Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.

Woman’s Hour

Labour Party

As  I said in a previous post, I recently took part in a discussion about the closure of the Metropolitan Police dedicated Trafficking Unit on BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour.  You can listen to the clip from show by following the link here.

Update on the Petition to keep the Met Police Specialist Trafficking Unit

Labour Party

 

You will know from previous blogs that I presented a petition on 26 November to the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) Board to try and stop the Metropolitan Police closing their special dedicated human trafficking unit. The meeting was broadcast live over the internet. You can view the entire meeting here.  I start my presentation 5 minutes into the video.

We are still waiting for the Metropolitan Police to make their final decision on the future of the trafficking unit, despite the fact that it was said in the MPA Board meeting that this would be done at the Met management board on 8 December, ie yesterday.

I am following events closely and will go public as soon as I hear anything.

The Petition calling on the Metropolitan Police to keep the specialist Trafficking Unit open is presented at City Hall

Labour Party

1,804 signatures later and a lot of hard work by Sarah and Holly from Journalista as well as my office staff, I handed in today the petition calling on the Metropolitan Police to keep their specialist unit dedicated to combatting human trafficking.  My sincere thanks to each and every one of you who signed the petition – 1,804 was an excellent achievement and just shows the strength of feeling about the trafficking of people for profit. 

In line with the usual procedure, I presented the petition this morning at the meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority Board chaired, of course, by Mayor Boris Johnson.  Also in attendance (amongst others) were Labour GLA Members John Biggs, Joanne McCartney and Toby Harris and the Green AM Jenny Jones.  I would like to pay a special tribute to Jenny, pictured, who has been a consistently strong supporter the petition and has worked hard for many years on the trafficking issue.

In presenting the petition, I was allowed to speak for five minutes.  Concentrating on Europe and London, I told the Board how during the football World Cup in Germany there had been a significant increase in prostitution and that most of the prostituted women had been trafficked for the purpose.  It would be appalling if the same were to happen in London for the 2012 Olympics.

My second point was an explanation as to why the conviction rates for trafficking are low, namely that the victims of trafficking, often locked away and unable to go out very far, are frightened and vulnerable and therefore very unlikely to report what is happening to them.  Interestingly Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, denied that the conviction rate was anything to do with the closure of the trafficking unit.

The real issue, as ever, was money.  In 2007 the Home Office provided the Met Police with £1.8 million for the specialist trafficking unit on the understanding that this would go down the following year and that thereafter the Met would be expected to find the money for the trafficking unit out if its own budget.  The Home Office duly gave the Metropolitan Police £700,000 last year.  This year, it would seem, rather than finding the finance, the Met intend to close the unit.  

I was very pleased that the Politics Show London filmed outside City Hall. (They were not allowed into the Board meeting).  There has been considerable media interest in the petition, which again illustrates just how important it is that we do all we can to eliminate the vile crime of trafficking human beings, a modern form of slavery.

Human trafficking petition receives over 1,300 signatures

Labour Party

human handsAs regular readers to my blog will be aware, almost a month ago I launched a campaign to highlight the issue of human trafficking and started a petition intended for the Met Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson to halt his proposal to close the Mets dedicated human trafficking unit.

I’ve received a huge amount of support so far and the petition has almost 1400 signatures to date. The campaign has received support from my MEP colleagues, MPs, local councillors and GLA members. In addition the Public and Commercial Services Union, and Anti Slavery International have also shown their support.

I will present my petition to Scotland Yard this Friday ahead of the decision which will be made by the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) between 16 -18 November.

Opponents argue that the unit doesn’t save enough people to warrant it staying open but when you hear the stories of those it does save you understand why it’s so important.

Only last Friday the Met Police reported that a Hungarian human trafficker who regularly raped and beat his girlfriend over a period of two years and then brought her to the UK, forcing her to work as a prostitute, has been jailed for 16 years.

The head of the unit, detective inspector Steve Wilkinson said in a statement following the conviction, that the human trafficking unit ‘continues to work towards freeing exploited victims from their captors and ensuring that we continue to successfully bring the traffickers to prosecution.

‘We hope that this result will encourage any other victims to come forward and speak with police who may have felt that they couldn’t do so before.’

But if the MPA decides to cut the funding of the dedicated unit then where will those victims go? And who should they turn to? If there isn’t a dedicated unit how will a greater number of traffickers be prosecuted?

As I have said throughout this campaign, the unit requires the dedicated and specialist knowledge of trained officers to do this role and successfully catch the perpetrators.

Not only will fewer victims feel they can come forward but even fewer prosecutions are likely to take place as a result.

Greens Support My Petition to Support the Met’s Trafficking Unit

Labour Party

jenny%20jones[1]I have had a nice letter of support from Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson the Green members of the Greater London Authority supporting my petition to keep the Metropolitan Police’s Trafficking Unit. Jenny writes on behalf of them both:

“I agree with you completely. It’s a stupid cost-saving measure which will harm trafficked people of all kinds.

As a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) I have been fighting this closure and at the next MPA meeting I shall try to get a motion passed which will ask the Mayor to keep the unit open.”

Thanks to Darren and jenny for their support. I have had support across the Labour Party and from many other people. I am pleased to say that over 1,000 people have now signed the petition. If you have signed it thank you, can you ask a friend to sign please? If you have not signed  please click here to sign.