HL Deb 13 March 2002 vol 632 cc877-914

6 13 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

rose to call attention to trafficking in human beings, especially children; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, 1,500 years ago the Emperor Justinian commented on the phenomenon of human trafficking, which he said was spreading as profiteers took advantage of poverty and inexperienced young girls". Justinian recorded practices that are used by traffickers even in our own times—debt bondage, confiscation of earnings and denial of food and sleep.

In the 19th century, abolitionists such as Josephine Butler and W.T. Stead, who edited the Pall Mall Gazette, were at the forefront of campaigns to expose the false promises of jobs abroad, which too often concealed lives of servitude.

However, it would be wrong to think that trafficking in human beings is merely a thing of the past. In reality, the trade is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent. On Monday this week I addressed a UK Anti-Trafficking Network conference, which was organised by WomenAid International. Organisations such as WomenAid International, Anti-Slavery International and the Jubilee Campaign are to be congratulated on the work that they have undertaken in drawing our attention to this most pressing and growing issue.

Today's pre-legislative debate gives your Lordships a chance to consider the scale and nature of contemporary trafficking and what we might do about it. The Foreign Office, as well as the Home Office., will need to address some of the questions raised.

By way of background, last December, in answer to Questions that I tabled, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, set out the Government's constructive approach to reducing levels of trafficking in human beings, especially children. His absence today is because of family circumstances. We all regret that he is unable to be with us and we understand the reasons. I was also grateful for his promise to distinguish between trafficking and smuggling. To their credit, the Government have signed the trafficking protocol of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and have negotiated a European Union framework decision requiring criminalisation of trafficking where people are exploited for their labour and services or for sexual exploitation.

As the UK will be required to implement this instrument within two years of its adoption, I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether it has been formally adopted. In their recent White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven, the Government indicated that they will use the forthcoming immigration Bill to introduce an offence of trafficking for sexual exploitation with a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. This will be a stopgap pending major legislative reform that will cover those being trafficked for both sexual and labour exploitation. The debate is therefore a timely opportunity to influence future legislation, but we shall need to do much more beyond our own shores.

Let me outline the sheer scale of the problem and why trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children, necessitates urgent and decisive action. Speaking at the conference earlier this week, Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, described traffickers as, fishing in the stream of migration". The catch in that stream has been growing inexorably. Research by ECPAT UK—an organisation devoted to ending child prostitution, pornography and trafficking—into the trafficking of children and research for the Home Office by the University of North London on the trafficking of women both provide conclusive evidence that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.

A report in the Financial Times on 20th February stated that, according to the UN's Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, human trafficking has become the fastest growing facet of organised crime. It is also incredibly lucrative. Powerful criminal organisations are estimated to earn a staggering £4.3 billion a year from economic and sexual slavery. The trafficking of people is considered to be the third largest source of profits for organised crime, after the trafficking of drugs and firearms. Asian prostitutes in the United States can sell for 20,000 dollars, while Russian women working in the brothels of Belgium are reported to bring in as much as 7,500 dollars a month, 7,000 dollars of which goes to their handler. On a visit to Moscow on behalf of Partners in Hope, of which I am a trustee, I heard a first-hand account of a boy who was sold for the price of a bottle of vodka.

Rebecca Bryan, the director of IREX, the United States-based International Research and Exchanges Board, estimates that 1.2 million people are trafficked each year worldwide, of whom at least 700,000 are women and children. The largest source of women for prostitution and the sex industry is Eastern Europe. According to the US State Department, more than 175,000 women are trafficked annually from the former eastern bloc countries, including Russia. The CIA reports that a least 50,000 of these women go to the US and that their average age is just 20. Victims come from Albania, Kosovo, Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, China, South-East Asia and West Africa.

Why are people trafficked? Some may be forcibly abducted and brought into the UK, but many victims put themselves or their children in the hands of traffickers to escape poverty and discrimination. That is particularly true in the case of women and children trafficked from the new independent states of the former Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe. They are promised well-paid jobs, education and marriage. Many women believe that they will be able to send money back to their families. In reality, they often end up exploited andabused in London and in our other major cities.

Escape is impossible. Traffickers often pay for the cost of their victims' passage into the UK. Travel costs are then inflated by charges for food, accommodation and interest on money borrowed from their traffickers. Burdened with debt and unable to secure legitimate employment, the victims are extremely vulnerable. If they refuse to submit to the traffickers' demands or attempt to escape, they may have their passports confiscated or be subjected to intimidation, violence, torture or rape. Traffickers also make threats of violence against friends and family as a way of ensuring that their victims keep working and do not try to escape.

Two years ago I visited the West African country of Benin and heard at first hand accounts of what was described to me as a modern slave trade. As Peter Brannen of the International Labour Office explained at Monday's conference, West African countries such as Benin and Nigeria are sending countries, receiving countries and transit countries. Ian Pannell of the BBC programme "PM" visited Nigeria and Turin to investigate how traffickers use the UK as a staging post—a transit country—for child prostitution to Italy.

The BBC says that many of the hundreds of girls sold into sexual slavery in Europe each year are trafficked through England. Ian Pannell interviewed Jane Osagie, who has worked with a number of Nigerian girls who have been trafficked. In a shocking interview—only part of which I will quote in your Lordships' House—she told the BBC: A lot of them die … A lot don't come back. There were two girls who were trafficked and because they refused to go into the trade, they were banned from eating". Others were refused drink. Clearly, that trade does not respect people or national borders and will require concerted international action to eliminate.

Girls from countries where trafficking is common arrive in the UK unaccompanied. Told to apply for asylum at the port of entry, the girls are placed into the care of the local social services department. Those girls subsequently disappear when their traffickers make contact with them and are never seen again by the authorities or their families.

Since 1995, 66 children who arrived unaccompanied in the UK have gone missing from West Sussex social services alone—the majority in the past two years. In addition, last month two more girls went missing from West Sussex social services—after the matter had been raised in your Lordships' House. Those children were supposed to be receiving care and protection. That is truly shocking and graphically illustrates the need for action.

In drawing attention to the problems in West Sussex—where Gatwick airport provides the port of entry—it is not my intention to single out that authority for particular criticism because at least it has tried to make some provision for victims and potential victims. It is probably because West Sussex has introduced a protocol and has proper victim profiling that its problems have come to light. One can only imagine the horrors that have yet to be unearthed in local authorities where no such protocol or provision is in place.

Government should require all area child protection committees to develop a protocol on trafficking. Social services and police authorities might then see a child as the victim of trafficking rather than as a 'lost asylum seeker' and act accordingly. The need for government to take a lead was underlined by the head of London's vice squad, Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey. He complains that officers are unable to act effectively because of a lack of guidance and legislation. In the Evening Standard on 4th December 2001 he said: Quite frankly we are getting our priorities wrong in this country. We care more about catching car criminals and people involved in consumer crime but we are doing nothing to help children who are being sexually exploited". Carol Howlett, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, recently argued that the prosecution of traffickers should became a key performance indicator target for chief constables in regions where trafficking is thought to be in place. I agree and hope that the Government will put that to chief constables.

It is incredible that the UK has no legislation that prohibits human trafficking. Police are using outdated legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act 1956. Even in the unlikely event of traffickers being caught, they receive prison sentences of not more than two years.

Although the Government now recognise the need to legislate, for which I thank them, sadly the promised new Bill will not end labour exploitation. It should. The noble Lord, Lord Brett, who has considerable experience of the ILO, will doubtless have something to say about that aspect. I hope that the Government will give a clear assurance that the legislation will use the same definition of trafficking as adopted for both the 2001 European Union framework decision on trafficking and the 2000 United Nations protocol on trafficking. That will ensure international consistency in the definition of what constitutes an offence and that anyone involved in trafficking can be prosecuted regardless of whether they were involved in recruitment, transport or directly in the exploitation of that individual. That is a crucial point on which I shall welcome the Minister's response.

Having suggested how I would like to see the law on trafficking strengthened and internationalised, I want to put forward proposals for the treatment of victims. The White Paper states that victims of trafficking should be offered care and support—but how is that to be clone in practical terms? Care and support are crucial from the humanitarian perspective but without them, it will be impossible successfully to prosecute traffickers and disrupt their networks.

I have four proposals covering victim support, the prosecution of traffickers, protection and international co-operation. First, support services should be provided both to child and adult victims of trafficking. They should be referred to specialised services that can offer secure accommodation, information in a language they understand, medical or psychological assistance, legal assistance and the means to communicate with family back home. That is in line with the measures contained in Article 6 of the UN protocol on trafficking, to which the UK is a signatory.

Children need more truly safe houses. Funding will he needed for that and out-of-hours services—particularly in areas where there are ports of entry. We should learn the lessons of West Sussex, good and bad. Adult victims should benefit from centrally funded specialised support services to which police, immigration and local authorities can make referrals.

Secondly, victims of trafficking should have a breathing space or "reflection delay", which would be in accordance with the European Commission's proposal for a short-term residence permit to victims of trafficking who assist the authorities in securing prosecutions. In Holland "reflection delay" lasts for three months. Six months would certainly be more appropriate in the case of children.

Thirdly, thought must be given to victim protection. Victims of trafficking who are returned home may be subject to violence, including torture and rape. Their families may also be threatened or attacked. Fear often silences victims. The Government will want to recognise their obligations under Articles 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and under Article 3 of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment—under which no state party can expel, return or extradite a person where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be subjected to torture.

In looking at individual cases, I hope that the Government will consult with Anti-Slavery and others with expertise in trafficking and safety issues and will look at the American model for dealing with such cases, which I commend to the House.

