All 3 Lord Stewart of Dirleton contributions to the Nationality and Borders Act 2022

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Thu 10th Feb 2022
Thu 10th Feb 2022
Mon 4th Apr 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office
Amendments 157 and 173 are probing amendments to understand the operation of the Bill. We also support the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have put before the Committee.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. The amendments in large part concern provisions around the identification of modern slavery and trafficking victims.

First to speak was my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who sought an explanation for Clause 59. The clause places the conclusive grounds threshold of a “balance of probabilities” into legislation. This is in line with the threshold that is currently applied and accepted by the courts and aligns with our current obligations under the treaty to which a number of speakers have referred: the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings —ECAT.

We submit that to remove this provision, as Amendment 156 would, would cause an inconsistent approach towards the two thresholds: the reasonable grounds threshold would be contained within legislation, whereas the conclusive grounds threshold would remain only in guidance. By legislating for both thresholds, decision-makers are able to rely on clear precedent and the process is both certain and ascertainable. This search for clarity will run through and inform the answers I will put before the Committee in this debate.

Amendments 156A and 156B from the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, would amend the test for a reasonable grounds decision in legislation. The matter of whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that an individual is a victim is the appropriate threshold —again, as it mirrors our obligations under ECAT. For those reasons, I cannot accept Amendments 156, 156A and 156B.

I shall expand on matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, touching first on the ability that exists in legislation for people to challenge a decision made. Multiagency assurance panels are required to review all negative conclusive grounds decisions made by the competent authority for all cases submitted to the relevant competent authority. Multiagency assurance panels do not review negative reasonable grounds decisions. The role of multiagency assurance panels and the processes they follow are set out in the modern slavery statutory guidance for England and Wales promulgated under Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. There is equivalent non-statutory guidance for Scotland and Northern Ireland; it is not found in primary legislation. The guidance states:

“An individual, or someone acting on their behalf, may request reconsideration”


of a negative reasonable grounds decision by the competent authority

“if additional evidence becomes available that would be material to the outcome of a case, or there are specific concerns that a decision made is not in line with guidance.”

The final conclusive grounds decision remains the responsibility of the competent authority. Multiagency assurance panels do not have the ability to overturn negative conclusive grounds decisions made by the competent authority. The competent authority can be asked to review a case where there is concern that the decision has not been made in line with existing guidance; that, in the view of the multiagency assurance panel, that would add value and clarity but has not been sought; or that the evidence provided and used in the decision-making process was not weighed appropriately and considered. So an element of its ability to reconsider and discretion remains in place.

I think the whole Committee will be aware that understanding of the painful effects of trauma and suffering on individuals and their ability to recollect is developing and has developed considerably over recent years, as a better comprehension of these strains and pressures comes to be understood. That understanding filters into this field, as into others. In particular, I refer your Lordships to understanding in the criminal justice system as to why people may make declarations or give statements that are not in their best interests or that they subsequently seek to go back on.

This topic seems to inform the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and my noble friend Lord Deben. Victims may well not want or be able to relive their trauma to state officials. Moulded by forces that those of us who have been happy enough to lead comfortable and sheltered lives can barely comprehend, they may find state officials intimidating.

Will the policy inhibit such people and impact adversely their ability to come forward and speak up? We recognise that some victims of exploitation may be fearful of coming forward to talk to the authorities, including some of the organisations that operate as first responders. That is why a range of organisations operate as first responders, including charities—some of which the Committee has heard about—that work closely with victims and local authorities.

We are keen to ensure that potential victims of trafficking are identified as early as possible and are supporting this with an improved legal aid offer for victims of trafficking with no immigration status within the United Kingdom and subject to immigration removal. This is to ensure that individuals receive the correct support package at the earliest opportunity to address their needs, regardless of when cases are brought, to make sure that those who need protection are afforded it.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister is dealing with these issues with great sensitivity and I welcome the tone of his remarks. He has—I think deliberately—left a number of questions hanging, saying that a lot of work is being done on this and that people are considering these sensitive and detailed questions and looking at them more thoroughly. This all begs the question: who has demanded this change in this legislation at this time, in advance of us having detailed information laid before us?

It seems that we have it the wrong way around. Given that his noble friend said earlier that there will be a Bill specifically to improve the modern-day slavery legislation, why cannot we hold this over until we see more clearly where the information is wrong, where it is right and what the evidence is? Is it not the nature of good government to look and examine the evidence before bringing measures forward? I do not see any evidence that this has happened so far.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I do not wish to appear to give a cursory answer to the noble Lord in a debate of this sensitivity, but my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar committed to write on the data—I am grateful to the noble Lord for nodding his head in recognition. I imagine that the point he seeks to raise will be discussed in any such correspondence. Does that satisfy him at this stage?

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I am grateful to the Minister, but it seems to be the wrong way around. Normally, there is pre-legislative scrutiny of complex and sensitive issues, and this is a classic example where there should have been pre-legislative scrutiny, as there was before the 2015 legislation, in some detail and at some length. Why was it thought that in a Bill dealing specifically, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, with nationality, borders and immigration, we should deal with an issue of this sensitivity? Would it not be better for the Government to withdraw this section of the Bill and come back with comprehensive legislation that we could all support?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I hear the points that the noble Lord makes. With respect, it seems that he moves forward into a question already put to my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar when he stood at the Dispatch Box in relation to the earlier matter. As he advised the Committee, the Government are concerned about misuse of the system. Rather than seeking to anticipate data that I confess not to having, with the noble Lord’s permission, I will move on from this point. I am again grateful to him for nodding his head.

I was expanding to the Committee on matters raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. We recognise that potential victims may not feel able at an early point to discuss information relevant to these matters bearing on their experience. That is why, in Clause 58, we have included the safeguard of “good reasons”. Each case will be considered carefully, including any reasons for not bringing information earlier, which will enable decision-makers to take trauma into account.

I am sure that I am merely rehearsing matters already within the knowledge of the Committee, but examples of what may constitute good reasons for late disclosure of information include where the victim was still under the coercive control of the trafficker, did not recognise themselves as a victim at that point, or for reasons relating to capacity—intellectual, emotional or age capacity—did not understand the requirement or the proceedings.

