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Lords Chamber

Volume 818: debated on Thursday 10 February 2022

House of Lords

Thursday 10 February 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Retirement of a Member: Lord Fellowes


My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement with effect from today of the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.

National Disability Strategy


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with implementing their National Disability Strategy.

My Lords, good progress is being made. Of more than 100 commitments across government, over 25 have already been delivered in just six months. Among them, the DfE invested over £8 million in 2021-22 on children and young people with complex needs, improving outcomes for these disabled children. The DWP is piloting an adjustment passport supporting disabled people’s transition to employment, and BEIS has launched an online advice hub offering accessible information and advice on employment rights for disabled people. But we understand there is more to do.

Disabled people in the UK today face an education attainment gap, an employment gap, a pay gap, a public appointments gap, a suboptimal disabled students’ allowance scheme, inaccessible accommodation and inaccessible transport. Will my noble friend agree three things? First, there is no shortage of issues in urgent need of being addressed, as the strategy rightly sets out. Secondly, this will require unflinching commitment from Ministers and officials across Whitehall. Thirdly, there is an urgent need to get on with it.

My noble friend is absolutely right: there is no shortage of issues. I have mentioned some that are being changed and some that are on their way to changing, but there are a lot more that need to change and many more that are not in the strategy and need to be covered. As the Prime Minister said when he launched the strategy, this is just a “down payment”—this is just the beginning—but we are committed. We are making strides, going forward and delivering.

My Lords, last week the Work and Pensions Committee took the highly unusual step of publishing a 2020 research report commissioned by the DWP but, in effect, suppressed by it and ignored by last year’s disability Green Paper. What does the Minister think is the policy implication of that report’s finding that disabled people, totally reliant on benefits, are often unable to meet basic needs, such as food, rent and heating?

I am sorry; I have not read that report. The DWP takes a lot of interest in all these reports and it is important that we look at the issues for disabled people, at all times. But we are spending a record £59 billion on benefits this year to support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. That is 2.5% of GDP. There is another £421 million in the household support fund, so we are putting money into this and supporting disabled people, wherever and whenever we can.

Does the Minister agree that a country’s civilisation is measured by the care and compassion it gives its disabled and vulnerable citizens—a role all too often left to charities with inadequate resources? Charities such as Action for ME work with inadequate resources to improve the lives of those with this debilitating condition. Will the Government conduct a full review of current ME provision, with a view to establishing a national strategy for ME in the UK?

I agree with the noble Lord that charities do a lot in this country, but when the Government work with charities and others in the third sector, we can do more. I will certainly take the question on ME provision to colleagues in the Department of Health to discuss this. I do not know whether they are willing to do a review, but I will ask them to get in touch with the noble Lord.

My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dems. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, wants to speak virtually.

My Lords, disabled people look forward to being consulted properly on the National Disability Strategy; in particular, on more accessible housing for rent, fair benefit assessments and reliable social care. Does the Minister agree and please will she give us timescales?

My Lords, across government, we are talking continually to stakeholders and charities for disabled people, nationally and locally. There is a commitment across government to continue to do that. On housing, DLUHC—as it is now called—has committed that 10% of the 180,000 homes being built in the affordable homes programme will be for supported housing and I think this is extremely important. We are doing all we can. We know that consulting everybody who needs a voice is difficult, but we will continue to do that across government.

I thank my noble friend for her question. It is important that we continue to support children with special educational needs, because, if they get the right education, they can go on to living fulfilling lives. The DfE has put a further £2.6 billion over the next three years into delivering new places and improving existing provision for young people with special educational needs. The DfE is also contributing £9.3 million in the next financial year to train educational psychologists—very important in this field. High-needs funding for children and young people with complex needs is increasing by £1 billion to £9.1 billion in the next financial year.

My Lords, last year, the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report focused on health in coastal communities, noting higher levels of deprivation and disability in these locations. What will the Government do to tackle the levels of multiple need and disability in these communities?

My Lords, I cannot say specifically, but I will certainly write with the answer. Across the whole of this country, there are areas where disability is more of an issue than in others. That is why we have this cross-government strategy, and why we will deliver on it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, wishes to speak virtually, and I think this is a good time to call her.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people with a disability just need a little personal help and assistance to get up and to go to bed, so that, once up, they can reach their full potential? Can the Government make it easier for this help to be forthcoming?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I know that on a very personal level because I have an adult daughter who is disabled and needs exactly that kind of care. I think it is important that we look to how we can do that better, if that is what disabled people in consultations say is necessary. I will take that back to the department.

