All 14 contributions to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Tue 16th Jan 2024
Wed 17th Jan 2024
Mon 12th Feb 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one
Mon 19th Feb 2024
Mon 19th Feb 2024
Mon 4th Mar 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Mon 18th Mar 2024
Wed 20th Mar 2024

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I speak to the Bill, let me say that the House may well be aware that, tragically, there has been a death on the Bibby Stockholm barge. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House, like mine, are with those affected. The House will understand that at this stage I am uncomfortable going into any more details, but we will of course investigate fully.

This Government are stopping the boats. Arrivals are down by a third this year, as illegal entries are on the rise elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, small boat arrivals are up by 80% in the Mediterranean, but they are down by a third across the channel. The largest ever small boats deal with France, tackling the supply of boat engines and parts, the arrest and conviction of people smugglers, and a 70% increase in raids on illegal working are having an impact—a positive one. We have signed returns and co-operation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Georgia and Ethiopia. Fifty hotels are being returned to their local communities, and the initial asylum backlog, which stood at 92,000, is now under 20,000. We have sent back 22,000 illegal migrants, and the UK’s arrangement with Albania proves that deterrents work.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I will not give way yet, as I have just started.

Last year, a third of all those arriving in small boats to the coast of this country were Albanian. This year, we have returned 5,000 Albanians, and arrivals from Albania are down by 90%. But in recent years, some of the Government’s efforts to tackle illegal migration and deport foreign national offenders have been frustrated by a seemingly endless cycle of legal challenges and rulings from domestic and foreign courts.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I will give way in a moment. Of course, this Government respect court judgments, even when we disagree with them, but Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal immigration and they support the Rwanda plan.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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The Home Secretary points to deterrence. He has often used the Australian model of offshoring detention centres as a gold standard. What are his comments, then, on the fact that Australia has recently shut down its offshore centre because of the high financial and human costs?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The hon. Lady raises the case of Australia. It had 55,000 illegal migrations by boats and that has trended pretty much down to zero—deterrence works.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the British are world champions at queueing. We do not like queue jumpers, which is why illegal immigration grates with us. Will he confirm that the Government will take all steps to ensure that we remain within international law, not just now but going forward? In that case, I will certainly be supporting the Bill tonight. Does he also agree that some colleagues in this place need to be careful what they wish for?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am confident, and indeed the conversations I have had with the Government’s legal advisers reinforce my belief, that the actions we are taking, while novel and very much pushing at the edge of the envelope, are within the framework of international law. That is important because the UK is a country that demonstrates to the whole world the importance of international law. We champion that on the world stage and it is important that we demonstrate it.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am going to make further progress. Judges of course play an important role, but they are not policymakers and they should not be policymakers. When the courts find a particular formulation of policy unlawful, it is the job of politicians to listen to their views, respect their views and find a solution.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I will make further progress. Thanks to the efforts on the part of the UK Government and the Government of Rwanda, that is exactly what we have done in response to the verdict from the Supreme Court. The new treaty that I signed last week with Rwanda and the Bill that accompanies it are game changing. The principle of relocating people to a safe country, to have their asylum claim processed there, is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that point.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend was an excellent Foreign Secretary, so he will know the extraordinary tensions that exist between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses Rwanda of sponsoring the M23 terrorist organisation, which is violating Congolese women and killing Congolese soldiers. This week, the Congolese President named the Rwandan President as a Hitler-like figure. What is my right hon. Friend’s response to the concerns of our Congolese friends in that regard?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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In my former role, I had extensive conversations with the Governments of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. We do not agree with that assessment of the Government of Rwanda. More importantly, other international organisations also rely heavily on Rwanda, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union. They would not do that if they believed that Rwanda was an unsafe country.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I intend to make further progress—this is Second Reading and there will be plenty of opportunities for colleagues to speak—but I give way to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Just yesterday, I received correspondence stating:

“EU Council Directive 2005/85/EC is caught by Article 2(1) of the Protocol, therefore can be relied upon in NI (but not GB).”

It added that article 7 of the directive

“confers the right to remain in the territory”

while a claim is being processed, which

“creates additional ‘rights’ in NI”

that do not apply in GB and

“expressly frustrates the core intent of the Rwanda Bill from applying in NI”.

Has the Home Secretary had the opportunity to look at that?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about differential treatment in different parts of the United Kingdom is one that we are conscious of. As the Bill progresses, he and others will have the opportunity to raise concerns about specific details. We will, of course, listen to his concerns and those of others. When passed, the Bill will address the practical implications. At the moment, the challenge of the number of refugees is not as significant in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the UK, but, as the hon. Gentleman has heard me say before, we are always conscious to make sure that all parts of the UK are, and feel that they are, in the thinking of the Government as we move forward.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make further progress. As I say, the principle of relocating people to a safe country to have their asylum claims processed is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. The High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that, and the Supreme Court did not dispute those findings in own findings three weeks ago.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is clear in international law and in relation to the question of the rule of law that in this country, with our unwritten constitution, a clear and unambiguous use of words, clearly establishing the intention of Parliament in the enactment of a law, takes precedence over international law, in accordance with the judgments of Lord Hoffmann, as well as judgments and statements by Lord Judge, Lord Denning and other very distinguished jurists, including in paragraph 144 of the judgment made last month?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that when the wording of a Bill is clear and unambiguous—where there is a deeming clause—that is the express will of Parliament, that Parliament is sovereign, and that that thinking must be adhered to through the legal process.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am going to make some progress.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, meaning that we cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda. That is because of concerns that it expressed that relocated individuals might be refouled. I am sure the House knows that that means that those individuals might be re-deported to a third country. The Government disagreed with that verdict, but, as I have said, we respect the verdict of their lordships. It is important to understand that the Supreme Court’s judgment was based on the facts as they existed 18 months ago and that the Court said the problem could be remedied. As I told the House last week, we have worked on and found that very remedy. Our asylum partnership with Rwanda sets out, in a legally binding international treaty, the obligations of both the UK and Rwanda within international law.

Jeremy Wright Portrait Sir Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)
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I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As he says, international law and domestic law are both important, but they are different. The Bill seeks to give this House the power to deem Rwanda a safe country. Can he confirm for me that what it does not seek to do is suggest that this country, or this House, has the power to deem itself in compliance with international law? My worry stems from clause1(5) of the Bill, which, of course, reflects the Government’s intention to deem Rwanda a safe country, but then goes on to describe the safe country as one

“to which persons may be removed…in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”.

Will he confirm that it is not the Government’s intention to suggest that it falls to any country to deem itself in compliance with international law—he does not need me to explain what the consequences of that might be elsewhere in the world—and that he will look again at the language and whether it needs to be changed to clarify that point?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that that is absolutely not the intention of the Bill. The deeming clause is specifically about the safety of Rwanda, because of our response to their lordships’ position at the Supreme Court hearing. We are not seeking to redefine through domestic legislation international law.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the right hon. Gentleman is right and the treaty with Rwanda meets the concerns of the Supreme Court, why is this Bill necessary? If Rwanda is now a safe country as a result of the treaty, why is this highly controversial Bill, which is clearly causing great problems in his own parliamentary party, necessary?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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We are putting forward legislation that will be clear and unambiguous, so as to support the treaty. The treaty addresses the concerns raised by their lordships.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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With the indulgence of the House, I intend to make some progress. I want to make sure that others have a full chance to speak in this debate.

The Bill sets out to Parliament and to the courts why Rwanda is safe for those relocated there. The treaty that I signed last week puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda. It provides the basis to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have second-guessed the will of Parliament and frustrated this policy, this House, and the desire of the British people.

Rwanda will introduce an even stronger end-to-end asylum system, stronger still than the one that underpins its relationship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It will have a specialist asylum appeals tribunal—

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Since we last spoke in this House, it has been confirmed that the Government have given the Rwandan Government £240 million, with a further £50 million to come in April—all independently of anybody be being sent to Rwanda. Will he now confirm that the Government’s deal also means a further £50 million in 2025 and a further £50 million on top of that in 2026?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The right hon. Lady is asking me to confirm figures that we have put in the public domain. Unsurprisingly, I am totally comfortable confirming what I have already said. Rwanda will introduce an even stronger—

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The right hon. Lady has the chance to make a speech in just a few moments.

The system of specialist asylum tribunals to consider individual appeals against any refused claim within Rwanda will have one Rwandan and one other Commonwealth co-president and will be made up of judges from a mix of nationalities, selected by the co-president. To the point the right hon. Lady is making about the money spent by the British Government, as is the case with many countries around the world, the Government spend money capacity building with our international partners, and we have been working extensively with Rwanda to build capacity too.

The treaty makes clear that anyone relocated to Rwanda cannot be removed from Rwanda to another country except back to the United Kingdom. It is binding in international law and enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, which will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring. The committee will have unfettered access to monitor the entire relocation process, from initial screening to relocation and settlement in Rwanda. Relocated individuals and legal representatives will be able to launch confidential complaints directly with that committee. It is that treaty and the accompanying evidence pack that enable the Government to conclude with confidence that Rwanda is safe. We will need to be certain that domestic and foreign courts will also respect the treaty, and that is why we have introduced this Bill.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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On that point on foreign courts, clause 5(2) says:

“It is for a Minister of the Crown…to decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure.”

Is the advice from the Attorney General that it will be compatible with international law for a Minister to refuse to comply with such an indication?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My right hon. Friend, who is an expert proceduralist in this House, will know that advice from the AG to Government is privileged, and I am not going to share it at the Dispatch Box, but he will also know that the Government’s position is clear and unambiguous that this is in accordance with international law. He can rest assured of that.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as a matter of law, an interim measure under rule 35 is directed not to the courts of the UK, but to the Governments of the member states? Therefore, what the Bill says simply restates what is the position anyway: it is the member state that it applies to, not the courts.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I will give way one more time, and then I will make more progress.

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier
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The Home Secretary says he will not reveal to the House the Attorney General’s advice, and that is fine, but on the issue of the money, his permanent secretary was in front of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday and told us that, as well as the payment of £50 million due next year, there are payments planned for years four and five. Is he willing to share with the House how much will be paid to Rwanda in years four and five of the programme?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will know that we have committed to a reporting schedule that is completely consistent with other Government Departments and with the reporting schedule of the Home Office in other areas. We intend to commit to doing that.

This Bill builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and complements all other measures that this Government are employing to end illegal migration. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and it will prevent the courts from second-guessing the will of this sovereign Parliament.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I have to make progress.

The Bill gives effect to the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country, notwithstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law. For the purposes of the Bill, a safe country is one to which people

“may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”—

I hope that will reassure my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright)—

“that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there.”

It means that someone removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and that anyone who seeks asylum or who has had an asylum determination will have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am going to make progress. I have been generous, but I want others to have the chance to speak.

Anyone removed to Rwanda under the provisions of this treaty will not be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom, in a very small number of limited and exceptional circumstances. Should the UK request the return of any relocated person, Rwanda will return them. Decision makers, including myself or the holder of the post of Home Secretary, an immigration officer and the courts must all treat Rwanda as a safe country. They must do so notwithstanding the relevant UK law or any interpretation of international law by courts or tribunals. That includes the European convention on human rights; the refugee convention; the international covenant on civil and political rights; the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings which opened at Warsaw on 16 May 2005; customary international law; and

“any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The Prime Minister has been crystal clear that he, and the Government he leads, will not let foreign courts destroy this Rwanda plan and curtail our efforts to break the business model of the evil people-smuggling gangs.

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend makes the point about foreign courts, but what about domestic courts? Is there not a danger that, in pursuing quite stringent measures in this Bill, we are really testing the principle of comity to breaking point? This House and this Parliament are sovereign, but we also have the independence of the courts and the rule of law to bear in mind, and restraint on both sides—by the judiciary and by this place—is essential if we are to maintain the balance of our constitution.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. and learned Friend knows I have a huge amount of respect for him, not just as a friend and an individual, but for his experience at the Bar at a very high level. He raises an important point, and I want to give him complete reassurance that we have looked very carefully at that balance he speaks about and we respect the importance of that. We genuinely believe this Bill gets the balance right, although, because of the growing nature of this extreme and perverse trade in human misery, we have to take firm action. We are therefore acting in a way that maintains that balance. It is novel. He says it is contentious, and that is true, but we are doing it because we have to break this business model. We have to do this.

When the European Court of Human Rights—this speaks to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) just a moment ago—indicates an interim measure relating to the intended removal of someone to Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of the Immigration Act, a Minister of the Crown alone, not a court or tribunal, will decide whether the UK will comply with that interim measure.

In order to further prevent individual claims to prevent removal, the Bill disapplies certain relevant provisions from the Human Rights Act 1998 in particular circumstances, including sections 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9. This is lawful, this is fair, this is necessary, because we have now addressed every reason that has been used to prevent removal to Rwanda. We have blocked asylum claims from being admitted with legislation that has already passed through this House: when the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is enforced, modern slavery disqualification provisions will assist with speedy removal.

The only possible blocking of removal is if an individual can demonstrate, with compelling evidence, that there is an immediate risk of serious and irreversible harm to them in particular under their individual circumstances. That sets the bar rightly very high, so that the chances of that happening are rightly extremely small. The only way to deter people from coming here illegally is to convince them that if they do, they will be unable to stay. Instead, they will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe third country, or their home country, if it is safe to do so.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will conclude, as I have been on my feet for a while.

This is how we will save lives at sea. This is how we will deter illegal migration. And this—the House should take note—is how we will break the business model of the most evil and perverse trade that we currently can see: the trade in vulnerable people. The people smugglers are not humanitarians; they are vicious criminals, and we must take action to stop them. This is how we restore confidence in our immigration system and assert full control over our borders.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am nearly done; let me conclude.