We will set out our approach in guidance, giving decision-makers the tools to recognise the effect that traumatic events can have on people’s ability to accurately recall or share or recognise such events. We are concerned that by too prescriptively setting out the parameters of what can constitute good reasons in guidance, we will inhibit the flexibility of decision-makers to take a case-by-case approach, as my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar sought to emphasise in his submission to the Committee earlier, depending on a person’s specific situation and vulnerabilities.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am anxious not to delay matters but to seek clarification at this stage. A number of noble Lords have raised concerns about why the burden of proof has been changed and the fact that, through this higher standard, a number of victims may not enter the system at all. I cannot believe it is the Government’s wish to prevent genuine victims of modern slavery and trafficking to be excluded from the process. My noble and learned friend gave a simple, clear clarification that it was to make the bar the same for both, but the fallout, in the view of legal opinion from practitioners who will be using this on a daily basis, seems to be that we will inadvertently exclude justified victims from the whole process. I cannot believe that this is the Government’s intention, where they are genuine victims.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for her intervention, which permits me the opportunity of not only repeating what I said from the Dispatch Box earlier about the importance of decisions being taken on a case-by-case basis, but advising the House—perhaps I should have done so in answering the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—that in addition we are providing enhanced support and training to first responders.

The rationale underpinning the change proposed in relation to burdens of proof is certainly not to seek to exclude persons who ought to receive help and assistance from receiving it. The Government’s wish is that all who are victims should receive assistance and all who are criminal should receive their due punishment.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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If that is the rationale, I do not see why we need the change. I seriously do not understand what possible advantage changing this could be, whereas I perfectly clearly see what the disadvantage is. Although the Minister seeks in the most effective way to present the Government’s case, the word “rationale” is not one I would have used I these circumstances.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My noble friend sends me back to the dictionary. I shall include the use of that word in my reading later, among the other things which I expect I will be asked to reflect on. I think we are—or maybe I am—guilty of mixing up two things. The reason for the change to the test to introduce the balance of probabilities is to align ourselves with our international obligations under ECAT. It is in order to avert any baneful consequences thereof that I made reference to the enhanced support and training which first responders will receive, and to the other measures which I discussed.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I am sorry; I will not interrupt again. I still do not understand the rationale of bringing ourselves into line with our international obligations. We do not break our international obligations by going further than the international obligations, so we are already in line with them; all we are doing is withdrawing to what are, in many of our minds, unsatisfactory international obligations. Without getting into the Brexit issue, I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate when he suggested that we thought this was precisely what the Government did not want to do. I happen to want to do it but that is a different thing. I feel rather hit by this in both ways.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The justification is to ensure clarity across the legislation, and I appreciate the comment made by the right reverend Prelate, and rehearsed by my noble friend, about advantages flowing or not from the Brexit process, which so many of your Lordships will have discussed. However, our ability to act differently from our partners across the channel is a valuable one, but what we seek to obtain by this measure is legislative clarity and a consistency in decision-making which will, we hope, benefit victims and develop understanding among all the agencies in this important sector. My noble friend is resuming his mask, and he did say that he would not interrupt again, although I hope that he will not bar himself from further interventions later in the debate.

I turn to Amendment 157, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I thank him for his powerful and compelling opening contribution to this debate and to earlier debates on the topic, and for his work at Nottingham University. I offer the Committee reassurance that we are committed to providing victims with at least a 45-day recovery period, or until a conclusive grounds decision is made, whichever period is the longer. Our position is—I maintain that this does not need to be placed on the face of the Bill, and I return to the earlier discussions with my noble friend Lord Deben—that it would create a misalignment with our international obligations under ECAT.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for all of that, and the commitment to 45 days. Why does it say 30 days in the Bill? Have I got that wrong?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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No, I think the noble Lord is correct. It is 30 days for the alignment with ECAT, but the 45 days appears in the guidance, and we commit to providing support over that period: a 45-day recovery period as expressed in the guidance, or until a conclusive grounds decision is made.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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So there is an absolute commitment to 45 days for the gap between reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds, even though legislation which we are going to pass says 30 days?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lord shrugged his shoulders, but I repeat that the justification for this is to align with our international obligations with our partners in ECAT.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, this did not stop us passing the Modern Slavery Act, which was ahead of the rest of the world.

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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Can I join the maskless crew? Surely international law, and certainly EU directives, are usually a minimum requirement, so if we wanted 45 days and a European instrument said 30, that is brilliant; it is better. It at least complies, so what is the problem?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I hear from all sides of the Chamber, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Sorry, I do not mean once again from the Dispatch Box to rain brickbats upon the noble Baroness’s head.

Once again, I am not in a position to answer or explain myself on the basis of views taken by the Climate Change Committee, but in this context alignment with our ECAT partners was considered desirable.

I move on to Clause 60, which sets out the minimum time for the recovery period in line with our international obligations under ECAT. It provides us with the flexibility to set the operational practice as needed in guidance, which is important to reflect the changing needs of victims and the understanding of victims’ needs in a developing area of law.

In practice, in 2020 the average time for a conclusive grounds decision was 339 days. This long period stems from pressures on the system, which we are working to reduce through our transformation project to ensure that victims get certainty more quickly, but it is notably longer than the proposed 45-day minimum.

In light of this explanation and the assurance of continuation of the current support set out in guidance, I hope that noble Lords in the Committee agree that Amendment 157 to Clause 60 is unnecessary. I urge noble Lords to take the view that promotes clarity and to consider that the objective of making sure that we are aligned with our international obligations is such to prompt the noble Lord not to press this amendment.

Amendment 173, again from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to introduce victim navigators for modern slavery and human trafficking victims in every police force in England and Wales. This matter was discussed in the Commons during the passage of the Bill. As was expressed on behalf of the Government, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that victims of modern slavery have the support they need when engaging with the police and through the criminal justice process.

