My Lords, the Home Office does not publish data on the number of child victims of modern slavery who subsequently successfully claim asylum. To maintain the highest standards of accuracy, the Home Office prefers to refer to published data, as these have been subject to vigorous quality assurance prior to publication. The Home Office publishes data on the number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children. The latest published statistics can be found in the quarterly immigration statistics published on GOV.UK. These show that, in 2017, 1,212 children were granted leave; in 2016, this figure was 1,396.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Since the Court of Appeal’s decision in PK (Ghana) was handed down, the Government have had to issue interim guidance on discretionary leave to remain for victims of modern slavery, but this is a policy of no policy. It just puts decisions on hold, leaving vulnerable adults and children in limbo and in fear of losing their NRM support, as the waiting time for decisions now extends beyond the time for support afforded to them. What is the Government’s timetable for consideration of this judgment? Can they guarantee that all victims waiting for a decision on discretionary leave to remain will remain in receipt of NRM support until they receive a decision?
We are considering the implications of the judgment. While we consider the next steps, interim guidance has been issued to caseworkers to put on hold any refusals of discretionary leave to remain for confirmed victims of modern slavery. Grants of discretionary leave are continuing. Clearly, we will come to a view as quickly as possible.
I can tell my noble friend that in 2016 1,278 children were referred to the NRM for consideration of whether they had been a victim of modern slavery, a 30% increase on 2015. We will be publishing figures for 2017 in March and, if available for disclosure, they will be provided.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the longer the delay in reaching a decision in respect of a trafficked child, the greater the risk of that child going missing and being retrafficked?
It is certainly the Government’s intention to make decisions as quickly as possible. I totally concur with the noble Baroness that if we have a vulnerable child in our care, we should make decisions about them as quickly as possible.
As the noble and learned Baroness will know, victims of trafficking are not necessarily coming into this country for an asylum route. Indeed, many of the children who are trafficked are from the UK, so it is correct that when a child reaches the age of 18, should they be from another country, their immigration status is reconsidered.
My Lords, I refer to my relevant interests in the register. Does the noble Baroness think that the national referral mechanism takes proper account of children’s needs? Can she tell the House what the Government are doing to prevent children, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who arrive in this country and go missing after a few days becoming repeat victims of trafficking?
I am clear that the national referral mechanism meets the needs of children. As the noble Lord may know, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability announced the Government’s proposals to reform the NRM. For children, this ensures that support for child victims is improved by continuing with the rollout of the independent child trafficking advocates. We are trying new and innovative ways to give money to NGOs as part of the child trafficking protection fund.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the advisory panel of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I ask the Minister about the role of the modern slavery unit in the Home Office, in this area to do with children and more generally. How does the modern slavery unit help those of us working in this area of children and care for victims? How do we know what its priorities and practices are so that we can best co-operate?
The role of the commissioner should be to assess how the system is working. As I said in answer to the previous question, children should receive the specialist support and assistance that they need according to their circumstances. The role of the NRM is to ensure that a trafficked child is given the appropriate support they need from all the agencies involved to be able to move on from that traumatic experience.
Does my noble friend agree that it is very important, while exercising discretion on the basis of humanity for right to remain, that we do not move away from the basic principles of the 1951 United Nations convention, which are undoubtedly tough but nevertheless important, when we choose to grant asylum to this country?
My noble friend is absolutely correct. We have an incredibly good record of granting asylum not just to adults but to children. Together with the various agencies we provide the maximum level of care that we possibly can to children who have been trafficked or who need our protection.
I apologise to the noble Baroness: I did not hear the first part of her question.
The Modern Slavery Act is now in place and therefore its provisions are being implemented.