Nationality and Borders Bill: Bishop of London speaks on modern slavery provisions

On 5th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of London spoke in the debate, welcoming some provisions in the bill whilst expressing concerns that it might have a counterproductive effect on protections against modern slavery:

The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the many noble Lords in this House who bring such expertise to our deliberations and compassion to our scrutiny of this Bill. I wish to focus my remarks particularly on Part 5 of the Bill, on modern-day slavery. It has been said that the Modern Slavery Act was a pioneering piece of legislation. 

I would agree with that, but there is so much more work for us to do to confront this blight on our communities. Addressing modern-day slavery is close to the Church of England’s heart. Through the Clewer Initiative and other programmes, we have worked to raise awareness and to support survivors. This is a matter in which civil society, law enforcement and government share a joint responsibility to act.

Several aspects of the Bill are welcome additions in the fight against modern-day slavery. I welcome the renewed commitment to support victims of physical and mental health and social being, and I welcome the leave to remain route for confirmed victims. However, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, over whether this really goes far enough. There are other aspects that also seem troubling. We have heard from many noble Lords of concerns over inadmissibility and the proposed two-tier system for refugees. We must not lose sight of how this connects to modern-day slavery and exploitation. As my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, highlighted, the more there is a lack of safe and legal routes, the more criminal gangs fill the vacuum to bring the desperate people here. Indeed, the harder we make it to arrive with ever more militarised and securitised approaches, the more the only available options are via sophisticated criminal gangs and support from alternative, illegal sources.

The Government have made it clear that they believe the existing modern slavery provisions are open to abuse and are being used to prevent people being removed from the country. I do not doubt their sincerity in this regard, but we must be cautious that in seeking to counter abuse we do not sacrifice the real victims. To do so would be to fail the promise and progress made by the Modern Slavery Act. This was a point that we explored during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill last year, and my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and I will be looking again at the support and protections for migrant survivors of abuse at future stages of this Bill.

As regards victims of modern slavery, I hope that the Government will be prepared to discuss the impact of proposals on changes to the “reasonable grounds” criteria. I have heard the concerns of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and others that this will have a negative impact on the many genuine survivors, and I will seek assurances from the Government on how that can be avoided. In addition to my remarks, the Lords Spiritual will want to pick up areas that affect children and young people who fall through the cracks of the Bill.

Modern slavers thrive on exploiting destitution and fear among asylum seekers and migrants. They capitalise on gaps in government provision and enmesh the vulnerable in their enterprises. I share the fear expressed by other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Alton and Lord Rosser, that, contrary to the intention of the Bill, there is much that might exacerbate modern slavery, not reduce it. I hope that, as this Bill proceeds, we might find ways of improving our commitment and support to victims of modern slavery.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Coaker (Lab): The rhetoric of the Government and of the Home Secretary has failed. It failed when she said that we would halve boats across the channel in three months and make them infrequent in six months. In that time, the figure has risen tenfold. As the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Alton and Lord Morrow, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and my noble friend Lord Rosser in his brilliant speech all pointed out, the Modern Slavery Act is undermined by an immigration and asylum Bill. That is unbelievable. The Modern Slavery Act is one of the totemic achievements, if I may say so, of the Conservative Government before last—one of the totemic achievements of former Prime Minister Theresa May. On most issues I fundamentally disagree with her, but on this she deserves all the credit that should come her way for introducing that Act. She stood up in the Commons, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, and said that certain elements of this Bill would restrict victims’ ability to come forward. She said she was concerned that the public order disqualifications threshold and the time period on slavery and trafficking information notices would have that effect. Victims of modern slavery will be prevented from coming forward to help identify those who have perpetrated crimes. Those are not my words, or words from a Labour Government now or in the past, but the words of a former Prime Minister of this country saying what the current Conservative Government are going to do to the Modern Slavery Act that she, and all of us, were so proud of.

The Government say that they want to deter people from using the defence of being a victim of modern slavery against deportation. Where is the evidence for that? Where is the evidence for erecting barriers to accessing the national referral mechanism?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): I move on to modern slavery. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Rooker and Lord Morrow, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London asked about Part 5, which relates to modern slavery. The Government are totally committed to tackling this terrible crime, one that seeks to exploit and do harm. This requires active prosecution of the modern slavery perpetrators.

Noble Lords asked why we are legislating for modern slavery in this Bill. The fact is that there is an overlap between some individuals who enter the immigration system and the national referral mechanism, so it is right that we make sure that those individuals have their full set of circumstances considered together. We also want to make sure that vulnerable individuals are identified as early as possible so that we can ensure that they have access to the right support.

That is why this Bill makes clear, for the first time in primary legislation, that where a public authority, such as the police, is pursuing an investigation or criminal proceedings, confirmed victims who are co-operating in this activity and need to remain in the UK in order to do so will be granted temporary leave to remain. The legislation also makes it clear that leave will be granted where it is necessary to assist an individual in their recovery from any physical or psychological harm arising from the relevant exploitation, or where it is necessary to enable them to seek compensation in respect of the relevant exploitation. It is right that leave is granted only to those who need it. This is both firm and fair.

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