My Lords, will the Government commit to increase the funding for research into conditions such as ME, which has already been referred to, so that children and adults across the UK can receive the right care and support that they so urgently and desperately need?

I think that, working with the charitable sector, exactly as I said to the noble Lord previously, that is something we should do. I will take that back to my noble friend in the Department of Health.

My Lords, we have heard a great deal from the Minister—and we are all glad to—about money spent on initiatives. What are the Government going to do to bring them together as a coherent whole? At the moment, we suffer from a multitude of schemes and good intentions that do not co-ordinate. A coherent whole is the primary thrust of any successful strategy here.

My Lords, that is exactly what this strategy is all about. That is why, across Government, we have ministerial disability champions meeting quarterly with the Minister for Disabled People, in order to have a co-ordinated strategy for this country to improve the lives of disabled people.

Children: Online Protection


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the new Information Commissioner about the importance of protecting children online.

My Lords, the Government are committed to protecting children online and are in regular contact with the Information Commissioner, whom we welcome to his post. The forthcoming online safety Bill will provide children with world-leading protections from harmful content and activity online, and the Information Commissioner will continue to enforce the safeguards for children’s privacy in the children’s code.

I thank the Minister for that Answer and welcome the recent announcement that the draft online safety Bill will better protect young people from online pornography. Regrettably, the Government have dragged their feet on this, meaning that more young people have been exposed to extreme content than was necessary. A new regime will take several years to come on stream. What consideration is the Minister giving to interim measures to better protect children, including, but not limited to, instructing the Information Commissioner to apply the age-appropriate design code to hosts of adult content?

I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support for the newer measures the Government announced this week. Of course, we will be responding in full to the work of the Joint Committee and the DCMS Select Committee in the other place. We have looked at the draft online safety Bill to respond to the further recommendations and suggestions they have made. However, we have not been inactive in the meantime. In June last year, for example, we published safety by design guidance and a one-stop shop on child online safety, which provided guidance on steps platforms can take to design safer services and protect children. Last July, we published our Online Media Literacy Strategy, which supports the empowerment of users. So we are taking steps, as well as introducing the Bill, which will be coming soon.

My Lords, I also welcome the new commissioner, John Edwards, to his role, and congratulate the Government on this week’s announcement that the online safety Bill will include statutory guidance for privacy-preserving age assurance. Given that, to date, many of the eye-catching changes brought about by the age-appropriate design code, such as safe search and dismantling direct messaging by unknown adults to children, have been rolled out globally, are the Government working with the new commissioner to encourage the UK’s allies and trading partners to adopt the code in other jurisdictions to better enforce its provisions? Does he agree that regulatory alignment between the online safety Bill and the code is essential if we are to keep children safe?

I am very grateful for the noble Baroness’s welcome for the new measures. There is agreement at an international level and within the UK that much more needs to be done to create a safer online environment for children, and the noble Baroness has played a significant part in fostering that agreement. The Information Commissioner has an international team responsible for engaging with data protection and information regulators all over the world. He is himself a former privacy commissioner in New Zealand, while his predecessor worked in this area in Canada, and I think that is to the great benefit of international dialogue. The international team works to ensure that the ICO’s regulatory and other priorities are appropriately reflected in international discussions. Through its work in organisations such as the OECD, the Council of Europe and the Global Privacy Assembly, the ICO also influences work on the interoperability of global data protection regimes.

My Lords, as chairman of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme board, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, in congratulating the Government on the work they are doing in this area. Can the Minister give us an update on the sandbox trial of technologies and an idea of when those trials might reach a conclusion, so that they can be rolled out? This is something that, for proof of age for buying alcohol and children’s online activities, will be an immensely positive step forward and one that is very welcome.

I am grateful to my noble friend for her support for the new measures. I am afraid I do not have details of the specific trial to which she refers, so, if she will permit me, I will write to her with those details.

