Private Members' Bill on Human Trafficking, UK

A BLOG POST BY LYDIA BOWDENLydia Bowden In the United Kingdom, the general public are becoming more aware of the term ‘human trafficking’. Reports of trafficking are regularly splashed across our newspapers, demonstrating all too clearly how men, women and children are suffering at the hands of traffickers in Britain today.

The accounts are shocking, yet despite international conventions and directives to protect vulnerable people in this country, there is still much more to be done.

On 25 November 2011, Lord McColl of Dulwich highlighted potential legislative changes to provide improved assistance to victims of human trafficking with the Second Reading debate of his Private Members’ Bill – Human Trafficking (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) – in the House of Lords. Lord McColl’s determination on this subject is admirable and his resolve to carry on with the debate in the face of Government resistance is to be commended.

The Bill’s measures largely address those aspects of the EU Directive on Human Trafficking with which the UK government is not yet compliant. Crucially, however, it does go beyond the Directive in a number of significant areas including: the right to make arrangements if leave to remain is required for compensation claims; the provision of a legal advocate (guardian) for child victims of trafficking; protection for those victims of trafficking compelled by their traffickers to break the law from the further trauma of prosecution and the provision of a proper National Rapporteur on trafficking.

Although Lord McColl’s Bill received wide-spread support from Members of the House of Lords, the Minister seemed to think that its purpose was simply to make Britain compliant with the Directive so that all aspects of the Bill that went beyond the minimum required for compliance could be dispensed with.  However, the relevant consideration is not how little the UK can get away with doing in order to become technically compliant with the Directive but, regardless of the Directive, which aspects of the current UK legislative and policy framework are not working and identify how can we make them work.

For example, whilst the Government might be able to claim that the option of ‘Guardian or representative’ (see Article 14 of the Directive, italics added) means that current UK protections for the victims of child trafficking are sufficient to meet the demands of the Directive, the fact that 301 or 32% of trafficked children went missing between 2007 and 2010, means that compliant or not, our current legislative and policy framework is not working. What we need is to find a cost effective means of providing child protection that is fit for purpose, which the current regime evidently is not. That, as we see it, is the purpose of Clause 9 of Lord McColl’s Bill.

In addition, Article 19 of the Directive requires provision of a ‘National Rapporteur or equivalent mechanism’ which the UK Government claims to already be compliant with via its Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Trafficking. Whilst it might be possible to argue that technically the inter-departmental committee meets this requirement, it certainly is not consistent with the spirit of the provision since it is generally accepted that National Rapporteurs should crucially be independent of government. Without such a provision Britain is denied the objective assessment of its trafficking policy, and the trafficking situation generally as it relates to Britain, that international best practice says should be provided by an independent National Rapporteur. This is a severe handicap to effective policy making in the UK. Clause 12 of Lord McColl’s Bill rises to this challenge.

We hope that parliamentary time will be given to allow the Bill to move to Committee stage.

You can access the text of Lord McColl’s Private Members’ Bill here.

Lydia Bowden is the Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Policy Officer at CARE.

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