This is how we will overcome the intolerable pressure on taxpayers, public services and local communities that illegal immigration creates. That is how we will ensure that the system is fair: fair to those who play by the rules and fair to the British people, who are rightly sick of people arriving here from France in small boats—from France, a safe and wonderful country. Rwanda stands ready to welcome those new arrivals. It stands ready to work with us to find a solution on this global issue, rather than being part of a problem, and for that, I believe, it should have our thanks and admiration. This is an innovative and humane solution to a growing global problem. Other countries are looking at what we are doing and making similar plans of their own. A new treaty and this Bill make it clear in law that Rwanda is a safe country to which to relocate illegal migrants.

I want to extend an offer to the whole House. Colleagues across this House must know how much this matters to our constituents. Our voters, no matter which party they vote for, are warm and welcoming people to those in genuine need. We have seen that in the way in which people across this country have opened their homes to many of the half a million people who have come here via safe and legal routes in the past decade. But the British people rightly expect everyone to play by the rules, and they expect us in this House to do what it takes to stop the boats. That is what voting for this legislation means. Our voters are horrified when they see images of people drowning in the channel. They are horrified when they see people smugglers taking advantage of people. They want an end to illegal migration. This Government have a plan that will provide an alternative home for illegal arrivals to the UK and deter others from coming here illegally. I commend the Bill to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Home Secretary.

--- Later in debate ---
18:58

Division 26

Ayes: 269


Labour: 189
Scottish National Party: 43
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 9
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 337


Conservative: 330
Independent: 5
The Reclaim Party: 1

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
--- Later in debate ---
19:12

Division 27

Ayes: 313


Conservative: 308
Independent: 5

Noes: 269


Labour: 189
Scottish National Party: 43
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 9
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1
Alba Party: 1

Bill read a Second time.
--- Later in debate ---
19:29

Division 28

Ayes: 332


Conservative: 319
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Independent: 5

Noes: 61


Scottish National Party: 41
Liberal Democrat: 14
Plaid Cymru: 3
Independent: 1
Alliance: 1
Alba Party: 1

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee of the whole House
Tuesday 16th January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 16 January 2024 - (16 Jan 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

17:38

Division 46

Ayes: 66


Scottish National Party: 40
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 3
Alliance: 1
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Alba Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 337


Conservative: 323
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 4

Amendment proposed: 10, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
--- Later in debate ---
17:52

Division 47

Ayes: 68


Conservative: 58
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 2

Noes: 529


Conservative: 262
Labour: 189
Scottish National Party: 42
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 10
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Alliance: 1
Alba Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
18:11

Division 48

Ayes: 331


Conservative: 317
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 5

Noes: 262


Labour: 192
Scottish National Party: 40
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 8
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
18:24

Division 49

Ayes: 58


Conservative: 57
Independent: 2

Noes: 525


Conservative: 262
Labour: 192
Scottish National Party: 40
Liberal Democrat: 14
Independent: 11
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Plaid Cymru: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Clause 4
--- Later in debate ---
18:40

Division 50

Ayes: 330


Conservative: 317
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 4

Noes: 55


Scottish National Party: 40
Independent: 5
Labour: 5
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alba Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
18:54

Division 51

Ayes: 262


Labour: 190
Scottish National Party: 42
Liberal Democrat: 15
Independent: 7
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Alba Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 336


Conservative: 323
Democratic Unionist Party: 8
Independent: 5

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee of the whole House
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 17 January 2024 - (17 Jan 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

18:54

Division 54

Ayes: 339

Noes: 264

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
19:08

Division 55

Ayes: 65

Noes: 536

--- Later in debate ---
19:24

Division 56

Ayes: 340

Noes: 263

Clauses 5 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
19:38

Division 57

Ayes: 263

Noes: 339

Question put (single Question on successive provisions of the Bill), That clauses 9 and 10 stand part of the Bill.
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19:50

Division 58

Ayes: 340

Noes: 264

Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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20:02

Division 59

Ayes: 264

Noes: 338

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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3rd reading
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 17 January 2024 - (17 Jan 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I of course echo the tributes to Sir Tony.

The Prime Minister, the Government and I have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats, and we have of course been making progress on that pledge, reducing small boat arrivals by over a third last year, but to stop the boats completely and to stop them for good we need to deter people from making these dangerous journeys—from risking their lives and from lining the pockets of evil, criminal people-smuggling gangs.

The new legally binding treaty with the Government of the Republic of Rwanda responds directly to the Supreme Court’s concerns, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments. This Bill sends an unambiguously clear message that if you enter the United Kingdom illegally, you cannot stay. This Bill has been meticulously drafted to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges; people will not be able to use our asylum laws, human rights laws or judicial reviews to block their legitimate removal. And the default will be for claims to be heard outside of this country. Only a very small number of migrants who face a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm will be able to appeal decisions in the UK.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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As things stand, can the Home Secretary confirm that if this Bill receives Royal Assent it will not breach international law; yes or no?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My right hon. Friend raises an important point and it gives me an opportunity to be unambiguous and clear. As drafted, as we intend this Bill to progress, it will be in complete compliance with international law. The UK takes international law seriously and the countries we choose to partner with internationally also take international law seriously.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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The previous intervention was extremely apposite. Will the Foreign Secretary be kind enough to give me the advice as to why he said what he just did about no breaches of international law?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My hon. Friend will know that the Government do not make their legal advice public. We have put forward, of course, an explanation of our position but I am absolutely confident that we will maintain our long-standing tradition of being a country that not just abides by international law but champions and defends it.

Under our new legislation migrants will not be able to frustrate the decision to remove them to Rwanda by bringing systemic challenges about the general safety of Rwanda.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Can the Home Secretary assure us that if this Bill is passed tonight there will be a system in place that accurately tests its success, month by month and week by week, so that we know that all this anger, all this frustration, all this work is not for nothing?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman certainly speaks for a number of Members in the House, although maybe not too many on his own Benches, because it sounds as if he wants this to work, whereas plenty of Opposition Members have tried to frustrate our attempts to deal with illegal migration. But we will of course want to assess the success because we want to be proud of the fact that this Government, unlike the Opposition parties, actually care about strengthening our borders and defending ourselves against those evil people smugglers and their evil trade.

To be clear, we will disapply the avenues used by individuals that blocked the first flight to Rwanda, including asylum and human rights claims. Without that very narrow route to individual challenge, we would undermine the treaty that we have just signed with Rwanda and run the very serious risk of collapsing the scheme, and that must not be allowed to happen. But if people attempt to use this route simply as a delaying tactic, they will have their claim dismissed by the Home Office and they will be removed.

The Bill also ensures that it is for Ministers and Ministers alone to decide whether to comply with the ECHR interim measures, because it is for the British people and the British people alone to decide who comes and who stays in this country. The Prime Minister said he would not have included that clause unless we were intending and prepared to use it, and that is very much the case. We will not let foreign courts prevent us from managing our own borders. As reiterated by the Cabinet Office today, it is the established case that civil servants under the civil service code are there to deliver the decisions of Ministers of the Crown.

The Bill is key to stopping the boats once and for all. To reassure some of the people who have approached me with concerns, I remind them that Albanians previously made up around a third of small boat arrivals, but through working intensively and closely with Albania and its Government, more than 5,000 people with no right to be here have been returned. The deterrent was powerful enough to drive down arrivals from Albania by more than 90%. Strasbourg has not intervened, flights from Rwanda have not been stopped and the House should understand that this legislation once passed will go even further and be even stronger than the legislation that underpins the Albania agreement.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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We obviously support the Albania agreement, but will the Home Secretary confirm that only 5% of Albanians who have arrived in the country over the past few years on small boats have been returned or removed? What has happened to the other 95%?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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As I have said, it is about deterrence, and the deterrent effect is clear for anyone to see, with a more than 90% reduction in the number of Albanians who have arrived on these shores.

I am glad that the shadow Home Secretary chose this point to intervene, because it reminds me that the Labour party has no credible plans at all to manage our borders. The Opposition have tried to obstruct our plans to tackle illegal migration over and over again—more than 80 times. They even want to cut a deal with the EU that would see us receive 100,000 extra illegal migrants each and every year. [Interruption.] They cheer. The shadow Home Secretary is pleased with the idea that we are going to receive an extra 100,000 every year. They can laugh, but we take this issue seriously, because it is not what our country needs and it is not what our constituents want.

We are united in agreement that stopping the boats and getting the Rwanda partnership up and running is of the utmost importance. Having a debate about how to get the policy right is of course what this House is for. That is our collective job, and I respect my good friends and colleagues on the Government Benches for putting forward amendments in good faith to do what they believe will strengthen the Bill. While my party sits only a short physical distance from the parties on the Opposition Benches, the gulf between our aspiration to control our borders and their blasé laissez-faire attitude to border control could not be more stark. Stopping the boats is not just a question of policy; it is a question of morality and of fairness. It is this Government—this Conservative party—who are the only party in this House taking this issue as seriously as we should. I urge this House to stick with our plan and stop the boats.

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21:16

Division 60

Ayes: 320

Noes: 276

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by craving the indulgence of the Lord Speaker in your Lordships’ House. I had temporarily stepped outside to collect another piece of paper. With your Lordships’ indulgence I shall now begin to open, and beg that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am speaking to the House today as a member of the Government for the Bill, not in my formal law officer capacity, and my contributions and responses will reflect this.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of providing protection to those who are most in need, through our provision of safe and legal routes. Since 2015, we have offered over half a million people safe and legal routes into the United Kingdom through our Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong routes. This includes over 28,700 refugees, including over 14,000 children, via our formal refugee resettlement schemes. These established resettlement schemes play a key role in the global response to—

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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I apologise for interrupting the noble and learned Lord when he has just got going, but I just wanted him to clarify his opening remarks. Is he saying that he is speaking to this House as a general government Minister and not in his capacity as a law officer—or did I mishear him?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lord heard me correctly. I remind the House of the convention that relates to law officers, whereby we do not divulge whether our opinion has been sought or the content of that opinion. It was in order to clarify my position—that I was not trespassing on that convention—that I spoke. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

I was discussing the refugee resettlement schemes that this country has in place. These established resettlement schemes play a key role in the global response to humanitarian crises, saving lives and offering stability to those most in need of protection. However, our willingness to help those fleeing war and persecution must be tied to our capacity to do so, and critical to this is tackling illegal migration. There is nothing generous about allowing the status quo to continue; that would serve only the deplorable people smugglers who facilitate these dangerous crossings. It would only put more lives at risk and continue to strain our communities and public services.

As the Prime Minister has made clear, it is this Government’s priority to stop the boats, and I welcome the fact that this is a shared objective across your Lordships’ House. The Government are making good progress in stopping the boats. Last year, in 2023, small boat arrivals to the United Kingdom fell by around one-third, with Albanian arrivals down by over 90%, while we saw illegal entry rise elsewhere in Europe.

We have ramped up efforts to prevent crossings and disrupt the smugglers, with particular success stemming from increased collaboration with the French authorities. Our joint work with France prevented over 26,000 individual crossings by small boat to the United Kingdom. Since July 2020, the joint intelligence cell and French law enforcement partners have dismantled 82 criminal gangs responsible for people smuggling of migrants via small boat crossings. As of September 2023, immigration enforcement visits were up 68% compared with the same period in 2022. Last year, the Home Office arrested 92 individuals identified as small boat pilots and 253 people smugglers. In addition, during financial year 2022-23, the National Crime Agency conducted what is believed to be the biggest ever international operation targeting criminal networks suspected of using small boats to smuggle thousands to the United Kingdom. The operation saw the seizure of 135 boats and 45 outboard engines.

However, the increase in crossings in recent years means that around 51,000 otherwise destitute migrants are currently being accommodated in hotels, costing the taxpayer in excess of £8 million per day. The small boats problem is part of a global migration crisis. It is a challenge that most of us accept has no single solution, but this Government remain resolute in our commitment to preventing the misuse and evasion of our systems by illegal migrants, stopping these dangerous crossings and addressing the concerns of the British people. Operationalising the Rwanda scheme is a key part of the Government’s efforts to deliver this mission—a partnership which has always been part of the wider programme of work to deal with one of the most significant challenges of our time. It is only by fully implementing the migration and economic development partnership that we will create the strong deterrent necessary to stop these dangerous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs. Doing nothing is not an option.

The Supreme Court’s judgment on 15 November 2023 concluded that deficiencies in the Government of Rwanda’s arrangements for determining asylum claims could lead to risks of refoulement. But their Lordships also recognised, explicitly and in terms, that those deficiencies could be addressed in future. In response, the Home Secretary signed a new internationally binding treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda which responds to the concerns raised and resolves those issues.

The Government also introduced this Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which buttresses the treaty, confirming that the Government of the Republic of Rwanda will fulfil their obligations under the treaty and supporting the relocation of a person to Rwanda under the Immigration Acts. The Bill is limited solely to the issue of the safety of Rwanda and relocations to that country and makes it clear that, with the new treaty, Rwanda is a safe country.

The Bill also makes it clear that Parliament is sovereign and that its Acts are valid notwithstanding any interpretation of international law. Let me make clear that the Bill does not “legislate away” our international obligations, nor does it seek to overrule or contradict the view of the Supreme Court. Its purpose is to say that, on the basis of the treaty and the evidence before it, Parliament believes those obligations to have been met and the concerns raised by the court dealt with, not that the Government do not care whether they have been or not.

The Bill creates a conclusive presumption that the Secretary of State, immigration officers and courts and tribunals must make decisions about relocation to Rwanda and review any such decisions on the basis that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of asylum and, in particular, will not send someone on to another country—the practice of refoulement, to which I referred earlier—in breach of the refugee convention.

