Amendment 81

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 16th September 2020.

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Lord Morrow:

Moved by Lord Morrow

81: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Requirements before making and amending immigration rulesPrior to making any regulations under subsection 4(1) to amend or create immigration rules the Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament assessing the impact of the regulations on victims of modern slavery.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of changes to the Immigration Rules arising from this Bill on victims of modern slavery.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, I tabled Amendment 81 because I have real concerns about the proposed arrangements with respect to the end of free movement as they relate to victims of modern slavery. As I stated during the first day of this Committee’s proceedings,

“it is politically unthinkable that we should now stand by and allow an erosion in the rights of victims of modern slavery in this country.”

However, I fear that we are in danger of doing precisely that.

By way of introduction, I should perhaps anticipate the Minister. He made this point in relation to Amendment 7 and might make it again; I hope that my presumption is wrong. He stated that

“the system of identification and support for victims of modern slavery and the legal framework around it go far beyond the scope of the Bill we are debating. Indeed, the most commonly represented Official Report, 7/9/20; cols. 618-21.]

It is certainly important for us to recognise the reality of internal trafficking. However, this must not be allowed to obscure the fact that by far the largest number of trafficked persons in the UK are foreign nationals, for whom immigration status is of huge importance. It can be a source of vulnerability that leads them to be exploited; it can affect their rights to services and support; and it can affect the way in which they are dealt with by professionals and the general public. Immigration policy will therefore be of central importance to addressing human trafficking successfully. In this context, I make no apology for my amendment.

Amendment 81 would require that, before making and amending the Immigration Rules to establish the system that will take the place of free movement,

“under subsection 4(1) … the Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament assessing the impact of the regulations on victims of modern slavery.”

In considering the importance of this provision, we should recall that when the Government announced in February their intention to replace the rights associated with free movement for EEA nationals—including EEA nationals who are victims of modern slavery—with a points-based system, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, responded with a warning:

“traffickers will seek every opportunity to abuse new immigration policies and so the protection of vulnerable people needs to be front and centre of the debate.”

The purpose of Amendment 81, which mandates that there should be an assessment of the impact of the new Immigration Rules specifically on victims of modern slavery, is to give effect to the anti-slavery commissioner’s important recommendation that the protection of vulnerable people needs to be at the front and centre of the debate.

One area of concern is what will happen under the new Immigration Rules to a victim of modern slavery who is not British once they have been confirmed as a victim by the national referral mechanism. Under Section 18 of Northern Ireland’s human trafficking and exploitation Act, victims are guaranteed “assistance and support” and, under subsection (9), the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland is able to continue providing support after a positive conclusive grounds decision where it deems it necessary. However, the Northern Ireland Executive have no power to grant immigration leave to victims to enable them to remain in the UK even if they deem that support necessary.

At the moment, many victims who are EEA nationals, including confirmed victims of modern slavery, are able to stay in Northern Ireland and the wider UK under free movement rights, thus enabling them to access regular benefits and statutory services, to work and to study, and potentially to receive additional trafficking support from our Department of Justice on a discretionary basis as they continue their recovery. However, once free movement comes to an end, EEA nationals newly arriving in the UK will no longer have the right to live and work in any part of the UK, including Northern Ireland, unless they have relevant skills and are sponsored by an employer to get a highly skilled worker visa, which is unlikely to be the case for victims of slavery. Nor will they have recourse to public funds to access benefits and services that will help them in their recovery beyond the immediate crisis period of the NRM.

At Second Reading, I mentioned the Centre for Social Justice’s timely report, It Still Happens Here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s, which was published in July. It states:

“For many, having no recourse to public funds poses further barriers to moving people on safely, putting victims at risk of homelessness and destitution, and making it more likely that they will fall back into exploitation and trafficking.”

Rather than responding to this key finding by extending access to recourse to public funds, it seems that we are about to remove the key provision from some victims of human trafficking that is central to victim recovery. Providing victims with secure immigration status and recourse to public funds is not simply a means to support their recovery; rather, it is also a vital measure to prevent them being retrafficked in the future.

