With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 24, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 23, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 25, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 26, and Government motion to disagree, and amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 27, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 40, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 28 to 39, 42 and 41.
We now turn to the remaining amendments. Amendment 22 relates to our plans for conducting assessments of age-disputed people. Scientific methods of age assessment are already in use by many European countries, and the Bill will bring us into line with them. Failure to ensure proper assessments creates obvious safeguarding concerns and, of course, can create a plethora of risks to the most vulnerable when we get it wrong. I know those concerns are shared across the House. This amendment creates numerous restrictions on our ability to use age assessments in practice.
First, I want to make it very clear there is no appetite to start conducting comprehensive age assessments where there is no doubt about someone’s claimed age. Such an approach would serve no purpose whatsoever and would take significant resources away from the main task of seeking to establish the age of those involved where age is in doubt. However, there is no question but that the system is being abused, and we need to put a stop to that.
Secondly, the amendment would require that only local authority social workers could undertake age assessments under the Bill. There is significant variation in the experience and capacity of local authorities to undertake these age assessments, which are a significant resource burden on them. The Home Office already leads on other vulnerability areas, with responsibility for making complex and significant decisions such as claims for asylum. For these reasons, we are seeking to establish a national age assessment board comprising qualified social workers employed by the Home Office who may undertake age assessments upon referral by a local authority. Local authorities will retain the ability to conduct these assessments if they wish to do so.
Thirdly, the amendment would ensure that scientific methods of age assessment are specified only if they are considered ethical and accurate beyond reasonable doubt and approved by relevant professional bodies.
The British Dental Association has highlighted specific concerns, on ethical, health and accuracy grounds, about using X-rays to assess the age of asylum applicants. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for listening to these worries, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee that has been set up to look at this process could include a practising dentist.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I know that he has discussed this issue with the Home Secretary separately. I am not in a position to give him a firm undertaking today, but we will certainly take away and consider that particular point, and perhaps we could remain in contact on it. I am grateful for his input in relation to this aspect of the policy.
No one method of age assessment is likely to be accurate beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, this amendment sets an unrealistic expectation on what scientific methods could achieve. The expertise required spans a number of areas, and the independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee has been set up to advise on this complex topic.
Does the Minister agree that the burden imposed by some of the risks inherent in uncertain age is quite a significant concern for local authorities? Does he recognise, as I do, that the current Merton-compliant age assessment process, which is considered the gold standard, is the result of a number of judicial reviews over the years that have included consideration of scientific method? Beyond that, does he welcome, as I do, the additional clarity that the Government will in future be able to use scientific methods that do meet the required ethical standards in order to assist local authorities and address some of the remaining uncertainty?
My hon. Friend, who speaks with real experience given his time as a distinguished local authority leader, raises an important point. Of course these ethical considerations are very important in relation to all this. I am acutely mindful of the enormous burden that age assessment has placed on local authorities over a number of years. Some local authorities do this work very well, but the situation is patchy. The capacity that exists, and the speed, thoroughness and ease with which this work is done, depends on where you are in the country. It is important that we are developing this national resource to help with some of this work so as to relieve some of the burdens. One thing I will certainly want the national age assessment board to do is reflect on the best practice that exists in local authorities around the country and bring together that model of best practice to make sure that we get this right.
Finally, the amendment would lower the current standard of proof for social worker age assessments from the “balance of probabilities”, which is long established in case law, to a “reasonable degree of likelihood”. Lowering this standard would require social workers to accept individuals as children whom on balance they believe to be adults. For the House’s benefit, it is important to note that there are safeguarding considerations that flow in either direction. Children being placed in adult settings is clearly not acceptable, and it is not good for adults to be placed in children’s settings either. For those reasons, we cannot accept the amendment.
I will turn to consider the amendments relating to modern slavery, beginning with amendments 23 and 24, which would omit from the Bill the clause that deals with late compliance with a slavery or trafficking information notice. I understand the motivations behind the concerns expressed by the noble Lords who tabled these amendments. This Government are completely committed to supporting victims of modern slavery and tackling perpetrators, but removing the clause would mean that we were unable to clearly set out the consequences of not complying with the slavery or trafficking information notice, which would not help decision makers or individuals involved in the process. It would also create a lack of transparency and certainty.
It is clear on the face of the Bill that where there is good reason for late compliance, there will be no damage to credibility. We have given repeated assurances that, in keeping with the approach taken in our current statutory guidance, “good reasons” will allow for things such as individual vulnerabilities or the effect traumatic events and coercive control can have on people’s ability to accurately recall, share, or recognise such events. I expect that work to be carried out through a trauma-informed approach, which will ensure that decision makers have the flexibility and discretion to appropriately consider “good reasons” without prejudging what that should cover. We therefore cannot agree to the amendments.
Amendment 25 would remove from the Bill the clause that deals with disqualification from modern slavery protections where an individual is a threat to public order or has claimed to be a victim in bad faith. It would replace the clause with a new clause that does not provide a definition for public order and, as a result, the Government would remain unable to operationalise the public order disqualification. That would mean we were unable to remove individuals who had committed serious criminal offences or who posed a risk to national security, despite it being in line with our international obligations to do so.
The Government have been clear that the disqualification will not be applied in a blanket manner. Rather, following a referral to the national referral mechanism, where an individual meets the public order definition or has claimed in bad faith, the specific circumstances and vulnerabilities of each case will be carefully considered. It is our view that amendment 25 does not fulfil the aims of the original clause and would not protect the modern slavery system from those who act in bad faith, nor protect our communities from those who present a threat to public order or a risk to national security.
The Minister said that in those cases, there would be an assessment of the risk to public order. Has he made an assessment of what proportion of the cases, say in 2020, would have had these individual assessments based on the criteria presented in the Bill? He may not have that information to hand, but if he could reply to the House on that later, it would be helpful.
I recognise entirely the interest that my hon. Friend shows in these matters. If I may, I will take that point away, ponder it and then comment on it specifically when I wind up the debate. I am grateful for the question, and I am happy to revisit that point.
