With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 24, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 1 to 5.
Lords amendment 6, and manuscript amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendment 7, and manuscript amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 8, and manuscript amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendments 9 to 15 and 17.
Lords amendment 19, and manuscript amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 20 to 23 and 25 to 36.
This group covers the remaining aspects of the Bill. I will focus on Lords amendments 16 and 24 at the outset, which, as has been highlighted, infringe financial privilege.
Lords amendments 16 and 24 require the appointment of a guardian to represent the interests of children when there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are the victims of cross-border trafficking. The Government wholeheartedly share the noble Lords’ intention to protect and support that incredibly vulnerable group of children. Supporting victims, including children, is at the heart of everything that we are seeking to achieve through the draft Modern Slavery Bill. That Bill aims to tackle the appalling crimes of human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude. Those crimes are quite separate from the matters that are dealt with in the Immigration Bill. In our judgment, it would be wrong and unhelpful to conflate the two.
Before I came to this place, I spent nearly a decade working with trafficked children. These matters are not separate at all, because many trafficked children come through the immigration system and often, the only state official they come into contact with is a member of the UK Border Agency. These matters are as one and the Immigration Bill is a fitting place to provide support and protection for such children.
I agree with the hon. Lady that immigration can be a relevant factor and that it relates to a number of the issues that are involved in trafficking. From visiting charities and meeting victims of trafficking, I understand the compelling stories and issues that they raise. However, at its heart, trafficking is organised crime. Sometimes, when it is viewed simply in the context of immigration, significant aspects of the level of organisation and criminality involved can be missed, as can trafficking within the UK. That is why we judge it important to recognise the broader context so that the solutions that are provided are comprehensive and address all the issues involved. The Government’s approach of seeking to understand that broader context and the organised criminality involved has gained support from non-governmental organisations, charitable organisations and others.
Consensus is also being gained across the House, because we recognise that victims of child trafficking need specialist and dedicated support and that the current provision of support for those children can be patchy and inconsistent. That was why I announced in January our intention to trial specialist independent advocates for victims of child trafficking. The trial was due to start on
The Government consider that the role of our specialist independent advocates is almost entirely aligned with that of the guardian set out in Lords amendment 16, with two important deviations. First, the Lords amendment would extend the provision of guardianship to adults up to the age of 21, whereas our advocates will instead focus on the needs of children, including those who may be involved in an age-related dispute.
Secondly, the Lords amendment would apply only to victims of cross-border trafficking. The evil of child trafficking extends not only to those who are trafficked across our borders but to children who are trafficked within the UK, as the horrific sexual exploitation of girls in Rochdale and Oxford has shown. That is why our specialist independent advocates will offer support to all victims of child trafficking, not just those trafficked across our borders. [Interruption.] Lisa Nandy is making her point from a sedentary position, but I genuinely do not think that there should be a difference between us on this point. There is a genuine desire to address the issue in its broadest sense and understand it effectively and properly. I know that members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill are here this afternoon, and they have made an enormous contribution to the consideration of these matters. I do not want to get drawn into a broader debate this afternoon—I hope there will be plenty of further time for that—but I believe that there is a growing unity of view across the House on the need to act and the way in which we should approach this issue.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is trying to look at broader issues of children’s welfare; perhaps I would welcome that even more from the children’s Minister.
There is a particular issue for children who come into this country from overseas concerning their immigration status. Quite often, the reason we do not get trafficking prosecutions and do not really tackle this awful crime is that we do not treat the victims properly. Children who are accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 do not have anybody with parental responsibility to instruct their lawyer, which is why this debate really matters.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and for her genuine passion and concern for the welfare and well-being of an incredibly vulnerable group of children. We are taking forward our pilots of child advocates so that we can ensure that there is support for those children, and we must not take lightly our responsibility for protecting them. However, having tested the model of advocacy, we do not want to risk putting in place a model that would fail to deliver safety for that group in a practical way.
I am not sure there is a dispute between the Minister and my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy on the issue. If the model that the Minister advocates were to go ahead, it would cover both trafficked children and those who are not technically trafficked but are pushed around and sold in this country. For many of us, the nub of the debate is whether the Government will meet the spirit of the Lords amendment, which is not only to give permission for the Government to go ahead with the pilots but to see whether the scheme will be rolled out universally when the results of the pilots are known.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention, for his work in chairing the Joint Committee and scrutinising the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and for the report that has been produced. The Government are considering that report carefully and will respond in due course.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there should not be dispute on this issue. There might, however, be a difference of emphasis—perhaps I might characterise it like that—between me and the hon. Member for Wigan on why I believe the Immigration Bill is the wrong place to deal with this issue in a broad sense. We are, of course, reviewing work on that initial assessment of when children present to different agencies, and the way that EU children and non-EU children are dealt with differently in the system. We are examining that carefully and scrutinising the way the system operates at the moment. I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady by recognising that we should consider carefully issues such as initial identification and the way that different agencies highlight children through that system, as well as the way the system operates and responds, and the different times taken to make an initial determination. It is important that such work is conducted, and it has been commenced by the Government.
