Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 7th and 9th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 11th Report from the Constitution Committee, 18th and 19th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 57: Provision of information relating to being a victim of slavery or human trafficking
151D: Clause 57, page 61, line 31, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may not serve a slavery or trafficking information notice on any person who— (a) is aged 17 or younger, or(b) was aged 17 or younger at the time they were a potential victim of slavery or human trafficking on the basis of which they have made a protection claim or human rights claim.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would exclude children from the provisions of Clause 57.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register as a research fellow at University of Nottingham, in the Rights Lab, and as a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation. I hope that can be noted as we go through this part of the Bill, rather than me saying it at the beginning of every group of amendments, if that is in order.
Part 5 of the Bill deals with modern slavery. There are a couple of things to say before I turn to my amendment and some of the other amendments in this large group. It is sad to see modern slavery in what is essentially an immigration, refugee and asylum Bill. That is to be regretted. Notwithstanding that, it is in this Bill, and we have a large number of amendments and important issues to discuss.
I regret much of what is in Part 5, given that one of the iconic achievements of any Government over the last few decades was that of the Conservative Government under David Cameron, with Theresa May as Home Secretary and then as Prime Minister: the Modern Slavery Act. As a Labour politician, I was pleased and proud to support it. It was a fantastic achievement, and a model for the rest of the world, and indeed the rest of the world has followed it. That should be set down as a marker in this place. I hope that the right honourable Member for Maidenhead, the former Prime Minister, hears loud and clear what I think the vast majority, if not all, of this House believe with respect to the Modern Slavery Act.
I find it therefore somewhat difficult to understand why the Government have come forward with a number of proposals which undermine some of the basic principles upon which that Modern Slavery Act was established. Clauses 57 and 58 put victims on a deadline to give information or evidence and penalise them for late disclosure. They take no account of the realities faced by victims of slavery and trafficking, and will make it harder for victims to access support.
Like much in this Bill, the starting point for the Minister must be why the Government are doing this. What evidence is there of a real problem here that needs urgently to be tackled? There is none—I cannot find it. I can see no explanation from the Government for why they are doing this, other than a belief that part of the modern slavery legislation—the national referral mechanism, or whatever you want to call it—is being abused and misused by those who seek asylum or get into this country using the devious route of claiming to be victims of slavery when they are not. Where is the evidence for that? Where are the statistical points that the Government can use to show us the scale of the problem, to say that this is what is happening, and that this is why we must deal with it?
This goes to the heart of the problem. I do not know what the politically correct term is, but the Government have set up this target to justify legislation and legislative change on the basis of attacking some mythical statistical problem—“We have to do this to deal with that”. The first thing to know is what has caused the Government to believe there is such a problem that they need this to deal with it. From memory, about one-third of referrals to the national referral mechanism are from British citizens, so you start to wonder.
Those are the parameters of the debate. I will return to many of those themes as we go through Part 5.
It is very unclear what problem the Government are trying to fix with these changes and what is gained by the clauses, because the cost of them is stark. We look forward to the Minister justifying that at the beginning of his remarks. What assessment have the Government done on the impact that these provisions, if passed unamended, will have on the national referral mechanism?
Clause 57(3) suggests that a slavery and trafficking notice will be used even before a reasonable grounds decision can be made, putting up barriers before a victim has taken even their first step into the national referral mechanism. Can the Minister explain if that is the case? Is that the purpose of Clause 57(3)?
At Second Reading, the former Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“It takes time for many victims of modern slavery to identify as a victim, let alone be able to put forward the evidence to establish that.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/7/21; col. 728.]
This is not from some wild, middle-class liberal or a person who is blinded by the belief that refugees, asylum seekers and those fleeing modern slavery can do no wrong; the former Prime Minister of this country outlined one of the deficiencies that many in this Chamber believe is a real problem. Does the Minister agree or disagree with the former Prime Minister? If he agrees, why does he not do something about it? If he disagrees, I think we will come to our own conclusions. How is that reflected in measures that create artificial deadlines, which have not been needed until now, and that penalise victims for not meeting them?
Also on Clauses 57 and 58, it is not clear, and I ask the Minister to explain, whether slavery or trafficking information notices will be served on all asylum applicants or on only some. It would be discriminatory if they were served on some asylum seekers or certain categories of asylum seeker—for example, the people the Government expect to be captured by these clauses. That point was made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 58 provides that decision-makers must take account of a missed deadline and that it must damage a victim’s credibility, unless they have “good reasons” for providing information late. Why is the national referral mechanism all of a sudden not trusted to make decisions and give weight to these matters?
Amendment 154, which I have tabled with the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar and Lady Hollins, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, seeks to find out what the Government mean by “good reasons” in Clause 58(2)—
“unless there are good reasons”.
No doubt the Minister will say that this will be clarified in guidance, that we can look forward to regulations and that, when the clause talks about “good reasons”, we can trust them, and that of course “good reasons” means good reasons”, et cetera. We will get into the nightmare situation in which nobody has a real clue what it means. That is why I am grateful to other noble Lords in the Committee for supporting that amendment.
I particularly highlight paragraph (g) in Amendment 154, which deals with the
“fear of repercussions from people who exercise control over the person”.
Time and again, you meet victims who are terrified of the system, and therefore will not co-operate, or victims who are coerced into activity that all of us sat in here—in the glory of the wonderful House of Lords Chamber—would think wrong, but which completely misunderstands the coercion that victims or survivors in those circumstances face. It is not the real world to believe that they cannot be coerced into doing activity that we might sometimes think is not right. It is not the real world; it is not their life; it is not the reality of their situation. I say to every noble Lord here, if you were told that unless you co-operated fully with individuals you were entrapped by, your parents, grandparents or family in the country from which you originated would be attacked or worse, I wonder how many of us would say, “Don’t worry, I won’t do it”. It is just not the real world.
How can the Minister reassure this House that all of that will be taken into account by those who make the decisions? We have trusted them to make these decisions up to now. We believe that the decision-makers will understand this without necessarily laying out in primary legislation that, if information is provided late, there must be good reasons for it or the information should automatically be disregarded.
So, as I say, the Government have so far given no clarity on what “good reason” will be; let us hope that the Minister can give us some clarity today. How many people entering the NRM who are victims of slavery and trafficking do the Government expect not to have a good reason if they struggle to present their evidence in a neat file by a specified date? Who knows?
Amendments 151D and 152 again seek to understand why the Government do not disapply any of this automatically from children who are captured by exactly the same provisions as adults. Time and again in our law—it does not matter which aspect; we have some very distinguished Members who are experienced in this—it is a fundamental principle that we treat children differently from adults, that we understand that children have different developmental needs, and that we do not expect a child to act in the same way as an adult. That is a fundamental principle of the legislative system on which this country’s democracy has been based for ever—or since for ever, or whatever the term is; your Lordships understand the point I am making—yet this part of the Bill drives a coach and horses through that principle and takes no account of children at all. That cannot be right. Even if we think that late disclosure and some of these things are right for adults, it cannot be right for children. The Minister will say that the decision-makers will of course take this into account. He will say, “Of course that won’t happen. If we have a 12 or 13 year-old child before us, nobody can expect them to be treated in the same way as an adult”. So put it on the face of the Bill so that there is no doubt about it—so that those who take decisions can have no doubt about what our intention is. Can the Minister explain why children, who made up 47% of those referred to the NRM last year, should be subject to the same provisions in this Bill as adults?
In closing, let me say that the Government’s own statutory guidance says:
“Child victims may find it particularly hard to disclose and are often reluctant to give information.”
I could not agree more with the Government in their own guidance—why do they not follow it themselves? Clauses 57 and 58 are a serious undermining of the current provisions in an Act we are all proud of, and the Government should think again.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. I was much involved with the Modern Slavery Act and the review led by the noble Lord, Lord Field, so I feel I have some knowledge of this. I do not know whether the Minister, who is not at the Home Office, realises the extent to which all the non-governmental organisations of this country—including the Salvation Army, which works for the Government on modern slavery, together with the anti- slavery commissioner—deplore this part of the Bill without exception. This Minister may not know that but, goodness me, the Home Office does.
I am very concerned about children, but I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, so I propose to refer specifically to Clause 58. Again, because he is not at the Home Office, the Minister may not have read the statutory guidance on the Modern Slavery Act. I have it with me—it was published this month. I wonder whether the Home Office’s right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, because the requirement to be timely in providing the information needed is totally contrary to the entire work set out by the statutory guidance.
I do not want to bore the Committee, but I must refer very briefly to one or two points so the Minister can know. Under “Introduction to modern slavery”, the guidance says:
“It is important for professionals to understand the specific vulnerability of victims of modern slavery and utilise practical, trauma-informed methods of working which are based upon fundamental principles of dignity, compassion and respect.”
For goodness’ sake, does Clause 58 have anything to do with that? The guidance sets out how you should deal with identifying potential victims of modern slavery. In particular, paragraph 3.6 on page 35 states:
“In practice it is not easy to identify a potential victim—there are many different physical and psychological elements to be considered as detailed below. For a variety of reasons, potential victims of modern slavery may also … be reluctant to come forward with information … not recognise themselves as having been trafficked or enslaved”
and, most importantly, may
“tell their stories with obvious errors and/or omissions”.
One important aspect—which the Home Office on the one hand states in the statutory guidance and yet is clearly totally unaware of in relation to the Bill—is that a lot of victims who come to this country are given a story by the traffickers. That is the story they tell first, and it will not be the truth. Just think what will happen to them consequently under Clause 58. They will be treated as liars who have not given accurate information. Through the NRM—imperfect though it is—they will probably have got to reasonable grounds, but then they will get this appalling notice and find themselves not treated as victims. This is totally contrary to the Modern Slavery Act. It is totally contrary to the best of all that has happened in this country, in the House of Commons and this House, which will be ruined by this part of the Bill.
Having worked in this sector since about 2006, I am absolutely appalled that the Government think they are doing a good thing in putting this part of the Bill forward. For goodness’ sake, will they for once listen and get rid of it?
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 153 and 155 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Before I do so, I fully associate myself with the powerful words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The only correction I will make to the noble Lord is that the Modern Slavery Act originated in the coalition Government, and we had a Liberal Democrat Minister in the Home Office in the person of my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who was here earlier.
Group 1 covers amendments and proposed deletions to very objectionable clauses, as we have heard. Clause 57 shifts the onus from the state to the potential victim to identify themselves and possess the relevant expertise to know what information is relevant to a slavery and human-trafficking determination. There is no provision for the specified date for supplying the information to be reasonable, or for whether and how an extension could be granted. Can the Minister say whether there will be guidance on these matters? As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked, will notices be served on all asylum applicants or only on some? There would be potential for these notices to be discriminatory, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, if they were served only on certain categories of people. What criteria will be used if only certain people will get these notices?
There is no clarity or guidance as to what might be considered good reasons for why information has arrived late. Vulnerable or traumatised victims might take time opening up; they might well be unfamiliar with the legal process, or they might not realise that a particular detail was relevant until later. There at least needs to be guidance on what constitutes good reasons to improve legal clarity and certainty, otherwise Amendment 154 from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, needs to be accepted.
On Clause 58, the Court of Appeal in a 2008 case said that the word “potentially” should be included if the decision-making authority were required to assess late supply of information as damaging to credibility. Hence, Amendment 153, inspired by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, changes “must take account” to “may take account” as potentially damaging to credibility. Amendment 155 would amend Clause 58 so that it does not apply to child victims or victims of sexual exploitation, similar to Amendments 151D and 152 from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.
The bottom line is that Clauses 57 and 58 should not be in this Bill and, as has been said, Part 5 as a whole should not be in this Bill. They are arguably in breach of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
I think that my noble friend Lord Paddick will refer to the worries of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner—we are all very conscious of this matter. Indeed, Dame Sara Thornton has a comment article in the Times today, to which I shall refer in a later group. She has been very active, not least in briefing the JCHR and outlining her extreme worries, and we have heard from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The whole of the sector believes that this tightening up, to the disadvantage of vulnerable and traumatised victims of human trafficking and slavery, is wholly inappropriate.
My Lords, I have not yet spoken on this Bill—I missed the Second Reading for reasons beyond my control—but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which issued a number of reports on the Bill. I want to refer to the 11th report, covering Part 5, where we unanimously, as a committee, came forward with a number of recommendations. I hope that the Committee will bear with me—bearing in mind the strictures of the Chief Whip a day or two ago—if I make a brief intervention on this to support those amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The noble Baroness was speaking to Amendments 153 and 155, but all of us are also, to some extent, in support of all the other amendments, and take note of everything that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said.
I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his very kind words about all the work my right honourable friend Theresa May has done on modern slavery over the years. I served briefly in the Home Office, as I have served briefly in a great many departments, before I was moved on—as happens so often. I know from when I served with my right honourable friend just how seriously she took this issue—she treated it as important even before she became Home Secretary. She was a member of the shadow Cabinet in the run-up to the 2001 election and then continued with this work beyond. She will be grateful for everything the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said. If I do not pass it on to her, I am sure she will read Hansard.
I do not want to make a very long intervention as I missed out on most parts of the Bill and was not here until 3.20 am on Wednesday morning. I will just underline a fact raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—and on which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will no doubt come in again—that this was considered very carefully from a human rights point of view by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is both cross-party and a committee of both Houses. We looked at this in great detail, took evidence on a great deal and produced a report with a number of recommendations. Therefore, I offer my support to Amendments 153 and 155. They will not be pressed today, but I hope that we will get, at least, a good response from the Minister and that he will consider coming forward with some alternative before the next stage.
My Lords, I have added my name to those noble Lords who oppose Clause 57 standing part. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others, who have already so eloquently made the case about concerns for this part of the Bill. As the Church of England’s lead bishop for modern slavery, I have had the privilege to sit with and listen to many charities, agencies and survivors of modern slavery, so it seemed appropriate to bring those conversations from the grass roots to your Lordships’ attention.
This is a clause which resonates deeply with the Church. Through the Clewer initiative, the Church of England is working across England with many partners to raise awareness of all aspects of modern slavery and to help support victims and vulnerable groups. This includes running training courses on county lines, producing apps which allow for reporting of suspected modern slavery cases in car washes and the farming sector, and working with many churches to raise up and equip volunteers in this area.
Only yesterday, around the corner from here, the General Synod of the Church of England discussed a motion on modern slavery and trafficking brought forward by members of the diocese of Durham and supported by members of the diocese of Southwark. This was prompted by the practical experience and difficulty in supporting a victim who had come to their attention. The synod voted to acknowledge the leading role which Her Majesty’s Government have played internationally in challenging slavery. Voting unanimously, the synod asked Her Majesty’s Government to introduce legislation to ensure proper provision for the ongoing support and protection of trafficked minors, and for this to be enshrined in law.
As a Church, and like many faith groups—I pay tribute, as others have, to the Salvation Army and the Medaille Trust—we wholeheartedly welcomed the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It has been such a crucial piece of legislation, and one we have long harboured hopes of seeing expanded and enhanced to do more to protect victims, to prevent future cases and to work with businesses and civil society in a collective effort against this appalling evil. Accordingly, it is so disheartening to see Clause 57—and others to which we will come to in due course—in this Bill. From so many charities and faith-based initiatives, and from survivors themselves, I have heard a torrent of the same message: “This is not going to work. It is going to exclude legitimate victims. It will result in fewer people being identified. It will result in fewer people being supported.”
The numbers who remain trapped and incapable of receiving the support that they need outstrip by an enormous margin the relatively small numbers seeking to abuse the system. Clause 57 seeks to eliminate abuse. I humbly suggest that we have a system in place that is already able to identify and refuse support to those who are not truly eligible. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded to this. What Clause 57 will do, in order to cut down on a relatively small level of abuse, is add to the barriers that are put before victims.
I want to end by emphasising that point. Those who work on the ground are desperate to do more to work with the Government to identify victims and eliminate modern slavery. This is the time to be accelerating and increasing our engagement to break the business models that exploit and enslave human beings. It is not the time to be making it harder for victims to come forward. I hope that we can rethink and remove this clause.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for introducing these amendments with such clarity and conviction and to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her passionate plea for the Government to have another look at these clauses. What I am going to say will repeat the points that they have made, but I think that they are worth repeating because they are serious concerns.
One of the main concerns of all those working with victims of modern slavery—NGOs, police, prosecutors—is Clause 58. It is humbling when you talk to those working on the front line to hear of the compassionate way in which they work with victims of trafficking. I have listened carefully to their concerns and I think that the Government should pay heed. I urge the Minister to talk properly to those working on the front line with these people.
