Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. I was much involved with the Modern Slavery Act and the review led by the noble Lord, Lord Field, so I feel I have some knowledge of this. I do not know whether the Minister, who is not at the Home Office, realises the extent to which all the non-governmental organisations of this country—including the Salvation Army, which works for the Government on modern slavery, together with the anti- slavery commissioner—deplore this part of the Bill without exception. This Minister may not know that but, goodness me, the Home Office does.

I am very concerned about children, but I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, so I propose to refer specifically to Clause 58. Again, because he is not at the Home Office, the Minister may not have read the statutory guidance on the Modern Slavery Act. I have it with me—it was published this month. I wonder whether the Home Office’s right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, because the requirement to be timely in providing the information needed is totally contrary to the entire work set out by the statutory guidance.

I do not want to bore the Committee, but I must refer very briefly to one or two points so the Minister can know. Under “Introduction to modern slavery”, the guidance says:

“It is important for professionals to understand the specific vulnerability of victims of modern slavery and utilise practical, trauma-informed methods of working which are based upon fundamental principles of dignity, compassion and respect.”

For goodness’ sake, does Clause 58 have anything to do with that? The guidance sets out how you should deal with identifying potential victims of modern slavery. In particular, paragraph 3.6 on page 35 states:

“In practice it is not easy to identify a potential victim—there are many different physical and psychological elements to be considered as detailed below. For a variety of reasons, potential victims of modern slavery may also … be reluctant to come forward with information … not recognise themselves as having been trafficked or enslaved”

and, most importantly, may

“tell their stories with obvious errors and/or omissions”.

One important aspect—which the Home Office on the one hand states in the statutory guidance and yet is clearly totally unaware of in relation to the Bill—is that a lot of victims who come to this country are given a story by the traffickers. That is the story they tell first, and it will not be the truth. Just think what will happen to them consequently under Clause 58. They will be treated as liars who have not given accurate information. Through the NRM—imperfect though it is—they will probably have got to reasonable grounds, but then they will get this appalling notice and find themselves not treated as victims. This is totally contrary to the Modern Slavery Act. It is totally contrary to the best of all that has happened in this country, in the House of Commons and this House, which will be ruined by this part of the Bill.

Having worked in this sector since about 2006, I am absolutely appalled that the Government think they are doing a good thing in putting this part of the Bill forward. For goodness’ sake, will they for once listen and get rid of it?

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 153 and 155 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Before I do so, I fully associate myself with the powerful words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The only correction I will make to the noble Lord is that the Modern Slavery Act originated in the coalition Government, and we had a Liberal Democrat Minister in the Home Office in the person of my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who was here earlier.

Group 1 covers amendments and proposed deletions to very objectionable clauses, as we have heard. Clause 57 shifts the onus from the state to the potential victim to identify themselves and possess the relevant expertise to know what information is relevant to a slavery and human-trafficking determination. There is no provision for the specified date for supplying the information to be reasonable, or for whether and how an extension could be granted. Can the Minister say whether there will be guidance on these matters? As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked, will notices be served on all asylum applicants or only on some? There would be potential for these notices to be discriminatory, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, if they were served only on certain categories of people. What criteria will be used if only certain people will get these notices?

There is no clarity or guidance as to what might be considered good reasons for why information has arrived late. Vulnerable or traumatised victims might take time opening up; they might well be unfamiliar with the legal process, or they might not realise that a particular detail was relevant until later. There at least needs to be guidance on what constitutes good reasons to improve legal clarity and certainty, otherwise Amendment 154 from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, needs to be accepted.

On Clause 58, the Court of Appeal in a 2008 case said that the word “potentially” should be included if the decision-making authority were required to assess late supply of information as damaging to credibility. Hence, Amendment 153, inspired by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, changes “must take account” to “may take account” as potentially damaging to credibility. Amendment 155 would amend Clause 58 so that it does not apply to child victims or victims of sexual exploitation, similar to Amendments 151D and 152 from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

The bottom line is that Clauses 57 and 58 should not be in this Bill and, as has been said, Part 5 as a whole should not be in this Bill. They are arguably in breach of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

