Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 21 April 2021.

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Baroness Meacher:

Moved by Baroness Meacher

At end insert “and do propose Amendments 40B and 40C in lieu of Amendment 40—

40B: 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.”

40C: In Clause 79, after subsection (7) insert—“(7A) Regulations under this section bringing section (Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes) into force may not be made until both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution to the effect that it should be brought into force, moved either after debate in that House of any publication of the outcome of a review by the Secretary of State of existing data-sharing procedures in relation to victims of domestic abuse for purposes of immigration control, or after 1 July 2021, whichever is the sooner.””

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to move Amendments 40B and 40C, which need to be taken together. Again, I thank supporters across the House, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, for their support and I thank the Minister for our very helpful meeting yesterday. I was very grateful for a very open discussion about the issues.

The purpose of our original Amendment 40 was to protect victims of domestic abuse whose migration status is uncertain. About half of these victims are too afraid to report the crimes committed against them. Their perpetrators threaten that the victim will be detained or deported if they report the abuse. Irrespective of what their immigration status is, it is a very useful threat for perpetrators to use. The victims have good reason to be afraid because, at present, if the victim reports a crime of domestic abuse to the police, there is every reason the police may pass that information along to the immigration authorities. This is at a moment of crisis for the victim, when they have quite likely been made homeless, they may have been thrown out of their home and are completely vulnerable. The idea that the immigration authorities begin to look for them at that point is utterly inappropriate.

To make clear what we were trying to achieve: our amendment was intended to prevent information about the victim, or any witnesses, being passed from the police to the immigration services. I understand the reasons for the Commons’ rejection of the amendment. They argue that the Government have committed to the review that the Minister has referred to about the processing of migrant victims’ personal data for the purposes of immigration control and that the amendment would pre-empt the outcome of that review. I totally understand that.

Incidentally, the Minister referred to the need for information to be passed to the NHS. We agree with that and we are not talking about blocking the sharing of information with the NHS; we are simply talking about the police passing information to the immigration services, which is a completely different issue.

Our compromise amendment fully respects the Government’s position and takes account of it. The only reason given by the Commons for rejecting the amendment was the fact that the review is ongoing. Amendment 40C, linked with Amendment 40B, makes clear that regulations under this section will not come into force

“until both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution to the effect … after … any publication of the outcome of a review … or after 1 July 2021, whichever is the sooner.”

As the Minister has explained, it is expected that the review will be published in June. Therefore, the review will need to be completed, and it will need resolutions from both Houses before these protections could be introduced. So we are allowing time for the review to be completed and also putting quite an onerous block in the way of this reform by saying “we need a resolution from both Houses.”

The Minister referred to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance, but I am told that the guidance is implemented very unevenly across the country. If we simply enhance the guidance, that is no guarantee that these victims of domestic abuse will be protected. It simply is not sufficient or strong enough.

The Minister explained to me that, if protection of domestic abuse victims is needed, there may be a Bill in the next Session. However, these things are very uncertain, and all we are doing is leaving open the option of resolutions of both Houses. If there is an alternative Bill, then clearly this matter could be picked up in that Bill. The Government rightly said that the original amendment was not acceptable because it pre-empted the review, so we have taken that on board fully.

One of the issues is that the review will need to illustrate that there is a problem with these victims of domestic abuse having such fear that they do not report the crimes committed against them. I worry that the review sounds as though it will be focusing on the positive experiences of some domestic abuse victims whose immigration status is settled or quite straight- forward.

In our meeting the Minister referred, as he did today, to the 128 domestic abuse victims who are in touch with immigration officials. About 60% of them have settled status and the remaining 30%-plus have not been detained or deported. This is welcome information, but we have no idea whether those 128 represent 1% or 10% of these migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. It would be extremely helpful if the review tried to identify this cohort of about half of domestic abuse victims who have an immigration status issue to find out exactly what is happening to them. I ask the Minister to make sure that the review adequately covers that half of the cohort about which we are talking.

The compromise amendment would await the outcome of the review and leave the Government in control, as Governments understandably need and like to be. It recognises the need for the review to report but also provides an avenue for the protection of these extraordinarily vulnerable domestic abuse victims to be put in place if the review shows a need for that protection. We know there is a need. The question is whether the review will throw up that evidence and information.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop 4:30, 21 April 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for sponsoring this amendment, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and everyone who has faithfully backed the inclusion of migrant women in this Bill. As we already know, the Government voted against the amendment, which would have improved access to justice for migrant women. The Commons outcome does not secure any long-term legislative protection for migrant women. That is a shame.