Clause 58 will have the devastating effect of damaging the credibility of victims of modern slavery if they fail to disclose their trafficking experience within a set framework. The UK, as we have heard, is seen as a world leader in tackling modern slavery. We need to build on that experience and the achievements gained over the last few years, not undermine victims by starting from a position of disbelieving them and then requiring them to prove otherwise. That would be regressive. It would breach the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking by putting the onus on victims to identify themselves and removing the state’s obligation to identify victims and investigate trafficking offences.
Clause 58 will deter victims from coming forward, reduce the number of successful prosecutions and police investigations and leave the most dangerous criminals free. It is for this reason that the police and prosecutors have voiced their concerns. The Government’s own NRM supporter, the Salvation Army, which has held the victim care contract for over 10 years, has expressed grave concerns. Most worryingly, children are not exempt. That will be a significant setback for the achievements of the Modern Slavery Act and children protection legislation. As we have heard, the conflation of immigration with victims of trafficking, particularly children, is beyond comprehension. This clause goes against experience, undermines a legal principle and displays a complete lack of understanding. As we have heard, both Sara Thornton, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, and Theresa May—rightly, compliments have been paid to her—have expressed concerns. This clause should not stand part of the Bill.
To tackle the problems that Clause 58 is designed to resolve requires operational, not legislative, change. The clause goes against the Government’s own aims. It will push victims away from support, hamper efforts to track down trafficking gangs and likely reduce numbers of prosecutions. What is needed is the improvement of the NRM, reductions of delays in decision-making and better funding. I am not clear how a set framework will help with abuse and I am not aware of any data published by the Government to illustrate misuse of the NRM. Perhaps the Minister can explain how a set framework will help and what evidence, if any, the Government have about the level of abuse.
The Government argue that this measure will help to ensure that victims are identified as early as possible to receive support. Speeding up the process is in everyone's interest, but I am not sure how the clause will help. The probing amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which I support, would add a list of good reasons for late disclosure to Clause 58. There needs to be clarity in the legislation that the notice period can be extended. It needs to be stated clearly that there are circumstances when a late disclosure should not be penalised.
With regard to children, will the Government publish a children’s rights assessment and draft guidance before Report? As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, we need that in the Bill.
My Lords, I have added my name to the opposition to both Clauses 57 and 58. The Minister will understand by now the view that has been expressed, with no exceptions, that the Bill does not advance our world-leading work to support victims of modern slavery and is a retrograde step. No one would say that all the work that is needed has been done. There is a lot of learning going on and it has to go on, but the Bill does not advance that work at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked why the Government are doing this. This had not occurred to me before but maybe it is the pervasive culture of disbelief raising its head again. I am glad that the debate on Part 5 was opened by the noble Lord and the noble and learned Baroness, both of whom I feel I should refer to as my noble friends; I have been hanging on to their coattails in this area.
I am going to say very much less than I could today. Part 5 merits—if that is not too positive a term—a whole day’s debate at least, but I, too, am aware of the pressures on time. Being constrained in the scrutiny of a Bill to which so many of us are opposed, pretty much across the board, is particularly concerning. I must investigate the procedures for moving to leave out a whole part of a Bill on Report. This is so shaming because this part of the Bill affects people whom we are so keen to support and protect.
Reference has been made to late information. I am going to give a couple of examples, both of which cases I have some particular knowledge of, not because I think that they will come as news to most people in the Chamber but because there are many of our colleagues who are not aware of all this. I refer to two victims. The first is a learning-disabled man who worked on a farm for decades in the most appalling conditions, conditions that are difficult to read about. He was not able to leave but did not even think he ought to try to do so because he did not know where else he might go. He even referred to his falling-down insanitary shed as home. The second is a young woman, who, in speaking to the police, could not get beyond the fact that in her head the perpetrator was her boyfriend. Sadly, those are both common situations. I will leave the matter there.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I refer to a non-financial interest: I am a trustee of the Arise Foundation, which works for victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I too wish Part 5 was not in this Bill at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, told the Committee, it is odd to put issues concerning immigration and human trafficking together in this way, as though they are part and parcel of the same problem. They are not.
That is why my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss was right to be as passionate as she was and, reinforced by the remarks of my noble friend Lady Prashar, to say that the Government really need to recast and rethink this all over again. My noble and learned friend referred to the Salvation Army which is, as she said, the advisers to the Government on this issue. It says:
“The Salvation Army has held the Government’s Modern Slavery Victim Care and Co-ordination contract for over 10 years. In that time, we have supported 15,000 survivors of modern slavery. We, along with our colleagues across the anti-trafficking sector”—
all of us have seen reams of representations from pretty much every representative group that there is—
“would urge you to … ensure that vulnerable survivors of trafficking and slavery are not prevented from accessing the support they deserve.”
It is hard to see how many of the measures that we are debating very briefly in the context of such an important set of provisions will enable that to happen. I do not want to pre-empt what I am going to say on my Amendment 156A on the national referral mechanism, but simply to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said in his curtain-raising remarks for the whole of this section.
My noble friend Lord Hylton, and I, along with my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, worked with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who was in another place at that time and doing incredibly energetic hard-working things to get the 2015 legislation on to the statute book. We all paid tribute then, as that came through on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, through both Houses, to the right honourable Theresa May, for what Lady May did in working for this legislation to happen. However the history books judge her period as Prime Minister or Home Secretary, I believe this is her most lasting legacy and something she should be enormously proud of. That is why I too quoted her remarks at Second Reading, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord refer to them again today. I urge the Minister to go back to what she had to see had to say about this.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and I go back a long way. She was once a curate in what was then the Liverpool Mossley Hill constituency, so, we also have something in common with the Minister. Bristol and Liverpool have something in common: their knowledge of the transatlantic slave trade. In 2015, we saw this as a way of cleansing some of the past: not breaking down monuments or trying to cancel history but doing something positive. My worry is that what we are doing now is undoing so much of that good work. What are these imaginary windmills that, like Don Quixote, we are being encouraged to tilt at today? There is no data. Where is the justification? Knowing that the Minister has a forensic brain, I hope he will take us through what the justifications are for what we have here. Why, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, are we disregarding what our own Joint Committee on Human Rights has said to us?
I have one more thing to say, and that is on Amendment 154, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker: Proposed new subsection (2A)(g) refers to
“fear of repercussions from people who exercise control over the person”.
Certainly, through the work that I have been privileged to be involved in with the Arise Foundation, we have seen many examples of that. That children are being treated no differently in this legislation beggars belief.
Amendment 154 also refers to victims of trauma. If someone has been traumatised, then of course the statements they will make, even possibly the untruths they feel they have to tell to prevent being sent back where they came, should not be held against them. This section also deals with people with diminished capacity, and I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said in one of her examples about people with diminished responsibility. We have all seen cases like that. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, who we will hear from later on, has done more than anyone in your Lordships’ House to draw to our attention the need to do more to help vulnerable people in that situation.
These amendments are good, but you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I wish this was not in this Bill at all. There is still time for the Government to recast. Given the concerns that have been echoed, not just here, but right across the sector, I hope that the Minister will take this back to the Home Office, take it back to the Government, and say let us think again.
My Lords, I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and I am grateful to my colleagues on that committee who have spoken. The committee looked very hard at this issue, and we came up with very clear recommendations. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for having set the scene for this debate.
I want to be brief but will repeat the question put by my noble friend Lord Coaker. Why are the Government doing this? On some aspects of the Bill with which I am in profound disagreement, at least I understand why the Government, in their own way, want to do what they are doing—it might be quite wrong, but I understand it. In this case, I do not even know what the case is for the Government to do this. Are they trying it on so that they can withdraw the provision and seem to be meeting the wishes of the House? There is no justification at all.
Most Members of this House will be aware that people who have been in slavery, trafficked or traumatised by sexual exploitation, often find it very difficult to talk about their ordeal. They often want to keep quiet, because the experience has been so horrifying for them that they cannot put their own case to officialdom here. I have seen this over the years when I have met people. In fairness, some of them want to talk a great deal to get their experience out of their system, but many others do not. It is a natural human reaction; one does not want to talk about one’s awful experiences; one wants almost to shut them out. Then one finds there is a need to reveal information.
I was talking to some NGOs which were working with people who had crossed the Sahara. They said that the majority of women who fled for safety across the Sahara had been raped on the journey. Many of them do not want to talk about that. It is not within their tradition and culture to talk about it, yet here we are demanding that they should.
I find it very depressing that we have to debate this at all. I urge the Minister to say that the Government will think again. That is the only way out, otherwise, when we get to Report, it will not be a nice day for the Government, because we are bound by the comments we are making today, and by having a sense of integrity in putting forward the case for people who have been in slavery or traumatised to have a reasonable chance of being dealt with. The Government should not be trying to find ways to keep them out. I ask them to think again.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments; I have signed only one, simply because I am not terribly well organised. I agree with the comments about Theresa May, whom I admired for many things, including the fact that she gave me a colleague in this House; it was six long, lonely years without my noble friend Lady Bennett.
An Urgent Question was left off the Order Paper today. It was put in the other place by the honourable Member for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, who is the Green Party MP. Either me or my noble friend Lady Bennett would have liked to have contributed to that debate. I should like an explanation from the Government as to why it was left off the Order Paper. I am a great believer in cock-up rather than conspiracy, but I would like an explanation at some point and have chosen to put it into Hansard for that reason.
I return to this “shaming” part of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, described it. Every time I think we have got to the worst part, I turn a page and it is even worse. The combined resources of this House will make this a difficult section for the Government to push through.
Noble Lords have spoken from a depth of understanding and experience that I probably do not have. Evidence is evidence wherever it is uncovered, and delays in producing evidence might be considered when weighing up the quality and value of such evidence. Essentially, the Government are making this an absolute requirement, which is unfair and unjust.
We are talking about the incredibly distressing circumstances of many of these people. We have already had examples. They are victims of slavery. They have possibly been groomed, tricked or kidnapped and brought to the UK. Instead of helping them or demonstrating even an ounce of compassion, this Government are treating them all as if they have done something wrong. I urge the Government to rethink this. I would hate to see another 14 votes go against the Government in one evening but, on the other hand, that was great fun and we could probably do it again.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly, because I was not intending to speak. I want first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Coaker on the way he introduced these amendments. I support the amendments and particularly what has been said in relation to victims of modern slavery.
I think I can rely on history to reinforce this, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, to listen carefully. History shows us that when each of us experiences appalling discrimination and persecution, that pain and that shame are buried for decades. To revisit that sometimes takes us to an area that we never want to be in again. Therefore, with that thought, I urge the Government to think again.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his intention to oppose Clauses 57 and 58 standing part of the Bill. I have a speech but I am not going to deliver it, because the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in particular, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and many others have been so powerfully put that they are simply irrefutable. I have been in the House now for 15 years or so and have heard thousands of good arguments as to why a Government should not do this, that or the other, but I have never heard such powerful arguments for a part of a Bill to be removed.
I am going to ask something that I have never asked before. Will the Minister invite the Home Secretary to come to a meeting with representatives from all sides of this House to hear the arguments first-hand from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others? It is not good enough for our poor Minister, if I may refer to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in that way, to hear all these arguments, to go back and say whatever he is going to say—I do not know what it will be—and then to have to come back here and say, “Sorry, guys, it’s all going to stay there”. That is not good enough. The case is so incredibly powerful. The wickedness of Part 5 should not be allowed to go by without the Home Secretary facing noble Lords directly.
My Lords, I notice that my noble friend Lady Hollins cannot be in her place today, but I urge the Minister to consider her wealth of medical, psychological and therapeutic experience, as she has her name to Amendment 154. That will strengthen the case for him taking back this group.
My Lords, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, wrote to the Home Secretary about this Bill on 7 September last year. I should declare an interest: I know Sara Thornton very well. We were police officers together and spent six months together on a residential course. She is extremely able and fiercely independent, and, in my opinion, the best commissioner the Metropolitan Police never had.
In relation to trafficking information notices, Sara said in her letter that trauma suffered by victims of modern slavery can result in delayed disclosure, difficulty recalling facts or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She went on to say that evidence from the Salvation Army pointed to the fact that many victims initially recall their experiences with contradictions and inconsistencies, and it can often take a considerable time before they feel comfortable to disclose fully what has happened to them, as many other noble Lords have said. Her conclusion was that to place a deadline on when they can submit evidence and to interpret late compliance as damaging to credibility fails to take account of the severe trauma suffered by victims. For those reasons alone, Clauses 57 and 58 should not stand part of the Bill.
My Amendment 172A, generously supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, replaces the existing Clause 65 legal aid provision. The existing clause allows additional legal aid in connection with a national referral mechanism referral if the subject is already in receipt of legal aid for an existing asylum or immigration claim. The proposed new clause would provide stand-alone legal aid to provide pre-national referral mechanism advice to any victim of modern slavery, whether they are already in receipt of legal aid or not. Clause 66 would not be required if Amendment 172A were accepted.
We support all the amendments in this group, but we hope that they will not be necessary because we hope that Clauses 57 and 58 will no longer be part of the Bill by the end of Report in this House. I was wondering why the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the Home Office Minister, was not in her place today to deal with these issues. I would like to think that it is because she could not face standing up and supporting these parts of the Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I have listened to all of them with care. With respect to everyone else, I say that I always listen with care to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, in particular, as I think he will appreciate from our exchanges on other matters. I got the impression that voices in support of the Government were a little thin on the ground on this matter, but I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford is not doing these amendments not out of any personal reluctance; it was decided some weeks ago that my assistance on the Bill would include this group, and that is why I am doing it. It is fair to say that she has gone above and beyond on the Bill and others.
My Lords, just on that point, I was clearly not suggesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, did not deserve a break from her duties; she has been committed to this throughout. I said that I hoped that these parts of the Bill might be the reason, but I was obviously implying that they clearly were not.
I think it might be best if we just moved on from that because, respectfully, I am not sure that it was a particularly good comment in the first place.
The measures in the Bill build on the landmark—it really was landmark—legislation brought in by the future Prime Minister, Theresa May, in 2015. On this occasion, I am very happy to acknowledge that it was brought in by the coalition Government; it was a joint effort. Notwithstanding that I am not a Home Office Minister, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, reminded me on a number of occasions, I can say that the Home Secretary is committed to bringing forward further legislation in the area of modern slavery as a priority, to ensure an efficient and resilient system in tackling modern slavery. That department, which is obviously not mine, will look to introduce those measures when parliamentary time allows.
In that case, why do we not wait for that legislation and do it comprehensively, rather than put into law things to which there is so much opposition? Does the Minister also accept that, in 2015, a number of really positive changes were made to that Act in your Lordships’ House because the Government chose to listen?
There were two questions there. Why now? I was going to come to that, because that is a point that the noble Lord made earlier. As to listening to your Lordships’ House, the Government always listen to what goes on in this House. They always listen but they may not always agree.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I think with some sympathy, referred to me as the “poor Minister” responsible for responding. I am poor in the sense that you do not take this job for the money, I can say that. I also cannot promise the meeting with the Home Secretary. What I can promise is that I will pass on what the noble Baroness said to the relevant people in the home department.
We have heard a number of arguments for removing Clauses 57 and 58 from the Bill. I will deal with those first, because I think that is really the head-on charge that has been put to me. I suggest that these clauses are important provisions to encourage disclosure of information at the earliest stage so we can identify victims and provide them with direct support as early as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, moving the amendment, asked why the provisions were necessary and quoted the former Prime Minister asking why artificial deadlines were required. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol suggested that the clauses would stop people coming forward. Far from deterring victims, these clauses are intended to encourage genuine victims to come forward and get protection and support on the earliest possible occasion.
Of course we have considered the statutory guidance, not least because it comes from the Home Department and was issued this month. With great respect, we do think they are compatible. We do not see any contradiction between the aims of the statutory guidance under the 2015 Act and what we are proposing here. As to who will be served with a notice, individuals who will be served with a slavery and trafficking information notice are those who have previously made a human rights or protection claim in respect of removal or refusal of entry. They are therefore potentially subject to removal action.
The noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Alton, asked: why are we doing this? I think that was then refined to: why are we doing this now? That is pretty simple to state. As I have said, we want to identify genuine victims of modern slavery or trafficking within this group as quickly as possible so that they receive both protection from removal and access to the support given during the recovery period.
This may not be the best form of providing statistics, but the number of those detained in the UK following immigration offences in 2020 was obviously affected by the pandemic. However, even prior to this there was a clear rise in the number of referrals to the national referral mechanism, from 3%—501—in 2017 to 16%—1,767—in 2019. In 2019, only a small proportion, about 1%, of individuals detained in the UK following an immigration offence who made a national referral mechanism referral were returned. We published a report last year providing data on some of the concerns we are seeking to address through the Bill and outlining pressures in the system and where referrals of modern slavery are coming from. The reports are available on the government website but, to make it simpler, I will write to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Alton, with a copy available, with the URL so they can find the relevant material.
