Terribly, even in those conditions, many of those people prefer to be here than in their home country, because their life in their country was even worse than the life that they are forced to live here. We have to accept that as an issue. Incredibly perversely, many of them prefer to be illegal workers. In an evidence session for a previous immigration Bill, Jack Dromey said that his union had found evidence of Portuguese workers-who could, of course, have come here perfectly legally-pretending to be Brazilians and operating under false
Brazilian passports, because that way, they could work illegally, take jobs at below the minimum wage and allow themselves to be exploited. They thought that it was easier to get work that way. One can see the depths of the perverse effects.
Many of these victims are unwittingly involved in organised crime. We know that there are many crimes associated with human trafficking, including the employment of illegal immigrants, drug crimes and money laundering, as well as prostitution and child abuse. I expect the Minister would agree that we need to ensure that campaigns such as the cross-borders Blue Blindfold campaign continue to help raise awareness of this despicable trade, as the Bill would do.
We on the Conservative Benches have previously urged the Government to focus on the countries of origin. We were pleased to see a mention of that in the millennium goals. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend mentioned what happens in the countries of origin. It is clear that prevention work in such countries will be hugely valuable as part of the long-term package of measures that we need to take to combat human trafficking.
We were pleased when the Government responded to pressure from us and others and signed up to the European convention on trafficking in human beings. We know that that is not just a UK problem. It is one for the whole of Europe, and we can learn a great deal from studying the work done in other countries, particularly Austria and Italy, which have shown some creative thought in this area.
An important development that has not been mentioned was the formation of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. The existence of one central point of information on trafficking has clearly been valuable to police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies. The existence of the UKHTC demonstrates the importance of specialisation when tackling new and growing types of crime. I hope that expertise does not disappear in the future.
Mr. Steen: I visited the UK Human Trafficking Centre with the Joint Committee on Human Rights. If the centre co-ordinates statutory organisations, gets statistics and provides information, we should support it, but we should not forget the non-governmental agencies, which receive little or no help from the Government, other than the POPPY project. Bearing in mind that £1.8 million goes to the Human Trafficking Centre, does my hon. Friend agree that a similar sum should go to the non-governmental organisations who do such amazing work in victim protection?
My hon. Friend has just broken the covenant whereby he was not going to ask for more public spending- [Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position, "Get rid of the UK Human Trafficking Centre."
I do not agree. The UKHTC does good work and it would be short-sighted to shut it. I take his point that some of the NGOs are clearly doing valuable work as well.
I have some concerns about the current action plan because there appear to be problems with the national referral mechanism at a local level. I hope the Minister would agree that better information needs to be provided to local authorities and police forces so that they are aware of the problem, better able to identify victims and confident in using the mechanism.
The figures show the scale of the problem. In October 2008 the Government published an assessment stating that 360 children were trafficked into and within the UK each year, but only 57 under-18s were referred to the national referral mechanism as suspected victims of human trafficking last year, out of a total of 527 referrals. In the five years to 2009, 452 people were arrested for human trafficking offences, but fewer than a quarter, only 110, were convicted. Those figures are worrying.
One important area that is often neglected is trafficking for forced labour. In 2008 there were only four convictions for trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, despite the problems that we know about in relation to organised immigration crime. As a country, we could do much better at cracking down on rogue employers. That is why we differ from the Government on a series of proposals about better border policing.
We have made a number of suggestions: instructing immigration officials to check the date of the return ticket of the adult accompanying minors and look for discrepancies; better work with countries of origin to help reintegrate victims, prevent the re-trafficking that my hon. Friend mentioned and educate potential victims; more robust law enforcement to bring to justice more traffickers and employers of forced labour; and better co-operation with the national authorities of other countries within Europol and Eurojust.
All those measures would be useful, but our most important defence against human trafficking is our own borders, and we suggest replacing ad hoc police operations by mainstreaming trafficking as a police priority through a national border police force. The Government's failure to tackle the problems at our borders has resulted in a disastrous rise in organised immigration crime, and the Conservative party believes that we cannot tackle crime in the UK effectively without addressing the problems at our borders. They could be better policed, and we could prevent significant illegal immigration while cracking down on the trafficking of people and, indeed, weapons and drugs.
We believe that the specialisation of police services is most effective in fighting those new crimes, and that is why we commissioned Lord Stevens to conduct a review of our border security. We conclude, with him, that only a unified force can best protect our borders, so an incoming Conservative Government would make setting up a national border police force one of their priorities. We want to replace the current system, which, as we have seen over the past few years, lacks a comprehensive, joined-up strategy. That significant practical measure would improve the protection of our borders generally, and give us a better weapon in the fight against human trafficking, specifically.
