Child Poverty Bill in setting targets and setting out a comprehensive strategy for the abolition of child poverty by 2020. We also need to commit across the House to the improvements in child benefit, tax credits and the minimum wage that will make it happen.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 602

These will be vital months in securing our economic recovery, and the jobs and living standards of millions of people will be affected by the decisions we take. Whatever our differences on policy across this Chamber, the great strength of this House is that we can rise to national challenges together. Let us face these responsibilities together and remember that greater economic fairness and equality is the prerequisite of greater liberty for the British people. I look forward to debating these issues and others with hon. and right hon. Members across this House in the coming months and to supporting the Gracious Speech in the Division Lobby today and tomorrow.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the question relating to Adjournment (Christmas), the Ayes were 273 and the Noes were 198, so the question was agreed to.

[The Division list is published at the end of today's debates.]

4.32 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain) on his speech. I cannot remember when I made my maiden speech or even what I made it about, but I should say that making a successful maiden speech, such as his, is an initiation through which we all have to go to be accepted by both sides of this House. I actually listened to his speech and the fact that so many other Members were present shows that they listened to it too. We all look forward to listening to more of what he has to say, but I must tell him that the Chamber will not be as silent in future as it was then.

I wish to discuss the absence in the Gracious Speech of the subject of human trafficking. We often hear about crimes, drugs, knife crimes and DNA, but we do not talk much in this Chamber about the problems caused by human trafficking, which exist in Scotland as much as they do in England. The fact that the United Nations put the searchlight on human trafficking shows that it is a serious international problem. In the 19th century, this horrific crime was recognised as a fundamental abuse of human rights worldwide; citizens of richer nations felt that they could, with impunity, abuse and control the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. It is not that slavery was anything new in the 19th century, as it had already existed for thousands of years, with Israelites in Egypt having been enslaved by Pharaohs. What Wilberforce did was to draw attention to it and highlight the fundamental injustice of one human being misusing and abusing another for their own personal gain. Wilberforce had amazing public relations skills, which resulted in the world banning slavery.

Sadly, however, passing Acts of Parliament does not stop slavery. What we have got now in this country and in the world is new slavery. The United Nations figures suggest that nearly 1 million people are enslaved each year, being trafficked and exploited. Men, women and children are victims, some of forced labour, some of sexual exploitation. Trafficking has leapfrogged over arms dealing and is now second only to drug trafficking when it comes to criminal activity and gain. Human trafficking is estimated to generate annual profits for the traffickers of £32 billion.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 603

Wilberforce brought the slave trade to an end and the so-called developed countries moved on, but they moved on to create new slavery. Ten years ago, the subject was barely debated in the Chamber or recognised as an issue. Not much space was given to it in our debates, either here or anywhere else, because, to put it simply, there are few votes in human trafficking. It is not a matter that concerns the electorate.

We must give credit to the Government and, in particular, to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) in his former role as Minister of State in the Home Office for drawing attention to new slavery as it affects this country and for doing something about it. It is not about smuggling people, asylum seeking or illegal immigration. Human trafficking is something different-it deceives and misleads some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries into believing that there is a new and better tomorrow around the corner. It is about deception. It is about using other people's lives to make money for the trafficker.

Yes, there are sex traffickers. There are illiterate girls with lover-boy syndrome. There are girls with little self-esteem and no education, who are often from rural backgrounds and who typically have unstable family histories. Trafficking does not just happen from poor countries to this country-it happens within this country, too. Trafficking is going on within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and it is growing. Trafficking does not just take place from Thailand or Bulgaria-it takes place within the country as well as outside it.

As regards child trafficking, there are children from China and Vietnam involved in the cultivation of cannabis plants. The Metropolitan police have 300 factories identified in London alone and there must be more in other parts of the country. However, it is principally children from the EU who are trafficked to steal on the streets and who are involved in ATM thefts. There is no place for these children to go into care, because there are no people with the same language who are willing to foster them and there is no room in children's homes. They are sent back to where they came from and re-trafficked. Some are under the age of 10 and an artful child can earn up to £100,000 a year for their traffickers. We have identified more than 1,000 such children already on the streets in this country, and they move between this country, Spain, Italy and back again, avoiding detection.

