Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
12: Clause 4, page 6, line 6, leave out paragraph (c)Member's explanatory statementThis amendment, with others in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, seek to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the NRM and have it duly considered.
My Lords, as well as moving Amendment 12 in relation to modern slavery, I will speak to my other amendments relating to Clauses 4 and 21. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for their support.
I am not going to repeat the extensive arguments from two long debates that we had in Committee, save to say that modern slavery is a brutal crime that involves sophisticated criminal networks buying and selling people for profit. Victims of this appalling crime may be forced to enter the UK illegally, having been coerced, deceived, forced against their will, their identity and decision-making powers stripped away. The problem with this Bill, if it is left unamended, is that it will completely undermine the Modern Slavery Act and see victims punished for crimes committed by their perpetrators, deported or held in detention centres, exacerbating pre-existing trauma.
The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, is no longer in his place, but I listened with great interest to his contribution, and I would say to him, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, that the deterrent effect that this Bill is meant to have is completely unproven. I certainly do not think that the answer is to break international treaties, nor do I think the answer is to undermine so drastically the Modern Slavery Act. Nor does it seem to me sensible to preside over the current chaos of the asylum system. I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Altmann, that in the end there is no substitute for international collaboration and agreement, there is no substitute for effective measures to tackle people smugglers instead of their victims and there is no substitute for proper investment in a fast and efficient system for processing asylum claims.
Under the provisions in the Bill, where a protection claim or a human rights claim falls within Clause 4(5), it will be declared as inadmissible by the Secretary of State and will not be considered in the UK. Clause 21 extends the provision to individuals even where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual is a victim of trafficking and removes the modern slavery provisions providing such victims with protection. So the Bill will do nothing to break the cycle of exploitation or help people break free of modern slavery.
In Committee, one of the Minister’s responses was to claim that the modern slavery national referral mechanism process
“affords opportunities for those who enter the UK unlawfully to frustrate their removal”.—[
Where is the evidence? We know that, under NRM referrals last year, 90% of the competent authorities’ decisions were positive decisions—in other words that there were reasonable grounds that someone was a victim of trafficking and modern slavery—and 91% of conclusive grounds decisions were similarly positive. As my noble friend Lord Coaker said in Committee, the
“first responders are verified by the Home Office, and Home Office officials then make a reasonable grounds decision or not. A conclusive grounds decision is then made or not. It is Home Office officials who decide”.—[
Is the Minister essentially saying that he is disowning his own system over which he as a Minister and his colleagues preside?
We have not discussed the impact assessment as yet, and perhaps it is not really worth discussing, but on page 2 it says starkly that a non-monetised benefit of the Bill will be
“reduced pressure on Modern Slavery National Referral Mechanism processes”.
Indeed, and that pressure is reduced even more by just getting rid of the Modern Slavery Act entirely. I will quote, as I did yesterday, what Theresa May said, in the Second Reading debate in the Commons on this Bill:
“The Home Office knows that the Bill means that genuine victims of modern slavery will be denied support.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/23; col. 593.]
My amendments first seek to remove from Clause 4 the inclusion of a claim to be a victim of slavery or a victim of human trafficking from provision under which the Secretary of State must declare the claim inadmissible. My amendments to Clause 21, which are consequential, seek to restore current protections of victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
Like many noble Lords, I was very proud and very supportive of the Government when the Modern Slavery Act was taken through Parliament. This Bill undermines that Act completely. The Minister has not come up with one substantive piece of evidence to suggest that there is a fault in the actual system contained in that legislation. Unamended, this Bill is a completely untried and untested proposal, but it will undoubtedly strengthen the hands of the trafficking networks. Traffickers know; they keep people under control with threats that they will not receive help if they reach out to the authorities. We really must remove this provision. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is on this amendment and the others that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has tabled. He, like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has given us an admirable example of brevity, and I do not think one needs to repeat what was said in Committee.