My Lords, the Government seem to be bringing out their response in tantalising instalments. I can only speculate why, but, as a former member of the Joint Committee alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, I can only welcome what the Government have already announced. There are crucial elements to the control of commercial pornography: first, the age-assurance measures that were set out in the noble Baroness’s Private Member’s Bill, and, secondly, the age-appropriate design code protections for young children. There is, as yet, no indication that the Government have actually accepted the alignment of the age-appropriate design code with the online safety Bill regarding the commercial pornography elements. That is an important factor if we are really going to make sure that young people are safe.

I hope we can continue to please the noble Lord and others with the work that we are doing in this area. The age-appropriate design code will play a key role in delivering protections for children ahead of and alongside the new online safety regulatory framework. We have aligned our approach with the code, which requires companies to apply its standards to protecting children’s personal data where they have assessed that children are likely to access their services. That will provide consistency for companies that may be required to comply with both the code and the provisions of the online safety Bill.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this Bill, perhaps more than any other, demands post-legislative as well as pre-legislative scrutiny? It is terribly important to see that things are really working. I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness.

I certainly agree that the Bill has already benefited from the work of the Joint Committee and all the representations that have been made about it by parliamentarians in both Houses. One of the pre-legislative recommendations was for post-legislative attention, and we will respond to that and all the other recommendations ahead of publishing the Bill.

My Lords, I think the Minister should beware TS Eliot’s:

“Woe unto me when all men praise me!”

There is clearly a direction of travel which is welcomed in the House. Could he assure me that the British Board of Film Classification will be involved in ensuring that this safety legislation is watertight? It has long experience in age verification and other matters that would make it invaluable to whoever will take responsibility for these matters.

The noble Lord makes an important point. We have been speaking to the BBFC and others. The questions which we are addressing through the online safety Bill are not entirely new. The questions of access and how we can protect children, in particular, are ones that we have addressed in relation to other media. We are learning from those who have experience as we look to future regulation.

My Lords, I do not bring any praise. Age assurance can be driven through easily by a coach and horses. The noble Baroness asked what further work is being done on facial recognition and the other factors which are now developing with technology. When we reflect on the great difficulties we have with so many areas on security, was it not a disaster, in 2011, when the then newly elected coalition Government threw away the Labour Government’s work on identification of individuals, when this is needed in so many areas? What are the Government doing to look back, reflect on that, change direction and produce proper self-identification for everyone, not just children?

I am not sure that a national identity card scheme would be the right approach in this area. In the decade since, technology has moved on in a number of ways to enable both age verification and age assurance in a lighter touch way that affords the protections we need for children online while respecting the privacy of legitimate adult users.

My Lords, the Government’s announcement acknowledges that porn gives children unrealistic expectations about sex and relationships and encourages misogyny. However, it fails to mention the addictiveness of its consumption up the age range. Are the Government concerned about the effect on adults’ relationships, as is revealed by this worrying research? The Bill is urgently needed, and I join others in asking, because the Bill is urgently needed, when it will be introduced.

I thank my noble friend, too, for his welcome. He raises points about the further potential harms of pornography and, although the strongest protections in the Bill are for children, it looks at the harms that online content can pose to people of all ages. On the time- table: it remains our intention to introduce the updated Bill in the coming weeks and to respond formally to the Joint Committee and to the Select Committee in the other place at the same time as the Bill is published.

Covid-19: Lateral Flow Tests


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many COVID-19 lateral flow tests are awaiting approval under the Medical Devices (Coronavirus Test Device Approvals (Amendment) Regulations 2021; how many have been approved; and how many that already hold Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approval will fall if not re-approved by the extended deadline of 28 February.

I am sorry, this is a 2.45 am hang- over. Lateral flow devices from 20 CTDA applications are currently included on the temporary protocol. If we interpret the phrase “Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approval” as CE marking, we are currently considering proposals to ensure the continued supply and usage of tests beyond 28 February and will announce plans once a decision has been confirmed.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response despite the late hour of last night’s debate. I am concerned that the information I have is that there are still 200 tests waiting, 46 have been assessed and validated at Porton Down, and the process is not well-aligned with the MHRA processes. What is being done to bring those processes back in line? What is being done to bring forward applications from devices that provide a differential diagnosis between Covid and influenza? These are already being used in Europe, but I understand that none are available in the UK because they have been held up in the validation process.

