This amendment would ensure that the threshold applied (in the Modern Slavery Act 2015) when determining whether a person should be considered a potential victim of trafficking remains at its present level.
The amendment would leave out line 38 in clause 48, which moves the threshold from someone “may be” a potential victim of trafficking to someone “is” a potential victim of trafficking, to ensure that the threshold applied in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 when determining whether a person should be considered a potential victim of trafficking remains at its present level. It is our view that we should seek to build on the commitments in the Act, not undermine the hard-fought progress that it achieved. As I have raised already, the Government are seeking to tear up what were at one time world-leading principles in the Act, and to do so via an immigration Bill, conflating two very different processes.
The reception that clause 48 has had from across the sector should have stopped the Government in their tracks. The amendment is essential to ensure that we can identify victims effectively, rather than creating additional barriers to the national referral mechanism. Currently, around nine in 10 of all reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions are positive. In 2020, the Single Competent Authority made 10,608 reasonable grounds decisions and 3,454 conclusive grounds decisions. Of those, 92% of reasonable grounds decisions and 89% of conclusive grounds decisions were positive. Additionally, in 2020, 81% of all challenged negative reasonable grounds decisions were overturned.
Judging by the Home Office’s own data, we can conclude that the current threshold is set at an appropriate level, so why are the Government seeking to raise it? Referral into the NRM is possible only when made by a designated first responder who has identified someone as a potential victim of trafficking and secured their informed consent to make a referral. That means that there should already be a very high level of positive reasonable grounds decisions at the threshold of “suspect but cannot prove”, as the referral should not have been made if that threshold had not been reached.
It is important to remember that currently we are identifying only a small fraction of the estimated number of victims of trafficking. The Centre for Social Justice has estimated that the number of people trapped in modern slavery in the UK might be in excess of 100,000. Furthermore, there is still no pre-NRM specialist support available in the UK, despite the Government recognising the need for it to facilitate disclosure through having time in a safe space to receive information and advice in their 2017 announcement of places of safety. I would be grateful if the Minister told us why there is no mention of places of safety in the Bill—a point that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East made earlier.
With the Government failing to deliver on their own promises, initial identification is therefore an even bigger priority. Every Child Protected Against Trafficking made the valid point that for someone to just fall short of the new threshold will make certain victims vulnerable to being re-trafficked. Would we not all be more satisfied knowing that professionals have had a proper look at a situation that gives first responders cause for concern by staying with a “may be” rather than an “is” threshold, when the data speaks for itself on that? The amendment is therefore essential in maintaining the threshold at a level where victims who have built up the courage to seek help are identified and admitted to the NRM.
I thank hon. Members for their interest and valuable contributions to the debate. They have raised important issues around identifying victims who have faced the most heinous crimes. Under the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings—ECAT—to which the UK is a signatory, certain obligations flow if there are
“reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been a victim of trafficking”.
The amendment seeks to leave the reasonable grounds threshold as it stands, which is where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be a victim of trafficking.
It is crucial that decision makers are able to quickly and appropriately identify possible victims. That is why we have proposed this minor change to the reasonable grounds threshold to closer align with our international obligations under ECAT and with the devolved Administrations. To not make that change would undermine the clarity on decision making. Additionally, as the amendment relates specifically to the provision of assistance and support to persons, it would create a different threshold from that applied when determining whether a person is a victim of slavery or human trafficking. That would create significant ambiguity around the reasonable grounds threshold and create further separation from our international obligations. For those reasons, I respectfully ask the hon. Member for Halifax to withdraw her amendment.