1 Lord Bishop of Manchester debates involving the Scotland Office

Wed 28th Jun 2023
Brevity is the order of the day. I do not intend to say anything further, but I commend these amendments to the House and urge the Government to think again.
Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, traffickers exercise control over their victims by convincing them that they will not receive help from the authorities if they seek it. The Bill will simply add credence to that claim.

I fully sympathise with the desire to deter people from using our modern slavery laws as a means to make a spurious claim for protection, but where is the evidence? The Government cannot point at any evidence of widespread abuse of our modern slavery system, yet they propose to remove basic protections for some of the most vulnerable people in our country. It is a basic principle of law—I can find it for you in the Book of Genesis if you want—that, in our desire to convict the guilty, we should not end up punishing the innocent. Amendment 12 is the very least we need in order to protect that vital principle.

Some 41% of referrals to the national referral mechanism relate to people exploited as children, which is why I also support Amendment 112 in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. We must ensure that no child victim, whatever form of exploitation they have experienced or whatever crime they may have been coerced into committing, should be disqualified from accessing protection. We owe that to children. We have a moral responsibility at the very least to provide people with the opportunity to have their case heard through the national referral mechanism without fear of immediate detention or removal.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, told us during the last vote about the views of all the members of the Council of Europe and specifically mentioned Hungary questioning what the UK is doing—Hungary.

My name is on the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on behalf of everyone on these Benches. The survivors of modern slavery should be protected and supported, not just because it is the right thing to do and the UK was lauded for it but to help the prosecution of criminals, of which we hear very little. The Bill indicates the extent to which the Government fail to put themselves in the shoes of victims and survivors, including those who have been trafficked here—who therefore have not come under their own steam—and particularly regarding the need for survivors to be in the UK to assist prosecutions. I could go on, but I will not.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right that we need an independent anti-slavery commissioner in post. How long has it been—a year and how many months? A considerable number of criteria should be assessed, but we are where we are. We maintain our opposition to how slavery and trafficking are dealt with. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on his filleting of the Bill. We will be with him.

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Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 37. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for a very clear exposition.

Broadly speaking, I support the amendment, although I shall not be voting for it for the reasons I will now give. I concur also with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about Christian and Muslim persecution in Nigeria, which remains a constituent country in Schedule 1.

The amendment is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Notwithstanding my support, I have some significant questions as to whether it should appear in primary rather than secondary legislation, because it is very detailed and because there are other groups that are suffering persecution which could also be included. That does not take away the very real concerns articulated by many noble Lords about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who may face persecution when returned to some of these countries.

I have a very significant issue. I genuinely hope that when those who tabled the amendment respond to the Minister they will disabuse me of any misapprehension about it, particularly with regard to subsection (1)(c). It seems to me that it is constitutionally unprecedented to put in primary legislation an amendment which is largely dependent on the time-limited, opaque legal process of a foreign legal entity—in this case, Section 7 of the Treaty on European Union. We are relying on the procedures of the European Union and how it handles ongoing and potentially continuous infraction procedures under that part of the treaty as a determinant of whether we include it in the Bill. That is completely unprecedented.

I can understand the points that noble Lords have made about Poland and Hungary, but those legal processes have not yet run their course and are still ongoing. That is a matter for the European Union rather than the United Kingdom.

How wide and prescriptive would this amendment be? Would infraction procedures begin against Latvia, Bulgaria, Malta and Romania? This can be incorporated over a period in secondary legislation in a statutory instrument, rather than on the face of the Bill. I say very gently to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that he was not as clear and emphatic in his explanation and rationale for that part of his amendment as he was in the earlier part, that it is of course axiomatic that a number of people, because of their sexuality or gender preferences, would face persecution.

For that reason, I feel uncomfortable about supporting the amendment and will support the Government if they oppose it. I would be extremely grateful if those who tabled the amendment would address the issues that I have.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, we cannot countenance a situation in which people who sought asylum here because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin are then removed to a third country where they may face a similar, or even greater, level of risk. For that reason, I join others in supporting Amendment 37.

It was my privilege earlier this year to be invited to attend a reception on the Parliamentary Estate, where I met a group of LGBTQI+ women who had sought and gained asylum in this country. Their stories were harrowing. By contrast, their efforts to rebuild their lives here in Britain were inspirational.

It seems to me beyond any doubt that the threshold of safety must be different and, indeed, higher for people like these women—people who are persecuted on the basis of their sexuality or their gender identity. Putting it bluntly, if His Majesty’s Government’s travel advice to British tourists is that they should not be open about their sexuality when visiting certain countries, two things surely follow. First, those same countries are not places to which we should remove LGBTQI+ people; secondly, the Bill must provide explicit protection to that end. The noble and learned Lord’s amendment achieves that aim, and unless the Minister can offer equally concrete protections, I hope that your Lordships’ House will support it at such time as the voting machines are resurrected from the dead.

Lord Cashman Portrait Lord Cashman (Lab)
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My Lords, I speak in support of the amendments in this group, particularly the amendment to which I have added my name and which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, so eloquently expounded, as did the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. We have of course addressed, and will continue to address, vulnerable people in all the categories affected by the Bill. We have done so consistently—for example, for pregnant women and vulnerable children, as we have done today, and for others. When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, that is arguably how a country is judged, so we make no omission when dealing with Schedule 1.

As was said earlier—I will be brief—there are 63 countries that currently criminalise people merely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a country such as Uganda, for example, for you to know that somebody is in a SOGI minority, as the UN refers to it, and not to report it to the authorities is to face two years in prison. If in Uganda you rent a home to a homosexual person, you can face up to 20 years in prison. Some 63 countries criminalise; now seven have the death penalty. The reality of state discrimination, as has been said, is death, mutilation, persecution, blackmail and coercive rape. I remember David Kato, the Ugandan activist murdered some nine or 10 years ago; his murderer has still not been brought to justice. Lives are being denied, blighted and criminalised.

We raise this issue because within Schedule 1 the majority of those countries that criminalise and offer the death penalty are on the list and there are currently no protections. We have sought reassurances throughout—at Second Reading, in Committee and now—but reassurances there have come none.

Let me finish with the words of a young Ugandan, Arthur Kayima, who said this, yesterday, here in Parliament:

“Without a Mother I grew up as a very vulnerable child and as if that was not enough, as a child, signs of not being straight were just too visible”.

Growing up in a country like Uganda, he said, being considered gay is to be considered evil—

“a curse, an abomination and a dangerously unforgiven sin”.

He continued that the President of Uganda, Museveni,

“signed into law the world’s harshest anti-LGBT+ law, which allows the death penalty for homosexual acts, long serving in prison for promoting homosexuality or renting a room to a gay couple (20 years in prison)”.

Without any reassurances, Uganda is on the list in Schedule 1.

That is the reality of being in a country with homophobic laws: those words, spoken by a man seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. No LGBT person should be sent to such a country, and that is one of the many reasons why I support Amendment 37, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.