In a practical sense, it is important to bring agencies together and to shine a light, as I characterise it, on crimes that have largely been in the darkness. Vulnerable individuals have not been highlighted and brought to attention, and we need greater recognition of the serious criminality involved, and the appalling exploitation and trade in human misery that underpins so many of the dreadful actions we see.
We believe that Parliament has already considered the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and that when the full Bill is presented that will be the right place to address the issues highlighted by the Lords. The full Bill will include an enabling power to ensure that we have the opportunity to test and assess fully the child trafficking advocate role through a trial, before setting in stone its specific functions. By taking that approach we will achieve what is essentially our collective ultimate aim: to give children who have been subjected to this appalling crime the best chance of dealing with the trauma of their experiences.
I have two questions for the Minister on this important point. I do not think anyone disputes that it might be better for such provision to be part of the Modern Slavery Bill, but the question is about what the Government will transfer to that Bill. The measure passed by their lordships was not to interrupt the Government’s pilots—they are all in favour of those—but to ensure that once the results of those pilots are through, there will be a statutory basis on which to make the service universal when public expenditure allows that movement to occur. Can the Minister give the House that assurance?
As I have indicated, our intention is to introduce an enabling power. We will provide a statutory basis for the child trafficking advocate role in the Modern Slavery Bill, which we will be in a position to inform through the trials that are due to start in July. Our concern is that the Lords amendment as currently framed would put those trials at risk—we do not see how the trials could commence if the current provisions are maintained. I hope that by assuring the right hon. Gentleman about the Government’s intention to provide that statutory basis, he will understand that that enabling power will provide the underpinning for further work, which can properly be informed by the results of the trials that will start in the summer.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because this issue is so important. He is proposing that, if we do not oppose their lordships’ changes, he is offering in return the trials and, when we have learnt from the trials, a statutory basis for the service. Is that what the Government want to be in the draft Modern Slavery Bill?
Clearly, having announced the trials at the end of January, I want to see them proceed. It is important that we test the service and the system, which is patchy and not as consistent as I want it to be. Equally, some local authorities provide good services and it is important that we recognise that and learn from them. We want an enabling provision in the draft Modern Slavery Bill to be the bedrock that provides the mechanism, which can be informed by the trials that I want to happen, that can be acted on and be the statutory underpinning that allows it to be developed through the experience of the trials. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will find that helpful in underlining the Government’s commitment not simply to provide a statutory mechanism through that enabling provision, but to deliver practical action. The most important thing is that we provide support, advice and guidance for this extraordinarily vulnerable group, and that we ensure they are supported through the system. That is what matters most.
The trials are intended to be conducted in 23 areas, commencing at the beginning of July. We have not, at this stage, set an end point for the duration of the trials, but I want evidence and feedback that can inform the consideration of an enabling power in any modern slavery Bill that comes forward. A statutory mechanism will ensure that the trials can commence and that we can learn and benefit directly from them, enabling a statutory underpinning of the optimum provision.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again on such an important issue. The statutory underpinning for advocates is welcome. I want to check that they will be provided for children who are suspected of being victims of trafficking before they have to go through the very difficult process and jump through those hoops to be deemed a victim of trafficking. It is that process that children find very hard to get through. Will advocates be provided at the point at which concerns are raised that the child may be a victim of trafficking, rather than at the point when they have been deemed by the system to be a victim of trafficking?
Under the arrangements, each child victim is to be allocated a person with specialist training and expertise in trafficking. They will provide dedicated support and guidance to ensure that the child’s voice is heard. That is often the biggest challenge when there are so many different obstacles, such as language and the trauma the child has gone through. It is intended that the advocates will provide a single point of contact through the care and immigration process and will be responsible for promoting the child’s safety and well-being. That is particularly important in relation to the risk of children being re-trafficked, which is a significant concern. Children have disappeared and the worry is that they have been re-trafficked into slavery.
The scope of the work is being developed further. I note what the hon. Lady has said about initial identification and support throughout the subsequent process. I would expect the trials to involve thorough and appropriate tests, in accordance with the optimal periods during which interventions can take place. I would also expect appropriate support to be provided for children who have come forward and are waiting for an initial assessment of the prima facie evidence relating to whether or not they have been trafficked. I recognise the genuine concern that has been expressed by Members and others about the provision of support, and I hope that my assurances will enable the House to support the Government in disagreeing with the Lords amendments.
If a child was brought into this country and an immigration officer suspected that the child was being slaved, could the child be referred to the advocate at that point so that the advocate would have a chance of separating the child and a slavemaster?
Let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Member for Wigan, that all children who are dealt with by means of the national referral mechanism—with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar—will be provided with advocates as soon as they are identified as suspected victims of trafficking. We intend appropriate support to be provided as soon as children have been referred.
