My Lords, I am very happy to be a co-signatory to Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, along with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I remind the House of my non-pecuniary interest as a trustee of the anti-trafficking charity, Arise Foundation.
Characteristically, at midnight last night, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who is in his 88thyear, was waiting to move this amendment. If he had been required to, he would have stayed all night, such is his commitment to this cause. I admire him greatly for that. Over several decades, I have been truly fortunate to get to know the noble Lord. I have often found myself on the same side of arguments and deeply admire him on many fronts, not least in the use of his skills as a surgeon in life-saving and life-changing work on the Mercy Ships and his indefatigable efforts to raise in the House the plight of victims of modern slavery. It was also good to see the article on PoliticsHome yesterday by the noble Lord and the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP setting out the case for this amendment.
In 2015, I participated along with many other noble Lords throughout the debates on the Modern Slavery Act and warmly congratulated the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, on pioneering with great skill and determination world-class legislation, a rarity in enjoying bipartisan and bicameral support. Following our debate in Committee on 16 September, I sent our debate on the noble Lord’s earlier amendment to Lady May, as she now is, and received a warm response encouraging us all to continue to champion and speak up for victims of modern slavery.
It has been deeply shocking for us all to see the way in which human traffickers have been fuelling the migrant crisis in Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge. We have heard in our debates on amendments to this Bill about how young children have been exploited, used as pawns in a lucrative and sometimes deadly trade. The House will recall that it is less than 12 months since the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people trafficked into Tilbury. I was particularly pleased to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, said yesterday in your Lordships’ House about what she and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, are determined to do to end this murderous trade in human misery.
No one can doubt the vulnerability of victims of trafficking and modern slavery by those who manipulate and exploit them. The Government are right to accept that other vulnerable groups such as refugees have conferred upon them an immigration status that recognises their vulnerability. When someone is recognised as a refugee in the UK, they are offered an initial period of five years’ leave to remain. That is not the case for victims of trafficking. Confirmed non-EU victims of modern slavery are able to apply for asylum, but for completely understandable reasons this option has not been open to EU nationals. That is what this amendment addresses.
After 1 January, EU victims who are trafficked into the UK will not have any free movement rights and, unless the rules change, will not be able to apply for asylum. Their immigration options are therefore slim. I am sure that the Minister will respond by confirming that victims of modern slavery are able to apply for discretionary leave to remain. Currently, non-EU nationals are automatically considered for this discretionary option if no other immigration path is available; EU nationals are not.
Looking into the background for discretionary leave to remain, I realised that the facts of who the individuals are who get such leave, and why, are opaque—to put it mildly. The Home Office has published guidance on when a victim of trafficking can be granted leave to remain. The guidance is totally discretionary and sets out three criteria on which leave to remain can be given. A person may get leave to remain, first, if they are seeking compensation for their exploitation or, secondly, if they are assisting police with criminal investigations. The third criterion is defined as “personal circumstances”. The data on how many individuals receive such discretionary leave and under which of those criteria is far from clear.
In 2017, the then Home Office Minister wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Field, when he was Member of Parliament for Birkenhead. What a pleasure it was to be here today when the noble Lord took his seat; I know that he will bring great commitment to the fight against human trafficking during his time in your Lordships’ House. In that letter, the Minister made some clear statements that DLR was the last resort and given only when there are “exceptional or compelling reasons”. Since then, no DLR data has been published in response to multiple Parliamentary Questions. This point is raised in the report of the organisation, After Exploitation, entitled Hidden Futures, published on 27 September. The report demonstrates that the Government have multiple opportunities to provide the data on the immigration outcomes of victims of trafficking. Only last week, on 29 September, the Government responded to a Parliamentary Question in another place by the Member of Parliament for Nottingham North, saying:
“Numbers and reasons for grants of discretionary leave to remain to victims of modern slavery do not currently form part of modern slavery published statistics.”
Less than a week earlier, on 24 September, the Government said that the data was not held in a reportable format. It begs the question: why not? There is considerable confusion about the immigration outcomes for victims of modern slavery and even about whether there is any data that would give such clarity.
Notwithstanding the Government’s failure to be forthcoming and transparent on this issue, in 2019 the British Red Cross was able to get information through freedom of information requests about the grants of discretionary leave to remain and it published in its report, Hope for the Future, some of its findings. These suggest that between just 8% and 9% of all victims of modern slavery were granted leave to remain between 2015 and 2017. Given the small numbers granted DLR, which the noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to, and the fact that the individuals who are vulnerable enough to be subject to trafficking are unlikely to be those who meet the requirements of the new points-based immigration system, it is clear to me that Parliament should now act.
Without Amendment 27, European Union nationals who are victims of trafficking will find themselves significantly disadvantaged compared to the status quo. Ending free movement must not be associated with an increase in exploitation. Given that, unlike non-EEA nationals, who are considered automatically, EU nationals will have to apply for discretionary leave to remain and given that so few grants are made, EU nationals who are unable to claim residency and the benefits associated with that immigration status are more likely to find themselves destitute and subject to potential retrafficking. Share
It would be unconscionable for this House to acquiesce to the erosion of the legal rights of victims of modern slavery. It would be one thing for the Bill to have no effect, either for good or ill, on the rights of victims, but for it to make things worse would be extraordinary. Notwithstanding the horrendous role of cities such as London, Liverpool and Bristol in the slave trade, the United Kingdom played an historic role in leading the way to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833. It seems astonishing that we should be asked to inaugurate this new era by arranging our laws such that, from 1 January, some victims of modern slavery will have fewer rights. I cannot believe that this is what the champions of this change really want.
Today, the House has the opportunity to usher in change in a way that does not erode the rights of victims of modern slavery by supporting the modest, but very timely and important, amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. It would provide EU victims with the statutory right to be granted 12 months’ leave to remain, based on the criteria set out in proposed subsection (2) in Amendment 27.
This amendment would give victims the opportunity to stay here, for up to 12 months, to address their needs,
“for safety and protection from harm including protection from re-trafficking”
“the needs of that person for medical and psychological treatment”,
to help the police or to seek compensation. Some EU citizens may naturally wish to return home instead.
As has been said on a number of occasions, and by the noble Lord in introducing his amendment today, debates on this must also be seen in the context of his Private Member’s Bill, which still stands on our Order Paper. I hope that we find time to debate that Bill. Although this amendment is welcome, and I will support it if it is pressed to a Division later, there is a bigger and wider question that has to be addressed, and his Bill is the way to do it.