I should perhaps start with some background on this and why we have reached the situation we are in. Her Majesty’s Government began the large-scale procurement of Covid-19 test kits at the height of the pandemic. To ensure supplies for the universal testing offer, Porton Down assesses tests offered to Government. It found that three-quarters of those offered failed to meet their stated performance in their instructions for use. For most testing technology, the manufacturer needed only to do self-assessment to meet the CE marking rules, but clearly, when they were tested, they were not meeting those standards. We considered that the current standard was insufficient and did not keep bad tests off the market. That is why we had a public consultation in April that showed strong support for a more rigorous regime. In terms of avoiding a cliff edge, as it were, if they have not been validated, we are looking at solutions.

My Lords, reports indicate that the Government are seeking to implement testing only in health care settings and for the most vulnerable people, along with stopping the requirement to self-isolate if a person has Covid-19, in the next two weeks. What evidence from SAGE and NERVTAG do the Government have to show that at present, this is in the best public health interest of the country?

My Lords, for some time I have been testing every day and use testing kits that I acquire online and pay for from the same manufacturers that the Government use to distribute free tests. Why are those tests not registerable through the Government website, so that you can get an email confirmation of a negative test? The QR codes are not recognised if you buy tests yourself.

I must say to my noble friend that I was not aware of that, and therefore I will have to go back to the department. If he could write to me about that, I will be happy to respond.

My Lords, can the Minister say how many British companies are caught in this and waiting for approval? Can he also say how many billions of pounds we have spent importing these tests from China?

I will try my best to answer the questions, but if I do not, I hope the noble Lord will accept a written response. Some 25% of approved devices are from UK manufacturers, but it is important, as a fair and neutral regulator of market access that all applicants are treated equally. The Government are working to review applications for devices submitted by the process. At the same time, while we want to make sure that the British tests are of the highest standard, we are determined to harness the power of the UK’s leading diagnostic industry. We will continue to be enormously engaged with UK manufacturers and trade bodies to support a thriving domestic diagnostic industry.

My Lords, I wish the Minister a speedy recovery. He has been working late hours and deserves our total sympathy. I wonder, however, whether he could give us some indication of how much was wasted in preferential procurement of this kind of equipment. How much has all the equipment that is now out of date and has to be destroyed cost? I do not blame him for any of it, because he has relatively recently become a Minister, but will we have some kind of inquiry into preferential procurement and the wastage of all this equipment?

It is interesting that an earlier question asked if we are looking at British-based manufacturers. We want to be very careful that there is no preference, it is all based on merit and we have tests that meet all standards. To answer the question about the wider procurement process, there was a Question last week when I gave some detailed answers about the write-down of some of the value. We bought some of that equipment at the height of the market when people were desperately trying to buy equipment all over the world. Ships were being redirected en route when people thought they were receiving goods. That is why we paid the market price at the time.

My Lords, there is still the occasionally ping heard. Can the Minister bring us up to date with how many people are still employed on Test and Trace and what the total cost has been so far?

My Lords, in addition to the need to improve the approval process for lateral flow tests, when can we expect to see a real plan for living well with Covid? Will this include proper provision for better sick pay, improved testing and those who are clinically vulnerable.

Clearly, the noble Baroness raises a number of important considerations for when we come up with a living with Covid strategy. At the moment, we are consulting on it to make sure that we have an appropriate strategy that covers many of the issues she referred to.

My Lords, am I right in thinking that my noble friend said that 25% of the testing kits are made in this country? Does it follow from that that the other 75% are made in China, or is there a wider field of manufacture?

As far as I am aware, they are from other countries; I do not know the exact figure for China. The suppliers that have been chosen have passed our protocol and meet the requirements of the procurement framework. It is really important that we have a rigorous standard, given that we found that many of the tests did not meet the instructions for use, as they claimed. We want a testing regime that is not only one of the best in the world but also very well trusted, especially if we are looking at using home testing for future diagnostics to identify more diseases and viruses, rather than waiting for people to go into hospital.

My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s announcement that in a couple of weeks, people will no longer have to isolate, what can the Minister say to those who have been shielding for all this time and who are now terrified that if they go out of their door, they will meet someone who is positive, so they will have to stay at home? Are their lives not as valuable as those of the rest of us?

I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate that you always have to get the right balance. There will be those who do not want to stay at home and who want to return as quickly as possible, and you also have to consider the wider economy. We cannot shut down the whole economy for a small section of people. What we have to do is make sure that they are looked after. I have recently seen a submission about what we are going to do in future with people who are now termed clinically vulnerable and extremely vulnerable, and we will be publishing that in detail. In fact, just recently I approved a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

My Lords, will the Government learn the lesson of Covid and look at supply chains and the need to stockpile equipment in the future?