I suggest it is right that we reduce the opportunities to misuse the system for immigration purposes and improve the efficiency of the processes, targeting resources where they are most needed to help victims recover from exploitation and rebuild their lives. We want to address concerns that some referrals are being made intentionally late in the process, to frustrate immigration action and divert resources away from legitimate claimants. It is not right that foreign criminals subject to deportation and those who have absolutely no right to remain in the UK can seek to delay their removal by waiting until the very last minute before raising new claims or putting in endless evidence or information relating to their status in the UK. So what Clauses 57 and 58 seek to do is on the one hand ensure that vulnerable victims receive appropriate and timely support, and on the other hand enable investigative and enforcement activities to take place with reasonable dispatch.
I should point out—this did not feature too much in the debate—that Clauses 57 and 58 are underpinned by access to legal advice, under Clauses 65 and 66, to help individuals understand whether they are a potential victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and to support a referral into the national referral mechanism if that is the case. As I have said before, a constant theme, particularly in modern slavery measures within the Bill, is that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, taking a needs-based approach. Therefore, turning to Amendments 151D, 152 and 155, it would be wrong in principle to create a carve-out for any one group of individuals, and to create a two-tiered system based either on age or the type of exploitation claimed. I am sure that this is not the intention of those moving the amendments, but, in the real world, which at some point we must think about, it could incentivise individuals to provide falsified information regarding their age or to put forward falsified referrals regarding timings or type of exploitation to delay removal action.
It was interesting, in the course of what was, with respect, a very forceful speech supporting his amendment, that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to 12 or 13 year-olds and not, for example, to a 17 and a half year-old. When it comes to children, if we define children as all under-18s, the approach that we want to take is to ensure that decision-makers have the flexibility to approach the claims of all children of different ages and maturities appropriately, and therefore I suggest that a blanket approach is inappropriate.
By introducing a statutory requirement to provide information before a specified date—we are not talking about neat files here—we hope to identify those victims at the earliest opportunity. Clauses 57 and 58 have safeguards built in, and I assure in particular the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that, when considering the “reasonable grounds” decision, the decision-makers in the SCA are already well experienced in taking into account the specific vulnerabilities of children. I also point out to the Committee something that the noble and learned Baroness will know but other noble Lords may have forgotten: namely, that at the “reasonable grounds” stage the threshold is lower for children due to there being no requirement to show means of exploitation. That position will not change.
I have been biting my tongue, but the Minister talked about the real world, and I do not think that this Government have any concept of what exists in the real world. The Minister has heard examples from the real world, given by noble Lords who understand what is going on. It is not appropriate for the Minister to talk about the real world when he is denying the stories that he has heard today.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting, but the Minister has cited the statistics that he quoted earlier in answer to the question of why the Government were doing this. He talked about the number of referrals going from 3% to 16%. There could be three explanations for that increase: a rise in modern slavery; more cases being reported, even if modern slavery is not going up; or an increase in misuse. Bearing in mind that the majority of referrals to the national referral mechanism are made by the Home Office, and bearing in mind what he said about very few of the people who are referred being returned— I did not quite get the percentage—it sounds like the majority of those cases are not misuse. What we need are not the statistics that the Minister is relying on but the statistics on how many cases of misuse there are.
My Lords, I have already said that I will write. I will copy everybody in, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, with the relevant data. We can have an interesting discussion about potential explanations for it, but what it shows is that there is a significant increase. The question I was seeking to meet was: why do something now, why not wait until a future Bill? The short answer is that we have a manifesto commitment to deal with immigration and asylum issues. It is right that we address all issues at this stage, but, as I have underlined, this is not the Government’s last word on modern slavery. Now I really want to make some progress or we will be here until 3 am again.
I am certainly willing to accept that a significant number of modern slavery victims are UK nationals. I do not know whether it is 24%, off the top of my head, but I am willing to have a look at that and come back to the noble Lord. I want to make some progress now, because I think we are going round the same points again and again.
Coming back to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, all child potential victims of modern slavery in England and Wales will be provided with an independent child trafficking guardian to support them in navigating the immigration and national referral mechanism systems. Decision-makers are obviously trained in making those decisions, and the particular needs of children are an important part of that. In fact, I hope what I have just said responds also to some of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol.
Moving to Amendment 153, as the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Paddick, also recognised, we understand that there will be cases where individuals are unable to comply with a deadline. There might be objective reasons, such as being under coercive control of an exploiter, or subjective ones, such as trauma, mental health issues or mental capacity, which can affect somebody’s ability to recall events. The clauses as drafted provide for this. As I have said on previous groups, we will set out in guidance the details of this approach, giving decision-makers the tools to recognise the effects of exploitation and trauma.
Where a person has raised evidence late, I suggest that it is right that decision-makers consider whether there is any merit in the reasons for that lateness. Credibility is not necessarily determinative of the case, should other factors indicate that the individual is a victim or potential victim of modern slavery. Amendment 154 asks what will be defined as a “good reason” for late disclosure. That has deliberately not been defined in the Bill, as setting out a list reduces flexibility. Decision-makers will be able to consider all relevant factors, which may include everything set out in the list in this amendment.
Clause 58 is underpinned by the provision of legal aid, as I have said. Amendment 172A would provide non-means-tested legal advice on all immigration matters to individuals who might not be victims of modern slavery. This amendment is a wide expansion of the legal aid scheme which is entirely uncosted and ignores the Government’s responsibility to use taxpayer funding wisely, in a way that obtains value for money. Such a wholesale expansion of the legal aid scheme would allow anyone claiming that they are a victim of modern slavery, but who might not be, to receive immigration advice with no financial eligibility checks in place. Legal aid for immigration matters is already available for victims of modern slavery who have a positive decision from the national referral mechanism, and the Bill does not change this. This includes ongoing support from the mechanism if required by the victim. Of course, the exceptional case funding scheme is available on top of that.
The intention of Clauses 65 and 66 is to bring advice on the national referral mechanism into scope from the outset. This builds on what is already available by helping unidentified victims who are within the immigration system to enter the mechanism. Without Clause 66, we will miss the opportunity to identify potential victims when they are receiving legal aid on their removal case.
I have two further short points. I listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord Henley, a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Indeed, I appeared before that committee I think only last week. I have read the report carefully. It is on the Bench with me—it is a thumbed copy, not just a copy from the Royal Gallery. I hope I have set out the reasons for the Government’s approach, even if I apprehend that I may not have convinced him of their correctness.
Finally, I will ensure that the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is passed on. My understanding—and I am newer here than she is—is that a decision on whether and when to repeat an Urgent Question taken in the Commons is for the usual channels. Even if I were a Home Office Minister, and I am not, I could not help on that further.
I am impressed by the Minister’s argument that the intention is benevolent, but how does he square that with the opening point of the powerful speech of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss: that the whole voluntary sector is convinced that this is damaging and unhelpful? As for his criticism that Amendment 154 would limit flexibility, could he reread the amendment and note that the opening line includes the phrase
“include, but are not limited to”
in respect of the list of reasons? In other words, it deliberately retains flexibility.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I reply to his points in reverse order. On the second, of course I appreciate that it is a non-exhaustive list. The point I was making is that even a non-exhaustive list is more prescriptive, when it comes to court, than absolute discretion. When you are arguing a case, even if the statute says A, B, C, D, E on a non-exhaustive basis, you are in greater trouble coming along with F, than if the discretion is free-standing. That is the point I was seeking to make.
Of course, my colleagues in the Home Office engage carefully with the commissioner and other entities in the voluntary sector. Ultimately, it is for the Government to decide what legislation to bring before the House.
My Lords, I want to deal with Urgent Questions again, because the Minister answered a different question from mine. I asked why it was advertised so late. He may not know this, but the Greens are excluded from the usual channels, so we would have no way of knowing.
On Amendment 172A, I think the Minister said that victims of modern slavery already have access to legal advice, once the national referral mechanism has made an initial decision. If he looks at that amendment carefully, he will see it is entitled “pre-national referral mechanism advice”.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this incredibly important debate. It lasted just over an hour, so I will be brief to allow us to move on; otherwise, we could have a huge debate again in me responding to the Minister. I am sure many of the same points will, quite rightly, come up in the other groups. I hope noble Lords understand and accept that.
I will reiterate the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. It is interesting to note that, when a Government are in trouble, they defend themselves against everybody. You know when a Government are in difficulty because they resort to exactly the sort of defence—quite rightly; I have done it myself—that the Minister resorted to: “If only you understood the statistics and appreciated the difficulties”. That officialdom then rains on everything. When everybody else thinks you are wrong, you usually are. I gently suggest to the Government that they have got this wrong.
I am pleased the Minister was honest about this and I thank him for his response. It is clear the Government think the system is being abused and that people are claiming to be victims of modern slavery, either straightaway or late in the day. The Government are determined to shut down this loophole in the system. That is what is going on and it is why the danger that all of us raised about including modern slavery in an immigration Bill or the Nationality and Borders Bill—whatever you want to call it—sets a context that is difficult for modern slavery, to put it mildly.
All that I would say to the Minister is that even if the Government are right in saying that there is a problem here, by trying to deal with the issue as an immigration offence, which is essentially what they are doing, they are driving a coach and horses through the principles of the Modern Slavery Act. That is why people are so upset about it, so disappointed about it, so angry about it and so frustrated about it. They accept that the Government have to deal with immigration and that there are difficulties but this country has been proud of the way in which we deal with victims of modern slavery. Treating them, as they will be, as potential immigration offenders will change the dynamic. There are victims who we do not know and have no idea who they are. Children, whether they are 17 and a half or 13 are going to be impacted. As a consequence of what the Government are doing, innocent victims are going to be penalised in the name of tackling the problem of immigration. That is why people are so disappointed.
In conclusion, I say to the Minister that it must come to something when large numbers of the governing party as well as all the other parties that make up this House, including organisations of all faiths, are arraigned against this measure, along with all the voluntary sector, including the Government’s own voluntary organisation, the Salvation Army. I should have thought that that would have given the Government pause for thinking that maybe they have not got this quite right. Let us hope that between now and Report that they do so, otherwise I can foresee real problems on Report with respect to the clause and the other clauses in Part 5. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 151D withdrawn.
Clause 57 agreed.
Clause 58: Late compliance with slavery or trafficking information notice: damage to credibility
Amendments 152 to 155 not moved.
Clause 58 agreed.
Clause 59: Identification of potential victims of slavery or human trafficking
156: Clause 59, page 63, line 1, leave out subsection (4)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment deletes Clause 59 subsection (4).
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for setting the scene and others who contributed to the previous debate on this part of the Bill. I welcome my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart to his place on the Front Bench. He is a much more distinguished member of the Faculty of Advocates. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for raising its concerns with me, which has led to my tabling the amendment. I very much look forward to hearing from others on this group, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Coaker. We will hear their views on their amendments in due course.
This amendment seeks to delete Clause 59(4), which states:
“Guidance issued under subsection (1) must, in particular, provide that the determination mentioned in paragraph (d) is to be made on the balance of probabilities.”
The amendment is to raise my concerns and dismay but also to provide the opportunity for my noble and learned friend in summing up the debate to explain the Government’s thinking on raising the bar for evidence.
Clause 59 makes specific reference, as we heard earlier, to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and seeks to amend Sections 49, 50, 51 and 56 of it. The clause raises the standard of proof for determining a reasonable grounds decision for a victim of trafficking from “suspect but cannot prove” to “balance of probabilities”. Indicators that a person is a victim of trafficking can be missed by first responders, meaning that a referral to the national referral mechanism is not made. If a referral is made, reasonable grounds represents a sift to determine whether someone may be a victim of trafficking and whether further investigation is needed.
Home Office statistics reveal that 92% of reasonable-grounds decisions and 89% of conclusive-grounds decisions on the balance of probabilities are positive. The evidence basis for so-called overidentification is not made. The lower standard of proof at the reasonable-grounds decision stage helps ensure that potential victims do not miss out on being properly investigated and progressed to the conclusive-grounds stage of the national referral mechanism.
Raising the standard of proof at reasonable-grounds stage where minimal information is collected by the competent authority could foreseeably result in fewer referrals being made and will increase the prospect of potential victims not being identified by the national referral mechanism, thereby with an investigation not even taking place. In my view, it would be regrettable if, by raising the standard of proof at reasonable grounds stage, fewer referrals would made but the prospect of potential victims not being identified by the NRM without an investigation taking place would increase. So, I raise my concerns and those of the Law Society of Scotland about raising the evidence bar in the guidelines and give my noble friend the opportunity to explain. I beg to move.
My Lords, if Amendment 156 is agreed I cannot call Amendment 156A by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to address Amendments 156A and 156B in this group and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and what she said about the Scottish Law Society. I very much associate myself with her remarks. I turn the attention of the Committee to these two amendments, the kernel of which is
“(1ZA) Guidance issued under subsection (1) must, in particular, provide that the determination mentioned in paragraph (c) is to be made on the standard of “suspect but cannot prove”.”
My explanatory statement says—I will not read it all—
“This amendment would ensure that amendments made to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 do not raise the threshold”—
the point the noble Baroness has just referred to—
“for a Reasonable Grounds decision when accessing the National Referral Mechanism in line with—”
One thing that came out of the last debate was that it was pretty clear that the whole Committee is agreed about one thing: that the national referral mechanism is vital to the recovery and safety of survivors of modern slavery. Since its introduction in what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was right to refer to as “landmark legislation” in 2015, a point echoed by the noble and learned Lord in replying to that debate, it has allowed us to identify survivors and ensure they receive the right support and are able to assist law enforcement in tackling this abhorrent trade in human beings and human suffering. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Prashar and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for signing Amendment 156A.
Accessing the NRM is the crucial first step on a survivor’s journey to recovery, giving them access to vital legal and financial support, safe accommodation and an exit from the kind of exploitation that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, referred to earlier. It enables them to start the process of rebuilding their lives, empowering themselves and even bravely supporting the prosecution of traffickers so that more potential victims are saved from exploitation. First established in 2009, and supported by successive Governments, the NRM was recently highlighted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as being a key element in the fight to end slavery. Since then, with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK has become a world leader in this fight and a beacon of hope for those who have been trafficked and enslaved.
However, as the noble Lord said earlier, and I agree with him in this sense, the national referral mechanism is not perfect. That is clear but the opportunity to do something about it is up the track. There is no need for Part 5 to be incorporated in the Bill, when it is inconsistent with much else in it anyway. The noble Lord told the House earlier that there is to be new legislation, so why on earth can we not wait for that? There is an old saying that when you legislate in haste, you repent at leisure; that is what we will do if we simply push this through in a pell-mell way. The mechanism may not be perfect, but it is better than anything else at the moment and we should be very careful about what we do to it.
There is a catalogue of confusion and delays, but I am sure the Government do not believe that the only solution is simply to reduce the number of poor people able to access support. However, that is exactly what Clause 59 will do. Effectively increasing the threshold that these traumatised individuals must meet, almost from the get-go, to receive support will not only leave many with the choice of slavery or destitution; it will fundamentally undo the years of hard work by government, police, NGOs, charities and Members of both Houses.
Even now, far too many survivors go unrecognised and are excluded from support. Despite our understanding of the nature of trauma and the horrors so many have gone through, many do not receive a “reasonable grounds” decision and are forced to reapply. In the previous debate, we were urged to get into the real world. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, had a better definition of what the real world is than the one we heard from the Government Front Bench. I will do as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, did earlier and share one example with the House, if I may.
It is the case of a poor woman who was the victim of trafficking and violent sexual exploitation. By the time she arrived in the UK, she already had severe PTSD. Her symptoms included involuntary numbing, avoidance, dissociation and shame. She failed to disclose her trafficking experience in her early interactions with the Home Office, due to the severe trauma she had experienced. These inconsistencies later contributed to her receiving a negative decision on her trafficking claim. However, they needed to be understood in the context, as I said earlier, of prolonged exposure to trauma at an early age and fear of reprisals from her abusers.
Clause 59 risks raising the threshold for a positive reasonable grounds decision at this vital first stage, meaning that survivors such as that woman will be forced to meet an even higher threshold of evidence almost immediately, before they have accessed safety and a lawyer, translator or advocate to help provide the evidence that is expected of them. The noble Lord who addressed the House earlier has promised to write to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, me and others with more data. Here is a little data that I will share with the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe.