Let me now deal with Lords amendments 1 to 4. When the Bill left this House, clause 1 provided for regulations specifying, first, who would count as a family member for the purpose of removal and secondly, the arrangements for giving notice of removal. The power to make regulations is exercisable by statutory instrument following the negative resolution procedure.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights asked why the original clause gave discretion over whether family members should be notified of removal when we had clearly stated during a debate that they would always be notified. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee believed that the definition of a family member should be in the Bill, and that delegation was inappropriate. The Lords amendments are designed to address all the concerns raised by the two Committees: they would insert in the Bill the definition of family members, the requirement always to notify them of removal, and the effect of the notice.
The Government have transformed the approach to returning families with children, in line with their commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Lords amendments 5 to 9 and 29 to 34 give legislative effect to our current policies on family returns by putting key elements of the new process into primary legislation. That will guarantee that the fundamental elements of the approach cannot be changed without parliamentary oversight and debate.
First, the amendments prevent families being from removed for 28 days after any appeal against a refusal of leave has been completed. That will ensure that they will always have an opportunity to consider their options and avoid enforced return. Secondly, we are placing the independent family returns panel on a statutory footing: its advice must be sought on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in every family returns case in which return is enforced. Thirdly, we are providing specific legislative protection for unaccompanied children so that they are not held in immigration removal centres when we are trying to return them. Finally, we are providing a separate legal basis for pre-departure accommodation, independent of other removal centres. It will be used only for holding families with children and only within the existing maximum time limits.
I know that my hon. Friend Sarah Teather and others have tabled some manuscript amendments to Lords amendments 6, 7 and 8, which were debated in Committee and again on Report in the other place. I am sympathetic to her intentions and the intentions o those who have supported her manuscript amendments. However, although I understand the motivation, her amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment 6 and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 7 would widen the definition of families in the family returns process and apply the 28-day period during which a child, relevant parent or carer may not be removed or required to leave the UK to parents who do not live with the child as part of a family unit. They would also stipulate that we could only separate a child from their parents for child protection reasons.
These amendments do not reflect the Government’s returns process. We will always seek to ensure that families remain together during their return, but there are exceptional circumstances in which temporary separation may be necessary. For example, where there is a public protection concern or, indeed, a risk to national security, a dangerous individual might not be considered a threat to their own children but could be a risk to the wider public and we would therefore need to remove them as soon as possible which might require a family separation.
Manuscript amendment (a) to Lords amendment 8 would mean no unaccompanied child could be detained under Immigration Act powers. Lords amendment 8 reflects the operational reality that unaccompanied children may need to be held for short periods in transit to a port of departure or at the port awaiting removal. These types of removal are rare, but if we do not hold children safely in very limited circumstances while they are travelling unaccompanied in and out of the UK, we increase the risk that they may come to harm by falling prey to traffickers or even absconding. Lords amendment 8 will ensure that detention is for the shortest possible time.
Lords amendments 10 and 11 deal with appeals, and the Government have reformed appeal rights in this Bill to reduce complexity and provide the most effective and appropriate remedy for all cases. Administrative review will provide a faster and cheaper way of correcting caseworking errors, but Lords amendment 10 provides further assurance. It requires that the Secretary of State commission the independent chief inspector within a year of clause 11 being commenced to prepare a report on administrative review. That report must address the specific concerns raised about the effectiveness and independence of administrative review. Lords amendment 11 makes a technical correction to clause 11(5) which provides that the tribunal may not hear a new matter which the Secretary of State has not considered unless the Secretary of State consents to its doing so.
On the question of administrative review, is it not really a way of avoiding the inconvenience —from the Home Office’s point of view—of a proper appeal where the individual can be properly represented and the whole case be considered? Is it not just another example of trying to get rid of the impediments of any legal appeal system on behalf of the individual?
The administrative review process is already effective in identifying and correcting caseworking errors. From April to December 2013, 93% of these administrative reviews were completed within 28 days, and 21% of the administrative reviews requested resulted in the original decision being overturned. This shows that the review process can provide an effective way of correcting errors, and it does so in a speedy and efficient manner, so that periods of uncertainty are addressed. I do not think it does anyone any good to have long and protracted periods of uncertainty. Indeed, we are in the perverse position of having 17 rights of appeal, which are being reduced to four, to ensure that matters are dealt with effectively and appropriately, supplementing the administrative review process outlined in the Bill.
The Bill also requires landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. That is dealt with in Lords amendments 12 to 15. The scheme includes statutory codes of practice giving the technical detail of how it operates. Lords amendments 12 to 15 address concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to ensure that those codes have parliamentary oversight.
Lords amendments 25 to 28 deal with student accommodation. The Bill already excluded some student halls of residence from the proposed landlord checking requirement. We concluded that there was scope to go further and broaden the exemption for student accommodation. Educational institutions already have a duty to check the immigration status of their international students, and we do not want there to be double-checking of these persons. The changes therefore strike a sensible balance and minimise regulatory burdens on higher education institutions.