Fourthly, we need to tackle the issue at source—working with governments and non-governmental organisations in countries where trafficking occurs. Trafficking is a global problem that requires a global response. Doubtless we will hear from noble Lords about Sudan and other parts of the world where international leadership is desperately needed and the problem needs to be dealt with at source. Civil war, conflict, discrimination and poverty all play their part as people leave their homes and families to seek employment elsewhere. Rebecca Bryan from IREX declared: At the most basic level … trafficking can be effectively combated only by generating employment at home and providing a viable alternative to girls and women desperately seeking a better life for themselves and their families". Later in this debate we will hear from my noble friend Lord Wilberforce. His family name is synonymous with the enlightened humanitarian spirit that broke the slave trade in Britain and beyond. We will hear also from the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids—whose family was caught up in the misery of that same trade. What is human trafficking but a contemporary form of that age-old curse—causing misery for the victims and their families and generating vast sums of money for the traffickers? It is an affront to human dignity and it is our duty to confront it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Brett

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the timely introduction of this important debate, which, almost uniquely, provides us with an opportunity for some scrutiny prior to the enactment of legislation.

The noble Lord referred to my involvement. That has been at international level, with the International Labour Organisation. The growth of trafficking and exploitation of children for labour and other purposes captured international imagination to such an extent that in 1999—the only time in its 80-year history of adopting conventions—the ILO unanimously adopted a convention on extreme forms of child labour. At the top of the list of those forms of extreme child labour, of course, was child prostitution. There is, therefore, the political good will to see action take place.

That convention was accompanied by a well-established programme for the eradication of child labour, the IPEC programme, which has donated funds in excess of £150 million over the past five to 10 years and which does sterling work in many parts of the world. Therefore, at international level we have a global report to the annual ILO conference on the fundamental rights of work, including freedom from forced labour and freedom from discrimination.

I have, therefore, observed with interest the record of our own Government over the past four years, with which I am very pleased. We were one of the earliest signatories to Convention 182 on extreme forms of child labour; we are, through DfID, a substantial financial supporter of the IPEC programme; and, with others, we welcome the White Paper to which reference was made earlier. The question is how we put into effect the international good will that we have. In my 10 years at the ILO I have noticed several deficiencies that appear to have permeated the international community and the UN system.

We have many good treaties. However, we often do not have coherence between them. We have many good intentions at national level. What we do not have at regional level—in our case Europe—is good coordination between member states. We quite often have good intentions, but do we have in place effective methods for prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes? Finally, do we adequately understand the problems of the victims and do we know how to support them?

I certainly endorse all four points referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly his reference to the need for victim support. It is a fact that victims who return to the member states from which they originated are again victimised, in many cases as a deterrent to others, in some cases out of sheer vindictiveness and in other cases to re-apply the same methods previously used as a commodity of labour, for sexual or other purposes, and to reintroduce those people to the illegal labour market.

The White Paper therefore provides us with a good opportunity to see what is present in outline and what we may want to see in detail, and I would urge on the Government the need to move forward this measure at the earliest opportunity for inclusion in the Queen's Speech. The international convention has now been in existence for three years. In this country, and in many others, we need adequately to translate into law effective methods to prosecute the perpetrators of trafficking.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said on 17th July that the Government were considering what needed to be done to form a non-governmental organisation to provide support and advice to the victims of trafficking—a point referred to in the White Paper. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that that is an active consideration. However, it will, of course, need financial support. There is no point in creating an expectation unless we fully understand the problem and the need to deliver. I should therefore be grateful if the Government could confirm that they intend to provide financial support for the creation of such an organisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made an excellent point about a period of reflection for those who have been rescued from trafficking. People who find themselves in those difficult, isolated situations may experience great relief from the degradation that they have suffered, but they are not always able to make the wisest decisions at the time. Therefore, a period of reflection would appear to be in the best interests of the victims and something that can quite easily be achieved.

With regard to the question of non-sexual exploitation, child labour—I am not referring to children delivering newspapers or to my daughters working part-time as waitresses in a golf club at 16—it is true that there is in this country exploitation of children in full-time employment. It is well hymned. Many people will be shocked by the statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that 66 children in one county—admittedly that which contains Gatwick Airport—have disappeared in five years. That is one of our problems.

Despite your Lordships' knowledge of the subject and the best efforts of all those who are involved—I pay tribute particularly to Anti-Slavery for bringing forward this issue—we in this country believe that this is a problem that happens elsewhere. We get some publicity for child prostitutes in Leeds or Manchester but we do not think that that is the same problem. We always find the excuse that it is a migration issue and therefore does not affect us. If this debate does nothing else, it should give us an opportunity to place on record that we in this country have a problem that we cannot wish away. Action has to be taken. I believe that the Government's intentions and efforts to date have been excellent. However, we now need speedy, carefully considered legislation, which hopefully will take account of your Lordships' contributions today.

I shall sit down two-thirds of the way through my allotted eight minutes, not only because of the excellent presentation by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but in the sure knowledge that far more expert views than mine are to be expressed in the remainder of this debate.

6.36 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord on initiating this debate, on introducing it so comprehensively and on his tireless endeavours on behalf of those suffering from violations of human rights in many parts of the world.

It was suggested that I should focus on Sudan. I appreciate the opportunity to highlight the human trafficking in the form of slavery there today. It is often said that abduction and trafficking in women and children in parts of Africa is not new. It has long been associated with inter-tribal conflict. But in Sudan a more systematic policy of abduction and enslavement of African women and children by Arabs from the north began in the 1980s. Then the Islamist National Islamic Front regime took power by military coup in 1989 and declared jihad in its most militaristic form against all who opposed it, including Muslims, traditional believers and Christians.

The objectives of the jihad include the forcible Islamisation of those not already Muslims and the Arabisation of the African peoples of the south and Nuba Mountains. The weapons of jihad include military offensives against innocent civilians and the manipulation of aid. The regime declared large areas as no-go zones for Operation Lifeline Sudan and associated aid organisations, so that its victims are left to suffer and die unreached, unhelped, unheard.

The third weapon of jihad is slavery, particularly in the borderlands such as northern and parts of southern Sudan, as in Bahr-el-Ghazal. In the early 1990s NIF leaders went to the borderlands to mobilise the local Arab tribesmen (murahaleen), to arm them and to encourage them to participate alongside government soldiers and jihad warriors in the raids on African communities in the south. They were told that they could keep the booty of war, including the human booty of women and children. That has been confirmed by Arabs from those areas who have spoken to us. The abducted women and children are used as slaves, boys as cattleherds, girls and women for domestic work and sexual exploitation, which results in irreversible genetic change for dignified Dinka people.

Abductions have been documented by the few aid organisations that defy the NIF's no-go ban and by independent media, including television programmes from "Dateline" in the mid-1990s to the BBC's "Everyman" last year, and newspapers ranging from Corriere Della Sera to the Ottawa Citizen. Reporters come, profoundly sceptical, and return convinced by the reality of slavery.

I and colleagues from Christian Solidarity Worldwide have been there, with the raids going on around us. We have seen communities decimated by the abduction of women and children and by a scorched earth policy. We have walked through miles of recently attacked villages, with countless human and cattle corpses, burnt homes, churches, mosques, animist shrines, schools, clinics—total devastation.

However, there are peaceable Arabs from the north, who are friends of the African Dinka people, who come south in the dry season to graze their cattle and to trade. At considerable risk, they identify, buy back and bring back slaves, for, if identified, they face penalties for undermining the jihad. They need money. They cannot just abduct slaves. Many local African communities can provide the necessary funds but others cannot because they have lost everything in the raids.

Therefore, we have provided resources for some communities to redeem slaves, for which we have been criticised. For example, it is said that we encourage the slave trade; that is not true. This trafficking is not economic—the abduction is an act of war and will continue whether or not any slave is redeemed. Moreover, it has been said that we have been conned and that those whose freedom we buy are not slaves. But we meticulously check case histories of random samples of those returned. We also take other measures, such as double checking the translations of Dinka and Arabic interpreters.

Obviously, slave redemption is not the solution: the solution is to stop the slavery. International protest brought down apartheid, so why is there so much reluctance to protest against slavery? Perhaps because David Hoile's well-funded organisation, the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, which acts as a mouthpiece for the NIF, widely disseminates publications full of misleading half-truths and references taken out of context, trying to discredit the evidence.

Moreover, the NIF does not allow independent organisations to visit the affected areas. Therefore, it is hard to obtain the evidence or to rescue those who have been abducted. The NIF's own face-saving mechanism, the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children, has been extremely limited in its effectiveness. It does not rescue—indeed, it cannot; they have gone beyond rescue—those who have already been sold into slavery in other parts of Sudan or abroad; or boys, sent to the jihad training schools to be trained to fight against their own people. We have met some of those who have escaped and they have given us details.

Examples speak louder than generalizations. Kabissa Ayak, aged 28, was captured in a surprise attack on her village near Wonruk. The people ran in disarray. Her husband was killed. She tried to hide in a bush but was caught. In her own words: One of my sons aged 18 months was pounded to death in a pounding block, before my eyes. When I saw my husband dead and my child killed I tried to kill myself, so they bound me and dragged me along. We were taken to Muglad [in the North] … my owner's name is Hassan Hussein. I was enslaved for about 4 years, kept in a cattle compound and never given enough food. An Arab raped me and I became pregnant. I gave birth in a cattle compound with no help. I called the baby"— whom we saw— ''Mam' which means 'suffering' or 'difficulties' … I am a Christian and they tried to force me to become a Muslim … I thought about suicide because I had lost my loved ones and didn't want to go to the mosque. Then I heard rumours of traders who would return slaves and I managed to come out to meet them. I am still suffering because I lost my loved ones. But I want to say `Thank you' for rescuing me from slavery". In conclusion, I invite noble Lords to meet little Deng aged 10. He has just returned with a trader after spending two years as a slave. He is highly traumatised because he learnt that, in the raid during which he was captured, both his parents were killed. So he has returned to discover that he is an orphan. However, towards the end of our conversation, I got a wistful little smile from Deng. He said, "Well, at least I am home again now. I'm called by my own name Deng", which is Dinka for "rain", and rain is precious. It also means, "someone to be cherished" and a gift from God. He added, "I'm no longer called `Abit', or slave".