The only option for a victim who arrives in the UK after 1 January to secure the right to remain in the UK and to access publicly funded benefits and services will be to apply for discretionary leave to remain, known as DLR, since EEA nationals are unlikely to be granted asylum. But, unlike victims from other countries, EEA nationals are not currently automatically considered for DLR. They have to make their own applications.

There are two significant additional problems with DLR. First, applying takes time, during which confirmed victims are vulnerable to destitution and re-trafficking. Secondly, to date only a very small proportion of confirmed victims of modern slavery have been granted DLR, with the attached access to public funds and support needed for their recovery, because it is available only in limited and defined circumstances. Deciding to depend on DLR in this knowledge, therefore, would be tantamount to voting to erode support for confirmed victims of modern slavery.

I am not opposed to the end of free movement. We have to give effect to that in order to honour the outcome of the referendum. However, it absolutely does not follow that we have to create a situation in which a significant proportion of trafficking victims have uncertain immigration status and will lose recourse to public funds. I can only assume that the failure to put in place clear and accessible alternative routes for EEA nationals to remain in the UK with public funds for a period of recovery beyond the NRM results from the absence of any formal requirement to assess the impact of the wide-reaching changes to free movement on this specific and particularly vulnerable group.

We must ensure that any future changes to the DLR system serve to make it more accessible for EEA nationals, and that the full impact on victims of modern slavery is assessed, which is why I introduced Amendment 81. As well as seeking to assess the impact of immigration rules on victims after they have escaped their exploitation, it seeks to provide an opportunity for scrutiny of how immigration rules may protect people, or inadvertently put them at risk of trafficking.

In this context, I raise the issue of temporary migration routes such as the seasonal workers pilot scheme, which has been running since last year. A report published last year by the International Organization for Migration, Migrants and their Vulnerability to Human Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Forced Labour, found:

“Restrictive immigration policies (such as restrictions applied to certain visas or arbitrary changes to asylum procedures for nationals from certain countries) and weak migration governance structures are frequently noted as major causes of vulnerability to modern slavery, especially when combined with low-wage migration.”

Elsewhere, the report says that

“migrants whose visas are tied to a specific employer are also at higher risk of exploitation.”

Experts in labour exploitation, such as Focus on Labour Exploitation, have cautioned that temporary migration schemes are

“well-recognised to increase the risks of abuse and exploitation of workers”.

In July the Government published a document called UK Points-Based Immigration System: Further Details Statement, which includes the following text:

“As we replace freedom of movement with the Points-Based System, we remain committed to protecting individuals from modern slavery and exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers.”

I welcome the Government’s statement, but sadly it reads as pure assertion. It does not demonstrate any kind of means to secure this end. I very much hope that the Minister will appreciate how, in the context of the proposed removal of a route to protection from re-trafficking offered by remaining in the UK and having recourse to public funds, and without a guarantee of a safe route for migration for EEA nationals who do not qualify for the skilled worker scheme, this assertion, divorced from any delivery mechanism, is vulnerable to seeming profoundly disingenuous.

Amendment 81 is of central importance to delivering on the recommendation of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner. In the first instance, its presence would help to protect against regulations being passed that make the situation facing EEA nationals who are victims of human trafficking even worse than it will already be from 1 January 2021, compared with how it is today. In the second instance, I very much hope that knowledge of its presence would create an incentive for the Government proactively to develop immigration rules that positively help victims of human trafficking and will prevent trafficking and exploitation occurring in the first place.

