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Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, talked of the horrors of trafficking in children when advocating his Amendment No. 322. I wholly agree with him, but Clauses 61 to 63 inclusive are not confined to children. In Clause 64, which is the interpretation clause, subsection (1)(a) refers to,
Lord Hylton: The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was quite right to draw attention to the omission in the Bill of trafficking for labour exploitation. I trust that it will soon become an offence. I know that the legislative programme is already very crowded, but I hope that the Government will not forget about that point.
However, on trafficking for sexual exploitation, I very much welcome the Government's intention to act decisively against it. That is shown by the way in which they have drafted Clause 61 and the next two clauses. It will, however, require the closest co-operation between immigration officers, police, Customs and Excise, the courts and the voluntary sector. The action needed will be over and above existing responsibilities of the department. Do the Government appreciate that, and will they provide significant extra resources?
I also welcome Home Office action in helping to organise and fundalthough, so far, only for an initial six-month perioda safe house for trafficked adults, to be located in the region of south London. I have visited the housing association involved in that pioneer project and was well impressed by its approach to the problem. Of course, the numbers of trafficked women and children cannot be known, but they are significant. No doubt more individuals will come to light once it becomes known that exits are being provided from prostitution and pornography. The problems are not exclusive to central London, but are already cropping up in the suburbs and in other cities.
The situation for trafficked children appears less good. I appreciate that that is a matter for the Department of Health, but I trust that the noble and learned Lord will be able to answer for that department, as I gave notice of this question to his office. For some years past, the main burden of unaccompanied children arriving at Gatwick and Heathrow, some of whom have been trafficked, has fallen on West Sussex social services, as has been mentioned.
Although some children have disappeared from its care, a safe house has been provided, from which disappearance is much less likely. However, I understand that there is some danger that that house may have to close. Can the Government shed light on the up-to-date situation? I gather from a parliamentary reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrewsreference number HL 2530that a proposal has been tabled to close the safe house and replace it with training and support for carers for young people at risk of trafficking. Does that mean that they will be placed with foster parents? If those young people are to be fostered only in West Sussex, will they not require almost 24-hour police protection?
If, on the other hand, the children are to be dispersed nationally, there will still be a need for great vigilance. Who is to decide what is the most prudent course of action? Surely, it should not be left to one committee of one county council to decide such a matter. Care and protection of trafficked peoplewhether children or adultis properly a central government responsibility.
On Second Reading, I urged that the burden should not fall largely on local authorities, which may be hard-pressed for many different reasons. Will the Department of Health provide for protection and care of trafficked children, wherever that is needed? Will it provide for better training of social workers about trafficking, and for counselling for child victims? Those things are necessary if intelligence is to be gained about the operation of traffickers and if evidence is to be given against members of very tough criminal gangs.
Both adults and children need a period of calm and time for quiet reflection before they can be expected to provide either intelligence or evidence. Sweden, Italy and the United States of America all provide for such reflection periodsusually for six months or longer. They are reaping the benefits in the form of improved conviction rates for traffickers. Customs and cultures vary between the various countries of origin. In some
As the noble and learned Lord did not mention the matter on Second Reading, will he tell the Committee what is the Government's policy about reflection periods? I am sure that he will acknowledge that that will involve extra costs for the important purpose of catching and convicting traffickers.
Finally, I ask the Government urgently to consider the evidence from police forcesfor example, Bristol and Nottinghamwhich has been accepted by voluntary organisations, that children aged from 13 to 17 are being trafficked from city to city within England. That can include English children. There are thus domestic as well as international aspects to that exploitation.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I should like briefly to reinforce the points made by my noble friend Lord Hylton and by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. The Minister will recall that when the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I came to see him, we raised the issue of West Sussex social services and the question of reflection periods. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, will recall that we have also had exchanges on the subject during Questions.
We should not be over-critical of West Sussexan authority that, merely because of its proximity to Gatwick Airport, has had an unfair burden of responsibility placed on it. The problem is that any local authority close to an international airport is bound to have the lion's share of responsibility placed on it. Those extenuating circumstances mean that we must assist those authorities that are close to Gatwick and Heathrow when those circumstances arise.
In our discussion, the noble Lord showed considerable concern that so many children have simply disappeared from West Sussex and that we have no knowledge of where they have gone or what their fate was. I am sure that all noble Lords agree that once people have been placed in care, they should not disappear and we should not have no knowledge of their fate. Has it been possible to establish any more about the profiles of those children, their whereabouts and what happened to them? What can we learn from their disappearance? It is extremely worrying that, having been taken into a sanctuary, children should disappear in that way from any part of the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Hylton and I are concerned about the possibility that the provision that we are discussing might disappear from West Sussex and that the safe house provision might disappear altogetherwe discussed that earlier today. Will the Minister share with us details about what provision will be made in future in West Sussex to look after those vulnerable children?
The second issue that my noble friend Lord Hylton raised was that of reflection periods. I have raised that separately with the Minister. We can learn from the experiences in Sweden and elsewherethey have already been alluded toin which the six-month
Frightened children are unlikely to give information when they are picked up or taken to a safe house. They need time in which to stabilise and realise that there will be no retaliation against them and that long-term security will be provided for them. That is when the best information and intelligence is likely to be made available to us, and that information will enable us to break the circle that clearly operates from places such as west Africa and south-east Asia. That would allow us to end once and for all trafficking in vulnerable young human beings. Reflection periods are a good way forward. I hope that the Minister will not rule it out entirely and, if he cannot agree to it tonight, give it further consideration.
Another point that I wanted to mention was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and my noble friend. It concerns the extension of legislation to deal with non-sexual exploitation. Articles 34 to 36 of the UN convention have already been mentioned. I know from my discussions with the Minister that this is not the place in the Bill to make such a provision. However, it would be helpful to the Government and all those agencies that are rightly concerned about the use of children in any number of labour-intensive occupations and sweat-shops, where they are exploited in terms of employment. It would be useful to know that that is on the agenda and that the Government intend to deal with it in due course. I hope that he will take the opportunity this evening to say a few words about that.
I attended a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for children, in which the director of the West Sussex safe house described her work to us. It was deeply concerning to hear how the children had often been terrorised and that they sometimes honestly believed that they were under some sort of spell and that, if they failed to do as they had been told, terrible things would happen to them. At the end of that meeting, the director of the establishment said that she was very concerned about the circumstances of returning childrenor, when they reach the age of 18, adultsto their home country. I should appreciate an assurance from the noble and learned LordI apologise for not giving him prior notice of this questionthat there is proper liaison between the Home Office and such establishments about returning children to their home country. Perhaps he could do so before we reach the next stage. I know that a child should not be returned unless that is in their best
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