Lords Amendments 17, 35 and 36, which were proposed by Lord Avebury in the other place, correct an historical anomaly relating to the treatment of illegitimate children. Nationality law is complex, and anomalies arise, particularly as aspects of family life have changed since the time of the British Nationality Act 1981. In 2006, amendments to the 1981 Act enabled illegitimate children to inherit nationality from a British father in the same way as a legitimate child. Those amendments were not made retrospective. To have done so could have itself caused problems for individuals who were now adult and had made a life for themselves in a different nationality. These amendments enable illegitimate children born to British fathers before 2006 to register as British if they choose to do so, correcting a historical anomaly by providing a route to citizenship for those who want to take it.
I thank the Minister for the Government’s support for these amendments, which I tried to put in the Bill but encountered some technical difficulties. Will he join me in paying tribute to those who campaigned for many years to get this injustice changed? People such as Tabitha Sprague, Antonia Fraser Fujinaga and Maureen Box tried very hard, and the many thousands affected by this will be delighted that the Government are now fixing it.
I recognise those who have made the case for this change for some considerable time, and I am pleased that the Government have been able to support these amendments in the other place. I hope that this House will be equally able to support them here. It is important to recognise that they have addressed an historical anomaly and now allow that opportunity to the individuals affected of a route to citizenship that was not available to them before.
The Minister rightly says that we are dealing with an historical anomaly, and that makes the case for introducing this part of the Bill and commencing it as early as possible. I hope that he can assure the House that he will put his foot on the accelerator to do that, because my constituent whose case prompted Lord Avebury to table these amendments is still stuck in limbo and, like other people, he would like to be able to remedy his situation.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that and I have certainly heard the points she has made.
I know that others wish to speak to their manuscript amendments, but let me just say that Lords amendment 19 clarifies that the Bill does not limit the duty regarding the welfare of children imposed on the Secretary of State or any other person by section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. Under section 55, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for ensuring that her functions in relation to immigration, asylum and nationality are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK. That duty continues to apply, and nothing in the Bill impinges on it.
Lords Amendment 20 relates to some technical changes concerning the bank accounts measures. Lords amendments 21 to 23 respond to recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, ensuring that, where appropriate, affirmative procedure processes apply in respect of certain notices and certain aspects of the sham marriage provisions contained in part 4 of the Bill. I believe that the Lords amendments, with the exception of Lords amendments 16 and 24, improve the provisions, making them clearer and more workable in practice.
I, again, thank the Minister for his helpful introduction to the Government’s position on the Lords amendments. I am here to maintain Her Majesty’s official Opposition’s support for them and wish the Government to reflect on that again during today’s debate. I pay tribute to Baroness Butler-Sloss for tabling her amendments in the other place. I thank my right hon. Friend Mr Field for scrutinising the evidence for the draft Modern Slavery Bill. I have heard what the Minister said about the proposals on a pilot and the enabling power in such a Bill, but I remain unconvinced that that will lead to the action that we want and, indeed, the action that the other place has proposed for consideration.
The House of Lords voted by 282 votes to 184 for the proposed new clause, which received cross-party support. The measure was introduced by Baroness Butler-Sloss and seconded by Lord McColl, who is a member of a Government party. I remind the House that the House of Lords took that action because there were grave concerns that we should take immediate action. The measure had cross-party support and has been cited by my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead.
Child trafficking remains a serious issue. If a relevant child has arrived in the United Kingdom and is a potential victim of trafficking, it is important that, once they are identified, an independent individual can monitor and represent the child’s best interests and support them in a defined role. The Lords amendment details a number of key functions for the child trafficking guardian. Those functions could be tested by the pilots that the Minister is examining, and they would give statutory legal backing to a range of issues, including responsibilities to advocate that all decisions relating to the child are made in the child’s best interests, to look at the statutory role to ascertain the child’s wishes and to ensure that the child receives appropriate care, safe accommodation, medical treatment, psychological assistance and education, translation and interpretation services. Those are all positive and, in my view, necessary requirements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough spoke about legal access and representation, which are equally important. Advice on legal rights is extremely important, as is keeping the child informed of relevant immigration, criminal, compensation, community care and public law proceedings. We must ensure that we contribute to the identification of a durable plan to safeguard and promote the child’s best interests. We must provide a statutory link between the child and a number of agencies, including immigration services, the police, local authorities and the national health service, to ensure that the child’s best interests are safeguarded.
It is important that someone has a statutory responsibility for the child, who has arrived in the United Kingdom, perhaps with a trafficker but without family, so that contact is made with their family to establish what is in the child’s best interests in the longer term. It is important that that person has a statutory role to liaise with the immigration service in handling the child’s case and that they accompany the child to police, immigration and care proceedings. If a child appears before the courts, it is important that somebody is there to advise them.