The only other way to avoid this dilemma, which would have the added attraction of improving the rights not only of victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals, but of victims of modern slavery from Britain and all other parts of the world, would be for the Government to recognise that, as I said on 7 September, the Bill sponsored by the former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is a Bill whose time has come. Putting into domestic law the right of victims of modern slavery to access support and benefits for a period of recovery in the UK during and after the NRM would demonstrate that, rather than Brexit being allowed to become an opportunity for the erosion of the rights of the most vulnerable, it is about using our sovereignty to enhance their rights and renew our identity as a country that has, since the great Wilberforce, led the way in combating slavery. It would thus, in many ways, make impact assessments under Amendment 81 unnecessary. Were the Minister to give an assurance of support for that Bill, I would be happy to set my amendment to one side. I look forward to his response, and to hearing what others contribute to the debate.

Photo of Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown DUP 5:15 pm, 16th September 2020

My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 81 in the name of my noble friend Lord Morrow. During our consideration of the Bill we have heard a great deal about the impact of the shape of immigration rules on confirmed victims of modern slavery. I share the concerns articulated by other noble Lords about not permitting the changes to the immigration system to leave victims with fewer rights to remain, or more restricted access to services and support than is currently available.

This country has a proud history of providing asylum, refuge and protection to vulnerable people, and ending freedom of movement is not meant to pull the rug out from underneath vulnerable victims of modern slavery. That is not what the public voted for, and I urge the Minister to reflect urgently with colleagues on what can be put in place before the end of the year to ensure that rights to remain in the UK for a minimum of 12 months to receive support beyond the NRM, including the opportunity to engage in work and study, will be made available to victims of modern slavery from EEA countries.

In the specific context of Amendment 81, in July the Government published a 130-page document called UK Points-Based Immigration System: Further Details Statement. Paragraph 3 on page 11, under the heading “Principles of the Points-Based System”, says:

“As we replace freedom of movement with the Points-Based System, we remain committed to protecting individuals from modern slavery and exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers.”

That is a noble commitment, but it rings rather hollow in the absence of a delivery mechanism, which is why Amendment 81 is, as I will argue, of such strategic importance.

The need for a delivery mechanism is highlighted by the implication of the 2018 figures from Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, which show that one-fifth of agricultural workers in the Province are from countries outside the UK and Ireland, and most come from the EU. Some 15% of the agriculture businesses surveyed employ seasonal migrant workers. Agriculture is, unfortunately, already well known to be a risk sector for human trafficking, and the combination of a change to the rules around recruiting migrant workers with those existing risks cannot be ignored.

A report published by the International Organization for Migration last year, Migrants and their Vulnerability to Human Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Forced Labour, found that:

“Restrictive immigration policies (such as restrictions applied to certain visas or arbitrary changes to asylum procedures for nationals from certain countries) and weak migration governance structures are frequently noted as major causes of vulnerability to modern slavery, especially when combined with low-wage migration”, and that,

“migrants whose visas are tied to a specific employer are also at higher risk of exploitation”.

In this context, it comes as no surprise to me that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who has huge experience in dealing with modern slavery issues, having developed, introduced and successfully taken through Stormont what is now known as the human trafficking and exploitation Act, has brought forward the amendment to provide the requisite delivery mechanism. I very much hope that the Government will accept it.

I urge the Government, further to this debate and that on Amendment 7, to prevent the integrity of the Brexit protocols being tarnished by allowing 1 January 2021 to become a day on which the rights of victims of modern slavery and some of the most vulnerable members of our society are eroded. The best way in which to get ahead of the game and demonstrate that, far from being about a race to the bottom, Brexit is about using our sovereignty to generate better laws, would be to adopt the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith. I urge the Government to adopt not merely the amendment but that Bill without delay.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who has done such heroic work, both here and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, in championing the rights of people who are being trafficked. I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, has said.

I should declare that I am a trustee of the anti-trafficking charity the Arise Foundation, which focuses on prevention of trafficking in source countries and has seen a huge increase in vulnerability, due to lack of available work during the Covid pandemic. When ready for publication, I suspect that we will see a substantial increase in trafficking numbers. Has the Minister seen any harbingers or indicators of that?

Undoubtedly, from the reports being received by Arise, Covid has had a devastating effect on heightening vulnerability in source countries, making it more likely that people will be at risk of making unsafe journeys. That is even more reason to incorporate the amendment. I also remind the Minister of the remarks I read into Hansard last week from the former independent commissioner on human trafficking, Kevin Hyland.

