Illegal Migration Bill: Bishop of Chelmsford speaks in favour of amendments to protect victims of trafficking

During a debate on the Illegal Migration Bill on 24th May 2023, the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in support of an amendment tabled by Lord Coaker that would exempt those cooperating with law enforcement from removal from the UK in instances of human trafficking:

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House for long, especially given the excellent speeches we have already heard delivered on this group, but I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about retrospection. I add my support, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and those other noble Lords who have tabled Amendment 11, on which we have already heard the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

A succession of migration, public order and modern slavery Bills in recent years have drastically raised the length of sentences and the severity of punishments that can be brought to bear on people traffickers and smugglers. While this may look tough, it is difficult to say that it has had much impact; indeed, the entire purpose of this Bill is to try to put a stop to arrivals which have not, apparently, been impacted on at all by the deterrents that are already in place. Nor is this surprising, given the very low number of prosecutions and convictions for such offences. Regrettably, it seems that smuggling is a crime with enormous rewards but relatively little risk for the perpetrators. Instead, we seem to almost exclusively punish those who are smuggled, often in highly dangerous circumstances.

We know that securing prosecutions and convictions is incredibly difficult because it requires the willing co-operation of those who have been smuggled. This is no small thing, for they are often traumatised and often in significant debt to the smugglers. They may have friends and family abroad or here in the UK who will be put at risk if they come forward. That difficulty is only exacerbated by our migration enforcement policies, which also deter victims from coming forward for fear of the hostile environment, detention and removal—including potentially to Rwanda or some other third country with which they have no connection. There is little incentive to co-operate with law enforcement, and significant risk in doing so.

My fear is that the Bill as a whole will not improve this situation, but at the very least, Amendment 11 provides a modest mitigation of the damage, without undermining the effect of the Bill overall, by exempting those co-operating with law enforcement from the prospect of removal. I hope that Ministers will listen to this, or at the very least come back with detailed proposals for how victims, both of smuggling and of trafficking, slavery and other forms of abuse, can be better supported to co-operate and help bring down those who have abused them.


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