The Supreme Court’s conclusions were based on the evidence submitted prior to the High Court hearing in September 2022 and did not—indeed, could not—consider subsequent work and efforts by and with the Government of Rwanda to strengthen the readiness of Rwanda to receive and support individuals relocated under the partnership.

Crucially, this has included work to bolster Rwanda’s asylum system in terms of both decision-making and processing by: delivering new operational training to asylum decision-makers; establishing clear standard operating procedures which capture new processes, and guidance in the asylum system on reception and accommodation arrangements, the safeguarding of vulnerable persons and access to healthcare; strengthening the Republic of Rwanda’s asylum system and appeals body; and strengthening procedural oversight of the migration and economic development partnership. When considered together with the legally binding provisions in the treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, this means that Parliament can conclude with confidence that Rwanda is a safe country.

Clause 2 also contains a clear notwithstanding clause, requiring courts to honour the previous clauses notwithstanding all relevant domestic law, the Human Rights Act to the extent disapplied by the Bill, and any interpretation of international law reached by the court or tribunal.

The Government remain committed to ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, and to fulfilling our international obligations. We will always ensure that our laws continue to be fit for purpose and work for the people of the United Kingdom.

We recognise that some of the provisions in the Bill are novel. However, the Government are satisfied that the Bill can be implemented in line with both our domestic law and international obligations.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he tell us his Government’s reflections on the debate on the International Agreements Committee report in your Lordships’ House last week? Will also tell us, clearly, whether the Government intend to send anyone to Rwanda under the Bill before all those concerns are met?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention. On whether I deal with it in this part of the speech or it is left to the end, I will consult with colleagues.

As I was saying, the provisions in the Bill will ultimately allow us to deter people from taking unsafe and illegal routes into the country.

It is also clear to us all that people will seek to frustrate their removal through any means and, to prevent people from making claims to prevent their removal, the Bill disapplies elements of the Human Rights Act 1998. It disapplies Section 2 in relation to any systemic challenges to Parliament’s settled view that Rwanda is safe, Section 3 in relation to the whole Bill, and Sections 6 to 9 where the courts and others are considering whether Rwanda is safe and where the test that must be met before removal is whether it will result in serious and irreversible harm. In the context of the Bill, which deems Rwanda a safe country, this will ensure that people cannot frustrate removal by bringing systemic challenges in our domestic courts and, when considering any question relating to the safety of Republic of Rwanda, domestic courts and tribunals are not required to have regard to Strasbourg jurisprudence. It makes it clear that the courts and tribunals should defer to Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country, as defined.

The Bill allows individuals to bring challenges against removal to Rwanda in exceptionally narrow circumstances, where there is compelling evidence relating specifically to their particular individual circumstances. The basis on which an individual may bring such a challenge is if they can demonstrate that there is a real and imminent risk that they would face serious or irreversible harm related to their particular individual circumstances if they were relocated. If people try to abuse this route by making claims without clear or compelling evidence, or in regard to general claims that they would be unsafe in Rwanda, their claim will be dismissed by the Home Office and they will be relocated from the UK before they can challenge that removal.

It is possible, but not necessarily likely, that those subject to removal may be subject to injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights. The Bill is clear that it is only for a Minister of the Crown to determine whether to comply with an interim measure of the Strasbourg court. It also makes it clear that domestic courts may not have regard to the existence of any interim measure when considering any domestic application flowing from a decision to relocate a person to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty.

The terms of the treaty that we have negotiated with Rwanda address the findings of the United Kingdom domestic courts and make specific provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, guaranteeing their safety and protection. The rule of law partnership that we have signed with Rwanda is a partnership to which both we and Rwanda are completely committed. The Bill, along with the treaty, puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda. We want to make sure that this legislation works. It is essential that we act now and do whatever it takes to stop people being manipulated into making dangerous crossings of the channel. Illegal migration is one of the most significant challenges of our time and the Government are acting in the national interest. I beg to move.

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we have heard a lot of anger and outrage this afternoon, and a lot of agonising about nebulous concepts such as international influence and reputation. We have heard much effort to side-slip away from our dualist system of international and domestic law, a lot of advocacy of a purist view of separation of powers that has never applied in this country, and a surprising degree of deference by this sovereign Parliament to a Supreme Court that did not exist two decades ago, is not a constitutional court in the US or European sense—much as many people seem to wish it was—and has decided that it is the fount of wisdom not just on law but on complex issues of foreign policy. Indeed, when it comes to the safety of Rwanda, it seems that the Government’s facts are just judgments but the Supreme Court’s judgments are facts.

Maybe it is useful to get back to the essentials. Perhaps it is old fashioned, but I believe it is the job of a national Government to set terms for who may enter the country, and to control the border accordingly. I think that proposition would be widely agreed on in this country, but seemingly not here. Here, it is suggested by many noble Lords that in significant areas the terms of entry must be set by international conventions agreed decades ago by a European court that seems to believe it has the right to define the extent of its own powers, and by the people traffickers and criminals who make it possible for large numbers of people to take advantage of these terms. We are told, in other words, that the British Government should not, in practice, be able to set the terms under which people can come into this country. I put it that starkly because we can then see that this is not a proposition that would command widespread assent in this country.

This current situation cannot be sustained in modern conditions. The Government are right to do what is necessary to re-establish control. Control must mean that the Government define the conditions for entry into the UK; that one of those conditions is that if you arrive illegally, you do not have the right to stay and must therefore go somewhere else; and that we have no obligation to take in just anybody who shows up and can claim asylum, in whatever numbers. It may well also have to mean that if international law, whether the ECHR or any other agreement, says anything different, then so much the worse for international law. All these things may be unpalatable—and I know they are unpalatable to many in this Chamber; it is much easier to avoid thinking about them—but if you do not do these things, you do not have control.

To the extent that I understand the alternatives most widely advocated by noble Lords, they seem to involve establishing so-called safe and legal routes for the many people who currently show up here illegally—in other words, to acquiesce in the reality that we do not control our borders, and to give up trying. The truth is that safe and legal routes will be rapidly overwhelmed by numbers, and that illegal arrivals will continue.

The most reverend Primate, who is in his place, reminds us that all human beings are of great value. Of course I agree with him, and for the same reasons; of course we should welcome the stranger. But, in my very humble view, in this area you cannot get from that undoubted existential truth to a political proposition—a proposition that large numbers of people from many countries around the world, if they can persuade a criminal trafficker to take them, have the de facto right to settle in this country. Those are propositions of a completely different nature and kind.

It follows logically from all this that of course I support the Bill and its deterrent purpose. I admit some doubts as to whether, in its current form, it will be robust enough to achieve the desired end. I think it would certainly have been better if it had been amended to strengthen the exclusion of international law, as proposed in the Commons; in my view, we will one day have to go there. But it is done now; the Commons debated it fully and has spoken. I support the Government in bringing it into force swiftly and I hope noble Lords will do likewise.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken today and shared their thoughts on this legislation. We have heard many thoughtful speeches from many noble Lords, but I welcome particularly the valued insights of my noble friends Lady Goldie, Lady Verma, Lord Wolfson, Lord Dobbs, Lord Horam and Lord Murray. It is clear from across the Benches that there is common ground in needing to find a solution to the challenges we face. Just for the record, of course I agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on the worth of individuals.

Stopping illegal migration is an important issue for both the public and the Government. Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal migration, as my noble friend Lady Stowell powerfully argued; therefore, we need a deterrent. As noble Lords will have heard me say last week, we made progress towards stopping the boats but we must do more to break the business model of the criminal gangs and deter illegal migrants. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that there is evidence of deterrence—and that it works. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Udny-Lister and Lord Horam for reminding us of Albania and the Australian example.

The dangerous channel crossings are often made by young, fit men in search of better life opportunities. Many of those have travelled through safe countries to reach the UK, as my noble friend Lord Hannan set out, and they have paid substantial amounts of money to the criminal gangs to facilitate their journey. As my noble friend Lady Goldie highlighted, these criminal gangs could not care less about the safety of migrants; they care only about the money. I think noble Lords are in agreement that we cannot let this continue.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and other noble Lords were right to place the Bill in its moral context, but proceeding with it is the moral course, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell powerfully noted. We must put a stop to the dangerous channel crossings that are putting lives at risk and to this mass trafficking of people in order to save lives. That is the humane thing to do, and it is the fair thing to do, as my noble friend Lady Verma argued.

By delivering our key partnership, relocating those with no right to be in the UK to Rwanda and not allowing them to stay in the UK, we will deter people from making these journeys and we will save those lives. We also need to ensure that we are meeting our international obligations, so the treaty the Home Secretary signed in December last year sets out to Parliament and the courts why Rwanda is, and will remain, safe for those relocated there. The Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and will prevent the courts second-guessing Parliament’s assessments.

The Prime Minister has been clear that he will not let a foreign court block flights. We simply cannot let Strasbourg dictate our border security and stop us establishing a deterrent.

I turn to the matters raised in the debate, including the points addressed in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord German. A number of noble Lords asked why the legislation seeks to confirm that Rwanda is safe when the treaty simply sets out the aspirations of what should happen, and the measures are not in place. The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which could address the conclusions it came to. We have been working closely with Rwanda on these changes. The partnership with Rwanda is now set out in a new treaty, binding in international law, with specific provisions to address the court’s findings.

Since the evidential position considered by the UK domestic courts in summer 2022, we have obtained further specific information, evidence and assurances from the Government of Rwanda explicitly to address the challenges raised by the claimants and the UNHCR in the litigation, and the findings of the Supreme Court, following its judgment in November. This primarily takes the form of detailed standard operating procedures, reviews of contracts for services that the Government of Rwanda have procured—for example, with accommodation, facilities and medical insurance companies—and new and revised training programmes.

The noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Coaker, mentioned this all in the context of the UNHCR. Rwanda has successfully hosted over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers in collaboration with the UNHCR and other organisations. That is not including the nearly 2,000 supported in Rwanda by the emergency transit mechanism to evacuate to safety refugees and asylum seekers trapped in or fleeing civil war in Libya. That is also supported by the EU, which will support the operation of the ETM until 2026, and the EU announced a further €22 million support package for it. As recently as December 2023, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda, and the European ambassador to Rwanda described the scheme as:

“A crucial life-saving initiative to evacuate people facing major threats and inhumane conditions in Libya to safety in Rwanda, It is a significant example of African solidarity and of partnership with the European Union. We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for hosting these men, women and children”.


Regarding our agreement with Rwanda, we have taken crucial steps forward to respond to the Supreme Court findings, which recognise that changes could be delivered to address its conclusions. Both the Court of Appeal and the High Court found that the principle of relocating individuals to safer countries for their protection claims to be assessed was consistent with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and the Supreme Court did not disturb this.

It is imperative that we continue to work at pace to stop the boats, save lives and break the business models of the evil criminal gangs. The fundamental accusation that Rwanda is incapable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership is wrong, as my noble friend Lady Verma pointed out. I disagree with that. Rwandans, perhaps more than most, understand the importance of providing protection to those needing it. At this point, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the monitoring of all this is of course dealt with by the treaty, which we debated at some length last week.

I turn to the early intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on the Motion set down by this House not to ratify the treaty. Your Lordships will be aware that a resolution made in this House on the treaty does not necessarily stop its progress. The International Agreements Committee report did not fundamentally find anything objectionable in the treaty itself. The report was about implementation, not any flaws in the treaty. The treaty will therefore follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. Ultimately, the Minister responsible can decide to issue a statement declaring that the treaty should be ratified in any event, and the Home Secretary will confirm the Government’s position in due course.

The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, also asked about the timings of the Bill. This reflects an answer I also gave last week. Both the treaty and the Bill need to progress their respective paths through Parliament in the usual way before they can be ratified or receive royal assent respectively. Rwanda will also need to adjust its legislation and ratify the treaty on its side. Once these things have happened, the Bill and the treaty will be operable.

The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, asked about the Government’s safe and legal routes. The UK is a generous country. We are proud of that fact, and we are proud of the fact that we have helped so many refugees to safety. The Government have made it clear that we will continue to provide sanctuary to those most in need, but we can act only within our capabilities. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it is not about “I’m all right, Jack”; it is about capability and capacity. While the compassion of the UK is unlimited, our capacity is not. Local authorities have played a vital role in delivery of our safe and legal routes, but they are feeling the pressures caused by both legal and illegal migration. We can bring people over on safe and legal routes only when local authorities are able to receive them. We remain committed to looking at new or expanded safe and legal routes to the UK for those most vulnerable, but only once we have drastically reduced the unacceptable number of illegal, dangerous and simply unnecessary small boat crossings, which are putting a huge amount of pressure on our public services.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps the Minister can answer the simple question which I put early in this debate. If that is true, why do the Government not accept that those who are accorded refugee status through the process that this Government wish to apply in Rwanda should be allowed back into the United Kingdom?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will come back to that.

On 20 October 2023, the Home Office launched the consultation on the cap on safe and legal routes, to understand local authority capacity. This consultation closed on 9 January 2024. Home Office officials are currently reviewing those responses and are planning further engagement with the respondents through a series of regional dialogues to validate responses and to determine a capacity estimate. We will produce a summary of the consultation by the spring and, in summer 2024, the Government will lay a statutory instrument in Parliament which will then need to be debated and voted on, before the cap comes into force in 2025. Therefore, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, we have to wait for all those things to take effect. I have no doubt that this matter will be up for debate again after 2025.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Brinton, asked how we can deem Rwanda to be safe if we are granting Rwandan nationals refugee status in the UK. Rwanda is a safe country, which is what this Bill asserts. The meaning of a “safe country” is set out in Clause 1(5). However, our obligation when an asylum claim is lawfully lodged and admitted to the UK asylum process for consideration is to carry out an individualised assessment of a person’s particular circumstances. If, after that assessment, there is found to be a reason why a person, based on these individual circumstances, cannot be returned to their country of origin, then it is correct that we grant them protection. It is important to stress that people from many different nationalities apply for asylum in the UK and this includes—

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, where, under Clause 4, an individual is seeking the court’s ruling on whether their individual circumstances might give them a reason to not be sent to Rwanda, might that be because they are able to argue that “It may generally be safe but it is not safe for me”? Will they be able to argue that, because they are homosexual or ill, it is not safe for them?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, quoting from the Bill in answer to the noble Baroness, it is

“the person in question, based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances (rather than on the grounds that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country in general)”.

