Amendment 67

Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Baroness Meacher:

Moved by Baroness Meacher

67: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause— “Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes(1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom that is processed for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse is not used for any immigration control purpose.(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that the personal data of a witness to domestic abuse in the United Kingdom that is processed for the purpose of that person giving information or evidence to assist the investigation or prosecution of that abuse, or to assist the victim of that abuse in any legal proceedings, is not used for any immigration control purpose.(3) Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 shall not apply to the personal data to which subsection (1) or (2) applies.(4) For the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State must issue guidance to—(a) persons from whom support or assistance may be requested or received by a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom;(b) persons exercising any function of the Secretary of State in relation to immigration, asylum or nationality; and(c) persons exercising any function conferred by or by virtue of the Immigration Acts on an immigration officer.(5) For the purposes of this section—“immigration control purpose” means any purpose of the functions to which subsection (4)(b) and (c) refers;“support or assistance” includes the provision of accommodation, banking services, education, employment, financial or social assistance, healthcare and policing services; and any function of a court or prosecuting authority;“victim” includes any dependent of a person, at whom the domestic abuse is directed, where that dependent is affected by that abuse.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make arrangements to ensure that the personal data of migrant survivors of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purpose of their seeking or receiving support and assistance is not used for immigration control purposes.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London who added their names to this amendment. It requires the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal details of a victim of domestic abuse or of a witness to domestic abuse which is processed so that the victim can seek support is not used for immigration control purposes. The amendment also requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to ensure that victims, witnesses and relevant officials are made aware of this protection.

At the outset I thank the commissioner for putting at the top of her two key priorities for Report extending support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. The commissioner supports amendments, which certainly includes this one, to ensure equal access to support regardless of immigration status. She is concerned that without these additional provisions in the Bill, the Government will be unable to ratify the Istanbul convention. I hope that the Minister will comment on the significance of this amendment for the Istanbul convention.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for the meeting last week with those of us who have put our names to this amendment. The Minister made it clear that the Government are waiting for the results of their review of the Home Office treatment of the victims of domestic abuse and are therefore resistant to accepting this amendment.

The Government and I seem to be looking at two different sides of the mirror. The Government want to find examples of good practice where a victim’s immigration status is resolved and their life can move forward positively. The plan is then to publicise these happy stories. That is fine—in fact, it is splendid—but our concern is for the 50% of domestic abuse victims who never report the crimes committed against them for fear of detention and/or deportation if on leaving a marriage or relationship their immigration status is brought into question. These crimes cannot therefore be followed up by the police, which is surely a matter of great concern for the Home Office.

Is the Home Office more concerned about having access to information about vulnerable victims of domestic abuse in order to pursue issues of immigration status than it is about the inability of the police to pursue criminal perpetrators because victims are too afraid to report their crimes? I understand the Home Office’s dilemma but the moral imperative here seems overwhelming. For these extremely vulnerable women to face continued abuse and criminal acts against them to help the Home Office get information about other people is surely, quite simply, not right.

The Minister seemed to make it clear that the government review will not even be looking at the consequences for victims of the current free flow of information from victims to the police and then on to immigration officers at the Home Office. In fact, the Government have all the information we, and they, need to know that a firewall is needed to protect victims. We know that only with the firewall proposed by this amendment will 50% of these vulnerable women with insecure immigration status seek the assistance they need. As is surely important for the Government, this amendment would ensure that the perpetrators of domestic abuse against these women could be dealt with in the normal way by the criminal justice system. The review will not change these facts or throw any further light on the issue. Does the Minister accept that? That is how it is. During our meeting, the Minister was unable to respond to these arguments. This is not at all a criticism of the Minister—I believe there is no morally acceptable counterargument to make.

Before I conclude, I want to clear up a few misunderstandings. Some services may need to share data; for example, to establish an individual’s immigration status to determine whether or not they have the right to access the NHS. However, a victim’s data should never be used to trigger immigration enforcement proceedings. That is a completely different matter.