It is worth noting that 81% of all negative decisions at this first stage which where reconsidered were found to have been wrong, and the victim deserved a positive reasonable grounds decision. Currently, there are an estimated 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, and a little over 10,000 were referred to the NRM in 2020. That means there is a vast number of individuals who have been trafficked and enslaved in our country and are already far from the safety offered by the national referral mechanism. Were we to raise the threshold to access safety and support, it would surely only play into the hands of the traffickers and slave masters by preventing survivors sharing their experience and supporting criminal investigations.
I note that the Government have denied that Clause 59 will increase the threshold, and that the intention behind it is to bring us in line with the European convention on action against trafficking—ECAT. However, many who are in the anti-slavery movement, to which we heard a lot of references earlier, and on the ground in the real world supporting vulnerable people every day believe that it is already harder today than it was, even a year ago, to get a positive decision. As such, if not remedied in the guidance, the change in language represented in this clause would effectively raise the NRM threshold.
Furthermore, the Government have rightly decided to include in the Bill that conclusive grounds decisions be made on the balance of probabilities. If the intention is not to raise the threshold, then I simply ask the Minister that they put in the Bill that reasonable grounds decisions be made on the tried and trusted standard of “suspect but cannot prove”, which is the essence of Amendments 156A and 156B. That would allow the Government to change the language of the Modern Slavery Act to be more in line with ECAT, in order to provide more consistency between conclusive grounds decisions and reasonable grounds decisions in the Bill. Vitally, it would not raise the threshold for survivors of trafficking to receive a positive decision, therefore ensuring that these poor people receive the support they so desperately need and the authorities have the evidence they need to end slavery.
Article 10(2) of ECAT says that
“if the competent authorities have reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been victim of trafficking in human beings, that person shall not be removed from its territory until the identification process as victim of an offence … has been completed”.
Both ECAT and the Modern Slavery Act envisage that support be given to victims through the NRM as the earliest stage possible, when someone is identified as a potential victim. Raising the threshold only to those who prove their status as a victim of trafficking would undermine the point of the three-stage referral system currently in place. That support is crucial to enable victims to make any discourses from a position of safety.
No doubt the Minister will say that the NRM may have been abused, but I ask him to provide the justification for that claim. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I said earlier, where is the data? I refer the Minister to the report by the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham for evidence that the NRM is not being abused. Indeed, according to many reports, one of the biggest problems with our NRM is that it is underutilised; there are already a low number of referrals to the NRM. According to the Global Slavery Index, the estimated figure for the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK is 136,000, yet in 2020 only 10,613 potential victims were referred to the NRM. Raising the threshold would serve only to further restrict those who access the vital resources of the NRM.
I therefore felt it necessary to table these amendments. Those who are referred to the NRM are often among the most vulnerable, in the most traumatic moments of their lives. We should not be raising the threshold; we should be doing everything we can to facilitate their access to support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to amendments 156A and 156B in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, to which I have added my name. I hope I can be fairly brief because much of the ground has been set out brilliantly by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am very grateful for that.
The reality of Clause 59 is that raising the threshold—from “reasonable grounds” to believe that someone maybe a victim of modern slavery, to “is” such a victim—could lead to the national referral mechanism failing to identify victims of modern slavery, effectively shutting them out of the support that they so desperately need. That was picked up yesterday in our General Synod debate across the road, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol has already alluded.
The Clewer initiative, to which she has also alluded, is our response to modern slavery. It was set up in 2016 and published three strategies for 2022. Two of these included promoting victim identification and providing victim care and support. Our concern, along with the Clewer initiative, is not just to get down to the legal minimum but to try to accompany people on what is the most traumatic journey, through which many of them will need considerable help. Part of the reason for that—many Members of your Lordships’ House will grasp this but many people in wider society do not—is that much modern slavery is effectively hidden, and sometimes so subtle that even the people involved in it do not always get what is going on. That is why it affects drug traffickers, fruit pickers, beauticians, people working in nail bars and so on, as well as the obvious areas where people find themselves caught up—for example, in the sex industry.
This coercion is a subtle thing, but it plays a central role in keeping individuals in this misery. It can range from violence to substance addiction, debt bondage and, of course, withholding people’s papers. So, it is a long and complex process. The CURE initiative states that beyond these factors, one of the key elements in controlling victims of modern slavery is creating a fear of any authority so the victims simply do not know where to go. Often, victims will hide.
So it is crucial that, as we are trying to think about the right threshold, we make sure people are getting support and not being prevented before they have even accessed a lawyer, translator or advocate to help evidence their experiences. My fear is that, without these amendments, exploiters and slavers will be able to lean on this increased threshold to further manipulate and control their victims, and deter them from seeking help.
I will just underline some statistics—and one or two more—that the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned. In 2020, the single competent authorities, he said, made 10,608 reasonable grounds and 3,454 conclusive grounds decisions. Of these, 92% of reasonable grounds and 89% of conclusive grounds were positive; and 81% of reconsidered claims at reasonable grounds stage were later positive. In other words, the vast majority of those who receive positive reasonable grounds decisions go on to be confirmed as victims. That is the crucial thing here.
It seems extraordinary that it looks as if the Government are trying to bring the UK in line with the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking—ECAT—for reasonable grounds decisions on whether a person is a victim of modern slavery, particularly when our current legislation, it would appear, goes well beyond ECAT and strengthens the identification mechanisms to ensure that fewer victims fall through the cracks and fail to receive the appropriate support after the terrible injustices they have incurred and the suffering they have experienced.
I cannot tell whether this alignment it seems the Government are doing is simply for alignment’s sake. But it does seem extraordinary when we were told again and again that the point about Brexit was that we did not need to align with others and could actually make the right decisions. Yesterday’s debate paid huge tribute to our Government in this country for being a trailblazer in this work. I fear that we are going backwards at a time when we need a much stronger lead in our nation. I am struggling to identify any positives with respect to the increased reasonable grounds threshold, and I worry it will simply play into the hands of traffickers. We need the Government to look afresh at this section. I particularly commend these amendments as a way that we may improve this Bill as it goes through Parliament.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 156A and 156B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and myself. I will be extremely brief as all the points I wished to make have already been covered. Therefore, I really want to say that I strongly support the amendments and the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the Government should put on the face of the Bill that a reasonable grounds decision should be made on the tried and trusted standard of “suspect but cannot prove”. I think his explanation and the logic of his arguments were compelling, so I would urge the Government to pay some heed.
My Lords, I declare an interest because, in my work on sustainability in the business that I chair, we of course help companies to deal with modern slavery. That is why I wish to rise. It does mean we know a bit about it, and I have to say to the Government that everybody who knows a bit about it does not agree with the Government. That is why we have to say this very clearly.
The problem with modern slavery is that people who are involved in it hardly know where they are and what it is all about. That is the difficulty because, whatever we do, access to whatever we do is always going to be the problem. We have to find ways of ensuring that as many people as possible can enter into the beginnings of a conversation which will, in the end, reach the position in which they will be released from modern slavery—and it is that beginning moment that is most important and delicate.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that what is being proposed in this part of the Bill should not be here at all, simply because, in this context, it makes a comment which it should not make. In this context, it comments that this is something to do with nationality, borders and immigration. But it is nothing to do with any of those except accidentally—and I use that word in the technical sense.
We ought to be immensely proud of this legislation. I sit as the independent chairman of the Climate Change Committee, so I do not often mention the fact that I have been a Conservative for many years. I am not quite sure of the situation in certain circumstances, but that is the position in which I find myself, and I will say that I think it is one of the great statements of the Conservative Party that it was at the centre of passing this legislation. It shows that we have a real understanding of the responsibility of those who have to those who have not. That is why the intervention of the right reverend Prelate is absolutely appropriate, because this about the attitude to human beings that we should have if we are people of faith.
Anything that detracts from a triumph should be opposed, above all, by those who have been proud of it in the past. That is why I do not want this particular debate to go on without somebody from these Benches making the points. It is wrong to make it more difficult for people to get into the system. The moment you move away from “suspect but cannot prove”, you make it more difficult, and I hope that this House will not allow the Government to do this. Above all, I hope that the Government will think again about why they want to do this. They have presented no proof that there is any widespread misuse of this. Even if they did, I put it to the Minister that that is a price we have to pay. They have not proved it; there is no evidence for it; but, even if there were, one has to accept that the nature of the people we are dealing with means that we have to reach out further than we would in other circumstances.
At the moment, I fear that the Government are like the Levite rather than the Good Samaritan, and I wish them to return to their proper place, which is to cross the road to find out what is happening.
My Lords, for the reasons given by other speakers—particularly the last speaker, with whom I profoundly agree—I support these amendments. However, I want to raise a slightly different point on Clause 59. It appears to apply to children. I have had, over the years, numerous meetings with the Home Office, and I thought we had got to the position where the Home Office agreed that the NRM was not the right place for children to go, because anyone under the age of 18 becomes immediately, on arrival in this country, the responsibility of a local authority under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989. Consequently, local authorities take over these children.
As the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, pointed out, there are these independent guardians—advocates, who act as guardians—but the children are supposed to be cared for by a local authority with an independent guardian and should not be going through the NRM. What disturbs me about Clause 59, in addition to the points that have already been so ably made, is whether it is really intended that the Government want children to go through the NRM. Should not they in fact all be dealt with entirely through local authorities, with the help of the advocate?
My Lords, my name is to Amendment 157. This is a rhetorical question, but is not it interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who, if I am right, was not able to be here for the first group of amendments, has made points that were not rehearsed in his presence but are exactly the same points, as he says, from the point of view of the best traditions of Conservatism?
Clause 59 again prompts the question: why, and what is the problem? What is the evidence for what the Government perceive as a problem? Are there too many people claiming to be victims? Like other noble Lords, I thought the problem was that we do not know how many there are. We try to identify them, but we know that we do not manage to identify them all—but we know that all the indicators are that modern slavery goes wide and deep. The problem is that we do not identify everyone that we want to support. What underlines the Modern Slavery Act is getting people to the situation in which they can be supported.
Under Amendment 157, the Member’s explanatory statement actually refers to “current statutory guidance”, a point that was very well made in the previous debate.
I want to say a word about Amendment 173, on navigators. I am quite intrigued by this—guardians for adults, is that what is intended? Some police forces have a much better understanding of how to deal with victims, or possible victims, of slavery. I am not sure whether I have the name of this right, but I think that there was a transformation unit; the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, may remember. The police did a lot of work at one time. Can we hear about that from the Minister?
I rise briefly to say that we support the amendments in this group. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, and we have said right across the Chamber, the points that he made about the contribution that Theresa May made—within the coalition Government, as I was reminded—were fantastic.
Well, it is the first time that I have heard repetition in this Chamber, so I thought that the noble Lord could not have been here. But it was a serious point, and it deserved to be made again, because we all agreed with it.
We support all the amendments in the group. I will speak specifically to Amendments 157 and 173. The other amendments have been spoken to very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, so I will not address those, in the interests of time. With respect to Amendment 157, it is intriguing that the statutory guidance says that
“a Conclusive Grounds decision will not be made until at least 45 days of the recovery period have passed”.
Why does the Bill reduce that to 30? That is my understanding, unless I have misread it. We talk about enhancing, but, as I say, 45 days is the period in the statutory guidance, while the Bill talks about 30 days.
Given that we are in Committee, it would be interesting to hear more on this. Am I wrong? Does the 30 days refer to something different? I cannot find references to 45 days in the Bill, but that is what is in the statutory guidance. Could the Minister respond to that? It would be helpful to the Committee to know what the 30-day period is vis-à-vis the 45 days set out in the statutory guidance, which is what the whole sector uses with respect to the recovery period and is, indeed, how I have understood it.
As has been said, the recovery period gives the police time to gather evidence and build a relationship with the victims. It gives the victims time to access support, break the control of their traffickers and build relationships with agencies. All of this is beneficial to securing prosecutions, which are woefully low, whatever the efforts of the Government and the police. The crucial question is: how does this help? What is gained by reducing the recovery period? I just do not understand the logic of that.
Can the Minister inform the Committee—he may not be able to do so now, but this is worth asking before we get to Report—how many decisions are currently made at the 45-day mark? The anti-slavery commissioner has given figures that the average length of time it took for a conclusive grounds decision to be made in 2020 was 465 days. So why would the Government seek to shorten a timeframe that they are already substantially failing to meet? Have I profoundly misunderstood something—if that is the case, it would be helpful for the Committee for me to be corrected—or am I right and there is something here that we need to understand?
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, although she is not in her place. On Amendment 173 on victim navigators, we can see the success that the pilot has had. It would be interesting to know what plans the Government have to roll this out. Clearly, they are looking at ways to try to increase the prosecution rate for people traffickers, which we would all support. However, there is currently nothing in the Bill about what is expected with victim navigators. What is happening? Is that just being rolled out as a matter of policy anyway and does not need to be in the Bill because it is going to happen? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, where victim navigators are in place with police forces, working with the CPS and others, the prosecution rates have improved, as I understand it. That seems to suggest that it would be helpful if victim navigators were rolled out into all police force areas.
Amendments 157 and 173 are probing amendments to understand the operation of the Bill. We also support the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have put before the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. The amendments in large part concern provisions around the identification of modern slavery and trafficking victims.
First to speak was my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who sought an explanation for Clause 59. The clause places the conclusive grounds threshold of a “balance of probabilities” into legislation. This is in line with the threshold that is currently applied and accepted by the courts and aligns with our current obligations under the treaty to which a number of speakers have referred: the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings —ECAT.
We submit that to remove this provision, as Amendment 156 would, would cause an inconsistent approach towards the two thresholds: the reasonable grounds threshold would be contained within legislation, whereas the conclusive grounds threshold would remain only in guidance. By legislating for both thresholds, decision-makers are able to rely on clear precedent and the process is both certain and ascertainable. This search for clarity will run through and inform the answers I will put before the Committee in this debate.
Amendments 156A and 156B from the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, would amend the test for a reasonable grounds decision in legislation. The matter of whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that an individual is a victim is the appropriate threshold —again, as it mirrors our obligations under ECAT. For those reasons, I cannot accept Amendments 156, 156A and 156B.
I shall expand on matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, touching first on the ability that exists in legislation for people to challenge a decision made. Multiagency assurance panels are required to review all negative conclusive grounds decisions made by the competent authority for all cases submitted to the relevant competent authority. Multiagency assurance panels do not review negative reasonable grounds decisions. The role of multiagency assurance panels and the processes they follow are set out in the modern slavery statutory guidance for England and Wales promulgated under Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. There is equivalent non-statutory guidance for Scotland and Northern Ireland; it is not found in primary legislation. The guidance states:
“An individual, or someone acting on their behalf, may request reconsideration”
of a negative reasonable grounds decision by the competent authority
“if additional evidence becomes available that would be material to the outcome of a case, or there are specific concerns that a decision made is not in line with guidance.”
The final conclusive grounds decision remains the responsibility of the competent authority. Multiagency assurance panels do not have the ability to overturn negative conclusive grounds decisions made by the competent authority. The competent authority can be asked to review a case where there is concern that the decision has not been made in line with existing guidance; that, in the view of the multiagency assurance panel, that would add value and clarity but has not been sought; or that the evidence provided and used in the decision-making process was not weighed appropriately and considered. So an element of its ability to reconsider and discretion remains in place.
I think the whole Committee will be aware that understanding of the painful effects of trauma and suffering on individuals and their ability to recollect is developing and has developed considerably over recent years, as a better comprehension of these strains and pressures comes to be understood. That understanding filters into this field, as into others. In particular, I refer your Lordships to understanding in the criminal justice system as to why people may make declarations or give statements that are not in their best interests or that they subsequently seek to go back on.
This topic seems to inform the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and my noble friend Lord Deben. Victims may well not want or be able to relive their trauma to state officials. Moulded by forces that those of us who have been happy enough to lead comfortable and sheltered lives can barely comprehend, they may find state officials intimidating.
Will the policy inhibit such people and impact adversely their ability to come forward and speak up? We recognise that some victims of exploitation may be fearful of coming forward to talk to the authorities, including some of the organisations that operate as first responders. That is why a range of organisations operate as first responders, including charities—some of which the Committee has heard about—that work closely with victims and local authorities.
We are keen to ensure that potential victims of trafficking are identified as early as possible and are supporting this with an improved legal aid offer for victims of trafficking with no immigration status within the United Kingdom and subject to immigration removal. This is to ensure that individuals receive the correct support package at the earliest opportunity to address their needs, regardless of when cases are brought, to make sure that those who need protection are afforded it.
