Clause 46 - Provision of information relating to being a victim of slavery or human trafficking

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 28th October 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 28th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 170, in clause 46, page 41, line 41, leave out “, before the specified date,”.

This amendment would remove the hard deadline for compliance for persons who have made protection claims or human rights claims to comply with a slavery or trafficking information notice.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 169, in clause 46, page 42, line 4, leave out subsections (4) and (5) and insert—

“(4) Subsection (5) applies if the recipient of a slavery or trafficking information notice does not provide the Secretary of State or competent authority with relevant status information within a reasonable period of time.

(5) The Secretary of State must provide recipients with an ongoing opportunity to explain why they did not provide the relevant status information within a reasonable period of time (and see section 47).”

This amendment would remove the hard deadline for compliance for persons who have made protection claims or human rights claims to comply with a slavery or trafficking information notice.

Amendment 171, in clause 46, page 42, leave out lines 13 and 14.

This is a consequential amendment.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Clause 46 brings us on to part 4 of the Bill, which relates to modern slavery. I will make a few general points in this debate, which will save me from having to repeat them in later debates. They are relevant to the clause and the amendment, and to other ones as well.

My first point is: why is modern slavery in a Bill that relates to immigration and border enforcement? The fact that it is included betrays the Government’s motivation. It is not about protecting survivors or addressing the huge difficulties victims face in accessing protection and support. Rather, this has to do with border enforcement functions and is based on unevidenced assertions of abuse. It is important to remember that people cannot refer themselves to the national referral mechanism as a potential victim of slavery; they have to be referred into it. The majority of referrals come from the Home Office and the police. In the overwhelming majority of cases— nine in 10—the NRM results in positive and conclusive decisions. None of this is evidence of any sort of abuse.

This part of the Bill also pre-empts the review of the modern slavery strategy that is supposed to be happening. The proposals are all largely absent from the new plan that was published earlier this year, and they have not been consulted on—certainly not with trafficking survivors. Efforts to tackle the traffickers will suffer as a result of the lack of consultation and engagement. When we debate these clauses, let us also remember that a huge number of survivors are British citizens.

The real problem that we face with trafficking is encouraging people to come forward. That is partly because of the power that traffickers have over their victims, partly because of the trauma that victims have suffered, and partly because we are not doing enough to enable them to feel sure that they will have protection. Too often the experience of the NRM process is that people are re-traumatised and left in limbo waiting for a decision, often for years and without any right to work. Even when they are recognised as trafficking or slavery survivors, as the vast majority are, they are given no leave to remain and are subject to removal. It is little wonder that while some expert groups reckon that there could 100,000 or more modern slavery victims in the UK, we conclusively identify around just 3,000 or so each year. Instead of fixing that, the clause and others in this part of the Bill will make things worse.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there will be a clause stand part debate later. If he could concentrate on the amendments in this group, that would be good.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am happy to do that, Ms McDonagh.

I will not repeat the arguments that I have already made about why it is wrong for Parliament to tell decision makers how to assess evidence that they see, but that we never will—I have done that already in relation to other notices. I simply make the point that putting in place deadlines for disclosure and punishments for missing them is especially dangerous and counterproductive for victims of trafficking.

We all know that victims of slavery face all sorts of challenges in disclosure, as the Home Office’s own statutory guidance recognises. Self-evidently, if a survivor misses a deadline because they are in survivor mode, or they have not accessed the support they need, or they are still loyal in some way to the person exploiting them, they will be less likely, rather than more likely, to disclose what has happened, for fear of disbelief. If the exploiter does still have influence, this is an absolute gift to them. They will be the first to point out the possible consequences of missing the deadline. To the survivor, the attempted reassurance that a reasonable excuse will be accepted is not worth the paper it is written on.

The amendments seek to salvage the clause. Providing information to survivors and providing them with encouragement to disclose could be positive, but not when it comes with these deadlines and threats, particularly when the notices will most often be served on people who have not yet entered the NRM and accessed the support that will enable them to make the disclosure. Why, unlike with priority removal notices, is there no provision for legal aid to allow a response to a trafficking information notice? What has happened to the places of safety announced by the Government back in 2017?