That is pretty straightforward. It is important to stress that people from many—

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I asked what the grounds were for people from Rwanda being given asylum here. What was their well-grounded fear of persecution about?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, each individual case is different. I do not know the particular circumstances.

It is important to stress that people from many different nationalities apply for asylum in the UK. This includes nationals from some of our closest European neighbours and other safe countries around the world. That is why there are a small number of cases where we have granted asylum to individuals from countries that we would otherwise consider safe. This is a reflection of our system working. An individual claim is not a reflection of the country as a whole. This process also reflects the safeguards which the Bill provides to individuals in Clause 4, which I have just read out. Each case will be considered on its individual merits by caseworkers who receive extensive training. All available evidence is carefully and sensitively considered in the light of published country information, but I cannot comment on the specifics of individual cases.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, asked what support will be available for those who are particularly vulnerable. Rwandan officials will have due regard to the psychological and physical signs of vulnerability of all relocated persons at any stage of the application and integration process. Screening interviews to identify vulnerabilities will be conducted by protection officers in Rwanda who have received the relevant training and are equipped to handle competently safeguarding referrals. Interpreters will be available as required to ensure that relocated individuals can make their needs known. All interviews will be conducted with sensitivity for the individual’s well-being.

The Government of Rwanda have processes in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health, gender-based violence and addiction. All relocated individuals will receive appropriate protection and assistance according to their needs, including referral to specialist services, as appropriate, to protect their welfare.

Article 13 of the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided about a relocated individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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How will they know? The Illegal Migration Act prevents someone who may well have been trafficked from even starting the process of claiming that they have been trafficked here, so how will the Rwandans know? We are not collecting that information.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as I have just said, the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided about a relocated individual by the United Kingdom.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful, but that is prohibited in the Illegal Migration Act.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord on that very specific point.

These are also detailed in the standard operating procedures as part of the evidence pack released on 11 January in support of the Bill. Furthermore, the UK is providing additional expertise to support the development of Rwanda’s capacity to safeguard vulnerable persons.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, asked about the treatment of LGBT persons, if sent to Rwanda. Rwandan legal protection for LGBT rights is generally considered more progressive than that of neighbouring countries. The constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law or policy. As set out in paragraph 36 of the Government’s published policy statement, the constitution of Rwanda prohibits, at article 16, discrimination of any kind based on, among other things, ethnic origin, family or ancestry, clan, skin colour or race, sex, region, economic categories, religion or faith, opinion, fortune, cultural differences, language, economic status, and physical or mental disability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about unaccompanied children deemed to be adults being relocated to Rwanda. As the treaty sets out in Article 3(4), we will not seek to relocate unaccompanied individuals who are deemed to be under 18 to Rwanda. Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the UK to either be under 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under 18, shall be returned to the UK.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I am sure the Minister wants to be accurate. Is it not the case that he should recognise that homosexuality is illegal in Rwanda? The penal code criminalises same-sex sexual activity and individuals found guilty of engaging in such activity can face imprisonment. If that is right, is Rwanda really a safe country?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am afraid I am not familiar with that part. However, I have just read out the relevant clause in the Bill that deals with specific individual circumstances.

Any person who has been relocated to Rwanda but who subsequently receives a court or tribunal order from the UK that they must be treated as a minor, and are therefore a child who is in Rwanda without a parent or guardian, shall be provided with suitable accommodation and support that meets all the requirements for families with children set out within the treaty under paragraphs 1.1 and 1.2.2 of Part 1 of Annex A to the treaty until the child is returned to the UK.

With regard to concerns about the impacts of the policy on children treated as adults, I reassure noble Lords that there are safeguards in place to prevent that happening. The Home Office will treat an individual claiming to be a child as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two officers—one of at least chief immigration officer grade or equivalent—have separately determined that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are “significantly over 18 years” of age. If doubt remains about whether the claimant is an adult or a child, they are treated as a child for immigration purposes until a further assessment of their age by a local authority or the National Age Assessment Board. This will usually entail a careful, holistic age assessment, known as a Merton-compliant age assessment. Only once this assessment is complete could the individual then be treated as an adult if found to be so.

Many noble Lords have asked whether this Bill will comply with international law. Its provisions are consistent with our international law obligations. They retain rights challenge based on compelling evidence of serious and irreversible harm in specific individual circumstances, which will arise in narrow circumstances.

In response to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Howarth, I say that the Bill makes it clear that it is only for a Minister of the Crown to determine whether to comply with an interim measure of the Strasbourg court. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wolfson and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for their comments on this.

I will not get drawn into speculation about hypothetical scenarios, but the internationally binding treaty agreed between the UK and Rwanda contains binding commitments to ensure that the scheme is compliant with international law, including the ECHR. It also makes it clear that domestic courts may not have regard to the existence of any interim measures when considering any domestic application flowing from a decision to relocate a person to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty.

The Permanent Secretary for the Home Office has confirmed that if we receive a Rule 39, instead of deferring removal immediately—as the guidance currently indicates—officials will refer the Rule 39 to the Minister for an immediate decision. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, I say that the Cabinet Office has confirmed that it is the responsibility of civil servants under the Civil Service Code to deliver that decision. Consideration will be on a case-by-case basis depending on the facts. I also remind noble Lords that, as the Government have set out, both the UK and Rwanda are committed to making this partnership work.

As my noble friend Lord Murray set out, the Section 19(1)(b) statement is not specific to one provision; it applies to the Bill as a whole. A statement under Section 19(1)(b) makes it clear, in this instance, that the Home Secretary is not able to state now that the Bill’s provisions are more likely than not compatible with convention rights. There is nothing improper or unprecedented about pursuing Bills with a Section 19(1)(b) statement. It does not mean that the Bill is unlawful or that the Government will necessarily lose any legal challenges on human rights grounds. Parliament clearly intended Section 19(1)(b) to be used as it is included in the Human Rights Act 1998. It is an important measure to safeguard parliamentary sovereignty. Section 19(1)(b) statements have been used by Governments of all stripes before. For example, the Bill that became the Communications Act 2003 included a provision banning paid political advertising on TV. The use in this case recognises the novel and ambitious approach taken by this Bill, and the fact there is room for argument both ways. We are testing the limits but remain satisfied that this Bill is compatible with international law.

The Bill allows decision-makers and the courts to consider claims that Rwanda is unsafe for a person due to their particular individual circumstances, as we have discussed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London noted, the Bill does not disapply Section 4 on declaration of incompatibility, as this is the only substantive remedy against the conclusive presumption that Rwanda is safe. Retaining DOIs allows the courts to respond to changing circumstances and for this question to be brought back for parliamentary consideration. Of course, the final say on the matter will remain with Parliament and the Government because Section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act makes it clear that a declaration cannot affect the operation or validity of domestic legislation.

The effect of retaining this Section 4 is therefore beneficial in limiting domestic and international legal challenge and, crucially, does not undermine the operation of the Bill, and in doing so reaffirms parliamentary sovereignty. The court could not grant interim relief on the basis of a DOI having been granted because of the clear and unambiguous language of Section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, asked about the impact of the Bill in Northern Ireland. The Bill will apply fully in Northern Ireland in the same way as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom. This is explicit in the Bill and will always be the case, reflecting that immigration policy is a UK-wide matter. Nothing in the Windsor Framework, including Article 2, or the trade continuity agreement affects this. The Bill’s provisions do not diminish the rights and commitments we have made on the convention on human rights in the Belfast agreement. The Government remain fully committed to that agreement in all its parts. The Government are unshakable in their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and the Bill does not undermine this.

Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O'Loan (CB)
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Has the noble Lord actually read the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s advice on this matter? Has he taken cognisance of the number of measures he lists which are affected, and the fact it is an obligation under Article 2 of the Windsor Framework?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As I have just set out to the noble Baroness, the Government takes a different view to those opinions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the costs of this partnership. The spend on the MEDP with Rwanda so far is £240 million. Further funding will be provided to Rwanda once the partnership is operational. Costs and payments will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when this happens and the outcomes of individual cases. Spending will continue to be reported as part of annual Home Office reports and accounts in the usual way. Those focusing solely on the costs of this partnership are missing the point. It is incredibly frustrating for the British people and the taxpayer to spend billions to house illegal migrants in hotels. The daily cost of hotels for migrants is £8 million and the cost of the UK’s asylum system has roughly doubled in the last year; it now stands at nearly £4 billion. Criminal smuggling gangs are continuing to turn a profit using small boats. We must bring an end to this.

The Government recognise the extraordinary level of interest in this partnership, and we take our responsibility to be transparent seriously. However, that must be balanced with the nuances of managing our international relationships and respecting commercial sensitivities. We have said we will do what it takes to curb illegal migration and stop the boats. As we explore avenues of doing this, it would be against our direct interests to release all financial information. Costs and payments of course will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when this happens, and the outcomes of individual cases. Every individual’s needs are different, and funding will only be provided while an individual remains in Rwanda. Spending will be reported as part of the annual Home Office reports and accounts in the usual way.

I am getting to the end. Noble Lords have asked whether this Bill will, by disapplying international law, have a knock-on impact on wider international treaties and potentially worsen the UK’s relationship with the ECHR. We have a long and diverse history of freedoms in this country, and we are proud of the UK’s heritage and culture on human rights and democracy. But no country has all the answers to global human rights challenges. We continue to engage others about our ongoing journey on these issues—a point made by many noble Lords and emphasised by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary on 16 January.

I am again thankful for all the contributions made to today’s debate. It is absolutely essential that we tackle illegal migration, bring an end to such dangerous channel crossings and save lives. To the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I say that the integrity of our border also matters. I therefore urge noble Lords to support the Government in delivering the partnership with Rwanda, and our wider plans to take control of our borders and stop the boats. These are difficult choices to make with regards to tackling this issue. That is what this Government are doing, and we will continue to do so. The Bill will enable us to stop the boats, and I commend it to the House. I invite noble Lords to reject the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German.

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21:33

Division 1

Ayes: 84

Noes: 206

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Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Motion agreed.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to wind up on this group for His Majesty’s Opposition. The quality of the contributions has been truly outstanding. I start by saying to the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Howard, that whatever our views on the various amendments in this and the other groups, we are fundamentally and totally opposed to the whole Bill and have voted against it at all stages. That lays out our position fairly clearly.

It was helpful for the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to lay out as we start Committee that this debate is not about whether to stop illegal migration or reduce immigration, but how we do it. This Bill is not the way to do it, so he was right to remind us of that.

We support the thrust of Amendments 3 and 7, as did many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—I will come back to her lead amendment in a moment—because they go to the heart of the Bill. Clause 1(2)(b) replaces a judicial finding of fact with Parliament simply declaring that Rwanda is safe, irrespective of the Supreme Court judgment. I will not go into the legal niceties we have heard, but it seems remarkable to me that Parliament should make a judgment that the court has got it wrong and just change it without reference to the court.

There is a missing word in that paragraph which gives great credibility to many of the contributions made this afternoon:

“this Act gives effect to the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.

As many noble Lords and the committees that have reported on this Bill have said, this paragraph says that Rwanda is safe now, not that it will become safe. The Supreme Court said that that is the point of difference between them. It has not said that the Government cannot act in this way—I would have thought they would be pleased and say, “Look, the Supreme Court says that what we’re doing conforms with international law”—but that they cannot say that Rwanda is safe now. The Government are saying: “Don’t worry about that; we’ll just pass a law saying that it is”. That is the point of conflict, as it flies in the face of the Supreme Court, the International Agreements Committee and many others.

The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was remarkable in its honesty and openness. He said that, as a member of the Conservative Party for decades—I apologise if I get his wording wrong—he was disappointed by the Government coming forward with legislation such as this, which he felt flew in the face of the party’s traditions. He said that Margaret Thatcher herself would have refused it because it flies in the face of her belief that Governments have to act in accordance with the law, or the constitution would be at stake. Many of these amendments seek to reassert the principle that this country has always operated on—that this Parliament operates according to the law. Parliamentary sovereignty is paramount and Parliament can pass what it wants, but as part of that, under our unwritten constitution, there is a belief that it will always operate according to the law even while recognising its sovereign power.

We broadly support much of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s lead amendment. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Howard, my noble friend, in the spirit of Committee, said that if she has not got the amendment completely right, it might need to be changed. That is the whole point of Committee; she accepted that he might have a point and that making the UNHCR the sole body advising the Government or preventing them from acting might not be the best way forward.

Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, drew attention to a point in Amendments 1 and 2. This may be flowery language that Governments put at the front of Bills—I am sure that we did it in government and may well do it again when, I hope, we are in government in future—but Amendment 1 would add

“the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence”,

and Amendment 2 says:

“The second purpose is to ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law”.


That is the fundamental point. Any Bill we pass into law should be compliant with international law. That is why our country has such standing across the world. What on earth are we doing? The UNHCR has said that the Bill is not compliant with the refugee convention, and that is why Amendments 1 and 2 are so important. Do we not care that the UNHCR has said that? Is it of no consequence to us? Have we gone beyond caring? Are we not bothered? Are we saying it is simply an irrelevance? If that is so, I honestly cannot believe that that is the way we want our country to go.