For the reasons I have outlined, we cannot agree to amendment 25. Amendment 26 would remove the clause that provides leave to remain for victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and replace it with a new clause. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith and to Lord McColl for their work in this area. We agree that confirmed victims should be granted leave where necessary to assist them in their physical and psychological recovery from harm caused by exploitation, to seek compensation in respect of their exploitation or to assist the authorities with investigations or prosecutions in respect of that exploitation.
The Government have already committed to providing all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of specific support with appropriate tailored support for a minimum of 12 months, where necessary. That will be set out in guidance, but the amendment does not make the critical link between relevant exploitation and the grant of leave. That means that someone could be granted leave to remain on the basis of personal circumstances unconnected to their exploitation, or to pursue an unrelated compensation claim or to assist an unrelated investigation. For those reasons, we are not able to support the amendment.
My hon. Friend will recall that last time we debated these provisions, we had an agreement that the Government in principle accepted the 12-month process. We expected to see it put in the Bill in the other place, but the truth is that the Bill has arrived back here after being amended by the Lords rather than the Government. I accept that Lords amendment 26, to replace clause 64, has a lot of other things in it.
The point of my amendment (a), which I know that I cannot vote on tonight because of ping-pong, is that we need to get that in the Bill. The key thing, after all, is that those who come through the NRM should get up to a minimum of 12 months, which would allow them to pursue prosecutions against the traffickers. They will lose that if the Minister does get it into the Bill, so will he now give me an understanding that that will be the case?
My right hon. Friend is passionate in raising the issue and has done so constructively throughout the process. We are all cognisant of the need to ensure that we bring the evil individuals responsible for that criminality to justice. I refer him to the commitment that was made from the Dispatch Box by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, on Report. Future legislation on modern slavery more generally is very likely to be in the offing. We are also happy to meet him—I know that the Home Secretary has spoken to him—to discuss his point in greater detail. We want to work through it carefully to ensure that we get it right.
The key thing is whether the Minister is prepared to consider tabling an amendment in the other place that puts the 12-month minimum into the Bill. If he does that, it will send a huge signal that we are on the side of those who are most beaten up and traduced by the system of slavery, and it will put us back on the right course. I ask him to please give me that sort of commitment.
My recollection of the earlier proceedings relates to putting the matter firmly in guidance, but as I say, we are happy to meet to discuss it. We want to get it right, and we are willing to consider the position with him following this debate. That is an undertaking to him on which we will certainly follow through.
I support the points made by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, which we discussed on Report. He is right that 12 months is an absolute minimum for a victim to pursue the prosecution of a case. I hope that the Government will reconsider that and go for a much longer period, so that the norm will be that those people get a permanent right to remain and live in this country. After all, they are victims of appalling behaviour by some brutal people. We should support them and not put artificial hurdles in their way.
The right hon. Gentleman definitely gets the tone right in highlighting the severity of the criminality perpetrated by individuals who, as I say, we all want to bring to justice.
Another point that I would make, because it is useful in the context of the debate, is that such matters are considered on a case-by-case basis and people are often awarded a period of leave that is longer than 12 months, which is beneficial for them. We would not want to see an adverse situation where people received less time than perhaps they would have done, given that individuals are receiving more after a case-by-case consideration that takes into account all the relevant factors. As I say, we are very willing to take the issue away and to engage with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. We will have those discussions and conclude them accordingly. He should leave that with us and we will get that meeting organised as quickly as possible.
Lords amendment 27 inserts a new clause that relates to victims of slavery aged under 18. It would mean that victims under 18 could not be issued with a slavery and human trafficking notice. It would exclude that group from the new disqualifications from modern slavery protections, provide a blanket grant of leave to remain, and legislate for a specific reasonable grounds test for those whose exploitation took place under the age of 18 —yet not for other victims.
Before issuing a slavery or trafficking information notice, decision makers would not have information about an individual or their exploitation, including, crucially, their age when the relevant exploitation took place. Similarly, the reasonable grounds evidence gathering process is when information regarding the person’s exploitation is often identified, so only at that stage could decision makers know that the person’s exploitation had occurred before they turned 18. In practice, therefore, it would become unworkable to differentiate on the basis of the timings of exploitation. We know that children who have been trafficked need support, but what concerns us about this Lords amendment is that it would move us away from taking a case-by-case approach and could incentivise adults to claim that they are children. We therefore cannot support it.
I turn to Lords amendment 40, which concerns the operation of the electronic travel authorisation scheme in respect of individuals travelling to Northern Ireland on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland. We have been very clear in emphasising our continuing commitment to the Good Friday agreement and the protocol, and we would like to take the opportunity to reassure colleagues again that there will be no controls on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
However, this amendment could result in an unacceptable gap in UK border security that would allow persons of interest or risk who would be otherwise refused an electronic travel authorisation to enter the UK legally, undermining the very purpose of the ETA scheme, which is to prevent the travel of those who pose a threat to the UK. It is important that, as now, all individuals—except British and Irish citizens—arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, continue to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework to protect both the UK immigration system and the common travel area from abuse. This is a well-established principle of the operation of the common travel area and applies when travelling in all directions. The UK is entitled to introduce and change its own requirements in the interest of securing the UK border, and we will continue to liaise with the Irish authorities on matters of border security in relation to the common travel area. We therefore cannot support this amendment.
First, would the Minister accept that great concern has been expressed by all parties in the Oireachtas—the Irish Parliament—and representatives from the Irish Government, who are very concerned about the impact the Bill will have on what are often daily movements on the island of Ireland by non-Irish nationals? Would he also accept that this is very damaging for the tourism trade on the island of Ireland, which is very much an integrated market, with people often landing in Dublin and then wishing to travel into Northern Ireland, and will prove to be a major obstacle in the way of those natural journeys?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, was whispering in my ear at the same time, making the point that he has already had a meeting with the Irish Government to discuss this, and I know that that engagement is ongoing. He is also very willing to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this in greater detail, and we will get that meeting organised for him as quickly as possible to progress that.