As somebody who wrote a biography of William Wilberforce, my parliamentary hero, in 1983 to mark the 150th anniversary of his death and the abolition of slavery, I was particularly proud when it was a Conservative Home Secretary who took through the other place the Modern Slavery Act. I was very glad indeed to be able to give that support. It was in the very best cross-party spirit of your Lordships’ House, and we all of us are genuinely proud—I particularly that it was a Conservative achievement but with support from friends and colleagues in all parts. This Bill before us is going to undermine an international achievement of far-reaching importance. To quote another famous Conservative, this is something up with which we should not put.
My Lords, I have also put my name to most of these amendments. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said, and I do not propose to say anything more about them, this being Report. I just want to make two extra points.
As noble Lords know, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I got back from Warsaw today. I was chairing 14 countries discussing how Ukraine could be helped against exploitation and modern slavery. I had to deal with questions from so many other countries among the 14 as to what on earth the United Kingdom was doing in the Illegal Migration Bill. To my shame—and I admit that I was ashamed of what is happening— I could not for one moment support the Bill to those MPs from other countries; because this was a parliamentary meeting, everyone was an MP. It was really very distressing for me to stand up unable to support my own country.
The other point is that not only will victims not leave traffickers—the traffickers will say, with perfect truth, “Either you stay with us or you go to Rwanda. Which is worse? We suggest you stay with us”—but it will have a marked effect on prosecutions. There are already far too few prosecutions, and I think the impact on prosecutions of perpetrators and the extent to which modern slavery will increase over the years as a result of this Bill will be enormous.
My Lords, I spent the whole of last week in Strasbourg, where there was a very similar response from the 47 nations of the Council of Europe towards what we are doing here, with bewildered questions about it put in debate. I simply add that to what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about her experience in Warsaw.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 113A and 168B. In speaking to them, I will add briefly to the comments already made, all of which I associate myself with.
People have talked a lot about the reputational damage to this country worldwide as a consequence of this legislation. I jealously guard the reputation of Parliament, as many in this Chamber do, and it saddens me that this is in contrast with the modern slavery legislation that other noble Lords have referred to, which enjoyed consensus and which Theresa May constructed with pre-legislative scrutiny, bipartisan support and then bicameral support, with amendments made at every stage and the Government listening and incorporating those things. That is the way to make good legislation—not like this. Reputationally, this is damaging to Parliament.
My other point is about human trafficking. Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I worked on a pro bono basis in the voluntary sector with charities associated with this issue. I know their deep concern. As my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss has reminded us, we are in danger of turning the clock back. We will not get the prosecutions, and the very people the Minister regularly tells us we must go after will have their job made easier as a result of this legislation.
That brings me to my amendments, which would
“ensure that there are detailed assessments of the impact of the Bill on victims … and the wider impact on tackling modern slavery … and compliance with the international legal framework”.
They would ensure that the Secretary of State is obliged to present to Parliament a considered account of how they have scrutinised the legislation, policy and practice in those nations as set out in Schedule 1, with particular reference to: the potential impact on the modern slavery strategies, including in the devolved nations; the potential impact on identification and the levels of support offered to potential and identified modern slavery or trafficking victims; the modern slavery situation, including but not limited to prevention, protection and prosecution; the risk of re-exploitation and re-trafficking; and the state of equality and human rights.
Brevity is the order of the day. I do not intend to say anything further, but I commend these amendments to the House and urge the Government to think again.
My Lords, traffickers exercise control over their victims by convincing them that they will not receive help from the authorities if they seek it. The Bill will simply add credence to that claim.
I fully sympathise with the desire to deter people from using our modern slavery laws as a means to make a spurious claim for protection, but where is the evidence? The Government cannot point at any evidence of widespread abuse of our modern slavery system, yet they propose to remove basic protections for some of the most vulnerable people in our country. It is a basic principle of law—I can find it for you in the Book of Genesis if you want—that, in our desire to convict the guilty, we should not end up punishing the innocent. Amendment 12 is the very least we need in order to protect that vital principle.