I am greatly concerned that, as things stand, when proposed changes to immigration law come into effect on 1 January 2021, they will diminish the rights of victims of modern slavery, and the amendment would help to prevent that from happening. Whereas today EEA nationals who are victims of modern slavery are able to remain in the UK, accessing a variety of publicly funded benefits and employment opportunities to help them recover, they will lose this in the same way as EEA nationals who are not victims of modern slavery. Nothing comparable is being put in its place. Their only hope is to apply for discretionary leave to remain, but we know that in practice very few victims receive such grants of leave—about 12%. Perhaps the noble Baroness can confirm that.

Then I see from reading the Government’s response to Amendment 7 that, although they have committed not to, in effect, directly knock out rights from the EU anti-trafficking directive that are part of EU retained law, they cannot tell us whether all the rights currently available to victims will be part of EU retained law. The Government have a chance again to do that this evening. Unless they do so, this will continue to engender fear that 1 January 2021 will usher in the end of some effective rights of victims of modern slavery.

That would be particularly tragic for the Government because they can take great credit for passing the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I was happy to have been a participant in those proceedings. Of course, that legislation came forward only because of the work of the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. It is a permanent and lasting legacy and achievement of hers and of both Houses, working with one another across the political divide. I would be deeply saddened if I thought that anything we were doing now would in any way diminish the importance and effectiveness of that legislation.

As the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, has said, one of the arguments advanced by those in favour of leaving the European Union, was that the UK would now have the option of not merely maintaining EU standards but going beyond them. Here is an opportunity to test that proposition. The Government could and should go further by urgently adopting the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, and the former Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

In the time available to me, however, I want particularly to comment on the value of the amendment from the perspective of preventing human trafficking. I should like to pursue a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, about ensuring that the arrangements not only for the skilled worker visa but other migration routes will clearly set out how the Government intend to prevent human trafficking and exploitation and contain appropriate safeguards to avoid those routes being manipulated by traffickers.

I welcome the Government’s inclusion of protecting people from modern slavery in the three guiding principles for the points-based system set out in the further details statement published in July. The fact that the whole approach to immigration is underpinned by three foundational principles, and that one of those principles is concerned with combating trafficking, suggests that combating trafficking is important. But where is the delivery mechanism? That was a point made effectively by the two noble Lords who preceded me. I commend the amendment to the Minister as an example of the sort of mechanism that needs to be put in place in order to fulfil the aspirations of that principle.

Of course, not all migrant workers are vulnerable to modern slavery—a point made by the Minister rightly made from the Dispatch Box. Indeed, those who are the most highly paid are unlikely to be caught in exploitation; but even for skilled and well paid migrants it is important that checks and processes are put in place to ensure that those recruiting people from overseas are reputable, subject to scrutiny and abide by all labour regulations. The noble Baroness rightly reinforced that in our earlier debates.

Most at risk, though, are likely to be those who fall outside the skilled worker points-based programme—those who will participate in other temporary migration routes such as youth mobility schemes or seasonal worker schemes or those who may be recruited to work illegally spring to mind. The Government’s policy statement about the points-based system in February said:

“We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.”

I am very concerned that some of the ways in which unscrupulous employers will adjust will include the exploitation of undocumented workers and it is worrying that that the Government do not seem to have taken account of that risk. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness says on that in her reply.

I support the amendment because it will mean that, as the building blocks of the new immigration system are put in place through regulations under Clause 4, the Government will be required to assess the impact of that system on victims of modern slavery, and I hope, the way in which the system can prevent modern slavery from happening at all.

I was struck by research published in 2019 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which looked at labour exploitation of adult migrants in eight European Union states and found that

“vulnerability linked to residence status is the most important risk factor causing or contributing to labour exploitation”.

