Govt to ratify anti-trafficking agreement this year

The government has committed itself to ratifying the European anti-trafficking treaty this year.

Jacqui Smith told MPs the government was making progress to ratify the Council of Europe Convention against trafficking within 2008.

The home secretary described human trafficking as “one of the vilest crimes that threaten our society”.

She said: “This horrendous crime is the product of organised criminality, whose business is to make money from human misery.

“That is why I am announcing today my intention to accelerate plans to ratify the Council of Europe Convention against trafficking.

“We will make the necessary legislative and procedural changes before the end of this year as part of our wider strategy to combat trafficking.”

The home secretary’s assurance comes ten months after her predecessor John Reid signed the UK up to the agreement.

Two weeks ago the Conservatives repeated calls for the government to ratify the convention. The Home Office justified the delay, arguing it was essential the necessary arrangements are in place first.

Ms Smith today outlined the progress already made to MPs; the inter-departmental ministerial group on trafficking has drawn up an implementation plan, models for victim support plans are in place and victim identification schemes are being piloted.

The Conservatives welcomed today’s announcement, although shadow home secretary David Davis said it was overdue and criticised the Home Office’s timetable as slow.

The Liberal Democrats also welcomed Ms Smith’s statement, but said reforms should already have been included in the criminal justice and immigration bill.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “The home secretary should now introduce these changes in the House of Lords in order to lose no time in tackling this offensive trade in human misery.

“This is better late than never from the government.”

Ms Smith said ratification would not be an end in itself, stressing the government planned to continue efforts to rescue the victims of trafficking and bring their exploiters to justice.

She told MPs: “We have already achieved a great deal. In March 2007 we launched the comprehensive UK Action Plan on Trafficking on the same day as signing the convention.

“We have also established a dedicated Human Trafficking Centre and provided £4.5m over the last five years for victim protection under the Poppy scheme, which supports adult women trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.”