This amendment needs to be included on the face of the Bill. At present, the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance on data-sharing is inconsistently adopted by police forces up and down the country. The police need absolute clarity on this issue and this amendment would provide it. We do not need to wait for the review. We know that we need a clear statutory duty to ensure safe reporting by domestic abuse victims. If a survivor of abuse with unsettled immigration status comes to the notice of the police, the police should refer them to a specialist who deals with these issues. To catapult these women into the immigration enforcement system without legal advice or support, just at the point when they are at their most vulnerable and have taken the first step to escape their abuse, is unnecessary, counterproductive and cruel.

Finally, we know that almost all the vulnerable women who are the subject of this amendment report that threats of deportation have been used by their perpetrators. The reality is that the Home Office is unwittingly supporting perpetrators in their criminal activities. Is the Minister content with that situation? The UK’s treatment of these women is not consistent with our claim to be a civilised society; that is certainly my view. I hope that Ministers will reflect carefully on this issue. If the Minister cannot assure the House that the Government will address this issue within the Bill, I will want to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 3:45 pm, 15th March 2021

My Lords, I will be supporting the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Wilcox should they wish to press this amendment to a vote today. We all know that migrant women with no recourse to public funds face so many additional barriers to safety from violence. Abusers commonly use women’s fear of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them and stop them seeking the help that they need. Thanks must go to Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, co-ordinator of Step Up Migrant Women, Janaya Walker of Southall Black Sisters, and all those organisations which work with migrant women and have kindly shared many heart-breaking testimonies with us.

We all, including the Minister, wish to ensure that safe pathways are established for migrant women to report abuse. To be honest, I am disappointed that our arguments for the Bill to play its part in achieving that have so far fallen on deaf ears. The Government are saying that the 2020 National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance simply needs better implementation. We are saying, however, that the super-complaint investigation, which several of us referred to in Committee, found that the guidance on data-sharing has been only inconsistently adopted by police forces in England and Wales; is discretionary, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said; and is therefore not fit for purpose.

If the guidance is not working adequately and there is no legal duty for the police to tell immigration enforcement if they know someone is in the country illegally, why are the Government not using this Bill to remedy the situation? Why also are the Government waiting until 21 June to respond to the super-complaint investigation by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters? Obviously, this will be too late for this Bill—and too late for so many women who are living in fear not only of abuse but of detection and of reporting that abuse.

Why are the Government also insisting that the police need to share the victim’s data to safeguard the victim? Surely, it is the role of the police to safeguard and investigate, and to refer the victim of abuse to specialist services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said—and it is the role of immigration to enforce immigration policy and rules. These roles should not be conflated at the expense of the victim. The Stand Up Migrant Women campaign also insists that there is a distinct lack of data on any positive effects resulting from such information-sharing. I ask the Minister to think again about the importance of this amendment to so many migrant women who are trapped in the sinking sands of irregular identity and regular abuse.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, this amendment is about victims of domestic abuse who have—or, crucially, believe that they have—insecure status. Believing or being told that you are insecure is part of control, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, just said, and trust or lack of trust—indeed, fear of an authority figure—is a significant barrier to seeking help. In Committee, I quoted Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, who said:

“Victims should have every confidence in approaching the police for protection”, and should

“never be in a position where they fear the actions of the police could unintentionally but severely intensify their vulnerability”.

That was about organised crime but it applies precisely also to this situation.

The Government have, or will have, their pilot on the needs of migrant women. They are not a homogeneous group: there are different groups and communities, and so on, but the subjects of this amendment are characterised by the common factor of insecure status. The issue is about process. Without a firewall, quite a lot of women—and some men—will not even get to square one of “victims first and foremost”.

At the previous stage, the Minister spoke of the benefits to sharing information. I do not dispute that there are certain benefits in some situations but this is a matter for the individuals’ consent. I am very concerned that in Committee, in referring to victims’ needs being “put first”, she talked about there being a “clear position” on the police exchanging information about victims of immigration enforcement. There should indeed be a clear position, and the amendment provides it. She also said that the Government are

“equally … bound to maintain an effective immigration system”, that

“individuals … should be subject to our laws” and that if their status is irregular, they

“should be supported to come forward … and, where possible, to regularise their stay”.—[Official Report, 1/2/21; col. 1912.]