Everyone in your Lordships' House agrees that no child in the world today should be called "slave". I therefore ask the Minister what precisely Her Majesty's Government are doing to put more pressure on the National Islamic Front regime in the Sudan to change its policy so that no child will continue to be called "Abit" in the Sudan today.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, trafficking is not a new crime.

However, it is acquiring a salience that demands urgent response. We are grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this debate at this time, in advance of legislation by the Government. I am also grateful to the Government for showing, domestically, a degree of urgency and sensitivity to concerns that have properly been expressed about the inadequacy of our domestic law.

However, because I can only endorse and underline what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so eloquently said about the position within the United Kingdom, I shall focus my remarks on the efforts that might be made and, I believe, are being made by other countries in Europe, particularly in that part of Europe that has been afflicted by the fall-out from the conflicts in south eastern Europe and the ending of the regimes behind the Iron Curtain. In those areas the problems are transnational and complex. They require international co-operation and multi-agency approaches.

There is a very marked rise in the number of victims of trafficking coming to western Europe from eastern Europe. A great deal of evidence, not just anecdotal, shows that there is an enormous increase in the involvement of organised crime with substantial profits being made from trafficking. The Stability Pact Task Force on trafficking has sought to co-ordinate activities and to facilitate communication between all the relevant organisations. This has been achieved with practical consequences on the ground—sometimes operating with bodies like the International Organisation for Migration, as in Albania—by providing safe houses, witness protection programmes, and strengthening co-operation with the police to enhance victim protection.

When the matter was the subject of an exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I detected some indication that there is a lack of certainty about the full scale of the problem. It is impossible to argue that the problem is not growing, and doing so at an alarming rate. It may be impossible to produce accurate statistics for very obvious reasons: those who are victims are very unwilling to come forward to provide information. But the illustrative estimates that have been produced by Europol are, I believe, helpful. On the basis of submissions from member countries, they indicate that, for example, one group operating in the Netherlands with control over 10 women was earning about 3,500 euros a day.

Attention has also been drawn to the estimate from the Institute of Migration that 500,000 women have illegally been moved from the Ukraine to western Europe in the 10 years since independence. It is estimated that one in five of those women is trapped, or has been trapped, in the illegal sex industry.

It is right to consider what are called the "push and pull" factors—the origins in economic and social deprivation—and to recognise that some of those who are involved are coming to the West willingly because they imagine that their lives will be better as a result. In order to deal with that fact, we have to look at our own immigration policies and acknowledge with cool and calculating judgment that this country could accept many more skilled and, indeed, unskilled immigrants. If others were to follow that lead, some of the pressure in those countries on exposed and endangered women could be substantially reduced.

The other main cause of the problem is the conflict in those parts of the world and the subsequent fall-out. However, I believe that the international community is responding to that, notably through the work of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights based in Warsaw under the OSCE. The organisation has done much to advance the debate about the nature of the requirements of proper legislation against trafficking in all the member countries. It has produced invaluable work, which we should seek to disseminate and follow up.

The ODIHR has promoted important fieldwork, in which the Government have played a useful role. The Government not only contributed to the anti-trafficking fund, they were an originator of it. In addition, the ODHIR has provided anti-trafficking hotlines offering information and counselling in the Ukraine and Belarus, and raising awareness through, for example, a five-part programme in Russia to highlight the risks posed to women by traffickers. It has also set up programmes for the return to Poland and re-integration there of victims of trafficking, which were supported by the anti-trafficking fund. Those useful measures, which have practical consequences, must be considered with at least as much urgency as the need to change the law.

The political determination by member governments of OSCE not to tolerate such activity is as important as the adherence to anti-trafficking conventions. Pressure in regard to those points can produce results. For example, there is evidence that when, during the negotiation of a stability pact with Albania, the Albanian government were taken up on the matter, they appointed a co-ordinator to take account of trafficking in human beings.

The Government are doing valuable work in such forums. We in western Europe must take responsibility for the matter, and, notwithstanding the complexity of delivering the results, make a serious commitment to deal with it. When we view the Government's domestic legislation on trafficking, we shall bear in mind that it must deal not only with the repression of the offences but, in particular, with the protection of the human rights of the victims.

6.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol

My Lords, I join other contributors in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for introducing this timely debate.

We are slowly waking up to the seriousness of the challenge posed by the trafficking in human beings. In Bristol we have in recent years begun to work through the history of slavery, often painfully. We discovered that slavery took place not only in the 17th and 18th centuries on the North Atlantic triangular route, but also that it was present in the 11th century, when young men and pregnant maidens from Wiltshire were sold to the Viking Irish. We asked, sometimes with incredulity, how it was possible for human beings to act in that way, treating their brothers and sisters as commodities to be bought and sold when the price was right. How, especially, could children be born into slavery and grow up knowing no other life? We need to he clear that the issue is not a racial one; it has to do with the value of human beings and human dignity, and it is therefore for the consideration of us all.

We have recognised only recently that a new form of that evil trade continues and is growing rapidly. In the nature of the case, precise numbers are not known with certainty. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate the Government's assessment of the numbers involved and the measures that recently they said they were taking to improve levels of information. I am sure that nobody will publicly defend this vile trade. The question is: what is to be done to address the problem? There is, as noble Lords said, no shortage of conventions, protocols and agreements, prepared by the United Nations and its agencies or agreed by the European Union. Trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation are recognised internationally as significant problems with transnational dimensions. Member states have been urged to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

I therefore welcome the steps that the Government have already taken to show their awareness of the need for action. The Church of England Board for Social Responsibility noted in its response last year to Setting the Boundaries, the sex offences review, that the Josephine Butler Society had asked for its support on the issue of trafficking and sexual exploitation. The society hoped that an organisation would be established to help the victims of trafficking with a multi-agency approach. We need to deal with the matter in the spirit of Josephine Butler, with her fearless unmasking of hypocrisy, her energy and her concern for some of the most vulnerable and wretched people in society.

I welcome also the Government's statement in the asylum and immigration White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven, of their intention to implement recommendation 49 of the sex offences review by introducing a specific offence of trafficking, with powers given to trace assets overseas. The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, has drawn particular attention to children. I hope that the Minister will also be able to assure us that the legislation will reflect the seriousness of those crimes against children. I support the Children's Society and other children's organisations in their calls for action on Recommendations 50 and 51 of the sex offences review, which proposed the introduction of specific offences relating to the commercial exploitation of children. As I said, that will require a multi-agency approach, and resources will be needed. That means that we must decide whether we think that the matter is important enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said in his fourth point that the issue is an international one. Perhaps, therefore, we must tackle it at source. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the way in which she introduced the issues relating to Africa, not least the Sudan. I shall underline what she said: Mauritania and the Sudan are the places in Africa where the greatest numbers are involved in the modern, 21st century slave trade. I have been much indebted to Ronald Segal, who wrote a book on the Atlantic slave trade and his latest, in 2001, on Islamic black slaves. He supports greatly the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. It is a country divided, north and south, Christian and Muslim. It is about Arabisation, and it continues in that way. I shall support the point with figures: in December 1999 alone, 5,514 slaves were redeemed at the cost of £35 each. It is interesting that in the 2nd century AD the Christian Church in Europe decided that it too had to be involved in the remitting of slaves, and this is a continuation.

We are right to condemn this evil trade and to do all that is possible in our own country to wipe it out. However, it is about globalisation and our responsibility to challenge and tackle countries where the trade originates. So perhaps we have to send to the Sudans of this world, and maybe to other nations as well, a challenge to Islam, as we were challenged as Christians in the 17th and 18th century about the values, and the name, in which slavery is undertaken; to challenge democratic governments, ourselves included, that our own values are neither safe nor sound if we deal with these matters in isolation; to challenge the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is so blatantly flouted; and to challenge ourselves that the situation is redeemable.

If we are to call to mind a memory, let us think of what happened in South Africa. The evil of apartheid continued despite the words of the United Nations and of governments. It was only when popular pressure, when human beings recognised that the issue was about their brothers and sisters, when enforced measures were introduced banning arms, oil and financial credit, that the retreat from apartheid began; and in 1994 a non-racial democracy in South Africa began.

It is right for the Government and your Lordships' House to take action. But we must raise the consciousness of the people not only of this country, but also of other countries, to the belief that these issues have to be tackled because it is an affront to our human dignity that this trade continues. Only then will governments begin to listen, and things be changed.

7.1 p.m.

Baroness Howells of St Davids

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for introducing this debate and offer a few words of support for what he said in his opening remarks. This indeed is a very worrying trend which seems to be escalating despite the many efforts to discourage such a disgraceful trade.

I am not sure whether I should declare an interest since I have in the past alluded to the fact that I am the descendant of an enslaved African, and I will be emotional about what I have to say.

The purpose of the slave trading of my ancestors and now is for gain, greed and gratification. Let me explain. Centuries ago there were, here in Europe, many nations with varying systems of government and they were made up of farmers, craftsmen, artists, musicians, priests, soldiers, teachers, kings and queens. They were people who were husbands and wives, daughters and sons, nephews, nieces, grandparents and grandchildren. They were human.

