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5 Feb 2010 : Column 567

Mr. Woolas: I understand that, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should always have an open mind on this. I know he will agree with this next point, because he is an experienced businessman and chief executive. The structure is not what is important; what is important is what is going on. Part of the solution lies in increased awareness, because the more the authorities see that this place, the public and the newspapers are interested in this issue and are demanding action, the more their activity will be focused. Thus, it does not matter, ultimately, in which bit the work is done. However, I take his point and I take his advice.

The hon. Member for Ashford said that the all-party group on trafficking of women and children is an "exemplar" of what an all-party group should be. I have found that it knows what it is talking about-my goodness me it does-and that surely is the benefit of it. Given what has been going on this week, I wish we could reflect on that recognition of that knowledge, dedication and skill; it is why I do not think the hon. Member for Totnes should be standing down from the House, but he has made up his mind.

In the past six years, the Government have worked increasingly well with a network of partners to improve the support and protection of the victims, and I come to the most important point. Our work has included the provision of safe accommodation to get people, often traumatised women, out of harm's way and protecting them. The hon. Gentleman gave us one example of this, and anyone who looks at the POPPY project's work, particularly the photographic exhibition, will be sickened to find that these things are happening in the modern world.

The Government have also worked on developing specialist emotional and practical support for these people, who have been traumatised, often over a number of years, by their experiences; assisting with voluntary returns to home countries in a safe way-the development of that strategy is crucial; ensuring minimum levels of service from the criminal justice agencies under the victims code of practice; providing access to compensation in certain circumstances; and providing training for agencies that may encounter possible victims. Those are a number of the approaches that we are taking to try to provide support. I hate the word "holistic", but it is obviously desirable to provide holistic support, because it means that the state should look after the individual, rather than just the bit of the individual for which it is responsible-that approach can sometimes do more harm than good if we get things wrong.

Such protection is vital, not just for the individual that we have been able to help but for the message that it sends out. It gives victims confidence that there is a safe place to go and that the authorities in this country are aware of this problem. That is very helpful in breaking the code of omerta that sometimes exists in organised criminal activity and in giving encouragement to victims, be they children, young women or men.

The hon. Gentleman will want to know the answer to the question, "How much money?" We have invested in an expansion of supported accommodation with refuge places for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in London, Sheffield and Cardiff. That investment has also funded an increase in advocacy workers to help to provide tailored support to the victims and includes access to independent legal advice
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for immigration purposes. The most difficult decisions that one has to take in UKBA are often in this area-they are difficult in the sense that it is sometimes an awful experience to comprehend the background to them.

We are also committed to ensuring that front-line staff who come into contact with victims of trafficking have clear guidelines on their responsibilities when trafficking is suspected, as well as ensuring that victims are provided with safe advice.

Mr. Steen: I recognise that the Government have done a very good job with the police in making this police core business. In fact, part of the campaign of the all-party group was to make it core police business. The Minister will remember the questions that came from all parts of the House on that. However, the Government are weak on funding non-governmental agencies. They are the ones that are pushing forward the agenda, identifying the victims and explaining where the weaknesses are. Other than the POPPY project, which we both accept does invaluable work, the non-governmental agencies are not getting help at all. That is what concerns me-not the police, as I think they have it under control, not the statutory bodies, such as UKBA or the UK Human Trafficking Centre, but all those dedicated non-governmental agencies that are working on a pittance without a penny piece of public support.

Mr. Woolas: That raises difficult areas of public policy that we all recognise in the debate between the desirability of the devolution of powers and the desirability of ring-fencing. The Supporting People housing support budget, which is about £2.1 billion, helps to address this problem.

There is an assumption that this is an inner-city problem. Support groups often find themselves unable to get finances and advice, because there is an assumption that this problem does not take place in Totnes and Ashford, to name just two areas. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would make that an argument for the Bill-it focuses attention. It has been difficult to find out the extent of the support that exists. Some of it is done through our network of refuge support centres-of course, there is an immigration tie-in there-and some through the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Local Government Association should be thanked, too. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and it is an argument for his Bill that I would certainly use if I were him.

May I remind hon. Members of the key elements of the Council of Europe convention, which we ratified, as the hon. Gentleman said, in December 2008? This represents a major milestone in the fight against human trafficking, and has strengthened the protection arrangements for victims by granting identified victims an extendable 45-day recovery period and one-year temporary residency permits in certain circumstances. These measures go further than the minimum standards outlined in the convention. The United Kingdom should be proud of that.

