Moved by Lord McColl of Dulwich
27: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Grant of leave to remain for confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals(1) Immigration rules must make provision for leave to remain in the United Kingdom to be granted to a person aged 18 years or over when—(a) the person is either a Swiss national or an EEA national who is not also an Irish citizen; and(b) there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of slavery or human trafficking; and(c) subsection (2) applies and subsection (8) does not.(2) This subsection applies if the person meets one or more of the following criteria—(a) leave is necessary due to the person’s circumstances, including but not restricted to—(i) the needs of that person for safety and protection from harm including protection from re-trafficking;(ii) the needs of that person for medical and psychological treatment;(b) the person is participating as a witness in criminal proceedings; (c) the person is bringing any civil proceedings including pursuing compensation.(3) Where the person is receiving assistance from a support worker, the recommendations of the support worker must be considered in assessing that person’s circumstances under subsection (2)(a).(4) Immigration rules must provide for persons granted leave to remain in accordance with this section to have recourse to public funds for the duration of the period of leave.(5) Immigration rules must provide for leave to remain to be granted from the day on which the conclusive determination is communicated to a person for at least 12 months.(6) Immigration rules must allow a grant of leave to remain under subsection (5) to be extended subject to the requirements of subsection (7).(7) In determining whether to extend a grant of leave to remain under subsection (6), and the period of time for which such extended leave should be provided, the person’s individual circumstances must be considered, and whether that person meets one or more of the criteria in subsection (2).(8) A person may be refused leave to remain if—(a) the person is a sexual or violent offender; and(b) the Secretary of State considers that the person poses a genuine, present and serious risk to members of the public.(9) If subsection (8) applies, the Secretary State must ensure the person affected is given reasons for the refusal in writing.(10) In this section—“competent authority” means a person who is a competent authority of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings;“conclusive determination” means a determination that a person is, or is not, a victim of slavery or human trafficking when the identification process conducted by a competent authority concludes that the person is, or is not, such a victim;“EEA national” means a national of a State which is a contracting party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area signed at Oporto on
My Lords, I am very pleased to speak to Amendment 27 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I would like to thank my co-signatories for their support, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who would have been here to speak in support of my amendment had it been reached yesterday, but is unable to join us today. I would also like to thank the former Conservative Party leader, the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith, for his support for my amendment, expressed in our joint PoliticsHome article yesterday. I should say at the outset that I very much hope that the Government will accept it, but if they do not it is my intention to test the opinion of the House.
I make no apology for raising once again the difficult situation that confirmed victims of modern slavery will face as a consequence of the current drafting of the Bill before us. By “confirmed victims”, of course, I mean those who have been through the national referral mechanism and received a positive conclusive grounds decision that they are indeed victims of modern slavery.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Parkinson, who responded to my Amendment 7, and to my noble friend Lady Williams, who responded to Amendment 81. The Government have made all the right noises about protecting trafficking victims, but it is clear, as I shall explain, that in future victims of modern slavery who come from EU countries will be significantly worse off than they are currently.
As a firm supporter of Brexit and advocate for victims of modern slavery, I know that, while free movement must end, the restoration of our sovereignty does not require us to create a situation in which the effective rights of some confirmed victims of modern slavery are diminished. Parliamentary sovereignty actually gives us the opportunity to improve provisions for all victims of modern slavery if we want to. It does not necessitate that we should acquiesce to the effective erosion of the rights of any confirmed victims. That we should inaugurate the Brexit era by doing so for EEA national victims is, in my judgment, unthinkable.
One of the main ways in which a confirmed victim of modern slavery who is an EEA national can seek help for their recovery today is through their treaty rights to remain in the UK and access public funds: in other words, to get benefits and access to local authority housing. In the event that an EU citizen is unable to exercise their treaty rights, perhaps because their ID documents were taken from them by the traffickers, or they have no paperwork to evidence the work they were doing while being exploited—for those exploitations, by their very nature, do not meet the requirements—they have the second fallback option of applying for what is known as discretionary leave to remain.
At the end of the transition period, and once any opportunity to apply for settled or pre-settled status has passed, victims of human trafficking who are EEA nationals will be worse off because they will lose one of the key avenues to support that is available today—exercising their treaty rights—and that will be replaced by nothing.