At the same time there were in Africa many nations with varying systems of government made up of farmers, craftsmen, and so forth. They too were husbands and wives, daughters and sons, nephews, nieces, grandparents and grandchildren. They were human. It was not a case of "nations" in Europe and "tribes" in Africa. Both could be described as either nations or tribes.

But Europeans travelled to Africa. They violently assaulted the Africans in their own homes. They shackled them in leg irons and transported them in insanitary conditions of disease and malnutrition thousands of miles across the sea to the Caribbean and the Americas. There they were sold by auction to other Europeans for whom they had to work without payment on sugar and cotton plantations and at any task or in any conditions inflicted upon them. That was not enough. They also had to gratify the slave owners in their beds.

The Africans who rebelled against that treatment were beaten, humiliated and sometimes killed. Rebellions were put down with the utmost savagery while the European plantation owners became richer and richer from the unpaid labour of Africans.

The primary driving force behind the European dehumanising of Africans was the acquisition of wealth. There was money to be made from buying and selling Africans and from their unpaid labour—wealth for individuals and families in Britain. Cities in Britain and the British economy benefited greatly from that trade. Years later Sir Winston Churchill said, The West Indies, two hundred years ago, ranked very largely in the minds of all people who were making Britain and the British by the wealth they supplied to Britain". As more and more weapons of mass destruction become available to more and more people, the search for peaceful co-existence among the peoples of this shrinking planet becomes even more urgent. Feelings of superiority, inferiority and resentment can slide into aggression and violence, and that threatens the only basis there is for peaceful co-existence; namely, a mutual respect in which we see everyone else as our equal. Without that there is no hope for any of us. It is therefore imperative that we identify whatever might give rise to mistaken ideas of superiority and inferiority in order to destroy their poison.

Although Africans had always resisted their enslavement and their rebellions were making the plantations less profitable and increasingly unmanageable, there was still great opposition in Britain to any change. However, in 1793 a small but determined group mounted a campaign which finally achieved the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. I understand that at the heart of that movement were a group of Christians gathered around the Reverend John Venner, Rector of Holy Trinity, Clapham, and they included persons prominent in public life such as Wilberforce, Clarkson, Sharpe, Buxton, Thornton, Stephen, Macauley and others.

They drew upon evidence and experiences supplied by a remarkable African who had himself been sold into slavery. Oluadah Equiano was that slave. Eventually their efforts were rewarded when the British Parliament outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833. A sad note in all of that was that, whereas compensation of more than £1 million was paid to plantation owners for the loss of their slaves, nothing was paid to the survivors of the 20 million Africans who had been enslaved by them. Great changes can be brought about by small beginnings when a cause is just.

A paradox of this despicable epoch of human history is that it has also been the occasion for an almost superhuman act of forgiveness. The rape and pillage of Africa have so far not been followed by any vengeful atrocities against vulnerable Europeans. On the contrary, the recent peaceful transition from apartheid South Africa to democratic South Africa is but a particular example of a general African sense of generosity and forgiveness. Similarly, the modern Caribbean is a microcosm of what the world could be like where, in the aftermath of slavery and colonialism, people of every ethnic group can have the freedom to be who they are.

I have been trying to impress upon noble Lords that the appalling act of enslavement must never be forgotten and needs to be recorded so that trade in humans should never be tolerated again. Poets like Homer recognised that need, and the horror that descendants have felt at the thought of the annihilation of Africans should give us courage to carry on with the quest lest it be said by the spirits of our ancestors, "We lost heart and we forgot the task".

Today, as I remind your Lordships' House of our combined history—when the continent of Africa saw its children abused, treated as less than human, degraded and humiliated in ways which led the African, in his chains and being whipped, to ask the question, "Am I not a brother?"—I should like to join other noble Lords in the task of not only highlighting the plight of the victims of present-day slavery but of ensuring that human rights are at the core of any anti-trafficking strategy.

I realise that I have gone past my time; I shall hurry. We do not often recognise it, but some of the problems that we deal with daily in Britain arise from that legacy, which has been described by other noble Lords as "degrading". The traumas of slavery run deep and could blight future generations. I therefore ask Her Majesty's Government to support the four proposals outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. A memorial to the unknown slave would not go amiss in our country as it would highlight the fact that we are against slavery.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, and her moving historical survey.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for the comprehensive way in which he introduced the debate. He will know that I come to it from the experience of working to prevent, first, the exploitation of domestic workers coming to Britain from overseas; and, secondly, the exploitation of children in poor countries for the purposes of sex tourism.

Both kinds of exploitation stem from extreme poverty in certain countries and, in particular, from rural poverty. Trafficking in people usually involves deception in the country of origin and coercion or debt bondage in the country of destination. This abuse would be less widespread without the poverty of those being trafficked.

It is well known that Russian, Ukrainian and Albanian organised crime gangs are exploiting both young women and street children. The Republics of Moldova and Romania are countries of origin and also countries of transit. I have visited both and I know that between half a million and a million Moldovans are obliged by economic poverty to seek work abroad. Some end up trapped in prostitution, in Italy and elsewhere.

In Romania, a journalist friend of mine plans a thorough study of trafficking. He confirms that poverty and unemployment are its root causes. People lack solid information and are easily seduced by stories about the glamour of the rich west. In Romania, the legislation on trafficking is not very effective, although there is sonic police co-operation with Interpol.

I thank successive governments for what they have done to improve the situation of domestic workers from overseas now in Britain. Their efforts to curb sex tourism and paedophilia by British residents are good and have had notable support from the Thompson travel organisation.

There are several practical steps that the Government could take to prevent trafficking. They could, for instance, remove reservations from the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This would benefit children who have reached this country and then been taken into care by local authorities. They should ratify the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. They should ensure that trafficking is defined in future legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, in the same way as in the protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and the EU framework decision on trafficking.

A new Bill was promised last May. When will the Government publish it? When will it he introduced? I trust that the minimum penalty for trafficking will be no less than six or seven years' imprisonment, with a much higher maximum for cases involving prostitution and child abuse, together with the confiscation of the proceeds of trafficking.

Much also should be done without legislation. Will the Government propose that the European Union and the ODIHR should provide full information, in Eastern Europe and other countries of origin, on the policy against trafficking; on the dangers of deception and bogus job offers; and also on bona fide work opportunities that exist or could be created in Western Europe?

At home, will the Government allow victims of trafficking to remain here if they are willing to give evidence? I believe that that is already the intention, but it may need better witness protection. Exceptional leave to remain may also be needed in some cases to protect both the victims and their relatives in the country of origin. A delay for reflection to allow victims to decide calmly on their next steps can be critically important. I believe that the Netherlands allows three months in such cases. Can we do the same here? I hope so.

Secure accommodation for victims of trafficking has been mentioned. In my view, it is urgently needed. Medical and legal help should go along with this. Will the Government fund a specialist NGO to fill this gap? The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is not in his place, spoke about this issue on 17th July, as did the noble Lord, Lord Brett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol today. What is being done now?

The problems we are discussing reinforce the importance of dealing with poverty at source. In Europe, this means European Union enlargement, the South-East Europe Stability Pact, the PHAR and TACIS programmes, and micro-finance in generating additional works and jobs in countries of origin. In Britain, the corollary is ever-increasing co-operation between departments—for example, Immigration, Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, police and social services. I know that the Foreign Office is well aware of this, is encouraging it and is spreading the word abroad. But has the message of co-operation been fully received at home?

To end on a positive note, I congratulate the Government on the successes attained through Project Reflex. I believe that there have been 37 arrests and 13 convictions of traffickers.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely debate which highlights a widespread and persistent horror—the trafficking in human life. This abhorrent practice is no less than a modern form of slavery.

From children trafficked to work as forced labour in the cocoa industry of west Africa to child camel jockeys as young as four trafficked from the Sudan to the Gulf states and girls trafficked across Asia into sexual servitude, this is a boom trade which we are nowhere near to eradicating.

We may like to think that this is not an evil which stains European soil. As we have heard today, we would be wrong. Inconceivable though it is in the 21st century, trafficking in human beings is taking place all over the world, in developed and developing countries alike, in countries where human rights are routinely violated and in countries where human rights are respected. This is a truly global plague, the victims of which can find themselves in London or Paris as well as Bangkok or Manila. The OSCE has warned that trafficking affects all its member states, either as countries of origin, countries of transit or countries of destination.

To pick up on the point made by the right reverend Prelate, globalisation has had a mixed effect on the invidious practice of trafficking. On the one hand, it has a beneficial effect. New communication technologies are enabling information to flow more and more freely. As a result, there are now fewer dark corners in the world in which the perpetrators of this evil crime can hide.

However, the wider availability of information is proving to be a double-edged sword. The Internet is being misused for the purpose of promoting sexual exploitation; and a sinister triangle has developed between globalisation, cross-border trafficking in human life and weaknesses in national immigration policies. The net result is that this trade is allowed not only to exist but to flourish and expand.

Faced with a growing body of evidence, the spotlight of international attention is now beginning to focus more sharply on trafficking. The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised crime, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 2000. This is an important new tool to facilitate international co-operation. Last month, the European Union adopted a comprehensive action plan to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings in the European Union.

NGOs have also sought to turn up the heat on traffickers. In November 2001, Anti-Slavery launched a two-year campaign against human trafficking: to draw attention to it; and to lobby for national and international policy changes to penalise traffickers, protect trafficked people's rights and address the root causes. It should be praised in this work.

