Clause 52 - Identified potential victims in England and Wales: assistance and support

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 2nd November 2021.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:30 am, 2nd November 2021

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 52, page 46, line 9, after “50A” insert—

“Meaning of assistance and support

‘(1) For the purposes of guidance issued under section 49(1)(b) and regulations made under section 50, “assistance and support” includes but is not limited to the provision of—

(a) appropriate and safe accommodation;

(b) material assistance, including financial assistance;

(c) medical advice and treatment (including psychological assessment and treatment);

(d) counselling;

(e) a support worker;

(f) appropriate information on any matter of relevance or potential relevance to the particular circumstances of the person;

(g) translation and interpretation services;

(h) assistance in obtaining specialist legal advice or representation (including with regard to access to compensation);

(i) assistance with repatriation, including a full risk assessment.

(2) Assistance and support provided to a person under this section—

(a) must not be conditional on the person’s acting as a witness in any criminal proceedings;

(b) may be provided only with the consent of that person;

(c) must be provided in a manner which takes due account of the needs of that person as regards safety and protection from harm;

(d) must be provided to meet the needs of that person having particular regard to any special needs or vulnerabilities of that person caused by gender, pregnancy, physical or mental illness, disability or being the victim of violence or abuse;

(e) must be provided in accordance with an assistance and support plan which specifies that person’s needs for support and how those needs will be met for the full duration of the period to which that person is entitled to support under this Act.

(3) Nothing in this section affects the entitlement of any person to assistance and support under any other statutory provision.

50B”

This amendment would define the types of assistance and support that must be provided to a victim of modern slavery in England and Wales in line with Article 12 of the European Convention on Actions Against Trafficking in Human Beings; and conditions associated with its provision.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 2, in clause 52, page 46, line 16, leave out from “receiving” to the end of line 19 and insert

“in their physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent their re-trafficking.”

This amendment would define the objective of assistance and support in line with Article 12 of the European Convention Against Human Trafficking 2005.

Amendment 3, in clause 52, page 46, line 16, at end insert—

‘(6A) When a person who is receiving assistance and support under this section receives a positive conclusive grounds decision, the Secretary of State must secure assistance and support for at least 12 months beginning on the day the recovery period ends.”

This amendment would give modern slavery victims in England and Wales with a positive conclusive grounds decision the right to receive support and assistance for at least 12 months.

Clause stand part.

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

The amendments seek to incorporate our international legal obligations under ECAT within the provisions of support available to victims during the recovery period, as well as extending statutory support for those who have received a positive conclusive grounds decision.

Having already discussed the changes to the recovery period in our discussion of clause 50, I will not repeat myself, but it is important to consider these amendments alongside the provisions in clause 50. We share the concerns of Christian Action, Research, and Education, or CARE, which has worked with us on amendment 4, that clauses 52 and 53 have the potential, if they remain unamended, to

“make matters worse for victims”.

Amendment 2 would update the definition of the reasons for providing a recovery period as solely to harm

“arising from the conduct which resulted in the positive reasonable grounds decision in question,” and replace it with the requirement to assist a person

“in their physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent their retrafficking.”

Therefore, amendment 2 would put into the Bill the wording of article 13 of ECAT, which provides support

“necessary to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery”.

The British Red Cross has highlighted that

“making support dependent on specific ‘harm’ caused by the ‘conduct’ that led someone to be identified as a victim, fails to recognise the reality of human trafficking”.

The Home Office’s own research from 2017 says that

“unlike most crimes, which are time-limited single events, modern slavery is a hidden crime of indeterminate duration”— in that it involves multiple locations and individuals. Therefore, amendment 2 better reflects the Home Office’s own assessment of the nature of human trafficking.

Amendment 4 seeks to set out the types of assistance and support that must be provided to a victim of modern slavery. Colleagues will be aware that presently neither the Modern Slavery Act 2015 nor the Bill includes such a provision, and therefore amendment 4 would fill a significant void in the legislation. The types of assistance and support include a range of provisions, such as safe accommodation, medical advice, a support worker, access to translation services, counselling, and assistance in obtaining legal advice or representation.

Amendment 4 is a practical and reasonable measure, and one that we hope will provide a sense of certainty and security to support survivors as they move towards recovery and towards justice, as confidence in the process grows, which will foster trust between agencies and victims, and enable more perpetrators to be brought before the courts. The types of assistance defined are basic provisions that victims should be entitled to if they are to rebuild their lives.

Building upon this idea of defining assistance, amendment 3 would offer long-term support to survivors with a positive conclusive grounds decision, stipulating that the Secretary of State must also secure assistance for at least 12 months, beginning on the day that the recovery period ends.

Given that there is no mention of statutory support after a conclusive grounds decision, amendment 3 seeks to correct another considerable omission from the Bill. In 2020, the Centre for Social Justice said:

“Long-term support is a further significant gap in the support system. In recent years a number of reports have concluded that the lack of long-term support puts victims of modern slavery at risk of homelessness, destitution and even re-trafficking after they exit the NRM support provision. It also has a significant negative impact on their engagement with the criminal justice system”.

This approach has broad support, as these amendments would build upon the recommendations made by the Work and Pensions Committee in 2017, which stated that

“There is very little structured support for confirmed victims once they have been given a ‘Conclusive Grounds’ decision...We recommend that all victims of modern slavery be given a personal plan which details their road to recovery, and acts as a passport to support, for at least the 12 month period of discretionary leave.”

Similar measures were also incorporated in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill introduced by Lord McColl of Dulwich, which awaits its Second Reading in the House of Lords. That Bill was greatly welcomed across the human trafficking sector and by all parties.

To summarise the case for amendments 2, 4 and 3, they are vital in expanding support for victims, and can boast wide support. I very much hope that the Minister will reflect on their merits.