As to the development that the noble Lord from the Front Bench advised the Committee of—that of victim navigators—we strongly support police forces using these NGO-led support models. Victim navigators are one model within that category. For that reason, we have commissioned independent research of three existing NGO victim support programmes, to help us better to understand what provision is in place and what effective support looks like for these victims. This will help inform advice to forces in the future about best practice and encourage national take-up of the most effective models of support. I also agree with the sentiment behind this proposed new clause that providing support to victims to help them navigate is something that can be studied and will inform advice to forces in future about best practice. We are already working to understand the most effective support measures, and we have made grant funding available to police forces and the GLAA to help identify and fill gaps in support.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his nods of assent and for agreeing that the work already under way should be completed and will help us to develop an understanding of how best we can support victims in engaging with the criminal justice system. It is right that we conduct that evaluation before putting a specific model of support into legislation. That is why I resist this amendment at this time and invite the noble Lord not to press it.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, it has been an excellent debate. I thank everyone for their contributions. I think there may be a question outstanding from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, as regards children under the age of 18, but I take it as read that anyone aged under 18 would still be referred to the local authorities. I assume that my noble and learned friend will write to us if that is not the case.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for that, and I beg the pardon of the noble and learned Baroness for not addressing her question directly. If she is content, I will have that expressed in writing to her.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. He has endeavoured to be as full as possible in his response to all noble Lords. I express my disappointment that the guidelines are being changed in the way the Government envisage. I am slightly confused, because a lot of the situations for which this Bill makes provision would not have arisen if we had kept our international and European responsibilities under the Dublin convention, whereby we could have returned many asylum seekers to the first country in which they arrived.

It is a regrettable change. I do not think my noble and learned friend disagreed that a number of victims will be omitted from the system as a result. I will consider with others what to do at the next stage, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, again, as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I shall speak very briefly. I should say how much I appreciate the contributions made by my noble friend Lord Coaker, by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who is on the Joint Committee with me, and by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in her very powerful remarks.

Many years ago—if I may tell a little anecdote—I heard of a certain conversation that took place in the Home Office when an official was told by her boss to justify a certain position. The official said, “But that is indefensible”. Her boss said, “Yes, of course—defending the defensible is easy. You’re paid to defend the indefensible”. I say that as a word of comfort to the Minister, who is defending the indefensible. He knows it, we know it and the officials know it—and I suppose he has to do it, unless he does what the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, did and decides to distance himself from it.

I will say this very briefly. I find it hard to remember, and keep needing to remind myself, that we are talking about Part 5 of a Bill about modern slavery. Some of these issues are so remote from the rest of the Bill, as has already been said. The amendments to which I have put my name are concerned about a number of things. One is public safety and security. The amendments seek to get the right balance between public safety and security, which of course is important, and the rights of individuals who seek safety in this country. I contend that the Government, particularly in Clause 62, have got the balance quite wrong.

As the right reverend Prelate has already said, some of the people who are victims of traffickers or slavery are under threat; they are fearful, and the fact is that some of them at least will have been compelled to take up the position that they have taken up. We should respect that. These are frightened and anxious people, who are not secure and who do not know this country at all well. They may have been in this country for some time, or they may not have been, but they do not feel all that secure. We have to be sensitive to their situation, and I contend that what the Government are doing in this section, particularly in Clause 62, is to show insensitivity to some very vulnerable people—which is why I hope they will get rid of this provision, which does not make any sense at all.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in opening from the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made a number of points in relation to the position of the Government in relation to the one-nation Conservative tradition, if I may put it like that. I will preface my remarks to the Committee by saying that, just as with our then coalition partners the Conservatives were in the forefront of dealing with the issue of modern slavery, so we were, hundreds of years ago, in dealing with the issue of slavery, as it then stood. Where slavery exists, Conservatives will always be found in the forefront of any attempts to confront it.

In relation to Clause 61, there is currently no policy on whether, or in what circumstances, individuals should or should not receive additional recovery periods under the national referral mechanism. Clause 61 addresses this gap by introducing a power to withhold additional recovery periods where an individual has already benefited from a recovery period and the further reported exploitation happened prior to the previous referral into the national referral mechanism, unless appropriate circumstances are set forth. This is not an attempt to create two tiers, however it may be read; rather, it is an attempt to put into legislation appropriate controls against misuse, where that misuse takes place.

Amendment 158 seeks to remove this power if any of the incidents of exploitation occurred when the individual was under 18 years of age. I seek first to reassure the Committee that the provision may be applied only when the further positive reasonable grounds decision arises from things done wholly before the previous reasonable grounds decision was made. Therefore, this power does not apply in cases of re-trafficking.

From the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, like other noble Lords at an earlier stage, raised the question of why these provisions appear on the face of an immigration Bill. It is because there are overlaps between immigration and modern slavery, which the Bill recognises and seeks to address, but it also goes further in providing clarification on people’s entitlement.

As I said in relation to the previous grouping, and as I am sure we will all have occasion to say again, the complex nature of exploitation, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, identified in his opening speech and at other times in this debate, and the potential resulting safeguarding needs, particularly for children, are recognised by the Government. This clause is designed to allow for discretion in how decision-makers apply the disqualification, ensuring that the welfare of children will be taken into account. This discretion is an important part of our needs-based approach to the provision of support, and in the circumstances there is no need for the carve-out that the amendment proposes.

Moving on to Amendment 159, while we understand the intention behind this amendment, the existing discretionary element strikes the right balance between allowing decision-makers flexibility to grant additional recovery periods and preventing the misuse of the NRM protections to which I referred. Decision-makers will be able to consider the vulnerabilities and circumstances of the individual.

