Clause 56 - Disapplication of retained EU law deriving from Trafficking Directive

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 2nd November 2021.

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

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, Government Whip

The trafficking directive—the directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims—was adopted by the UK on 5 April 2011. The Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings—ECAT—is the principal international measure designed to combat human trafficking. The trafficking directive is intended, in part, to give effect to ECAT. ECAT’s objective is to prevent and combat trafficking by imposing obligations on member states to investigate and prosecute trafficking as a serious organised crime and a gross violation of fundamental rights.

Following the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021, the UK is no longer bound by EU law, but ECAT remains unaffected. Therefore this Government intend, by means of clause 56, to disapply the trafficking directive in so far as it is incompatible with any provisions in the Bill. That will bring legislative certainty to the Bill and how its clauses will apply. It will also provide further clarity to victims about their rights and entitlements.

The Government maintain their commitment to identify and support victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, as part of the world-leading NRM. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 and ECAT, which sets out our international obligations to victims, remain unaffected, as do the UK’s obligations under article 4 of the European convention on human rights.

I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

I thank the Minister for his opening remarks on clause 56. The explanatory notes on the clause state that, as the Minister has just outlined,

“the Trafficking Directive should be disapplied in so far as it is incompatible with any provisions in this Bill.”

There are some substantial and quite technical inconsistencies here that need to be worked through, and to do so we have had to enlist legal expertise from the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit and others, so I thank them all for their service.

The trafficking directive is part of a suite of measures designed to combat the crime of trafficking. The EU has introduced several legislative measures to strengthen the protection of victims of human trafficking, including the 2011 EU directives on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting victims of trafficking.

I turn first to the heading of clause 56—“Disapplication of retained EU law deriving from Trafficking Directive”. Subsection (1) refers to

Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”,

which saved the trafficking directive in domestic law, so that it continued to have effect on or after the UK left the EU at the end of December 2020. However, it has the opposite effect, by stipulating that any

“rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from the Trafficking Directive” that were saved cease to apply,

“so far as their continued existence would otherwise be incompatible with provision made by or under this Act.”

Therefore, our primary concern about clause 56 is that the power to disapply the rights derived from the trafficking directive will cease the rights and remedies available to victims generally as a matter of domestic or EU law that continues in force in the UK.

The world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers, Rights Lab, has argued:

“After eight years of the government’s general position being that the rights under the Trafficking Directive were already in domestic law, the choice to legislate now in the Nationality and Borders Bill—to reduce and restrict rights and entitlements through Part 4 of the Bill—and the presence of the express power to disapply them in the event of an incompatibility with the Bill in Clause 56 is concerning. The government should instead ensure that rights under the Trafficking Directive continue to apply in UK law, by incorporating it, and further, it should incorporate ECAT in domestic law and end the fragmented approach to victim identification, protection, and support.”

The clause will also threaten the Government’s ability to combat the perpetrators of human trafficking, as it will further undermine the response to criminal justice and the rights of victims of trafficking as victims of crime in the victims of crime directive and relevant codes of practice. Additional concerns have been voiced in relation to the rights under the NRM of victim identification and support and non-penalisation. For example, article 8 of the directive provides for the non-prosecution or non-allocation of penalties to victims, and requires the UK to ensure that competent national authorities are entitled not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims of trafficking in human beings for their involvement in criminal activities that they have been compelled to commit as a direct consequence of being subject to any of the acts referred to in article 2.

Therefore, that directive is clearly threatened by clause 56 and other provisions of part 1 of the Bill, including clause 51, which I appreciate is precisely why this Government want to disapply it. However, I am afraid that that is just the wrong judgment call.

In conclusion, the clause is incompatible—

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, Government Whip

I am not sure whether the hon. Member is aware that the transition period for this measure finished in January, so in effect it has already been disapplied.

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

I thank the Minister for his intervention. We are into the thick of the legal technicalities. These points are from some of the leading legal experts on the subject. They are not entirely satisfied that clause 56 is compatible, and that we are not missing some of the protections that have been hard fought for, with good reason.

In conclusion, the clause is incompatible with the UK’s legal international obligations and will have far-reaching consequences. For that reason, it should not stand part of the Bill.

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

Division number 55 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 56 - Disapplication of retained EU law deriving from Trafficking Directive

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.