In 2017 the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group warned that an approach to immigration targeted at reducing low-wage or low-skilled migration presents

“a key risk as, in low-skilled sections of the labour market where demand for cheap and temporary labour is greatest, migrant workers are already highly vulnerable to abuse. Demand for labour in these sectors is unlikely to decrease, meaning that positions may be filled by undocumented workers or those working in breach of visa conditions, who are at even greater risk of severe exploitation due to insecure status.”

I urge the Government to look again at the need for a safe and approved route for migrant labour to enter low-wage sectors. However, in doing so, the Government must consider how the structure of those schemes would facilitate or prevent modern day slavery.

Noble Lords will recall our many debates during and following the passage of the Modern Slavery Act regarding the risks of trafficking and exploitation of domestic migrant workers resulting from restrictions within the special overseas domestic worker visa. It was an issue on which—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who is on the Woolsack today, will recall—I divided the House. The risks that I and others identified included the inability of a worker to change their employer. We must take care that these harmful restrictions that have already been identified in relation to one sector are not replicated in the new immigration routes and system that will be formed through regulations made under Clause 4. Amendment 81 will help in that process.

The Government have already made a commitment to ensure that the points-based immigration system will protect individuals from modern slavery and exploitation. I commend them for that, but they must do more than make statements of aspiration in policy papers. They must make sure that rules, infrastructure and processes surrounding all migration routes will act to prevent modern slavery.

Amendment 81 provides a means for assessing whether each facet of the new immigration system meets this commitment to prevent trafficking and, crucially, allows Parliament to scrutinise the assessment. It will ensure that the risks to the most vulnerable of all workers are considered at the outset of developing new immigration policies and provides a way for the Government to put flesh on the bones of their July policy statement commitment to protecting individuals from modern slavery. For all those reasons, I commend Amendment 81 to the Committee.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Conservative 5:30 pm, 16th September 2020

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 81 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. The noble Lord is to be commended for the work he did in the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about new legislation on human trafficking and modern slavery. In particular, I greatly admire his determination that his legislation should include measures to protect and support victims, something that is sadly lacking in our Modern Slavery Act for victims in England and Wales.

I support Amendment 81 to ensure that any future changes that are made to the Immigration Rules using the powers in Clause 4 should be assessed for their impact on victims of modern slavery, in large part because it appears to me that, thus far, there has been insufficient consideration of the impact of the changes to the immigration system on victims of modern slavery.

As I said on Day 1 in Committee, any changes as part of the Brexit process that result in victims of modern slavery having fewer protections than they had prior to 1 January 2021

“would damage the integrity of the Brexit project in a way that is unthinkable.”—[Official Report, 7/9/20; col. 615.]

In introducing this important amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, spoke very movingly of how changes to free movement could lead to more exploitation for potential victims of trafficking, unless the Government are proactive in addressing this issue. It is indeed ironic that the current proposal means that a significant portion of EEA nationals who are victims of modern slavery would lose access to the very thing that, as recently as July this year, the Centre for Social Justice pointed out is of central importance to victims’ recovery, namely recourse to public funds.

In approaching Amendment 81 and the concern about the erosion of the rights of victims of trafficking on 1 January 2021, it is important to pick up the issue by reflecting on the Minister’s response to my Amendment 7, which addressed concern about the loss of rights on 1 January 2021. That response will help us to see the true significance of Amendment 81, for reasons that I shall explain.

In his response to that amendment, the Minister made it plain that the Government are unable to say precisely which directly effective rights under the anti-trafficking directive will be retained as part of domestic law and which will be lost on 1 January. On reading Hansard, I now recognise—contrary to what I said in response at the time—that this means it is still entirely possible that on 1 January there will be a reduction in the number of directly effective rights available to confirmed victims of human trafficking in the United Kingdom. I find it disturbing that the Government should acknowledge the fact that, in some respects, the rights of victims may be lost in such a way when we could use our sovereignty to ensure that there is no loss of rights.