I think that my noble friend Lord Paddick will refer to the worries of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner—we are all very conscious of this matter. Indeed, Dame Sara Thornton has a comment article in the Times today, to which I shall refer in a later group. She has been very active, not least in briefing the JCHR and outlining her extreme worries, and we have heard from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The whole of the sector believes that this tightening up, to the disadvantage of vulnerable and traumatised victims of human trafficking and slavery, is wholly inappropriate.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
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My Lords, I have not yet spoken on this Bill—I missed the Second Reading for reasons beyond my control—but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which issued a number of reports on the Bill. I want to refer to the 11th report, covering Part 5, where we unanimously, as a committee, came forward with a number of recommendations. I hope that the Committee will bear with me—bearing in mind the strictures of the Chief Whip a day or two ago—if I make a brief intervention on this to support those amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The noble Baroness was speaking to Amendments 153 and 155, but all of us are also, to some extent, in support of all the other amendments, and take note of everything that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said.

I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his very kind words about all the work my right honourable friend Theresa May has done on modern slavery over the years. I served briefly in the Home Office, as I have served briefly in a great many departments, before I was moved on—as happens so often. I know from when I served with my right honourable friend just how seriously she took this issue—she treated it as important even before she became Home Secretary. She was a member of the shadow Cabinet in the run-up to the 2001 election and then continued with this work beyond. She will be grateful for everything the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said. If I do not pass it on to her, I am sure she will read Hansard.

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Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I am sorry to remove my mask, but I am told in the Climate Change Committee, of which I am chairman, that we have to have a British ETS which is not aligned with the rest of Europe because that is what we want. Why does it apply to climate change but not to modern slavery? On both of those issues we are in advance and wish to continue to be in advance. I do not understand this alignment element.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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Can I join the maskless crew? Surely international law, and certainly EU directives, are usually a minimum requirement, so if we wanted 45 days and a European instrument said 30, that is brilliant; it is better. It at least complies, so what is the problem?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I hear from all sides of the Chamber, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I want to speak to the JCHR amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Those were very strong words from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I found them extremely persuasive, including his remarks on one-nation conservatism. I see the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Deben, in their place, and I commend the speech of Sir John Major today, which I have followed a little on Twitter.

Amendment 159 was inspired by the JCHR and seeks to remove the discretion around whether a person who has a positive reasonable grounds decision and a conclusive grounds decision pending could avoid removal. Instead of saying that the competent authority “may determine” that removal should not take place, if that is appropriate in the circumstances of the case, we suggest it “must”.

Clause 59 has already changed the Modern Slavery Act so that we are talking about people who “are” victims of slavery or human trafficking, not those who “may be”. Therefore, it is surely right that such victims, who have been given an additional positive reasonable grounds decision for new or more recent slavery or trafficking allegations, must not be removed.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I was proposing to deal later with the expression “bad faith” and its source, but, to help him at this stage, it is not drawn from any comparable legislation, nor from the authority of the courts. We do not hark back to that. Rather, the nature of the problems that must be confronted in relation to this is sufficiently protean and diverse that a need was identified to arrive at a broad expression in the Bill, and “bad faith” was the language selected after consideration among Ministers and officials to represent that.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I now realise that he has now moved on from Clause 61 and is talking about Clause 62. I was wondering whether he was going to answer my point about incompatibility with the ECHR memorandum. That says that

“where the person’s previous conclusive grounds decision was negative, the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2) of ECAT.”

However, you are not protecting them from removal in the meantime under Article 61, as far as I can see, so how is the Bill compatible with the ECHR memorandum?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The point I was seeking to make by that expression is, I think, the same one that my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar made earlier, when he spoke about this—it is as familiar to the noble Baroness as a practising barrister as it is to me, and I think it was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. If we have a list that sets out heads A to E, and then counsel attempts to rely on point F which is not otherwise comprehended, or not specifically enumerated but which may be comprehended within the expression “or any other circumstance”, that always—as my noble friend Lord Wolfson said—places counsel at a disadvantage.

On the threats, or potential threats, and the potential scope for abuse which lie within the power of a person seeking to exploit and make a false application under these circumstances, what we are seeking to do is to identify a phrase or term which is sufficiently wide to encompass all those potential points. Noble Lords in the Committee have identified, under reference to the traffickers and criminals whom it is the intention of the entire Committee to thwart, their cunning, resilience and resourcefulness in finding ways to slip between the cracks of aspects of legislation.