I am approaching my 57th birthday, as I think you are, Mr Deputy Speaker. If I faced all those trials, even with the life experience that I have, I would it find it difficult to deal with all those issues. A child in a strange country needs the statutory protections provided by the amendment tabled by Baroness Butler-Sloss. It is important, as the Lords amendment makes clear, that a child trafficking guardian should undertake training in a number of things. They should probably be, as the amendment suggests, an employee of a statutory body such a local charity or council, or a volunteer with a charitable organisation.
We are debating whether we accept giving statutory underpinning to those issues, or whether we accept the Minister’s proposal of 23 pilots to commence in July, without a date for completion, with an enabling power—whatever that means in real life—to do some or all of those things. But we need to press the Minister more on the detail of his alternative. The proposal from Baroness Butler-Sloss sets out clearly what is expected of a potential guardian for any trafficked child or any child who is subject to potential trafficking. Even though my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has done good work in the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, there is a template that we could agree today and which could return to the other place very shortly, with Royal Assent within a matter of days.
I hope that what the Minister has said does satisfy the other place, but if we vote against the Government motion tonight, it can decide. That is the advantage. I think that the Minister has satisfied us, but I would not want the other place and those who moved the amendments not to have the possibility to consider when they read Hansard whether they are satisfied.
My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. As I said at the beginning, the vote was 282 to 184 in favour of the proposal. If we reject the proposal today, we are left with no proposal. We are left with a promise of a pilot and a Bill after the Gracious Speech, following the scrutiny rightly given to it by my right hon. Friend.
A few of us are slightly confused about the procedure, and the right hon. Gentleman has been here longer than I have, so perhaps he could help us. If the House were to accept the Lords amendment, the Lords would not discuss this again; whereas, if we rejected it, the Lords would have the chance to discuss it. Regardless of merit, is that not the right way round?
That is the right way round. The Lords have expressed a clear view on the matter. The Lords will be able to examine the Government’s proposal when the Modern Slavery Bill comes forward. But we have a clear template today, and I want to see that enacted. If the Government accept this today, the proposal is a clear template. We have a number of proposals from Baroness Butler-Sloss, and I have gone through them today.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to accept the Lords amendments because he feels that they are right, but that if he does so, it would not allow any further consideration by the Lords in terms of reflecting on what I have said from the Front Bench.
The Lords have expressed their view clearly, and what the Minister has said today is known already. He announced that he had said in January that he would have pilots on the matter. The draft Modern Slavery Bill has been scrutinised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, and there is a template that we should support, and that is why I reject the Government’s proposal.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is missing the fact that the amendments are narrowly framed. They deal only with children who come to the UK from abroad. On trafficking and modern slavery, I have constant representations about not just focusing on people who come from outside the UK. The Minister has set out a sensible point. If we reject the amendments, as Mr Field has said, the other place has the option of sending them back to us again, and we can consider them again if it does not think that the Minister’s representations hold water. That is the right course of action.
There is clearly a common interest but a disagreement on procedure. If the Minister has a view about the impact of children being trafficked in the
UK, such as in the case in Rochdale that he mentioned, he has the draft Modern Slavery Bill to contribute to those matters. But there is a clear will from the other place, which was supported on a cross-party basis, and I would wish to see that as the template for discussion today.
One thing that would not be helpful is to put these measures in place and have a procedure that deals with foreign national children when the draft Modern Slavery Bill, expertly scrutinised by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, will put in place yet another process for children who happen to be UK nationals. It would be much more sensible to have one process that deals with all children who are victims of slavery. We should not make the system more complicated than it need be.
Imperative action is needed now. I have dealt with a number of Bills over the past few years and seen the Government bringing back amendments and amending their own legislation not six months after they introduced it. There is potential here today for a clear statement and clear action on the international trafficking of children. The pilots that the Minister brings forward can be undertaken.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Minister gave a commitment, which he has not done, that this comprehensive amendment, with all the powers for advocates included, would be in his proposed Modern Slavery Bill, we would not feel the need to press this to a vote? However, the Minister has not yet given that promise.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, correct. I have not yet had, following my intervention on the Minister, a closing date for his proposed pilot. We do not know what the outcome of that pilot will be. We have taken a principled position on the amendments from Baroness Butler-Sloss that there is scope for that to be done immediately. I am talking about not just us here, but UNICEF, Anti-Slavery International, Barnardo’s, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Amnesty International. An EU directive, which may not find favour with everyone in the House, says that we should consider that step. I understand that position, because 5.5 million children globally are trafficked each year. The UK Human Trafficking Centre identified 549 child victims in 2012. The national referral mechanism recognises 349 victims. A number of trafficked children face being sold into the sex trade and being exploited through work, cannabis farming, forced begging and sexual exploitation.
There is a need now to send out a strong signal that we want to take action on that in England and Wales. Trafficked children who arrive in Scotland value the care and support that they receive from their appointed guardians. That system works in Scotland, yet constituencies such as mine and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends still face real difficulties in that regard. Such a system operates not just in Scotland, but in many western European states, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. There are templates for a system and it is time that we put in place a legislative framework for it. I wish to see that undertaken and supported today.