The confirmed victim will simply be left with the option of applying for discretionary leave to remain. This may not matter if there were a statutory basis for granting discretionary leave, with statutory criteria to make up for the loss of the opportunity for confirmed victims to access support through their treaty rights.
Discretionary leave is only given on a discretionary basis to confirmed victims in very special circumstances set out in the guidance, when they are not eligible for any other form of leave such as asylum or humanitarian protection. The criteria are that a victim is assisting police with investigations into trafficking or modern slavery, that there are compelling personal circumstances which mean the victim needs to stay in the UK, or that the victim is making a claim for compensation against their traffickers and needs to remain in the UK to pursue that claim.
As a Minister said in 2017, discretion to grant leave to remain has been considered as “exceptional”. That might have been acceptable when EU citizens had an opportunity to access treaty rights, but they will no longer be able to do so and it is unlikely that EU victims will be considered for asylum in the future.
In order to really understand this effective erosion of the rights of confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals, it is also important to consider their lot in the wider context of that of victims who are non-EEA nationals. Many non-EEA nationals will have the option of applying for asylum, which, as I said, will not be open to EEA nationals; some will be granted humanitarian protection and the remainder will be automatically considered for discretionary leave. Given these other routes, it may not be surprising that discretionary leave has been considered “exceptional” for non-EEA victims as well.
Internal Home Office data, reported to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee in 2017, showed that just 12% of all victims of modern slavery were given discretionary leave in 2015. Of these, 52 cases were EEA nationals and 71 non-EEA nationals. On
“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.”
Given this call to create a situation that will make the recourse of confirmed victims to public funds more secure, it is deeply concerning that we are actually contemplating legislation today that will make recourse to public funds for victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals less secure. If the Government do not change course, we would expect to see more confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals at risk of destitution and retrafficking than is the case today. This is not required by Brexit. The logic of sovereignty is that we should be more and not less free to make the right laws—if this is what Parliament wants to do.
This is the question we face today, the question in response to which I am tabling Amendment 27. I am asking the Government to ensure that EU citizens who are confirmed as victims of modern slavery have a statutory right to be considered for a 12-month grant of leave if they meet certain criteria. These are set out in subsection (2) of my proposed new clause. The statutory conditions include helping police with their inquiries; when the victim is seeking compensation, or when leave to remain is necessary due to the person's own circumstances. These can cover whether there are potential safety concerns, including the possibility of being retrafficked on their return to their home country, or the need for medical or psychological treatment.
I should stress that, while placing the criteria in my amendment in law gives them greater statutory weight, Amendment 27 does not have the effect of automatically granting leave to remain to all EEA nationals who are confirmed victims of modern slavery. It requires that individual circumstances must be assessed for leave to remain on the basis of the criteria in Amendment 27. Whether the victims meet the criteria is a separate question. Assessments would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Amendment 27 would ensure that all confirmed victims who are EEA nationals are automatically considered for leave to remain. Without this change, confirmed victims who are EEA nationals will lose one of the avenues for recovery that is currently accessible to them—namely, immigration status and recourse to public funds through treaty rights. They will also find themselves at a disadvantage when compared with confirmed victims of modern slavery who are not EEA nationals and who are already automatically considered for discretionary leave.
I am sure that some noble Lords are wondering about the impact of my proposals on victims from outside the EU. Amendment 27 does not affect the immigration options available to non-EU nationals who are victims of modern slavery. It addresses changes facing victims who will no longer have free movement or the ability to seek access to benefits because they are EU nationals and who do not currently have automatic consideration for discretionary leave. Brexit should not lead to confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EU nationals being more made more vulnerable to being retrafficked because they are destitute. Our sovereignty allows us to address the difficulties EU victims are likely to experience because of the end of free movement.
In considering my amendment and the plight of confirmed victims of modern slavery, it is important to remember that we are talking about very small numbers. Expressed as a proportion of the total net migration in 2017, confirmed victims of modern slavery were just 0.9%. EU nationals who would be helped by my amendment are an even smaller subset of this group, which of course includes a significant number of British nationals who have no need of leave to remain.
