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20 Jan 2010 : Column 114WH—continued

Let me try to put this issue in context. My hon. Friend talked about modern slavery. It is modern slavery. Girls fly into Gatwick airport, coming from west Africa, thinking that they will become waitresses or work in a shop. They go through security. The people with them take the passports off them. They are then taken to the coffee lounge, where they are sold for £4,000 or £5,000. That is happening in our country, and it is happening
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because the criminals can make so much money from their crimes. In fact, they can make more money from this crime than they can from drugs. That is why there is industrial-scale trafficking. There are a number of ways in which we have to tackle the issue.

Mr. Steen: The information that I got recently, which I thought worth sharing with the House, is that more people are trafficked in the world every year than were ever in chains in the 350 years of the African slave trade.

Mr. Bone: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point; that is extraordinary. We think back to Wilberforce's time and we think that in those days people were somehow not quite as human as us, there was not quite the level of culture and people did not understand that slavery was wrong. Hang on: more people are being trafficked today than were ever in the slave trade back then.

I shall give another example of how close to home this trade is. Across the river at St. Thomas' hospital, a member of my staff observed at the sexual health clinic a young lady escaping from a trafficker, with the trafficker chasing her down the corridor. That is the hospital across the river. Obviously, I have mentioned London and the London area, but the problem is everywhere. In Northamptonshire recently, the police broke a trafficking ring and rescued two victims.

I know that the Government have done a lot in this field and that Ministers have been very helpful. I have been writing a report on the issue for the past three years, and every time I think I have finished it, some horrible new aspect of it appears, including trafficking within the United Kingdom. However, there are one or two things that I do think could be done.

The first involves what I have learned for the first time will be called the national watchdog. There has been some disagreement between my hon. Friend and me about what that should be called. He was rather in favour, being a good European, of "rapporteur". As someone who does not quite share his views on Europe, I did not think that that could possibly be acceptable to the British people and I suggested that perhaps it should be "commissioner", but what we want is a very small unit. I have been with my hon. Friend to Holland to see the Dutch rapporteur. Their office consists of two or three people and they report each year to the Parliament on the numbers. They have a statutory duty to do that. That is a check on what the Government are doing and whether things are getting better or worse. I referred to a very small unit. This is not another Conservative cost commitment. I am sure that the money can be found within the existing framework, that the cost will be much less than the cost of what is going on at the moment and that the money will be much more effective. That is one thing the Government could do to improve the situation.

The second issue is more delicate. We have very good border controls for people coming from outside the European Union, but of course people have free movement within the European Union. We are an island, so we have certain advantages. However, what happens is that people come into this country who clearly may be trafficking people, but they are not challenged because there is a fear that we might be breaking European rules. Let me give an example. I hope that people will correct me if I have got this wrong.

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I used to go to America because I had a business there, and on occasion I took with me young ladies of 16 or 17 who were trainees in the business and were going to visit our US office. On every occasion, the border agency there took those young people aside and interviewed them separately to find out whether it was a genuine visit, and that I was not trafficking them. That took half an hour. They used to take letters with them from their mothers and so on, but it was done on every occasion.

I know of an example in which a middle-aged white man brought into the country a black young lady who did not match the picture on the passport. They were not challenged. That girl was thought to have been trafficked; thankfully, she escaped. This is the sort of practical step we should try to take; it will not mean stopping everyone, but in obvious cases someone might say, "Hang on, why are those young women coming in with that man? They do not seem to be related; they do not seem to be a family." Such cases should be investigated. Those two practical things would make a huge difference.

I fully agree that all the things listed by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes should happen. However, I have another huge concern. Those trafficked into this country who are over 18 are treated better than children who have been trafficked. Those aged 16 who are trafficked into this country, forced into prostitution and then rescued will finish up in a children's home, from where the traffickers will re-traffic them. Those over 18 will probably finish up with the POPPY project, where they will be properly looked after.

I have long argued about what needs to be done. If a 16-year-old trafficked girl is found in Bournemouth, she should be moved to Manchester-or at least put somewhere completely out of range of the traffickers. There is also a strong argument for having secure homes for people who have been trafficked-not to keep the trafficked victims in but to stop the traffickers getting at them.

3.21 pm

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but I shall start with the hon. Gentleman. He made a valedictory speech, but with his customary brio he only looked forward, giving a series of marching orders to my hon. Friend the Minister. I hope he will accept some of them, particularly those about not blending the specialist units into a blancmange. We have seen the equality, race relations and disability councils being turned into an amorphous pudding that is far less than the sum of its parts. What disasters can sometimes be produced by administrative tidying up.