In passing, may I say that I welcome the changes on residential accommodation that the Government have accepted from the other place? In particular, I welcome the changes on student accommodation. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield is in his place today, as he has pressed over the past weeks and months, in Committee, to me personally and to the Minister, a very strong case to ensure that all student accommodation was included in the Bill. It is good that, following the discussions in Committee and the representations from members of Sheffield university’s students union whom my hon. Friend brought to London, the Minister has accepted that point. The Minister will have our support on those Lords amendments that have been accepted on residential landlords, students and other areas, because they are important issues.
I have tabled a series of manuscript amendments today to seek clarification from the Minister. I hope that he will have an opportunity to respond to my points at the end of the debate.
Let me deal first with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 8, which is my principal concern. The ending of routine detention of children in the immigration system is one of the areas of which I am most proud in my record in government. The Government can be extremely proud of that and it has made a significant difference to many children’s lives. Many thousands of children used to be detained in the immigration system and there is significant evidence of the harm that that causes to children’s mental health.
It was very hard work to get to the 2010 agreement, which followed a painstaking process of negotiation, but it has made a significant difference. Trying to enshrine it in legislation is an extremely positive step and it is important that what happened before can never happen again, but with these issues the devil is always in the detail. I am not yet persuaded that the amendments, which we have not had an opportunity to debate as they were tabled in the Lords, have the detail correct.
I have a number of questions, which I have not been able to get answers to in private, so I hope that the Minister might be able to answer them today. I tabled amendment (a) because I do not understand why we would reasonably need powers to detain unaccompanied children in this way. As drafted, the Government amendments afford less protection to unaccompanied children than to those who have a claim as part of a family. If they are with their family, the family returns panel process is enacted. No such protection applies to unaccompanied children.
If a family needs to be held prior to deportation for a short period of time they are held in Cedars, which has Barnardo’s and specialist social workers working with it and has a carefully designed process to ensure that the welfare of children is paramount. An unaccompanied child who needs to be held for a short period of time will be held in a holding facility, and at the moment they do not have any rules for best practice. Successive Governments have held that question in abeyance and my colleague, Lord Avebury, has managed to drag out of the Government a commitment finally to try to bring forward some rules. I am very pleased to see that, but the conditions are very different from those in Cedars.
The amendments, as drafted, do not quite meet the Government’s guidelines. I acknowledge that there is currently no time limit for the detention of unaccompanied minors, so the 24-hour limit in the Government’s amendments is at least a step forward, but chapter 31 of the immigration and nationality directorate instructions states that
“detention will occur only on the day of the planned removal to enable the child to be properly and safely escorted to their flight and/or to their destination.”
Although the amendments imply that people could be held overnight, the rules do not suggest that, so I would appreciate the Minister’s response on that point. I see that he is dealing with a matter of whipping, so I do not know whether he heard me. Perhaps he can be refuelled from the Box to ensure that that point is answered.
Chapter 45 of the enforcement instructions and guidance states:
“Unaccompanied children (i.e. persons under the age of 18) must only ever be detained in very exceptional circumstances, for the shortest possible time and with appropriate care”.
The new clause inserted by Lords amendment 8 also contains the power for unaccompanied children to be removed without removal directions already being in place so long as the decision whether or not to give such directions is likely to be positive from the Home Office’s point of view. That does not seem to me to be very satisfactory.
The serious question is: why do we need to detain unaccompanied children at all? I have asked officials about particular cases in which this might apply, and they gave me the example of a Japanese student who wanted to come to the UK to study but found that the institution they were going to study at had suddenly been dissolved. We would need to put them on a plane rapidly, so we would have to hold them for a short period of time. The Minister gave the example of someone who might have to be detained for their own safety to prevent them from being trafficked. That makes me sigh, because it is a typical Home Office response. The Home Office always assumes that the natural reaction to any problem is enforcement, but our duty in this case is protection rather than enforcement. We tend to mistake those two things and it is a psychological trait of the Home Office always to assume that the answer is enforcement and that is precisely why it cannot always be trusted to come up with policy in this area.
I am sorry that the Minister is upset, but it means that he has heard me.
If an unaccompanied, vulnerable child turns up at a police station, the police do not put them in a cell, but get in touch with social services. Why can we not do the same for unaccompanied children who come here as migrants or to apply for asylum? Why do we need to detain them? Surely our duty is to protect them. There is plenty of legislation that allows us to do that, and I have not heard an example of detention being required as opposed to protection with appropriate powers of social services.
What really bothers me is whether this is a preamble to a more significant change in policy on the forced removal of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children. Currently, the United Kingdom does not routinely remove unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children, but it is probably the worst kept secret that the Home Office wants to be able forcibly to remove more unaccompanied children, particularly to Albania and Afghanistan. My concern is that the Government’s amendment leaves wide open the possibility of a drastic expansion of forced removal of children. Instead of moving towards the ending of detention of children for immigration purposes, the clause could allow more unaccompanied children to be detained for the purposes of removal. I am desperately hoping that the Minister will tell me that my fears are ill founded, and I will be delighted if he does so. I hope that he can answer my other specific points about why we cannot simply involve social services and protect children in the small number of such cases instead of detaining them using enforcement powers.
