Speech on the Illegal Migration Bill – the removal of the protections for victims of trafficking and modern slavery

Jun 5, 2023 | News

Lord ALTON of Liverpool:

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to the effects on the modern slavery legislation. In a sense, just as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about this being an ouster of judicial review, so, in some respects, it is an ouster of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 as well. Why is this necessary? The Home Secretary says that the system is being abused, to justify removal of the protections for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. In response to that, both Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former leader of the Conservative Party, and Theresa May, former Prime Minister, have said in terms that there is no evidence to justify that claim. That is why it is right that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has moved this amendment. He made a terrific speech and I fully endorse and support everything he said.

The amendment seeks to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the national referral mechanism and have it considered. I ask the Minister for one potential exception: if he cannot accept the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord then, reverting to the previous group of amendments, what about the situation of children in those circumstances? Are they going to be included in a catch-all, or will the Minister accept that there should at least be an exemption for them?

My noble friend Lord Anderson talked about the anticipated report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I do not think he will have long to wait for that, but what are already available are the statements given to that committee in public evidence sessions. I was very struck by one, and there is an echo here of something that my noble friend Lord Carlile referred to earlier, which is the personal effects on individuals. We heard in camera from a young woman who had been trafficked into this country and used by a family from the Middle East literally as a modern-day slave. She escaped and managed, dressed just in nightclothes, to find her way to central London where, in Piccadilly Circus, she was helped by a volunteer who introduced her to other members of the Filipino community. I am happy to say that she has been able to make a life for herself as a result of a referral to the national referral mechanism. Take that away from people and what opportunity will they have to make good lives for themselves or to have any kind of safety? At least let us have a disapplication for children and give them the opportunity to be referred through the national referral mechanism.

Finally, since I said I would try to be brief and concise, I would be interested to hear whether the Minister has had a careful look at the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking and the obligations we are signed up to. Does he recognise the view that has been expressed by many who know far more about this than I do that we will be in breach of ECAT if this goes through in its present form, and also that we are likely to be in breach of Article 4 of the ECHR in its prohibition on slavery? Are those questions that the Minister and his officials are looking at seriously? Have they attached sufficient weight to them? What is his view about the exemption of children?

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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