During a debate on amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill on 8th February 2022, The Bishop of London tabled amendment 140, which would provide for safer usage of personal data to protect migrant survivors of domestic abuse:
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, Amendment 140 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Paddick, asks the Committee to consider again the debates that we had during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Indeed, this amendment was passed in your Lordships’ House last year, only to be rejected by the Commons.
In short, the issue is that immigration enforcement and the sharing of data too often serve as a significant barrier, preventing survivors of domestic abuse coming forward and receiving the help they need. Research from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, to which I am grateful for its support and briefings, has repeatedly shown that in cases of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls, victims with insecure immigration status are unlikely to approach the police because they believe that the police will prioritise their lack of legal status instead of protecting them as victims of a serious crime. As many as 50% of domestic abuse victims never report the crimes committed against them.
Immigration enforcement is not perceived as a neutral or safe space for victims, or one conducive to safeguarding, but as an agency concerned primarily with enforcement, which defaults to detention and deportation as its primary tools. How could it be the opposite when the focus of the Bill and years of policy from the Home Office have been weighted towards deterrence, enforcement and hostility? In seeking to eliminate abuse, too often the cost of the hostility in the system is borne by the genuine victim in need of help. Every front-line agency has been consistent in making this point; indeed, the Government themselves concede it. The Domestic Abuse: Draft Statutory Guidance Framework states that perpetrators routinely use immigration status as a tactic of coercive control towards migrant women. The evidence therefore that fear of immigration enforcement serves as a barrier is overwhelming.
It is worth emphasising again that this fails victims, who are often trapped in abusive situations, but also fails law enforcement. If victims are not confident in their ability to come forward, they cannot access valuable intelligence needed to identify and prosecute abusers and exploiters. This situation results in migrants being denied safety and justice, and offenders going unpunished and remaining free to abuse others, creating a significant threat to public safety.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Minister answered that the Government were waiting for the results of the Home Office review of the treatment of victims of domestic abuse and argued that data sharing is necessary for safeguarding. On both points, I believe the debate has moved on since we were last here and I hope that the Government may be more amenable on this occasion.
Since the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, the independent domestic abuse commissioner has published her review Safety Before Status, which states in its recommendations:
“The Home Office’s data-sharing review and Code of Practice should … establish a firewall between the police and the Home Office, alongside safe reporting mechanisms and funded pathways to support and legal advice”.
We have already heard that this comes in the wake of the super-complaint submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters, which ruled that this data sharing and confusion of function between enforcement and safe- guarding causes “significant public harm”. It is extremely disappointing that, faced with the super-complaint and the independent domestic abuse commissioner’s report, and with the evidence from front-line agencies, that the Government continue to argue that this data sharing is necessary. The government response to the super-complaint put before Parliament last December lays out some legitimate details about the practicalities of creating a firewall and I do not dispute that there is work to be done on finding the best practical route forward.
However, the proposed remedy—the immigration enforcement migrant victim protocol—,is not a credible alternative. It is extraordinary that in response to fears over the ties between police and immigration enforcement, the solution should seek to actually expand the role of immigration enforcement in the process with proposed visits from immigration enforcement officers. That does nothing to allay the fears of victims, and it ought to be of enormous concern that so many key agencies in the sector have refused to engage further in the development of the protocol.
It is not too late to take an alternative path. Amendment 140 has the support of the sector and would provide a route to a more effective firewall between data use for the purpose of seeking or receiving support and assistance and immigration enforcement. I beg to move.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I rise with a heavy heart and no optimism to support most strongly Amendment 140 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I also support Amendment 124A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.
Amendment 140 would provide the single most important protection for migrant victims of domestic abuse by preventing the sharing of information between police and the immigration service if a victim reported that a crime had been committed against her. The Government know very well the coercive and controlling behaviour to which migrant victims are subjected, whether or not they have insecure status. The perpetrator can quite happily threaten the victim, who is probably unaware of the rules of immigration. Apart from protecting these victims of crime, the amendment would have an important value to society: if victims felt empowered to report their abuse then criminal perpetrators could be brought to justice, and others would be protected from their criminal behaviour.
My reason for pessimism is that, with strong support from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and others, I tabled a very similar amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which became law in 2021. The Government rejected that amendment, arguing that they needed to wait for the outcome of the then ongoing Home Office review of the effects of the continued co-operation between the police and immigration enforcement. At that time the Minister proposed a compromise clause providing for a statutory code of practice relating to data processing for immigration purposes.
At that time we were hopeful of some progress, but the Home Office published the findings of its review and argued that data sharing with immigration enforcement was essential to protect victims; I do not think I quite get that, but that was the argument. It rejected the possibility of establishing a firewall that would have allowed victims with insecure immigration status to approach the police to report crimes and, at the same time, to feel safe. Instead, it proposed an immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has mentioned. We do not accept that as a safe alternative to a firewall.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for having tabled their Amendments 124A and 140, and for again giving the Committee a chance to discuss this important topic. Noble Lords will recall that this issue was debated at some length during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, as referenced by the right reverend Prelate.
In answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the proposals to cease or delay data sharing between the Home Office and other authorities on migrant victims and witnesses of crime with irregular immigration status would be harmful to both the safeguarding of those victims and witnesses and to the public interest. Neither would they provide a clear commitment to no enforcement action being taken while migrant victims address immediate needs for information required to access services, support and advice, which would result in delays, prolonging uncertainty for victims. The introduction of Immigration Enforcement’s migrant victims protocol provides that commitment for relief from immigration enforcement action.
In addition, Section 82 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 confers a power on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration control purposes by specified public authorities. The Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council are working together to develop the code of practice alongside the Immigration Enforcement migrant victims protocol. I appreciate the case that the right reverend Prelate made, and her concerns, but the Government are of the view—
The Government are of the view that the amendment is unnecessary, given the provisions in the Domestic Abuse Act, the findings of our review, our plans to publish an immigration enforcement migrant victim protocol and the joint code of practice with the NPCC, notwithstanding the points that my noble friend has made. For those reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
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