There are aspects of this issue that we can all cover. I am very proud that it was on this Government's watch, and particularly during the last five years, that significant steps were taken. You, Mr. Evans, as a fellow delegate to the Council of Europe, will know how we all joined together to persuade the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, to sign and later to ratify the convention on human trafficking. Even that will only work if real effect is given to it. Next week, the Council of Europe will debate the convention, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the former Deputy Prime Minister, giving an opinion on it. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

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However, with the usual dreary penny-pinching, platitudinous approach of Whitehall, the official briefing paper for the Council of Europe delegates-you may not yet have seen it, Mr. Evans, as it arrived only today-said in effect, "Jolly good thing, but not a penny more for the experts group on action against trafficking in human beings." I most sincerely ask my hon. Friend the Minister just to find £50,000 or £100,000; if he does not want to use pounds, he could send euros. The currencies are about the same, so it will not make much difference, but we should show a token gesture of appreciation of that work.

We then come to what we can do. The speeches we have heard this afternoon are similar to those that I have heard over the last few years. We have not yet made that decisive breakthrough. Part of the problem is that there are still powerful forces in this country-I do not doubt their sincerity-who believe that there is no problem with women of almost any age above immediate post-puberty childhood selling their orifices for the sexual satisfaction of men.

The English Collective of Prostitutes makes an extremely nefarious and negative contribution to the debate. It is constantly cited on "Newsnight" or in The Guardian and other newspapers as some kind of expert authority on the problem. However, the collective, its supporters and spokesmen in the House and elsewhere, and those journalists who write about it, are in complete and utter denial about the extent of the problem. They fall into the trap of having a debate over statistics.

The hon. Member for Totnes made it very clear that there is no satisfactory figure. The reason for that is that we are talking about illegality; we are talking about fear; we are talking about underground problems; we are talking about trafficked girls who service men in south Yorkshire being controlled through a mobile phone by their Chinese pimp in Soho. There is no easy connection to make.

Keith Vaz: My right hon. Friend is most knowledgeable about these issues. However, are we not in danger of crossing boundaries? We are talking about human trafficking, but he wants to outlaw all prostitution. That is his position, is it not?

Mr. MacShane: My position is simple. We will stop slavery only when we stop demand for it by making it illegal. We cannot stop slavery by exhortations or books and sermons.

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, wrote powerfully in the Yorkshire Post about the problem of trafficking. I am not really in favour of men in long robes sitting in the House of Lords in the name of a faith, but he came down to London to organise a vote on a Government Bill-he wanted to unstop the undoubted blockages in the Lords. That Bill was passed into law just before Christmas; it makes it a crime-I cannot say this often enough-to have any paid-for sex not only with trafficked women but with anyone forced or coerced into offering their sexual services.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Slough that we need more publicity. I like to stop at Leicester Forest East motorway station, near the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for
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Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I stop there for breakfast early in the morning when driving to Rotherham, and often after my second cup of tea I go to the loo. It would be no bad thing if, at any height, there were reminders that if I took advantage of trafficked girls-I am sure that such services are offered in Leicester, as they are in every other city in the country-I would be committing a crime. That action could be undertaken now by the police or by local authorities.

We may have dealt with kerb crawling. We recently had the extraordinary example of a premier league football manager who was caught by The Sun coming out of one of those wretched industrial brothels before Christmas, but his name is not recorded because his lawyers are agitated about it. I grant that it is difficult to name him. I grant that naming and shaming may not be acceptable to many. I grant that there are many problems in that field. However, until we start the process of naming and shaming, which we have started to do with kerb crawlers, we will not start reducing the demand side. I am worried, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, that the Bill that was passed by the House of Lords just before Christmas may not be made operational. There is a culture of macho-ism in the police; as a result, combating this area of crime is regarded as not being as interesting or rewarding as others.

I conclude with a reference to the Anti-Trafficking Alliance. It promotes good literature, some of which is produced in Chinese. I have a copy here, but there is little point in reading into Hansard, as I do not understand Chinese. The alliance states:

It quotes Natalia, a Russian survivor of trafficking. She said:

I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, for whom I have affection and respect, that he must speak up much more clearly on the demand side.

In an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes-if I may, I will call him my hon. Friend-who has been so shabbily treated by the press in what is his last period in the House, and the hon. Member for Wellingborough disagreed with me about the demand side issue. I hope now that we are beginning to change our minds. I thoroughly endorse all the recommendations. Given that the Home Office has undergone a complete culture change in the last couple of years and has become extraordinarily courageous under the present Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and previous Home Secretaries, it would be exciting if it adopted one or two of the measures and then promoted them before this Parliament comes to its end.