Amendment 169 does not provide a definition of “public order”. I reassure the Committee that we adhere to relevant provisions in our international obligations but it is unnecessary to specify that in legislation, and we are satisfied that the current definition of public order complies with ECAT.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering proposes that we replace the “bad faith” provision with one of “improper claims”. That proposal can be addressed in conjunction with Amendment 163, which seeks to remove the bad faith provision entirely. Another reason for the expression “bad faith”, and its breadth, is to avoid inadvertently excluding administrative mistakes made when submitting claims, which may be interpreted as falling under “improper claims”. We believe that “bad faith” is the appropriate language.

In answer to submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, under Amendments 169, 161 and 164, which seek to exclude children from this clause, ECAT does not specify an age limit. We deem it important that the United Kingdom maintains the full scope while ensuring that all decisions to withhold the protections of the NRM are balanced against our priority to safeguard children. The proposal set out in these amendments would create, in effect, a two-tiered system that could encourage those looking to misuse the NRM protections to provide falsified information regarding their age. We all sat late enough the other night in relation to the age amendment provisions elsewhere in the Bill for me not to wish to go into that area again, but we are concerned lest the proposals in the amendment provide an opportunity for persons to provide falsified information.

In relation to Amendment 168, the Government are aware that potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery may already have been convicted of serious offences or be involved in terrorism-related activity. I make it clear that neither the additional recovery period nor the public order disqualifications can be taken as being a blanket disqualification. Any decisions relating to disqualifications will be taken on an individual basis, taking into account the individual’s circumstances and vulnerabilities. This includes consideration as to the nature of any criminal exploitation that may have been made of them and the need to safeguard individuals. We think it is right that further details of how to apply this discretionary element should be set out in guidance for decision-makers rather than being placed in the Bill. That will give the Government the flexibility to meet the needs of victims and respond to changing patterns of criminal activity that may seek opportunities to misuse the NRM.

We do not consider that Clause 62 will present a barrier to people who have had convictions and prevent them coming forward, because of that discretionary approach and because there will not be a blanket disqualification on the basis of public order. All of us—the whole Committee, I am sure—want victims of modern slavery to continue to come forward for identification and support, irrespective of their personal circumstances or the circumstances in which they came to be exploited. However, we maintain that it is right that the Government can remove individuals who pose a threat to public order from the protections and support that the NRM affords.

Together with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, was concerned lest such victims did not come forward if they had criminal convictions. First responders should still always refer victims into the national referral mechanism, in line with modern slavery statutory guidance, even where the individual has had a previous recovery period or has a criminal conviction. Decision-makers trained in the field will then carefully consider each individual case and take into account specific vulnerabilities and the needs of each individual, again on a case-by-case basis.

The recovery period may be withheld following a reasonable grounds decision, and the rights that flow from a conclusive grounds decision may also be withheld at that stage if relevant disqualifications apply. I emphasise that we will carefully consider each individual case to ensure that people who genuinely need protection and support will receive it. I reiterate that it is right that we should be able to withhold rights from individuals where appropriate—for example, from those who pose a national security risk to the United Kingdom.

I return to the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in relation to compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The protections of the NRM will be withheld in accordance with Clause 61 only when so to do would be compliant with our international obligations—

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I am glad to hear that the Government want to comply with our international obligations—some of us feel that that is not entirely evident from the Bill—but I was asking about compatibility with the European convention against trafficking. Clause 61 allows “a competent authority” to remove someone even when a conclusive grounds decision is pending. I am sorry to repeat myself, but the European Convention on Human Rights memorandum, produced presumably by the Home Office for the Bill, says at paragraph 76.d:

“the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2)”.

That is not what Clause 61 does; it allows the Government to remove the person. They are not “protected from removal” pending a new conclusive grounds decision, so the ECHR memorandum and the Bill are in direct contradiction. Can the Minister take further advice and answer that point? If he cannot do so today, I am sure that he will be able to write to me. I am pretty sure that this was identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is why we wanted to change “must” determine the person’s removal to “may”, so that there is wiggle room that might be in compliance with ECAT. On the face of it, I cannot see that this provision is compliant, notwithstanding the assertion in the memorandum that it is.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Baroness graciously affords me the possibility of replying perhaps in more detail and later. Unless I have further information to provide to her, I propose to take that course. I am obliged to her for her consideration.