What are we doing? Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and said, with respect to Putin and Ukraine, that we are not going to stand for someone driving a coach and horses through the international rules-based order. That is what the country has always stood for and what we are proud of. Therefore, we are going to continue that tradition. We are right to do so. Why are we taking action against the Houthis in the Red Sea? Last week, I heard the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, say that it was because are not going to allow a group of terrorists to hold the world’s trading system to ransom and break every single rule of the international rules-based order.

These are the rules we adhere to and conventions we have signed. As a sovereign Parliament, we took the decision that, in certain areas of international life, it is better to pool sovereignty and stand together; that is the way to overcome common problems, not to retreat into your own country. That is why the compliance with international law is important. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and others, seek to say—as a point of principle—that a Bill dealing with migration, refugees, asylum or whatever should comply with international law.

I am astonished and astounded and find it unbelievable that His Majesty’s Government have to be reminded that we want our Government to comply with international law. I would have thought that was a statement of the obvious. I would have thought it was something around which we could unite, no matter our party or faith. We could have stood together and said that is why we are proud of our country.

What are we going to say when we go to the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth, the EU—if we still have talks with it—NATO or any other part of the world where there is an international organisation? How on earth can we lecture those people about conforming to the international rules-based order when we are prepared to drive a coach and horses through it ourselves? That is why much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and many others have said in their amendments is so important. The Government may dismiss it, but they will not win the argument on this one.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The overriding purpose of the Bill is to ensure that Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country is accepted and interpreted by the courts to prevent legal challenges which seek to delay removals and prevent us from taking control of our borders.

Amendments 3 and 7, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, suggest that the legislation is replacing a judicial finding of fact. The Government respect the decision of the Supreme Court in its judgment. However, the judgment was based on information provided to the court on Rwanda up until summer 2022. Their Lordships recognised, explicitly and in terms, that those deficiencies could be addressed in future.

In response, the Home Secretary signed a new, internationally binding treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, which responds to and resolves the concerns raised by the court. Alongside the treaty, the Government have also introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which buttresses the treaty, and supports the relocation of a person to Rwanda under the Immigration Acts.

It is our view that Parliament and the Government are appropriately equipped to address the sensitive policy issues involved in this legislation and, ultimately, tackle the major global challenge of illegal migration.

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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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On that point, would my noble friend consider a domestic assessor—for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If it were to advise, would he accept that?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, one of the groups that we are coming on to looks at the organisations and committees that are set up under the treaty. We will return to that discussion about the provisions of the treaty in respect of what my noble friend has just asked. As I say, it would not be right for the delivery of our policy, which is key to our commitment to stop the boats, to be left solely dependent on this.

Amendments 11 and 12 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, seek to ensure that individuals relocated to Rwanda must have any asylum claim determined and be treated in accordance with the UK’s international obligations. This is unnecessary in view of the comprehensive arrangements that we have in place with the Government of Rwanda. It is important to remember that Rwanda is a country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It works already with the UNHCR and hosts more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them to rebuild their lives.

We will get on to this again in a later group, but I remind the Committee that the UNHCR has signed an agreement with the Government of Rwanda and the African Union to continue the operations of the emergency transit mechanism centre in Rwanda, which the EU financially supports, having recently announced a further €22 million support package for it. Indeed, as recently as late December, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the international agreements that Rwanda has signed. That is dealt with at paragraph 25 of the policy statement. I will read it for convenience:

“Rwanda is a signatory to key international agreements protecting the rights of refugees and those in need of international protection. It acceded to the Refugee Convention, as well as the 1967 Protocol, in 1980. In 2006 it acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness. Regionally, it is a signatory of the Organisation of African Unity Convention on Refugees in Africa and the 2012 Kampala Convention”.


Paragraph 26 goes on to say that:

“Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded in its domestic legal provisions. The Rwandan constitution ensures that international agreements Rwanda has ratified become domestic law in Rwanda. Article 28 of the constitution recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum in Rwanda”.


The presumption which appears to underpin this amendment is that Rwanda is not capable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership. I disagree. Rwandans, perhaps more than those in most countries, understand the importance of providing protection to those who need it. I remind the Committee that my noble friend Lady Verma spoke very powerfully on that subject at Second Reading.

The core of this Bill, and the Government’s priority, is to break the business model of the people smugglers. That will not happen if we undermine the central tenet of the Bill, which is the effect of these amendments, and a point that was well addressed by my noble friend Lord Howard. We are a parliamentary democracy, and that means that Parliament is sovereign. Parliament itself is truly accountable, and I therefore invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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Clause 1(2)(b) says that Rwanda is a safe country, so why is Clause 1(3) necessary?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Clause 1(3) is just a simple restatement of the various facts of the Bill.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord has rather disappointed me, because he declined totally to address any of the points that your Lordships’ House voted for a few weeks ago—in particular, the 10 criteria by which it would be possible to judge whether the Government’s statement that Rwanda was a safe place was actually true or not. Could he now stand up and deal with those 10 criteria? It would be quite interesting for the Committee to have his account of the Government’s view of those criteria and whether they have been met; if they have not, when they will be met; and what tests they will put them to.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, this is Committee, and I am speaking to the various amendments in this group. As I have just reminded my noble friend Lord Hailsham, we will get to another group which debates the clauses in the treaty—as regards the various committees and so on that are in place—later in the day.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I know it is very boring, but could the Minister respond to my question about the legal status and the effect of Clause 1? I am still not clear what attention we should pay to it, were we to be in very formal proceedings rather than debating the situation broadly. In other words, if there is a breach of Clause 1—I do not know whether it can be called a breach; if there is no compliance with Clause 1—then what, in formal legal terms?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, it is simply the introduction to the Bill, so I am not entirely sure I get the drift of the question of the noble Baroness.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, can he say whether he will be formally responding to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, especially before we reach Report?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have not yet had a chance to read the report, which I believe was published only today, but I will of course read it in due course and respond accordingly.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the Minister seems to rely on the emergency transit mechanism on which Rwanda works with the UNHCR. Can he confirm that this mechanism—which has a maximum capacity of 700—is a temporary processing point for asylum seekers from Libya, and that none of the 1,453 evacuated to Rwanda has actually opted to stay in the country?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I do not rely on that at all. As I tried to explain, a variety of aspects of the UNHCR’s work are included in our safety assessment—and that is just one of them.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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I apologise for interrupting, because I know that my noble friend the Minister wants to sit down for good. When he spoke to Clause 1(2)(b), was he speaking for Parliament or the Government?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As my noble and learned friend is aware, I speak for the Government.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Can the Minister indicate when the Government will respond to the report on the Bill by the Constitution Committee of this House?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not know; I will find out.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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And write to me with the answer.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord German, for opening. I acknowledge the spirit across the Committee of approaching this matter by looking to see what can be amended and not setting out to wreck the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said on the first group.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I would like to wreck the Bill—just so the Minister knows.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I accept that and I did hear the noble Baroness make that point from the Benches opposite.

Since summer 2022, when judicial review proceedings in relation to the migration and economic development partnership began, the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda have worked to refine and improve that partnership. This has strengthened not only the operational readiness of Rwanda to receive and support migrants relocated under the partnership but the legal footing of the agreement and the commitments both sides undertake to ensure that national and international obligations and standards are met, having scrutinised closely and carefully all the circumstances of the country and information from appropriate sources.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region. It has also been recognised internationally for its general safety and stability, strong government, low corruption and gender equality. I quote from what the Kigali-based comprehensive refugee response officer, Nayana Bose, of the UNHCR said in December 2021—mark the date:

“Rwanda has done an excellent job integrating refugees in the national education system, including urban refugees in the national community-based health insurance plan, providing them with national ID cards and offering them livelihood opportunities”.


As the Committee is aware, the Bill is underpinned by the treaty, Article 10 of which in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein

“shall be met in respect of all Relocated Individuals, regardless of their nationality, and without discrimination”.

Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of measures within the treaty will be expedited. The treaty will follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. I note that amendments tabled by noble Lords on this topic will be debated in the group to follow.

Amendment 17 would also oblige the Secretary of State to consider Rwanda safe only if it was deemed so for every descriptor of person as set out in Section 7(3) of the Illegal Migration Act. In relocating individuals to Rwanda, decision-makers will make a case-by-case decision about whether there is compelling evidence that the particular circumstances of each case would mean an individual would be at risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be relocated to Rwanda. This means that each person’s circumstances are considered before relocation. We therefore consider the amendment unnecessary.

Amendments 24 and 27 relate to the roles of courts and tribunals. It is important that we recognise that these are considered decision-makers in relation to relocating individuals to Rwanda, and they may have a say in it.

Amendment 27 in particular would place an obligation on courts and tribunals to consider any claim that Rwanda may breach its international obligations by removing an individual to a country that was unsafe for them; that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of their asylum claim; and that Rwanda will not act in accordance with the terms of the treaty. This obligation is unnecessary. Rwanda is as committed to this partnership as we are. We have worked closely together to build this partnership and have trust that the commitments in the treaty will be upheld. That is why we have introduced the Bill, which reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty, allowing Parliament to confirm the status of the Republic of Rwanda as a safe third country.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—I speak to his later contribution, rather than when he was assisting the noble Lord, Lord German, with legal analysis—posed the question of whether judicial review might be applicable. My noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne took up that point as well. On that aspect, I refer noble Lords to the terms of Article 22 of the treaty, which provides:

“In the event of a dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity, termination, interpretation or implementation, the Parties shall refer the dispute to the Joint Committee which shall meet within 14 … Working Days to discuss and seek resolution to the dispute by consultation”.


Therefore, the process by which matters will be addressed, if there is some shock to the operation of the system once it is operational, is set out in the terms of the treaty and operates on the level between the two countries.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble and learned Lord for answering the question, but I am not sure that answers the point. Suppose the position were that the UK said, “You haven’t implemented it properly”; the effect of this Act would be nevertheless that a Minister and every single deciding body would have to decide that Rwanda was a safe country. I am not quite sure how Article 22 responds to the suggestion that I think the noble Lord, Lord German, makes in his amendment that judicial review should be available—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, said, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State as to whether it was a safe country. Could the noble and learned Lord address that suggestion?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in relation to the operation of the treaty during its currency, we should bear in mind that a monitoring committee is in place, which examines these things on a going-forward basis, keeps them under supervision and reports back.

Annexe B of the treaty also sets out the claims process for relocated individuals and how they will be treated. It sets out clearly that members of the first instance body, who will make decisions on asylum and humanitarian protection claims, shall make such decisions

“impartially, solely on the basis of evidence before them and by reference to the provisions and principles of the Refugee Convention and humanitarian protection law”.

In preparation for the potential relocation of individuals, officials in the United Kingdom have worked together with Rwandan officials to develop and commence operational training for Rwandan asylum decision-makers. Most recently, Home Office technical experts, in collaboration with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development, delivered a training course aimed at asylum decision-makers in Rwanda.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I wonder if the Minister might tell us how long the course was, how many people were training and where they were from.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think the noble Lord will be especially surprised to hear that I do not have those facts to hand, but I will undertake on behalf of the relevant department to communicate with him in writing on that topic.

The course focused on applying refugee law in asylum interviews and decision making—

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UN has reported on the treaty and the deficiencies that the Supreme Court referred to. In January, it noted in paragraph 20 of its report that training, based on its historical review of what is required in such circumstances, is normally of limited use. Over and above the training, what else has been put in place for those decision-makers to ensure that they fully abide by and understand their obligations, not just within Rwandan law but international agreements?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as I said when I was responding to a point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the presence of British officials and foreign judges in Rwanda, looking at these matters and collaborating to resolve them, will clearly inculcate an atmosphere and a spirit of proper observance.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister speaks in the future tense—that the presence of British judges and the training “will” have that effect. I guess he is right; it may very well have that effect. But the point is that we are asked to declare Rwanda safe now. I hope the Minister is going to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about timing: when do we expect Rwanda to produce the new asylum law? When do we expect the judges to be appointed? When do we expect the system that is to be devised to ensure that there is no refoulement? When will that system be created? When are the Government going to see it? When will the House see it? If we are asked to say that Rwanda is safe, then we have already voted that we cannot ratify the treaty until the measures set out in Amendment 84, which were in the International Agreements Committee report, have come into effect. It is all very well the Minister speaking in the future tense; he has to tell us now when things are going to happen.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, can I add to the Minister’s list the number of judges who have agreed to go to Rwanda and work there, and indeed the number of officials, and for how long?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a matter of working towards having the safeguards in place. We have received assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures in the treaty will be expedited. The point is that we are working with them to accomplish that end. We have already developed and commenced operational training—

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister. That is the closest we have got to an answer: “working towards”. Can we pursue that a wee bit more? If the Rwandan Government are “working towards” putting safeguards in place, that means they are not currently in place. Is that correct?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just before the noble Lord sits down—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Just before the noble Lord stands up or resumes his position, I have specific information on the point he raised earlier on information available electronically. I am told that the page on the GOV.UK site to which he was referring was in fact withdrawn on 11 September 2023 and has been superseded by one dated 11 January 2024.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful. I clicked on it half an hour ago. Maybe they can do some clicking in the Box, because the information the Minister has just provided is false. He needs to correct the record, but he can do it in writing to me if he so wishes.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think a discussion on this point would be taking up too much of the Committee’s time.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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As the Minister confirmed to me, by definition, the safeguards that would make Rwanda safe are not in place, because the Rwandan Government are “working towards” having them in place. Why then are we asked to determine that Rwanda is currently safe when the Minister has said it is not?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, taking the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, together with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I think that brings us to considering where we are with the decision of the Supreme Court, and how that sits with what we, as a Government, are inviting the House to do at this stage.

