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Support for Migrant Victims

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2023

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Sharpe of Epsom on 1 December 2022 (HL Deb col 1869), what progress they have made in evaluating the pilot of the Support for Migrant Victims scheme; and when, if at all, they intend to rescind their reservation on Article 59 of the European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention).

My Lords, we are carefully considering the findings of the support for migrant victims scheme pilot evaluation to inform any future policy decisions. Once we have considered all the evidence in the round, we will communicate our decision on the Article 59 reservation.

While I thank the Minister for his reply, it is practically identical to the one that he gave me on 1 December last year. How long does it take to evaluate a pilot scheme? This has been going on now for more than two years. How much longer is it going to take and, when it is accepted, will he report back to the House so that the Government can then consider removing the reservation on Article 59?

I thank the noble Baroness for her praise for my consistency. I do not know when the consideration will be completed but, as soon as it is, I shall of course report back to the House on all the matters that she has raised.

For as long as the Government take to come to a view on this, there will be thousands of women—mainly women—living in desperate situations and forced to live with their abusers. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report and the feedback have been very thorough and the recommendations are very clear—and, as the noble Baroness said, this has been going on for some time now. As the commissioner said:

“We urgently need to put safety before immigration status when it comes to domestic abuse victims”.

Do the Government now agree?

My Lords, the first thing that I would say is that the pilot may have concluded but the scheme is still in operation and is continuing to be funded. We are providing a further £1.4 million a year until 2024-25 to continue to support the migrant victims scheme, so the circumstances that the noble Baroness describes are certainly not the case. We have read and, obviously, published the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report, and we will respond to that in full very soon.

My Lords, noble Lords will know that sometimes the evaluation of schemes takes a long time and there has to be not only an evaluation but a consultation. Could my noble friend the Minister go into a bit more detail on who has to be consulted and what particular issues there are, and why it is taking so long to be evaluated?

Yes, I can. The experts have given evidence from within the sector, and we have also looked at evidence from police representatives and a variety of others. As I say, I cannot answer the question as to why it has taken so long, but it is good that the evidence is being considered in full and, as I say, I shall follow up with a full report as soon as we have a response to publish.

My Lords, which aspect of Article 59 do the Government have a concern about? Noble Lords will remember that this is about migrant women who are victims of violence, but it is not carte blanche to give them all residence; it is very carefully caveated. I remind noble Lords that it is where the competent authority considers that it is necessary in order to get them to co-operate with law enforcement. Can the noble Lord help me a little with what the problem is?

In response to the noble Baroness’s question, it is important to note that we are far from alone in this. As noble Lords will be aware, the majority of countries that have ratified the Istanbul convention have reservations on one or more of the 81 clauses. In the case of Article 59, I think there are 12 other countries that still have reservations. We have made it very clear that our compliance position on Article 59 is under review, pending the support for migrant victims scheme evaluation. Our reservation is without prejudice to the policy conclusions that we reach in the light of this evaluation. I cannot really go further than that at the moment, but I will come back to the noble Baroness and the rest of the House as soon as I possibly can.

Does the Minister accept that in the current hostile environment towards migration, women whose immigration status depends on their husband are under even greater pressure to remain in possibly violent relationships?

I am afraid I do not accept the hostile environment remark. What I should say with regard to the situation the noble Baroness describes, which I think comes down to data sharing and the firewall situation that often gets raised here, is that both the police and immigration enforcement share a commitment to safeguard individuals they encounter. We acknowledge that data sharing between the police and the Home Office can be a contributing factor that can influence the decisions of migrant victims not to report a crime and that perpetrators can sometimes use the victim’s immigration status to exert fear or control, but that will inform the migrant victims protocol which is due to be published at the end of this year.

My Lords, was this not meant to be one of the flagships of the Conservative Government? Tackling violence against women is claimed by a lot of people to be a really important theme of Conservative policy, and I would like to know why the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is not getting an answer sooner. Could not the Minister at least give us some reasons? He says he does not know the reasons: could he not look into this so that we do not have to have another Question about this next week? The International Agreements Committee was very concerned about this. The case of migrant workers has been made: they are in a very vulnerable position.

My Lords, I say to the noble Earl that we ratified the convention and that was the point behind the reservation: we would have been unable to ratify if we had not laid a reservation against Article 59. I also say that in most respects we go further that, or are at least fully compliant with, all the other aspects of the Istanbul convention. We go further, for example, on issues like FGM and stalking protection orders. So I do not really accept the noble Earl’s premise, I am afraid.

My Lords, last year the Domestic Abuse Commissioner stated that it is likely that 32,000 victims who have no recourse to public funds will require support each year. As the noble Lord has just said, the Government announced a further £1.4 million to extend support for migrant victims in the coming year. How many people does the Minister think that will support? For his information, I will be seeing the Domestic Abuse Commissioner next Tuesday, so it would be very good to be able to supply her with the answer to my question.

I know that the pilot helped 425 victims and, since the ongoing scheme has been extended, 950 in total—including those 425—have been helped. Those are the main figures that I have at the moment. The “no recourse to public funds” policy is based on the principle that access to state support should reflect a migrant’s strength of connection to the UK. Immigration policy is clear that migrants coming to the UK should be able to provide for themselves financially without relying on benefits from the state. Access to public funds is normally granted only to those who have been given indefinite leave to remain. However, other support is available to migrants who have suffered domestic abuse through destitute domestic violence concessions—three months’ crisis support through which individuals can access safe accommodation and public funds—and through the domestic violence indefinite leave to remain route.

My Lords, Mary Tudor said that, when she died, “Calais” would be engraved on her heart. When the Home Secretary moves to higher realms, will “In due course” be engraved on hers?

My Lords, it is impossible to follow that question, so I will follow the question from the Cross Benches. Does the Minister agree that it is very important that the Home Secretary, Ministers in the other place and officials in his department know the views of Members of the House of Lords? My noble friend Lady Gale raised this six months ago. What representations or pressure has the Minister made to or put on the various Home Secretaries we have had in that period, and their officials, about the views of the House of Lords? After today, will he go back and say, “Baroness Gale has raised this again; she has the support of the House and something should be done about it”?

Noble Lords can rest assured that I will take this back. However, I have heard in many debates in the House in recent weeks calls for more evidence. The fact is that we have evidence and we are considering it carefully. Noble Lords should applaud that.

There is a degree of urgency in this that the Minister is not acknowledging. We do not ratify Article 59 because it is still the Government’s policy that, other than those who benefit from the little pilot scheme, local authorities are not allowed to permit migrant women who are subject to domestic abuse to access shelters. This disgrace is going on and we should stop it as soon as possible.

My Lords, I have just outlined some of the other options available to the migrant women the noble Lord describes. They are far from without support. As I have alluded to, there is also a migrant victims protocol detailing other aspects of the work being done that will be published towards the end of this year.