It will not surprise noble Lords to know that I believe that broader reform of the immigration status of all confirmed victims of trafficking is needed alongside statutory assistance and support for all confirmed victims, including UK nationals. I am grateful for the support expressed during Committee by many noble Lords for my Private Member’s Bill, the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, currently before the House and sponsored in another place by the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Amendment 27 addresses the immediate situation after this Bill becomes law for EU nationals who have experienced being trafficked or exploited. I urge noble Lords to support it, but I will continue to advocate for my Bill as the longer-term solution for all victims of modern slavery. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very happy to be a co-signatory to Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, along with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I remind the House of my non-pecuniary interest as a trustee of the anti-trafficking charity, Arise Foundation.
Characteristically, at midnight last night, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who is in his 88th year, was waiting to move this amendment. If he had been required to, he would have stayed all night, such is his commitment to this cause. I admire him greatly for that. Over several decades, I have been truly fortunate to get to know the noble Lord. I have often found myself on the same side of arguments and deeply admire him on many fronts, not least in the use of his skills as a surgeon in life-saving and life-changing work on the Mercy Ships and his indefatigable efforts to raise in the House the plight of victims of modern slavery. It was also good to see the article on PoliticsHome yesterday by the noble Lord and the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP setting out the case for this amendment.
In 2015, I participated along with many other noble Lords throughout the debates on the Modern Slavery Act and warmly congratulated the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, on pioneering with great skill and determination world-class legislation, a rarity in enjoying bipartisan and bicameral support. Following our debate in Committee on
It has been deeply shocking for us all to see the way in which human traffickers have been fuelling the migrant crisis in Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge. We have heard in our debates on amendments to this Bill about how young children have been exploited, used as pawns in a lucrative and sometimes deadly trade. The House will recall that it is less than 12 months since the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people trafficked into Tilbury. I was particularly pleased to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, said yesterday in your Lordships’ House about what she and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, are determined to do to end this murderous trade in human misery.
No one can doubt the vulnerability of victims of trafficking and modern slavery by those who manipulate and exploit them. The Government are right to accept that other vulnerable groups such as refugees have conferred upon them an immigration status that recognises their vulnerability. When someone is recognised as a refugee in the UK, they are offered an initial period of five years’ leave to remain. That is not the case for victims of trafficking. Confirmed non-EU victims of modern slavery are able to apply for asylum, but for completely understandable reasons this option has not been open to EU nationals. That is what this amendment addresses.
Looking into the background for discretionary leave to remain, I realised that the facts of who the individuals are who get such leave, and why, are opaque—to put it mildly. The Home Office has published guidance on when a victim of trafficking can be granted leave to remain. The guidance is totally discretionary and sets out three criteria on which leave to remain can be given. A person may get leave to remain, first, if they are seeking compensation for their exploitation or, secondly, if they are assisting police with criminal investigations. The third criterion is defined as “personal circumstances”. The data on how many individuals receive such discretionary leave and under which of those criteria is far from clear.
In 2017, the then Home Office Minister wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Field, when he was Member of Parliament for Birkenhead. What a pleasure it was to be here today when the noble Lord took his seat; I know that he will bring great commitment to the fight against human trafficking during his time in your Lordships’ House. In that letter, the Minister made some clear statements that DLR was the last resort and given only when there are “exceptional or compelling reasons”. Since then, no DLR data has been published in response to multiple Parliamentary Questions. This point is raised in the report of the organisation, After Exploitation, entitled Hidden Futures, published on
“Numbers and reasons for grants of discretionary leave to remain to victims of modern slavery do not currently form part of modern slavery published statistics.”
Less than a week earlier, on
Notwithstanding the Government’s failure to be forthcoming and transparent on this issue, in 2019 the British Red Cross was able to get information through freedom of information requests about the grants of discretionary leave to remain and it published in its report, Hope for the Future, some of its findings. These suggest that between just 8% and 9% of all victims of modern slavery were granted leave to remain between 2015 and 2017. Given the small numbers granted DLR, which the noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to, and the fact that the individuals who are vulnerable enough to be subject to trafficking are unlikely to be those who meet the requirements of the new points-based immigration system, it is clear to me that Parliament should now act.
