Immigration Detention: Victims of Modern Slavery - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 11:59 am on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 11:59 am, 18th July 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime, and the Government are determined to stamp it out. In my role as Immigration Minister, I am especially aware of the shocking exploitation of vulnerable individuals from overseas who are duped by the promise of a better life in the UK, only to be trafficked and sold into modern slavery. Identifying and protecting victims of such crimes is a priority. In October 2017, we announced an ambitious package of reforms to the national referral mechanism. As well as improving the support on offer, these reforms are intended to provide quicker and more certain decision-making, in which victims can have confidence.

I must make it clear, however, that being recognised as a victim of modern slavery does not automatically result in being granted immigration status in the UK. There may be victims of modern slavery who have no lawful basis to remain and for whom support is available to leave the UK voluntarily. It is important that we recognise the important role of our immigration policies. Although we are committed to supporting individuals to leave voluntarily, including with reintegration support, there may be occasions where they have exhausted all options and are refusing to leave, and we are faced with the difficult decision of detaining people to secure their return. I want to reassure the House that we do not take these decisions lightly, but it may be necessary to detain individuals, even if they are vulnerable, to effect their removal. When that is the case, we seek to keep the period of detention as short as possible and place their welfare and safeguarding at the heart of what we do.

The Home Secretary made clear his commitment to going further and faster with reforms to immigration detention, including by reducing the number of people we detain, increasing the number of voluntary returns and working with partners on alternatives to detention. We have made real progress in delivering these commitments. A number of women who would otherwise have been detained are now being managed in the community. Other pilots will begin later this year. As we approach the first anniversary of Stephen Shaw’s second independent review of immigration detention, it is important to take stock of how far we have come, while acknowledging that there is much more to do to ensure that our approach to immigration detention is fair and humane”.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 12:02 pm, 18th July 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question from the Shadow Home Secretary in the Commons yesterday. Government Written Answers on 20 December last year and 19 June this year stated that where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an individual may be a victim of trafficking or modern slavery such individuals shall not be detained, but that there are no central records of such persons. However, the Government indicated yesterday, following a freedom of information request, that, contrary to the interpretation a reasonable person could put on the Written Answers, they did know of 507 individuals who had been detained.

The Government said that the 507 who received a positive reasonable-grounds decision while in detention were then subsequently released within a few days in most cases. But for how long had they already been detained before they received that decision, and why in those 507 cases were trafficking and enslavement signs not picked up and resolved prior to any detention? It does not seem right that victims of trafficking and modern slavery should be locked up as immigration offenders at all. Why was the factual information apparently obtained from the FoI request withheld, presumably knowingly, from the Written Answers in December 2018 and last month? Will the Government explain the justification for, and reasoning behind, the troubling assertion by the Immigration Minister in the Commons yesterday that,

“a Freedom of Information request will elicit different data to that which is available in parliamentary questions”?—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/19; col. 861.]

How in a democracy can a Government be held to account when they apparently knowingly seek to withhold some available factual information being sought through a parliamentary question?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I thank the noble Lord for his questions. He asked why victims of modern slavery were not detected prior to detention. Quite often, Home Office staff pick up the fact that people are victims of modern slavery. It is not the case that the 507 individuals were detained after getting positive reasonable grounds. As stated clearly in the FoI response, the figure relates to people who had positive reasonable grounds when entering detention or while in it. Further analysis of the figures shows that, of the 507 people in question, 479 received the positive reasonable grounds decision during a detention period. Of those, 328—68%—were released within two days of that decision. In total, 422—88%—were released within a week of the positive reasonable grounds decision. Of the 57 who were detained for eight days or more following the positive reasonable grounds decision, 46—81%—are foreign national offenders.

On the data and the differences in the figures, my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister was absolutely correct to say that there is no central record of those who received a positive conclusive grounds decision and are detained under immigration powers. While the information might be available from the live Home Office case information database, known as CID, it would be for internal management only. For example, some data may be incomplete, and every FOI response is caveated as such.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, it is not just the victims of modern slavery but survivors of rape and other serious sexual assaults whose details are being passed to immigration officials by the police, with a view to deporting those who are undocumented migrants. Perpetrators of modern slavery and rapists will be telling these victims, with good reason, that they cannot go to the police because they will be deported. Vulnerable people are being raped and then deported because they reported the rape to the police. Does the Minister not accept that this kind of data sharing between the police and immigration officials is preventing modern slavery and rape being tackled effectively, and that it has to stop?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I say to the noble Lord, as I think I said the other day, that someone who is a victim of modern slavery, which may well include those who have been raped—these people are exploited to an insufferable degree—should be treated first and foremost as a victim. The abuse and trauma they have suffered should be dealt with first and foremost. However, it is also true that other issues may be involved, such as immigration control. Quite often, in a number of cases, that immigration control will in and of itself protect the victim, because the whole picture will come out. But I reassure the noble Lord that, if someone comes forward who is a victim of modern slavery, they will be protected and treated as a victim first and foremost, and will get all the support they need.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Conservative

My Lords, I totally concur with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I have two questions. First, is it correct that it is mostly Chinese women who are detained? Secondly, I agree that these kinds of modern slavery cases should not sit with the Home Office, because the issues of immigration, modern slavery and vulnerable people interlink. There are some real sensitivities and we need to do a lot more than just trade statistics. These are individuals with real issues and problems and they need help and support.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My noble friend asked whether it was mostly Chinese women who are detained. I do not think that we can give an answer to that—I do not have the statistics before me. However, we can all see in our day-to-day lives examples of where modern slavery may be going on, and in some cases those people are Chinese. On the claim that this should not sit with the Home Office, I am not sure where my noble friend thinks it should sit. The whole point of the national referral mechanism is that it is a multiagency mechanism which keys into NGOs and other agencies, all of which are there to support the victim and help them to move on from what has been terribly traumatic.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Equalities)

My Lords, a recent report on this under a freedom of information request showed that, with children who had been recognised as victims of modern-day slavery, having been trafficked over here, when it came to being settled and being given leave to remain, the other arm of the Home Office was busy deporting them once they reached their 18th birthday. This revelation has just come out, as I said, through a freedom of information request. I read it yesterday in a report—the noble Baroness may have seen it. Is this not a complete contradiction, driving a coach and horses through the Government’s Modern Slavery Act? Surely, if we are protecting children, we cannot then deport them a week later when they reach their 18th birthday. There is a harrowing example of a Vietnamese girl being sent back to the very country from where she was trafficked, where she is known, and where she will almost certainly be in grave danger. What are the Government doing to stop this and to go back to the basis of what they say they believe in, which is protecting the victims of modern-day slavery?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Baroness will probably know that, first, we do not detain children —she is absolutely right that children are granted our protection—and all children, no matter what the circumstances of our protection here, are reassessed as they approach their 18th birthday. On sending someone back to face a repeated danger, that would be taken into consideration. We would not send someone back somewhere where they would face harm.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, as a follow-up to the last two questions, in particular the one from my noble friend Lady Manzoor, can my noble friend assure us that there is one unit in the Home Office that deals exclusively with this subject, to make sure that everyone who deals with a victim of slavery knows the ins and outs of modern slavery—or is this part of a more general remit?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

As I said in my Statement, we have what we call the national referral mechanism, which is multiagency and which provides wrap-around support to victims of modern-day slavery.