I could bore for Britain on supply chains. It was one of the academic subjects that I looked at, globally. As we become more economically efficient and supply chains become more efficient, they become more brittle. We saw how the shops were affected by lockdown and by China, and much of the manufacturing, as part of that supply chain, started in China. Companies across the world have looked at different options. Some have looked at sourcing elsewhere; some have looked at stockpiling; some have looked at reshoring; but all those options add considerable costs to the supply chain. Some have even looked at intermediary solutions, including warehousing in cheaper countries and then bringing the goods in closer. I am very happy to go on at length to the noble Lord at any time, but not now.

Medical Abortion Pills


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to extend the availability of the home use of pills for early medical abortion.

We are carefully considering all evidence submitted to the Government’s public consultation on whether to make permanent the temporary measure allowing for home use of pills for early medical abortion. We will publish our response as soon as possible and before the end of March to give providers sufficient time to plan for whatever the outcome is.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. The consultation on this finished 12 months ago and the current regulations expire next month. Abortion providers have made it clear that without telemedicine services, we will face enormous demand pressures resulting in longer waiting times, later abortions and even women having to resort to unsafe abortions. It would be very helpful to understand the delay to a permanent decision and why it cannot be reached when the evidence is so clear.

One of the reasons, as my noble friend would acknowledge, is that we had lockdown and then we were let out, and then we had more restrictions. We did not want to announce something and then have to go back on it. All I would say is that it was always intended to be a temporary measure. We have looked at the responses to the consultation in order to reach a decision, and we will be issuing our considerations later.

My Lords, I wish to declare my interest as chair of the trustees of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Following up on the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, I find it very strange that the Government are taking so long to make this decision. The temporary service that was provided for early medical abortions comes to an end at the end of next month. The evidence is clear. According to a survey of 50,000 women published in a leading medical journal, telemedical abortion is

“effective, safe, acceptable and improves access to care.”

In these circumstances, what is holding up the Government’s decision? It seems obvious that it would be welcomed by doctors involved in the treatment of such women, and by the women who need this care.

As I am sure noble Lords will acknowledge, this is a very sensitive area. Initially, it was meant to be a temporary-only service. If we do decide to respect its temporariness, an extension will probably be made to ensure that the clinics and other medical services have time to adapt before returning to the position before the pandemic.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of a recent study, based on FOI requests to NHS trusts, which revealed that in 2020 more than 10,000 women who took at least one abortion pill at home, provided by the NHS, needed hospital treatment for side-effects? That is equivalent to more than one in 17 women, or 20 women a day, needing hospital treatment. Does the Minister agree that such reports indicate a serious and disturbing lack of understanding by its advocates of the dangers of the telemedical abortion policy?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving the other side of the debate; it shows what a difficult subject this is. Sometimes people dig up the wider debate, but I think we have to be very careful and focus on the issue. This was a service offered to women, and the initial consultation was in person, but we made temporary provision, rightly, during the pandemic to ensure that women were treated with dignity, while appreciating that it had to be done at distance. We have looked at whether this should continue to be temporary or become permanent, and we are still weighing up this difficult decision. I think the debate today shows that there are a number of views, and it is not as simple as either side proposes.

My Lords, the telemedical abortion service has been evaluated separately in England, Wales and Scotland and it has proven to be world leading. The US Food and Drug Administration has recently approved telemedical abortion care in America on the basis of the UK studies. Does the Minister agree that women’s access to safe, high-quality abortion care in the UK should be non-negotiable?