The point is—and it is one which has been anticipated by noble Lords contributing on this and the previous group—that the factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision has changed. The factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision was frozen in time, as it were, by the court of first instance. Since then, considerable development has taken place. The facts have changed; we are entitled to move forward. I also do not consider that that there is anything—

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way. In January, the UN gave an assessment of where the Rwandan immigration system is. Paragraph 18 of that report states:

“As of January 2024, UNHCR has not observed changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns set out in its 2022 analysis and in the detailed evidence presented to the Supreme Court”.


What the UNHCR is saying is that, as of January this year, it has seen no evidence that the issues that the Supreme Court had in its evidence have been addressed to make Rwanda a safe country.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, we disagree with the views of the UNHCR on that point. As noble Lords were reminded at an earlier stage, the UNHCR is not the sovereign Parliament of this country.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way? Just a moment ago, he said that Rwanda was “working towards”—that is not the same as “is”. I hate to say it, but it would appear that he is contradicting himself.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I do not think that that is the case. I think that by saying that Rwanda is continuing to work on a process is to say that it is working on making things safer—not that they are not safe already.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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More than a few weeks ago, I think, but what we have is an internationally binding treaty between two sovereign states. That—if the noble and learned Lord will bear with me—is of the utmost significance in considering such matters.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Am I right in saying that the legally binding commitment commits Rwanda to do the things, particularly in relation to refoulement, which it had already promised—although not in an agreement—to do? Am I right in saying that the very judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said an hour ago the Government respect, would take considerable time to take effect because of cultural understanding and the need for very substantial change? I am looking for something other than simply signing an agreement to do with that which it had already promised to do, which the Supreme Court said it was not in a practical position to deliver. Will the Minister tell the Committee what has happened that gives one confidence that that which the Supreme Court says will take time will in fact be ready in an instant?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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It is not a matter of being ready in an instant. The work is being undertaken. The point is that we have a specific treaty commitment not to refoul. As the noble and learned Lord knows, but just to remind the Committee, that is not to send people from Rwanda anywhere other than back to the United Kingdom; and, specifically, not to send them to places where they might be subject to torture or mistreatment; and, further, not to send them back to the countries from which they emerged if those countries are deemed dangerous.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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Have we bought through financial consideration special treatment for the people we send for asylum, as distinct from anyone else being considered for asylum; or is the asylum system as a whole being reformed? If we are buying them business class, as distinct from sitting at the back of the bus, does that really conform to our high standards of the rule of law and the protection of human rights? Or are we just buying something a bit special for the folk we are intending to put on a plane?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the Government enter into diplomatic arrangements such as treaties with other countries on behalf of the Government, the people and the country of the United Kingdom. Decisions on how to approach handling immigration or asylum claims elsewhere are surely matters for other countries. We would not trespass upon their independence and privileges in order to negotiate on behalf of them with a separate sovereign country.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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Is their whole system to be reformed in order that we can be confident of the quality of decision-making?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think the noble Baroness has my answer, but the point is this: we do not impose or seek to impose upon anyone; nor, when the noble Baroness talks about buying privileged status, would I go along with that. What I am talking about and what the Government are seeking to enact in this measure is a commitment with a forward-looking, democratic country which is signatory to the same treaties and international obligations as we are.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is about to stand up to intervene. I am aware she has not been here for the whole of this debate.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to intervene again, but I have been here for the whole debate. May I take the Committee back to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, quoting from the UNHCR? The Minister said that we do not agree with the UNHCR, but it points out that its conclusions are based on

“UNHCR’s own extensive experience in capacity development of national asylum systems”.

Is the Minister saying that this Government have more experience than the UNHCR of the capacity of countries to change? It makes it very clear that training is not enough and that there needs to be systemic change and a change of culture.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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As I say, this is now a matter of a treaty commitment by that country. We surely accept the possibility that countries have changed. We know the trauma Rwanda has gone through in the comparatively recent past, and we support and acknowledge the work it is attempting to do as a forward-looking African country, looking to provide solutions as opposed to exporting problems.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

These questions have ranged far and wide, but was not the one issue, as I understand it, on which the Supreme Court came to its decision the risk of refoulement? That is covered in the treaty, and anybody would be able to see and know whether anyone was refouled in breach of international law and the concern expressed by the Supreme Court.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. The matter is entirely patent on the Supreme Court’s decision. It is about refoulement. We now have a treaty commitment preventing that happening.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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I have a straightforward and simpler question for the Minister. Paragraph 20 of the policy statement states:

“in order to implement the treaty, the GoR will pass a Rwandan asylum law in the coming months”.

When will that law be produced? Has it already been passed? If not, when will it be passed? If it is going to be passed after we pass this Bill, obviously, the treaty cannot be enabled.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I do not have information specific to the questions the noble Lord raises.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened very carefully to this debate. I was particularly interested in the comments from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer about training people in Rwanda. I think he said there were two weeks of training. For any treaty to work, it must be between countries that are equal. My impression is that we are telling the Rwandan Government and people what to do, putting pens in their hands and making them sign without properly training them and giving them the experience to act equally to what we are looking to do ourselves. I may be wrong—perhaps the Minister can put me right.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think the noble Lord overstates the matter. Advice and assistance are being provided to assist a country to shape its laws and culture in a way which is consistent with ours. The work Rwanda has undertaken is substantial. Work has been done in response to the decision of the Supreme Court, albeit, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne pointed out, that that decision ultimately related to refoulement, which is expressly covered in the treaty.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is correct when he says that the fundamental reason why the Supreme Court said no to this was the risk of refoulment. But it said that the risk of refoulement was caused by Rwanda’s asylum system, which was totally defective across the board. Rwanda could not prevent refoulement because its system was so bad. The judgment refers to

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

That is what the Supreme Court identified as being required. So it is both accurate but rather misleading to say it was only refoulement. There was the risk of refoulement because of the failures. Would that be the Government’s understanding of the position?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

People cannot be refouled to a different country under this treaty. They can be sent back to the United Kingdom; that is as far as it goes.

Lord McDonald of Salford Portrait Lord McDonald of Salford (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister rests a great deal on a signature on a treaty with a country that—with the current Government—has in the last decade refouled over 4,000 refugees sent by Israel to Rwanda. That was the current Government of Rwanda behaving badly with refoulement. Why is the Minister so confident that the same Government are so fundamentally different and reformed?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Well, my Lords, the treaty is governed by our laws, by the Government of Rwanda and by international law. For a former diplomat, the noble Lord seems to have very little confidence in the ability of treaties to regulate the conduct of Governments between one another.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For the Minister to be persuasive in response to that question, he would not have said that they are working towards putting safeguards in place—safeguards which have to be in place, in respect of the point about refoulement made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The Minister said that they were working towards putting safeguards in place. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said no relocation would take place before these safeguards were in place. So can the Minister at the Dispatch Box reconfirm that position: that no individual will be relocated before the safeguards—including the appeals mechanism, the training and the capacity-building—are in place? And when will the date be for when relocations of individuals can happen? I ask because we will be informed in Parliament that all of those safeguards are in place; not that they will be in place or are being worked towards, but that they are in place.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative. On the second part, I cannot give a date.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I understand it, my noble and learned friend is effectively saying that, because the treaty is going to be in place, Rwanda can be presumed to comply with its obligations. However, Clause 1(4) of this Bill says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.


“International law” is very widely defined in subsection (6). If that is true of this country, is it not also true of Rwanda, and why should we necessarily believe in its commitments to the treaty?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Another noble Lord is perhaps too ready to disparage the activities and views of the Rwandan Government. As to the first point, paragraph 54 of the Constitution Committee’s report, which was published recently and quoted by the noble Lord, Lord German, towards the beginning of this debate, says:

“It is the case that United Kingdom Parliament is sovereign, and therefore may enact legislation which breaches international law. It is also true that the validity of an Act of Parliament, in domestic law, is not affected by international law. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is still subject to the provisions of international law”.


I do not disagree with anything that the Constitution Committee says in that document. The United Kingdom and this Government take their international commitments extremely seriously, but this measure, this treaty and this Bill are drawn up in response to a considerable problem. People are dying, and a huge amount of money is being spent by the United Kingdom in accommodating people, many of whom have no business being here in the first place. This Bill is an attempt to drive the matter forward.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said when winding up for the Opposition Front Bench at Second Reading, a number of things are being done already. He endorsed them on behalf of his party. He spoke about the directions against criminal groups to try to break their business model. He spoke about the enhanced levels of co-operation with our partners on the continent of Europe. Patently, however, while this is a complex and multilayered problem, these things are not working of themselves and the Government have taken a view that we must take further measures to try to stop the boats.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is quite right that the crux of the Supreme Court judgment is the question of refoulement. Ex-diplomats tend to take treaties very seriously. They read Article 10.3 of the treaty with Rwanda, which says:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring”


that refoulement does not occur. I repeat:

“The parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system”.


That is the crux of it. Where is that system? Can we see it? If we could see that system, it might help us to determine whether Rwanda is safe.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord is aware that, as I explained a moment ago, the provisions of the treaty will send people to the United Kingdom only. They will not and cannot be refouled under the treaty and the arrangements we have with Rwanda.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Why then does the second sentence of Article 10.3 exist? Why is there? Why does it say:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation”


which the Minister refers to “does not occur”?

Why do we need a system? If the Minister is completely confident, why have this Government signed a treaty that has a fallback to say what should happen if refoulement does occur? When will we see that system to ensure the fallback—the safety net? When are we going to see that? It is not good enough for the Minister to say that refoulement cannot happen because we have signed a treaty. The Government have also signed a treaty containing a provision for what happens if refoulement nevertheless occurs.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is entirely prudent and appropriate to anticipate contingencies in the terms of a document such as a treaty.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble and learned Lord is taking a much tighter and more defensive position than the Government themselves are taking. They accept the proposition of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. They do not say that Article 10 is enough on its own. They say the following:

“The Supreme Court concluded that changes needed to be made to Rwanda’s asylum procedures in order to ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement”.


They accept the proposition. That is paragraph 76 of the Government’s own statement. So tell us what changes and where we have got to. It is not enough—and the Government accept that it is not enough—just to rely on Article 10.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have adverted at some length already to the Monitoring Committee that is in place and to the work currently under way by judicial and bureaucratic civil servant staff assisting the Rwandans in working through these matters.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am feeling slightly confused at this point. Am I correct in saying that the Government accept that, at present, Rwanda has not fully adhered to the commitments that it has given and that it follows that, by reference to those tests, it would be unsafe? As I understand it, even if the Government did nothing, if this Bill goes on the statute book as currently drafted, no changes will take place in the wider world and, suddenly, Rwanda becomes a safe country. Is that the reality of what we are looking at?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the intention of the Bill is to provide that Rwanda is a safe country. As I have explained to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in discussing Article 22 of the treaty, in the event of some disturbance to that situation the matter will be approached on a Government-to-Government basis by the convening of the relevant committee within 14 days.

Returning to a text which was prepared earlier for me, I ask the Committee to bear in mind that Article 10 of the treaty sets out particular assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein shall be met in respect of all relocated individuals, regardless of their nationality and without discrimination. Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. Furthermore, Article 10(3) in the treaty sets out clearly that the only place to which Rwanda can remove individuals—we have covered this ad longam—is the United Kingdom, which ensures that there is no risk of refoulement.

For noble Lords who remain concerned as to whether the Rwandan Government will abide by the treaty, the independent monitoring committee will be in place to ensure that obligations in the treaty are adhered to. For an initial period of at least three months, there will be enhanced monitoring; that shall take place daily to ensure rapid identification of, and response to, any shortcomings. I refer the Committee in that regard to Article 15(7) of the treaty. This enhanced phase will ensure that monitoring and reporting take place in real time. Individuals who are relocated to Rwanda will be able to raise any issues of concern, should they arise, with the committee. It should also be remembered, as I have said on a number of occasions, that this is a legally binding treaty that will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of this into consideration, I submit that these amendments are unnecessary. Further, they undermine the objective of the Bill, unnecessarily delaying, potentially, the relocation of individuals to Rwanda. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if the Committee will forgive me, slid into an earlier part of the Minister’s response was a reference to some glowing statements about the progress within Rwanda on gender equality. Those statements should not be allowed to be left standing, because although we have been very much focused in this debate on refoulement, we are assuming that if refugees—in particular, women refugees—are given status in Rwanda they will remain and have to live in Rwanda. On those glowing statements made about gender equality there, yes, it is well known that Rwanda has made considerable progress in terms of parliamentary representation and ministerial representation—indeed, more progress than our own Parliament has.

None the less, is the Minister aware that in Rwanda, 83% of women work in the informal sector or are in low-wage occupations, earning on average 60% of men’s incomes? Its National Gender Statistics Report 2021 revealed that physical violence affected 36.7% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Rwanda. Will the Minister acknowledge, with regard to his earlier remarks, that making claims about gender equality progress in Rwanda needs to be done with caution?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to look at such matters with caution. In relation to the figures which she cites, the statistics concerning domestic violence would be primarily, one presumes, a matter for Rwandan society itself.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry: those were not domestic figures but general violence against women and girls figures.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very aware of the noble Baroness’s campaigning work on the topic, and she will be aware that the bulk of violence visited upon women criminally is within the domestic setting.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that, what is the basis for the Minister’s assertion about gender equality, which was also made in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to Peers? Can he give us some references, since the noble Baroness has?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect to the important point which the noble Baroness tables, I have a feeling that this matter is dealt with in a later group. I do not have the figures to hand at the moment. If we do not touch upon that in a later group, with which I may not be concerned—I have not had a look at that, as a result of the division of labour on these Benches—then on the point which the noble Baroness makes, which reflects the original question, I will make sure that those figures are either brought out in the scope of the debate or are the subject of correspondence.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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To be helpful, as the Minister finds his place, what is clearly becoming a bone of contention between the Government Front Bench and the Committee is the progress that has been made. To help us before we get to Report, can the Minister write to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate to show the significant progress—that is the phrase he used—that Rwanda has made to deal with the concerns of the Supreme Court? We would then have some evidence before we get to Report to see the exact content of those significant reforms.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am happy to take up the noble Lord’s suggestion. We will correspond with him and other noble Lords who have participated in this debate.