My Lords, the Minister is dealing with these issues with great sensitivity and I welcome the tone of his remarks. He has—I think deliberately—left a number of questions hanging, saying that a lot of work is being done on this and that people are considering these sensitive and detailed questions and looking at them more thoroughly. This all begs the question: who has demanded this change in this legislation at this time, in advance of us having detailed information laid before us?
It seems that we have it the wrong way around. Given that his noble friend said earlier that there will be a Bill specifically to improve the modern-day slavery legislation, why cannot we hold this over until we see more clearly where the information is wrong, where it is right and what the evidence is? Is it not the nature of good government to look and examine the evidence before bringing measures forward? I do not see any evidence that this has happened so far.
My Lords, I do not wish to appear to give a cursory answer to the noble Lord in a debate of this sensitivity, but my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar committed to write on the data—I am grateful to the noble Lord for nodding his head in recognition. I imagine that the point he seeks to raise will be discussed in any such correspondence. Does that satisfy him at this stage?
I am grateful to the Minister, but it seems to be the wrong way around. Normally, there is pre-legislative scrutiny of complex and sensitive issues, and this is a classic example where there should have been pre-legislative scrutiny, as there was before the 2015 legislation, in some detail and at some length. Why was it thought that in a Bill dealing specifically, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, with nationality, borders and immigration, we should deal with an issue of this sensitivity? Would it not be better for the Government to withdraw this section of the Bill and come back with comprehensive legislation that we could all support?
My Lords, I hear the points that the noble Lord makes. With respect, it seems that he moves forward into a question already put to my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar when he stood at the Dispatch Box in relation to the earlier matter. As he advised the Committee, the Government are concerned about misuse of the system. Rather than seeking to anticipate data that I confess not to having, with the noble Lord’s permission, I will move on from this point. I am again grateful to him for nodding his head.
I was expanding to the Committee on matters raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. We recognise that potential victims may not feel able at an early point to discuss information relevant to these matters bearing on their experience. That is why, in Clause 58, we have included the safeguard of “good reasons”. Each case will be considered carefully, including any reasons for not bringing information earlier, which will enable decision-makers to take trauma into account.
I am sure that I am merely rehearsing matters already within the knowledge of the Committee, but examples of what may constitute good reasons for late disclosure of information include where the victim was still under the coercive control of the trafficker, did not recognise themselves as a victim at that point, or for reasons relating to capacity—intellectual, emotional or age capacity—did not understand the requirement or the proceedings.
We will set out our approach in guidance, giving decision-makers the tools to recognise the effect that traumatic events can have on people’s ability to accurately recall or share or recognise such events. We are concerned that by too prescriptively setting out the parameters of what can constitute good reasons in guidance, we will inhibit the flexibility of decision-makers to take a case-by-case approach, as my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar sought to emphasise in his submission to the Committee earlier, depending on a person’s specific situation and vulnerabilities.
I hope those remarks have gone some way to answer the points raised by the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Deben. I hope I have emphasised something which I am sure does not need to be shared across the House, as compassion for victims of these dreadful and wicked crimes is understood universally throughout the Committee, across party lines and in the House generally.
I am anxious not to delay matters but to seek clarification at this stage. A number of noble Lords have raised concerns about why the burden of proof has been changed and the fact that, through this higher standard, a number of victims may not enter the system at all. I cannot believe it is the Government’s wish to prevent genuine victims of modern slavery and trafficking to be excluded from the process. My noble and learned friend gave a simple, clear clarification that it was to make the bar the same for both, but the fallout, in the view of legal opinion from practitioners who will be using this on a daily basis, seems to be that we will inadvertently exclude justified victims from the whole process. I cannot believe that this is the Government’s intention, where they are genuine victims.
I am grateful to my noble friend for her intervention, which permits me the opportunity of not only repeating what I said from the Dispatch Box earlier about the importance of decisions being taken on a case-by-case basis, but advising the House—perhaps I should have done so in answering the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—that in addition we are providing enhanced support and training to first responders.
The rationale underpinning the change proposed in relation to burdens of proof is certainly not to seek to exclude persons who ought to receive help and assistance from receiving it. The Government’s wish is that all who are victims should receive assistance and all who are criminal should receive their due punishment.
If that is the rationale, I do not see why we need the change. I seriously do not understand what possible advantage changing this could be, whereas I perfectly clearly see what the disadvantage is. Although the Minister seeks in the most effective way to present the Government’s case, the word “rationale” is not one I would have used I these circumstances.
My noble friend sends me back to the dictionary. I shall include the use of that word in my reading later, among the other things which I expect I will be asked to reflect on. I think we are—or maybe I am—guilty of mixing up two things. The reason for the change to the test to introduce the balance of probabilities is to align ourselves with our international obligations under ECAT. It is in order to avert any baneful consequences thereof that I made reference to the enhanced support and training which first responders will receive, and to the other measures which I discussed.
I am sorry; I will not interrupt again. I still do not understand the rationale of bringing ourselves into line with our international obligations. We do not break our international obligations by going further than the international obligations, so we are already in line with them; all we are doing is withdrawing to what are, in many of our minds, unsatisfactory international obligations. Without getting into the Brexit issue, I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate when he suggested that we thought this was precisely what the Government did not want to do. I happen to want to do it but that is a different thing. I feel rather hit by this in both ways.
The justification is to ensure clarity across the legislation, and I appreciate the comment made by the right reverend Prelate, and rehearsed by my noble friend, about advantages flowing or not from the Brexit process, which so many of your Lordships will have discussed. However, our ability to act differently from our partners across the channel is a valuable one, but what we seek to obtain by this measure is legislative clarity and a consistency in decision-making which will, we hope, benefit victims and develop understanding among all the agencies in this important sector. My noble friend is resuming his mask, and he did say that he would not interrupt again, although I hope that he will not bar himself from further interventions later in the debate.
I turn to Amendment 157, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I thank him for his powerful and compelling opening contribution to this debate and to earlier debates on the topic, and for his work at Nottingham University. I offer the Committee reassurance that we are committed to providing victims with at least a 45-day recovery period, or until a conclusive grounds decision is made, whichever period is the longer. Our position is—I maintain that this does not need to be placed on the face of the Bill, and I return to the earlier discussions with my noble friend Lord Deben—that it would create a misalignment with our international obligations under ECAT.
No, I think the noble Lord is correct. It is 30 days for the alignment with ECAT, but the 45 days appears in the guidance, and we commit to providing support over that period: a 45-day recovery period as expressed in the guidance, or until a conclusive grounds decision is made.
I am sorry to remove my mask, but I am told in the Climate Change Committee, of which I am chairman, that we have to have a British ETS which is not aligned with the rest of Europe because that is what we want. Why does it apply to climate change but not to modern slavery? On both of those issues we are in advance and wish to continue to be in advance. I do not understand this alignment element.
Can I join the maskless crew? Surely international law, and certainly EU directives, are usually a minimum requirement, so if we wanted 45 days and a European instrument said 30, that is brilliant; it is better. It at least complies, so what is the problem?
Sorry, I do not mean once again from the Dispatch Box to rain brickbats upon the noble Baroness’s head.
Once again, I am not in a position to answer or explain myself on the basis of views taken by the Climate Change Committee, but in this context alignment with our ECAT partners was considered desirable.
I move on to Clause 60, which sets out the minimum time for the recovery period in line with our international obligations under ECAT. It provides us with the flexibility to set the operational practice as needed in guidance, which is important to reflect the changing needs of victims and the understanding of victims’ needs in a developing area of law.
In practice, in 2020 the average time for a conclusive grounds decision was 339 days. This long period stems from pressures on the system, which we are working to reduce through our transformation project to ensure that victims get certainty more quickly, but it is notably longer than the proposed 45-day minimum.
In light of this explanation and the assurance of continuation of the current support set out in guidance, I hope that noble Lords in the Committee agree that Amendment 157 to Clause 60 is unnecessary. I urge noble Lords to take the view that promotes clarity and to consider that the objective of making sure that we are aligned with our international obligations is such to prompt the noble Lord not to press this amendment.
Amendment 173, again from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to introduce victim navigators for modern slavery and human trafficking victims in every police force in England and Wales. This matter was discussed in the Commons during the passage of the Bill. As was expressed on behalf of the Government, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that victims of modern slavery have the support they need when engaging with the police and through the criminal justice process.
As to the development that the noble Lord from the Front Bench advised the Committee of—that of victim navigators—we strongly support police forces using these NGO-led support models. Victim navigators are one model within that category. For that reason, we have commissioned independent research of three existing NGO victim support programmes, to help us better to understand what provision is in place and what effective support looks like for these victims. This will help inform advice to forces in the future about best practice and encourage national take-up of the most effective models of support. I also agree with the sentiment behind this proposed new clause that providing support to victims to help them navigate is something that can be studied and will inform advice to forces in future about best practice. We are already working to understand the most effective support measures, and we have made grant funding available to police forces and the GLAA to help identify and fill gaps in support.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his nods of assent and for agreeing that the work already under way should be completed and will help us to develop an understanding of how best we can support victims in engaging with the criminal justice system. It is right that we conduct that evaluation before putting a specific model of support into legislation. That is why I resist this amendment at this time and invite the noble Lord not to press it.
My Lords, it has been an excellent debate. I thank everyone for their contributions. I think there may be a question outstanding from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, as regards children under the age of 18, but I take it as read that anyone aged under 18 would still be referred to the local authorities. I assume that my noble and learned friend will write to us if that is not the case.
I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. He has endeavoured to be as full as possible in his response to all noble Lords. I express my disappointment that the guidelines are being changed in the way the Government envisage. I am slightly confused, because a lot of the situations for which this Bill makes provision would not have arisen if we had kept our international and European responsibilities under the Dublin convention, whereby we could have returned many asylum seekers to the first country in which they arrived.
It is a regrettable change. I do not think my noble and learned friend disagreed that a number of victims will be omitted from the system as a result. I will consider with others what to do at the next stage, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 156 withdrawn.
Amendments 156A and 156B not moved.
Clause 59 agreed.
Clause 60: Identified potential victims of slavery or human trafficking: recovery period
Amendment 157 not moved.
Clause 60 agreed.
Clause 61: No entitlement to additional recovery period etc
158: Clause 61, page 64, line 4, at end insert—
“(aa) the person was aged 18 or over at the time of the circumstances which gave rise to the first RG decision;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to preclude those exploited as children from being denied additional recovery periods if they are re-trafficked.
My Lords, before I start my remarks on this group of amendments, I want to say in answer to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that the problem the Minister has—and he has it all the way through this part of the Bill—is that what the Government do not like saying is that the reason they are doing this is not really to do with modern slavery. They are trying to sort out what they see as an immigration mess and the problem they have with everybody moaning about immigration, asylum and so on, and this has ended up in a Bill it should not be in. That is the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, asked why we were doing this. The answer is, “because we think the modern slavery system is being abused and lots of people who shouldn’t be applying to it are applying to it, and they’re immigration offenders and not victims of modern slavery”.
What this Committee is saying is that it should not be in this Bill. Victims of modern slavery are being conflated with immigration offenders, and it will lead to the undermining of the Modern Slavery Act and the principles on which it is based, and to potential victims not receiving the support and help they need. That is the motivation for the Government in doing this. I do not think that it is the motivation for this Minister, which is why it is sometimes particularly difficult for him to answer the specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, as a one-nation Conservative—I think that is a compliment to him. The noble Lord has been trying to say to him that it was that brand of conservatism which drove the Modern Slavery Act. Perhaps the current Government—I can say this not as a lifelong Conservative—could learn from that. But that is a matter for internal grief and beyond the scope of this Bill.
I want to draw the Committee’s attention to the titles of these clauses. I will say something on Clause 61, “No entitlement to additional recovery period etc”, but there is a particular difficulty with Clause 62, “Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection”, which goes to the heart of the problem. Essentially, it is another way for the Government to say that potential victims of slavery are abusing the system to get round it because they are really immigration offenders. The Government are saying, “The system is being abused and we are going to stop it, and this is the way we’re going to do it”. The problem is that they are going to undermine the Modern Slavery Act and the modern slavery system that they have put in place, of which they should be proud, and indeed of which people—including all of us—are proud. It is that contradiction that goes to the heart of Part 5 in every single utterance, whether it is made from the Government Front Bench, the Opposition Front Bench or others in this Chamber.
I point out that Clause 62 does not even say “potential victims”; it talks about “identified potential victims”. No wonder there is such disquiet, upset and anger about this clause, which I will come on to in a minute. There are very real problems with Clause 61, but particularly with Clause 62, hence the amendments that I and other noble Lords have tabled, and the clause stand part notice.
Again, I come back to this question on Clause 61: what problem are the Government actually trying to fix that requires primary legislation? Again and again that has been asked by noble Lords across the Chamber without the Government really being able to answer—apart the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, intimating the explanation I gave in his remarks on an earlier group.
The Explanatory Notes state that Clause 61 is there:
“In order to prevent the recovery period being misused by those wishing to extend their stay in the UK and to remove unnecessary support and barriers to removal”.
Again, that goes to the heart of it. The Government are seeking to change an immigration offence using a modern slavery context. It is a contradiction. It is not supposed to be like that. The whole point of the Modern Slavery Act was to take this out of the immigration context of the Home Office. That perennial battle between immigration and modern slavery is unresolved and requires parts of the Government to stand up and say, “You’re wrong and we’re not going to do that”.
What evidence is there of recovery periods being abused? That is of interest, I think, as evidence for the proposed change before us. What evidence is there of us providing “unnecessary support” to a person using the NRM? Re-trafficking has increasingly become part of the traffickers’ operating model, including where people return to their enslavers for fear of repercussions for their families, which we touched on earlier. How does Clause 61 respond to or break that model? Does not the refusal of a further recovery period simply strengthen the perpetrators? I think that is a real risk.
As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has asked on a number of occasions, will children be subject to the restrictions under Clause 61? Every single part of this Bill makes no distinction at all between adults and children. The Minister has experience of the legislative system, which, as a basis, divides children and adults on the grounds of good justice. Why is that not the case here? This is what Amendment 158 seeks to probe. Does the Minister have any figures for the number of children who go missing and are re-trafficked? Does he agree—again, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, also asked this—that a missing child at risk of exploitation is a safeguarding issue, not an immigration or enforcement issue?
On Clause 62, the key question is what action, if any, the Secretary of State intends to take on the comments made by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who has written a scathing article in the Times today—note the word “independent” in the commissioner’s title. The headline says:
“Fears about bill that would take support away from some modern slavery victims”.
She has concerns about the way Clause 62 will operate and the wide way in which certain phrases in it could be drawn. Is it the Government’s intention to ignore the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, including where she says that Clause 62 will empower and embolden people traffickers and criminal gangs? Why is something that the anti-slavery commissioner says is harmful included in the Bill? Can the Minister also give further detail on how Clause 62 will operate in relation to children who are victims of criminal exploitation?
The lead signatory of Amendment 169 is the noble Lord, Lord Randall, but he cannot be with us today and has sent his apologies. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, have also signed it. Amendment 169 suggests to the Government that, if they are going to have Clause 62, which many would say should not be part of the Bill, this is a way they could redraft it to try to address some concerns. I personally would not keep Clause 62 but, instead of just a vague reference to a “threat to public order”, whatever that means, the amendment’s proposed new subsection (2)(a) inserts the words
“is prevented from doing so as a result of an immediate, genuine, present and serious threat to public order”,
rather than a wider definition.
“Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection”,
we have put the words:
“in exceptional circumstances … following an assessment of all the circumstances of the case.”
Then there is the importance of international co-operation and the fact that we have also not included children. These specific points seek to address some of the concerns that have been raised by many groups and other noble Lords.
My Amendment 164A is to probe a specific question: where a person is covered by Clause 62, is it the Government’s intention that that person will still be entitled to and receive a conclusive grounds decision, as they do at present, or do the Government consider that the duty to investigate trafficking and exploitation no longer applies?
The criticism of Clause 61 and particularly Clause 62 is that, in the Government’s efforts to deal with what they perceive is an immigration problem, they are undermining the protection that the Modern Slavery Act gives victims. That view is held by many noble Lords in this Committee, many Members in the other place and the various NGOs that seek to inform our debates. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must inform the Committee that, if Amendment 160A is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendments 161 to 163, by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, I want to speak to the JCHR amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Those were very strong words from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I found them extremely persuasive, including his remarks on one-nation conservatism. I see the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Deben, in their place, and I commend the speech of Sir John Major today, which I have followed a little on Twitter.
Amendment 159 was inspired by the JCHR and seeks to remove the discretion around whether a person who has a positive reasonable grounds decision and a conclusive grounds decision pending could avoid removal. Instead of saying that the competent authority “may determine” that removal should not take place, if that is appropriate in the circumstances of the case, we suggest it “must”.