Many measures can be taken, however, and my hon. Friend's Bill, which would significantly improve public awareness of the problem, would be another significant and welcome step forward. I am therefore very happy to support it, because we need to ensure that Britain once again leads the way in fighting slavery. We need to continue Wilberforce's work, so that this new slavery is eradicated as soon as possible.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I shall be brief, because I am anxious for this and the following business to be discussed. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for his work on these issues. He has talked to me about many of them for some considerable time, and he has opened my eyes to a very serious issue; occasionally he has caused them to close after a very lengthy discussion, but mostly he has opened them.
We all think that my hon. Friend's proposed day will raise awareness of this incredibly important and serious issue, which many people are not as aware of as they should be: we had the 200th anniversary celebrations of Wilberforce's Act, and most people think that slavery is long gone. I pay tribute once more to my hon. Friend for his work. The House will lose a doughty crusader on this issue, and I hope that he will-indeed, I urge him to-continue that work wherever he finds himself.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on bringing this Bill to the House as the latest stage of his important campaign to focus attention on awareness of, and action against, human trafficking. He said that his speech today might be one of his last in this place, but I hope that it is not, because we benefit from his knowledge. Today he has brought to the House the benefit of what a comprehensive, campaigning Member of Parliament can do, and I am thinking not only of the hon. Gentleman's time in the House.
In preparation for this debate, I have been reading the current edition of The House Magazine, No. 1330 volume 35. There is a profile of the hon. Gentleman that is very relevant to the Bill. It is headed "Pioneering spirit not extinguished", and that sums things up rather well. He informs the House, through the magazine, of his intention to continue in this place working on this campaign, albeit in a different capacity. I congratulate him on that and wish him well; with a long career behind him, he has, I hope, many years ahead of him to campaign on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman did not explain his Bill in the legalistic jargon that we sometimes hear; I am probably as guilty of that as others. He expressed himself in very human terms, which my constituents would understand, as he related the human stories behind the issue. I suspect that he shares my burning frustration at the fact that the Press Gallery is vacant this morning. There are some stories that the public need to know about, and it is sad that it is left to just a few journalists to bring attention to them. People say that this place is not relevant, but they ought to listen to or report our debates on these issues. Unless I say something sensational, I doubt whether this debate will be reported; I think the hon. Gentleman knows what I am referring to.
The House is extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this subject to our attention and for the work of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, many of whose members are sponsoring the Bill. I know that there was a recent meeting about consular domestic workers, an issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised today.
Obviously, the Government have been giving consideration to the hon. Gentleman's proposal that the United Kingdom should introduce a national day of awareness about human trafficking and slavery. The Bill lays out its purpose clearly, and that purpose can be supported. The provisions in clause 1(2)(a) to (c) lay the purpose out. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made reference to how they might be interpreted.
I should say at the start that the Government will not oppose the Bill; we think that it is for the House to decide whether it is appropriate that there should be a statutory anti-slavery day. Should the House move the Bill on to the next stages, we will offer the services of parliamentary counsel to address some of the concerns identified as we considered the Bill in Whitehall.
I know that I am not meant to read out the brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will on this occasion, as it will be helpful. It raises some of the concerns about wording, the usual advice on meaning-particularly about words such as "proactive"-and concerns about presentational issues, to which the hon. Gentleman himself referred, in relation to the existing European Union anti-trafficking day and the UNESCO day on slavery. The brief also refers to how and why this day, as opposed to other days, needs statutory backing. Armistice day has no statutory backing, but I guess that the House would say that it does not need it; no Government would want not to focus resources on it.
That, however, is a matter for the House. Should the Bill get to the next stages, we will offer the services of parliamentary counsel. I hope that that is taken in the spirit of helpfulness in which it is intended. It is always a good idea to read out the brief when it is intended to be helpful.
"modern-day slavery is taking the place of the trans-Atlantic slave trade".
"millions of men, women and children continue to be victims of modern-day slavery, depriving them of basic human dignity and freedom",
The issue is simple. If we stopped people in the street today and talked about human trafficking, a great number of them would not know what we were talking about and a great number more would say, "Oh, it all finished years ago." In other European countries, ideas are even vaguer. The whole approach in Europe, starting here today, should be that we are not going to have modern-day slavery. What Wilberforce did in the 19th century is what we need to do in the 21st, and we
must apply it to a new kind of slavery involving human beings who are victimised, treated cruelly and abused for the sake of money for the traffickers. We have to do that today. Parliamentary draftsmen, for all they are worth, will find a reason to make the Bill meaningless, so we must not necessarily take all their advice.