Globally, there is growing awareness of how extensive trafficking is and of the different types of exploitation into which people are trafficked, but it is not visible. Of course it is not-we do not see car thieves or burglars in the act, and we do not see traffickers in the act. It is worth noting that more than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were ever in chains during the 350 years of the African slave trade.

I mentioned the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Member for Gedling, and I should mention the action plan that brings together the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. All the Government Departments are now involved. We have wonderful non-governmental organisations in this country, such as ECPAT UK-which stands for End
25 Nov 2009 : Column 604
Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes-the POPPY project, the Helen Bamber Foundation and other anti-trafficking bodies. Endless groups of people are concerned about the problem, but it is still growing.

Against that background, I want to approach the question of why the Metropolitan police are planning to close their human trafficking department. I have been one of the people who are fortunate enough to have been on the police service parliamentary scheme for the last two years; I think that I am the oldest policeman on the streets of London. It has allowed me to see the splendid work of the human trafficking team. We have 31,000 officers in the Metropolitan police, and there are only nine in the human trafficking department. The plan is to close it, as they say that it should be merged. However, if they merge it, the department's profile will be lost, as will the important work that it does.

The Olympics mean that more people will be trafficked, and I shall give the House an idea of the numbers involved. There will be 100,000 people working on the games, as well as 10,500 athletes and 20,000 press and media people, and a total of 9 million tickets will be held by spectators. Human trafficking will increase, and it will affect the men involved in debt bondage, the children trafficked on the streets and the women trafficked for sex. To close the Metropolitan police scheme, as is being considered at the moment, would be sheer folly.

I have the privilege to chair the all-party committee on human trafficking, and we are diametrically opposed to the human trafficking team being closed and absorbed by some other group.

John Austin: Has the hon. Gentleman had any discussions about that proposal with the Mayor of London, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority? Has he asked what the justification for it is?

Mr. Steen: That is a splendid idea and, if I may, I shall blame the hon. Gentleman for giving it to me. I shall approach the Mayor tomorrow and convey to him exactly that point.

I turn now to the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, which the hon. Gentleman and I visited last Monday. I thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for inviting me to attend, as it was an illuminating and interesting day, but I am also concerned that the Government are thinking of closing that centre too, on the basis that it could be absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency or put into the immigration service.

If either option came about, we would once again lose the important knowledge that the centre has provided over the years and which has been of such benefit. Incorporating it into a larger organisation may be good political thinking on the part of a Labour Government who like things to be bigger and bigger, but it will not help the human trafficking scene in this country.

John Austin: The hon. Gentleman will know that the UK Government's ratification of the convention on human trafficking was delayed in part by arguments from the UK Border Agency that there was a pull factor in adopting a victim-based approach to trafficking. Does he share my view that the Border Agency is not the place to locate the trafficking unit?

25 Nov 2009 : Column 605

Mr. Steen: I agree entirely. The UK Border Agency, good though it is, has serious problems, one of which is that it does not distinguish a person who is trafficked from one who is not. The UK Human Trafficking Centre was established only two and a half years ago and there are problems with it, but it is tackling its task and its staff are very committed. The hon. Gentleman and I were both impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the people working there. Most of them are police officers, of course, but some staff are from the Border Agency and there are a few outside people as well. It would clearly be a very big mistake to close down the structure that has been set up.

I have a few more things to say. First, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is holding a conference at the end of February so that parliamentarians from other countries can learn about this country's experience with trafficking. I think that our experience has been good and that we have done very well, but other Parliaments need to benefit from what we have done, just as we must benefit from what they are doing.

If I may say so, our all-party group on human trafficking will be doing a Billy Graham before the parliamentarians from other EU countries. We will be trying to excite their interest and involve them in the human trafficking debate. We want to learn from them, and we want them to learn from us.