My amendments to Government amendments 6 and 7 also relate to child detention and essentially ask for clarification and strengthening of our 2010 commitment not to split families to achieve compliance with the immigration process. The Minister will be aware that Barnardo’s, which works closely with the Government at Cedars, has produced a report stating that family splits are, unfortunately, sometimes used to effect enforcement of immigration provisions. We agreed in 2010 that we would not do that, and my amendments seek to strengthen that commitment and to make it clearer. In particular, there are sometimes cases when a parent lives away from the family temporarily. The obvious case is when they are in immigration detention, but similar cases are when someone has been sectioned, is in hospital or is in prison. I am worried that the legislation as drafted does not capture such cases or consider the best interests of children, and is not in the spirit of the agreement that we negotiated in 2010.
Finally, I tabled an amendment to Lords amendment 19 to clarify that the best interests of the child should continue to be a primary consideration in all cases involving children. The Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the Government, saying that they have
“not explained how in practice the provisions in the Bill are to be read alongside the section 55 duty. Without such explanation there is a danger that front-line immigration officials administering the legal regime will be unclear about the relationship between the children duty in section 55 and the new tests introduced by the Bill which use different and unfamiliar language.”
Lords amendment 19 goes some way to meeting that concern, and I explored some of the issues in amendments tabled on Report. It confirms that it is necessary to take into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK, but I am worried that it does not go far enough because the section 55 duty applies only to the Home Secretary and not to the courts. My amendment makes it clear that consideration of children’s welfare should always be the primary concern. That is necessary because there is growing evidence that recent immigration rules are negatively impacting on decision makers’ understanding of what factors should be taken into account when considering the best interests of children. For example, research last year by Greater Manchester’s immigration aid unit into unaccompanied, asylum seeking children found that, in seven of 10 cases analysed, the Home Office failed to carry out any determination of the child’s best interests. Similarly, last year’s audit of Home Office procedures by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted the lack of any systematic collection or recording of information necessary to determine a child’s best interests. That includes the lack of a process to obtain the view of the child. This proposal simply tries to make sure that the Government do the things they say are their priority. At the moment, the Bill still leaves some confusion.
I want briefly to seek clarification in relation to international students and the changes that have been made to the Bill in relation to landlord checks. I pay tribute to Lord Hannay and others who have pressed this point in the House of Lords. I regret that students are included in the Bill at all, and I know that many Members on both sides of the House feel that they have no place in this debate.
The point relates to the changes that have given powers to universities to nominate students to occupy accommodation. That is a welcome move, and I am glad that the Government have accepted it. Speaking for the Government, Lord Taylor said in the other place that
“nominating is just the naming of an individual as being a student at a higher education institution…It is a form of vouching for the genuineness of the student’s immigration status. That is all.”
Baroness Warwick asked whether it would be
“legal and proper for the landlord to enter into that arrangement even though at that point, because of the time involved and so on, the potential tenant has not actually got their visa?”
This is crucial, because there is a brief period between being accepted into an institution and being enrolled during which many students sort out their accommodation. In response to Baroness Warwick, Lord Taylor said:
“Yes, absolutely: that is the case.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 3 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1056-1057.]
That involves a potential contradiction.
Will the Minister confirm in his closing remarks, or in intervening on me now, that an institution can nominate a person who has accepted a university place and has been given a confirmation of acceptance to study, but is awaiting a visa, so that they can confirm their accommodation before they have been issued with their visa?
I am grateful to be called to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will make sure that I leave the Minister sufficient time to respond to the points that have been made. I will keep a close eye on you, and if you think I am not leaving adequate time, I am sure you will indicate firmly that I should sit down.
I support what the Minister said in rejecting Lords amendments 16 and 24. I very much want us to deal with those who have been trafficked and victims of modern slavery, but I want us to implement a system that will apply to all children who have been trafficked, and a system that works. I want that decision to be informed by the pilots that the Minister is conducting.
That is because in England and Wales the local authority has the legal responsibility to look out for the best interests of those children. In some local authorities, that system works very well, but in many it does not. The legal position is clear, but what is important is not what the law says, by itself, but how it is implemented.
That is why I want to make sure that the Minister runs those pilots and looks at their results. He has clearly stated that he will make sure there is an enabling power in the draft modern slavery Bill and that the detail of how we bring these powers into effect can be informed by the pilots. He gave a very clear commitment at the Dispatch Box to use what is learned from the pilots to bring that into force. That is a sensible procedure. I agree with Mr Field: I think there is no disagreement in the points made by him, by the Minister and by Lisa Nandy, who has long experience of these matters. We all want to achieve the same thing, and I want to make sure that it is done in the most practical way possible.