Amendment 81 would help us to avoid such a situation in future by requiring the Government to make a specific assessment of the impact on victims of modern slavery of any further changes to the Immigration Rules. This will simply provide a check on the development of future regulations that might make the present situation worse. Knowledge that any such regulations will be checked against this standard—namely that they should not undermine the rights of victims of trafficking—creates a positive incentive proactively to develop legislation in favour of the best interests of victims of human trafficking. Indeed, subjecting ourselves to this discipline would give particular legitimacy to efforts to develop regulations that will offset some of the negative consequences of what will otherwise happen to victims of modern slavery on 1 January 2021.

In the absence of Amendment 81, it is as yet unclear what immigration status will be available to victims of modern slavery from the EEA and what access they will have to benefits, housing and other support services once they have exited the NRM. Unless they are among the lucky few to be granted discretionary leave, it seems likely that they will no longer have the access to these services that they have today. In 2015, just 12% of victims were given this special discretionary leave to remain. Unfortunately, despite submitting a Written Question in March, I have been unable to obtain up-to-date statistics from the Home Office.

I have also been advised that in the next few months there is something of an impossible choice for victims of modern slavery as to whether to apply for pre-settled status, which may in the long run provide greater support but in the short term does not give full access to benefits and other services and can prevent them being able to apply for special discretionary leave. It is these sorts of negative consequences that Amendment 81 seeks to avoid, which is why it has my support.

Rather than viewing the present situation as a great problem, we should see it as an opportunity. I encourage us to look beyond merely identifying risks and seek to set a bold new direction for supporting victims of modern slavery. The Government have the opportunity to inaugurate the post-Brexit era by asking Parliament to use its sovereignty to create a legal framework whereby we reject the possibility of victims having lesser legal protections than they do today—and indeed the notion that we should simply ensure that the legal rights of victims under Brexit are identical to the legal rights under the EU—and to enhance the rights of confirmed victims by adopting the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill that I sponsored with the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

This Bill, which amends the Modern Slavery Act, is particularly important in the context of England and Wales, for which there is no statutory obligation in the Act to provide support for victims. Among other things, it is developed to prevent retrafficking and to foster an environment that makes it easier for victims to give evidence in court, in the interests of increasing convictions. The Bill offers all confirmed victims in England and Wales a minimum of 12 months’ support to help them rebuild their lives.

This would demonstrate that Brexit is something with a moral purpose, something of which we can be proud and that enables us to shape the future and lead the world, in line with previous expressions of our sovereignty in abolishing the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833—achievements that have been generative of modern British identity.

Rather than viewing the present situation as a great problem, we should see it as an opportunity. I encourage us to look beyond merely identifying risks and seek to set a bold new direction for supporting victims of modern slavery. The Government have the opportunity to inaugurate the post-Brexit era by asking Parliament to use its sovereignty to create a legal framework whereby we reject the possibility of victims having lesser legal protections than they do today—and indeed the notion that we should simply ensure that the legal rights of victims under Brexit are identical to the legal rights under the EU—and to enhance the rights of confirmed victims by adopting the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.

My Bill passed very quickly through this House in the last Parliament with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who was a tremendous support. There is no reason why it should not do so again and pass through the Commons, if the Government seize this strategic opportunity that now presents itself. I hope that at the very least, the Government might agree to meet me and Sir Iain to discuss the Bill’s merits in the context of what will otherwise happen to victims of modern slavery on 1 January.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I first repeat my interest in the register as a vice-chairman of trustees of the Human Trafficking Foundation. I support Amendment 81 and commend the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, on bringing it forward and on his work on anti-trafficking and modern slavery, as we have heard. I think I read somewhere that it was hearing of the plight of a Romanian woman that set the noble Lord out on this admirable path. Similarly, every time I meet victims or survivors, it just makes me want to do more to help their lot; I believe that is not an uncommon experience. I also commend the noble Lords, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown and Lord Alton of Liverpool, and my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich on their speeches. I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl and commend his excellent Private Member’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which we have heard about. I hope the Government can find time for his Bill or, even better, absorb it into a government Bill.