Some 41% of referrals to the national referral mechanism relate to people exploited as children, which is why I also support Amendment 112 in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. We must ensure that no child victim, whatever form of exploitation they have experienced or whatever crime they may have been coerced into committing, should be disqualified from accessing protection. We owe that to children. We have a moral responsibility at the very least to provide people with the opportunity to have their case heard through the national referral mechanism without fear of immediate detention or removal.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, told us during the last vote about the views of all the members of the Council of Europe and specifically mentioned Hungary questioning what the UK is doing—Hungary.
My name is on the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on behalf of everyone on these Benches. The survivors of modern slavery should be protected and supported, not just because it is the right thing to do and the UK was lauded for it but to help the prosecution of criminals, of which we hear very little. The Bill indicates the extent to which the Government fail to put themselves in the shoes of victims and survivors, including those who have been trafficked here—who therefore have not come under their own steam—and particularly regarding the need for survivors to be in the UK to assist prosecutions. I could go on, but I will not.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right that we need an independent anti-slavery commissioner in post. How long has it been—a year and how many months? A considerable number of criteria should be assessed, but we are where we are. We maintain our opposition to how slavery and trafficking are dealt with. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on his filleting of the Bill. We will be with him.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 96, along with those of my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, who spoke earlier and with whom I agree, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It attempts to remove Clause 21(5) and (6). Those subsections mean that a person will be removed from this country unless it is “necessary” and there are “compelling circumstances” to show that it is necessary for the person to be present in this country for the dreadful crimes that we are talking about to be prosecuted. Was the Director of Public Prosecutions asked about the effect of this provision on the likely success of prosecutions? If this clause required it to be advisable for the person to be present for the purposes of the investigation and prosecution, I would be in favour of it, but it goes much further than that and is contrary to all good prosecution practice.
I confess that I have met a lot of organised criminals in my time—as a barrister. I have also met an awful lot of victims in my time, as a barrister and occasionally as a Member of this House and the other place. It is not a level playing field. If the Crown Prosecution Service were asked what was advisable, like anybody who has ever prosecuted a semi-serious case and done cases where some witnesses were abroad, as I have, it would say that it is always advisable to have the witness in court, on a local screen or interviewed in a statutory way if at all possible, not to have them on the other side of the globe somewhere—they are unlikely to turn up and will be intimidated by the process.
Let me briefly compare the criminal we are talking about with the victim. The criminal is familiar with the legal system. He—it is usually a he—is often charming. He is often wealthy and can hire lawyers who may even be Members of your Lordships’ House. He is malign, lethal and cocky in the face of the legal system. Those are the characteristics of serious organised criminals. As for the victim, what is she going to be like? She will be frightened. She is likely to be poor. She will be vulnerable and terrified of the legal system and, to use an Orwellian word, will feel like an “unperson”. Do we really want that?
My Lords, throughout the passage of the Bill here and in the other place, many people have raised serious concerns about it, and about its impact on victims of modern slavery. I fear sounding like a broken record, but I said at Second Reading and in Committee that the Bill should exclude those who are subject to abuse through the heinous crime of modern slavery. I echo the words of the former Prime Minister, Theresa May. When discussing the Bill in the other place, she said that it has always been important to separate modern slavery from immigration status. My position remains unchanged.
I would prefer that modern slavery was out of this Bill entirely. For that reason, I shall support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. They get right to the heart of the matter as they seek to amend the Bill to ensure that potential and recognised victims of human trafficking will not be detained or removed before they can apply to the NRM and have their application considered. In the spirit of those amendments, I have tabled Amendments 102A and 105A to remove Clauses 23 and 24 respectively.
In Committee, the Minister tried to reassure us that the agreement with Rwanda covers ensuring that
“any special needs that may arise as a result of a relocated person being a victim of modern slavery are accommodated”.—[
The impact assessment published on Monday was more tentative, saying there could be
“a perceived welfare loss for the individuals relocated to a third country who would otherwise be granted support in the UK although this may be mitigated to the extent that the support provided in a third country is comparable”.
This is classic British understatement. We all know that there will be loss of support. The Salvation Army has described the Bill as “potentially devastating”. The US State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, published since Committee, lists Rwanda as a tier 2 country, whereas the UK is a tier 1 country, and said that Rwanda did not refer any victims to services. So, I am far from reassured.
