Amendment 81

Part of 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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP 5:00 pm, 16th September 2020

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.