Amendment 76

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:15 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 6:15, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I speak to my Amendment 96. I thank those noble Lords who added their names to this amendment: the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.

The Government’s aim in this Bill is to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system and their access to support, yet the Bill provides no protection for victims with insecure immigration status who have been the subject of serious crime. If these victims provide information for the police, the Bill as its stands allows their personal details to be passed to the immigration authorities. Amendment 96 tackles this problem. This is important because migrant victims are more vulnerable to experiencing serious crime and less likely to receive redress. In particular, we need Amendment 96 so that migrant victims are protected under the Bill from crimes such as violence against women and girls and modern slavery. The amendment is explicit that the personal data of a victim of a crime of domestic abuse, harassment, modern slavery, a sexual offence or other offences specified in regulations by the Secretary of State must not be used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of the individual.

The amendment also ensures that, before issuing any guidance under this amendment, the Secretary of State must consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner or other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. The amendment is thus well protected in statute.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to serious crime, including violence against women and girls and modern slavery. Abusers use their control over the victim’s immigration status and their right to live and work in the UK to threaten and trap these victims in abuse or exploitative working conditions.

We have a wealth of evidence that, for victims with insecure immigration status, the fear of data sharing between the police and immigration services constitutes one of the most severe barriers to accessing the criminal justice system. Research by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that fully 62% of migrant women had specifically been threatened about their immigration status if they reported abuse. These are not empty threats. For example, the Police Service of Northern Ireland was reporting 29 victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office every day; that amounts to nearly 10,000 people in a year.

To date, the Government have rejected the firewall proposal. They prefer to try to combine enforcement of immigration control and the protection of victims. I, along with the organisations working in this field, do not accept the Government’s proposal as workable. The Justice Committee recommended the introduction of a complete firewall, as proposed here, and, along with the EHRC, called for the immediate end of data sharing between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

This is urgent. We know from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office that all police forces in England and Wales share victims’ data with immigration enforcement staff. The absence of a firewall significantly harms not only victims of crime but the public interest, as crimes of course are not reported and therefore remain unpunished. Other countries have recognised the importance of building trust with migrants in order to solve more crimes and prevent and address serious crimes.

I did not fully understand the introductory remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, but I hope that on reflection he will feel that a firewall in this field is justified and could support this amendment or introduce a similar government one in its stead.