The impact assessment says that one of the strategic objectives of the Bill is “to protect the vulnerable”, but it is proposing mass detention of modern slavery victims under Clause 10 and removing their rights, under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, to a recovery period and support. I find myself in agreement once more with the former Prime Minister Theresa May, who described the Bill as
“a slap in the face for those of us who actually care about the victims of modern slavery”. —[
The Government are arguing that this is a Bill of short-term pain for long-term gain. For victims, it will be short-term and long-term pain. The JCHR’s Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill concluded that the Bill not only breaches international obligations but
“may also result in the increase in trafficking and slavery”.
With this in mind, I find myself extremely disappointed that an analysis of the potential number of victims affected by the Bill was not covered in the impact assessment. Particularly at such a late stage in the passage of such significant, flagship legislation, it is troubling that we do not have to hand the most basic information in order to make reasonable determinations, based on the evidence, about the efficacy of the Government’s proposals.
As I said in the previous debate in this House, as someone who introduced a Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly to reduce trafficking and slavery, I cannot support the inclusion of modern slavery victims in this Bill, so I shall be supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
However, your Lordships are wise enough to take a belt-and-braces approach to this Bill, so I am also supporting the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. They would mitigate some of the concerns about the lack of support by ensuring that victims of modern slavery exploited in the UK will still be able to access the support they need to recover. Why? It is simply the right thing to do.
My Lords, I rise to support not only Amendment 103 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Morrow, but any and all the amendments in this group. This is for two principal reasons. First, the approach we need to take to the victims of the heinous evil of human trafficking must be compassionate, sympathetic and supportive. When the Government produced its now sadly shelved Bill on kept animals, it contained a clause which sought to outlaw the transporting of live animals for slaughter. But that approach—treating human beings as a commodity; as raw meat, effectively—is precisely what human traffickers are doing to their victims. We should show that same level of compassion to victims of human trafficking.
Support for the victims of human trafficking is in the spirit of the best of our nation and is in the history of our nation, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others. Whatever the historic arguments before then, in the 19th century this country took the lead on the abolition of first the slave trade and then slavery itself. It did not simply stand alone to say, “We are virtuous”, but took great action, particularly through the Royal Navy, to help suppress the slave trade. We should follow suit and ensure we do everything we can to stamp out the modern evil of modern slavery, so we need to support the victims of human trafficking.
Secondly, as indicated by other Members of your Lordships’ House, to include human trafficking in the Bill is entirely counterproductive. There will be a range of views across the House about the overall contents of the Bill. Many of us take a quite cynical and somewhat sceptical approach to the Bill as a whole. Others take the view that strategically, it is the wrong approach and a better approach would be to seek international co-operation to deal with the issue. However, those who are sincerely advocating for this Bill say in justification that its purpose is to bear down on those who are taking advantage of migrants trying to get across to the United Kingdom—to bear down on the criminals organising this. The reality is that, while there is a lack of connection, in my view, between the boats and human trafficking, the motivation of the criminals behind both are the same: to exploit human beings for their own gain.
The reality is that, whatever the concerns many of us have about the Bill as a whole, to include human trafficking and modern slavery and to ignore the gains previously made by the Government is to take us in completely the wrong direction. If victims of human trafficking are to be disregarded and simply deported the moment they are found—even those who are providing assistance to the police—prosecutions and, above all, the pressure on human traffickers will be reduced. What will be the end result? The most logical answer is that human trafficking will increase. Indeed, we will be giving a boon to human traffickers if this Bill goes through unamended. If we take prima facie the purpose of the Bill as described by the Government, it is entirely counterproductive to its supposed intentions. So we need these amendments to go through, and I therefore commend them to the House.
My Lords, I support Amendment 95 and the consequential Amendments 99, 101 and 104 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who unfortunately cannot be in his place today. He has asked me to speak on his behalf and has made it clear that if he were here, and if he could not find agreement with the Government, he would test the opinion of the House.
This amendment has been slightly modified since Committee in order to ensure parity for victims across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. The core intention remains the same: to preserve the existing recovery period for victims of modern slavery.