Turning to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in relation to Clause 62, as noble Lords have outlined, ECAT envisages that recovery periods should be withheld on grounds of public order and improper claims. However, ECAT does not include a definition of “public order” and, to date, that omission has hindered our ability to disqualify suitable individuals in practice. The question was posed of whether the provision as it stands might impede operational decisions in relation to prosecution, but I submit that these decisions would be taken at all times in relation to that developing understanding of the pressures and difficulties. I fully appreciate that I am understating those things by using those expressions. Those pressures and difficulties are upon persons who are victims of modern slavery or human trafficking.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I am grateful to the Minister. In Clause 62, the phrase “bad faith” seems extraordinarily ambiguous. Can he clarify that? What jurisprudence does this phrase come from and on what basis will it be interpreted in the courts?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I was proposing to deal later with the expression “bad faith” and its source, but, to help him at this stage, it is not drawn from any comparable legislation, nor from the authority of the courts. We do not hark back to that. Rather, the nature of the problems that must be confronted in relation to this is sufficiently protean and diverse that a need was identified to arrive at a broad expression in the Bill, and “bad faith” was the language selected after consideration among Ministers and officials to represent that.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I now realise that he has now moved on from Clause 61 and is talking about Clause 62. I was wondering whether he was going to answer my point about incompatibility with the ECHR memorandum. That says that

“where the person’s previous conclusive grounds decision was negative, the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2) of ECAT.”

However, you are not protecting them from removal in the meantime under Article 61, as far as I can see, so how is the Bill compatible with the ECHR memorandum?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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If the noble Baroness will bear with me, I will seek to get an answer to that question that I can deliver in the course of the debate—doubtless the Committee will remind me if I have not reverted to the noble Baroness by the time I sit down.

Amendments 160 and 162 do not define “exceptional circumstances” or “serious and ongoing” threat in relation to withholding protection from removal. As such, our view is that they would risk undermining the clarity which this clause seeks to provide and would make the power very difficult to use, meaning that potentially dangerous individuals would continue to receive the generous protections afforded by the NRM.

On Amendment 160A, Clause 62 specifies that disqualification applies when in the interests of national security, but it is right that the Government should also be able to withhold protections from individuals who pose a threat to public order more broadly, including where they have been convicted of serious criminal offences or have made a claim in bad faith, to use the expression that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred me to. I say that “bad faith” is appropriate in these circumstances because it is so broad and because it comprises so many aspects.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I want to intervene briefly on the “good faith” and “bad faith” point, in case it is of assistance to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others. Concepts such as “good faith” and bad faith” are commonly used in civil and commercial matters; we understand that. In contracting matters, it is incumbent on parties to act in good faith, subject to the deal they have done with each other. Why I think the Committee is so concerned about what the Minister called the protean nature of the phrase here is that this is human rights protection, and we cannot afford to be protean or vague in the same way that we can when we are talking about how we enter into a contract. This is life and death.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The point I was seeking to make by that expression is, I think, the same one that my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar made earlier, when he spoke about this—it is as familiar to the noble Baroness as a practising barrister as it is to me, and I think it was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. If we have a list that sets out heads A to E, and then counsel attempts to rely on point F which is not otherwise comprehended, or not specifically enumerated but which may be comprehended within the expression “or any other circumstance”, that always—as my noble friend Lord Wolfson said—places counsel at a disadvantage.

On the threats, or potential threats, and the potential scope for abuse which lie within the power of a person seeking to exploit and make a false application under these circumstances, what we are seeking to do is to identify a phrase or term which is sufficiently wide to encompass all those potential points. Noble Lords in the Committee have identified, under reference to the traffickers and criminals whom it is the intention of the entire Committee to thwart, their cunning, resilience and resourcefulness in finding ways to slip between the cracks of aspects of legislation.

Amendment 169 does not provide a definition of “public order”. I reassure the Committee that we adhere to relevant provisions in our international obligations but it is unnecessary to specify that in legislation, and we are satisfied that the current definition of public order complies with ECAT.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering proposes that we replace the “bad faith” provision with one of “improper claims”. That proposal can be addressed in conjunction with Amendment 163, which seeks to remove the bad faith provision entirely. Another reason for the expression “bad faith”, and its breadth, is to avoid inadvertently excluding administrative mistakes made when submitting claims, which may be interpreted as falling under “improper claims”. We believe that “bad faith” is the appropriate language.

In answer to submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, under Amendments 169, 161 and 164, which seek to exclude children from this clause, ECAT does not specify an age limit. We deem it important that the United Kingdom maintains the full scope while ensuring that all decisions to withhold the protections of the NRM are balanced against our priority to safeguard children. The proposal set out in these amendments would create, in effect, a two-tiered system that could encourage those looking to misuse the NRM protections to provide falsified information regarding their age. We all sat late enough the other night in relation to the age amendment provisions elsewhere in the Bill for me not to wish to go into that area again, but we are concerned lest the proposals in the amendment provide an opportunity for persons to provide falsified information.

In relation to Amendment 168, the Government are aware that potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery may already have been convicted of serious offences or be involved in terrorism-related activity. I make it clear that neither the additional recovery period nor the public order disqualifications can be taken as being a blanket disqualification. Any decisions relating to disqualifications will be taken on an individual basis, taking into account the individual’s circumstances and vulnerabilities. This includes consideration as to the nature of any criminal exploitation that may have been made of them and the need to safeguard individuals. We think it is right that further details of how to apply this discretionary element should be set out in guidance for decision-makers rather than being placed in the Bill. That will give the Government the flexibility to meet the needs of victims and respond to changing patterns of criminal activity that may seek opportunities to misuse the NRM.

We do not consider that Clause 62 will present a barrier to people who have had convictions and prevent them coming forward, because of that discretionary approach and because there will not be a blanket disqualification on the basis of public order. All of us—the whole Committee, I am sure—want victims of modern slavery to continue to come forward for identification and support, irrespective of their personal circumstances or the circumstances in which they came to be exploited. However, we maintain that it is right that the Government can remove individuals who pose a threat to public order from the protections and support that the NRM affords.

Together with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, was concerned lest such victims did not come forward if they had criminal convictions. First responders should still always refer victims into the national referral mechanism, in line with modern slavery statutory guidance, even where the individual has had a previous recovery period or has a criminal conviction. Decision-makers trained in the field will then carefully consider each individual case and take into account specific vulnerabilities and the needs of each individual, again on a case-by-case basis.

The recovery period may be withheld following a reasonable grounds decision, and the rights that flow from a conclusive grounds decision may also be withheld at that stage if relevant disqualifications apply. I emphasise that we will carefully consider each individual case to ensure that people who genuinely need protection and support will receive it. I reiterate that it is right that we should be able to withhold rights from individuals where appropriate—for example, from those who pose a national security risk to the United Kingdom.