In relation to how to assess whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activity or is otherwise a national security concern, the Government have extensive experience of assessing these things, together with our operational partners, and using these assessments to inform executive decision-making.

Whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity is a crucial part of consideration for public order disqualification. Amendment 165 would weaken the United Kingdom’s ability to withhold protections from people of terrorism concern, and we therefore consider that it would increase the risk to the national security of the UK.

Regarding Amendment 166, NRM referrals for foreign national offenders and foreign nationals held on remand are rising, with an average of 85 per month for the first five months of 2021, compared to 19 per month in 2018. It is right that foreign nationals who have been convicted of the serious offences referred to in Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 should be included within scope for consideration of the public order disqualification. This ensures that we will have a clear definition provided for in legislation to support decisions.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick has his name to Amendment 170. I know that he—I join him in this—is always pleased to have an opportunity to support the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. Given that we are now past 4 pm, which, in the terminology of this House, was to be the lunch hour, I will not say anything more on this amendment. I hope that noble Lords can read between the lines.

Similarly, I particularly support Amendment 171A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred.

Finally, when I bumped into the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, the other day, I said, “I don’t know what you’re going to say but I’ll support you”. He said, “I thought you would”.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, we have been quicker than I anticipated but what my noble friend said is true; I must admit that I am starving.

I will speak to Amendments 171 and 172 from the JCHR, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. They aim to remove the worst of Clause 64. Leave to remain is important for victims who are vulnerable to destitution and further exploitation without welfare benefits and other entitlements but, according to the anti-slavery commissioner, the number of victims being granted discretionary leave is very low. In 2015, it was 123. In 2019, it was 70. In the first three months of 2020, it was only eight; we do not have statistics for the whole of 2020-21.

Being granted leave can improve mental health by offering stability and thus a chance of recovery, but the equivalent reference to assistance and support in the Modern Slavery Act reads “physical or psychological harm”; that includes social harm. This Bill would put the law out of line with that and raise real doubts about compatibility with Article 14 of ECAT, which uses the phrase

“necessary owing to their personal situation”.

That is wider than what is in Clause 64(2)(a), which is why I commend Amendment 171 to the Committee. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, refer to the JCHR’s report; he also mentioned the importance of family relationships.

Amendment 172 aims to rectify the omission from Clause 64 of any consideration of the best interests of the child so as to make it compatible with ECAT and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I seem to have mixed up my notes; I am sorry about that because I will now go back to Amendment 171.

In a case last year, the High Court held that refusing to grant discretionary leave while a slavery victim’s asylum application was being processed violated Article 14 of the European Convention on Action against Trafficking. It appears that, before amendments were made in the other place, Clause 64(2)(a) included a reference to the victim’s social well-being as well as their physical and mental health. However, it was removed on Report. Can the Minister explain why? Would the Government like to rectify this omission in the Bill regarding personal, situational and social harm so as to make me, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the JCHR very happy?

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, in the interests of time, let me just say respectfully to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whose amendments I have signed, that I very much support him and the arguments and points that he made so well. We look forward to the Minister’s response. I pay tribute to the doughty work the noble Lord has done over a number of years to try to move the Government in what many of us regard as a simple and sensible way forward. Let us hope.

I shall speak to my Amendment 171AA. Clause 64 provides for limited leave to remain

“if the Secretary of State considers it is necessary for the purpose of (a) assisting the person in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm … (b) enabling the person to seek compensation”—

unless this can be done outside the UK

“or (c) enabling the person to co-operate”

with law enforcement. The standard, however, does not meet the UK’s obligation to children under the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking. Article 14.2 of ECAT specifies that in the case of children, residence permits

“shall be issued in accordance with the best interests of the child.”

Paragraph 186 of the Explanatory Report to ECAT explains that

“the child’s best interests take precedence”.

Amendment 171AA, which is a probing amendment, simply asks why the Government cannot include leave to remain where children are protected and where it is in the best interest of the child.