I emphasise one point in particular: removing modern slavery protections will not help stop the boats. In fact, it will make reducing illegal migration harder. Many victims of modern slavery, often through no fault of their own, have come illegally under the terms of this Bill, even if not necessarily by boat. The protections which give them the space to escape from their exploiters will be removed. This is bad in itself, but the really relevant point for the Government is that, as a result of removing those protections, prosecutions will become harder, as others have pointed out. The position of the people traffickers and criminal gangs who bring people into the United Kingdom illegally and hold them in modern slavery will be strengthened. The core purpose of this Bill—to prevent illegal migration—will be undermined.
The evidence is clear: for a successful prosecution, support for victims must come before engagement with the police and courts system. As drafted, the Bill inverts that, setting a high bar for co-operation before any person can be considered for an exemption from immediate deportation. In Committee, when asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the effect of removing victims of modern slavery to another country on the likelihood of their co-operation with prosecutions, my noble friend the Minister said:
“One would hope that a victim of trafficking would want to facilitate the prosecution of their traffickers”. [Official Report, 12/6/23, col. 1705.]
Most victims do, but they need support in order to do that. They need trust in the system. Threatening them with immediate deportation is not the way to build that trust, and I am afraid that I do not share my noble friend’s confidence that prosecutors will be just as easily able to work with victims in Rwanda as they can with victims in the United Kingdom.
These amendments do not confer a permanent right to settlement or residence in the United Kingdom on modern slavery victims. They retain the existing 30-day recovery period and provision for proven victims to stay in the United Kingdom only at the Secretary of State’s discretion—for example, to support prosecutions. That is not really an exclusion or exemption of the sort my noble friend the Minister says will fatally undermine the Bill, but it can create the space needed for victims of modern slavery to receive the support they need to escape the cycle of abuse and begin co-operating with the police. I hope the Government can recognise the benefits of this and re-think their position.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to rise to support many of the amendments in this group, but in particular Amendment 12. I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for moving such an important amendment.
I start by saying that, as a proud Labour politician, I am the first to recognise the phenomenal achievement, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out, of the Conservative Government in passing the Modern Slavery Act. That is important, and he pointed out the cross-party nature of that. That is why it is so bewildering that we have a Conservative Government driving forward this legislation.
Notwithstanding that, Amendment 12 goes to the heart of the various amendments. It is important to reiterate the explanatory note to my noble friend’s amendment, which simply seeks
“to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the NRM and have it duly considered”.
That seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but of course, under this Bill, everybody who arrives irregularly —primarily by small boat, as far as the Government are concerned—is automatically excluded. That inevitably means that victims or potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking will be caught by the legislation and their needs will not be met.
We have talked about evidence. Helpfully, on Monday the impact assessment was at last published. The Government recognise the draconian nature of these provisions, as they have put in their own sunset clause, and they say they are doing this because the system is being gamed. On page 24, the impact assessment states:
“For context, of the 83,236 people that arrived in the UK on small boats between
Of course, as was made clear, that 7% of those 83,000 were referred by government-approved officials. They were not necessarily then deemed to have conclusive grounds; they were referred in order to have their situation considered.
That is the issue Amendment 12 seeks to address. It does not say there are not sometimes people who apply who should not, but that the purpose of the Modern Slavery Act is to ensure that victims have the right to have their case heard, to be supported where necessary, and to not be removed from the country during that process. Amendment 12 is therefore perfectly reasonable and if my noble friend chooses to test the opinion of the House, I hope that many of us will support it, because it is a simple but very important amendment.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has explained, his amendments would prevent the detention and removal of any person who meets the conditions in Clause 4 and who is the subject of a NRM referral until a conclusive grounds decision and any appeal has been determined. The current average time taken from referral to conclusive grounds decisions, made in January to March 2023, across the competent authorities, was 566 days. Against that backdrop, these are wrecking amendments. They would profoundly undermine the Government’s ability to tackle the threat to life arising from the dangerous, illegal and unnecessary channel crossings and the pressure they place on our public services.