I turn now to Lords amendments 28 to 39 and 42, which the Government have introduced in response to the crisis in Ukraine. They strengthen our visa penalty powers, meaning that we can impose penalties where a country poses a risk to international peace and security or when its actions lead or are likely to lead to armed conflict or a breach of humanitarian law. Lords amendment 42 means that these powers will come into effect as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, rather than two months after Royal Assent as we had originally been planning, so that we will be able to use them much sooner. I commend those amendments to the House, and I would like to think that they will be broadly welcomed.
I understand the thought process behind these amendments, and I do not have any problem with that, but could the Minister assure the House that people wanting to come to this country from Russia or Belarus who have been taking part in peaceful activities to oppose the war and call for peace, and who need to get somewhere else, will not be prevented from coming to this country?
The direct answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that people will still be able to apply for visas in the normal way, so I hope that provides him with assurance.
Lords amendment 41 is a minor drafting amendment in relation to costs orders. It does not change the underlying policy, which requires tribunal procedure rules to be made setting out that the tribunal must consider whether to impose a charge or to make an order where prescribed conduct that is to be treated as improper, unreasonable or negligent has occurred. It simply clarifies that this requirement applies only in relation to the immigration and asylum chamber of the first-tier tribunal and of the upper tribunal. This will prevent any uncertainty from arising about the jurisdictions in which clause 77 should be applied, and I hope this clarification meets with the approval of the House.
With that, I conclude my remarks, and I will gladly pick up any points in the wind-up.
It is a pleasure to be responding for Labour to this second group of Lords amendment to the Bill, and I want to start by joining others in paying tribute to those who lost their lives or were injured in, and all those who responded to, the attack on Westminster five years ago today. I pay particular tribute to PC Keith Palmer and thank all those who work so hard to keep us safe every day.
I intend to keep my remarks tightly to the amendments before us, particularly Lords amendments 24 to 27, but I want to start by again expressing regret that modern slavery provisions have been included in a Bill on immigration. Members might remember that on Report I was intervened on only by Conservative MPs seeking to agree with me—which is certainly unusual—that the provisions in the Bill on modern slavery will only take us backwards. If this Bill passes unamended we will identify and protect fewer victims of modern slavery and identify and prosecute fewer perpetrators. That is not only our view: the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has been fierce in her opposition to a number of the changes, and Caroline Haughey QC, one of the leading legal experts in this area, has said this Bill will
“catastrophically undo all that has been achieved in the 10 years since the first modern slavery prosecution.”
Lords amendment 27 seeks to exempt child victims from the most damaging of the Bill’s provisions and ensure that all decisions are made in their best interests. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have voiced our concerns that the Government fail to recognise that identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking is a safeguarding, not an immigration, matter. Last year, 43% of victims referred to the national referral mechanism were children, with 31% of them being British, and the rise in county lines gangs is believed to be one of the biggest drivers of the rise in child referrals.
This amendment must also be considered in light of what is currently happening in Ukraine and the reports by charity and aid agencies on the ground of the heightened risks of children being exploited and trafficked along the Ukrainian border and in neighbouring countries, such is the flow of people away from the Russian bombardment. If the Minister is not minded to strike part 5 from the Bill and work with the sector and us on genuine alternatives, he must protect children from the worst of the changes, which only put barriers between victims and the support and justice they need and deserve.
If the Government are to deliver on their own promise of smashing county lines, they must accept Lords amendment 27. The Government’s own existing statutory guidance states:
“Whatever form it takes, modern slavery and child trafficking is child abuse and relevant child protection procedures…must be followed if modern slavery or trafficking is suspected.”
Under the changes introduced in the Bill a child can access protection only if they disclose details of their trauma against a Home Office-mandated timeline, and can access NRM support only if they have no public order offences in their background. The Government’s own guidance rightly says that a child who has been trafficked must be protected, no ifs, no buts—which means no clause 63, no clause 66 and no clause 67 as a condition of support on recognition as being a victim. As a minimum, in order for the Government just to adhere to their own guidance and protect child victims of trafficking, they must adopt Lords amendment 27 to prevent changes that would leave children more vulnerable to criminals and traffickers.
In Committee, at the 12th sitting, the Minister stressed that the Government’s view was that it would somehow be unfair to establish a system that distinguishes between a child and an adult, and he has repeated that sentiment today. He said in Committee:
“To create a carve-out for one group of individuals would create a two-tiered system based on the age at which exploitation may have taken place”,
and went on to say that it
“would not be appropriate or fair to all victims.”––[Official Report, Nationality and Borders Public Bill Committee,
I am afraid that is just absurd: we differentiate between children and adults throughout domestic legislation, recognising the age-related vulnerability of children, and it is the very basis of the Government’s own age assessment proposals in the Bill. Child victims have rights to protection under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, and it is there in the Government’s own guidance. If the Minister is really trying to tell us that the Government do not like creating two-tier systems given what else the Bill does, we are simply not having it. I urge the Government to follow their own guidance, recognise that child victims of trafficking are victims of abuse and adopt Lords amendment 27.
Let me turn to amendment 24, which would remove clause 58 from the Bill. The clause would damage the credibility of victims of modern slavery if they failed to disclose their trafficking experience within a set timeframe determined by the Home Office. It relies entirely on a misconstruction of what we consider to be a perfect victim: an individual who self-identifies as such and can fully disclose their experience in one setting. That has been widely discredited by the evidence presented at every stage and by victims’ own testimonies. There are many reasons why a victim might be unable to disclose evidence immediately, including the impact of trauma and fear of reprisals against them or their family by their traffickers.
I pay tribute to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, for all she has achieved in her time in office. She recently said:
“Traumatised victims cannot disclose their suffering to order—it takes time to build trust and confidence. I cannot imagine that we would contemplate asking victims of sexual assault or child abuse to respond within a set period.”
It is often those who are most in need of support and justice who find it the hardest to disclose their experiences. Indeed, the Government’s own statutory guidance under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 identifies a list of barriers to disclosure, stating:
“Victims’ early accounts may be affected by the impact of trauma. This can result in delayed disclosure”.