Clause 59 has already changed the Modern Slavery Act so that we are talking about people who “are” victims of slavery or human trafficking, not those who “may be”. Therefore, it is surely right that such victims, who have been given an additional positive reasonable grounds decision for new or more recent slavery or trafficking allegations, must not be removed.
Indeed, in paragraph 76 of their ECHR memorandum, the Government say
“where … the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral … the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2)”
of ECAT. However, Clause 61 does not accord with that, because it retains as a discretionary power the denial of protection from removal. That discretion should be removed from the Bill, in accordance with Amendment 179.
Amendment 162 amends Clause 62, which would deny protection assistance and support to and allow the removal of a victim who is a “threat to public order”. This could impede the UK’s ability to investigate and prosecute human trafficking and slavery perpetrators. The anti-slavery commissioner has expressed grave concerns at the wide net of that provision, the potential denial of the recovery and reflection period to a considerable number of victims and the consequence that prosecution witnesses may be unable to build rapport with law enforcement and provide evidence.
In her letter to the Home Secretary of last September, which my noble friend Lord Paddick quoted earlier, the anti-slavery commissioner quoted data from Hope for Justice, which said that
“of their current live caseload, 29% of individuals have committed offences that would meet the criteria for exemption under public order grounds. A further 13% have committed wider offences that may/may not meet the criteria for a public order exemption and 3% have a conviction but the details of this are unknown.”
Up to 45% of this organisation’s case load have or appear to have convictions. Excluding all those people is really being kind to criminal trafficking gangs. She gave a case study:
“In 2018 a Romanian trafficker was convicted … under the Modern Slavery Act … having trafficked at least 15 people from Romania … He received a seven year sentence and … a Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order … Of the 15 potential victims identified, two provided statements to support the police investigation. One of these witnesses, whose evidence was significant in securing the conviction, had three previous convictions in Romania all of which attracted sentences in excess of 12 months”.
If the Government want to exclude from protection these victims, who might have criminal offences on their record, that means we will get fewer prosecutions and convictions of the perpetrators of trafficking and slavery.
The JCHR proposes that Clause 62 should be amended so that only a serious and ongoing threat to public order takes a victim out of protection. In fact, due to failings in the criminal justice system, victims are often forced to commit offences, such as on cannabis farms. In a recent Strasbourg court case, the UK was found to have failed in its duty to protect such victims. To be in line with its protective obligations under the ECHR and ECAT, the Government should accept at least amendment of Clause 62. Hence Amendment 168 provides that a person should not be considered a threat to public order if they were compelled to commit an offence, and Amendments 165 to 167 tighten up the provision in the Bill in other ways. The bottom line, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Paddick and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is that Clauses 61 and 62 are pernicious and should be removed.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the article by the anti-slavery commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, in the Times today. She mentions the Joint Committee on Human Rights and she concludes:
“Ministers have assured that decisions to remove support from victims will be made on a case-by-case basis suggesting infrequent use. But why frame legislation that appears to remove protection from such a wide cohort of individuals if that is not indeed the desire? There might be exceptional circumstances in which it is right to withhold support when there is a genuine, current and serious threat to public order, but the present bill goes far beyond this.”
She gives us a hint:
“Parliamentarians have the opportunity to address this—I hope that they take it.”
I hope we will take it in our vote on Report. That is a very powerful warning, I think, from the anti-slavery commissioner and I hope the Minister will tell me how seriously he takes it.
My Lords, I support all these amendments but I will speak to Amendment 169, to which I have put my name. I will deal with two other people apart from the anti-slavery commissioner who said that her gravest concern lies with Clause 62 above all the other clauses in this part of the Bill.
The United Nations rapporteur said:
“We are concerned that Clause 62(3) would be in violation of the State’s obligation to ensure non-punishment of victims of … forms of slavery for any unlawful acts … that are a direct consequence of trafficking.”
That, of course, is exactly what the Modern Slavery Act says in relation to people who commit offences if they are done in the course of being a trafficked person. So far as children are concerned, if they are under 18, they cannot be responsible for acts that they have done under the coercion of being a trafficking victim.
Perhaps of more significance to the Government is the issue of prosecution. Caroline Haughey QC, who advises the Government and regularly prosecutes traffickers—with great success I am glad to say—has described this Bill as catastrophic. She is a very successful QC. She is very measured and “catastrophic”, to my mind, is the most unusual word for a sensible prosecuting QC to use. She goes on to warn of the risks of losing witnesses for prosecutions because they have been guilty of offences themselves. We do not have enough prosecutions. It is an extremely serious matter that we do not have enough, and this clause is certain, if it is left in its original state, to reduce the number of prosecutions that Caroline Haughey and other QCs are trying to do in the criminal justice system.
I think again the Government ought to bear in mind why so many people who are victims have criminal records. It is perfectly obvious—they are much easier to identify and traffic, children as well as adults. They are the sort of people the traffickers go for because they know they are much less likely to come voluntarily to the public eye. They need protection against having been trafficked just as much as anybody who has a clear record. I implore the Government to think very carefully about this effect on prosecutions and the fact that criminals are very likely to be trafficked people.
I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Baroness. The Committee has benefited greatly from her insightful comments on the background. This is a particularly murky world about which we are talking. People are in an extremely vulnerable and unfortunate position, and they may well be preyed on and further exploited by the very people I applaud the Government for trying to target.
I will speak briefly to Amendments 160 and 163 in my name. Amendment 160 is the key amendment; again, it is a concern raised by the Law Society of Scotland, which is keen to ensure that these provisions be brought to account only in exceptional circumstances. The reasoning for this—which follows very well from the discussion we have heard in this debate—is that Clause 62 excludes from the national referral mechanism persons who have committed criminal offences as well as other offences relating to terrorism. It excludes those who have claimed to be victims of terrorism in bad faith. However, it appears to divide victims into the worthy and the unworthy. Surely the Government must explain their reasoning behind this. In my view, and that of the Law Society of Scotland, no one should be disqualified from being a victim of one crime because they have been a perpetrator of another—precisely for the reasons that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, gave us. Victims of trafficking could be criminalised for conduct relating to their trafficking. This is in breach of Article 26 of the Council of Europe trafficking convention. I cannot believe for a minute that this is the intention of the Minister or the Government in this regard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to a recent court case; I do not know if it is the same one to which I will refer. A violation of Article 4 of the ECHR was recently found against the United Kingdom, in this regard, by the European Court of Human Rights in VCL and AN v the United Kingdom. For those who would like to research this further, the reference is application numbers 77587/12 and 74603/12.
I conclude with a question to the Minister. Does he not share my concern that the clause, as it stands and without reference to exceptional circumstances, introduces a high risk of a double punishment for those victims who have received convictions? Moreover, disqualifying certain victims from protection increases the prospect that they will be further exploited by organised criminal groups as they will be unable to access protection from the state.
My Lords, I have added my name to those of noble Lords who oppose Clause 62 standing part of the Bill. I echo remarks made by noble colleagues.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just said, Clause 62 goes to an essential point of principle in the entire operation of how modern slavery protections ought to work. The proposal is that Clause 62 makes victimhood a conditional state. In fact, it sets up a division between worthy and unworthy victims, as the noble Baroness commented. This would be such a retrograde step. If we are serious about destroying the business model of modern slavery and identifying and prosecuting as many slavers as we can, we must find ways of incentivising and supporting all victims to come forwards. By excluding from support those who have acted in bad faith—a term for which I greatly welcome more clarity from the Minister on what it would mean—or those deemed a threat to public order, we are creating two categories of victim.
Over the road in the General Synod of the Church of England debate yesterday, there was a plea not to be naive. As was said, traffickers and modern slavers are not stupid. They know how to use criminal exploitation to trap people into criminal activity, to scare them into not approaching the police. We know this from work on the ground. When speaking to support charities and victims in my role as lead bishop on modern slavery, I have heard often that one of the most effective ways to keep victims in fear is to force them to commit crimes so that they will be criminalised if they come forward to the authorities.
Life for legislators—indeed, for everyone—would be much easier if there were nice, clear binaries: blameless victims and evil enslavers. The reality, as anyone who has worked on the ground with those trafficked through county lines and many other forms of criminal exploitation can attest, is that things are not that easy. People who have done bad things can and often do become victims of slavery. People who have become victims of slavery find themselves compelled to do bad things.
In opposing Clause 62, I am not suggesting that people should not be held responsible for their actions. They should, but as a society we have responsibilities too and one of those is to break the way in which modern slavers operate. Creating a two-tier system of victimhood will, I fear, strengthen it.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 160A, which is from these Benches. I fear that we are rather in lipstick on pigs territory—a phrase used a good deal earlier in our deliberations on the Bill. Clause 62 refers a “threat to public order”, which is then explained as various terrorism offences. It says that the list is not exhaustive, and I recognise what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said about how non-exhaustive lists are dealt with in the courts and that the longer lists are, the more rigorously they are dealt with. Our amendment refers instead to a threat to national security.
My noble friend Lord Paddick also has his name on the Clause 62 stand part notice and mine is on Amendment 169. I do not want to take the time of the Committee by repeating what has been said, very clearly, about activity “attributable” to being a victim of slavery or trafficking.
In the previous group of amendments, the Minister referred to an ability to recollect. I think, from other things he has said, in a sympathetic manner, he would agree that very often there is also, among victims, an inability to express—it is not just the inability to recollect. It might be worth saying—I am not sure it has been said before—that there is even more difficulty than in disclosing that one has been a victim of forced labour in disclosing that one has been a victim of sexual exploitation.
I agree with others about words such as “worthy” and “unworthy”. I noted “deserving” and “undeserving” —here we are again—like “deserving” and “undeserving” refugees and asylum seekers; that distinction is replicated here.
My Lords, again, as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I shall speak very briefly. I should say how much I appreciate the contributions made by my noble friend Lord Coaker, by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who is on the Joint Committee with me, and by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in her very powerful remarks.
Many years ago—if I may tell a little anecdote—I heard of a certain conversation that took place in the Home Office when an official was told by her boss to justify a certain position. The official said, “But that is indefensible”. Her boss said, “Yes, of course—defending the defensible is easy. You’re paid to defend the indefensible”. I say that as a word of comfort to the Minister, who is defending the indefensible. He knows it, we know it and the officials know it—and I suppose he has to do it, unless he does what the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, did and decides to distance himself from it.
I will say this very briefly. I find it hard to remember, and keep needing to remind myself, that we are talking about Part 5 of a Bill about modern slavery. Some of these issues are so remote from the rest of the Bill, as has already been said. The amendments to which I have put my name are concerned about a number of things. One is public safety and security. The amendments seek to get the right balance between public safety and security, which of course is important, and the rights of individuals who seek safety in this country. I contend that the Government, particularly in Clause 62, have got the balance quite wrong.
As the right reverend Prelate has already said, some of the people who are victims of traffickers or slavery are under threat; they are fearful, and the fact is that some of them at least will have been compelled to take up the position that they have taken up. We should respect that. These are frightened and anxious people, who are not secure and who do not know this country at all well. They may have been in this country for some time, or they may not have been, but they do not feel all that secure. We have to be sensitive to their situation, and I contend that what the Government are doing in this section, particularly in Clause 62, is to show insensitivity to some very vulnerable people—which is why I hope they will get rid of this provision, which does not make any sense at all.
My Lords, in opening from the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made a number of points in relation to the position of the Government in relation to the one-nation Conservative tradition, if I may put it like that. I will preface my remarks to the Committee by saying that, just as with our then coalition partners the Conservatives were in the forefront of dealing with the issue of modern slavery, so we were, hundreds of years ago, in dealing with the issue of slavery, as it then stood. Where slavery exists, Conservatives will always be found in the forefront of any attempts to confront it.
In relation to Clause 61, there is currently no policy on whether, or in what circumstances, individuals should or should not receive additional recovery periods under the national referral mechanism. Clause 61 addresses this gap by introducing a power to withhold additional recovery periods where an individual has already benefited from a recovery period and the further reported exploitation happened prior to the previous referral into the national referral mechanism, unless appropriate circumstances are set forth. This is not an attempt to create two tiers, however it may be read; rather, it is an attempt to put into legislation appropriate controls against misuse, where that misuse takes place.
Amendment 158 seeks to remove this power if any of the incidents of exploitation occurred when the individual was under 18 years of age. I seek first to reassure the Committee that the provision may be applied only when the further positive reasonable grounds decision arises from things done wholly before the previous reasonable grounds decision was made. Therefore, this power does not apply in cases of re-trafficking.
From the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, like other noble Lords at an earlier stage, raised the question of why these provisions appear on the face of an immigration Bill. It is because there are overlaps between immigration and modern slavery, which the Bill recognises and seeks to address, but it also goes further in providing clarification on people’s entitlement.
As I said in relation to the previous grouping, and as I am sure we will all have occasion to say again, the complex nature of exploitation, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, identified in his opening speech and at other times in this debate, and the potential resulting safeguarding needs, particularly for children, are recognised by the Government. This clause is designed to allow for discretion in how decision-makers apply the disqualification, ensuring that the welfare of children will be taken into account. This discretion is an important part of our needs-based approach to the provision of support, and in the circumstances there is no need for the carve-out that the amendment proposes.
Moving on to Amendment 159, while we understand the intention behind this amendment, the existing discretionary element strikes the right balance between allowing decision-makers flexibility to grant additional recovery periods and preventing the misuse of the NRM protections to which I referred. Decision-makers will be able to consider the vulnerabilities and circumstances of the individual.
Turning to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in relation to Clause 62, as noble Lords have outlined, ECAT envisages that recovery periods should be withheld on grounds of public order and improper claims. However, ECAT does not include a definition of “public order” and, to date, that omission has hindered our ability to disqualify suitable individuals in practice. The question was posed of whether the provision as it stands might impede operational decisions in relation to prosecution, but I submit that these decisions would be taken at all times in relation to that developing understanding of the pressures and difficulties. I fully appreciate that I am understating those things by using those expressions. Those pressures and difficulties are upon persons who are victims of modern slavery or human trafficking.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I was proposing to deal later with the expression “bad faith” and its source, but, to help him at this stage, it is not drawn from any comparable legislation, nor from the authority of the courts. We do not hark back to that. Rather, the nature of the problems that must be confronted in relation to this is sufficiently protean and diverse that a need was identified to arrive at a broad expression in the Bill, and “bad faith” was the language selected after consideration among Ministers and officials to represent that.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I now realise that he has now moved on from Clause 61 and is talking about Clause 62. I was wondering whether he was going to answer my point about incompatibility with the ECHR memorandum. That says that
“where the person’s previous conclusive grounds decision was negative, the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2) of ECAT.”
However, you are not protecting them from removal in the meantime under Article 61, as far as I can see, so how is the Bill compatible with the ECHR memorandum?
If the noble Baroness will bear with me, I will seek to get an answer to that question that I can deliver in the course of the debate—doubtless the Committee will remind me if I have not reverted to the noble Baroness by the time I sit down.
Amendments 160 and 162 do not define “exceptional circumstances” or “serious and ongoing” threat in relation to withholding protection from removal. As such, our view is that they would risk undermining the clarity which this clause seeks to provide and would make the power very difficult to use, meaning that potentially dangerous individuals would continue to receive the generous protections afforded by the NRM.
On Amendment 160A, Clause 62 specifies that disqualification applies when in the interests of national security, but it is right that the Government should also be able to withhold protections from individuals who pose a threat to public order more broadly, including where they have been convicted of serious criminal offences or have made a claim in bad faith, to use the expression that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred me to. I say that “bad faith” is appropriate in these circumstances because it is so broad and because it comprises so many aspects.
I want to intervene briefly on the “good faith” and “bad faith” point, in case it is of assistance to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others. Concepts such as “good faith” and bad faith” are commonly used in civil and commercial matters; we understand that. In contracting matters, it is incumbent on parties to act in good faith, subject to the deal they have done with each other. Why I think the Committee is so concerned about what the Minister called the protean nature of the phrase here is that this is human rights protection, and we cannot afford to be protean or vague in the same way that we can when we are talking about how we enter into a contract. This is life and death.
The point I was seeking to make by that expression is, I think, the same one that my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar made earlier, when he spoke about this—it is as familiar to the noble Baroness as a practising barrister as it is to me, and I think it was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. If we have a list that sets out heads A to E, and then counsel attempts to rely on point F which is not otherwise comprehended, or not specifically enumerated but which may be comprehended within the expression “or any other circumstance”, that always—as my noble friend Lord Wolfson said—places counsel at a disadvantage.
