Bishop Viv's speech to the House of Lords on Rwanda Bill

First published 19th February 2024

In her speech to the House of Lords on Wednesday 14 February, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol said:

My Lords, I am grateful to all those supporting Amendment 75 and for the speeches on it. I am further grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—they are all helping us to delve deeper into the legal and moral issues in these amendments. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who has set out her Amendments 70, 73 and 85, to which I have subscribed my name.

This issue is close to my heart, as I speak on behalf of the Church of England on human trafficking and modern slavery issues. I do so from the city of Bristol, with its history of slavery and its current commitment to prevent human trafficking and slavery, including domestically—we train our lay officers to spot the signs of those hiding in plain sight—and to provide refuge for those on their journey through the NRM. I was also particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Deben: I think that I will miss church downstairs, so I am grateful that he has brought church upstairs in his Ash Wednesday words to us about the deep moral issues in our debate today.

I am concerned by the response from the noble Lord, Lord Horam, about drawing the terms of the Bill very tightly. It seems to me that the terms include those who are already victims of crime through human trafficking. This is the nub of my argument: surely it is right to prevent and minimise further risks to people who have already been victims of a crime, as we are obliged to do under national and international law; hence Amendment 70, which would mean that nobody who is thought to be a victim of modern slavery could, as we have heard, be removed to Rwanda, at least before a conclusive decision is made on their case or without assessing what it means for their safety. Such consideration for victims is the least that we can do.

Since the start of 2022, more than 4,000 people who arrived on small boats have entered the national referral mechanism for modern slavery. Under the current proposals, they are both suspected victims of crime and eligible for removal to Rwanda. They may well have been trafficked here against their will, as we have heard, and they are now facing further jeopardy. We need to ensure that this jeopardy is removed, as far as we possibly can. The UK has had until now a world-leading referral system for victims of modern slavery. It is something of which we can be rightly proud. I am concerned, as are others, that the Bill, compounding other recent legislation, puts that world-leading status at risk. Not only are survivors of modern slavery victims of a terrible and traumatic crime but they will now be removed to another country altogether, re-transported to a country which will not, in all probability, treat them well—because the legislation and the treaty do not address concerns that we have heard about today or the concerns of the Global Slavery Index; namely, that the Rwanda Government’s approach to this issue will put those transported there at risk.

Amendments 70, 73 and 85 ensure greater transparency as this legislation is implemented. The amendments mean that we would have a better understanding of the picture of modern slavery as the Bill and treaty are put into effect. As currently drafted, the Bill will have a potentially devastating impact on survivors of modern slavery and our nation’s ability to tackle this crime. Ensuring that the implications of the Bill for victims of modern slavery are subject to ongoing monitoring is the least that we can do. The UK has a strong national referral mechanism but without proper monitoring and transparency worked into the Bill we risk entrenching vulnerabilities and pushing victims back into their original abusers’ hands.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are terrible crimes which represent a traumatic experience. If we are committed to tackling them, monitoring the implications of the Bill for the victims will be fundamental to an ongoing response.


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