We could have a debate about safeguarding from exploitation, which I acknowledge that she mentioned, too, but that is not the issue here.

This sounds too much like “status first” and is not consistent with “victims first”, which is what we have heard throughout the debate, and rightly so. I support the amendment. We on our Benches will support it not only because of the Istanbul convention, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but because of its intrinsic importance.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, it is extremely unfair that someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and has sought help is twice victimised. It shows an astonishingly unfeeling and callous approach to these victims, entirely at odds with the understanding and caring approach of the Government, as shown in this otherwise excellent Bill. I wonder how they can allow the data of domestic abuse victims to be used in this way. Does it mean that immigration and the deportation of victims trumps the importance of this legislation, and that certain groups of victims are not to qualify for support?

The groups of victims include foreign wives of unregistered marriages, which are not seen in English law as lawful. This is an important amendment, and failure by the Home Office to recognise its significance sends a sad message: that the Government are not willing to treat all victims of domestic abuse equally.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her work on this amendment. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

Amendment 67, to which I give my support, speaks to an underlying issue with several amendments that concern migrant women: namely, the balance between the Home Office’s commitment to immigration enforcement and the support of victims, which is too often weighted too heavily towards the former. From my own work exploring how varying circumstances, such as migration, affect one’s health outcomes, I hear far too often of victims of crime too nervous to come forward to the police for fear that, rather than receiving the help and support that they need, they will instead find themselves indefinitely detained, split from children and families and deported. The result is that they simply do not come forward, for fear is weaponised by abusers to prevent their victims escaping. This is all too common.

Confidence in the authorities to protect migrant survivors is low, and the lack of a clear firewall to prevent data being used for enforcement is a significant contributing factor. By producing such a firewall, Amendment 67 would go a long way to build confidence and encourage survivors to come forward. I was grateful for the time given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, and officials who sought to explain how work was being undertaken to review what actually happens. Unfortunately, the results of this will come too late for the Bill—and even when they do, migrant women will not have access to such a review. All they will know is that they are at risk of their information being passed to the Home Office.

This amendment is one of the structural changes required to reduce violence against migrant women. We have heard the arguments from the Government, here and in the other place, against the amendment. I must admit to being disappointed by the lack of movement or engagement with some of the points which have been repeatedly raised by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. We have heard from the Government that such data-sharing is necessary for safeguarding; it is not clear how this can be the case. The recent findings on police data-sharing for immigration purposes established that the investigation has found no evidence that sharing personal victim data between the police and the Home Office supports the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse.

While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and the right to access the service, there is absolutely no reason that the police should need to share victims’ immigration status with the Home Office. This does nothing to enhance safeguarding and everything to undermine survivors’ confidence that they will be treated by police as victims of crime, rather than as perpetrators. This issue is of enormous importance. We must find a way of ensuring that survivors have confidence that they can come forward without fear. This is demonstrably not true at present, and a clear solution is present in this amendment. I therefore hope that the Government may think again on this amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I support Amendment 67 and if it comes to a vote, the Green group will vote for it. It was a particularly nasty part of the Data Protection Act 2018, which contained provisions that allow the near-unlimited sharing of personal data for the purpose of immigration enforcement. A small group of us tried to fight that at the time, predicting problems as we see today. It was part of a trend by this Government towards turning every single person in this country into a border enforcement agent.

People are currently at great risk when they engage with any kind of public service that information will be passed on to the Government and used to deport them. This really should not be the case. When a survivor of domestic abuse reaches out for help, they should be treated as a human being and given the help that they need unconditionally. There should be absolutely no doubt in their mind that they will be helped and not harmed by accessing support.