The failure to adopt amendment 24 will increase not only the risk of re-trafficking and abuse but the length of the decision-making process. The Minister has tried to reassure us that further detail will be supplied in the statutory guidance, with cases being resolved on an individual basis and good reasons for delayed disclosure being clarified further. In fact, in Committee during our discussions on part 5 alone the Minister referred to the statutory guidance a staggering 51 times when it is still to be published, which I must say made a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. It took five years for the guidance on the Modern Slavery Act to be published, so I ask the Minister once again, given how much he has referred to the guidance for the Bill, when we can expect it to be published and whether the Government will accept the invitations from the sector to work with them on drafting it. In its absence, simply to adhere to their own guidance on disclosure for traumatised victims, the Government must adopt Lords amendment 24.
On Lords amendment 25, once again the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has been explicit in her criticism of clause 62. She has written:
“The bar for disqualification has been set very low”,
“will undermine our ability to bring perpetrators to justice.”
She has said:
“There might be exceptional circumstances in which it is right to withhold support when there is a genuine, current and serious threat to public order, but the present bill goes far beyond this.”
The Lords amendment would reflect on those genuine threats while preventing the Bill from undermining our ability to bring traffickers to justice as is her and our fear.
The Minister will be aware that many in his own party have voiced serious concerns about the original public order disqualification threshold introduced by the Government. Given that 48% of victims of modern slavery in the UK last year were criminally exploited, that suggests that clause 62 has the potential to exclude almost half of all victims from support.
To maintain the hon. Lady’s record of Conservative interventions that are somewhat supportive, is not what she has just said about that 48% the answer to the question I posed to my hon. Friend the Minister? Under the Bill as presented, the Home Office will be required to intervene in half the cases to make the very difficult judgment whether to exclude or not exclude. Does that not open us up to a huge amount of potential risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful contribution. As we learn more about county lines gangs and their operating model, we see more and more young people and children subject to the worst exploitation by some of the vilest criminal gangs. Those are the children who are referred into the national referral mechanism. They have been encouraged, exploited and forced to commit crimes as part of their exploitation, so if we are to bust those gangs they are the children we need to be looking after and supporting, and we need to support them through the prosecutions of their abusers. That 48% were criminally exploited, so we must ensure that children who have been victims of county lines gangs have protection.
It will drive more people underground and make it significantly harder for the police and authorities to investigate the perpetrators of human trafficking without the trust and support for victims in place. It also sends a clear message to perpetrators of human trafficking that they are free to exploit vulnerable people with a criminal record, knowing they will now be exempt from protection. Clause 62 represents a massive step backwards in our shared ambition to see more traffickers before the courts if it passes unamended.
Lords amendment 26 removes clause 64 and introduces a minimum 12 months leave to remain, and tailored support for all individuals who have been found to be confirmed victims of modern slavery. To demonstrate how difficult it still is to have your migration status resolved upon recognition of your exploitation, data obtained from the Home Office shows that in 2019-20 only 2%, or 17 out of 754, of child victims of modern slavery in the UK were granted discretionary leave to remain. The amendment would ensure that victims are provided with protection, support, security and stability to support their recovery in a way that promotes engagement with police and prosecutors. This proposal has gathered significant cross-party support, and I wish to highlight the work that has been conducted across the House and in the other place, specifically by Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Lord McColl. On the Labour Benches, we strongly support the amendment. Once again, it is frustrating that the Government have failed to listen and to act on the commitments they made in earlier stages of the Bill in this place.
Just last week, the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s attempt to overturn the High Court ruling last October that granted thousands of victims of human trafficking leave to remain. During the court case, the Government stated that they want to ensure the Government are in keeping with the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings, yet that differs from what the Government have argued in both Houses. That would have a considerable impact, given that 91% of conclusive grounds decisions made in 2021 were positive, which means the Home Office deemed the individuals to be confirmed victims of modern slavery.
In conclusion, the amendments seek only to bring the Bill closer to adhering to the Government’s own guidance and best practice on supporting vulnerable victims of modern slavery and trafficking. There are others, but I have made the case for Lords amendments 24, 25, 26 and 27, all of which would significantly improve the proposed legislation before us. Lords amendment 22 also has our full support. The sector has been unified in its condemnation of the initial measures contained within that section of the Bill and there has been overwhelming evidence in support of the Lords amendments at every stage. The most recent number of referrals to the NRM was 12,727, representing a 20% increase in referrals compared to the previous year—the highest number of referrals since the NRM began. That is a deeply worrying trend and more must be done to tackle this abhorrent crime that continues to see shockingly low prosecution rates.
All sides of the House have worked to end the abhorrent crime that is modern slavery. We should be seeking to build on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and on our commitments in that legislation. We want to work with the Government, as do the sector and the victims themselves. I therefore strongly urge the Government to think again and accept the Lords amendments.
I will not be very long, because what I am going to speak about is quite narrow and I know others want to speak.
Just before 2015, the Centre for Social Justice produced the report that persuaded the Government, of which I was a member, to be the first in the world to introduce legislation on modern day slavery. I could not have been prouder of this place when the Bill passed. It has been a signal that has gone around the world and others have followed suit. Let me put this issue into context. We should be pushing to make the Modern Slavery Act 2015 even more focused and even better, but my suspicion is that some are looking at it and saying, “This is full of ways to come in illegally through the backdoor.” I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I just do not think that that is the case here.
I am speaking to my amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 26. I understand the Government’s concerns with the way it was framed in the other place, but I would rather have debated it at some length to try to ensure it was better written.
The point that I want to make is narrow. My amendment, which I know we cannot vote on, so this is a debating point, would add this key element: those who have got through the NRM, which is difficult enough as it is, are clearly victims of modern slavery and we therefore need to be generous to them. One of their problems, which we have discovered through all sorts of mechanisms, is that they have suffered trauma and real problems, and they are discombobulated and frightened. They therefore find it difficult to co-operate with authority. Many of them have fled authorities that are responsible for the penalties that they have suffered under, so they need more time.