New slavery is not a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present, and it is rampant across the world. We in the UK have a good story to tell and I hope that, by leading a campaign among IPU representatives and parliamentarians from every EU country, we will be able to make progress in tackling this appalling scourge. Wilberforce thought that he had solved it, but it exists now in a greater measure than it ever did in his day. I am going to speak to Spanish parliamentarians on Monday next, and I am going to Paris to speak to the French. It is a busy and important task, and I hope the Home Secretary and the Government will support the initiative.

Mr. Burrowes: I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing the cause for so many months and years. It is important that he has brought it to our attention. As well as raising its international profile, is it not important to bring it to the attention of local communities, such as in Enfield, where we set up our own commission to look at the information on whether human trafficking occurs in Enfield, as we know it does, and across our communities? As much as we need national and international co-operation, it is important to ground it in local information and action.

Mr. Steen: I am glad I had a minute to spare. That is a good point. There are initiatives throughout London and, I hope, in other parts of the country, where local people are going around trying to identify people who may have been trafficked. I have a confession to make. Croydon churches decided that they would do that. They went to the police, who said, "There are between six and eight brothels that we know about in Croydon, and we occasionally go and see whether there are any trafficked people there." The group of churches discovered that there were 60 brothels in Croydon, not just the six that were known about. It is a major problem-not just prostitution, but girls who are trafficked from other
25 Nov 2009 : Column 606
parts of the country and other parts of the world. I am delighted to learn that the problem is not confined to Croydon, but occurs in Enfield and north London.

4.46 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Loyal Address. The hon. Gentleman's work on trafficking has been very important. My constituency has been heavily affected by trafficked women and trafficked children, so the work that he has undertaken has been valuable.

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain). It was a pleasure to hear him speak and, at a time when there is so much cynicism about politics, to hear such a straightforward, idealistic and optimistic speech. I am sure his career in the House will be long and distinguished, and I offer him many congratulations on his speech.

There was some suggestion from the Opposition that the Queen's Speech was a waste of time and that we should be reforming Parliament or holding an election, but there is some important work to do. Some of the most important items relate to the home affairs brief and the Department for Work and Pensions portfolio, so I am particularly pleased to be able to speak in today's debate.

One of the topics on which I wish to speak is the mandatory code on alcohol sales, which will be the subject of secondary legislation due at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I take the opportunity to encourage my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to make sure that the code is as robust as it can be. They should not take the view that because there is an election coming along nothing should be done about alcohol. Apart from being necessary, the measures to combat binge drinking chime well with the public mood. In my constituency they have been supported at public meetings and debates and in online surveys.

There are three aspects that concern people: labelling, in-store and happy hour-type promotions, and price controls. The controls on happy hour-type promotions partly affect price, but do not go far enough, particularly because they tend to affect pubs and clubs, whereas part of the mischief of excess drinking arises from off-licence and supermarket sales. It is important that, if we are to deal with the problems of pricing, we have measures that go across both the on trade and the off trade.

People say that all the problems can be solved by making drink more expensive, but it is also about preventing drinking from becoming even cheaper. In Northampton, some of the pubs and clubs discount their prices so that they can become student bars, and once they have the clientele the prices drift back up. A couple of years ago, the price of a drink in the student promotion was £1.50. Now, it is two drinks-a drink and a shot-for £1. That is 50p a drink. The clubs say that if they went right down to the base price that they pay for the alcohol-without factoring in the cost of staff, maintaining the premises, and so on-the cost could be as low as 24p a unit. If alcohol started to get even close to that price, the impact on health and on law and order would be absolutely catastrophic. Minimum pricing, which I believe a mandatory code should bring in, would set a floor under that kind of discounting.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 607

Exactly the same would apply in supermarkets. Everyone is familiar with the argument that supermarkets get people in to buy discounted alcohol, then cross-sell to other products. Effectively, the other products, and other drinkers, are having to subsidise the cost of very cheap alcohol. Sometimes, alcohol can be cheaper than water, which is complete nonsense.

A recent inquiry conducted by the Health Committee found that Tesco was not completely opposed to minimum pricing, and the World Health Organisation has stated:

Next Section Index Home Page