Without Amendment 27, European Union nationals who are victims of trafficking will find themselves significantly disadvantaged compared to the status quo. Ending free movement must not be associated with an increase in exploitation. Given that, unlike non-EEA nationals, who are considered automatically, EU nationals will have to apply for discretionary leave to remain and given that so few grants are made, EU nationals who are unable to claim residency and the benefits associated with that immigration status are more likely to find themselves destitute and subject to potential retrafficking.
It would be unconscionable for this House to acquiesce to the erosion of the legal rights of victims of modern slavery. It would be one thing for the Bill to have no effect, either for good or ill, on the rights of victims, but for it to make things worse would be extraordinary. Notwithstanding the horrendous role of cities such as London, Liverpool and Bristol in the slave trade, the United Kingdom played an historic role in leading the way to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833. It seems astonishing that we should be asked to inaugurate this new era by arranging our laws such that, from
Today, the House has the opportunity to usher in change in a way that does not erode the rights of victims of modern slavery by supporting the modest, but very timely and important, amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. It would provide EU victims with the statutory right to be granted 12 months’ leave to remain, based on the criteria set out in proposed subsection (2) in Amendment 27.
This amendment would give victims the opportunity to stay here, for up to 12 months, to address their needs,
“for safety and protection from harm including protection from re-trafficking” and/or
“the needs of that person for medical and psychological treatment”,
to help the police or to seek compensation. Some EU citizens may naturally wish to return home instead.
As has been said on a number of occasions, and by the noble Lord in introducing his amendment today, debates on this must also be seen in the context of his Private Member’s Bill, which still stands on our Order Paper. I hope that we find time to debate that Bill. Although this amendment is welcome, and I will support it if it is pressed to a Division later, there is a bigger and wider question that has to be addressed, and his Bill is the way to do it.
My Lords, I am pleased to add my support to Amendment 27 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Alton and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. In Committee, when introducing my Amendment 81, I made plain my grave concerns about the possible negative impact that ending free movement will have on victims of modern slavery. I said then, and I reiterate today:
“I am not opposed to the end of free movement.”
However, as I said then,
“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.”—[
This, however, is precisely what will happen, courtesy of the Bill before us, if the Government do not accept Amendment 27.
With the ending of free movement, victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals and who arrive in the UK from
As the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, from next year EEA victims, who have never enjoyed the option of asylum that many non-EEA victims can access, will lose the immigration status and recourse to public funds that they currently enjoy through treaty rights. The only remaining option for victims from EU countries to gain a credible immigration solution will be through an application for discretionary leave to remain. All victims can seek discretionary leave at present but, as with accessing the option of asylum, EU nationals are again at a disadvantage. Unlike victims of other countries, victims of EEA countries are not, at present, automatically considered for a grant of discretionary leave.
Amendment 27 would remedy this difference and ensure that all EEA nationals who are confirmed by the NRM as victims of trafficking are given a grant of leave if they meet the criteria set out in the amendment, which are similar to criteria by which applications are currently assessed under guidance. I urge the Government to support this amendment to ensure that there is a clear route for EEA nationals to have the option of immigration security and recourse to public funds to enable them to recover.
In reflecting on this, we must not forget that care for confirmed victims of modern slavery is not just about fulfilling our moral obligations to the victims, who, let us not forget, have been exploited in the UK; it is also in our self-interest. There is no point spending taxpayers’ money finding victims, then taking them through the national referral mechanism, only to release them without the requisite immigration security to enable them to access the kind of help they need to recover. Failure to provide them with security and tailored support will leave them vulnerable to being re-trafficked and make it impossible for them to have the space needed to consider giving evidence against their traffickers in court. This is unsustainable. Securing increased testimony from victims in court is crucial if we are to see an increase in the stubbornly low conviction rate of traffickers.
In reflecting on these imperatives, the truth is that, while we badly need Amendment 27 to pass today, we also need a more far-reaching solution that provides immigration certainty and support for all confirmed victims, including UK nationals. This is a position which all 27 organisations that make up the Free For Good campaign agree with. That is why the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, introduced to the House by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and sponsored in the other place by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, is so important.