Amendments 95, 99, 101 and 104 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seek to mitigate the effect of the provisions in the Bill in a more targeted way, but here too I have concerns that the amendments would undermine what we seek to do in these provisions. As I set out in Committee, the NRM presents clear opportunities for abuse by those who would seek to frustrate removal. It is worth repeating the statistics relating to NRM referrals of people arriving in small boats, which demonstrate how the NRM could be open to abuse.
In 2021, 404 people were detained for return after arriving in the United Kingdom on a small boat, 73% of whom were referred to the NRM while in detention. The latest published figure, for the period January to September 2022, is only slightly lower, at 65%. This is a large increase on earlier years; just 6% of those detained for return in 2019 were referred to the NRM while in detention. So far, only a minority of people who arrived on small boats have been detained for return, but if enforcement activity is greatly expanded, as it would be under the terms of the Bill, and if this rate of referral continues, the number of referrals could be substantially higher. These figures cannot be ignored.
I can provide some assurance to my noble friend and other noble Lords. The Bill does not impact NRM referrals of British citizens or persons who are in the UK without valid leave, having overstayed, and who are therefore, I suggest, more susceptible to exploitation in the UK; nor will unaccompanied children arriving on small boats be affected while they remain under 18. They are not subject to the duty to remove until they turn 18. Finally, the Bill provides for an exception to the application of the public order disqualification where it is necessary for someone to remain in the United Kingdom to co-operate with an investigation or prosecution related to their exploitation.
Can the Minister explain whether the figures he has given us are in the impact assessment? It would have helped us if they were; I apologise if I have missed them. Has the Minister changed the way he is coming to the percentage figure? Are the Government now saying that it is not the percentage of the number of people who arrive by small boats but the percentage of those who arrived by small boats and are detained? The percentages are going to be significantly higher because the numbers who are detained are not the sort of numbers I was talking about. The number I quoted is from the Government’s own figures. What figures are the Government using and how are they coming to them? Perhaps he can explain to the Chamber how many of the 83,236 people who arrived by small boats were detained, so we can get some idea of the percentages he is talking about.
First, I am afraid I have read so many documents in the past few days that I cannot immediately recollect whether the stats are in the IA. I will confirm whether they are, and I am sure I will be able to do that shortly.
Order! Secondly, I suggest that the material figures are those in detention. It is a fundamental part of the scheme that people will be detained and removed. We can see from the figures that those in detention have been utilising NRM claims; you can see the increase from the statistics I gave a moment ago. On the noble Lord’s final point, those are all published statistics, and I can confirm that the 65% figure is in paragraph 143 of the impact assessment.
I remind noble Lords that the application of the public order disqualification is firmly grounded in the provisions of the European convention against trafficking, or ECAT. Article 13(3) of ECAT clearly provides that states are not bound to provide a recovery and reflection period on the grounds of public order. It is again worth stressing that these provisions are time-limited. We recognise their exceptional nature, and the Bill expressly provides for Clauses 21 to 24 to cease to apply after two years unless both Houses agree to extend their operation for no more than 12 months at a time.
For the reasons I have set out, we consider that this sunsetting provision is more appropriate than the sunrise provision proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his Amendment 113A.
The NRM process requires the gathering of evidence and input from the party, so it is not down entirely to Home Office resourcing issues.
The appointment of the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner is at an advanced stage, and I am sure that once appointed they will want to monitor closely the impact of these provisions.
In relation to my noble friend’s amendments, I repeat the assurance that my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister made in the other place: namely that we will consider additional protections through statutory guidance for those who have experienced exploitation in the United Kingdom. We are continuing to develop such guidance and in doing so will adopt an appropriate balance between protecting victims of modern slavery and delivering the intent of this Bill.
As regards Amendment 103, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, quite properly raises the issue of how the modern slavery provisions in the Bill sit with the continued operation of the relevant EU directives in Northern Ireland. As I have said in earlier debates in Committee, the provisions in the Bill are compatible with the Windsor Framework. In particular, in the context of this amendment we do not consider that the 2011 anti-trafficking directive falls within the scope of Article 2 of the Windsor Framework.