None the less, the root cause remains demand. As long as there is demand-as long as one premier league football manager grants himself the privilege of going to a brothel and having sex with someone who may or may not have been trafficked-we will not stop the practice. We must focus on the demand side.

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3.30 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): This has been an excellent debate with many well-informed contributions. Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on securing the debate. It was entirely appropriate that he should use this debate-one of his last opportunities in Parliament-to raise an issue on which he has been an active and articulate advocate in the House in recent years.

Let me take the debate a little wider than the issue of the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Victims of trafficking are often viewed as possible perpetrators of immigration crime, as opposed to being, first and foremost, victims. They are unable to identify themselves as victims because of the risk of being pursued in relation to immigration matters. A number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), made it clear that it is difficult to get hold of accurate data on the subject, for the obvious reason that most of the problem is underground, which makes it hard to keep reliable statistics. The Home Affairs Committee's report identified that more work needed to be done by the UK Human Trafficking Centre to provide firmer information about the issue, so that all the different authorities are better placed to address the problem.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee that produced that excellent report-if we can share in the compliments. One of the points raised in that report was the concern that the Metropolitan police's human-trafficking unit was going to lose its funding from the Home Office. That poses a problem, particularly for London. Given that the Minister is here, is it not right that we should make a plea that some-if not all-of that funding should be restored?

Tom Brake: Clearly, the Minister has heard that plea on a number of occasions, and he has now heard it again. Given the difficulty in tackling and addressing the issue, and in identifying the number of victims, it seems a great pity to lose or dilute expertise, or to reduce the funding required to finance the expertise. I can see the Minister frantically scribbling away. I am sure that he is writing into his notes a commitment to providing the funding that is required, and he will shortly have the opportunity to confirm that that is the case.

Mr. Steen: Like me, the hon. Gentleman talks about statistics. The UK Human Trafficking Centre was the one place that was deputed to get statistics. It got them from local authorities and elsewhere. However, trafficking is not just about sex. Members have been talking about sex, but it is also about child trafficking, domestic slavery trafficking and debt bondage. A large number of men are involved in trafficking. The statistics were going to be brought together. The centre is only three years old, and it has gone. I know that the Minister will say that it has not gone, but in my view it will go in a few months' time. When it does, there will be no organisation in Britain deputed to get information. The very thing that we have all been requesting for years will disappear, and we will not achieve any of the things that we want to achieve.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his pertinent and topical intervention. Again, the Minister will have heard such a view before. It is up to the
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Minister to identify who will be responsible for collecting the information and who will address the issues that the UK Human Trafficking Centre has not yet been able to address. Those issues include multi-agency working and how it will be possible to pull in not just the police but the UK Border Agency and other organisations, so that we can work collectively on this significant human tragedy, which occurs in many of our towns and cities each day of the year. There are issues that institutions need to address. Some seek to address the issue of immigration and all its attendant problems, such as people-smuggling, rather than the special problems of trafficking.

I have very little time, so I will flag up some points to do with prevention, to which the Government should respond. The Home Affairs Committee report highlighted the fact that we have a system that conspires to allow migrants to come to the country almost with the expectation that they will not receive the minimum wage. It is almost universally understood that they will not receive it, which is an encouragement to trafficking. We often have good laws that are poorly enforced. The national minimum wage is one such example. As a number of Members have highlighted, there is not much public awareness of human trafficking for sexual purposes, child trafficking or trafficking for slave labour. I hope that the Minister will respond to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that we should ensure greater public campaigning on the issue, to make people more aware of it.

I should also like to pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Slough made about our local newspapers, which feature many columns of adverts of the kind that she mentioned. I welcome the fact that the Newsquest Media Group has agreed that it will not carry such columns. I hope that those of us who get Newsquest papers will scan the columns carefully, not only for references to ourselves as Members of Parliament, but to see whether those papers do indeed no longer carry adverts of that nature.

I have one slightly more controversial point. As there have been significant differences of opinion about the laws on prostitution, it would be right to draw attention to what the police have had to say about the difficulties in enforcing the law. I am not sure whether the Minister is in a position to give us feedback today on whether those difficulties are now perceived to be less of a problem, more of a problem or still part of a very significant issue that the police will have to address. I refer to the matter of the police being able to demonstrate whether men are able to establish beyond doubt that a woman had or had not been trafficked.

I should like to carry on at much greater length, but you will not permit me, Mr. Evans. I will therefore finish by congratulating the hon. Member for Totnes on opening this debate with his characteristic knowledge and expertise. I hope that the Minister can respond to our concerns, particularly on the issues about funding, what might come after the closure of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, and how he will ensure that we can retain and effectively use our expertise.

3.39 pm

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