My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this debate. Human trafficking is probably the world’s third largest illegal trade.
I have raised the issue of human trafficking on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House, as it is a topic about which I feel strongly. This abhorrent practice is equivalent to modern-day slavery. Victims of trafficking are lured from their native countries with promises of greater opportunities in a foreign land. They are then traded by ruthless gangmasters like commodities. I make no distinction between those who engage in human trafficking and the slave masters of past years.
Women and children tend to be the main targets of the predatory gangs who engage in this immoral trade. I care about issues relating to women and children. I very recently attended the sixth Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership meeting in Brussels as a delegate of the British Parliament. At the meeting, which was attended by parliamentarians of 22 countries, I initiated discussions concerning the protection of females and children. I successfully tabled the following amendment, which was included in the final declaration:
“We stress the need to give priority to gender equality and empowerment of women. There must be progress on the reduction of maternal mortality and improving maternal and reproductive health. We totally condemn the awful practice of abuse of women and children as a weapon of war to instil fear amongst opposing sides in war-torn areas”.
The Association of Chief Police Officers released a publication in August that implied that 17,000 of the estimated 30,000 women who engage in off-street prostitution were migrants. More startling is the fact that 2,600 of these women are thought to have been victims of trafficking. I am pleased that such victims are given a 45-day reflection period, along with the option of temporary accommodation. However, a number of organisations have indicated that that might be insufficient. What plans do the Government have to ensure that victims of human trafficking are given adequate assistance to rebuild their lives?
I welcome statutory guidance to support collaboration across government agencies in areas such as finding suitable accommodation for child-trafficking victims. Reports suggest that a growing number of children are being trafficked into Britain to work in domestic cannabis factories. A study by the Association of Chief Police Officers reveals that child exploitation for the purposes of cannabis production has increased in recent years. Last year, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published a threat assessment of child trafficking, which revealed that Vietnam was the country of origin for a number of children trafficked to work in cannabis factories. I should be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House of the steps that Her Majesty’s Government are taking as part of co-ordinated action with the Vietnamese Government to tackle this worrying trend.
I welcome the announcement by the Home Secretary of the new National Crime Agency. This new organisation will make it easier for police forces to collaborate on national issues, and it will tackle organised crime while protecting our borders. I also look forward to learning the contents of the imminent national plan on trafficking.
I support the increased efforts, announced by the Government, to detect and rescue victims of trafficking by allowing border officials to conduct separate interviews at all airports for women and children travelling with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. I am also in favour of efforts by the Royal Navy, as part of the Africa Partnership Station initiative, to strengthen maritime safety and security in the western and central parts of the continent by training the Nigerian naval forces to police their waters effectively.
I am proud that the United Kingdom has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. We must work closely and successfully with our European partners to combat this evil practice.
I welcome the United Nations global plan of action against trafficking in persons, as it calls for a common approach to combat this practice that is co-ordinated and consistent across continents. I particularly welcome the creation of a United Nations voluntary trust fund for victims of trafficking, where the task will be to protect the vulnerable while supporting the physical and psychological recovery of victims. I am committed to seeing all forms of human trafficking eradicated. The exploitation of people is horrific and cannot be tolerated in any society.
I was born and brought up in Africa, a continent that has been ravaged by slavery. It is where great men such as General Gordon and Dr Livingstone lived and died-people who passionately believed in abolishing slavery. I have great admiration for Dr Livingstone, and with my father visited Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where HM Stanley first met Dr Livingstone.
As a nation, we have a proud history of defending the rights of those who have been oppressed. We must make every effort to deal with the plight of the many individuals who have the misfortune of falling victim to this shameful practice.