Amendments 96, 102 and 105, tabled respectively by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, relate to the presumption that it is not necessary for a person to remain in the United Kingdom to co-operate with an investigation. As I outlined to the Committee, remote participation is now the norm in the workplace, and the criminal justice system is no different. It is simply no longer the case that a victim of crime needs to be in face-to-face contact with the police or others to assist with an investigation. In some cases, victims may even feel safer providing virtual or video-recorded evidence. I assure noble Lords that we are working to ensure that the relevant technology, interpreters and intermediaries are available where needed.
We have provided for statutory guidance to support decision-making by caseworkers when determining if there are compelling circumstances why the presumption should be set aside in a particular case, but there is no evidence as to why, in the majority of cases, such co-operation cannot continue by email, messaging and video conferencing. The presumption in Clauses 21(5), 23(5) and 24(5) is therefore perfectly proper and should be retained.
My Lords, I would be really grateful if the Minister could answer the question I asked him as to whether the Director of Public Prosecutions had been consulted about the effect on modern slavery and trafficking cases if the victim was not merely in another studio in another building in London or Manchester but in a country thousands of miles away, with no facilities to encourage or even compel them to give evidence.
I do not know whether the DPP has been consulted on that point but I will certainly find out and write to the noble Lord.
Amendment 112, put forward by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, would prevent the public order disqualification provided for in the 2022 Act being applied to a person whose positive reasonable grounds decision was based on exploitation which had occurred before they were 18. It is, in our view, entirely appropriate for the public order disqualification provided for in that Act to be capable of applying to all relevant individuals, including those exploited as children. In this regard, it is important to note that the public order disqualification in the 2022 Act applies only to specified persons, such as those who have been convicted of a serious criminal offence. In such cases, the age at which the exploitation took place is, I submit, irrelevant to the threat to public order an individual now poses, and we cannot tie our hands on this matter on the basis of the time at which exploitation took place.
The modern slavery measures in the Bill, alongside the others, are intended to deal with the immediate and pressing public risk arising from the exceptional circumstances relating to illegal entry into the UK. We need to take bold action and now. This Bill will not achieve its objective if removals are put on hold for over 500 days awaiting a conclusive grounds decision. As I indicated at the start, these amendments will quite simply wreck the Bill. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be content to withdraw his Amendment 12. If he is not, I invite the House to reject it.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but he referred again to the 500-plus days involved in the NRM process. Earlier, in response to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, he said that one of the reasons for that was examining the evidence. However, since he cites this as a reason for going ahead with these appalling proposals, can he explain to the House why it is not possible to shorten that period? Is he content that a process that takes more than 500 days is humane?
Considerable efforts are taken to seek to shorten the period but that is not an easy process. I agree with the noble Baroness that we should aspire to have a shorter period but we have to legislate for the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.
I can now confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the CPS was indeed consulted in respect of these provisions.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, to all noble Lords who have spoken and to my noble friend Lord Coaker for his strong support for my Amendment 12, which, as he says, goes to the heart of the argument.
I was a little surprised by the Minister describing my amendments as wrecking amendments. Noble Lords who have known me over the years know that I do not indulge in that kind of approach. I am seeking to preserve the integrity of the Modern Slavery Act.
The Minister’s argument about 566 days and the number of referrals is not a substantive one. The statistic that is most telling, as I repeated again, is that under the NRM 90% of the competent authority decisions last year were positive decisions, in that there were reasonable grounds that someone was a victim of trafficking or modern slavery, so the process stands. The Minister has not produced any argument whatever against the NRM process; he has simply talked about the length of time and the numbers, which goes back to his department and its lack of investment in making sure that the system works effectively.
My real concern here is that, instead of dealing with the perpetrators of the awful crimes around which modern slavery takes place, it is the victims who are going to be penalised. I looked back today at the Second Reading debate of the Modern Slavery Act in your Lordships’ House and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, the then Home Office Minister, who said:
“Modern slavery is an evil against which this Government are determined to take a stand”.—[Official Report, 17/11/14; col. 241.]
How sad it is that the Government have held back from that and are basically undermining it. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 210, Noes 145.