Illegal Migration Bill – Committee Stage speech and amendment on compliance with international obligations and the provision of detailed assessments in respect of protection and support

Jun 6, 2023 | News

Lord Alton of Liverpool 
5th June 2023

My Lords, I rise mainly to introduce Amendment 52F, in my name, but before doing that I would like to endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Carlile has just said. We should recognise that there are countries that people should not be sent to, where convention rights would not then apply to the subsequent refoulement. I also agree with the opening remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in moving her amendment. Again, I endorse those and associate myself with those remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was one of those who attended a meeting that I organised here before Second Reading of the Bill, which the Salvation Army and a number of other stakeholders attended; the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was also present. The point about the Salvation Army is particularly relevant because, of course, it is one of the stakeholders that works for the Home Office in dealing with many of the people whom we are discussing in the context of this Bill. Arising out of that discussion, I thought it would be good to table amendments along these lines. In fact, there are others elsewhere in group 19 and I will come back to that in a moment.

In this group—group 4—Amendment 52F would ensure that there is consultation with relevant stakeholders in the country to ensure compliance with international obligations and that detailed assessments are made in respect of protection and support. I remain concerned that the Bill denies access to protections, safety and support for those seeking refuge and victims of modern slavery. I touched on that in previous groups that we debated earlier this afternoon.

In doing so, far from breaking the business model of people smuggling—as the Government repeatedly state—and deterring illegal entry into the UK, I think the Bill merely enhances the ability of people smugglers and people traffickers to operate with impunity. Currently, there has been very little assessment of the implications of the Bill for those seeking refuge and victims of modern slavery, including compliance with international legal instruments, as well as the financial implications if implemented and the effect on the wider modern slavery strategy.

I know the House is waiting with anticipation for the findings of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which will meet again tomorrow to, I hope, come to a final conclusion about the report it has had to rush—pell-mell, one might say—because of the pace at which the Bill has been taken through both Houses of Parliament. Nevertheless, that report—I hope it will be unanimous but, if not, it will be a majority report—will be available to your Lordships for further consideration in Committee and on Report.

The Bill could have devastating effects on the rights of survivors of modern slavery. Furthermore, it is clear that my concern is shared right across party divides. We have seen that in the context of the debates in another place and the speeches made by people such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May that have been quoted in our earlier debates, but also from the survivors of modern slavery themselves. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has had evidence from people who have been victims. I personally found it very moving to hear some of their own accounts. We have also heard from former law enforcement officials, lawyers and people who have dealt with these issues over very many years.

Rather than repeating what has already been said, I will speak specifically to Amendment 52F, which would ensure that there is consultation with relevant stakeholders in the country to ensure compliance with our international obligations and that detailed assessments are made in respect of protection and support. As I have said, the amendment sits alongside Amendments 85C and 92B, which are also tabled in my name but do not come until much later, in group 19. They would put on the face of the Bill an obligation for the Government to carry out due diligence to ensure the safety of those who are removed from the UK to other territories and countries. Indeed, we will come on to that question in a later group of amendments.

These amendments have been drafted with survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking in mind, as they too will be subject to removal from the UK if they have been deemed to enter the country irregularly. We know from experience the time it can take for a survivor to feel safe and begin their journey of recovery. We all know how heightened vulnerabilities need to be protected against trauma and the kinds of experiences people have had to endure, which have been referred to in some of our earlier debates. I cited one example earlier, reported to me by the Children’s Commissioner—I am still shocked by the story of a young boy from Iran who watched his parents being executed. It took him a year to get to the safety of this country, and the idea that he could be returned to who knows where, who knows when, is unconscionable as far as I and probably most Members of the Committee are concerned. That is why we have to think very carefully about the protections we place in the legislation. We also know that removal of survivors to another country against their will—or the fear that they might be repatriated—can exacerbate their vulnerabilities, delay or prevent that recovery process and unfortunately lead to the individual being re-exploited or re-trafficked, doing nothing to break the wicked cycle of exploitation.

If the Government insist on pushing forward with these plans of removing trafficking and modern slavery survivors from the UK, they must do so with the utmost diligence and transparency. That is why Amendment 52F would require the Government to undertake comprehensive assessments, including detailed consultation with relevant safeguarding and support organisations in the country or territory to which the survivor may be removed. It would also require the Government to assess the human rights situation of the relevant country, the protection and support available to potential and identified victims, the risks of further harm by exploitation and trafficking, and the risk of direct and indirect refoulement in that country.

The amendment would also require the Government to confirm whether the duty in Clause 2 and the powers in Clause 3 would not contravene both national and international legal instruments, including but not limited to: the Equality Act, the European convention against trafficking—which I referred to in an earlier group of amendments—the refugee convention, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we discussed at length in an earlier group.

Many of us in this House and in the other place will continue to work to ensure and enshrine the rights of survivors of modern slavery. Amendment 52F, alongside Amendments 85C and 92B when we get to them, are there to ensure some level of transparency and due diligence, which have so far been lacking within this process. The removal of survivors from protection in this country risks fuelling the cycle of exploitation that consumes lives and spits out profits for ruthless criminals. For this reason these amendments have been tabled, to ensure that the bare minimum is done to ensure the safety of those who are at risk of further harm of traffickers.

In summary, I will make four points. First, the amendment is primarily about ensuring that if there is intention to remove people to specific countries, there is a detailed understanding of both the risks and legislation, policy and practical resources in-country to meet the needs of those seeking refuge and victims of modern slavery.

Secondly, the amendment would require an assessment of the levels of protection and support, including risks of trafficking and retrafficking and wider direct and indirect non-refoulement.

Thirdly, detailed consultation with national and international stakeholders will mean greater transparency for the implementation of this legislation and make sure that it is put into place with appropriate structures around due diligence and accountability given the significant implications for those seeking refuge and victims of modern slavery.

Lastly, it would necessitate the Government making clear how the duty in Clause 2 and the powers in Clause 3 do not contravene national or international legal instruments in the implementation of the Bill should it become law, which includes those various international conventions which I referred to earlier. The failure to be able to declare the compatibility of the Bill with the European Convention on Human Rights speaks to the remarks made earlier on today by my noble friend Lord Hannay about the reputational loss there will be to this country if we are seen to be derelict in our upholding of conventions and treaties which have served us so well in the past.

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