Mr. Steen: Let me explain to the Minister why he is wrong. It is good that the Government have gone for the option of 45 days, but two months for a girl who has been traumatised and subjected to violence is not nearly enough to get her oriented and to help her to give evidence against the very people who have been involved
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in that violence against her. The Austrians give a year and a work permit or identity card, as do the Italians. The Austrians have an outstanding record of convicting traffickers because the victims feel safe in that country. Here, they fear they might be deported because after two months the period of reflection ends and they are hassled to leave the country. Although it is an improvement on the Council of Europe convention's 28 days-it might be 45 days; I might have it wrong-the Austrians and the Italians give a year and I would like to think that the British Government might consider so extending the period of reflection.

Mr. Woolas: I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the conjunction that I used: I referred to the granting of an extendable 45-day recovery period and a one-year temporary residency permit in certain circumstances. He may argue that the latter should be automatic. I shall provide a little of the background to decisions on these matters.

There is protection in immigration rules for victims of domestic violence, to whom we provide refuge and can provide indefinite leave to remain. That is desirable, and the House supported the idea. However, it has resulted, in a number of instances-I would say a significant number-of abuse of that route for organised immigration crime purposes, through the use of what I believe those in police enforcement call sleepers. We have had cases of women who have asked to be beaten up so that they can get indefinite leave to remain. It is a sad world, but one has to be aware of that.

I am not suggesting that there is any evidence of such activity in this area; I am saying that we have an obligation to look at the individual when granting the 45-day recovery period and the one-year temporary residency permit. However, it would be foolish of me to say that 45 days is the be-all and end-all; we shall have to see. The policy is welcome and it is above the minimum required under the convention.

In addition, the establishment of a national referral mechanism has provided for the systematic identification of victims within a framework designed to make it easier for organisations to co-operate and share information about potential victims. That brings us to the hoary old chestnut of data sharing. I think that civil libertarians sometimes need to get real about the obstacles that can be put in the way of well-meaning organisations. We have moved forward on that with support from all the parties and local authorities.

We have not been reliant on the ratification of the convention to provide support to victims. We have invested £5.8 million in the POPPY project since 2003 to provide specialist support for victims trafficked into sexual exploitation. That includes as a minimum safe accommodation, advocacy, access to counselling, access to legal advice and interpretation services. The POPPY project has provided support to more than 500 victims of human trafficking since 2003.

A further £3.9 million is being spent over the current and next financial years on specialist services for victims of all forms of human trafficking. That figure includes a grant agreement between the Home Office and Migrant Helpline to provide support and accommodation to identified victims of forced labour. That grant agreement represents a further development in the support mechanism for victims of forced labour. Migrant Helpline, our
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non-governmental organisation partner, supported 169 people between June 2008 and September 2009 and supported three police operations last year.

That area of work has been enhanced by the creation of the pay and work rights helpline, through which the Greater London authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, HMRC, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-because of the link to agricultural labour-and the Health and Safety Executive work together to deal with multi-complaint issues.

Victims of trafficking can also access the wider provision available to all victims of crime, including the Victim Support service, the service for victims of sexual crimes in England and Wales, on which we have spent £4.65 million, and increased funding for sexual assault referral centres, rape crisis centres and the Survivors Trust.

Child trafficking is a particularly emotive issue for us all. Measures to care for children who are victims of trafficking need to be attuned to the vulnerability of children. The hon. Member for Totnes gave the example of Hillingdon. We have done a great deal of work on biometric fingerprint reading and biometric photographs, which are required on all visas, which means that we are now able to identify a person even if their passport has been destroyed. Identity fraud or misuse is a key weapon of the criminal, and through biometrics we now know who people are, which is a huge advantage in prosecutions and enforcement activities. Again, I wish that Liberty would pay attention to that point. Sometimes, the taking of data can help to protect someone's civil liberties. What if a victim of child trafficking were told, "We can't identify you, and we can't prosecute the criminal exploiting you, because we're not allowed to take data"? That is not a civil liberties argument by any stretch of the imagination.

On the needs of children, we have established, by giving somebody the job of doing it, joint work with children's services, the police and other law enforcement agencies, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and, of course, the Human Trafficking Centre. The missing persons taskforce, which was launched by the Prime Minister recently, is looking at how that joint work can be improved.

Recently, child trafficking training for immigration officers and other UKBA staff has been improved, and that ensures the continued awareness of our officers at the border. Let us remember that that now includes customs officials and immigration officials, and involves partnerships with police, including special branch-a special branch from outside London; I cannot remember the name-other specialist agencies and other parts of the security forces, including the intelligence agencies.

