HC Deb 10 May 2004 vol 421 cc11-2
5. Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South) (Lab)

What his plans are to combat the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children within the UK; and if he will make a statement. [171320]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)

The Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force on 1 May, includes offences that criminalise trafficking into, within and out of the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The offences carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. The Act also introduces comprehensive offences covering the sexual exploitation of children.

Mr. Woodward

The provision of safe accommodation for children who are victims of this appalling trade is essential if we are to break the cycle and protect children more. It is also essential because a trade that is estimated to be worth $7 billion a year requires us to do all that we can. Given the Government's commitment to establishing a safe house, and the establishment of Integrated Care's first safe house for these children, what proposals have the Government to support them further and to expand the safe houses service?

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his determined pursuit of this issue. We know of the new safe house established by Integrated Care and believe that it provides an important service to which all local authorities can refer children. It is for local authorities to decide how best to discharge their responsibilities to children in need under the Children Act 1989—some choose services of this kind, while others opt for foster care or other provision—but I am certain that the safe house will be a useful resource for social services departments to consider when dealing with trafficked children. Our new legislation will ensure that children in such circumstances are given better protection.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential for joint working to take place between the immigration service, the police and social services at every port—and I mean every port in the country—to ensure that children who may be being trafficked are identified at that crucial stage, that they are given all possible help, and that all possible work is undertaken to deal with those who are trafficking them into the country? Will she have further discussions with the Minister for Children to ensure that that crucial aspect of joint working goes ahead based on the best practice available?

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my hon. Friend, and I note his continued commitment to the issue. I think that, like me, he will welcome the additional work that has come out of the Sexual Offences Act 2003: tough new offences, better collaboration between social services and immigration, action to prevent the problem by working with source and transit countries and, as he pointed out, other appropriate support for victims. We are working across key agencies at principal entry points to identify children at risk. Operation Paladin has just been concluded. It involved a range of different authorities dealing with unaccompanied children, or children accompanied by someone other than their parents, to see what situation they are coming to and what the child protection issues are. We will be learning the lessons from that. Child victims of trafficking are likely to need welfare services and, in many cases, protection under the Children Act 1989. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that that happens.