I touched on the role of the independent monitoring committee. We have heard about the presence of persons from outwith Rwanda offering their expertise and skills, bolstering the system that will rule in these situations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a point in relation to the situation in Rwanda. Of course, the Committee ought to be reminded that it is not the intention of the Government that this be a means of sending people to Rwanda; our intention is that people who want to come to Britain will be deterred from following illegal routes travelling to Britain. We intend to use Rwanda as a deterrent for those people. Rwanda itself is safe. The point is that the people who want to travel to Britain will be deterred from travelling if they know that they will be taken instead to Rwanda. This is expressed in a legally binding treaty, which will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of what has been said, including the extensive extemporary interventions from Members on all sides, I submit to the Committee that these amendments are unnecessary. They undermine the Bill’s objective. They unnecessarily delay matters in relation to the relocation of individuals and the deterrent effect of which I spoke. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on keeping his cool during this debate, because he has had a lot of information requests thrust at him.

If you were to separate this group of amendments into two halves, the first is about the process by which Parliament deals with the results of the Bill and how it should do it, looking at normal parliamentary practice. That is what was at the heart of this group; we should do it in a proper and appropriate manner. When the Government have determined that it is safe, according to the conditions laid down for them by this House, they would put an order before this House and the Commons, which would be voted on and could have a judicial end if necessary. That was the purpose of this group of amendments.

The second half of the group is much more about what we know in order to make that decision about whether Rwanda is safe. We have heard, “Rwanda is safe, but we’re going to make it safer”. We have heard “It will be expedited”, “We are working towards the treaty” and “We are”—as written down—“seeking assurances and commitments”. All those are in the future tense. The House is being asked to change our mind about what it has already determined, and we need to have the evidence to make that determination. On the most fundamental, simple question—whether, to implement the treaty, the Government of Rwanda will pass a new Rwandan asylum law—we do not know the answer, let alone having answers to all the other questions raised. We do not know where we will be by the time we get to Report.

On the issue of process, bearing in mind the idea of rolling sunset clauses—we need to look a judicial review and everything else—all those matters are important, but they do not deal with what happens before the Rwanda treaty is enacted; they deal with afterwards. I am interested in what happens both before and after, to find solutions which meet the needs of this Committee.

In a sense, I am in a quandary. If you were to ask me after listening to this debate to make a decision on whether Rwanda is safe, the answer would be, “I don’t know and I’ll come back later—but please tell me when I should come back”. As far as I can see, the Committee does not know when that will be. We have had no evidence, dates or timings, or rollout of information to help us make that decision. I hope that we will see it. If we do not, we certainly will be back. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, my Amendments 64 and 65 seek to address the problem that all noble Lords have been seeking to address: Clause 1(2)(b), which basically says that Rwanda is a safe country. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was quite right, when moving his Amendment 6, to point out that the word “is” is absolutely fundamental to the meaning of the Bill and is why there is such a debate among your Lordships.

The Government are stating that Rwanda is safe, but all the evidence points to it perhaps becoming safe in the future or, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, “working towards” being safe. That is not the same as “is” safe, which is the fundamental dilemma. I say to the Government that if something is completely and utterly wrong—such as the use of the present tense when it should be a future tense—it does not matter what you do, you simply cannot answer the questions that are being put. Two and two has to make four, yet the Government are arguing that two and two is three. It is ridiculous, it is nonsense, and it will not stand up.

I do not mind if my Amendments 64 and 65 are not legally watertight. I accept that. I am not sure the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is the best amendment, though I am sure it will be legally watertight. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has proposed an independent reviewer. There can be a debate between us as to which is the best option, and there may be other, better options. I would prefer that the whole Bill was opposed and defeated, but we have said we are not going to block or delay it. I know it is disappointing to some, but that is the reality of where we are.

What we are seeking to do, therefore, is to work with others to mitigate the impact and improve the Bill. However, the Government’s response so far has been to say that all the criticisms are not correct and Rwanda is safe because we are legislating to say it is; the rest of the debate and the very reasonable points that are being put forward are dismissed. I am sure when the Minister replies, he will—unless I am mistaken —have a brief which says that the monitoring committee has established in Article 15 of the treaty and there is no need for any of this to be included.

That way lies a legislative impasse. We are asking the Government to listen to what is being put forward. The real question of the debate is not whether Amendment 6, 16 or 64 is better, but what are the Government going to do in response to the legitimate criticisms being made? We want some sort of mechanism to understand how the Government are going to implement the treaty and ensure that implementation is successful. What happens if it is not? What happens if the obligations are put forward but not achieved?

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked: if Clause 1(2)(b) is right, why do you need Clause 1(3)? The Minister could not answer her question because Clause 1(3) sets out the future obligations on Rwanda, whereas Clause 1(2)(b) says that there is no need for those obligations because it is already safe. The Bill contradicts itself, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out. However, all the Government say is that we are wrong and they are right and so they are going to carry on. That is no way to legislate. The Government want their Rwanda Bill, so they are going to get their Rwanda Bill. The least they can do, however, is listen to what people are saying and make the Bill make sense and actually do what it says it will.

As for my Amendment 64, I am perfectly willing to look and see whether other amendments are better or whether there is a better way of doing this. The real question is: are the Government simply going to dig in and refuse any amendment or appeal to them to make the Bill more logical than it currently is? I say to the Minister that we will have to come back to this on Report. It is clearly important for us, in deciding how we do that, to hear what the Government have to say.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for speaking in this group, and in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his introduction.

The UK and Rwanda entered into the migration and economic development partnership with a commitment to develop new ways of managing flows of irregular migration by promoting durable solutions, and so breaking the existing incentives that make people embark on dangerous journeys to the UK. The UK and the Government of Rwanda have a shared vision regarding the necessity for the global community to enhance international protection for asylum seekers and refugees, underlining the importance of effective and operational systems that provide protection to those most in need.

This partnership is part of a suite of measures to tackle illegal migration and builds on wider collaboration with Rwanda on many shared issues. As I have set out previously, we have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures within the treaty will be expedited. The treaty itself will follow the usual process with regards to scrutiny and ratification. I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich that I am afraid I cannot improve on that, and I will continue to defer to the Home Secretary.

I would like to provide reassurance to noble Lords that the treaty enhances the role of the previously established independent monitoring committee, which will ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice and will be able to take steps to address any concerns at an early stage. Therefore, the Government argue that the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, are not necessary, although I of course take his points about words. As the noble and learned Lord said, the Bill reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty to people relocated to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty. It addresses the point made by the Supreme Court that Rwanda’s systems could be strengthened, on the basis of the facts before the Supreme Court at the time.

Amendment 14 in particular would impose a requirement for the joint committee for the migration and economic development partnership to provide a declaration to the Secretary of State confirming that the mechanisms specified in Article 2 of the treaty have been implemented. Without such a declaration, the effect of the amendment would be that the treaty could not be regarded as fully implemented. This is unnecessary. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures within the treaty will be expedited.

I turn to Amendments 15, 16, 77, 83 and 88 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and Amendments 64 and 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. The monitoring committee is independent of both the UK and Rwandan Governments. It was established under the memorandum of understanding that originally underpinned the partnership. The treaty enhances the monitoring committee’s role. Article 15 of the treaty provides that the UK and Rwanda must establish and maintain a monitoring committee for the duration of the term of the agreement. This means that both parties are obliged to ensure that the monitoring committee continues in operation for the life of the agreement, and this obligation is binding in international law.

The Government have already established robust reporting mechanisms. The monitoring committee’s terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan are available publicly on GOV.UK. They set out that, during the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee, which is made up of both UK and Rwandan officials—as set out in Article 15(4)(b)—in accordance with an agreed action plan, which will include weekly and bi-weekly reporting as required.

It would be helpful to go into more detail on this. The treaty includes enhanced provisions to provide real-time independent scrutiny of Rwanda’s asylum procedures, aimed at preventing the risk of mistreatment contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR before it has the chance to occur. This addresses the findings in the Supreme Court proceedings that under the previous arrangements, as set out in the memorandum of understanding, the work of the monitoring committee would necessarily be retrospective.

In addition, the new provision of the monitoring committee’s own complaints system will allow relocated individuals and their legal adviser to make direct and confidential complaints regarding any alleged failure to comply with the obligations in the agreement. That enhanced phase will ensure that monitoring and reporting take place in real time, so that the monitoring committee can rapidly identify, address and respond to any shortcomings or failures to comply with the obligations in the agreement, identify areas for improvement, or urgently escalate issues prior to any shortcomings or breaches placing a relocated individual at risk of real harm. That will include reporting to the joint committee co-chairs within 24 hours in emergency or urgent situations.

As per Article 15(4)(c) of the treaty, the monitoring committee will make any recommendations to the joint committee that it sees fit. The monitoring committee will otherwise produce a formal written report for the joint committee on a quarterly basis over the first two years of the partnership, setting out its findings and making any recommendations. Following notification to the joint committee, the monitoring committee may publish reports on its findings as it sees fit. At least once a year, it will produce a summary report for publication. We consequently consider these arrangements, which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law, to be sufficient to ensure continued compliance with all the terms of the treaty.

Finally, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his Amendments 8 and 72. Clause 1 sets out the obligations to which the Government of Rwanda have committed under the new treaty. The proposal in these amendments does not reflect the arrangements under the treaty. Requiring persons whose claims are successful in Rwanda to be returned to the UK would be against the spirit and intention of the treaty and the partnership. Those relocated to Rwanda are not intended to be returned to the UK, except in very limited circumstances.

It is the Government of Rwanda who will grant refugee status to those relocated to Rwanda through the treaty, which will underpin the migration and economic development partnership, not the UK Government. The grant of refugee status in Rwanda does not confer on that person any rights in the UK, as would be the case for any other person granted refugee status in Rwanda who had not been relocated from the UK. Anyone who wishes to come to the UK in future would have to apply through legal routes—through a work or family route. However, there would be no guarantee that they would be accepted.

As my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth noted, relocating asylum seekers to a safe third country to process their claim is compliant with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, as confirmed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court did not disturb that finding.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister will answer two very simple questions. First, where else in the world have people been offshored but actually offloaded, as opposed to having the process completed and their refugee status acknowledged in the country they have reached? Secondly, what happens if people do not claim asylum in Rwanda?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Under the terms of the Bill, a person will be relocated if they have made a protection claim—that is, an asylum claim—in the UK. But, to be clear, we can also remove those who do not. On the other point, we have heard a very lively debate on other examples from around the world; I am afraid that I am not an expert on those examples, so I am not able to opine further.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, I was living in hope that the Minister would respond to my comments. On an earlier group he declined to answer my questions about the compatibility of what is being proposed by the Government with the criteria set out by this House some weeks ago, with a majority of 43, as being necessary to have been operationalised and in effect before Rwanda could be considered a safe place. Will he now take the opportunity to work his way through those 10 points? I am of infinite patience, but he said that he would do so on a later group. Can he now do so, please?

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid that I will not at this precise moment, but I again defer to the Home Secretary, who made his views very clear on operationalising the Bill.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton set out earlier in the debate, Rwanda has a strong record of welcoming asylum seekers and looking after refugees, and it has also been internationally recognised for its general safety and stability. Those relocated to Rwanda will be given safety and extensive support, as detailed in the treaty. I am grateful to the officials in the Government of Rwanda for all their efforts, particularly for the provisions for real-time and comprehensive monitoring of the end-to-end relocation and asylum process for individuals relocated under the partnership. I hope that I have at least been able to go some way to responding to the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and that, on that basis, he is content not to press them.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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We have. The noble Baroness may disagree with us, but we have put forward a number of proposals involving tougher action to tackle criminal gangs, including more co-operation with our European partners—particularly France—and tackling the problem at source. That would be done through the re-establishment of the aid budget, which the noble Baroness’s party cut; however, I do not want to get party political about this. Those are the sorts of things we have suggested. The noble Lord shakes his head, but that does not mean that we do not have a plan—simply that he and the noble Baroness disagree with it. That is the nature of political debate. In supporting the amendments from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, we are saying that undermining international law is not the way to tackle a problem that we all agree needs to be sorted.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which has been a far-ranging one given the nature of the amendments. Clause 1(4)(a) and (b) states that it is recognised

“that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign”

and that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.

That is a statement in conventional terms of constitutional reality. My noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth expressed it with his characteristic clarity and concision. We have heard nothing in this debate—not from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, not from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, not from the noble Lord, Lord German, on the Liberal Democrat Benches—to disturb that reality.

I will take matters out of the order in which they were presented, to deal with them conveniently. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, replying a moment ago from the Opposition Front Bench, asked for a word about the status of the instruments enumerated in Clause 1(6). Following on from what I said, it is not the case that the Bill jettisons those commitments. It says—as my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth said—that this provision exemplifies what is meant by international law. When it lists these provisions, it does so for the purpose of stating what is, again, the constitutional reality—that the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law. That includes those provisions. That is and always has been the case. I appreciate that not all Members of the Committee think that it should be the case. We have heard cogent submissions from Members of the Committee to that effect. However, the point is that it is the case until such time as Parliament decides otherwise.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I shall be brief. Why did the Minister put that on the face of the Bill, when all the lawyers in the Committee agree that, as a matter of domestic law, unless a treaty is incorporated directly, it is not justiciable in the UK courts? None the less, as a matter of international law, our word is binding. My noble friend Lord Coaker made it very clear why it is so important in this dangerous world that our word should be binding. If this is just a statement of domestic law, why was there the need to put it in the Bill? Is it because the Minister wants to show a bit of ankle to his friends who are pushing even further to the right with their amendment? What on earth are the Government trying to signal with this kind of statement in primary legislation?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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There are a number of points that I could address there. As for the matter of me as a Minister showing ankle—the noble Baroness of course speaks metaphorically—I found it as difficult to comprehend as I found the references to a “Braverman wing” of the Conservative Party.