Mr. Woolas: I take the hon. Gentleman's point about parliamentary draftsmen. They are very helpful to Ministers and we could not do without them, but his point is strong. I should explain that the lead responsibility for the matter in the Home Office rests with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), but of course we work extremely closely together, particularly because the UK Border Agency works with police forces. I shall return to the debate between the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and myself about the desirability or otherwise of a specific police force within UKBA, but the work that we are doing benefits from a partnership approach.
The Bill mentions the particular desirability of raising awareness among young people, which is very important. I share the views of the hon. Member for Totnes about the lack of awareness. The views that he described were my own misunderstanding before I took the job, and before I undertook research into the matter as a private citizen after the exhibition that the POPPY project held last year. As a father, let alone as a member of the public, I was horrified by the depth and breadth of trafficking. Of course, one could say that even if only one person was trafficked, they would deserve the action that we are trying to take.
"the progress made by government and those working to combat all forms of modern-day slavery",
and it is good for Parliament to make that point. Perhaps it would be helpful if I briefly outlined the work that we are doing in that regard. Central to our approach has been the desirability of reconciling the various objectives of enforcing the laws against traffickers, preventing illegal immigration, which is often associated with trafficking, and protecting victims. That approach was commended by the House through the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 26th report of the 2005-06 Session. It is worth quoting that report, which stated:
"We are encouraged by our further belief that the Government is also committed to achieving the best possible balance in its overall policy to combat trafficking, grounding that policy in human rights standards, and has an open mind about how this can best be achieved."
In 2007, the year of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, we published the first UK action plan, which was updated most recently in October 2009, as the hon. Member for Totnes knows. That coincided with the European Union's anti-trafficking day, which is held on 18 October each year, as hon. Members have said. In addition to the action plan, we also issued a publicity leaflet for victims of trafficking and advice for practitioners, to ensure as far as possible that the voluntary and statutory agencies are singing from the same hymn sheet. On the same day the Under-Secretary of State,
my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, who has responsibility for crime reduction, spoke on the issue in Brussels, outlining the work undertaken by the UK in contributing to the European effort.
The plan looks at the issue from end to end-from the source of the pipeline, if I can use that phrase, to the experience of the victim at the end of it. The hon. Gentleman has explained the circular nature of the problem, given the pressure put on victims through threats to their families in their home countries. The plan takes an end-to-end approach and focuses on four key areas: prevention; investigation, enforcement and prosecution; providing protection to adult victims; and providing protection to child victims. Let me look briefly at each.
The prevention of trafficking is essential. Our attention has focused on three areas: increasing our understanding of the problem; addressing issues that impact on the supply side of human trafficking; and deterring the demand for human trafficking. Those are not simple tasks. The covert and deceptive nature of the crime makes it difficult to assess the scale of the problem. One estimate of the scale of trafficking for sexual exploitation is that there were up to 4,000 victims in the UK at any one time in 2003. That is not 4,000 victims throughout the year; it is 4,000 at any one time, which is where the recent press reports, to which reference has been made, got confused.
In April the Government will publish a revised estimate of the nature and scale of trafficking for sexual exploitation in this country. That work will be taken forward in 2010. Alongside that we will do scoping studies of trafficking for forced labour and domestic servitude. I mention those things because the hon. Gentleman's Bill says that it is desirable to draw attention to the problem. I hope that he does not regard those initiatives as a substitute for action; rather, they are part of it.
Mr. Steen: Is the Minister aware-I was not aware of this until last week, when I met some police officers concerned with sexual exploitation-that the police have now identified more than 2,200 brothels in this country? For instance, there were thought to be half a dozen brothels in Croydon, but they have now found that the figure is 60. All brothels apparently have so many trafficked women in them-indeed, the police believe that as many as half or two thirds of the women in many British brothels have been trafficked and forced to work there-that we might find that the figure of 4,000, which I accept, will double when we start to get more information.
Mr. Woolas: I am not familiar with the specific figure, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has drawn our attention to that. I simply make the point, which I know the hon. Gentleman agrees with, that the figures are sometimes misunderstood because it is assumed that the problem is static, and of course it is not.