On the threats, or potential threats, and the potential scope for abuse which lie within the power of a person seeking to exploit and make a false application under these circumstances, what we are seeking to do is to identify a phrase or term which is sufficiently wide to encompass all those potential points. Noble Lords in the Committee have identified, under reference to the traffickers and criminals whom it is the intention of the entire Committee to thwart, their cunning, resilience and resourcefulness in finding ways to slip between the cracks of aspects of legislation.
Amendment 169 does not provide a definition of “public order”. I reassure the Committee that we adhere to relevant provisions in our international obligations but it is unnecessary to specify that in legislation, and we are satisfied that the current definition of public order complies with ECAT.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering proposes that we replace the “bad faith” provision with one of “improper claims”. That proposal can be addressed in conjunction with Amendment 163, which seeks to remove the bad faith provision entirely. Another reason for the expression “bad faith”, and its breadth, is to avoid inadvertently excluding administrative mistakes made when submitting claims, which may be interpreted as falling under “improper claims”. We believe that “bad faith” is the appropriate language.
In answer to submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, under Amendments 169, 161 and 164, which seek to exclude children from this clause, ECAT does not specify an age limit. We deem it important that the United Kingdom maintains the full scope while ensuring that all decisions to withhold the protections of the NRM are balanced against our priority to safeguard children. The proposal set out in these amendments would create, in effect, a two-tiered system that could encourage those looking to misuse the NRM protections to provide falsified information regarding their age. We all sat late enough the other night in relation to the age amendment provisions elsewhere in the Bill for me not to wish to go into that area again, but we are concerned lest the proposals in the amendment provide an opportunity for persons to provide falsified information.
In relation to Amendment 168, the Government are aware that potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery may already have been convicted of serious offences or be involved in terrorism-related activity. I make it clear that neither the additional recovery period nor the public order disqualifications can be taken as being a blanket disqualification. Any decisions relating to disqualifications will be taken on an individual basis, taking into account the individual’s circumstances and vulnerabilities. This includes consideration as to the nature of any criminal exploitation that may have been made of them and the need to safeguard individuals. We think it is right that further details of how to apply this discretionary element should be set out in guidance for decision-makers rather than being placed in the Bill. That will give the Government the flexibility to meet the needs of victims and respond to changing patterns of criminal activity that may seek opportunities to misuse the NRM.
We do not consider that Clause 62 will present a barrier to people who have had convictions and prevent them coming forward, because of that discretionary approach and because there will not be a blanket disqualification on the basis of public order. All of us—the whole Committee, I am sure—want victims of modern slavery to continue to come forward for identification and support, irrespective of their personal circumstances or the circumstances in which they came to be exploited. However, we maintain that it is right that the Government can remove individuals who pose a threat to public order from the protections and support that the NRM affords.
Together with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, was concerned lest such victims did not come forward if they had criminal convictions. First responders should still always refer victims into the national referral mechanism, in line with modern slavery statutory guidance, even where the individual has had a previous recovery period or has a criminal conviction. Decision-makers trained in the field will then carefully consider each individual case and take into account specific vulnerabilities and the needs of each individual, again on a case-by-case basis.
The recovery period may be withheld following a reasonable grounds decision, and the rights that flow from a conclusive grounds decision may also be withheld at that stage if relevant disqualifications apply. I emphasise that we will carefully consider each individual case to ensure that people who genuinely need protection and support will receive it. I reiterate that it is right that we should be able to withhold rights from individuals where appropriate—for example, from those who pose a national security risk to the United Kingdom.
I return to the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in relation to compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The protections of the NRM will be withheld in accordance with Clause 61 only when so to do would be compliant with our international obligations—
I am glad to hear that the Government want to comply with our international obligations—some of us feel that that is not entirely evident from the Bill—but I was asking about compatibility with the European convention against trafficking. Clause 61 allows “a competent authority” to remove someone even when a conclusive grounds decision is pending. I am sorry to repeat myself, but the European Convention on Human Rights memorandum, produced presumably by the Home Office for the Bill, says at paragraph 76.d:
“the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2)”.
That is not what Clause 61 does; it allows the Government to remove the person. They are not “protected from removal” pending a new conclusive grounds decision, so the ECHR memorandum and the Bill are in direct contradiction. Can the Minister take further advice and answer that point? If he cannot do so today, I am sure that he will be able to write to me. I am pretty sure that this was identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is why we wanted to change “must” determine the person’s removal to “may”, so that there is wiggle room that might be in compliance with ECAT. On the face of it, I cannot see that this provision is compliant, notwithstanding the assertion in the memorandum that it is.
The noble Baroness graciously affords me the possibility of replying perhaps in more detail and later. Unless I have further information to provide to her, I propose to take that course. I am obliged to her for her consideration.
In relation to how to assess whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activity or is otherwise a national security concern, the Government have extensive experience of assessing these things, together with our operational partners, and using these assessments to inform executive decision-making.
Whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity is a crucial part of consideration for public order disqualification. Amendment 165 would weaken the United Kingdom’s ability to withhold protections from people of terrorism concern, and we therefore consider that it would increase the risk to the national security of the UK.
Regarding Amendment 166, NRM referrals for foreign national offenders and foreign nationals held on remand are rising, with an average of 85 per month for the first five months of 2021, compared to 19 per month in 2018. It is right that foreign nationals who have been convicted of the serious offences referred to in Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 should be included within scope for consideration of the public order disqualification. This ensures that we will have a clear definition provided for in legislation to support decisions.
Finally, referring to Amendment 164A, I reassure the Committee that the Government are committed to identifying possible victims promptly and providing needs-based support that we hope will aid their recovery. This clause is in line with ECAT, and as such we consider that the requirement to make a conclusive grounds decision can fall away in the event of disqualification on grounds of public order or improper claims.
We will set out the detail of matters in guidance, but again I assure the Committee that trained decision-makers will consider carefully the full circumstances of each individual case, consulting with relevant stakeholders and considering all the relevant information, including weighing national security considerations against whether any potential interference with protected rights is proportionate.
I omitted to recognise the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol’s contribution to the matter of “bad faith”. I hope that she will forgive that omission.
I hope, for the reasons outlined, that noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments at this stage.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his typically courteous and thoughtful reply, and the way in which he attempted to answer every question put to him by noble Lords across the Chamber. We are very grateful and that was well received by everyone. I believe, however, that there is a very real problem at the heart of the Bill, with respect to Clause 61 and particularly Clause 62, notwithstanding his reassuring words.
It remains on the face of the Bill that an identified potential victim can be disqualified from the section if they are a threat to public order, or they have given information in bad faith. As noble Lords have said, there is no real clarification, notwithstanding the Minister’s response, on what a threat to public order means. We can see from what has been said, by many of the organisations that made representations, including lawyers and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, that a threat to public order can include very minor offences. The Minister says, “Don’t worry, the decision-makers understand that Clause 62 does not apply if they are minor offences”, but that really is not good enough. It should be on the face of the Bill; it should be clearer, in primary legislation, what a “threat to public order” means—and indeed “acting in bad faith”. What on earth does “acting in bad faith” mean? That is usually something people use when they cannot think of anything else—“That’ll do, that will be something we can say because it encompasses everything.” It is not good enough, in primary legislation, to legislate in that way.
The purpose of the amendments that have been tabled, and the debate that has been had in Committee, will cause the Government to have to think again and, at the very least, be clearer in what they actually mean with respect to where they are going to disqualify somebody from protection when they are an unidentified potential victim.
The last point I will very quickly make is that there is real issue with respect to children. Both this Minister and the Minister who responded to the earlier groups say again, “Don’t worry, there is nothing to worry about. We understand the particular needs of children”. I say again that in virtually every area of government a distinction is made between adults and children, for obvious reasons. It beggars belief that it is not done anywhere in this Bill. We will come back to this at Report, but I thank the Minister for his reply and, with the leave of the Committee, withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 158 withdrawn.
Amendment 159 not moved.
Clause 61 agreed.
Clause 62: Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection
Amendments 160 to 169 not moved.
Clause 62 agreed.
Clause 63: Identified potential victims etc in England and Wales: assistance and support
169A: Clause 63, page 66, line 10, leave out from “their” to end of line 12 and insert “physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent their re-trafficking in accordance with Article 12 of the Trafficking Convention.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would define the objective of assistance and support in line with Article 12 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005.
My Lords, I should declare an interest in that I presented the original anti-trafficking and anti-slavery Bill as a Private Member’s Bill to your Lordships, and your Lordships very kindly passed it in all its stages, thanks to the support of the whole House. I then sent it to the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, who made it a government Bill and made it comprehensive, with the support of many people in both Houses.
I wish to speak to the amendments in my name to Clauses 63 and 64, on support and leave to remain respectively. While I believe that issues of modern slavery should not be in an immigration Bill, we must nevertheless use the opportunity to improve the care provided to approximately 100,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. These individuals deserve the opportunity to rebuild their lives. We have the potential to give them the support needed to ensure that each victim becomes a survivor.
Your Lordships will know that I have long argued, through my Private Member’s Bills, that support for victims in England and Wales during the so-called recovery period should be statutory, as it has been in Northern Ireland and Scotland since 2015. I very much welcome the Government addressing this matter at last in Clause 63. However, I have three concerns about Clause 63 which my Amendments 169A, 170 and 170A address. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Paddick and Lord Coaker, for their support for these amendments.
First, in Clause 63, proposed new subsection (2) of the new clause restricts support only to that necessary to assist with recovery from the conduct that resulted in the “positive reasonable grounds” decision in question. This is more restrictive than in Northern Ireland and Scotland. How do the Government intend to identify the harm caused directly by exploitation? Why have they decided to restrict the support in this way?
Article 12 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, known as ECAT, requires states to provide various support to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery. ECAT does not restrict support and assistance to only those matters that relate to a person’s immediate exploitation. Amendment 169A would amend the wording so that it is in line with ECAT.
Secondly, Clause 63 is not clear on the scope of support, and Amendment 170A would define the types of assistance and support to be provided in line with ECAT obligations. The Government said in another place that a list of what support should be available is not needed, even though such a list does exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland. While individual victims will have different needs and requirements, there still needs to be a framework, which Amendment 170A would provide. The Joint Committee on Human Rights asked whether the support provided will cover all the elements required by Article 12. I look forward to hearing confirmation from the Minister that it will.
My third concern is the lack of support once a person is identified as a victim, something I have been campaigning on with the support of the Free for Good movement, a coalition of 27 organisations which believe that long-term support is essential to a victim’s recovery. Without it, already vulnerable individuals are at risk of homelessness, destitution or even re-trafficking, as has been mentioned.
I welcome the assurance given by the Government on Report in another place, and reiterated here at Second Reading, that 12 months’ support will be provided to confirmed victims in England and Wales. However, to date the Government have not brought forward an amendment to ensure that this support is on a statutory footing, nor set out any details of what that might involve, saying instead that the details will be in guidance. The support needs to be more than an extension of current arrangements under the Government’s recovery needs assessment.
Amendment 170 would put the Government’s commitment to 12 months’ support in the Bill. The cross-party support for this amendment is both indicative and representative of an understanding across the House that long-term statutory support is vital in order to assist victims of modern slavery in their recovery. The problem with it not being in the Bill is that it gives the Government what one could describe as wriggle room. We do not know when the guidance will be issued, nor what it will say; by the time we do, we will have missed a valuable opportunity to make a significant difference to victims.
Clause 63 already puts support during the recovery period on a statutory footing. Amendment 170 is a simple extension to Clause 63 to put in a support provision after a person has been confirmed as a victim of modern slavery. I urge your Lordships to support Amendment 170 to ensure recovery, prevent re-trafficking and enable victims to work with the police to restrain the perpetrators responsible for their abuse. I sincerely hope the Minister will be able to tell the House that he will be tabling an amendment on this matter on Report.
I turn to my Amendments to Clause 64. The Government are putting the current discretionary leave-to-remain criteria on a statutory footing. In principle, that is welcome—except that, in doing so, they have made them narrower than the current guidance. We are taking one step forward but two steps back. I also want noble Lords to realise that very few victims who apply actually get that leave, so Clause 64 falls short of what victims really need. The Government have already recognised the need for confirmed victims of modern slavery to receive 12 months’ support. However, those individuals need leave to remain in order to access that vital support.
My Amendment 170B would ensure that anyone receiving support after being confirmed as a victim of modern slavery would be granted temporary leave to remain. My Amendment 171A would ensure that the leave would be for the length of time that support is being provided or for at least 12 months if granted under Clause 64. Without these amendments, long-term support is a mirage. It is something that confirmed victims who are non-UK nationals desperately need but, without immigration status, cannot access. They will also help the Government achieve their aim of increasing the prosecutions and convictions of perpetrators of modern slavery. Without clarity about their immigration status, victims are fearful, potentially subject to re-trafficking, and hesitant about engaging with the police. Amendments 170B and 171A would enable the Government to be firm on criminals who are profiteering off the exploitation and abuse of victims.
The Government have said that individuals abuse the system and make fraudulent claims about being a victim of modern slavery to avoid deportation. It is crucial that one understands that the individuals who would be receiving leave to remain are those who have gone through the Government’s own processes and been confirmed by the Home Office as genuine victims of modern slavery. These are not individuals abusing the system, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has already mentioned. I urge noble Lords to support Amendments 170B and 171A.
I also support Amendment 171B from the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and Amendments 171 and 172 from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. These amendments would bring a better outcome for victims.
In closing, I urge your Lordships to recognise that 12 months of statutory support, and 12 months’ leave to remain to access that support, are vital to enabling a victim of modern slavery to recover and to engage with the police. I will quote my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, who told me the other day about a Zulu exhortation: “Vukuzenzele”, which noble Lords will know from their Zulu studies means “Just get on and do it.” The Government should just get on with providing confirmed victims the support and leave to remain which we already know they need. I shall listen carefully to the Minister’s response and will come back with further amendments on Report depending on what she says. I thank all those who will be taking part in this debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, with his usual clarity, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has introduced his amendments to Clauses 63 and 64. I regard it as one of the privileges of serving in your Lordships’ House to have become a friend of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, over these last 20 years. I not only deeply admire everything he has done on the issue of human trafficking but have seen first-hand some of the extraordinary work he has done with Mercy Ships, where he has given so much of his life and time as a notable surgeon. I have no hesitation today in echoing the remarks he has made to your Lordships’ Committee. I am not sure I can echo the Zulu remarks he quoted, but I think Nelson Mandela once quoted a Zulu saying about “ubuntu”, meaning “brotherhood”, that
“we are only people because of other people.”
In many respects, that goes to the heart of what we are trying to express in these debates and amendments today.
Statutory support for victims in England and Wales during the time they are in the national referral mechanism—the recovery period—which was the subject of Amendments 156A and 156B, which I spoke to earlier, is long overdue. We are seven years behind Northern Ireland and Scotland, and I welcome the Government catching up with the rest of the UK. I would like to say with the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, in hearing distance that I deeply admire what he managed to achieve in Northern Ireland, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about his Amendment 171B, which, again, I associate myself with. Indeed, I support all the amendments in this group.
I draw the Committee’s attention to the current version of the statutory guidance on victim support in England and Wales, which says:
“The Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract operates as a bridge, to lift adult victims out of a situation of exploitation and to set them on a pathway to rebuilding their lives. As such, it is important that no support provided through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract prevents potential victims or victims from accessing support they would otherwise be entitled to receive.”
The statement about what a victim is entitled to receive goes straight to the heart of Amendments 169A and 170A.
Under the Bill, what do the Government intend to provide in terms of support? The noble Lord, Lord McColl, said that without support, the Bill simply becomes a mirage—a good metaphor to use. What are the Government going to do to provide support during the recovery period? Will the support be in line with Article 12 of the European convention? Both Ministers talked earlier about the importance of compatibility in these areas. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, we seem to pick and choose what we want to have compatibility with and what we do not.
The frequently referred to and admirable Joint Committee on Human Rights recently published its review of Part 5 and highlighted that
“clause 63 (new section 50A MSA) does not specify details as to what ‘any necessary assistance and support’ should include, leading to some ambiguity”—
a word I referenced earlier in connection with being in good faith—
“as to whether clause 63 (new section 50A MSA) will indeed adequately give effect to the UK’s obligations under Article 12 ECAT to provide the types of assistance specified in that Article.”
It is worth recording in Hansard what the Committee said:
“The Secretary of State should confirm whether ‘necessary assistance and support’ will include all of the types of assistance listed in Article 12 ECAT”.
We will all listen closely to the Minister’s response to these amendments and specifically on that point about whether the support will be in line with Article 12 of the European convention.