On clause 52 more broadly, we welcome the fact that support for victims in England and Wales is being placed on a statutory basis during the recovery period, but this change is undermined by the limitations on support, and the decision to reduce the minimum recovery period from 45 to 30 days under earlier clauses. The clause introduces provisions for assistance and support only

“if the Secretary of State considers that it is necessary” for recovery, mental health and wellbeing purposes, and crucially only if the recovery is from harm caused directly by the trafficking.

In the explanatory notes, the Government state that the intention behind the clause is to implement the UK’s ECAT obligations under article 13 to provide a recovery period to potential victims of modern slavery, but that is not really what has been included in the Bill. The explanatory report on ECAT says that articles 12 and 13 are

“an important guarantee for victims and serve…a number of purposes.”

This wording emphasises the “guarantee” of support, and its serving different purposes. By contrast, the clause narrows the scope of the recovery support received solely to support needed as a result of harm

“arising from the conduct which resulted in the positive reasonable grounds decision in question.”

The Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit claims that as a result, the clause will

“create a huge evidential burden on survivors, in demonstrating that their recovery needs are linked to their experiences of having been trafficked”.

It adds that the clause will also

“necessitate an increase in the number of medico-legal reports that the Competent Authority will be required to consider.”

To summarise, the clause has the potential to further disqualify victims from support entirely. It has nothing at all to offer a person who had physical and mental needs before being trafficked—needs that may have been a factor in them having been targeted by criminal gangs. It risks trapping victims in an endless cycle of exploitation, which will undermine our ability to identify victims and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. For these reasons, the clause should not stand part of the Bill in its current form.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury

I thank the hon. Lady for raising important issues around the support and assistance offered to victims of modern slavery and trafficking. Support for potential victims is a fundamental pillar of our approach to assisting those impacted by this horrendous crime and reducing the risk of their being re-trafficked. We are agreed on the importance of placing the entitlement to support in legislation, which is what the clause will do. Our intention in our drafting was to provide victims with certainty about the circumstances in which support is provided through the NRM; we know that is imperative in aiding their recovery. To this end, we have sought to put in clause 52 that support will be provided where

“it is necessary for the purpose of assisting the person receiving it in their recovery from any harm to their physical and mental health and their social well-being arising from the conduct which resulted in the positive reasonable grounds decision in question.”

Amendment 2 would restrict this support to where it was needed for a victim’s

“physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent their re-trafficking.”

This provides less clarity on what these terms mean for victims and decision makers, reducing the clause’s effectiveness in supporting victims. Our approach is not to do as amendment 4 suggests and go into detail in the clause on the types of support provided, but to instead do that in guidance. The reason is twofold: it provides us with the flexibility to tailor support to victims, and to ensure that we are able to amend the guidance and support as our understanding of victims’ needs changes.

After entering the NRM, potential victims are entitled to access a wide range of specialist support services to help them rebuild their lives. This includes safe house accommodation, financial support, and a social worker to assist with access to services including, but not limited to, health care, legal advice and translation services. Following a positive conclusive grounds decision, confirmed victims’ ongoing recovery needs are assessed, and a clear plan is tailored to their specific recovery needs to help them transition out of support and back into a community, where this is possible. Confirmed victims’ recovery needs are assessed to ensure that the overall support package provided through the modern slavery victim care contract is specific to the individual. This needs-based approach ensures that the Government provide targeted and personalised support to victims to help them recover and rebuild their lives.

As I have outlined, the details of the types of assistance and support that can be provided already exist in the modern slavery statutory guidance under section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Bringing this detail into primary legislation, as amendment 4 seeks, is not appropriate and would create a fixed, blanket approach to support, making it harder to adjust our approach in the future and tailor to victims’ individual needs as our understanding of trauma develops. Amendment would also necessitate that assistance and support may be provided only with the consent of that person. As children are not necessarily able to offer their consent in an informed way, the amendment may—unintentionally, I am sure—exclude children from the provision.

Finally, amendment 3 seeks to stipulate the minimum length of time support is provided after a positive conclusive grounds decision. In contrast, our approach is to provide tailored support to victims following a recovery needs assessment through a tailored transition plan. The plan can be put in place for up to six months at a time, with no overall limit. This will enable us to deliver the most appropriate and effective needs-based support to victims.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 10:45 am, 2nd November 2021

The Minister said earlier that the tailored plan would support someone until they move back into the community. Can he confirm that that support will be provided whatever setting the person is living in, not only to those who happen to be in a detention centre or accommodation centre, for example?

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury

I think I have made it quite clear that the amendment would restrict the ability to assess on an individual, case-by-case basis, as the clause intends. I also went on to say that the time period for that is up to six months but is not limited. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question. Amendment 3 would go against that approach and would not increase benefits to victims. For the reasons I have outlined, I respectfully invite the hon. Member for Halifax to withdraw the amendment.

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

I am grateful to the Minister, once again, for his response. He paints a picture of the NRM that I do not think would be recognised by those working with it on the frontline. We heard testimony from those within the NRM that it was not clear that they were even in it, because it was not clear what provisions or support they were receiving. I wish it was the case that the description and the offer of support that he outlines were there in reality.

The Minister says the discretion within the Bill is necessary in order to facilitate going further and doing more, but we know that discretion is also used to offer less than we think is appropriate for victims who require that support. We will continue to argue and make the case for amendments 2, 3 and 4, but in the interests of time, we will simply vote against clause 52 in its entirety. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Division number 52 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 52 - Identified potential victims in England and Wales: assistance and support

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 5.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

For future reference, I understand that abstentions are supposed to be recorded by saying, “No vote”, although I am happy to be corrected. I am not always right.