I do not think that is in question. There is no doubt that women should have access to abortion services and to the right advice, but as the noble Baroness who spoke earlier indicated, there are some concerns and risks. We have to consider all the factors. Of course, it would be wonderful for some people if it was made easier and was available online; others say you must be prepared for the risks. Whatever happens, if something goes wrong, I am sure that the noble Baroness and others would be back here questioning why we did what we did.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Have the Government considered the evidence from Imperial College London—indeed, from my own laboratory—showing that most human embryos are born with abnormalities which are potentially lethal, and they usually die? They are then aborted by the same process which this Bill causes, only at a later stage of pregnancy. This method of natural abortion, which occurs all the time, is mostly without symptoms to the woman: they do not even know that they have lost an embryo. It is safe and does not cause the medical complications which invariably happen with a late abortion, which a woman is then committed to. What are the Government going to do about this, firmly, to make it avoidable in future?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for informing me about that—it is something I have learned today. I will take it back and consider what he has said. To return to the Question, when we made this measure it was clear that it was supposed to be temporary. Will have consulted and will look at the consultation and decide what we will do. If we do go back to what it was like before, we will make sure there is a sufficient period to ensure there is no cliff edge.

My Lord, to return to the original Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, may I respectfully suggest that the Minister is trying to defend the indefensible? The evidence is quite clear about the safety of the procedure. We can have a debate about alternative views, but the evidence from other countries which routinely use this method of treatment is clear: it is safe and more convenient for women, and it should be implemented immediately. Will he take this back to the Department of Health?

I think the noble Lord is being slightly unfair. It is a complicated issue and not as simple as people make out. The noble Baroness said that we should be aware of dangers. These are the issues that we considered during the consultation. Whatever we do, we will be criticised— rightly so—but we want to make sure that when we make a decision it is the right decision.

My Lords, RCOG data has shown that complications related to abortion have decreased since the telemedicine for EMA service was introduced. The college has warned that failure to make it permanent could lead to more women accessing an illegal abortion. NICE has recommended the service as best practice, so does not its future urgently need to be secured by making it permanent? It does not have to be temporary.

As I said, we are looking at the consultation carefully and considering all views. If we made it permanent, there would be lots of criticism, which we have to be aware of and make sure that we have the answers for. If we continue to expect it to be temporary, there will be plenty of criticism. Whatever we do, we will be damned, but we are going to try our best.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, talked about convenience of telemedicine for women. The fact is that women from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are three times as likely to need an abortion as those from the wealthiest backgrounds. It is not just an issue of convenience. It is a question of whether childcare is available and affordable; whether someone has a zero-hours contract job and cannot afford to take time off; or whether someone does not have access to public transport. This is very much an equalities issue—that abortion is available to every woman who needs it.

I agree with that statement but it is not what the Question is about. The Question is about a temporary measure that was put in place and whether it should be made permanent. It involves the consideration of difficult issues, including ethical issues, and we want to make sure that when we come to a decision, it is justified.

Does the Minister accept that, as this provision is medically supported by all the experts, this decision is a political one that discriminates against women and is not based on sound medical evidence?

First, I remind the noble Baroness that we have not made a decision. I completely refute the allegation. It is unfair but I expect that, whatever we do on this issue, people will refer to the wider debate and accusations will fly around. I accept that, but we will concentrate on looking at the data and the consultation and make a decision.

Learning Disabilities (Access to Services) Bill [HL]

First Reading

A Bill to make provision for a review of access for people with learning disabilities to healthcare and other services, to make provision for a review of the provision of learning disability services across Government, to make associated provision for the reform of such services, to provide a statutory code of practice on the public sector equality duty for public bodies for matters relating to learning disabilities and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Wigley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

North Sea Oil and Gas

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 9 February.

“There will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years. It is a clear choice between a transition that secures our energy, protects jobs and leads to innovation in new technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen, and an extinction for our energy sector, as I think the honourable Lady proposes. Flicking a switch and turning off our domestic source of gas overnight would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports. The way we produce oil and gas is cleaner than in many jurisdictions, so it would be illogical to import them at further expense to Britain and our planet.

The fields referred to in these reports are already licensed, some dating back to as early as 1970, and are now going through the usual regulatory processes. All proposals are subject to a rigorous scrutiny process prior to consent, as opposed to licensing, by our expert regulators, including an environmental impact assessment and a public consultation. No decisions have been taken by the regulators, so it would be inappropriate to comment further on that process. However, to be clear, continued support for Britain’s oil and gas sector is not just compatible with our net-zero goals; it is essential if we are to meet the ambitious targets we set for ourselves while protecting jobs and livelihoods.

As announced last year, and forming part of the North Sea transition deal, we will introduce a climate compatibility checkpoint for any new licences to ensure that any future licensing rounds remain consistent with our goals. Meanwhile, we continue to make progress on developing new nuclear, which I think the honourable Lady also opposes, and renewables that will power our future. Today, we have announced that we are ramping up our options for our flagship renewable scheme, contracts for difference, establishing new industries, boosting investment and creating jobs in our former industrial heartlands.”