I return to the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in relation to compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The protections of the NRM will be withheld in accordance with Clause 61 only when so to do would be compliant with our international obligations—

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I am glad to hear that the Government want to comply with our international obligations—some of us feel that that is not entirely evident from the Bill—but I was asking about compatibility with the European convention against trafficking. Clause 61 allows “a competent authority” to remove someone even when a conclusive grounds decision is pending. I am sorry to repeat myself, but the European Convention on Human Rights memorandum, produced presumably by the Home Office for the Bill, says at paragraph 76.d:

“the Secretary of State will be required to make a new conclusive grounds decision on the new referral, and the person will be protected from removal in the meantime, ensuring compliance with Article 10(2)”.

That is not what Clause 61 does; it allows the Government to remove the person. They are not “protected from removal” pending a new conclusive grounds decision, so the ECHR memorandum and the Bill are in direct contradiction. Can the Minister take further advice and answer that point? If he cannot do so today, I am sure that he will be able to write to me. I am pretty sure that this was identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is why we wanted to change “must” determine the person’s removal to “may”, so that there is wiggle room that might be in compliance with ECAT. On the face of it, I cannot see that this provision is compliant, notwithstanding the assertion in the memorandum that it is.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Baroness graciously affords me the possibility of replying perhaps in more detail and later. Unless I have further information to provide to her, I propose to take that course. I am obliged to her for her consideration.

In relation to how to assess whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activity or is otherwise a national security concern, the Government have extensive experience of assessing these things, together with our operational partners, and using these assessments to inform executive decision-making.

Whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity is a crucial part of consideration for public order disqualification. Amendment 165 would weaken the United Kingdom’s ability to withhold protections from people of terrorism concern, and we therefore consider that it would increase the risk to the national security of the UK.

Regarding Amendment 166, NRM referrals for foreign national offenders and foreign nationals held on remand are rising, with an average of 85 per month for the first five months of 2021, compared to 19 per month in 2018. It is right that foreign nationals who have been convicted of the serious offences referred to in Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 should be included within scope for consideration of the public order disqualification. This ensures that we will have a clear definition provided for in legislation to support decisions.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, in the interests of time, let me just say respectfully to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whose amendments I have signed, that I very much support him and the arguments and points that he made so well. We look forward to the Minister’s response. I pay tribute to the doughty work the noble Lord has done over a number of years to try to move the Government in what many of us regard as a simple and sensible way forward. Let us hope.

I shall speak to my Amendment 171AA. Clause 64 provides for limited leave to remain

“if the Secretary of State considers it is necessary for the purpose of (a) assisting the person in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm … (b) enabling the person to seek compensation”—

unless this can be done outside the UK

“or (c) enabling the person to co-operate”

with law enforcement. The standard, however, does not meet the UK’s obligation to children under the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking. Article 14.2 of ECAT specifies that in the case of children, residence permits

“shall be issued in accordance with the best interests of the child.”

Paragraph 186 of the Explanatory Report to ECAT explains that

“the child’s best interests take precedence”.

Amendment 171AA, which is a probing amendment, simply asks why the Government cannot include leave to remain where children are protected and where it is in the best interest of the child.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in consideration of the flight of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I start by addressing Amendment 171B. ECAT sets clear parameters around when a signatory state is obliged to grant a residence permit to confirmed victims, which is where it considers that the stay is necessary either due to the confirmed victim’s personal situation or for the purpose of their co-operation with the competent authorities in an investigation or criminal proceedings. The Government have gone further than this and provided for a grant of leave not only on both of these bases, but also where it is necessary to enable a confirmed victim to seek compensation in respect of their exploitation.

A temporary leave provision is deliberately designed to allow for leave to be provided for as long as needed, where appropriate. It will be considered on a case-by-case basis and does not set an arbitrary time period. To specify a length of leave does not follow our overall approach of having a truly needs-based approach to addressing victim support. If it is necessary for leave to be granted for longer than 12 months in order to pursue a thorough investigation, or where an individual’s personal circumstances require it, leave can and should be granted.

I turn next to Amendments 169A, 170 and 170A. In Clause 63 we have sought to define the support entitlement during the recovery period for potential victims following a positive reasonable-grounds decision. Amendment 169A, however, would remove clarity on what these terms mean for victims and decision-makers and reduce the effectiveness of the clause in supporting victims. Our approach to the wording of Clause 63 has been chosen specifically to provide more detail on the circumstances in which support is provided, while being in line with our international obligations. Our approach is not to go into detail on the types of support provided for in legislation, as Amendment 170A suggests, but to do this in guidance, the purpose being to ensure flexibility in our approach in future, so this can be tailored to victims’ needs as our understanding of trauma develops. I refer your Lordships to remarks made earlier in the debate that understanding the impact and the effect of trauma on individuals is an ongoing and developing thing.

Further to this, and in response to a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, where necessary, all those who receive a positive conclusive-grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months. We committed to this in the other place and will consider where and how this commitment is delivered to ensure that it delivers best for victims. More details will be provided in guidance or in future modern slavery legislation, should parliamentary time allow. My noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich has been given that assurance by the Home Office Minister. The Home Office and, in particular, my noble friend Lady Williams are keen to continue working with the noble Lord on the implementation of this policy.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 172B, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and concerning Clause 67, disapplies the EU trafficking directive so far as it is incompatible with provisions in the Bill. This means that any provisions in the directive that continue to have effect—I stress that we do not think that any do—and remain compatible with the Bill will be unaffected by this clause. Clause 67 provides an important point of legal clarity to ensure that victims can understand their entitlements, that we are clear on the rights that we are providing and that these are in line with our international obligations. I appreciate that this is a probing amendment, but what it proposes is unnecessary. In future, should it be required and parliamentary time allows, we will consider whether further legislation is needed to clarify other elements of the EU trafficking directive. Here, we seek to provide clarity on the specific measures in the Bill.

In speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, took the opportunity afforded by this short debate to land some side swipes at Brexit and its consequences, a topic I would be happy to debate with her all night. However, not to take up the Committee’s time, I simply stress that we are not removing any entitlements from victims. I can confirm that this will not have an impact on victim identification, protection or support.

Turning to Amendment 174A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I take the opportunity to reassure the Committee that there are already robust mechanisms in place across government, the police and the criminal justice system for gathering, recording and publishing victim data. There are measures in place for collecting and publishing data on the areas in which the noble Lord is interested and to which he referred in Committee. The Home Office publishes data on potential child victims of modern slavery referred through the national referral mechanism. Anticipating my answer in greater detail to the noble Lord’s point about the need to collate statistics on the incidence of trafficking of British children, the Home Office also publishes the nationality of recorded potential victims, based on information provided by the first responder on arrival. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I suspect he knows these things better than I do but, for the benefit of the Committee, that information may be updated by the competent authority staff as further information is gathered.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister say what the contemporary definition of slavery is? We all know what slavery meant 400 years ago, but I find the word used in a way that makes it difficult to assess what it means.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Williams here: the short answer is to look at the Modern Slavery Act. It can involve coercion, which can be occasioned by way of threats to others or by threat to the individual. It can come in many different forms; it can be emotional or psychological as well as physical. It is a pernicious practice that exists among nationals of this country as much as it does overseas. Perhaps, therefore, it gives an insight into the universal failings of the human character. The short answer—I have detained the Committee for too long—is the advice that I gave, for which I was the conduit for my noble friend Lady Williams.

I was about to expand on the fact that data concerning criminal gangs is operational and held by each police force. Adding reporting requirements for this data would, we submit, require a significant change in the way the Home Office collates and publishes data on crime. Changing this reporting approach would be unnecessary since we already publish data on county lines NRM referrals through the NRM statistics publication.

I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s important concern over how we identify, go to the defence of and offer protection to children—nationals of this country who are the victims of these gangs. Modern slavery offences committed against children are, as I say, recorded and published by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice. The Crown Prosecution Service maintains a central record of the number of offences in which a prosecution commenced, including offences charged by way of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. All modern slavery offences committed against children are identified through the child abuse monitoring flag. The Crown Prosecution Service definition of child abuse covers any case where the victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the offence.

I reassure the Committee and the noble Lord that a child’s welfare and best interests are the primary considerations in any decision-making—in this Bill and any other. Local authorities are responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery. In addition to this statutory support, the Government have rolled out independent child trafficking guardians, who are an additional source of advice and support for potentially trafficked children. These have been rolled out in two-thirds of local authorities across England and Wales. The Government remain committed to rolling them out on a national basis.

Given all this, I respectfully request that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment at this stage.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his answer. It was a short debate but an important one. There are couple of things that the noble Lord said in his answer about the EU directive that I think are helpful. It is something I might suggest with respect to the other amendment on county lines.

I think the people who read our debates will be pleased to hear the Minister say that no entitlement will be removed on victim support, protection or identification. I think I have that quote right. That will be helpful because, in the sector certainly, that is what a lot of people have been worried about: that the disapplication of the directive will impact on those aspects. The Minister’s reassurance will be welcome, although, as with everything, we will see how it works out in practice.

It was also interesting that the Minister said that other legislation may be needed to clarify the disapplication of the EU directive in due course—a fabulous phrase. As we move forward, we will see how it goes. Like Clause 67, this is very important. Sometimes, Governments fail to spell out how the disapplication works and what the practical consequences are. So, short debates like this are important.

On county lines and the report, I think that, despite the information being available, the British public have no idea that 34% of the referrals to the national referral mechanism—the body set up to deal specifically with this—are British children. I do not think that people have any idea that it is that high—that is an astonishing figure. Given that 47% of referrals to the NRM are children, this means that a very high proportion of all the people who are referred are British children. So that is the purpose of this.

It is not that the Government are not doing anything. If I had been the Minister, I would have mentioned the co-ordination centre that the Government set up in 2018, which is actually about all of the things that I am talking about: the need for more data, greater co-ordination, greater prioritisation of this work and greater identification of this as a new crime that people have not taken as seriously as they should; the fact that children are moving across county boundaries without being tracked or followed; the lack of statistical sharing between police forces, social services and children’s services; and children ending up on the south coast and coming back to London. All of those sorts of things are what the co-ordination centre was set up to deal with.

All I would say is that the Government, through the Home Office, need to keep their foot on the pedal on this because it is a growing problem. What is happening in our country is an absolute disgrace. Some of the children involved are not even teenagers; they are not even 17 and a half—I was admonished earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for mentioning 12 and 13 year-olds rather than 17 and a half year-olds, which is what he wanted me to say. Some of these children are seven, eight and nine years old. It is a disgrace, which is why I make no apology for bringing this forward in that context. British children are being enslaved and trafficked within our shores. I know that this is a priority for the Government and for all of us, and this has given me the opportunity to raise it, so that the people of this country can hear how bad the situation is and what we are seeking to do to try to address it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Nationality and Borders Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 11, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 11A.

11A: Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate for there to be a statutory requirement on the minimum number of refugees to be resettled in the UK each year.
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 22, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 22A.

22A: Because the Commons consider that the additional requirements for age assessments, as set out in the new clause, are either inappropriate or unnecessary.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions P, Q, R and S. Let me begin with Amendment 22, which inserts a new clause relating to age assessment. I reiterate to the House that assessments are and will only be used when necessary. There is no appetite to use them when there is no doubt of an asylum seeker’s age. As we have discussed in previous debates, failure to ensure proper assessments are conducted on individuals whose age is doubted creates obvious safeguarding concerns. It can also create a plethora of risks to the most vulnerable, to children in our schools and care systems and to asylum seekers themselves.

The problem with this amendment is that it creates numerous restrictions on our ability to use age assessments and risks, perpetuating the very real challenges within the current system. First, this amendment would mean that only local authority social workers would be able to undertake age assessments under the Bill. This would curtail our ability to support overburdened local authorities in this difficult task, given that there is significant variation between local authorities in experience, capacity and resource to undertake age assessments. It is the Government’s intention to establish a national age assessment board with qualified expert social workers employed by the Home Office, specialising in age assessments, to improve the quality and consistency of decision-making and to relieve the burden on local authorities where local authorities choose to refer a case. It is not our intention to increase the percentage of age assessments conducted, and local authorities will retain the ability to conduct these assessments themselves if they wish to do so.