Individually and collectively, states hear primary responsibility for the implementation of measures to combat trafficking; but this is a trans-national problem which no country alone can tackle. Trafficking is a complicated and multifaceted problem which requires a co-ordinated, interdisciplinary and international response.

Current legal frameworks, policies and strategies have to date proved inadequate either to prevent trafficking and prosecute traffickers or to protect the human rights of the trafficked. Co-ordination, at both national and international level, has been the exception rather than the rule. As a result, the victims of trafficking are often treated as criminals, while the traffickers go unpunished.

We have heard evidence of how hundreds of women and children, from China to Kosovo, from Africa to Asia, and from Lithuania to Nigeria, are being trafficked through and into the United Kingdom. We have heard how these girls are told to apply for asylum at the ports, and are then referred to social services but disappear when the traffickers make contact with them. We have heard how, since 1995, 66 children have gone missing from West Sussex social services in this way.

For some time it has been clear that there is an urgent need to adopt legislation which concretely criminalises trafficking in human beings and to give priority to combating this pernicious and odious form of slavery. The UK has no specific legislation prohibiting human trafficking, and law enforcement bodies are hampered in their efforts to tackle this scourge because of lack of guidance.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, legislation that is nearly 50 years old, such as the Sexual Offences Act 1956, is being applied which provides for maximum sentences of only two years. While the UK is a signatory to the UN protocol on the prevention and suppression of trafficking and the EU framework decision on trafficking for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation, domestic legislation is needed to give effect to them. I therefore welcome the Government's recent immigration and asylum White Paper, which includes a commitment to legislate in this area and to increase the penalties for those involved in trafficking. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, remarked, it is rare to have such an opportunity in advance of legislation to make constructive suggestions on the framing of new laws, and that is most welcome.

This is an important opportunity for the Government to send a strong message world-wide that they are serious about fighting traffickers; and secondly, to ensure statutory protection for victims of trafficking in the United Kingdom. I hope that any new legislation will form the backbone to a tripartite approach—policies and programmes aimed at the prevention of trafficking, the protection of the victims and the prosecution of the perpetrators.

It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, pointed out, that the new legislation clearly distinguishes trafficking from smuggling. Will the Minister give an assurance that the legislation will use the same definition of trafficking as has been adopted in both the EU framework decision on trafficking and the UN protocol on trafficking, so that there is much-needed consistency in the definition of the offence of trafficking? If the state intervenes at all, it is usually the victims who are arrested and deported, while the traffickers continue to operate with near impunity.

Few victims—in the destination countries or upon return to their country of origin—receive any assistance, protection or legal remedy against their traffickers. As the noble Lord, Lord Brett, mentioned, the victims of trafficking who are returned home may face torture, rape, detention or even death at the hands of the traffickers.

When we treat the symptoms, we must at the same time look to the root causes; namely, poverty and corruption. International action to address slavery and trafficking will not be successful unless it tackles these root causes. Poverty breeds abusive labour practices. Poverty and the exploitation of desperation is at the heart of bonded labour. Poverty, which particularly affects women, is at the heart of the exploitation of women. The poverty of parents is at the heart of their decision to sell their children. The victims of slavery-like abuses are generally from the poorest and the most vulnerable social groups. The cancer of slavery is a symptom of the malignancy of poverty, and the two must be treated together.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords, let us make no mistake. This debate is, literally and firmly, about slavery, as many speakers have said. It is true, if perhaps a little facile, to say that slavery has not been abolished; it has simply been modernised by the demographic changes that have taken place and by economic forces. France—a wise and logical country—has recognised this by setting up a committee under the appropriate name, Le Comité Contre L'Esclavage Moderne—the committee against modern slavery. We ought to recognise trafficking for what it is.

We have been given a great many estimates of the numbers involved. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and venture to agree with him that evidence as to the scale of the problem is uncontested. It is not confined to a number of well-known groups or a number of well-known countries as the old slave trade was. It is perhaps more difficult, therefore, to get to grips with it. Nor is it limited to a definite and recognisable status in terms of the persons concerned. Anyone can recognise a slave; it is not so easy to recognise a victim of trafficking. As a consequence, the organisation Anti-Slavery International, of which I have the honour to be president, has taken the matter very seriously. It has conducted inquiries, attended meetings and is working very actively indeed on the basis that trafficking is a modern form of slavery.

I want to make two preliminary points before coming to my argument. First, there are plenty of case notes, some of which we have heard in the debate. I shall not add to them, except to recall a rather moving occasion at which I was present, with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, when an award was made by Anti-Slavery International. Two young Bangladeshi girls, Roushan and Golan, aged about 13, spoke to the meeting about their experiences. They recounted how they were trafficked at the age of about 12 or younger for sums of six US dollars in one case and 13 US dollars in the other. They recounted their experiences, and they were able to say what has happened to them since then and since they have been taken in for rehabilitation by the Association for Community Development. It was therefore moving in two respects: first, the fact of the trafficking; and, secondly, the equally important fact that something can be done and—as I think we all agree—must be done to rehabilitate those who have been through the process.

The second preliminary point is very short. It is simply to endorse what has been said: there are plenty of international instruments dealing with this matter. They have been listed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and others, and they include the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation, and now the European Community. I am glad to say that this country has a good record of joining in with those instruments, and no doubt we will be active in carrying into effect the European Union framework communication.

I shall concentrate on three points which are perhaps relevant to the practical implementation of those many international instruments. The first, of course, is the question of definition. It sounds like a dry legal point, but I think that it is rather more important than that. Trafficking is a vague word. Although it has become a term of art which everyone involved in the affair knows and understands, it is not so easy when one tries to analyse it and see what it includes. The United Nations protocol has therefore given a much more elaborate definition focusing on the word exploitation, which is said to include as a minimum sexual exploitation, forced labour and so on. The definition brings out some interesting and important points. This trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation, although those cases catch the headlines, but involves all sorts of forced labour, exposure to hazardous work and even the involuntary enlistment of soldiers in military service. There are said to be 300,000 such soldiers.

We now have this rather comprehensive definition, although the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has twice given a rather cautious reply about its incorporation in British law. I completely understand that, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, may do the same. It is a rather wide definition and perhaps needs to be refined. However, I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—perhaps the Minister who is to reply to this debate will be able to confirm it—that this definition is acceptable and must be made part of the law in the interests of police trying to enforce it and welfare organisations trying to implement it, and of the general public who need to understand what it involves.

The second point is police reinforcement, about which much has been said. There is a low rate of conviction. Very often as a rule, victims will not give evidence. There is also big money on the other side. Moreover, the area is a very difficult one and includes a great number of countries in eastern Europe, West Africa and elsewhere. There are problems with language, and problems about visas and passports which are falsified and may enable people to come in illegally. The ambassador in the Cote d'Ivoire has said that there is evidence there of many children's visas being false. That brings us to what has already been described as the difficult case of unaccompanied children, of whom there are said to be 10,000 in this country.

Additionally, when one is considering how to deal with a particular problem, one is faced with human rights problems. Mrs Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner, is on record as saying that human rights should be at the centre of this problem, and that this problem should be at the centre of human rights. However, one still has to ask who is to take up the human rights aspect of the problem and see to it that effect is given to human rights. Then we have the final problem. When one has identified a case and brought about a prosecution, what is one to do with the victims? It is not enough to send someone to prison; that is the least important and interesting side of it. What is one to do with the victims, who very often are women and children with all sorts of problems of their own at home?

All of this is very much beyond the resources of the ordinary police force which is not used to doing this sort of work. It has probably never heard of trafficking. We have the evidence of Kelly and Regan, researchers who have given excellent help to the Home Office. They say that the majority of police forces have little knowledge of the problem. So, there must be a specialised unit, either a police force or mixed force, which is expert at dealing with it. It is not enough to have even a sufficient number of policemen expert in it. We had a meeting with ECPAT the other day, and we were told that there were only 12 trained policemen capable of dealing with this problem. That is a serious figure that we have to bear in mind.

So there is a problem of police enforcement. I was going to go on to say something about the problem of rehabilitation, but I see that my time has expired. Other speakers have spoken of it. I think that we are behind other countries in what we do in the way of rehabilitation. We need money to enable refuges to be set up, to which victims, particularly young children, can be sent before they are sent back. We also have the problem of giving evidence about their condition, and the Dutch experiment of three-months' respite before action is taken.

I cannot do more now than conclude by heartily endorsing and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the splendid way in which he has brought this subject to our attention.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate. It is a very timely debate. Only last week, the Government produced a very interesting video on forced marriages and abduction. I commend the video to noble Lords and urge them to watch it.

In the past few years, I have travelled to various European countries and to various parts of the Middle East and Africa. Trafficking in women and children is a common factor affecting many of those countries. My own involvement with the Save the Children Fund has confirmed the alarming scale of the problem in the Far East as well. The problem has an international dimension and is literally out of control.

While I was in Zanzibar, I was able to see at first hand the remnants of the slave trade there, including chains and shackles. People who protested against that trade were beheaded. No one could fail to be moved by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids. What we have done is to move from chains and shackles to blackmail and corruption, which are some of the factors now oppressing women and children who are least able to defend themselves.

Although no accurate statistics are available on the number of people being trafficked internationally, it is clear that this contemporary form of slavery is affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. I contacted Anti-Slavery International, and it believes that, every year, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked to the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation. It also believes that the situation is getting worse. That view is shared by the deputy director of Europol, who recently said that human trafficking to EU member states for sexual exploitation and illicit labour is increasing significantly.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, provided statistics on the number of foreign nationals, including children, who have been lost from the system. That is a frightening thought. Many of these young people have escaped from care and into the hands of those who exploit them. They face frightening consequences. Not only are they blackmailed to perform various tasks, but their families abroad are being blackmailed to ensure that they do not complain about their treatment here or elsewhere in the European Union. Evidence from law enforcement officials indicates two new and worrying trends. First, the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are getting younger and more children are involved. Secondly, there are increasing links with organised crime, with those responsible for trafficking in people also being involved with drugs and arms trafficking. Those factors make tackling trafficking an even greater priority for governments everywhere.