My Lords, the energy price crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. This means we must go further and faster on zero-carbon energy, energy efficiency and clean energy storage. In their White Paper, the Government said that they would

“develop the existing checkpoints in our processes before proceeding with future licensing rounds.”

How is what the Government said yesterday consistent with that approach? Further, can the Minister explain whether he believes that any licensing decisions must be compatible with keeping warming to 1.5 degrees and how the Government will make that assessment?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. She is right: we intend to introduce a climate-compatibility checkpoint for all new licences, which will be used to assess whether any future licensing rounds remain in keeping with our climate goals.

My Lords, in Q3 of last year, which is the last time for which data is available, exports from the UK North Sea were double those of the period in the previous year. At the same time, Ministers were reported to be scrabbling to Kuwait to secure extra supplies of LNG to the UK to meet the energy crisis. This is very counterintuitive. Does the Minister agree that shipping expensive—in environmental terms—LNG from the Middle East, rather than using gas that comes from our doorstep, is not sensible or good for the planet? Will he tell your Lordships’ House how the Government will turn that around and make better use of the resources we already have and are already producing?

First, I agree with the noble Lord that it is much more sensible to use our own domestic resources, rather than LNG. However, the reality is that, throughout this period, the UK remains a net importer of oil and gas. Therefore, it makes no sense to pursue the operations he is proposing. We do not produce enough of our own domestic energy. We are expanding our renewable capacity massively and have the largest developments of offshore wind in the world. We need to go further and faster, but it makes no sense to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and cut off imports and exports.

My Lords, in running down North Sea oil and gas for climate purposes, is it not vital to ensure that supply does not shrink so fast that it falls behind continued demand, with the resulting price explosions in all the fossil fuels that we see now, which are causing such misery and crisis?

I totally agree with my noble friend. I know he speaks with great authority on this matter as a former Energy Minister. As I just said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, we remain a net importer. Production from the North Sea is sadly declining. We need to make sure that we ramp up our renewable capacity as quickly as possible, but it remains a fact that we will still have demand for oil and gas during the transition. If we have that demand, it makes sense to produce this domestically rather than importing it from other, unstable, parts of the world.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether decisions on these matters are within the total competence of the United Kingdom Government? Is there any way that the Scottish Government could thwart them?

No, these decisions remain a matter for the UK Government. The noble Lord makes a good point. It is sad to see the reaction of the Scottish Government in not being totally supportive of the tremendously successful North Sea oil and gas fields which, as well as employing thousands of people in good, well-paid jobs, also contribute large amounts to the UK taxpayer.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether the Government are reviewing their position on fracking?

No, we are not reviewing our position, is the short answer to my noble friend’s question. Let me explain this issue: there is currently a moratorium on fracking because of the tremendous seismological damage that it caused. We remain open to reviewing this if it can be demonstrated that fracking can go ahead in a safe and responsible manner, but nobody should run away with the idea that this could be a solution to our problems. The quantities produced would be relatively small and they would not impact on the current high prices and it would be many years, perhaps even decades, before significant quantities could come on stream, even if we overcame all of the environmental problems and gave the go-ahead tomorrow.

My Lords, a previous question was about why we are exporting something that we desperately need in the UK. People cannot understand why we are still exporting, when there is a shortage and we are having difficulties getting supplies in the UK. Can the Minister explain it?

Yes, I realise that it is counterintuitive but supplies are required in different parts of the country. We are importing and exporting. The corollary to the noble Lord’s question would be to say that we seal the borders, disconnect all our interconnection pipelines and import no further LNG—and we would not have enough supplies to satisfy our domestic demand in such circumstances. We import and we export, but the point remains that we are a net importer of both oil and gas supplies.

Bearing in mind that the four Governments previous to this one have ignored the role of nuclear—that appears to be the situation—can my noble friend assure this House that we will now see what useful role nuclear can play in giving us, in a sense, a defensive supply?

Indeed, my noble friend makes a very good point. The House will shortly have the opportunity to consider the Nuclear Financing Bill, which has its Second Reading on 21 February, I believe.