Secondly, the amendment would mean that scientific methods of age assessment are specified in regulations only if they are

“ethical and accurate beyond reasonable doubt”

as approved by relevant professional bodies. The UK is one of very few European countries that does not currently employ scientific methods of age assessment. We have already set up an independent interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee to advise on the accuracy and associated ethical considerations of scientific methods. No one method of age assessment is entirely accurate, so this amendment sets an unreasonable expectation for what scientific methods could achieve, especially when they will be used in tandem with other evidence from social workers and others as part of an holistic approach.

In addition, I stress that although there are questions about the accuracy of scientific methods, we simply do not know how accurate or reliable the current approach of the Merton-compliant age assessment is. We are aware of cases where individuals have been assessed to be of vastly different ages when assessed independently by different social workers in different local authorities. Genuine children whose ages are in doubt will therefore benefit from more informed decision-making as a result of supplementing the current age assessment process with scientific methods with known accuracy—or a known margin of doubt, I perhaps might more accurately say—and reducing the risk that children may be misidentified as adults and vice versa.

We also contest the idea that professional bodies should be required to approve scientific methods, because any scientific method proposed will be considered by the independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee. The committee, formed by the Home Office chief scientific adviser, will comprise representatives of the relevant professions and will consider the scientific, ethical and contextual issues and provide advice to the Home Office, via its chief scientific adviser, on appropriate methods.

Finally, the amendment would lower the current standard of proof for social worker age assessments from the “balance of probabilities”, which is long established in case law, to a “reasonable degree of likelihood”. Lowering this standard would require social workers to accept as children individuals whom, on balance, they believe to be adults. On this basis, I put it that we cannot accept this amendment, to which the other place disagrees for its Reason 22A.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has tabled further amendments on age assessment—Amendments 22B to 22F. Although I recognise the intent behind them, I cannot support their inclusion for a number of reasons. First, I reassure the noble Baroness that social workers conducting age assessments for the national age assessment board will of course be able to refer to comprehensive guidance that, in line with standard practice, will be published and accessible on GOV.UK.

Although the vast majority of age assessments are expected to take place following referral from a local authority, the legislation provides the flexibility to enable other public authorities to refer cases in the event that this becomes necessary for the delivery of their official functions. The specification of any additional public authorities through regulation would of course occur following consultation with them and is therefore not considered to be controversial.

Secondly, we have already commissioned the independent interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee to advise on both scientific and ethical aspects of scientific age assessment. In line with the noble Baroness’s proposals, this committee in fact comprises expertise from the relevant disciplines, and the Home Secretary will seek advice from it via the Home Office chief scientific adviser before specifying a method in regulations. On this basis I ask the noble Baroness not to move her Motion.

I now bring back to the House’s attention Amendments 23 and 24, to which the other place has disagreed because of its Reasons 23A and 24A. These amendments remove provisions from the Bill relating to late compliance with a slavery or trafficking information notice—or STIN. The Government are determined to deliver the right outcomes for victims while focusing resources where they are needed. This will ensure that potential victims of modern slavery are proactively identified as early as possible.

However, we have listened to the concerns raised by your Lordships’ House and appreciate that there may be particular vulnerabilities for children, which is why the vulnerability of children will be included in our “good reasons” guidance. This is why the Government have now tabled their Amendment 24B, to exempt from the Bill’s credibility provisions those who were under 18 when the most recent STIN was served. Therefore, if an individual were under 18 on the date of service of the most recent STIN, these provisions would not apply and there would be no obligation on decision-makers to find the individual’s credibility to be damaged. I hope that this reassures the House that the needs of children are being taken into account by this Government when identifying victims of modern slavery. I commend this Motion to the House.

Amendments 25 and 25B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, replace the original provision for disqualification from modern slavery protections where an individual is a threat to public order, or has claimed to be a victim in bad faith, with a new clause. Unfortunately, however, Amendment 25 does not provide a definition for “public order” at all, and Amendment 25B defines “public order” as coming into play only when an individual has been convicted of a terrorist offence—and even then, only in exceptional circumstances.

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Make it short.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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With that exhortation from behind me ringing in my ears, I step forward to address the points made by noble Lords from across the House in a further interesting and wide-ranging debate. I will touch first on age assessment.

It is important to stress at the outset that the purpose of setting up a scientific advisory committee is that the Government should receive guidance from it. The consideration of what scientific methods of age assessment should be used, if any, is at the preliminary stage. The Government propose to be guided by the body which has been set up on an interim basis to provide them with advice. The Government are not seeking to compel any member of any profession to take part in any practice which offends that person’s ethical sensibilities, whether individually or as a member of a scientific or professional body. No compulsion can be contemplated as a means of obliging anyone to carry out a particular step.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, raised the issue of the identity of personnel carrying out particular steps, and I assure him from the Dispatch Box that only an appropriately qualified person would be asked to carry out the sort of testing that he discussed which, reflecting his specific area of expertise, related to dentistry.

I do not at this stage give any undertaking as to the constituent members of the committee which, as your Lordships have heard, is set up at the moment on an interim basis. However, it is very much in the way in which such bodies of learned people carry out their work that they will call for additional evidence and support from people skilled in specific disciplines where they feel there is any gap in their expertise which might properly be filled.

Reference was made by two noble Baronesses who participated in this debate to the meeting, in which I participated, with the noble Baroness, Lady Black, the interim head of the interim committee which has been set up. I invite the House to reflect on a number of aspects of the discussion we had with the noble Baroness which, for the benefit of Members who were not present at that electronic discussion, I will now précis. There are anxious discussions being carried out by professionals and academics within the committee, who compass this wide range of academic and professional disciplines, about what may be appropriate to carry out as—I gratefully adopt the phrase used by noble Baroness, Lady Black—a triangulation of methodologies in relation to the critical assessment of the age of a young person, where that is contested or where there is reasonable ground to believe that the age offered is inaccurate.