It is odd that if someone is recognised as a refugee they automatically get five years’ leave to remain, but if they are recognised as a confirmed victim of human trafficking they get no statutory leave to remain on that basis. I am not entirely sure why we consider that we have a lesser obligation to people whose lives have been exploited and traumatised in the UK than we have to refugees. I am not saying for a moment that the way we treat refugees should become less generous. I am not saying that at all. My point is simply that we should treat confirmed victims of modern slavery more generously.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill states that, once someone has been through the national referral mechanism and is a confirmed victim of modern slavery, they should be offered specialist tailored support to help them recover and a minimum of 12 months’ leave to remain to access that support. In that context, they will be protected from re-trafficking and be much more likely to have space to consider giving evidence against their traffickers in court.
Moreover, it will benefit not only England and Wales but Scotland and Northern Ireland by providing immigration security to those who are given support after they have been in the NRM. I note that, in the commemoration of UK Anti-Slavery Day later this month, a Motion is to be debated at Stormont on
In conclusion, I hope the Minister will agree to act to ensure that there is a clear immigration path for confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA nationals, and to accept Amendment 27. To lead the way on modern slavery and to take immigration policy back into the hands of the UK Parliament, I call on the Government to make time for the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill to become law by the end of the year. In the 2017-19 session, it cleared the House, unamended, in less than four hours. If the Government want it, this very Conservative Bill—sponsored, as it is, by a former leader of the Conservative Party and the noble Lord—could easily become law by Christmas. Rather than inaugurating the Brexit era on
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has withdrawn and I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is no longer with us. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has also withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, discretionary leave is a precarious response, as we have heard, and it is not frequently granted. We support the amendment and the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, as I have said on many occasions.
Some victims—though one would prefer to say “survivors”—want to get back home as quickly as possible. Others want to stay in order to recover—as far as recovery is possible—and for other reasons, as set out in proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment. One of the frequently expressed concerns about our response to slavery is the limited period provided for recovery after rescue, and 12 months is hardly a big ask.
One of the findings of the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, published last year, was that few victims pursued or were granted civil compensation where that was possible. I therefore particularly support paragraph (c) of proposed new subsection (2).
Participating as a witness seems to be a factor that leads to the granting of discretionary leave. That can be a very big ask—I have used that word before—of the victim. Evidence is obviously important in prosecuting traffickers and exploiters, but granting leave to remain—the immigration response—should not be a transaction balanced by the person being prepared to give evidence. The issues that have been raised of course go far beyond the Bill. In Committee, we were reminded of the Government’s commitment to a world-leading system—and we have led the world.
Regarding the programme to transform the identification of and support for victims, and the legal framework, this is the second debate this afternoon in which data has been mentioned. Data is important. It indicates, among other things, a real interest in the impact of policy. That framework could, if we get it into the Bill, repeal the current provisions and be extended to all victims, which is what the noble Lord, Lord McColl, seeks—as do all noble Lords who have spoken. Having that framework in prospect should not preclude agreement to the amendment.
My Lords, Amendment 27, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, has been signed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has been tenacious and resolute in his efforts to speak up for victims of modern slavery, and it is very much to his credit that he has continued to be a voice for the victims of these appalling crimes. It is a matter of much regret that, so far, the Government have not been minded to listen to him. I join the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, in his warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I have respected and admired the noble Lord since my earliest days in this House. He is a thoroughly good and decent man, and an example for all of us to follow. He set out a powerful case for the amendment. If it is not accepted, I have no doubt that it will be carried by a large majority when the House is divided. It was good to note his confirmation that he had the support of the honourable Member for Chingford and Woodford Green in the other place—not somebody who would normally be described as a lefty do-gooder.
The amendment provides for the circumstances whereby a person over the age of 18 is to be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom, and proposed new subsections (2) and (8) set the necessary parameters for granting this status. The amendment is of course confined to EEA and Swiss nationals, but that is to get it within the scope of the Bill. Many victims of modern slavery are vulnerable people who are British and so do not need this additional protection, but that does negate the importance of helping those victims from abroad.
On a separate note, I have been supportive of the noble Lord and his Private Member’s Bill, which passed through this House in the last Parliament. It is a matter of much regret that the Government left it to be wrecked by the usual suspects in the other place.