The Government agree—do they not?—that the actions of President Putin show that the whole of the West needs to increase the priority it gives to energy security. New nuclear must be part of that, but it should cause us to rethink some of the finely calibrated decisions on fossil fuels here in the UK if it can mean extra security for our western partners.

The noble Lord makes an excellent point. Regarding energy, first, it takes many years to develop new sources—sometimes even tens of years—and, secondly, we need diversity of supply. Yes, we need continued oil and gas production during the transition period; yes, we need to encourage new renewables; and, yes, we need to encourage nuclear. We need a diverse mixture of supplies.

My Lords, can I press the Minister? People have stressed the importance of reliable domestic energy sources. In response to the question on fracking, the Minister raised all sorts of problems of safety and so on. These are contentious but could it be possible for the Government to lift the moratorium or at least commit themselves to looking again at this important issue? Nobody suggests that shale gas will solve all the problems but in an energy crisis that is really serious, we want to look at nuclear, fracking and all reliable energy sources. Fossil fuels should not be demonised so that we move away from them, and safety fears should not be used to stop what would be sensible for the British economy.

The noble Baroness makes some good points. As I said in response to my noble friend earlier, we keep these matters under review. If it can be demonstrated that fracking can be carried out in a safe and reliable manner, then of course we need to consider it. But we have to be realistic about this: it is not going to be the answer to our short-term difficulties. In preparation for this, I was chatting to some specialist officials and they said it could easily be 10 years—even if we got rid of the moratorium tomorrow and overcame all the environmental problems that were caused—before any fracked gas came on stream.

My Lords, the oil companies, including BP and Shell, have been making record profits. Yet for their North Sea operations they have had a negative tax rate for several years. Given the current circumstances, might the Government re-examine the fiscal regime in the North Sea? Can the Minister tell the House?

Of course, I leave all tax decisions to the Chancellor. But, again, I think that the noble Baroness is wrong and looking at this too simplistically. First, most of the profits announced by the companies in recent days were made in worldwide operations; a very small percentage came from British domestic production. Secondly, it was only last year or the year before that they were making net losses; I do not remember the noble Baroness or others saying that we should give them taxpayer support. Thirdly, where do these profits go? First, they pay more corporation tax and, secondly, they go to UK pension funds, shareholders and people who need that income to help them though the crisis. There are no easy answers; the idea that there is some magical, mythical pot of money that we can just extract from to solve all of our problems is not true, I am afraid.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 11 January be approved.

Relevant document: 27th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 6 January be approved.

Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 14 December 2021 be approved.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Proxy Vote Applications) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 10 January be approved.

Relevant documents: 27th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Non-Domestic Rating (Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 10 January be approved.

Relevant document: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Waste and Agriculture (Legislative Functions) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 January be approved.

Relevant document: 27th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Organ Tourism and Cadavers on Display Bill [HL]

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been tabled to the Bill and no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Nationality and Borders Bill

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

Amendment 151D

Moved by

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 againthat 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.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but how does he see what he is saying as compatible with the statutory guidance issued only this month?

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 am not denying any stories. I set out statistics earlier on which were absolutely from the real world, and that is the issue that we are dealing with.

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.

Does the noble Lord not accept that 24% of modern slavery cases are UK nationals and have nothing to do with what the Conservative Party put in its manifesto?

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”.

The noble Lord is absolutely right, which is why I was making the point about it being a fundamental extension of the legal aid system, which is uncosted.

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

Amendment 156

Moved by

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, 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—”

the guidance.

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?

Indeed, it was excellent. That is why I raised it—because I wonder what has happened to it. As I say, I find the suggestion made in Amendment 173 intriguing, and I hope that it will be taken very seriously.

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.

I was not there for that, but it seemed to me that it was worth repeating, if I may put it clearly.

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.

I thank the Minister for all of that, and the commitment to 45 days. Why does it say 30 days in the Bill? Have I got that wrong?

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.

So there is an absolute commitment to 45 days for the gap between reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds, even though legislation which we are going to pass says 30 days?

The noble Lord shrugged his shoulders, but I repeat that the justification for this is to align with our international obligations with our partners in ECAT.

My Lords, this did not stop us passing the Modern Slavery Act, which was ahead of the rest of the world.

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 friend for that, and I beg the pardon of the noble and learned Baroness for not addressing her question directly. If she is content, I will have that expressed in writing to her.