I welcome the moves in amendments 5 to 9 and 29 to 34 to put on to the Statute Book the Government’s current policy on the family returns process. I previously gave some commitments at the Dispatch Box when this matter was raised by my hon. Friend Dr Huppert, and when the Bill was going through Committee, in saying that the Government would bring forward those amendments in the House of Lords. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleague, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, were able to do so. That is a great step forward that locks these provisions into place.
The manuscript amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Sarah Teather are not helpful. The issue of an individual living in a household with the child is important. Otherwise, those who have no right to be in the United Kingdom but who happen to have a child here for whom they have no parental responsibility and with whom they have no contact will use that child as a legal tool to avoid being removed from the UK. What is worse, it would encourage people who have no right to be in Britain—a judge set this out clearly in his legal judgment on a specific case in which he jailed the relevant couple—to have children for the specific purpose of avoiding removal from the country. That is not in the interests of children or of the proper working of the immigration system, so I urge the House not to support the manuscript amendments.
My hon. Friend also addressed the provisions in Lords amendment 8 on the detention of unaccompanied children. I can think of a clear example. She mentioned the need to put children in contact with social services, but relevantly qualified officials are not always immediately available if a child turns up. If there is a delay of a few hours while waiting for a social services person to turn up, the child will, for their own protection, be detained by a Home Office official. That is, technically and legally, detention. If Home Office officials did not have the power to do that, there would be nothing to stop the child leaving the port of entry and potentially coming to harm. I do not think the Minister would be carrying out his duty to protect such children if he allowed that. It is a common occurrence. If Members talk to staff at ports, they will realise that social services officials are frequently not available immediately when unaccompanied children turn up. Technically, therefore, those children are detained. There is a limit on that detention and I think the proposal is sensible.
Overall, the bulk of the Lords amendments are sensible and I hope they will be accepted. I think that the Minister has good reason for wishing us to reject two of the Lords amendments, and I do not think the manuscript amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central would improve the Bill. In fact, I think they have the potential to damage the interests of children and I hope the House will reject them.
This has been a useful opportunity to touch on a number of important issues. In some ways, we have strayed from the strict provisions of the Bill—understandably, I think—particularly with regard to trafficking and the protection of children.
On the pilots and the point of referral, I reassure Lisa Nandy that the intention is to refer all children suspected of being victims of trafficking to the national referral mechanism. They will be allocated a child trafficking advocate at the point of identification. The advocate will be able to provide support as soon as the child is identified in those first crucial hours. I think that is the point the hon. Lady made. In other words, the child advocate would be available when a child has been identified and the intention is to make a referral to the NRM. I hope that gives the hon. Lady the assurance she seeks. I recognise that, during the initial hours in which a child is identified, they will be very vulnerable and questions will be asked about what should happen to them, so they will need an advocate to support them during that early phase. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to provide that clarification.
In response to the Opposition’s Front-Bench spokesman, Mr Hanson, I have clearly set out our approach to the enabling power. It is important that we crack on with the trials and get those pilots under way, so that effective support can be provided quickly—that children will benefit and that we have the statutory underpinning. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not satisfied by that and that he supports Lords amendment 16, although it deals only with cross-border cases and covers those up to the age of 21. There is clearly a difference between us. I hope that the House of Lords will consider the points made by the Government and recognise our clear intent and commitment to seek to provide such support.
I want to address head-on the point about student accommodation made by Paul Blomfield, who I know takes a close interest in the issue of support for students and in the sector generally. A tenancy can be offered on a conditional basis when the visa is processed, and we will deal with that point when making the necessary codes and regulations to implement the scheme. I am sure that he will take a close interest in that further detail when it is published after the passage of the Bill. I hope that that clarification will help him and the sector at this time.
My hon. Friend Sarah Teather highlighted several points, particularly about unaccompanied children. My hon. Friend Mr Harper commented on the short-term need—the period in which social services should respond to the arrival of an unaccompanied minor in the UK—and the provision is intended to cover precisely those circumstances. I echo the hon. Lady’s comments about the tremendous work done by Barnardo’s, and she was right to draw attention to the support it provides at Cedars, but that support is intended for a longer period. In relation to unaccompanied children, we are talking about hours, rather than any longer period. Cedars can obviously provide support for a period of days in certain circumstances, as she knows. No unaccompanied child can be detained, but the operational reality is that unaccompanied children may need to be held for short periods in transit to a port of departure or while waiting after their arrival.
We will always seek to ensure that families remain together during their return, although temporary separation may sometimes be necessary to ensure that a family can return safely. We would not separate a family solely for a compliance reason; it will be done only when it is considered to be in the best interests of children for them temporarily to be separated from their parent or when the presence of one of the parents or carers is not conducive to the public good.
On the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central on Lords amendment 19, the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 16 disagreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 24.
The House divided:
Ayes 304, Noes 240.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 24 disagreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 7, 16 and 24.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
That James Brokenshire, Stephen Gilbert, Mr David Hanson, Anne Milton and Phil Wilson be members of the Committee;
That James Brokenshire be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee;
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Claire Perry.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.