I go back to the submission of the noble Baroness earlier on. International law, as she is well aware, operates on the international plane, not on the domestic plane. There could be no greater restraint on state action than a treaty, and that is what the Government propose to deliver. She gave a submission earlier about the implications for Ministers and indeed for civil servants. To reassure her, I say that this does not bear on the actions of civil servants fulfilling their duties to assist the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, referred to Section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act. He was, I think, disparaging about the use of that provision, as opposed to Section 19(1)(a), which more familiarly is a statement given by the promoter of a Bill that, in his or her view, it is lawful. Of course, there is nothing unusual about the use of Section 19(1)(b) in these circumstances; it is entirely appropriate, which is why it appears in the Bill. It was used, for example, by the last Labour Government in, I think, the Communications Act 2003—I might be corrected on that, but it has been used by Labour when in government in those circumstances.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Can the Minister say how many times it has been used in total?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble and learned Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have the figure to hand, but I imagine it is readily available from Westlaw.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, “Answer yes or no, does our word continue to be our bond?”, or words to that effect. It continues to be our bond within the circumstances of the incontrovertible constitutional position set out in Clause 1(4)(b). The United Kingdom and this Government take their obligations—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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I wonder whether I can encourage the Minister to try that out on some foreigner with whose country we are signing a binding agreement, by telling him, “We will shake hands on that but, by the way, we can do what we like afterwards”. He ought to try it; he would find it quite an interesting experience.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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That would be a treaty commitment of the sort that is the strongest bond that two countries can enter into, as we have been reminding the Committee. The conventional statement of constitutional reality—as I described it and as my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough described it in his submission, citing AV Dicey—was little more than a reassertion of the position that applies in law and that always has.

The Bill, as currently worded, enables Parliament to come to the same conclusion and provides a statutory finding that decision-makers, including courts or tribunals, will conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country. Amendments 9 and 13, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, seek to remove the provision that recognises the sovereignty of Parliament and the provision that confirms that the validity of an Act is unaffected by a domestic court’s or a tribunal’s view that there is a conflict with international law. That is at the core of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic court. The treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, to which we referred, will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe, and the new Bill provides Parliament with the opportunity so to do.

I note that Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, is a probing amendment that makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the courts is to uphold the constitution of the United Kingdom, including the constitution’s fundamental commitment to the rule of law. That amendment again sets out the status quo. But the rule of law, as a concept, is difficult to tie down in a series of short statements, and I fear that the noble Lord’s amendment would be productive of debate in the abstract, producing perhaps more heat than light.

I again assure the Committee that the United Kingdom continues to be bound by and respects its legal and international obligations. The Bill is predicated on both Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda. It does not legislate away our international obligations. The purpose of the Bill is to say that, on the basis of the treaty and the evidence before it, Parliament believes those obligations to have been met—not that we do not care whether they have been. I repeat that the Government take their international obligations, including those under the ECHR, very seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires the United Kingdom to breach its international obligations.

As noble Lords will know, states take different approaches to their different international law obligations. Some states treat international law as automatically forming part of their domestic law, but the United Kingdom and other countries with a similar background, including many Commonwealth countries, with which we share so much, have a dualist system in which a treaty ratified by the Government does not alter the laws of the state unless and until it is incorporated into national law by domestic legislation.

On Amendment 32, tabled by my noble friend Lady Lawlor, this legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief, which prevents removal to Rwanda, only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. As my noble friend put it in her submission, the Bill needs tightening. We do not accept the amendment proposed by her and my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. None the less, I invite the Committee to consider that in the course of the discussion and the interventions which were made on my noble friends, matters of interest and importance emerged.

We do hold that law has to command public support and that it should emerge from public consideration, whether through our common law, which does no more than evolve to meet certain essential propositions that bargains should be sustained and that harm should be punished and compensated for, or whether it emerges from a representative Parliament. None the less, the law dare not risk moving too far from the confidence of the public. The risk to the maintenance of institutions and public peace of judicial activism and overreach moving too far away from what the public is prepared to appreciate is, I think, the point that my noble friends took.

My noble friend Lady Meyer added to the discussion by stating that while the Bill was, in her words, not perfect—that has been something of a leitmotif running through the submissions which we have heard today, and indeed at Second Reading—it is none the less not holding itself out as a silver bullet. It is not perfect because—to quote my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere—in a dull and sublunary world, very few things are capable of perfection. However, as my noble friend Lady Meyer pointed out, it is rather a pragmatic response to an urgent crisis. I commend my noble friends for their thoughtful analysis of the problems facing other countries grappling with the impact of mass migration, and the risks to their own domestic systems which have been identified as flowing therefrom.

I have said to the Committee and will say again that, as I think we heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, other countries are watching keenly the experience of this country in moving legislation of this sort. It is clear that this is a huge problem. I readily accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said from the Opposition Front Bench as the last submission to this group about the need to work with our partners abroad to devote resources to smashing the pernicious grip of criminal gangs on people’s lives. However, as I said at Second Reading, we are doing all of that now and there is no simple answer to the problem, and that is why the Bill is being advanced.

I will revert to Amendment 32. As I said, the legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief preventing removal to Rwanda only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. That is the same threshold which can lead to a temporary suspension of the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act. These measures are necessary to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and to ensure that the grounds by which people can challenge removal are appropriately narrow. This amendment also undermines the safeguards that we see as necessary to ensure that the Bill and the Illegal Migration Act are compatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations. The Illegal Migration Act and the Bill include provision for a person subject to removal to a safe third country to make a limited class of suspensive claim on the grounds that they would face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be removed.

The threshold for serious and irreversible harm is a high one. The harm in question must be both imminent and permanent. This reflects the test applied by the European Court of Human Rights when considering whether to indicate an interim measure under Rule 39, meaning that the United Kingdom courts will have to consider these questions before they are progressed to Strasbourg, further undermining the case for Strasbourg to intervene.

I turn to Amendment 80 tabled by noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. The Northern Ireland position was also adverted to in the debate on group 1 by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. She is not in her place, but I apply my remarks across the House. The Bill will apply in full in Northern Ireland, as it will across the whole United Kingdom. Nothing in the Windsor Framework or the Belfast/Good Friday agreement changes that. I seek to provide reassurance to the Committee in relation to the constitutionally vital point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn.

The Government’s position is clear that the Bill’s provisions relate to administrative matters of asylum procedure and as such do not engage Article 2. This is because the Bill does not relate to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, rights given effect in domestic law in Northern Ireland and underpinned by EU law before the end of the transition period, or the specific rights contained in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement which concern Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances. Any suggestion that the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should impinge on the Bill implies that the rights in the agreement are far more expansive than is the case. The Government will continue to defend the application of the Bill on a United Kingdom-wide basis.

I offer further reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and his colleagues on those Benches, with the letter written by my learned colleague in the other place the Minister for Immigration, Michael Tomlinson KC, to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP dated 19 January 2024. He said that as he set out in debate and at Second Reading on 12 December, the Bill applies across the entire United Kingdom, and

“neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the Windsor Framework do anything to cut across that position. I do recognise, however, the concerns raised by your colleagues in Parliament as to whether the Bill may have specific interactions in that regard”.

Nothing in the Bill affects the required incorporation into domestic law of the ECHR, as required in the agreement, or the ability of domestic courts to consider issues of compatibility. Nor does the Bill alter the capacity of the domestic courts to overrule incompatible legislation of the Northern Ireland Assembly with convention rights. The noble Lord referred the Committee’s attention to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government have underlined consistently that the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not form part of domestic law anywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to be clear. I referred to the provision of the procedures directive which requires a case-by-case decision on whether a third country is safe. I contrasted that with Clause 2(1) of the Bill, which says that:

“Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.


Is the Minister saying that there is no difference between those provisions, or is he accepting there has been a diminution of rights under the procedures directive and saying that it does not matter? If that is case, can he explain why it does not matter?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not wish to enter into a matter that lies outwith my department and sphere of responsibility at this hour. With the noble Lord’s permission, we shall write.

Having offered those reassurances to the unionist Benches, I offer this conclusion. We have devised a solution that is innovative and within the framework of international law. It is a long-term solution that addresses the concerns set out in the Supreme Court judgment and ensures that this policy can go ahead, paving the way, as I said earlier, for other countries to look at similar solutions. I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

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Committee stage
Wednesday 14th February 2024

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Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 41-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (12 Feb 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in this Bill we are discussing many of the same issues we discussed during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill. Given the importance of the issues that were raised and the strength of the arguments, it is unfortunate that we are here, not even a year later, asking the Government to ensure protections for vulnerable people, children, those trafficked or sold into slavery and those who have proven themselves friends and allies of our country in Afghanistan in the face of great personal danger. It is disappointing that the Government did not listen on that previous occasion and I hope the Minister has listened to the arguments put forward by noble Lords in Committee today and will respond fully to those concerns.

As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, this has essentially been a debate about exceptions. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, introduced her amendments about exceptions for those who may be victims under the Modern Slavery Act and, as she pointed out, there is a process to go through to make those sorts of assessments. She talked about, first, the referral, then the reasonable grounds submission and the final positive grounds submission. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, the whole purpose of that Act, an Act which the whole of Parliament is proud of, introduced in 2017, is to stop double victims, and that is one category of people who, we argue, through the amendments, should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Browne, in his Amendment 75, gave particular focus to this when he gave those open-source examples of three Afghans who arrived irregularly here on UK shores and who face deportation to Rwanda. His amendments seek to make an exception for those cases as well. I have to say that I think my noble friend’s amendment should be very difficult for the Back Benches of the party opposite to resist. I thought the contribution from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, was particularly supportive when he said that the number one objective is to be seen as a trustworthy country.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Horam, because he was the noble Lord who most clearly articulated the purpose of the Bill as drafted. He said that there needs to be a sharpness and narrowness of definition to achieve the ends and facilitate the removals of people to Rwanda. That was a very clear statement of what is indeed the object of the Bill, but we are talking here about exceptions, about people who may be victims of modern slavery or may have served our country in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The power of the debate is where the moral authority lies. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, made an interesting point. Of course, he is a loyal member of his own party, but he urged the Minister to look for alternative ways to achieve the same ends, and I will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say to that challenge.

I conclude by saying that this has been an extraordinary debate. It goes to the very heart of what our country stands for. It is about integrity, about moral authority and about the rule of law and how our rule of law is viewed by other countries, which are probably watching our debate as we are having it right now. It is in that spirit that I will listen very carefully to the answer of the Minister.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very thoughtful debate. I reassure noble Lords that my noble and learned friend and I have paid very close attention to all the points that have been made.

As we have heard, these amendments relate to the position of potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery, and exempting people from being relocated to Rwanda, including those who have supported His Majesty’s Armed Forces or the UK Government overseas in certain circumstances.

Of course, we greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas, and we have accepted our moral obligation. That is why there are legal routes for them to come to the UK. For example, all those who enlist and serve in His Majesty’s Armed Forces are exempt from immigration control until they are discharged from regular service. After that, non-UK HM Armed Forces personnel can apply for settlement under the Immigration Rules on discharge, when their exemption from immigration control ends. There are also provisions for family members of HM Armed Forces personnel to come to the UK legally. Anyone eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and Afghan citizens resettlement scheme should apply to come to the UK legally under those routes. As regards the specific case of British Council personnel, they are qualified under the third pathway of the ACRS and places are offered to them. To correct the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, these are not Home Office-run programmes, they are run by the MoD and the Foreign Office.

I have no doubt that, with regard to Amendment 75, the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, would agree with me that we need to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK. A person who arrives in the UK illegally should not be able to make the UK their home and eventually settle here. Regardless of the contribution they have previously made, a person who chooses to come to the UK illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country. Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, know that service- men are a subject of considerable personal importance to me. If they have any particular instances of personnel struggling to access one of those safe and legal routes, I ask them to raise them with me directly.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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I feel I have to point out to the Minister facts which I took for granted, because they had instructed the Government’s apparent U-turn on the ARAP scheme to review those who had been told they were ineligible for it. That implies that the Government accept the overwhelming evidence that these decisions were made in error on our relationship to people who were otherwise members of the Afghan forces and not our forces, and therefore not able to avail themselves of the provisions that the Minister has described—unnecessarily, I think—to the Committee. It is not those people we are talking about.

We have a group of people who were refused because errors were made. They may also have been refused, in some cases, because there was a deliberate, venal reason by other forces to block them from that arrangement. I do not want to debate that issue; I do not know the facts of it, it is subject to an investigation, and we should not trouble ourselves with it. However, that may be the case.

It comes to this: many of these people applied for the status that would allow them a legal way to come. They were refused—in error, deliberately, or maliciously. The review will tell us that. They were then faced with the choice to stay in Afghanistan and face certain death or to get here somehow. They chose to get here somehow; they had no alternative. There was no legal route open to them. That is the dilemma. It is not that they chose not to “hop on” a British Airways flight and come here, showing their status to allow them to do it. It was taken from them wrongly and they were left in this situation. They had the choice of waiting for their death or getting here. These are not people doing something because they want to—they have no alternative.