I am delighted to support Amendment 81, as it is an opportunity to raise again how different the position of EEA nationals will be after 1 January 2021 and to clarify Her Majesty’s Government’s position. In this context, as freedom of movement is replaced with a points-based system, the Government rather unfortunately and naively assert that

“we remain committed to protecting individuals from modern slavery and exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers”— a noble thing to say. But the Government must explain what actions they will take to give expression to this commitment and thereby ensure that the ending of free movement and the consequential change in immigration status for confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals does not lead to increased exploitation. I hope the Government can state clearly that there will be an automatic consideration of discretionary leave to remain for EEA nationals who are confirmed victims of modern slavery.

Sadly, despite our taking back control of our borders and the excellent work of our law enforcement agencies, there will still be good numbers of poor unfortunates trafficked and forced into modern slavery. This amendment asks Her Majesty’s Government only for an assessment of the impact. Perhaps my noble friend might like to consider that William Wilberforce lived for a time in Uxbridge. I am sure that the current MP for that place, my home town, will be keen to ensure that this Government do not ignore the potential for improving the lot of the victims of modern slavery. Let us at least ensure that they will not be forced back to face their traffickers and suffer the same fate again.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 5:45 pm, 16th September 2020

My Lords, one noble Lord said that the Private Member’s Bill from the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is one whose time has come; I think it came quite some while ago.

During the debate on the first amendment today we talked about humanity, and this is a matter of humanity as well. It is about practice as well as law. Some victims will be desperate to get back home, which is a problem for prosecutors. Others will want to stay. Others will need quite a while to sort out what they want to do, and they will need to assess their status. That is only one situation of many and only one example of how immigration and slavery issues coincide.

I do not want to take up the Committee’s time by repeating what so many noble Lords, who have all spent a great deal of time considering modern slavery and doing their very best to fight it in all sorts of ways, have said. The Minister will tell us whether it is necessary, technically and otherwise. I take the view that the problems of slavery should be a consideration across the whole of the legislative front. The 2015 Act needs to be kept under constant review, because as the weeks go by, we learn more about the abhorrent situation and the plight of individuals caught up in it.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I fully support Amendment 81 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. Like others, I pay tribute to him for his work in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in your Lordships’ House, combating the evil of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The noble Lord made a very compelling case for the Government to agree to his amendment today, and I do hope the Minister will be able to give us some hope that the Government will meet the issue that the noble Lord addressed the House on. I equally agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, and again commend the work he has done on combating modern slavery.

The new clause, as we have heard, seeks to ensure that proper consideration is given to the impact of the new regulations on the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. It is most important that we consider the effect on victims that these changes will make. That is really very important. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, rules, regulations, processes and overdue immigration procedures must work to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking and, obviously, not weaken the position at present.

The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, again referred to the anti-trafficking directive, and the risk of what is going to be lost on 1 January. I do hope the Minister will address that. It is a huge concern, for many noble Lords, that at any point next year we will find ourselves with weaker provisions and weaker laws that will benefit only criminals and criminal gangs, and really harm victims.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for all his work. It is high time that the Government stood up and backed the noble Lord. His Private Member’s Bill is absolutely right: all he is asking for is that England and Wales have the same provisions that endure in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Bill sailed through this House, but then what happened to it? It crashed on the rocks in the other place. The Government did nothing to support it last time, and it is wrong. The Government really should stand up now and back the noble Lord on his Bill.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I will start by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that I am not going to trot out the line that he suspects I am. Moreover, I will actually thank him for his contribution to this incredibly important debate, and for his continued commitment to the really important objective of ensuring the impacts on victims of modern slavery are considered in changes to the Immigration Rules following this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said an interesting thing just before she closed, which is that we should consider modern-day slavery across legislation. I think it is absolutely crucial that we consider it across government, because it affects and infects almost every aspect of modern-day life. Noble Lords mentioned William Wilberforce, who is actually one of my heroes. It is over 200 years since we abolished slavery, and yet we have the terrible blight of modern-day slavery in our society. We are committed to tackling this terrible crime. We are now identifying more victims of modern-day slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before. I will just say to the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Kennedy, that there is going to be no diminution in directly affected rights.