The clause just strengthens the hand of the people who are trying to exploit and influence victims of trafficking. It will discourage disclosure and prevent the protection of the survivor. In turn, that prevents detection and prosecution of the exploiters. Our amendments could turn the clause into something genuinely constructive and useful. If the Government are concerned about abuse, they should implement the commissioner’s recommendations about training for first responders and single points of contact. They should not go off on this dangerous wild goose chase.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 3:30 pm, 28th October 2021

Before turning to part 4, which deals with modern slavery, I would like to make a declaration of interest. In October, prior to my appointment as Minister, I ran the London marathon and raised funds for the Mintridge Foundation, which encourages young people to get into sport, and Justice and Care, a charity that works to tackle modern slavery. I make the declaration in the interests of complete transparency and for the information of the Committee.

I thank the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and for Glasgow North East for the amendment. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East raised important questions about the purpose of the slavery and risk trafficking notice.

The clause forms part of our approach to expanding the one-stop process to include modern slavery through the establishment of a new slavery and trafficking information notice. We have already debated the one-stop process, so I will not repeat that discussion, but the aim of the process is to identify possible victims as early as possible and ensure they receive the support they need. To best achieve that, we also need to discourage misuse of the system by stating our expectations and stipulating the consequences of non-compliance with the process.

That being said, let me reassure hon. Members that the clause has safeguards built in, and decision makers will consider each case on its grounds. To seek to remove the deadline stipulated by the slavery or trafficking information notice, as suggested by amendment 170, would go against the approach I have outlined. Without a deadline, the Government would be unable to seek the information up front that supports speedier decision making. Equally, changing a “specified” time to

“a reasonable period of time” would provide less certainty to victims and decision makers on what is required. That would be detrimental to the victim identification process and goes against what we are trying to achieve in the Bill.

The ability to identify victims at the earliest opportunity is fundamental to our ability to support them. The clause is part of a wider process of much-needed change to the system to enable quicker decision making and reduce opportunities for misuse of the system, which takes valuable resources from victims. To deliver on that aim, it is right that we specify the time period in which information should be given, so that there is a connection to the consequences of late provision. As I have already set out, that does not mean that late claims will not be considered; any individual who brings a late claim for a good reason will be treated as if the claim were made in time. That will enable us to strike the right balance between preventing misuse and focusing resources on victims. For the reasons I have outlined, I respectfully invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We share the same goal, which is identifying victims. Unfortunately, every single trafficking organisation that has got in touch with us has said that putting these hard and fast deadlines in the Bill will make that harder, rather than easier. We will probably end up voting against this clause, but in the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 172, in clause 46, page 41, line 42, at end insert—

“(2A) The requirement in subsection (2) does not apply in relation to anything that the slavery or trafficking information notice recipient has previously provided to the Secretary of State or any other competent authority.”

This amendment would ensure a recipient of a slavery or trafficking information notice does not need to provide information that has already been submitted to the Secretary of State or any other competent authority.

This amendment makes a short and simple, but important, point. Requesting the same information that has already been disclosed could be needlessly re-traumatising for a victim of modern slavery or trafficking, so the simple question is whether the Minister can assure us that that will not be made necessary under clause 46. The clause seems to envisage that trafficking information notices could be served on someone who has already had a positive reasonable grounds decision. Can the Minister confirm whether that is right, and if so, why that would be necessary? As it stands, the clause calls for “any” information that might be relevant for the purposes of making a decision on reasonable or conclusive grounds. Surely there will be no penalty if information already provided is not once again provided in response to the notice being served.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling the amendment. I reassure Members that the clause already has safeguards built in, and it is clear that decision makers will consider each case on its grounds. I appreciate the consideration given to the provision of information, and the recommendation that the clause should stipulate that information provided previously to the competent authority should not be included. However, the amendment is not needed. Decision makers in the competent authority will consider all information provided to them. Credibility considerations connected to lateness will, by implication, apply only where information has not been provided within a specified time period and without good reasons, which will be made clear in guidance. For that reason, I respectfully invite the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which I will go away and consider. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I beg to move amendment 184, in clause 46, page 42, line 3, at end insert—

“(3A) Any slavery or trafficking information notice must be accompanied by information regarding the Secretary of State’s obligations to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking.”