I have also co-signed Amendment 170. As I have already said, the stated objective of the Government’s support to victims is
“to lift adult victims out of a situation of exploitation and to set them on a pathway to rebuilding their lives.”
Who could disagree with that? All the evidence from those working with victims is that this goal is far from completed when a person is confirmed as a victim of modern slavery by the Government. To continue on the pathway to recovery, as the Government themselves have acknowledged, a victim needs much longer support.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has been making that case for many years in your Lordships’ House and I have been happy on previous occasions to give him support. 1am glad that he has taken the opportunity provided by the Bill today. If the Minister cannot agree to incorporate this now, will he tell the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and Members of your Lordships’ Committee that, when the putative legislation that was referred to earlier in this area is brought forward, it will at least be attended to then? I am glad that the Government have recognised the need, but they should now act to bring their commitment into a concrete reality.
I also want to touch briefly on the amendments to Clause 64 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, which seek to give victims who are eligible for support leave to remain. It is not just the right thing to do for these individuals, it makes policy sense to ensure that we are able to bring perpetrators to justice. It has been said again and again, by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others who have re-emphasised this throughout today’s debate. Without evidence from victims, cases are much harder to prosecute. Here is an interesting point: it also makes economic sense.
A 2019 report from the University of Nottingham, which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will be well aware of, on an earlier version of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, showed that his Bill was “value for money”. I hope that the Minister’s officials have drawn that report to his attention, so I ask him: why would the Government not support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and give this vital support to victims of modern slavery?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his kind remarks. For victims of modern slavery, escaping from their exploitation is only the beginning of their journey towards recovery. I will direct my remarks today to Amendment 171B in my name, which would assist victims on this journey.
I have been astounded by the individuals whom I have come across over the years, particularly those who I had the privilege of meeting during the passage of my Private Member’s Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly who have been victims of modern slavery in this country. These victims have experienced extreme exploitation and abuse in this country yet have shown commendable fortitude and strength in their determination to recover from their ordeal. When I consider Part 5, and in particular Clause 64, it is those individuals I think of. It concerns me that Clause 64, if unamended, will make the leave to remain criteria narrower and, in doing so, make vital support for survivors even more inaccessible.
Clause 64 will impact victims of modern slavery across the UK, yet there has been no impact assessment published to date—at least, I have not had sight of it—on how many victims will be granted leave to remain under the Bill, compared to the current numbers. I hope the Minister can address why this is the case and provide a timeframe for when we can expect to see one.
Previously, I had the opportunity to meet Anna, a young Romanian girl who was kidnapped here in London, trafficked to Galway and then moved to Belfast to be sold into the sex trade. This young girl was moved from pillar to post, to be exploited in one place then another. The only consistency she knew was exploitation. When victims like Anna escape from their situations of exploitation, they need stability and certainty as they start their recovery and begin to work through their trauma.
I am concerned that whilst Clause 64 puts discretionary leave to remain measures on a statutory footing, in the process of doing so the Government have made the criteria much narrower than current guidance. In particular, Clause 64(4) would prevent leave to remain being granted to a confirmed victim on the grounds of their need for support for their recovery, if they could receive that support elsewhere—even when the alternative country is not a signatory to the European trafficking convention. The Government have also not set out which countries without ECAT would be acceptable. This restriction is likely to affect EU citizens who have recently become entitled to automatic consideration for discretionary leave if they have no other right to remain, since the Secretary of State is likely to argue that these citizens could receive support within the EU. It sounds very much as if the Government are unfairly trying to skirt their moral duties and responsibilities to these victims. This goes to the point that, contrary to what the Government have said, this Bill is not fair for victims of modern slavery.
Amendment 171B in my name would ensure greater stability by removing the criteria of not granting leave to remain if assistance could be provided or compensation sought in another country. Without this amendment victims such as Anna, upon exiting their situation of exploitation, could find themselves without leave to remain and instead relocated to another country where they may not know anybody, speak the language or understand the customs. This will be disorientating, unsettling and frightening, and it will compound their vulnerability to re-trafficking.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and Sir lain Duncan Smith MP in the other place on the need for 12 months’ leave to remain to ensure that all confirmed victims can receive support, as proposed in the noble Lord’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. I put on record my support for Amendments 170B and 171A in the name of the noble Lord. While Amendment 170 to Clause 63 in the noble Lord’s name applies only to England and Wales, I am pleased to see that steps are being taken to provide statutory support to confirmed victims in Northern Ireland. Through Section 18(9) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, statutory support is already available to victims with a positive conclusive grounds decision on a discretionary basis.
I want to draw attention to the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly are currently considering the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill. In Committee, it has been recommended that support be given to victims
“following a positive Conclusive Grounds decision to enhance protection from re-trafficking and assist in their recovery and engagement with the criminal justice agencies to help secure increased convictions.”
Amendments will be debated next week. The recognition of the principle of the need for long-term support for victims is greatly encouraging and I will be watching closely as this Bill progresses through the Assembly. Perhaps Westminster could learn from the Assembly which, in the early stages of deliberation, acknowledged that 12 months’ support should be in legislation; there is no discussion of this being put only in guidance.
However, should the Assembly agree, this statutory support will be limited to those confirmed victims who are British citizens or who have leave to remain, as is the case with the statutory discretionary leave provision under Section 18(9). It will be devastating for non-UK-national victims if the hands of the Northern Ireland Assembly are tied in the provision of long-term support to them because the Government will not grant the requisite leave to remain for them to access this vital long-term support. Flourish, a charity in Northern Ireland which supports victims of modern slavery once they have exited the NRM, has said that its objective is
“empowering survivors so that they can take back control of their own lives”.
That is what long-term support is all about. Narrowing the criteria for grants of leave and failing to provide 12 months’ leave to remain to confirmed victims without immigration status make it even more difficult for victims to take back control of their lives and become survivors.
We also know that it takes time for victims to trust authorities and begin to engage with police investigations; this does not happen overnight. Without 12 months’ leave to remain, victims will not have the stability or consistency in their lives to begin to comprehend their abuse, disclose it and in time start to engage with police investigations. Without Amendments 170B and 171A, convictions will thus remain low and the perpetrators of this heinous crime will continue to go unpunished.
I would also like to put on record my support for Amendment 171 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. As it stands, Clause 64 also narrows the criteria for granting leave to remain to what is considered necessary to assist in the recovery from harm directly caused by this exploitation. The Joint Committee on Human Rights raised this issue in its report of 15 December, saying
“It would seem that clause 64(2)(a) is drawn a little more narrowly than the obligation in Article 14(1)(a) ECAT. ‘Personal situation’, could, for example, relate to family relationships and support networks in the UK or other factors relevant to the ‘personal situation’ of the victim that would not be covered by clause 64(2)(a).”
It recommended that the wording reflect the Article 14 obligations.
The Government are acting as an obstacle, rather than an aide, when it comes to the provision of support to confirmed victims of modern slavery in Northern Ireland and the prosecution of offenders across the UK. Victims need a stable pathway which equips them to recover from their exploitation and not be defined by it. We must keep working to ensure that the UK is known as a hostile place for traffickers, where this exploitation will not be tolerated and will not go unpunished.
Perhaps before I sit down I should say that it may not be possible for me to hear the Minister’s response as I have to be back in Northern Ireland this evening and the time on my boarding pass is getting closer by the second. I apologise in advance if that is the case.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick has his name to Amendment 170. I know that he—I join him in this—is always pleased to have an opportunity to support the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. Given that we are now past 4 pm, which, in the terminology of this House, was to be the lunch hour, I will not say anything more on this amendment. I hope that noble Lords can read between the lines.
Similarly, I particularly support Amendment 171A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred.
Finally, when I bumped into the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, the other day, I said, “I don’t know what you’re going to say but I’ll support you”. He said, “I thought you would”.
My Lords, we have been quicker than I anticipated but what my noble friend said is true; I must admit that I am starving.
I will speak to Amendments 171 and 172 from the JCHR, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. They aim to remove the worst of Clause 64. Leave to remain is important for victims who are vulnerable to destitution and further exploitation without welfare benefits and other entitlements but, according to the anti-slavery commissioner, the number of victims being granted discretionary leave is very low. In 2015, it was 123. In 2019, it was 70. In the first three months of 2020, it was only eight; we do not have statistics for the whole of 2020-21.
Being granted leave can improve mental health by offering stability and thus a chance of recovery, but the equivalent reference to assistance and support in the Modern Slavery Act reads “physical or psychological harm”; that includes social harm. This Bill would put the law out of line with that and raise real doubts about compatibility with Article 14 of ECAT, which uses the phrase
“necessary owing to their personal situation”.
That is wider than what is in Clause 64(2)(a), which is why I commend Amendment 171 to the Committee. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, refer to the JCHR’s report; he also mentioned the importance of family relationships.
Amendment 172 aims to rectify the omission from Clause 64 of any consideration of the best interests of the child so as to make it compatible with ECAT and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I seem to have mixed up my notes; I am sorry about that because I will now go back to Amendment 171.
In a case last year, the High Court held that refusing to grant discretionary leave while a slavery victim’s asylum application was being processed violated Article 14 of the European Convention on Action against Trafficking. It appears that, before amendments were made in the other place, Clause 64(2)(a) included a reference to the victim’s social well-being as well as their physical and mental health. However, it was removed on Report. Can the Minister explain why? Would the Government like to rectify this omission in the Bill regarding personal, situational and social harm so as to make me, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the JCHR very happy?
My Lords, in the interests of time, let me just say respectfully to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whose amendments I have signed, that I very much support him and the arguments and points that he made so well. We look forward to the Minister’s response. I pay tribute to the doughty work the noble Lord has done over a number of years to try to move the Government in what many of us regard as a simple and sensible way forward. Let us hope.
I shall speak to my Amendment 171AA. Clause 64 provides for limited leave to remain
“if the Secretary of State considers it is necessary for the purpose of (a) assisting the person in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm … (b) enabling the person to seek compensation”—
unless this can be done outside the UK
“or (c) enabling the person to co-operate”
with law enforcement. The standard, however, does not meet the UK’s obligation to children under the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking. Article 14.2 of ECAT specifies that in the case of children, residence permits
“shall be issued in accordance with the best interests of the child.”
Paragraph 186 of the Explanatory Report to ECAT explains that
“the child’s best interests take precedence”.
Amendment 171AA, which is a probing amendment, simply asks why the Government cannot include leave to remain where children are protected and where it is in the best interest of the child.
My Lords, in consideration of the flight of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I start by addressing Amendment 171B. ECAT sets clear parameters around when a signatory state is obliged to grant a residence permit to confirmed victims, which is where it considers that the stay is necessary either due to the confirmed victim’s personal situation or for the purpose of their co-operation with the competent authorities in an investigation or criminal proceedings. The Government have gone further than this and provided for a grant of leave not only on both of these bases, but also where it is necessary to enable a confirmed victim to seek compensation in respect of their exploitation.
A temporary leave provision is deliberately designed to allow for leave to be provided for as long as needed, where appropriate. It will be considered on a case-by-case basis and does not set an arbitrary time period. To specify a length of leave does not follow our overall approach of having a truly needs-based approach to addressing victim support. If it is necessary for leave to be granted for longer than 12 months in order to pursue a thorough investigation, or where an individual’s personal circumstances require it, leave can and should be granted.
I turn next to Amendments 169A, 170 and 170A. In Clause 63 we have sought to define the support entitlement during the recovery period for potential victims following a positive reasonable-grounds decision. Amendment 169A, however, would remove clarity on what these terms mean for victims and decision-makers and reduce the effectiveness of the clause in supporting victims. Our approach to the wording of Clause 63 has been chosen specifically to provide more detail on the circumstances in which support is provided, while being in line with our international obligations. Our approach is not to go into detail on the types of support provided for in legislation, as Amendment 170A suggests, but to do this in guidance, the purpose being to ensure flexibility in our approach in future, so this can be tailored to victims’ needs as our understanding of trauma develops. I refer your Lordships to remarks made earlier in the debate that understanding the impact and the effect of trauma on individuals is an ongoing and developing thing.
Further to this, and in response to a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, where necessary, all those who receive a positive conclusive-grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months. We committed to this in the other place and will consider where and how this commitment is delivered to ensure that it delivers best for victims. More details will be provided in guidance or in future modern slavery legislation, should parliamentary time allow. My noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich has been given that assurance by the Home Office Minister. The Home Office and, in particular, my noble friend Lady Williams are keen to continue working with the noble Lord on the implementation of this policy.
We appreciate the push to put this into legislation at the earliest opportunity, but we do not agree that this Bill, with its focus on immigration is the most appropriate place to do so. As such, given the commitment made in the other place, we do not consider Amendment 170 necessary, and I assure my noble friend that this is not an attempt to wriggle out of our commitment.
I turn next to Amendments 170B, 171A, 171, 171AA and 172, all of which relate to Clause 64. I refer again to the remarks made by all the noble Lords who spoke on these matters and thank them for their contributions to this debate. The Government are committed to ensuring that the victims of modern slavery eligible for a grant of leave to remain receive it. We have committed to this through Clause 64, which sets out, for the first time in primary legislation, the circumstances in which a confirmed victim of modern slavery must be granted modern slavery-specific temporary leave to remain. Clause 64 is in line with our international obligations as set out in Article 14 of ECAT and clarifies the policy currently set out in guidance. We have been clear from the start that this clause is designed deliberately to allow for leave to be provided for as long as it is needed, where appropriate, and the length of leave will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In answer to my noble friend Lord McColl, to specify the length of leave as Amendments 170B and 171A seek to do, either for 12 months or for the duration of the assistance and support that a victim is receiving, does not follow our overall approach of having a truly needs-based approach to the support of victims.
Clause 64 will clarify, in primary legislation, the obligations set out in Article 14 and Her Majesty’s Government’s discretionary leave policy, as currently set out in guidance. Confirmed victims of all ages, including children, who do not have immigration status, will be automatically considered for temporary leave. A grant of temporary leave to remain for victims of modern slavery does not prohibit them being granted another, more advantageous form of leave, should they qualify for that. It continues to be a core principle of our approach to modern slavery that support provided in the UK should be available only to victims who need it.
Adverse comparison was drawn between the situation in England and Wales and that in Northern Ireland and Scotland. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, alluded to, the matter of support is devolved to the devolved Administrations.
We agree that the primary aim here is to provide clarity and certainty about the circumstances in which they are eligible for a grant of temporary leave to remain. Amendment 171 would, by contrast, reduce clarity by providing that leave should be granted where necessary to assist the individual in their personal situation, within ECAT. Clause 64 addresses this critical issue by defining the scope of this entitlement. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, chided the Government for not getting on with it. The Minister in the other place, Rachel Maclean, has given the commitment and we are getting on with it. As my Zulu is on a merely conversational basis, I will not attempt in this place to answer the noble Lord in kind.
I turn to Amendments 171AA and 172. Clause 64 applies to victims of all ages, including children, who do not have immigration status. They will be considered automatically for temporary leave. Decision-makers are fully trained in making all leave to remain decisions, including considering all information to assess the best interests of the child, as well as to account for the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
In answer to a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Clause 63 provides that the Secretary of State must secure support.
We will continue to comply with our duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and make it clear in the Immigration Rules that this is the primary consideration. We will also ensure that children continue to be supported and protected through existing mechanisms in local authorities.
Amendment 171 would remove the statutory clarification around when leave is deemed necessary, an important consideration provided for by Article 14 of ECAT. This would reduce clarity for victims and decision-makers. We must remember that an individual in receipt of a positive conclusive grounds decision has already had the benefit of the recovery and reflection period and any necessary support it provided. Leave under ECAT is not intended to be a path to settlement but a tool to aid recovery or to enable an individual to co-operate with the competent authorities in investigation or criminal proceedings, returning to my answer at the outset to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. ECAT provides that leave need only be granted where it is “necessary” and it is therefore right that we consider whether any further support required following the conclusive grounds decision can be met in a third country. This approach enables us to focus our support provision on those victims in the UK who are genuinely in need.
For the reasons I have outlined, I ask the noble Lord at this stage to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. However, it is quite clear that we will have to have further lessons in Zulu to make sure that things are done. The Minister has raised lots of questions, which will be brought up on Report, where I am quite sure there will be a very lively discussion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 169A withdrawn.
Amendments 170 and 170A not moved.
Clause 63 agreed.
Clause 64: Leave to remain for victims of slavery or human trafficking
Amendments 170B to 172 not moved.
Clause 64 agreed.
Clause 65: Civil legal services under section 9 of LASPO: add-on services in relation to the national referral mechanism
Amendment 172A not moved.
Clause 65 agreed.
Clause 66 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 5 pm.