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked the Minister whether she could say what significance this amendment has for the ratification of the Istanbul convention. Perhaps I can assist the House. As we will hear in the next group, the Istanbul convention requires signatories, of which the UK is one, to take the necessary legislative steps and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and private spheres. It goes on to say that the implementation of the provisions of the convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground, specifically mentioning migrant or refugee status, among other things, in the convention.

If a migrant or refugee is deterred from seeking protection from violence because they believe that their details will be passed to immigration officials for immigration control purposes, the UK is in my view in breach of its obligations under the Istanbul convention, as well as it being morally reprehensible and, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, just said, callous and unfeeling.

We know for a fact that the police pass the details of victims of crime, including rape victims, to immigration officials for immigration control purposes, and this needs to stop. Amendment 67 seeks to stop it, at least in relation to victims of domestic abuse, and we strongly support it. If the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House, we will support her.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 4:00 pm, 15th March 2021

My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that, if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House, the Opposition Benches will strongly support her amendment. The amendment calls for the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the UK is processed only

“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse” and not for immigration control.

Government policy is clear: victims of crime should be treated without discrimination. Therefore, the separation of immigration enforcement and protection of domestic abuse victims who are migrant women must be delineated. A failure to do this puts migrant women at risk of the double jeopardy of both danger from their abusers and fear of deportation.

The Istanbul convention, the landmark international treaty on violence against women and girls which the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying, requires in Articles 4 and 59 that victims are protected regardless of their immigration status. Still, FOI requests reveal that 60% of police forces in England and Wales share victims’ details with the Home Office—prioritising immigration control over victims’ safety and access to justice.

While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and right to access the service—for example, some NHS services—there is no legal requirement for any data sharing with the Home Office related to domestic abuse victims. Without any national policy guidance on this practice, the police approach to safeguarding migrant victims of crime will remain inconsistent.

The blind spots contained in this Bill are resolved by this amendment. I fear that this blind spot enables offenders and abusers to use police involvement as a threat to their victims, rather than the source of protection that it should be. Various countries around the world have demonstrated that firewalls can be and are being implemented in different ways to create a separation between public services and immigration enforcement. It is entirely possible that the training and cross-sector relationships we are calling for through this Bill can establish safe reporting pathways that include access to specialist support services and legal advice to address a victim’s immigration status, as necessary.

Another consequence of putting immigration control above the safety of victims is that perpetrators can commit these crimes with impunity—a risk not only for survivors but for wider communities. Better trust in the police to protect victims of abuse and investigate crime for migrant women will improve responses for all survivors and the public.

I challenge the Government to establish safe reporting pathways by incorporating a clear statutory obligation preventing public authorities and other support services sharing data with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control, to ensure that safe reporting is available to all women, regardless of their immigration status.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the other signatories of this amendment for setting out their case for a firewall so that the personal data of domestic abuse victims which are given or used for seeking or receiving support are not used for immigration control purposes. I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Wilcox of Newport, and others after Committee.

While I appreciate the case they are making, the Government remain of the view that what is provided for in Amendment 67 would hinder the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse and that it is premature given the process set out by the policing inspectorate following its report on the recent super-complaint about this.

I fully understand the sentiment behind the amendment, which is to ensure that migrant victims of domestic abuse come forward to report that abuse to the police and are not deterred by concerns that immigration enforcement action might be taken against them. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford made clear in Committee, our overriding priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status. Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which was updated last year, makes it clear that victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council remains clear in its view that information sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement is in the interest of the victim. Sharing information can help prevent perpetrators of abuse coercing and controlling their victims because of their insecure or unknown immigration status. In such circumstances, bringing the victim into the immigration system can only benefit them. This amendment would prevent that and could cut against other assistance that can be provided to domestic abuse survivors.

It might assist the House if I give one example of the possible unintended effects of this amendment. We will shortly be debating Amendment 70 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. That amendment seeks to expand the destitute domestic violence concession so that any migrant victim of domestic abuse can apply for temporary leave to remain while making an application for indefinite leave to remain. I will leave the debate about the merits of Amendment 70 to my noble friend and the debate which will follow. For the purposes of this debate, I submit that an application under the destitute domestic violence concession is, in the words of Amendment 67, a request for

“support or assistance related to domestic abuse”.