We will replace freedom of movement with a points-based system. We remain committed to protecting individuals from modern slavery and exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers. I will not answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because I cannot. Has there been an increase in trafficking during Covid? I think we can all safely say is that there has been an increase in a lot of behind the scenes-type activity that is unpalatable to us all, including things such as domestic violence. I am sure that will reveal itself as time goes on.

We are definitely committed to considering the impact of our policies on vulnerable people, including by fulfilling our public sector equality duties under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. As the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, said, on 13 July we published an equalities impact assessment on the points-based system, which considers the impact of our policy on protected characteristics. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I can send that to him if he wishes. We will continue to iterate this document. Our work ensures that we keep at the forefront of our minds the potential consequences of our policies on those who may be susceptible to exploitation.

Across the board, it is crucial that we understand the groups and communities affected by our policies. As the Home Secretary highlighted in her Statement to the House on Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned Review on 21 July, she has set out clear expectations that she expects officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public and to provide evidence in all advice to Ministers. To answer the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who asked if I would meet him: of course I will meet him to discuss his Private Member’s Bill.

Through the Home Office’s advisory groups, we have undertaken engagement with organisations on the design and development of the future immigration system, including those representing potentially vulnerable individuals. These groups, which include experts on modern slavery, including the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, have been fundamental in helping us to shape our policies and to design the future system. I understand that the Home Secretary has asked officials to facilitate a dedicated session with members of the Vulnerability Advisory Group and experts from the modern slavery sector, to better understand the possible impacts of the new immigration system on potential victims of modern slavery.

The noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord Alton, asked me about the seasonal workers pilot. A key objective of the pilot is to ensure that migrant workers are adequately protected against modern slavery and other labour abuses. It requires operators to ensure that all workers have a safe working environment—I think he alluded to that—that they are treated fairly, paid properly including time off and breaks; that they are housed in safe, hygienic accommodation; that their passport is never withheld from them; and that robust systems are in place for the reporting of concerns and rapid action. The operators of the scheme are and must remain licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

In addition, the Home Office and Defra also monitor the scheme closely to ensure that operators adhere to the stringent requirements set out for ensuring the safety and well-being of seasonal workers. We work with the sector, including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, to achieve these aims. Should either of the selected operators fall short in their duties as a sponsor, action will be taken, up to and including the revocation of their sponsor licence. Other criminal sanctions will be considered as well, as appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, asked me what the Government were doing to ensure that EU exit does not adversely affect efforts to tackle modern slavery. We already exceed our international obligations to victims under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which will not be affected by EU exit. We will continue our work with European partners to eradicate modern slavery, no matter what shape our relationship with the EU takes. This is an international problem, not just a UK problem, and it is in everyone’s interest that we reach an agreement that equips operational partners on both sides with those capabilities that help protect citizens and bring criminals to justice.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, questioned pre-settled status in terms of the right to benefits. Pre-settled status maintains the right to benefits, and a person would not need discretionary leave to remain under the modern slavery provisions because they would have five years’ leave to remain.

I hope that those explanations satisfy noble Lords and that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. I am also grateful to the Minister. I have listened very carefully to all that she has said but I am afraid that I remain very concerned on two fronts: first, the absence of a discipline to ensure that, going forward, the Immigration Rules will be forged out of regard for the need both to minimise opportunities for people trafficking and to help those who have been trafficked to enjoy a full recovery; and, secondly, that at the moment there is a real risk that victims of modern slavery will experience an erosion of their effective rights from 1 January. I do not believe that this is a satisfactory state of affairs.

However, as I said, I listened carefully to what the Minister said but will go away and study her comments more carefully before deciding how best to proceed on this issue. For the moment, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 81 withdrawn.

Amendment 82 not moved.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 82A. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.