We have seen some great breakthroughs in this Bill, some of which I have had the honour of co-sponsoring and which the Government have warmly supported, but their response on migrant women is quite glaring. Stuart McDonald of the SNP said it best when he asked:

“what is more important, protecting and supporting victims, or protecting Home Office powers over migration?”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 533.]

The Commons vote on 16 April has given us the answer.

The #MeToo movement caught on in waves in 2017 because many people across countries, societies and cultures could say that they too had experienced some form of sexual violence. We cannot in all good faith leave the outcome for migrant women to a principle that undoes the very aspiration of this Bill, which was to be ground-breaking.

We have heard women campaigners speak loudly about how abusers can turn to using a woman’s insecure immigration status as a tool to deter them from reporting abuse and to oppress them with the fear of deportation. Women’s rights campaigners have said that the Government’s policy is creating an enabling environment for abuse against women. We know that, because reports have shown that some 92% of migrant women have reported threats of deportation from their perpetrator. While I understand that the Government’s response to data sharing is still under review and that the outcome will be published in June, if we do not accept these amendments we miss the opportunity to enshrine in legislation protection for migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse.

It is my faith that has driven me to speak today. It is my faith that drives me to stand alongside the marginalised and to ensure that we design together spaces in which they can flourish. The original precedent for this Bill, which set out to treat victims as victims first and foremost, is what drew me to it. Will the Government believe migrant women? Will they partner with them so that they can be safer? Will they hear what the campaigners have been saying and write into law safety for migrant women, or will they wait to hear other choruses of women’s voices saying, “Me too”? We must ensure safe reporting for migrant women who experience domestic abuse so that they can be assured that, if they approach the police, they will be treated as victims first and foremost and given the right form of support to protect them from abuse.

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

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. It seems perfectly sensible that we should all wait until the report has come out. What worries me is what appears to be a lack of understanding by the Government. It is perfectly obvious that if a victim thinks that she—particularly she, but sometimes he—will be subject to immigration control, she is not going to come forward and say that she has been abused. It is an obvious way for a victim to be kept under the control of the abuser. I worry that, in looking at this, the Government have not taken into account the obvious dangers to a victim of the use of their data by immigration control.

I am also concerned about the DDVC. A number of victims of domestic abuse do not manage to come within its rules and are therefore in danger of being deported despite being sufferers from domestic abuse.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak at this point? No? I therefore call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

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

My Lords, the Commons reason for disagreeing with Lords Amendment 40 relies on a government review of a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. In light of the two recent reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on the policing of protests, I now have serious concerns about HMIC’s political independence. As a result, any Commons disagreement based on a government review of immigration control, let alone one based on an HMIC report, provides me with no reassurance whatever.

Motion E1 would ensure that the personal details of victims and witnesses of domestic abuse were not used for immigration control purposes. Victims of rape or sexual assault, as well as victims of domestic abuse, who have gone to the police have been deported as a result of coming forward as vulnerable victims of serious crime. Perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence threaten victims that, if they go to the police, they will be deported.

Can the Government help with what I understand to be their position on how the sharing of information between police and immigration enforcement can benefit victims of domestic abuse? Is it their position that were a victim to be subject to coercive control on the basis of their immigration status, sharing information with immigration enforcement could establish that the victim’s immigration status was in fact compliant, removing the mechanism of coercive control? If that is the Government’s argument, how is that sharing of personal information without consent compliant with GDPR? It is outside the exemption provided by paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018, which provides an exemption only for the maintenance of effective immigration control, or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control.

As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has just said, it matters not what a victim’s immigration status is, if the victim fears that the consequences of reporting a crime of which they are the victim or witness might be their deportation. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has said, there is one other question for the Government: what is more important, ending violence against women, girls and other vulnerable victims of serious crime, or immigration control? If the Government oppose Motion E1, they are sending a very clear message that they care more about immigration control than protecting vulnerable victims of crime. We on these Benches will always put ending violence against women, girls and other vulnerable victims first, by voting with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, if she divides the House. The noble Baroness has taken full account of the concerns of the other place and there appears to us to be no reason not to support her alternative amendments.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues)

My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House then the Opposition Benches will strongly support her. This amendment would provide for the circumstances where victims’ data cannot be shared for immigration purposes if they come forward to report abuse. However, and importantly, it provides that, for this section to come into force, there must be a vote in both Houses to approve it, after either the Government have published their review and Parliament has debated it, or after 1 July if the Government have regrettably not lived up to their word and published their review by then. This amendment rightly and democratically gives Parliament the ability to hold the Government to account on taking action after they publish their review. It is needed to allow victims to feel able to report abuse without fear, so that dangerous perpetrators are reported and stopped.