We have published revised arrangements and guidance for Crown prosecutors, including on the consideration of cases concerning juveniles found on cannabis farms and involved in other criminal activities. We have stepped up our efforts to tackle the problem of potentially trafficked children going missing from care, the Hillingdon example being prominent in that regard. We have introduced further measures to raise awareness among practitioners and improve their ability to identify children who may have been trafficked into the UK through the application of the national referral mechanism. We also published "Safeguarding Children and Young
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People from Sexual Exploitation". A significant amount of work has therefore been done, but we are far from complacent on the issue.

I have talked at some length to try to get across the desirability of that work, which is backed up by the Bill. Let me finish by repeating the offer that I made at the beginning of my remarks. We believe that drafting improvements could be made, but we do not want to stop the Bill, because that would not be right. However, there are some arguments that need to be had.

Mr. Steen: I thank the Minister for his marathon speech, which was riveting. I think the whole House was engrossed. He was going to talk about the Gabriella case, which he mentioned a short while ago. Before he sits down, will he just say exactly what is happening in that case?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I spoke at length not because I was instructed to do so by the Whips-although as a former Whip, I hasten to add that I would have done, had I been so instructed. Do they not say in this place, "Once a Whip, always a Whip"? I spoke at great length because the subject is hugely important. The core of the hon. Gentleman's argument is absolutely right. I confess that up to 18 months ago, before I did this job, I did not have a clue about the depth and extent of the problem. I have been appalled as a human being, let alone as a politician, by what goes on.

The case of the lady referred to as Gabriella is one example. UKvisas is an operation of UKBA, and I have been in communication with the chief executive this morning. I have met our ambassador in Moldova in the past few weeks, and I will do what I can to reunite that family as soon as possible. I do not know what the objections of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are, although
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I can imagine. They are dedicated professional people, but they will have to help. We will do whatwe can.

Perhaps the good side of this job is that sometimes we can intervene and help someone. We brought a girl back from Iraq in similar circumstances a few weeks ago, after a campaign led by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), so it can be done. I give the hon. Member for Totnes a commitment that I will do what I can to ensure that that is the case.

The hon. Gentleman has reminded me to check that I have answered all the questions. I think I have done so. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) spoke for the Liberal Democrats in support of the Bill and it is good to see him in his place. We have our differences with the Conservative Opposition on some areas of policy, particularly on their futile idea of a cap on tier 1 and tier 2, and their misunderstanding of the partnership that exists between border force officers and Her Majesty's constabulary, but overall we can say that police forces work very closely together.

The hon. Member for Totnes has built a powerful all-party consensus which does not take as its starting point the obvious statement that something should be done, but puts in place strategies that bring about enforcement. He argued for his Bill in that context, not as a token name or day. Some people will say, "Another day off, another week of action, another token gesture." That is not the intention of the Bill, and it is not how the Government see it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Ordered, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Committee this day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Occupants of the Chair have deprecated proceeding at once from Second Reading into Committee without notice, since it makes it difficult for Members to table amendments.

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Anti-Slavery Day Bill

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): There are some amendments to the Bill. Amendment papers are available in the Vote Office and, for the convenience of Members, they are also available in the Chamber.

Clause 1

Anti-slavery day

1.13 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 1, page 5, leave out from 'that' to 'millions' in line 6.

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this we may take the following: amendment 2, page 1, line 7, leave out 'modern-day'.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 10, leave out 'modern-day'.

Amendment 4, page 1, line 14, leave out 'modern-day'.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 17, leave out 'modern-day'.

Mr. Dismore: I shall not detain the Committee long, and I hope the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) will accept the amendments. As he knows from the Second Reading debate and private discussions, one of my concerns about the Bill is about the references to "modern-day" in the context of slavery and to the transatlantic slave trade.

People from the African continent find references to "modern-day" slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in this context somewhat offensive. I know this, as does the hon. Gentleman, I hope, from work that I have done in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. At the IPU Assembly several years ago, I spoke on trafficking and proposed a draft resolution.

The representatives of African countries were insistent that such references be removed because they do not consider it appropriate to compare what is happening now to what happened to people from Africa who were enslaved and taken to the American continent in the 18th and 19th centuries. They do not feel it is appropriate to compare the suffering of their ancestors with the modern position. It would therefore be more inclusive if the amendments were made to tidy up the wording.

1.15 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I accept that amendment in its entirety.

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