This amendment would ensure that potential victims are given information regarding their rights at the same time the notice is served.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I commend the Minister on having run the London marathon for Justice and Care, which does invaluable work.

We are supportive of the previous Scottish National party amendments to clause 46, which were outlined by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. If we achieve nothing else this afternoon, I did promise the SNP spokesperson that I would work on being able to pronounce his constituency in time for our debates on the Bill, having managed to avoid doing so entirely during the passage of last year’s Immigration Act. I hope he will recognise those efforts.

With your permission, Chair, I will come back to clause 46 more broadly during the stand part debate. Our amendment follows a damning letter sent by 60 charities from across the human trafficking and modern slavery sector. They seeks to mitigate the effects of a Bill that they claim

“will have a disastrous impact on the UK’s response to modern slavery.”

In the light of the series of recommendations in that letter, amendment 184 would require any slavery or trafficking information notice to be

“accompanied by information regarding the Secretary of State’s obligations to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking.”

We have serious concerns about both clauses 46 and 47, but these trafficking information notices are a new initiative, and should be accompanied by a full explanation of why the questions are being asked and what rights and support a potential victim of trafficking should be entitled to. The Government have placed significant emphasis on the need to reduce the time taken for victims to be identified, and on ensuring they receive the correct support package at the earliest opportunity. We strongly share that objective, so the requirement for information to be provided at the same time as the notice is served seeks to address any uncertainty and anxieties a potential victim may have.

Furthermore, it is critical that a trafficking notice is served with an assessment and awareness of risks and victims’ needs, as they can be incredibly wide-ranging, and that assessment and awareness can be essential for safeguarding purposes. Some victims will not have English as their first language, and some may have limited literacy skills. They will need access to the correct translator and there should be recognition of any special educational needs. That reinforces the need for each case to be evaluated sensitively.

We seek to ensure that the basic entitlement to information is met. It is important to recognise that in cases of modern slavery, many first responders and expert witnesses have found that victims interviewed often have so little knowledge of the national referral mechanism that they do not know if they are, or have been, in the NRM. Victims being unable to self-identify and limited awareness of how to navigate the NRM are consistent issues, and we will return to them under other clauses in part 4. Amendment 184 seeks to mitigate potential restrictions to the NRM, and is a sensible suggestion, and I hope that the Minister sees its merit.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I thank the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate, and for Halifax, for tabling the amendment, and the hon. Member for Halifax for setting out the case for it. Clause 46 forms part of our expansion of the one-stop process to include modern slavery through the establishment of a new slavery and trafficking information notice.

Amendment 184 is not required, as the Government are providing mechanisms in the Bill to ensure that potential victims are fully aware of their rights and the Secretary of State’s obligations to them, including the right to free legal aid where appropriate. Information on the Secretary of State’s obligations to victims will be provided to individuals when a slavery or trafficking information notice is issued. These measures will ensure that potential victims better understand the national referral mechanism and their support entitlements.

In combination with clause 46, clauses 54 and 55 seek to ensure that individuals are provided with advice on the national referral mechanism when they receive advice on asylum and immigration matters. That will enable more victims of modern slavery to be referred, identified and properly supported.

Primary legislation on the process of providing information to possible victims is not required, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment, it would duplicate what happens through clauses 46, 54 and 55. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the hon. Member for Halifax is content to withdraw the amendment. We have had a pretty good debate on clause 46, so I hope that it can stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am somewhat reassured by the Minister’s remarks. I hope that he will inform Committee members when the draft notices have been finalised; we will continue to keep a close eye on that matter. We will not push the amendment to a vote, but given what the Minister said about the clause, I might move on now to my speech on clause stand part.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

We will have a clause stand part debate.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have some broader remarks on the clause, which we do not intend to support. I thank colleagues right across the human trafficking and modern slavery sector for their professional expertise, and their assistance with our scrutiny of the proposals before us.