The police say, “We need more time to settle such people so that we can get prosecutions.” We consulted on 12 months and the police were very clear, saying, “If you introduce 12 months as a minimum, we will get many more prosecutions. We will start to round up some of these gangs and we will get on top of this. At the moment, we cannot get individuals to give evidence. They are frightened that they will end up back on the street and that these people will get them.” There is a logic to this change that is in keeping with the aim of the Bill, which is to make sure that those who traffic people are arrested and prosecuted. That is what it is all about.
I have heard some say that there is an increase in the number of people coming into the NRM, which therefore suggests that this change will become a pull factor. First, whether we agree or disagree about the 12 months being a pull factor, relatively, the numbers are absolutely tiny compared with the number of asylum claims. Secondly, the 12 months cannot be a pull factor because there is already a period of time after the NRM anyway. Is the idea that someone is thinking “I will go after the NRM because I am an illegal and I will find a way of delaying that because then I get the extra 12 months.”? That is not the point. The 12 months are there because when someone is through that, they must be a victim of modern slavery. The debate is not about whether people are victims of modern slavery; they are victims of modern slavery. The question is what is the best way to treat them to ensure that they get the best outcome and that, in return, we get the best outcome in terms of prosecutions.
Let me make this point to the Minister—we debated this issue on Third Reading. I think that he and the Government get it, but that they get a certain amount of pushback about whether there is some kind of pull factor. The point about the pull factor has been made so often. It is a bit like “Dr Dolittle” and the “pushmi-pullyu” concept—it depends who people are getting this from and which angle they take.
The truth is that I am not even going to argue about pull factors. I will simply say that the purpose of this amendment, which we cannot vote on tonight, is to enable the Government to debate this issue with me carefully so that in the other place, they will table an amendment that enshrines the 12-month minimum in legislation. The guidance will take forever to come through and, anyway, it is not binding—it is guidance. Somebody who has a bad attitude will not stick to the guidance. They will go for de minimis and I do not want them to do that. De minimis should be 12 months in legislation. If we believe in this, it will be a beacon. We should be proud of what we are doing.
In conclusion, if I could get on bended knee, I would beg my Government—please, please—to think of putting back in in the other place a 12-month minimum after someone has completed the NRM. There are lots of things that I do not particularly like in the Bill, but if we can do that, I will take a self-denying ordinance and support the Government. I will do that just to get the 12 months in because such people deserve the best that we can give them.
The hon. Member for Halifax was right to say at the outset that, again, it is frustrating that the Government do not appear to be listening—not to their Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, anti-slavery charities, medical professionals, social workers or survivors—and that everything is being seen through the prism of migration enforcement. The Government are undermining not just the refugee convention, but other international obligations including the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings.
The Minister said a lot of good things at the Dispatch Box, as he did in the debate on the previous group, but sometimes what he says bears very little resemblance to the provisions that are actually in the Bill. I have a lot of respect for him as a Minister, but he cannot ask us to legislate—to pass a Bill—based on how he wants it implemented. We have to go by what is in the Bill, which too often simply does not live up to what he is trying to sell us.
The SNP supports what their lordships have done to take out some of the most offensive provisions of the Bill and to improve protections for trafficking survivors. We believe that the Government’s motions to disagree will not only take out the positive reforms that their lordships suggested and restore some really regressive provisions that undermine modern slavery legislation across the UK, but reinstate challenges and hurdles for survivors of trafficking and slavery, especially children. The only beneficiaries will be those who perpetrate those awful crimes.
We support Lords amendment 24, which scraps clause 58 —a clause that totally inappropriately instructs fact-finders how to assess late provision of evidence from trafficking survivors. Not only is the clause particularly inappropriate in relation to trafficking victims, for reasons that the House has heard, but it is wrong in principle for Parliament to tell decision makers including judges what to make of evidence that they will see and hear and that we lawmakers never will. They are skilled people who know how to handle evidence, including late evidence, without MPs having to blunder in. Crucially, all we are doing by increasing the apparent threat that a victim will not be believed is handing a boost to traffickers—an extra weapon of coercion and control.
We support Lords amendment 25, which refines clause 62 on disqualification from protection under the convention. The Government are seeking to disqualify from protection far too broad a group of victims, including children. We all know that many victims of trafficking and slavery are coerced into committing crime, and sometimes that is a consequence of their trafficking or slavery—indeed, those who already have a criminal record are frequently specifically targeted for trafficking. If we allow the Government to have their way, it is the victims who will be worse off and the traffickers who will gain a new tool for coercion.
We support Lords amendment 27, which protects victims under 18 from the most damaging provisions and puts the best interests of the child at the heart of decision making. Fundamentally, how can any of that be objectionable? For all the reasons that the shadow Minister gave, we give the amendment our full support.
We support Lord McColl’s amendment 26, which provides essential leave to remain for victims to rebuild their lives, prevent re-trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have continued to champion that cause.
We strongly support Lords amendment 22. The procedures in the Bill for age assessments represent a totally inappropriate power grab by the Home Secretary from both local authorities and indeed devolved Governments. Lords amendment 22 at least puts in place a framework to provide proper constraints on her power. The amendment is the only way to prevent harmful, dangerous, totally unjustified, unethical and inaccurate age assessments from becoming the norm. The British Dental Association, the British Medical Association, the British Association of Social Workers, the Royal College of Nursing and many others have asked us to keep the amendment, so we should support them, and we should support multi-agency teams and social workers with investment and support, not make them subservient to the Home Office.
We are sympathetic to Lords amendment 40, which is designed to protect local journeys between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from electronic travel authorisation provisions. Surely there must be a better way to handle the issue than by requiring authorisations in advance. I have not been privy to the conversations that have been had, but there must be other solutions.