The right reverend Prelate was right to draw attention to the UK Government's proposal in the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe, Haven, to bring forward a stopgap measure in the Bill dealing with immigration to introduce an offence of trafficking with a maximum penalty of 14 years. That is a positive step to end the current situation where no offence for trafficking exists, thereby making it a high-profit and low-risk crime. The commitment in the White Paper to bring in detailed legislation to cover people trafficking for both sexual and labour exploitation "as soon as possible" is also welcome. I hope that the Government will hasten that legislation. I believe that the next Queen's Speech should bring forward a definition of "trafficking" to be used in domestic legislation. Such a definition should mirror that used in the UN protocol on trafficking and the EU framework decision on trafficking which is currently still under discussion. Using the same definition will ensure consistency in terms of what constitutes an offence of trafficking in people, both within the European Union and internationally.

I also welcome the acknowledgement in the White Paper that victims of trafficking should be offered the care and support that many noble Lords have mentioned. But the Government need to go further and detail the specific measures that they will take to ensure the protection and support of victims of trafficking in the United Kingdom. Victims' protection should be at the centre of an anti-trafficking policy and the system in the UK is clearly inadequate. Currently, for example, there is no agency to which the police, immigration, local authorities or nongovernmental agencies can refer adult victims of trafficking where they can receive specialised support services and advice, including secure accommodation. My own authority, West Sussex social services, is the only body to provide such services for children. It is absolutely essential that the Government fund the provision of secure accommodation and assistance for victims of trafficking as a matter of urgent priority.

It is also important that victims of trafficking should have a breathing space that will give them the opportunity to receive assistance from such a specialised agency and to make an informed decision about whether they wish to co-operate with authorities in prosecuting the traffickers. Such a system already exists in other European countries like Holland, Belgium and Italy, as has been pointed out. That breathing space will give support workers the chance to gain victims' confidence and to assist them to recover from their traumatic experiences. During that process, information regarding how they were recruited and transported will come to light, so that even if the victim decides not to testify against the traffickers, the authorities will still have vital information about the traffickers' modus operandi that will allow them to profile possible victims and to disrupt the traffickers' networks.

In that context, I draw your Lordships' attention to the model that has been used in Italy, which has much to recommend it. Under Italian law a special permit to stay can be issued when, situations of violence or grave exploitation towards a foreigner have been identified, and concrete dangers for his or her safety emerged as a result of the intent to withdraw from the circle". The permit is valid for six months and is renewable for one year, with the possibility that victims may be allowed to remain permanently. Both the police and non-governmental organisations can apply for the permit and the issuing of permits is not made contingent on the victim collaborating in a prosecution.

According to a senior expert for social policy in the Italian ministry of manpower, that system has helped to ensure more co-operation with the authorities because victims feel more secure and, therefore, prosecutors support the use of the special residency permits. According to information supplied by the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, currently there are 1,682 investigations or prosecutions under way against traffickers in Italy. Given that that system has proved effective in terms of protecting and supporting the victims and in ensuring effective prosecutions of the traffickers, I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the Government will give serious consideration to operating such a system in the United Kingdom.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Brennan

My Lords, human trafficking is human suffering of the most extreme kind. On my journeys abroad I have seen a 12 year-old girl, carrying a baby, sold into prostitution; six, seven and eight year-old children in labour conditions that are appalling, working 12 or 14 hours a day; and in Columbia a 10 year-old taken from his family by guerrillas to be trained as one of their soldiers. Such suffering, which is the product of the crime of trafficking, demands a message of clarity from this House.

The trafficked must be given sanctuary. Those who traffic must be the subject of firm law and condign punishment. The problem of trafficking must be recognised in our society as being of the highest significance and demanding action by us all. First, those who are enslaved look for refuge, somewhere to go to escape. I ask rhetorically, in our society do we have a system that provides such refuge? I regret that the answer is no.

If there is refuge, the trafficked want security against those who exploit them. The blackmail of which we have heard is not financial in essence, but fear against the person—woman or child, or their families in the country from which they have been trafficked. Without that reassurance, that security, they will not look for refuge. If given refuge, if reassured, they want to know that those from whom they have sought help will not treat them as an asylum cipher, a problem to be disposed of in the most rapid and cost-effective way. They need to know whether they will be given—in that terribly insensitive phrase—reflection time, whether they will be allowed to stay in the country, and whether they will be able to go home to whatever they may face there. I put sanctuary first. It is the aspect of Christian compassion, which I am sure is common to other religions, that we should first mark in analysing this problem.

The trafficker must be the subject of firm law and condign punishment. I fully endorse the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, about the difficulties of creating a plain, straightforward offence of trafficking that can easily be enforced. We lawyers will solve the problem once given the problem to solve. Given the offence, it is much more important to ensure enforcement of the law. I suggest three ways. The first may offend my libertarian spirit, but I propose very powerful rights of search by the police in brothels or similar places where women and children are being kept for trafficking purposes. That will instil fear into the traffickers and their systems; the fear of being caught. Secondly, once caught there will be a ruthless search to obtain the assets they have acquired from this crime, both here and abroad, through international co-operation if necessary. Thirdly, once convicted they go to gaol for a very long time. Trafficking demands tough law.

This is a problem of the highest social and moral importance. This country's citizens—like any other country's citizens—will think to themselves, "This problem cannot possibly exist in the United Kingdom. It is a problem from abroad. Let someone else solve it. I refuse to accept that my nation is part of it". That I suspect is the thinking of many people in many countries. How wrong it is.

We need to establish the scale of this problem in our own community by public debate, research and, if necessary, annual reports and what is being done about it. In addition—here again I endorse what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said—we cannot simply pass a tough law and expect a police force that is inexperience not only in detecting this type of crime but in handling the victims of it to cope with it. Once training has been given, this crime should be a key performance indicator in major police forces in this country.

In raising the size of this problem in the community, let it be put on the basis that the problem must be solved. In Bleak House Charles Dickens made the following statement which I adopt, because of my concerns for children's charities, and which I connect to this problem: In the little world in which children live, nothing is more keenly felt, nothing more finely perceived than injustice". What a terrible injustice it is for a child to be treated as sexual merchandise, cheap labour or a second-rate soldier. It is appalling. It demands action. I have no doubt that those speaking for the Government today will explain to us what can be done.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Tombs

My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for giving us a chance to discuss this very distressing topic today. His timing is impeccable, at least I hope that it is, because the Government have promised to legislate on the matter. I hope that that promise can be spelt out tonight with rather more specific timing. It is quite unacceptable that police forces and prosecutors have to rely on two clauses in a 46 year-old statute which was not designed for the purposes of human trafficking and which offers penalties wholly inappropriate for that trade.

Other countries are ahead of us both in legislation and in care. Therefore, it behoves the Government to treat this matter with great urgency. We cannot drag our feet. I know that the Minister will tell us that he cannot forecast future legislative programmes. But I hope that he will be a little more constructive than that. I look forward to his stretching the bounds of ministerial responsibility in a positive direction.

I strongly support the notion of a reflection break. However, I want to sound a note of caution which I hope will not be regarded as unduly timid. We are dealing here with children who have been abused in a dreadful way and who have systematically been stripped of all sense of dignity, self-confidence and trust in others. So they must have time to consider their position and have support to regain some of those qualities. It may take some decades, if ever. But they need some months for that.

I differ from some of the action groups in the notion that, if at the end of that time they conclude that they cannot give evidence, they should not thereby be debarred from long-term asylum. That sounds harsh. But we must deal with a dreadful trade. It is one which is growing and is driven by traffickers. It would be a Faustian bargain indeed if we were to lean so hard to help the present victims that we allowed that trade to grow and endanger future generations of children. So one needs to have a balanced situation. That is not an easy stage to reach. It sounds very unfeeling, but certainly on my part it is not meant to be.

I have greatly enjoyed today's debate. I agree with everything that has been said. It is not in my character or nature to repeat those things, so I propose to terminate my contribution here.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I join all other noble Lords who have expressed their thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on initiating a notable debate which I hope will be influential on the Government's thinking when they frame the legislation.

There are no statistics, as has been said, on people trafficking, because the majority of the victims are not recorded. Most of the victims suffer in silence in their brothels and sweatshops, terrified into submission by threats, blackmail and violence. But various figures have been given. Among other commentators, the Home Office Minister, Angela Eagle, has said that the scale of the problem is almost as great as that of drugs. There is no doubt that we are looking at what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has called a huge global plague.

There are two aspects to this menace, both of which have been touched on by your Lordships this evening. There is the need for domestic and European legislation and policing, which is dealt with in the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven. The second is the much harder question of how we cope with the social and economic factors which give rise to the phenomenon in the countries of origin. The White Paper says that we are determined to address the overseas component of organised immigration crime. It acknowledges that we have to, address the factors which make people vulnerable to exploitation such as poverty, war and repression". Much of that has been echoed in your Lordships' speeches today.

The White Paper makes a distinction between people smuggling, which is the facilitation of illegal entry with the consent of the immigrant, and people trafficking, where the agent plans to exploit the immigrant by coercing that person into low paid work or sexual servitude. The Home Office believes that the majority of illegal immigrants fully consent to the transaction although there is a grey area between the two categories, where the person first agrees to certain conditions but later wants to escape from the illegal bargain.