As was said in the evidence sessions, and by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, part 4 came as a surprise to many; they had not anticipated its proposals, which were wrapped up in an otherwise very heavily trailed piece of immigration legislation. There are no two ways about it: part 4 is a backward step after the hard-won progress of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Every Child Protected Against Trafficking was scathing about it in its briefing; it said there had been a complete lack of due process when it came to these elements of this primary legislation, and that for that reason, parliamentary scrutiny of them would be even more urgent and important. The Children’s Society has been explicit in saying that part 4 of the Bill should be removed entirely. It has described the Bill as

“an affront to the Government’s own recognition that identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking is a safeguarding, not immigration matter. Consequently, not only will this Bill have unjust and dire impacts on children and young people who have fled to this country seeking safety and protection, it will particularly harm children if they are then also trafficked or exploited.”

That is a stark warning to us all.

The Government argue that the clause will ensure that claims and information can be considered at the same time, and that this will aid Home Office and judicial decision makers by speeding up processes. While we share this intention unequivocally, the reality is that the hard deadline in the clause, combined with clause 47, which we will come on to, will undermine the ability to do that. The clause places a significant burden on victims to self-identify, to understand what information may be considered relevant and to provide full disclosure at the very early stages of having been identified as a potential victim of trafficking. Data from CARE International UK reveals that, last year, 2,178 of the adults identified by first responders as suspected victims of modern slavery in the UK did not agree to enter the NRM, which would have entitled them to support. Given that trained first responders recognised the signs of potential victims of modern slavery in that group, we need to understand the complicated reasons why that group did not identify as victims and consent to entering the NRM.

The success of the Government’s proposal will rely on a misconstruction that we have heard time and again in earlier debates around the notion of a perfect victim—someone who recognises themselves as a victim and can fully disclose and evidence what happened to them against a Home Office deadline. A police officer recently told me of a case where agencies had to support a victim over the course of a year before that victim recognised that they had been exploited and abused by another individual, as had been immediately obvious to the authorities and first responders, rather than believing they had been cared for by the perpetrator, who as part of their exploitation had sought to present themselves to the victim as being entirely on the victim’s side. The oral and written evidence presented to the Committee in relation to parts 2 and 4 have been explicit that those who have been subject to significant trauma will find it difficult to disclose the details of their experiences against a Home Office-mandated timeline.

In addition to the disclosure issues, there are also practical challenges. The Minister will have noted that a number of his colleagues have raised concerns about this proposal. On Second Reading, Mrs May stated:

“It takes time for many victims of modern slavery to identify as a victim, let alone be able to put forward the evidence to establish that. I would like reassurance about how that power will be exercised.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 728.]

The Opposition very much share those concerns. The requirement for any information relevant for making both initial reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions in subsection (3) raises questions about the process. Will the Minister confirm whether trafficking information notices will be routinely issued to a victim prior to making a reasonable grounds decision, as subsection (3) suggests? That could introduce a significant barrier to entering the NRM for victims who need swift entry into the system.

It is my understanding that currently a reasonable grounds decision is made by Home Office decision makers on the basis of evidence provided by the relevant agencies that made the referral, which assists with making decisions at pace. I am concerned that victim receiving a notice and being required to disclose information prior to a reasonable grounds decision being made could introduce a significant delay into the process, so I would be grateful if the Minister outlined how he envisages the notices working to ensure appropriate reasonable grounds decisions are not delayed unnecessarily.