I will finish by briefly echoing a question that Jeremy Corbyn asked. In principle, the Government’s visa penalty clauses have a role and a purpose and we support them, but we share his concerns about what they might mean for Russians fleeing persecution, for example, including those who have protested against the further invasion of Ukraine. The Minister suggested that they would be able to apply as ever, but as I understand it, some of the measures in the Bill—[Interruption.] Oh, he is going to deal with that point when he sums up. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
In short, the SNP continues to support the efforts of those in the other place to force the Government to listen to the advice that they have been given and to think again about many of the Bill’s provisions.
I intended to speak on the first group of amendments, but I have a lot to say about the second group as well, so I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I welcome Lords amendments 28 and 29. It is good that we have a Government who take security in this country incredibly seriously. It is right that we are compassionate and generous when it comes to Ukrainian refugees, but I am sympathetic to the Government’s position of not completely waiving checks and of listening to the advice of the security services. I see Lords amendments 28 and 29 as an extension of the principle that the Government must protect the security of our country from individuals coming from countries deemed to be high-risk.
Lords amendments 30 to 35 amend clause 69—an incredibly important clause, in my view. I always hesitate to use the term “pull factor” because of some of the comments that have been made about pull factors, but I do think that one pull factor has been the ability of many people who have entered this country illegally, and who may or may not be legitimate refugees, to stay here. It is a case of, “Once you’re in, you’re in.” If we determine that an individual is not a refugee—if that person does not pass the tests—we must get them back to the country they came from as soon as possible. I therefore welcome clause 69 and think it should be protected from any potential amendments.
Let me be honest with the House: my view is that those who come here illegally should immediately be deported to the country from which they came. If someone wants to claim asylum, they ought to go through the correct procedure. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is the case.
In general, I think that the Bill is extremely important. In relation to the amendments and what we heard earlier today, I suspect that many other Members on both sides of the House have constituents who, while they are incredibly big-hearted, and in particular have a big-hearted attitude to the Ukrainian refugees—and indeed other refugees—see a distinction between them and people who enter the country illegally and who we should not assume are refugees. Some may not be, and I think it important for us to bear that in mind. I also think that those in the other place—I will be careful about what I say, and I will be very respectful of the other place—should tread carefully, because I think there is immense support for this Bill out there in the country.
I will restrict my comments to Lords amendment 40, which I originally tabled in this House with my colleagues the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna). I was very pleased when the House of Lords took it up. I especially thank Baroness Ritchie and Baroness Suttie, and all those who spoke in favour of the amendment at that time.
I believe that the system of electronic travel authorisations is essentially unworkable in the context of the island of Ireland. I know that the UK Government have received representations from the Irish Government, and they will also be aware of the cross-party opposition to this proposal in the Irish Houses of Parliament, the Oireachtas. It is important that we listen carefully to those voices and take account of the considerable concern felt in Northern Ireland about this measure.
Of course the common travel area applies to Irish citizens, but we are now talking about citizens of the European economic area who previously had freedom of movement and about all the other non-Irish residents of the island of Ireland having to apply for an ETA in due course. The Government may say that this is a simple process and there is no intention of introducing routine border checks; I recognise that they have been clear about that. None the less, it will be a new bureaucratic process. People may either forget to apply for their ETAs or forget to renew them, and some may even be placed in a degree of legal jeopardy. Someone who is in Northern Ireland without an ETA and has to interact with the UK state, perhaps for healthcare reasons or in the event of a traffic accident, will potentially be in a position of some uncertainty, and there may well be repercussions from that.
There are three instances in which this could become a problem. There are tens of thousands of movements each day on the island of Ireland involving Northern Ireland citizens—for the purposes of work or education, for example, and because people living in one part of the island may have business in the other jurisdiction. People who do not intend to do any business in Northern Ireland often have to travel through it to get from A to B. The quickest route from Dublin to Donegal is through Northern Ireland on the A5, and even someone making a very localised journey from Clones or Cavan town, for example, will cross the border four times in the course of that short journey. This could become fairly absurd.
There is also the question of tourism. The island of Ireland is very much a single market for tourists. Many people come to the south, and then want to come to Northern Ireland to see all our wonderful attractions and take advantage of our great scenery. We can foresee a situation where tourists are not aware of the requirements, or where tour operators have to go through bureaucracy in order to ensure that their passengers on bus tours, for example, are fully compliant with this new law. That may well put some people out of the market or persuade them not offer that type of service. That would be a huge loss to our tourism sector, which is a key aspect of the Northern Ireland economy. The movements that happen at present on the island of Ireland are not a threat to UK security. I encourage the Government to reflect on this further and talk more to the Irish Government about finding a resolution.
I want the UK to be known as a place of refuge and justice as well as a place of opportunity and freedom. When examining immigration Bills over the years, I have always looked to see where there could be an issue of moral hazard in what is being proposed and the changes being made. In this Bill, my eyes were immediately drawn to clause 62 and to Lords amendment 25. The title of clause 62 is “Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection”. The clause is replete with moral hazards in whatever actions the Government might take. As it happens, I do not think that the Government have got the balance right, but I am also not sure that the Lords amendment is quite right.
My request to the Minister, who is ably managing the Bill, is to continue the conversation with their lordships on this provision, because of the risks of moral hazard. For example, is it really right that we should continue to include taking away this protection from children? Is it right that we should continue to have a provision that someone who in their past has undertaken a crime under duress should be liable to the protections being taken away? The Minister has argued that it is important to define this, so that the issues of public order can be applied, and I see some relevance there, but why is it important to rely so heavily on information that relates to an individual’s past, rather than take into account their circumstances and the potential risk they pose today? That balance has not been struck correctly.
The noble Lords Coaker and Randall in the other place sought to correct that by trying to draw a tighter definition about the risks, stating that there has to be
“an immediate, genuine, present and serious threat”,
but I think they have overcooked it a little bit. It is quite a lot to say that all those criteria have to apply. Between the Government’s present criteria, which rely too much on an individual’s past, and the Lords amendment, which is drawn a bit too tightly about where these protections should be applied, there is scope for the Government to find some ground for compromise. I certainly hope so.
I shall of necessity be very brief. First, I would like to place on record my appreciation of my colleagues in the other place, in particular Lord Paddick, Baroness Hamwee, Baroness Ludford and Baroness Suttie.
