Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 21st April 2021.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, I beg to move Motion E—that this House does not insist on its Amendment 40. Noble Lords will recall that this amendment seeks to establish a firewall so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that are given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support are not used for immigration control purposes.
While we appreciate the case that noble Lords have made throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government remain of the view that what is provided for in Amendment 40 would actually be detrimental to the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse—and that it is premature, given the process set out by the policing inspectorate, following its report in December on the super-complaint made by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. This view was shared in another place, where your Lordships’ amendment was disagreed by a majority of 80.
None the less, the Government have of course reflected carefully on our earlier debates on this issue. We want to ensure that all victims of crime are able to come forward to report such crimes to the police, regardless of their immigration status, and that they are not deterred from doing so because of concerns that immigration enforcement action may be taken against them. As I have previously made clear, 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 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. Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the national policing lead on domestic abuse, concurred with this view when she gave oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place.
There can be many benefits to sharing information, as it can establish whether a victim has a status of which they are unaware. It can also help to prevent perpetrators of abuse from coercing or controlling their victims because of their insecure immigration status. In cases like these, bringing the victim into the immigration system and providing them with a clearer understanding of their status can only help them, enabling them to obtain appropriate legal advice to regularise their stay if necessary.
I hope that noble Lords will also appreciate that the Government are duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system, to protect our public services and safeguard the most vulnerable people from exploitation due to their immigration status. The public rightly expect that everyone in this country should be subject to our laws. It is right that, when people with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come under our immigration system and, where possible, to regularise their stay. Immigration Enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of crime by directing them to legal advice to help them regularise their stay.
Since April 2020, Immigration Enforcement has improved its data collection and has recorded crime type on all victim referrals from the police. Between April and December last year, 128 victims of domestic abuse were referred to Immigration Enforcement. Of those 128, 75—just under 60%—already had legal status in the UK, of which some of them may have been unaware. Only 32 of these referrals—25% of them—had enforcement action taken in the form of the serving of papers to notify them of their immigration status. This was often days after the initial referral and once the individual had been safeguarded by police officers. Records show that none of the individuals has been detained and none has been removed from the United Kingdom. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these findings demonstrate some of the misconceptions which have arisen regarding the actions that Immigration Enforcement takes with migrant victims of abuse.
We understand the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about migrant victims who do not feel safe reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the time she made yesterday to discuss this, and her amendments, with me. As part of our review, we will engage with domestic abuse sector organisations better to understand those concerns and assess what more we can do to allay such fears. We are also engaging closely with the domestic abuse commissioner’s office throughout the review.
The amendment would also have wider-reaching impacts on domestic abuse victims receiving the NHS treatment they are entitled to. The NHS can seek information from the Home Office about a person’s immigration status to inform its assessment of their eligibility for free treatment. Data sharing of this kind may help some victims of domestic abuse to establish their eligibility for free NHS treatment when seeking treatment not covered already covered by the exemption for medical conditions caused by domestic violence.
Finally, and perhaps most pertinently, as the Commons set out in their reason for disagreeing with your Lordships, this amendment is pre-empting the super-complaint process. The outcome of the super-complaint was published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in December last year and made eight recommendations. It is only right that we properly take account of the recommendations in this report, not least as this is the first ever super-complaint made under the provisions of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which were supported on all sides of your Lordships’ House.
In response to the report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, we have committed to review the current arrangements. We remain on track to publish the outcome of that review by the end of June, as I previously set out. To legislate now would pre-empt the outcome of that review. Moreover, it is highly probable that the outcome of the review can be implemented through further updates to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance or other non-legislative means. If legislation is needed, there will be other opportunities, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has already been introduced to Parliament.
I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and indeed the whole of your Lordships’ House, to support Motion E so that we can complete the review in line with the inspectorate’s findings and recommendations. I beg to move.