The introduction of trafficking information notices is an example of immigration controls creeping into modern slavery protections, where they are simply inappropriate and do not belong. It is a regressive measure, particularly for those who have struggled to secure legal representation. I have indicated our support for SNP amendments that strip away the hard deadlines and establish a more trauma-informed approach. I hope the Minister will recognise those merits. I have received assurances about amendment 184, but ultimately the clause in its current form should not stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:45 pm, 28th October 2021

I will be brief, given what I said in support of the amendment. All the anti-trafficking organisations that got in touch with us—60 or so—said that this clause could cause huge problems. I am not clear at all what issue the Government think it will resolve. What is the problem they are striving to tackle? It has not been outlined at all. All hon. Members agree that we need to identify more victims, but as the hon. Member for Halifax said, this will do the opposite and make it harder, not easier.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

It might assist the Committee if I say a little more. I am not concerned about covering ground that we may have already covered if it helps to clarify matters further and to put beyond any doubt the Government’s undertaking.

The purpose of clause 46 is to ensure that genuine victims of modern slavery are identified at the earliest possible opportunity, so that they can get the support they need to recover from their exploitation. The clause is part of the measures that seek to expand the current one-stop process to include modern slavery through the establishment of the new slavery and trafficking information notice, which can be issued alongside the new evidence notice introduced by clause 16.

Asylum and human rights claimants will need to provide relevant information relating to being a victim of modern slavery or trafficking within a specified period and, if providing information outside that period, set out a statement of their reasons for doing so. The slavery and trafficking notice aims to help identify possible victims at the earliest opportunity, to ensure that they receive appropriate support. It also aims to ensure that those who are not genuine victims are identified at the earliest possible stage.

The clause is underpinned by access to legal advice to help individuals understand whether they are a potential victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and to support a referral into the national referral mechanism if that is the case. The clause works in tandem with clause 47, which sets out the impact of not providing information in good time without a good reason, such as the effects of trauma. Individuals will also be made aware from the start that if they fail to disclose information, save for good reason, their credibility may be damaged. We will set out our approach in guidance, giving decision makers the tools to recognise the impact of exploitation and trauma, and ensuring any changes to processes resulting from those measures are designed to take full account of the impact of trauma on victims of modern slavery. We intend to work with the sector to develop the guidance around that. I hope that will give Members confidence that the views and experiences of those groups will be taken into account when developing the guidance.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Perhaps the Minister could name one of the expert organisations that support the inclusion of clause 46 or 47. As it stands, the vast majority of organisations in the sector oppose the inclusion of those measures. It is all very well the Minister saying he will impose a requirement on the sector to work with the Government on that guidance, but they are saying categorically that they do not want the clauses.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I think the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood my point. I was not saying there was any intention to impose a requirement on the sector to work with Government to develop the guidance, but undoubtedly we would welcome the input of the sector, which has a lot of experience and knowledge. We think there is a genuine issue that we need to address. The point I have made several times is that we want people to access the help they need when they need it as quickly as possible.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The sector would have preferred to have been consulted on the clause. The key problem it has is what happens if someone has gone past that deadline. This scheme puts real pressure on that person not to disclose at all, because they will fear that the regime will lead to their being disbelieved. That is a fundamental problem. Consulting after the clause is already on the statute book will not fix that.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s broader interpretation of the situation. We want to identify and help genuine victims as quickly as possible. I would expect cases to be looked at appropriately and individually to ensure that is exactly what happens. There was also a question of whether victims will receive a slavery and trafficking information notice before getting a reasonable grounds decision? Yes, we want to identify victims as soon as possible.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The Minister had, and I am eternally grateful to him for giving way.

It does worry me somewhat that, as I understand it, those decision makers at the Home Office would ordinarily make reasonable grounds decisions very quickly in order to facilitate a swift entry into the NRM. If that will no longer be the case and we will be issuing notices, bearing in mind what we have discussed about trauma and victims taking time to disclose it, that could introduce significant delays for a victim entering the NRM. That really worries me. Could the Minister say any more to assure us that we will not be preventing victims from accessing the support they need by introducing that additional process?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I would expect cases to be looked at on an appropriate case-by-case basis that properly takes into account all of the relevant circumstances. It might be advantageous if, in my note to the Committee, I include some commentary on how we expect the process to work, to set that out for Members in more detail and make sure there is no confusion.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Division number 41 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 46 - Provision of information relating to being a victim of slavery or human trafficking

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 5.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.