I find myself somewhat perplexed about the measures relating to modern slavery because, as Sir Iain Duncan Smith said, the Conservative party has until recently had a really good story to tell on modern slavery. It started with the work of Anthony Steen. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and in this context I pay particular tribute to the former Prime Minister, Mrs May. I saw how, as Home Secretary, she drove this agenda in Government. Believe me, the Home Secretary in the coalition Government was not always an immediate ally for Liberal Democrat Ministers. She had a particular knack for generating tension, not just within the coalition but occasionally within her own party, but she really understood the importance of this issue and drove it forward in a way that I think the party should be proud of. I am afraid that what I see in relation to Lords amendments 24 to 26, coming from people such as Lord Randall—someone with whom, again, I was pleased to work during his time in this House—flies in the face of that work. It undermines the tremendous progress this country and the Conservative party have made.
On Lords amendments 24 to 27, I simply adopt the comments made by Holly Lynch and those made in the interventions on her by Richard Fuller, as there was nothing to disagree with. We have some thoughtful, well-informed contributions coming from the other place, not least from Conservative Members there, and the Government would be well advised to listen to them and their sage advice. On Lords amendment 40, Stephen Farry highlighted well the practical difficulties that will arise if the provision he addressed is left to stand.
I wish to speak briefly in support of the proposal made by my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith in lieu of Lords amendment 26, to which he referred in his impassioned speech. Disappointingly, it cannot be voted on today. If we are to break the business model of the criminal gangs behind modern slavery, we have to increase the number of successful prosecutions. One of the most effective ways to do that is to enable more victims to participate in the pursuit of justice by sharing intelligence and acting as witnesses. Evidence from programmes such as Justice and Care’s victim navigator programme shows that when given wraparound support over a longer period more victims develop the confidence to engage with criminal investigations; 89% of Justice and Care’s supported victims engaged with police at the last published evaluation, which compared with the national average of about a third.
“all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months.”—[Official Report,
However, to provide victims with the certainty and stability they need, this extended support should be included in the statutory framework.
The Government have taken the positive step of putting support for modern slavery victims in law for the first time in this Bill, but clause 63 is limited to support during the initial recovery period during the national referral mechanism. The Bill offers no support to victims after the point at which someone has been formally recognised as a victim. The Government have already committed to doing this for a minimum of 12 months and it would be a simple matter to add that commitment to the Bill, giving a more comprehensive picture of the full range of support available, and providing victims with greater certainty and stability for their recovery as a result. I hope that Ministers will support the intent behind the amendment in lieu tabled by my right hon. Friend, and I note the Minister’s comment today that the Government are very willing to take these concerns away and have discussions with my right hon. Friend and, I hope, others. I also hope that the concern about the importance of putting the 12-month period into statute will not only be taken away, but acted upon.
This Bill is such wide-reaching and deeply flawed legislation that there is so much I could speak on, but in the limited time we have I will focus on Lords amendment 22, which deals with the age assessment of children.
Without that amendment, the Bill will increase the number of children who have to undergo age assessments. These processes are unethical and inaccurate, focusing on vague criteria such as a child’s “appearance and demeanour”. Other, more detailed investigations are, of course, re-traumatising for children. There is a real danger that the measures in the Bill will lead to an increase in the number of children who are wrongfully treated as adults and subsequently neglected by the authorities. That will place some of the most vulnerable children at incredibly high risk of harm, as we have already seen.
In December 2017, Alexander Tekle died by suicide less than a year after he arrived in the UK from Eritrea as an unaccompanied minor. Alex was failed on two fronts. First, he was wrongfully assessed as an adult and placed in adult Home Office accommodation, where he was violently assaulted. Secondly, the different local authorities that were subsequently entrusted with his care failed him miserably, leading him into a spiral of depression and substance abuse. Services again failed to step in and ensure that he was supported to overcome these issues. The uncertainty over Alex’s immigration status also caused persistent distress. In fact, an inquest held earlier this year found that the Home Office’s policies contributed to the spiral that led to his death. What happened to Alex is not an isolated case: there has been an alarming increase in reports of suicide among teenagers who arrived in the UK as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It is a pattern of failure. But instead of the Government righting this wrong, children like Alex continue to be treated with suspicion from the moment they set foot in this country.
The Bill does not focus on improving the care of unaccompanied refugee children; in fact, the Home Office seems interested only in building even more barriers. It is particularly cynical that the Department pretends that age assessments are done for young people’s safety when, given the supervision provided in children’s placements, the level of risk is low should a young adult on occasion be placed in one. This contrasts with the hundreds of children who have been put in hotels and forced to share rooms and even beds with adult men they do not know.
The Home Office does not provide any solutions in the Bill. We cannot allow this devastating situation to continue. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may chunter from a sedentary position, but I am talking about something extremely serious: a young boy who committed suicide after Home Office failings. It would be great if they showed a bit of humility. Everyone who professes to care about unaccompanied refugee children should vote in support of Lords amendment 22.
It is to be welcomed that there will be no north-south border checks on the island of Ireland. The Minister will know that there is excellent intelligence sharing between the UK, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Irish authorities.
I understand what the Government are trying to do in the Bill, but I am afraid they again show a little bit of a lack of sensitivity or understanding with regard to how the all-island economy works, particularly when it comes to tourism, which is hugely important, as Stephen Farry said. In 2019, 2.245 million visitors came to the island of Ireland and spent £589 million. Such visitors maintain and support 70,800 jobs in Northern Ireland alone. There has been a 90% increase in the number of visitors to the island of Ireland from North America and 60% of all visitors to the island spend nights in both the Republic and the north of Ireland.
I understand what the Minister is trying to do, but he is using a misdirected sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut, because we have seen no evidence to show that there is systemic abuse of the common travel area whereby people come from the south to the north and then over to GB. There is no evidence for that at all. I suggest the Government go away and have another think about the legislation. It seems to me to be sensible to exempt those who have established their right of residence in the Republic of Ireland from having to have an electronic travel authorisation. They do not need it. A lot of them will move between hospitals and doctors’ surgeries and dentists and between retail and hospitality and all the rest of it. Their bona fides have been recognised by the Republic, whether they were born in the Republic or elsewhere, and that should, through the usual intelligence sharing, be enough.
