Some defeats on the Nationality and Borders Bill, but more work to do
Part 5: “The Government refuses to listen”
Last night, Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill (measures relating to modern slavery) were discussed at Report Stage in the House of Lords. Each speaker condemned Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill in strong terms, and many questioned what evidence could justify these extreme restrictions on support for survivors of slavery.
Lord Coaker challenged the Government’s claim that the system for recognising and supporting trafficked people – called the National Referral Mechanism – was ‘open to abuse’. Whilst the Government claimed a 20% rise in referrals was a ‘cause for concern’ Coaker explained it should be seen as “a sign of success. We’re actually uncovering more examples [of slavery]”. He continued: “It [Government] fails to recognise the fear and intimidation that even survivors … found by the State, feel. In the same figures…the process by which adults don’t consent to referral has gone up by 47%. That is the figure the Government should be worried about.”
Lord Alton also challenged Government claims that the system was open to abuse:
“89% of Reasonable Grounds [first-stage trafficking decisions] and 94% of Conclusive Grounds [final-stage trafficking decisions] are positive. So why does the Government feel the need to change the system? Concerns around people abusing the system are completely unfounded.”
Whilst Part 5 as a whole was not put on the chopping block, Baroness Butler-Sloss condemned the set of measures in their entirety.
“Why not listen to the whole modern slavery sector opposed to the whole of Part 5? Including the Salvation Army, the Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner, the United Nations, and perhaps most interestingly Caroline Houghey QC who has been advising the government for years. The Government refuses to listen to a sector which really knows what it’s talking about.”
Voting outcomes: Best interests of the child, support minimums, scrapped ‘trauma deadline’, and limits on support bans
The Government faced defeat on all four votes related to Part 5 in the Lords last night. You can read the amendments here.
- Trauma deadline
The decision to remove Clause 58, in which survivors of slavery are expected to adhere to a ‘trauma deadline’ or risk missing out on support, was supported by 213 and opposed by 142 peers.
This action by the Lords is welcome, and we hope the Government will take heed of the chambers comments.
If enacted, Clause 58 would essentially punish survivors for not adhering to a ‘trauma deadline’ set by the Secretary of State. Under Trafficking Information Notices, survivors would be forced to provide all details in a case or else see their ‘credibility damaged’ when applying for protection. Survivors should not be put on trial for the time it takes them to share details of often horrific abuse – it is vital that decisions on who has been trafficked are made on the basis of fact, not the ‘conduct’ of victims
- Watering down of support bans for survivors, based on offending history
This clause would replace Clause 62, in which decision makers have to take survivors’ offending history into consideration when deciding if they have been trafficked or not. This amendment was supported by 210 and opposed by 128 peers.
The new clause would still allow for support restrictions where “necessary and proportionate to the threat posed” but would require an “assessment” of the facts of a case and only apply in “exceptional circumstances”. Whilst this is an improvement on Clause 62, this still falls short of the work that policymakers must undertake to ensure that survivors are not put on trial for their conduct when coming forward for help
- Minimum 12 months’ support for confirmed victims
Amendment 70 puts support for survivors on a statutory footing (meaning that certain entitlements are available to survivors as a guarantee) once they have been confirmed as victims by the UK state. The amendment was support by 207 and opposed by 123 peers.
These protections include access to safe housing, counselling, financial subsistence, and immigration leave. Whilst this move is welcome, we are concerned that such support is only open to those confirmed as trafficking victims, after going through the length determination process. The most urgently-needed forms of support, currently available when decision makers believe it is ‘reasonable’ to believe someone has been trafficked, will – under the rest of Part 5 -no longer be able to access support until decision makers decide there are ‘conclusive grounds’ to believe they are a victim. Whilst it is welcome to see support minimums introduced, it is vital that final-stage support compliments rather than replaces the urgent support that survivors needed before final decisions in a case are made.
- Best interests of the child
Under this amendment, in child trafficking cases, “the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration”. The move would also protect child trafficking victims from the trauma deadline, support ban on the basis of past offending, and the ‘stricter’ decision making process. 194 peers supported and 128 opposed the measure.
Some victories, but more work to be done
Whilst there are victories to be celebrated, there are still many causes for concern in the Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands. Most notably, moves to raise the threshold that modern slavery survivors must meet, in order to secure the most urgent forms of support, pose a grave threat to victims. In practice, this means that survivors will have ‘more to prove’ earlier in their support journey, at a point in time when they have no formal access to the caseworkers, counsellors, or materials needs. This will greatly disadvantage survivors, who already have to defy huge odds in order to be recognised by the UK State as having been trafficked. Whilst some of the damaging parts of the Bill have been watered down, it’s vital that MPs work to scrap Part 5 in its entirety.
On Monday, the Bill returns to the Commons: Tell your MP to #ScrapPart5 for survivors of slavery.