With others, we fully support the Government in their intention to make human trafficking a specific offence in accordance with the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the EU Framework Decision on trafficking. I take it that, as many noble Lords have already said, the definition is bound to follow that which is contained in these two instruments. I cannot see how any other solution would be possible.

However, I am not sure that increasing the maximum sentence for the offence of being concerned with arrangements for bringing illegal entrants into the UK to 14 years is likely to have much of a deterrent effect on the traffickers. I agree that the sentence should be long one, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said. But the money that these people make is enormous, so the deterrent effect of the possibility of conviction is quite small. We have no accurate information about the scale of the crime, but the White Paper calculates that some 35,000 people who tried to evade border controls in 2000 were assisted by the criminal gangs. If one compares that with the number found guilty of offences equivalent to trafficking, which has varied between 115 and 150 over the past five years, one can see that the number of people detected is a minute fraction of those who commit the crime.

The only way to increase the conviction rate would be to put more police and Immigration Service resources into catching the offenders. That would be the most effective deterrent. Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, suggested, we need to give police more powers to search brothels and other sexual establishments to enable them to catch such criminals. Where they have done such work, they have been effective. There have been several major police raids on sex establishments, and each trawl has netted quite a few people. I do not know why they do not undertake more, but perhaps it is because so few officers are engaged in such work.

Since it was established in March 2000, we have heard much about Project Reflex—although the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was the only one to mention it today—but it is not clear whether it is simply a label for doing things that we should have been doing anyway. The Government say that they have brought together all the key agencies involved in the interception and prosecution of traffickers, such as the Immigration Service, NCIS, the security agencies and the police, and have co-operated with law enforcement agencies in the European Union and further afield. In a Written Answer, the Minister, Bob Ainsworth, said that NCIS had been a major contributor to a project managed by Interpol in Lyons to improve the collection and sharing of information on organised crime groups involved in illegal immigration and trafficking.

Again, the question is whether any of the agencies concerned have been given extra resources, or whether they are expected to manage those tasks on the same budget. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that. I note that some additional funding was provided by the EU's STOP II Programme to, for example, NCIS and the Crown Prosecution Service, and it would be useful if the Minister said something about the projects that they have undertaken.

One highly visible initiative has been secondment of immigration liaison officers to the key countries where the gangs are operating—especially the Balkans, I understand—and we are supporting an EU initiative in Bosnia and an International Organisation for Migration initiative in Kosovo. Unfortunately, where a large number of international personnel is present, as in the Balkans, there is a ready market for the trafficking of women into prostitution.

Helga Konrad, head of the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe's new Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Children, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Maclennan, said that: the influx of men in uniforms creates a market for sex work". The International Organisation for Migration, which published a study on trafficking in the Balkans, states that the region is particularly vulnerable to trafficking, being in a post-conflict situation and adjacent to both rich and poor countries.

The UN protocol on trafficking requires state parties to consider measures for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims, as has been mentioned several times during this debate, and it is good to see that the south-eastern Europe task force will support the development of shelters offering security, medical care, legal and psychological counselling and repatriation assistance. Ms Konrad says that it is not enough merely to provide places to store people until they can be sent home.

In Britain, only one local authority, West Sussex, is providing any support. What support will the Government offer West Sussex, and are they concerned about the 66 children who have gone missing while in the care of social services? Several noble Lords asked whether the Government have any further thoughts about the assurance given by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, last July that they were considering how an NGO could provide support and advice for victims of trafficking. Will they request bids in the near future so that the arrangements can be in place before the legislation, which I assume will be in the next Queen's Speech—although I do not expect the Minister to answer that question this evening?

Anti-Slavery International, which has done so much to call attention to the problem of trafficking, calling it a modern-day slave trade, cited Mary Robinson as saying that human rights must be at the core of a credible anti-trafficking strategy. The UN Secretary-General, in a note to the sub-commission last July, said that trafficking and related practices such as debt bondage, forced prostitution and forced labour constitute violations of the most basic human rights. He also said that special attention should be given to the needs of trafficked children, including their health and educational needs.

The issue of trafficking has been discussed by several UN agencies, especially by the rapporteurs on the sale of children and on the human rights of migrants. The question is: how can the work of those UN agencies and other human rights bodies be dovetailed into the policies of Britain and the European Union so that, as the Secretary-General put it, those issues are, not simply reduced to problems of migration, problems of public order, or problems of organised crime"? With the Human Rights Commission's annual meeting about to start in Geneva, will the Government consider what can be done there to focus international attention on the victims of trafficking and to ensure that the work of the special rapporteurs is facilitated by adequate funding and support personnel?

Perhaps I may give one example from last year's report by the rapporteur on the rights of the child. She expressed concern about the extent to which Nigerian women and girls are falling victim to trafficking gangs. They are lured to Europe, mainly to Italy, apparently, by promises of a better life—in the same way as my noble friend Lord Maclennan described happening in the Ukraine—but end up owing 50,000 dollars to the pimps to pay for their passage, which they can hope to redeem only by years of squalid servitude. If they are caught, they are dumped unceremoniously back in Nigeria—500 of them in 1999 alone—but the traffickers are rarely brought to justice. We must do something to persuade the victims of such offences to give evidence. It will not be enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, suggested, merely to offer victim protection programmes here. There must be protection against victimisation of their families in their countries of origin.

The wicked trade in human beings—largely women and children—is a global menace on the scale of drugs. We fully support the measures that the Government have taken so far, and we will co-operate with them on the promised legislation. We appeal to them not to forget the victims and to use their best endeavours in the European Union to see that the human rights dimension of this dreadful phenomenon is high on the agenda.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I found it profoundly disturbing when I began to consider this problem to realise that trafficking in human beings is probably as old as mankind. It existed as a normal condition of life in all communities, including our own, until relatively recently. That gives me no satisfaction, but we must recognise that fact.

What is new today? We have had centuries to grow and develop out of that problem, while other parts of the world have, sadly, perhaps not yet had time to get away from it. That is one problem. We see such problems in a light different from that of other places. My noble friend Lord Moynihan mentioned information systems in the modern era, but the engine of change that is driving this appalling trade is the ease of international travel.

Trafficking in human beings when they had to be walked 200 miles perhaps may not have been serious. Today, when they can be flown around the globe in hours, we have a very different scale of problem. This is a most desperate and difficult problem. We must also realise that we will not remove the problem if we merely cure it within our own boundaries. We shall still have on our conscience what is happening elsewhere. That is a profound difficulty.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, I do not intend to go over ground that has been extremely well covered, but two or three things stand out. First, at present we do not have adequate machinery in this country to deal with the problem. We need a multidisciplinary agency to deal with it. We must involve the Immigration Service, Customs and Excise, the police and the social services. That can be put together in a co-operative way, and I am sure that all those people can be brought together. However, the most important point about bringing them together is that, if we can begin to get evidence of the scale of the problem and, more importantly, get some of the victims of that appalling trade into respite care where they can be properly looked after, we have some prospect—only some—of getting adequate intelligence to begin to take action against the perpetrators of that desperate, awful trade.

Intelligence is everything, which takes us back to the international nature of the problem. We desperately need international intelligence. It will take strong international co-operation to begin to tackle the problem. It will require co-operation between agencies that can supervise the transport business. We are not just talking about air transport. Although air transport is quick, road transport comes into the business as well. We must be able to work through the ports. As we have seen in a limited way, if the supervision at ports is inadequate—I refer to the appalling situation at Sangatte in France, where failure adequately to protect the transport depot has stopped freight traffic through the Channel Tunnel—we will have a real difficulty. We must work hard to make sure that there is international co-operation. I am sure that the Minister will cover that in his reply. It is agreed in the international bodies, but I am not convinced that the necessary work is being done.

We must also consider seriously the point that it does not really matter what the victims of trafficking are tied into. They are victims, whether it happens to be the child sex trade, cheap child labour in an unregulated and often dangerous environment or domestic work in conditions of virtual slavery, which is not unknown. The offence is the same—the destruction of that person's freedom and right to live the kind of life that we would consider right and proper. The offence of trafficking, whatever the end-product, is the same.

It is not a question of handing down a severe sentence if the people are caught. I suspect that, at this end of the line—we are, so to speak, importers of trafficked people—we will not get the people who initiate the trade and create the market. We will probably get relatively small players, but they certainly need to be stopped. The other side of the matter, about which the Government are taking action, is the need to be able to deprive people of their profits from the enterprise. I take my hat off to the Government about that: the Proceeds of Crime Bill, when it eventually goes through, should be a strong weapon in that regard. The Bill has had its First Reading in this House, and most Members who saw it took one look and nearly panicked at its scale. However, once it is on the statute book it will be enormously helpful.

I suspect that the trade is part of the global economy. It may be that we cannot stamp it out absolutely, but we can certainly go a long way towards removing it from within our own boundaries. I support any government action to achieve that. It is an appalling trade, and we should use all our international influence to diminish it elsewhere in so far as it is possible for us to do so.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on introducing such an important and timely debate and on his graphic description and analysis of the problem. It set the tone for a debate that, we all recognise, has included many contributions of high quality and proper emotional content. The heinous crime of trafficking and its appalling consequences for the victims is a profoundly emotional issue.

My noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids offered an important historical perspective on the issue. I may not be able to describe the debate as historic, but my noble friend will recognise that the city of Liverpool has been represented in the debate by the noble Lord who introduced it and the city of Bristol by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. She will also have noticed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, was present and contributed to the debate.

