During the final day of the Report Stage debate yesterday (25 February) the House of Lords passed amendments to strengthen the powers and authority of child trafficking advocates and provide rights for overseas domestic workers. Disappointingly, the Government resisted calls for the addition of a detailed duty to provide victim support but did include a new power enabling a future government to create regulations on the issue.
Child trafficking advocates
Peers welcomed the Government’s amendments to put the advocates’ responsibilities legal authority by putting them into regulations and requiring that public authorities must pay due regard to the role of the advocate. This will ensure that the advocates will have the authority needed to provide an effective support to the child and also in holding accountable the public officials they must deal with. The amendment to give advocates the power to appoint and instruct a child’s solicitors was particularly welcomed with Lord McColl of Dulwich saying “I have met a number of lawyers who represent trafficked children and who have all told me that they have great difficulty in taking instructions from trafficked children [and] recommended that the advocate should have the power to fill that gap.”
The changes proposed by the Government and approved unanimously by Peers put into effect the stronger powers that Lord McColl, Baroness Butler-Sloss and other peers had been arguing for at earlier stages of the Bill’s development. The Minister also referred to the Independent Guardian section of the Northern Ireland legislation as a model for the amendments. It is great to see the positive influence that legislation has had on other parts of the UK.
Support for victims of trafficking
Disappointingly another amendment proposed by Lord McColl to create a duty on the Government to provide victims with support and assistance was not accepted by the Government.
The amendment had significant support with co-signatories from all sides of the House of Lords and several peers raised concerns that the Modern Slavery Bill lacked this guarantee of support which is present in the Northern Ireland and Scottish legislation.
The Minister resisted the amendment but did introduce a new clause which gives the Government the power to create regulations (a form of secondary legislation) about support and assistance for victims in the future if it wishes. Whilst this is positive step, providing the possibility for statutory support services, it neither guarantees those regulations will be passed nor contains any direction about the kind of support that should be provided. CARE will continue to call for inclusion of the details of the support victims are entitled to in law.
Overseas domestic worker visa
The major upset of the debate was the defeat of the Government on a change to the rights for overseas domestic workers. An amendment tabled by crossbench peer Lord Hylton but with support from across the House was passed by just seven votes. The amendment reverses a change to the visa rules made by this Government in 2012 once more giving domestic workers the right to change their employer under the same visa. It also gives them the right to extend their visa by 12 months and a special three month visa if they are found to be victims of modern slavery. The Government had argued that the change might not be the solution to protecting overseas domestic workers, and on 9 February announced a review of the visa’s operation by a leading barrister. However, the House of Lords was clearly not satisfied by that response. It remains to be seen how the Government and the House of Commons will respond to this amendment as the Bill enters its closing stages.