One of the consequences 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 indeed the public.

This revised amendment is a thoroughly reasonable backstop. It gives the Government the time they have asked for to publish their review, but it gives Parliament the power, and indeed the responsibility, to hold the Government to account and to demand action on this issue if there is no subsequent implementation. I wholly recommend the amendment to the Minister and to the Government.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for setting out the case for her revised amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Amendments 40B and 40C seek, in essence, to make the same provision as her original Amendment 40 but add a mechanism for deferred commencement. I certainly appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness has tried to seek a helpful middle course by adding this deferred commencement and engaging with the reasons given in another place for rejecting Amendment 40. However, I am afraid that we still do not think that her amendments quite solve the problem.

Until we have completed the review which I spoke about, we do not want to prejudge the outcome by writing into law the provisions of Amendment 40. The noble Baroness’s amendment provides for one outcome only, namely a blanket prohibition on the sharing of the personal data of victims of domestic abuse for immigration control purposes. To write this on to the face of the Bill, even with her suggested deferred commencement procedure, would still be prejudicial to what needs to be an open review, without any predetermined outcome. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London spoke of her anxiety about missing the opportunity of doing something in this Bill, but we could be left with a provision which is simply not the right way of addressing the issue noble Lords are concerned about. As I set out earlier, the outcome of the review can, in all likelihood, be given effect through non-statutory means, such as revised NPCC guidance, but we want to complete that review and make a decision once that has been done properly.

I will address some of the other points which noble Lords raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was anxious that the review did not simply focus on the positive experiences or the people we know about. Throughout these debates, she has made the point that we do not know what we do not know. We do not know how many people might be fearful of coming forward, because they have not. That is why we want to engage with domestic abuse sector organisations through the review. They are well placed to make sure that issues such as that can be raised and those whose voices have not yet been heard can be. That engagement is starting next month, and we are also working with the designate commissioner to address those points. The noble Baroness was also concerned that the guidance to which I referred is not uniformly understood across all police forces. As I said, it was updated last year, but we will certainly work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to make sure that it is fully embedded in operational practice across all forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about data sharing and consent. The Home Office does not process personal data on the legal basis of consent, as we are obliged to discharge the obligation laid upon us in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Consent also has to be informed consent, and it is arguable whether a person who is vulnerable could be said to have given such. However, we do have protocols and procedures in place to support people who are vulnerable because of their reliance for their status on a partner who is an abuser, in the way the noble Lord set out. Data is also processed on the basis of public task, as laid out in Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

We have asked the elected House to consider this matter again; it has done so and has disagreed with your Lordships’ Amendment 40 by a substantial majority. I submit that we should not now send it back to the other place in the same form, even if it is accompanied by an additional amendment which provides for delayed commencement. The Government are committed to completing their review of the current data-sharing arrangements in a little over two months’ time. Noble Lords do not have long to wait for that. We should allow the super-complaints process to take its proper course. We will soon publish and then implement the findings of the review. I know that your Lordships’ House will scrutinise the Government’s actions closely, as indeed it should. I urge the noble Baroness not to press her Motion, and noble Lords to agree Motion E.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 4:45, 21 April 2021

My Lords, I express my sincere and deep thanks to those who have spoken so powerfully and eloquently in support of this amendment—my heartfelt thanks to all of them. I know that those who represent these very vulnerable women will also be extremely grateful.

I also want to thank the Minister for his response, but my greatest disappointment is that he misrepresents our amendment. He talked about a “deferred commencement”. The whole point about this revised, compromised amendment is that it provides very clear provisions which leave it to the Government, first, to complete their review but, secondly, to decide whether they want this to go through both Houses of Parliament. The Government have a huge majority in the Commons and can certainly prevent a resolution going through. This is not a deferred commencement, it is a conditional commencement: conditional on the outcome of the review and on support from the Government, to be perfectly frank about it. It is not exactly a wild amendment at all; it is very, very modest.

I welcome that the review will be talking to the relevant organisations to try to understand the appalling consequences of this sharing of information with the Immigration Service. I hope they get at that information and publish it in the review, because it is there, we know it is—I have heard lots of information about these appalling cases. We depend on the review being thorough—we do not know whether it will be—and on the Government supporting the protections this amendment seeks to provide. On that basis, I want to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 307, Noes 253.

Division number 2 Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments — Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Aye: 307 Members of the House of Lords

No: 253 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Motion E1

Motion E1 agreed.