Hope for Justice has welcomed key amendments passed by the House of Lords yesterday that remove some of the most damaging provisions of the Nationality and Borders Bill.
While we have been campaigning to #ScrapPart5 of the Bill in its entirety, the amendments are a marked improvement when it comes to the interests of people affected by modern slavery.
Clause 58 – the so-called “trauma deadline” clause, which sets arbitrary deadlines for often-traumatised survivors to share their stories if they want to retain full “credibility” – was among those scrapped by the Lords. While the Government could yet seek to restore this clause when the Bill returns to the Commons for MPs to consider, the Lords’ decision shows the strength of feeling on this issue. The amendment to delete Clause 58, proposed by Labour’s Lord (Vernon) Coaker, gathered cross-party support and passed 213 to 142.
Robyn Heitzman, Policy and Research Officer at Hope for Justice, said: “The changes introduced last night limit the scope of the detrimental effects of the Nationality and Borders Bill. As Hope for Justice has previously highlighted, while all of Clauses 57 to 68 were likely to have an impact on victims of modern slavery, Clause 58 (trauma deadline) was particularly problematic.
“As outlined in the Home Office’s own Statutory Guidance for the Modern Slavery Act, any approach towards victims of modern slavery should be ‘trauma-informed’. In practice, this means that there must be an understanding by individuals who interact with potential victims that their behaviour might be shaped by traumatic events. For example, a person might struggle to recall facts coherently, which prevents them from providing an account of their exploitation. Sometimes, victims of modern slavery are not able to disclose their exploitation until a relationship of trust has been built with others. Putting a deadline around this means genuine victims will experience ‘damages to their credibility’ simply because the effects of trauma did not allow them to meet the timeframes outlined in Clause 58. Any ‘damage to credibility’ will have a detrimental impact on this assessment – there is no way that the impact could be beneficial for a potential victim.”
Clause 62 was another extremely concerning provision that Hope for Justice and other anti-slavery charities have been campaigning to scrap. While the Clause remains in place after Tuesday’s vote, its scope was narrowed by the Lords. In the original Clause 62, victims of modern slavery were to be disqualified from protection (meaning that their access to certain support would be removed) if they were deemed to be ‘a threat to public order’. This would have negatively impacted many survivors we support, and we were particularly concerned that those who had been compelled to commit crimes would be excluded from support through no fault of their own.
Traffickers often force victims of modern slavery to commit crimes on their behalf, which leaves victims with a criminal record. Crimes could be historic and no context would be taken into account. In other cases, traffickers deliberately targeted those with criminal records – for example, the trafficking ring at the heart of the Operation Fort investigation, the largest modern slavery prosecution in UK history, used to tell their recruiters to lurk outside prisons, looking to recruit victims who had just been newly released.
In its amended form, Clause 62 stipulates that individuals can only be excluded from protection and support if their case constitutes an “immediate, genuine, present and serious threat to public order”, and that these determinations must only be made “in exceptional circumstances”. By introducing this much tighter requirement on the use of the Clause, the likelihood that genuine victims and survivors of modern slavery will be barred from receiving essential support is reduced. The vote to amend passed 210-128.
The House of Lords also voted to add a new Clause to exempt children from certain measures in the Bill (via amendment 70ZA). Part 1 of the new clause states that “the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration”. The other six changes seek to ensure this primary consideration is implemented in practice, by, for example, limiting which sections of the Nationality and Borders Bill apply if the potential victim is under 18.
Another new clause (via amendment 70) was passed to put in place greater statutory support for confirmed victims of modern slavery, and to give them ‘leave to remain’ in the UK, a status which gives someone the right to live, work and study in the country.
That amendment was brought by Lord (Ian) McColl, and is a version of a provision that Hope for Justice and partners have been campaigning for over many years through the ‘Free for Good’ initiative.
The original Clause 64 listed the circumstances in which confirmed victims would get (temporary and limited) leave to remain, but the Clause that replaces it, thanks to Lord McColl’s amendment, creates a new statutory support system for victims in England and Wales for at least 12 months, and provides temporary leave to remain for all victims. The amendment passed 207 to 123.
Before Tuesday’s debate, Lord McColl (pictured above) wrote about why he was so passionate about this amendment, saying: “Support and leave to remain go hand in hand. Victims of human trafficking and modern slavery who are not British nationals need leave to access support. My amendment would entitle confirmed victims who are receiving support leave to remain for the length of time they are receiving support. We cannot doom people who we have identified as victims in our country to deportation to places where they fell into the hands of traffickers in the first place. The risk of re-exploitation is acute.”
We must reiterate that the Lords’ version of this Bill is not final. The Government has a strong majority in the Commons, and could yet reverse some or all of these changes. However we are pleased that so many peers from different political parties have listened to the concerns expressed by modern slavery charities like Hope for Justice, and by survivors themselves, and have chosen to act.