I interrupt myself to answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. Yes, the parameters within which a decision will be taken are those set out at that meeting. There is no attempt to say that any one method can arrive with any degree of certainty at a specific age, whether expressed in years or months. As the noble Baroness suggested to the House, the matter is whether the scientific expertise can place a person so that the claimed age is possible. I am happy to assure the noble Baroness on that basis.

Noble Lords will also recollect that, in the context of that discussion, the noble Baroness, Lady Black, brought out certain matters which we have discussed in this House at earlier stages. I stress that she pointed out that the very prolongation of testing and interviews under the current regime—perhaps “testing” is the wrong word; “assessment” might be better when referring to Merton-compliant procedures, which your Lordships may well recollect from previous stages and which relate to a series of interviews—and repeated rehearsal of information that might be of a sensitive character and might oblige the person to relate traumatic events, is itself a source of harm. The scientific methodology that the Government have tasked this interim committee to look into is anticipated as serving two functions: to provide for that triangulation of methodologies, and to provide—as I have said on previous occasions to your Lordships—additional information to assist in that difficult process which currently falls exclusively upon the shoulders of social workers. It is not, and has never been argued as being, a means by which some value or accuracy can be ascribed to scientific testing, which we acknowledge it does not have.

None the less, as I have said, these methodologies are used in other places in Europe. Their use is widespread, and the United Kingdom is unusual in not using them. Given the nature of the problems that we face and the nature of the trauma from which people may be escaping—and which may be caused by the mere fact of having to rehearse events earlier in their lives—we consider it incumbent upon us to do what we can to shorten that process, at all times acknowledging the overriding importance of fairness to the persons involved.

I am not in a position to commit to there being a member of any specific profession on the committee, whether in its interim iteration or later on. However, as I said earlier, in the way of these things, it will be for the committee to call for additional expertise to support its working and to allow it to provide conclusions—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I think that we are going backwards because, in the Commons, the Minister said that he would take away this point and look into it, but now the noble and learned Lord seems to be saying that it is enough to be able to call on expertise from outside. Can he take this away and think a bit further about the membership of the committee, including dentists?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness and was not aware of the remarks to which she referred. If the Minister in the other place has given an undertaking that he will go away and think about it, I will certainly row back from what I said—that it would be more of a matter of leaving it to the committee to say. If an undertaking has been given to revisit the matter, I am happy to depart from what I have said already.

We recognise the strength of feeling in the House about these matters. In particular, we recognise the strength of feeling about the ethical questions that arise out of the application of scientific techniques from which no therapeutic value flows directly—as was said at earlier stages in the debate. However, I repeat that our intention is to be guided by the views of the scientific committee which has been established. For that reason, at this stage, we cannot support the amendments, and we stand by the clauses which we have already tabled for the reasons I have set out.

On the matter of modern slavery, I will consider together Motions P, Q, R and S. I begin by commending to your Lordships’ House the government amendment that will exempt the credibility provisions in this part of the Bill from people who were under 18 at the time when they were most recently served with a slavery or trafficking information notice. But I say again that we cannot accept amendments to other clauses in this part. It is vital, I submit, that we are able to withhold the protections afforded by the national referral mechanism from dangerous individuals. I will not rehearse what I said in my opening submission about the manner in which the amendment as framed restricts too narrowly our scope for investigation. I consider it is not appropriate for me to make any concession to the noble Lord on this point, recognising though I do the principled basis upon which he has addressed the House, at this stage and previously in our deliberations.

With the utmost respect to my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich, we consider that the provision of a minimum of 12 months’ appropriate, tailored support to all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of specific support is appropriate; it is “tailored” in the sense that it is directed to the individual facts and circumstances of the person in question. We do not think his amendment, as with that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is necessary.

On the verge of resuming my seat, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for doing us the courtesy of contacting us by email and submitting a list of questions, which she went over in the course of her speech. I am greatly obliged to her for taking that step, which has enabled me to curtail my submissions at this stage still further.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, with regard to the questions around age assessment, and particularly the role of a dentist in all of this, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said it is remarkable that these concerns have to be raised. I would say it is remarkable that they have had to be raised again. There was the exchange in the Commons—I will come to that in a moment—and after the Commons debate on the Lords amendments, I asked about this, not on the Floor of the House; I have not heard.

In the debate in the Commons, in reply to a question about whether the process would include a practising dentist, the Minister, Tom Pursglove, said:

“I know that he has discussed this issue with the Home Secretary separately”—


I had forgotten that. He continued:

“I am not in a position to give … a firm undertaking today, but we will certainly take away and consider that particular point, and perhaps we could remain in contact on it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; cols. 264-65.]


As we have not heard any sort of assurance, I assume that this has not progressed any further.

The noble and learned Lord the Minister made the point that the Government do not appoint a body, interim or otherwise, of such illustrious people without listening to it. Government advisers have been known to have their advice ignored or dismissed. However, very reluctantly, I will not press this, so I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 23 and 24, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 23A and 24A, but do propose Amendment 24B in lieu—

23A: Because it is consequential on Lords Amendment 24 to which the Commons disagree
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 25, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 25A.

25A: Because the Commons consider that the clause proposed by the Lords Amendment provides an unworkable regime for operating the public order and improper claim exemptions to Article 13 of the Trafficking Convention.
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 26, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 26A.

26A: Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
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Motion S
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 27, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 27A.

27A: Because the Commons consider that the clause inserted by the Lords Amendment makes provision in relation to persons under the age of 18 that is not necessary, or not practically workable, or not appropriate.
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Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, in view of the lateness of the night, I do not intend to burden the House by insisting on a vote on this issue, but I ask the Minister to liaise with his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office to see whether a compromise can be reached on an issue that is extremely important, not just for the people of Northern Ireland but with regard to relations with the Irish Government. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his observations. I was not present in the Chamber but I listened to his submission to your Lordships via the TV link earlier and will make sure that the points he raised are taken up by the Bill team and passed on, as he proposes.

Motion T1 withdrawn.