As has been graphically and accurately described, in people trafficking we see the modern manifestation of the worst aspects of enslavement and the subjection of people to terrible privations. People trafficking differs from people smuggling, which is the facilitation of illegal entry, and should not be viewed in the same light. People trafficking is transporting people in order to exploit them through forced prostitution or bonded labour. As such, it is a serious, organised international criminal activity and an evil trade on which we are determined to crack down. Because of the ongoing exploitation involved in trafficking, it is not primarily an immigration offence, although it can, of course, involve crossing a border. It can occur within a country, as well as between states.

Trafficking is a largely hidden crime, and it is difficult to form an accurate estimate of its extent. A Home Office research study Stopping Traffic, published two years ago estimated that between 140 and 1,400 women were trafficked to the UK each year for the purposes of sexual exploitation. However, we must all recognise that that is a rough estimate. Although the number of people trafficked into the UK may be small, when compared to the number smuggled in, the seriousness of the problem demands an appropriate response. Our debate emphasised the range of questions that must be answered.

I might add that I wish that my noble friend Lord Rooker were in position to provide the definitive answers required. As noble Lords will have recognised, Lady Rooker is seriously ill, and Lord Rooker is at her side, where he should be. I am sure that we all wish Lady Rooker well.

The debate has done a great deal to highlight the scale and complexity of the problem and the devastating effects that the crime has on its victims. I shall do what I can to highlight the measures that the Government have set in train to address the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, said, the fact that the victims are, in the first instance, willing parties to the crime adds an extra dimension to the difficulty. As we know, however, many victims, having been grievously misled, seek to get themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, properly asked that the UK should be at the forefront of an international effort. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave the Government credit for adopting this position. I should like to emphasise that fact. The Government were instrumental in negotiating the UN protocol on the prevention and suppression of trafficking, which has become the basis of international action to combat the crime. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who also reflected on this point.

The Government followed that up with a negotiation of an EU framework decision on trafficking for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation that has just been adopted by member states. I wish to assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that this is now in place.

The Government set out a comprehensive strategy for addressing trafficking in the recently published White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Havens. This strategy recognises the need for a multi-faceted response and is a four-pronged approach, covering the introduction of legislation, enforcement, prevention and protection for victims, and international cooperation to combat human trafficking.

The noble Lord, Lord Tombs, asked where legislation fits in. We have acted in response to concern about the inadequacy of current legislation and available penalties by introducing a new offence of trafficking for prostitution in the forthcoming nationality, immigration and asylum Bill which will be brought before your Lordships' House shortly. The new offence will carry a severe maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, indicated that such punishments should be severe. My noble friend Lord Brennan used the word condign. Fourteen years may not entirely meet his definition of that but it expresses the Government's view that these are very serious crimes. It is the same as for many drugs trafficking offences.

The new offence is a stopgap measure to close a current loophole. The Government intend to create new wide-ranging offences for trafficking for both sexual and labour exploitation, using future criminal justice legislation that will implement the reform of sex offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Tombs, invited me to foresee the next Queen's Speech. From my lowly position, I dare not do that but I can indicate to the House that I would not be talking in such assertive terms about this legislation unless I believed it was about to happen.

I assure my noble friend Lord Brett that these measures will also take into account our international obligations under the trafficking protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the EU framework decision on trafficking for the purpose of sexual and labour exploitation. It has been estimated that the profits from people trafficking are equal to those from drug trafficking and the effects on the lives of those involved can be just as damaging.

In recognising this, we also intend to use the Proceeds of Crime Bill, currently making its way through Parliament—of which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, gave favourable notice—to seize and confiscate the criminal assets of those involved in crime. It will provide another way of dismantling and disrupting traffickers and we shall, of course, have an early opportunity to debate that legislation.

We are determined to ensure there is an effective enforcement response to people trafficking. That is why we set up Project Reflex in 2000 to focus on combating wider organised immigration crime, including trafficking. Reflex brings together key agencies—the National Crime Squad, NCIS, the Immigration Service, the security and intelligence services, FCO, the Metropolitan, Kent and other police forces—in a co-ordinated strategy to tackle the problem. Reflex has been working to develop intelligence in the UK and overseas and to co-ordinate national and international investigations against organised immigration crime.

I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that additional resources in the last spending round led to the creation of a joint operational unit involving the National Crime Squad and Immigration Service that has recently become operational. It will significantly enhance the available capability to tackle people trafficking. It will be able to carry out an investigation into organised crime syndicates which several noble Lords have indicated are responsible for so much of this activity.

In committing ourselves to the UN protocol and EU framework decision on trafficking, we recognise that effective action must be conducted with our international partners. That point was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, stressed the international dimensions of this issue as did the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

The European Council at Tampere set out an agenda for tackling illegal immigration, especially human trafficking. The UK welcomes the progress already made there, as well as some successful returns programmes with a range of countries. Bilateral and multilateral collaborative operations are equally important, such as the EU high impact operation in 2001. That was a joint initiative with EU applicant countries to tackle illegal immigration across the eastern borders of the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, accurately described some of the problems which occur in countries on the borders of the EU where a good deal of this activity is generated.

The UK is developing a network of immigration liaison officers, working with other governments to encourage and support action to disrupt criminal gangs and create a joint intelligence structure across Europe and beyond. Across the EU and elsewhere, other liaison officers have proved very valuable. In the light of this, we are considering extending this network into other source and transit countries.

We also support EU member state organisations responsible for action against the trade in human beings and the sexual exploitation of women and children in particular. This is done via the UK contribution to the EU STOP Programme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. That was established by the European Council in 1996. A second phase, STOP II, got underway last year and the UK currently takes the lead with five projects through NCIS, the NGO Change and other organisations. We are active on this front, although, of course, it will take time for the results to show.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, emphasised the need to offer support to the victims. Other noble Lords emphasised the distressing aspect of this trade in terms of its victims. They may need particular support to help them escape their circumstances and in certain cases, help law enforcement tackle organised criminal gangs through their testimonies. The Government will make special arrangements for the protection of victims, where they are willing to come forward to help us deal with the criminals, a point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

The Government will also consider whether it is appropriate to allow victims to remain in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, suggested, we will look at the Italian and Dutch models on this issue, but there already exist provisions for victims of trafficking to be granted exceptional leave to remain in this country. What all noble Lords will also recognise is that we need to strike a balance between that and ensuring that we put as strong a limit as we possibly can on the opportunities for this trade and the rewards derived from it by criminals.

Where the victims wish to return home, we shall help them to do so. That will provide initial counselling for victims, ensure that they have suitable accommodation at their destination and provide help to enable them to reintegrate into their own community. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, emphasised that we will need to be assured that they are not returning to an environment in which they are under threat from those who perpetrated the original crimes against them.

Over the coming months, we shall discuss how to take that work forward with statutory and voluntary organisations. My noble friend Lord Brett asked about that point. The White Paper also sets out our intention to develop a best practice guide on victims of trafficking, which will act as an A to Z manual for immigration officers, police and others who may deal with trafficking victims.

Having outlined the Home Office's response to trafficking, I should also mention that other departments of government are active. I feel less than qualified to speak on behalf of the Home Office, but it would be remiss of me if I did not also mention the responsibilities of the Foreign Office and DIID in combating the trade. Both are committed to tackling trafficking on a global scale. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol emphasised, this is an international problem that can be tackled only through international co-operation. We are seeking to raise awareness in source and transit countries through bilateral and multilateral development programmes targeted at the issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to Sudan. I am not able to spend the amount of time on that that she deserves, given her great interest in the issue, but I think she will be reassured that our ambassador in Khartoum continues to work closely with the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children and with UNICEF and Save the Children on these issues. The Sudanese Government recently agreed to the US proposal for an international team to investigate the problem in Sudan. The team will include members of British NGOs, such as Save the Children. We look forward to the outcome of that activity with some optimism.

We have also given £3 million to the International Labour Organisation programme in the greater Mecon region, covering parts of Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. I am sure that that commends itself to my noble friend Lord Brett, given his close relationship with that organisation.

In conclusion, we are committed to tackling people trafficking. We are conscious that we cannot do that alone. To have a significant impact on people trafficking, in particular the trafficking of women, we need to work together internationally. We must work with our partners in the EU and with source and transit countries, as well as voluntary and international agencies, to ensure co-ordinated and effective action worldwide. In the UK, we must make certain that the enforcement agencies, the police and the intelligence agencies have an effective response to ensure that traffickers cannot profit from their crimes and that victims are afforded necessary protection and support.

We have made a start on setting up the necessary arrangements. There is a great deal more to be done, but I hope that I can assure the House that the Government are addressing the problem with the seriousness that it merits. That seriousness and the sense of urgency in this evening's emotional pleas— based on rationality, but appealing to our common humanity—drive the Government towards ensuring that we tackle one of the most heinous problems that beset our fellow human beings.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, the whole House will join the Minister in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and Lady Rooker our best at this time. We hope that Lady Rooker will quickly return to good health. We particularly understand that to have to step into the breach and deal with tonight's debate required a considerable effort on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to master the details of the brief, which he has done magnificently. We are all indebted to him for the way in which he has dealt with all the contributions this evening.

It is not part of the tradition of your Lordships' House for the mover of the Motion to speak at any length. I shall abide by that tradition, but I should like to summarise the three themes that have run through our debate: the desire for protection, for prosecution and for international co-operation. This has been a pre-legislative debate in every respect. We shall have the chance to bring forward proposals when we debate the immigration Bill and to hold the Government to the promises that they have made. I was particularly struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said about the opportunity to deal with the confiscation of the assets of those involved in trafficking when we consider the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Taken together with the punitive sentences that the Minister referred to, that may well be one of the best ways of tackling the problem.

I thank all those who have spoken with such power and such passion and from such a well informed basis. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.