It was good to hear about the report from the Centre for Social Justice, which considered the whole question of how victims are looked after from the point of rescue to the point of recovery—both are necessary. I also note that the report’s foreword was written by the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, correctly pointed out that this Bill actually makes things worse for victims: surely that cannot be the intention of the Government. He has an excellent record in supporting victims of modern slavery. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, he steered through legislation on that issue which is generally regarded as more superior to the legislation in force here in England and Wales. It must be time for the Government to bring the legislation in England and Wales into line with the legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, is right in his call today and in his call for support for his Private Member’s Bill. If he needs to divide the House, noble Lords on these Benches will support him.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich for instigating this important debate and I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to him for his dedicated and unswerving commitment to supporting the victims of modern slavery. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said, it is a commitment that is strong at any hour of the day and one that applies to all noble Lords who have spoken—and would have done to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who, as my noble friend said, would have spoken today had we reached this group sooner.
The Government are equally committed to tackling this heinous crime, which has absolutely no place in our society. We are now identifying more victims of modern slavery and doing more to bring the perpetrators to justice than ever before, and we are committed to supporting victims and survivors and helping them rebuild their lives. However, we do not accept that the victims of modern slavery who are EEA citizens should automatically be granted leave to remain in the UK, which is what my noble friend’s amendment seeks to do.
Granting leave to remain is appropriate in some cases, but the individual circumstances of a case are what must be central to the decision. I hope that all noble Lords will agree that a decision on whether leave is granted should not be determined by someone’s nationality. That is certainly an approach which complies with our international obligations under the trafficking convention. Where leave to remain is granted, it is normally where the victim is supporting the police either in an investigation, through being a witness in court or because of a requirement for medical treatment that needs to be provided in the UK—or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, noted, because they are pursuing compensation for the exploitation that they have suffered. It is perhaps worth reiterating, as we touched on in Committee, that the most common nationality among all referrals in 2019 to the national referral mechanism was British, with UK nationals accounting for 27% of all those being referred, so tackling this abhorrent crime is separate from immigration policy.
For those who are not UK nationals, some victims of modern slavery already have leave to remain in another capacity or may qualify for a more advantageous status, such as refugee status. Victims from the EEA, who, as my noble friend noted in his opening remarks, may find that not possible, may also qualify for leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme. There is a further option that my noble friend did not touch on in his remarks, which is that victims can apply for support from the Home Office modern slavery victim care contract, which includes accommodation and support. We want to ensure that all victims and survivors, who are often very vulnerable people, as has been made apparent so powerfully today, have the support that they need.
For those who do not qualify for leave to remain, the Government are committed to supporting them to return to their home country and to rebuild their life. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, they often want to do that as soon as possible. We have links with NGOs around the world, including a memorandum of understanding with La Strada Poland, which supports the victims of modern slavery when they return home and helps them reintegrate into their communities. The Government are proud of the work we are doing to stamp out this abhorrent crime and I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, pay tribute again to the world-leading legislation which has been passed in this area.
A blanket policy of granting discretionary leave risks creating the incentive for some—a minority of individuals—to make false trafficking claims in an attempt fraudulently to obtain leave to remain. We have to ensure that the system we have put in place is focused on those who truly need our help and is not abused by the sort of organised and callous criminality which, as has been said, profits from human misery. It is for these reasons that we believe that my noble friend’s amendment is unnecessary, and I hope that he will withdraw it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his kind remarks and for all the support and hard work that he does on this and many other subjects. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who has done such wonderful work in Northern Ireland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support and her amazing stamina. She never seems to get tired.
To respond to the debate, it is clear that my Amendment 27 does not—I emphasise this—automatically grant leave to remain to all EEA nationals who are confirmed victims of modern slavery. It guarantees leave only where the criteria in the amendment are met, which will require an assessment of the circumstances in each case. The amendment does ensure that all confirmed victims who are EEA nationals are automatically considered for leave to remain. Without this change, confirmed victims who are EEA nationals will not only lose one of the avenues for recovery currently accessible to them—immigration status and recourse to public funds through treaty rights—they will find themselves at a disadvantage when compared with victims who are not EEA nationals and who are already automatically considered for discretionary leave to remain.
Without Amendment 27, EEA confirmed victims of modern slavery will be significantly worse off as a result of the Bill. It is unthinkable that this House should acquiesce to allowing the rights of some victims of human slavery to be moved backwards, and so I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 312, Noes 211.