Visitors from the Irish diaspora of New Zealand, Australia, Canada or North America should be required to have an ETA only if they propose to move from the island of Ireland—irrespective of whether they have landed north or south of the border—to come to GB.
The Minister shakes his head and grimaces; I am not entirely sure why, because the idea is eminently workable. Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI are anxious that the legislation on ETAs will be an inhibitor for people who wish to visit the island of Ireland. They do not say, “I’m coming to the north” or “I’m coming to the south”—they say, “I’m going to Ireland.” They do not see the boundary as we know it and see it.
That is one way of dealing with the situation; there may be others. Our fear is that this measure would be damaging for tourism and for business confidence. Post covid, visitors should speedily be encouraged to come to the island of Ireland. Putting other impediments in their way would not be in the interests of the economy.
Briefly, I have three points. First, this Bill is not an acceptable piece of legislation—it is an appalling piece of legislation. There is a refugee crisis, all around the world. We should recognise that and be more humane in our approach. I absolutely support Ukrainian refugees being able to find safety wherever they want to go and absolutely support any measures to welcome them to this country, because of the trauma they have suffered and because of this awful war; the same should apply to victims of wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq or elsewhere. Those people are just as traumatised and their lives are just as damaged.
Secondly, Sir Iain Duncan Smith made a number of points on the 12-month rule that is apparently being introduced for victims of modern slavery. I hope the Minister can clarify that he is serious in what he says on this subject and that we are going to open the route for people who are victims of modern slavery to get permanent residence in this country as a place of safety. They have suffered grievously, from huge levels of abuse. As the right hon. Gentleman also pointed out, the numbers involved are not very large.
“Visa penalties for countries posing risk to international peace and security”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to my earlier intervention and that of other colleagues on the definition of who poses risk. There is no definition of which countries the measure refers to or how it will play out.
An activist for peace in a country which the Minister feels is a risk is clearly at double risk. The Minister said they can seek an application—of course they can, but how do they practically make that application? In addition, those who are not activists and who do not have any particular political views, but who are caught up in an international conflict, such as a married couple where one person is from this country and the other is from another country—it does not have to be Russia—also deserve a right to come to this country. I hope that this new clause does not make it even more difficult for them to come home when they want to.
I am grateful to be called to speak again, as I spoke in the earlier debate. I think I have less than a minute and a half, so I will be brief. I want to speak to Lords amendment 22.
Those of us who have dealt with children who have gone through the age assessment process recognise just how traumatising it is for those children, many of whom are already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That is why it is important that we minimise the numbers going through the process and make sure that it causes the least harm possible. I cannot fully understand why the Government object to this amendment, which, in my view, sets out the best practice we have been arguing for over a number of years.
The new clause introduced by Lords amendment 22 would reduce the number of people who go through the process by making sure that there is a “significant reason” to doubt the age. It would also ensure that the assessment is carried out by a local authority social worker, because—we have to be honest—Home Office social workers have been found lacking. That is not my judgment—it is the judgment of the courts. There is a difference of culture. The Home Office is about enforcement; the local authority is about supporting those who have been traumatised.
The new clause also introduces an element of best practice by making sure that the Association of Directors of Children’s Services draws health and other professionals into multidisciplinary teams, which we have been arguing for, so that we get the best possible and most objective assessment. There would also be an objectivity in the process that we doubt would be the case under the Home Office.
Again, I am very grateful to Members from across the House for their many and varied contributions during the course of this debate. In responding, there are a few points on which I wish to touch.
First, I wish to deal directly with the point raised by Jeremy Corbyn, as well as by Stuart C. McDonald. On the position around individuals and their ability to lodge visa applications in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman described, that would, to be clear, depend on the visa penalty applied, and such applications may not be considered on the back of that. We will, however, carefully consider the right hon. Gentleman’s point about peaceful protesters, which is an understandable and legitimate point, before taking any decisions on applying visa penalties. The key point here is that, in any case, we will ensure that the most vulnerable individuals—those with compelling, compassionate grounds for travelling—are exempted from the application of visa penalties. I hope that that gives him the reassurance that he was seeking.
My hon. Friend Richard Fuller raised an issue in relation to the treatment of children. Although I am unable to provide specific figures on the number of cases owing to the nature of the offences, national security considerations and also because the individual circumstances are taken into account, it is essential that amendment 25 is rejected in favour of the original drafting of the public order disqualification, so that dangerous individuals can be removed. This is about providing a clear definition in line with our international obligations, so that we can withhold support from individuals on grounds of public order, potentially where they relate to national security or involve serious criminality.
However, I hope that I can provide greater reassurance more generally around victims of modern slavery aged under 18 by saying that ensuring decision makers take account of individuals’ vulnerabilities is fundamental to our approach. We will make it clear in guidance how children, or those who were children at the time of their exploitation, should be considered, taking into account their particular vulnerabilities and specific needs. This includes making it clear in guidance how the damage to credibility measure is to be applied in the case of children. I also emphasise that decisions to withhold protections from the national referral mechanism on public order grounds from children and adults will be made on a case-by-case basis, as I have set out previously.
The fact is that potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery may have been convicted of serious criminal offences or be involved in terrorism-related activity, which does include children in some instances. It is right that the Government should be able to withhold protections from those individuals who pose a threat to public order, but this is not a blanket disqualification. The guidance underpinning these measures and the decision making around them will be made by trained decision makers and will consider the needs of children and specific safeguarding vulnerabilities.
I hope that I can also reassure Holly Lynch in saying that it remains our firm intention to engage properly and thoroughly with the sector in designing that guidance to make sure that we get this right. Indeed, our existing modern slavery statutory guidance provides for the specific vulnerabilities of children, and all decision makers in the competent authorities receive specific training on children as potential victims, including distinct training—
Six hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (