HL Deb 13 June 2002 vol 636 cc375-7

3.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take following the evidence presented on Channel 4 on Sunday 9th June concerning people trafficking into the United Kingdom.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the United Kingdom Immigration Service will investigate all substantive evidence of abuse of immigration controls given in the documentary. We have a comprehensive strategy to tackle the organised immigration crime of people trafficking and smuggling. The strategy is set out in the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Havens, and focuses on strengthening the law; tackling criminals through intelligence and enforcement; achieving international co-operation and prevention in source and transit countries; and dealing appropriately with the victims of trafficking. Together, those strands constitute a co-ordinated response to a global problem.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is somewhat reassuring to hear that, despite the delicacy of relationships between those responsible for administering and enforcing the law and those involved in journalism, especially investigative journalism, they are not, shall we say, inhibited by the need to protect sources and so on. However, the programme contained strong evidence in the international field. Can the Minister assure the House that work on the international front and the international aspects of that trade will be positively pursued as rapidly as possible?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of international efforts to combat organised immigration crime through a number of means: negotiations, signing protocols, joint enforcement work and the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, which covers trafficking and smuggling. So we are on the case and working with our partners across Europe and across the world to tackle what is frankly an appalling crime.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, how many prosecutions have been brought under Section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971, which provides the power to arrest people who traffic in human beings? Can the Minister confirm that countries through which some of those people pass receive financial benefit from people who perpetrate such vile crime in human trafficking?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the section to which the noble Lord refers provides for prosecution of anyone, knowingly concerned in or making or carrying out arrangements for securing or facilitating illegal entry. I cannot specifically identify whether that provision has been used in the circumstances that the noble Lord described, but the power is there and available for use.

Our enforcement efforts during the past few years are bearing fruit. The Government set up the multi-agency Reflex organisation through the National Crime Squad working with the Immigration Service and certain other key local police forces—the Met and Kent police in particular. It has had great success. Since May 2000, I understand, there have been about 82 investigations into organised immigration crime, about 400 arrests, and 139 convictions, representing a 90 per cent success rate in the courts. So we are acting vigorously; Reflex is working well; we are working internationally; and the powers are there to deal with the matter.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most disturbing aspects of trafficking is the trafficking of children, unaccompanied minors? Does he recall that in a debate in your Lordships' House in March the Government stated that 66 children had disappeared from the care of West Sussex social services alone? How many more children have disappeared since March from West Sussex social services? What does he know about the plight and ultimate fate of those children?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's concern about the smuggling of children, as, I am sure, does every Member of your Lordships' House. It is a grave issue and we must at all times act vigorously on it. The noble Lord asks some specific questions to which I am afraid that I cannot provide the detailed answers from the Dispatch Box. I shall ensure that the information that the noble Lord seeks is provided to him and shared with the whole House.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the work of Reflex. Yesterday, together with other noble Lords, I visited the Reflex organisation as part of our sub-committee work. It is doing a tremendous amount of work, but, as it pointed out to us, the more it does, the more there is for it to do and it needs—that awful word—resources. Can my noble friend assure us that the Government will keep their eye on the resources for that unit, which is doing so much good work?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, Reflex received £22.6 million from SR 2000 from the organised crime reserve, which runs until 2004. Yes, we recognise the importance of providing resources equal to the task. That is constantly under review. Obviously, there is a current spending round in train and no doubt that is one of the priority areas on which the relevant Ministers will be focusing. I can give that guarantee.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords—

Lord Waddington

My Lords, with the greatest respect, I would ask the noble and learned Lord to be charitable as the earlier question ran on until 24 minutes into the sitting.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, but we have a 30-minute limit. I think that we must stick to it.

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