Amendment 81

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 16th September 2020.

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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.