Under this amendment, the Home Office could not lawfully process any application under the DDVC because the applicant’s personal data could be used for an immigration control purpose. I fully accept that that is not what the sponsors of this amendment have in mind but, were it to be added to the Bill, I fear that would be one effect.

More broadly, I hope that noble Lords will understand that the Government are duty-bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not least because of their obligations under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which permits the Home Office to share and receive information for the purposes of crime prevention and detection and effective immigration control. As such, it was particularly disappointing to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, say that the Labour Benches would vote in favour of this amendment, were it put to a Division. We have an obligation to protect our public services and to safeguard the most vulnerable people from exploitation because of their immigration status.

The public rightly expect that people in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when people with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come in line with the law and, where possible, to regularise their stay. Immigration enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of domestic abuse and other crimes by directing them to legal advice to help regularise their stay.

Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 provide the statutory framework within which this information is exchanged. I remind noble Lords that the Government are committed to reviewing the current data-sharing arrangements in relation to victims of domestic abuse.

It was not very long ago that, in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, your Lordships’ House approved legislation establishing a system of police super-complaints. The first super-complaint to be considered under this new system was on this very issue. The outcome was published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in December 2020. It made eight recommendations in total: five for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, two for the Home Office and one jointly shared between them. HMICFRS said that the Government should respond within six months—that is, by June—and we are committed to doing just that. However, having legislated for the super-complaint process, we should not now undermine it by not allowing it to run its proper course.

It is only right that we take account of the recommendations in the report in proper detail. In response to the report, we have committed to reviewing the current arrangements, and, as I have said, we will publish the outcome of the review by June. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London lamented the fact that this would be too late for this Bill, but I reassure her that it is highly probably that the outcome of the review can be implemented through further updates to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance or other administrative means—so action can be taken swiftly.

We understand the concerns that have been raised about migrant victims who do not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has proposed undertaking further research into the experiences of this cohort of victims, which we are committed to doing. We will engage with domestic abuse organisations to understand those concerns and assess what more we can do to allay those fears. We welcome the input of all noble Lords as we conduct this research.

In conclusion, while we understand the concerns that lie behind it, we respectfully believe that this is the wrong amendment and at the wrong time. If adopted, it would prevent victims of abuse from obtaining the support that they need, whether under the DDVC or other routes, and it prejudges the outcome of the super-complaint process, which was endorsed by your Lordships’ House just four years ago. I would be glad to undertake to keep the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others informed about the progress of the review and to discuss its conclusions with them. On that basis, I hope that they might yet be willing to withdraw their amendment today.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I thank most of all the many noble Lords who have contributed so powerfully in support of Amendment 67. I also thank the Minister for his response, but I do not accept at all his view that it would reduce the support or protection for victims of domestic abuse. It very clearly talks about the information process

“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance”.

Obviously, that information being passed from the police to the immigration officials would be unacceptable under this amendment. On the other hand, if the victim were to go to the immigration officials with a representative and with their information, saying, “I want you to sort out my immigration status”, the immigration officials could of course proceed absolutely without any problem. As such, this is a bit of dancing on a pin, if I may put it that way. Basically, I do not accept that at all.

The Minister referred to working to allay the fears of victims of domestic abuse. This is not about allaying fears; it is about removing a very real risk for these very vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. As such, simply trying to allay fears really does not deal with the problem at all.

The Minister suggested keeping us informed; certainly, that would be helpful, and I hope that Ministers would do that. However, in view of the very disappointing response of the Minister, I want to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 321, Noes 262.

Division number 1 Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (3rd Day) — Amendment 67

Aye: 321 Members of the House of Lords

No: 262 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 67

Amendment 67 agreed.

Amendments 68 and 69 not moved.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:26 pm, 15th March 2021

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 70. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.