Lord Murray of Blidworth debates involving the Scotland Office during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 19th Feb 2024
Mon 19th Feb 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
Wed 28th Jun 2023

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Murray of Blidworth Excerpts
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, can I begin by setting the record straight? On Monday, I implied that no noble Lord had mentioned the precedent set in 2004 by the Blair Government in creating an unrebuttable presumption that a list of countries is safe. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who is in his place, for alerting me to the fact that he and the Constitution Committee did refer to this precedent. I apologise to him for not having mentioned that. Both he and the committee excused the precedent because it was a requirement of European law, and it was replaced in 2022, so it would appear that removing such a bad precedent was a Brexit dividend, although I am not conscious that anyone has mentioned that.

The most reverend Primate rebuked me for citing this precedent on the grounds that

“two wrongs do not make a right”.—[Official Report, 4/3/24; col. 1336.]

Of course, neither do two rights make a wrong. I do not recall him, any right reverend Prelate or any lawyer, over the many years that that Act was in place, ever decrying it in the way they decry this proposal. What is the difference? The first is that, in those days, the list was all of white countries, and now we are dealing with a black country. I warn the most reverend Primate that he had better check his white privilege and his colonial assumptions, or he might find himself in trouble with some of his bishops.

The second difference is that this changes a court decision, whereas the 2004 one did not. I remind the House of something that I may, of course, not have heard other noble Lords mention: the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, who said that

“if a judge makes a policy-based decision with which the legislature is not happy, the remedy in a system with parliamentary supremacy, such as we enjoy in the UK, lies with Parliament. Any decision made by a court can always be reversed by the legislature”.

That is what the Bill does, and I hope we will pass it.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I rise in response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who referred to an article in today’s Times written by a Member of the other place, Joanna Cherry. She is, of course, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I sit. I attended the same meetings as she did with members of the LGBT community in Rwanda and with the chairman of the Legal Aid Forum. I must tell your Lordships that I do not agree with the views that she expressed in the Times. She obviously comes from a political party that disagrees with this policy, and I am afraid that that has coloured her judgment in this regard. I do not find that the evidence that we heard sustains her conclusions.

We heard that Rwanda is a leading light in the region—east Africa—for the LGBT community. As we heard from the noble Baroness during the previous day of Report, this is a country that does not discriminate against LGBT activity and has very strong general protection against discrimination in its constitution. For those reasons, I am afraid I have the misfortune to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I was not on the visit to Rwanda with the committee, but I looked at all the notes that were taken, and I want to make it clear that, while the constitution of Rwanda provides remedies for those who have suffered discrimination, the problem is that no cases have ever been brought using that part of the constitution. To say that there are well-established principles and well-established methods to protect individuals has not been tested in the courts—and the opinion of others who were approached was that the place was not safe. Noble Lords heard that from the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, on Monday. Unfortunately, when noble Lords say that it depends on how one approaches these things, I am afraid that it does—it depends on whether one has an open mind and listens clearly or does not.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very interested in this amendment. It gets rid of the current commencement provision, Clause 9(1), that says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.


Article 24 of the agreement says:

“This Agreement shall enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by the Parties”—


that is, the parties to the agreement—

“that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed”.

There is a statement that the only thing needed in order for the Bill to come into force is the bringing forward of this new legislation, the Bill we are debating now. I assume, on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said when he visited the Rwandan Parliament, that the Rwandan Government have now done all that is necessary to ratify the agreement.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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If it will assist the noble and learned Lord, the Chamber of Deputies of the Rwandan Parliament has approved the treaty. It needs to go to the Senate, and that should happen in the next fortnight or thereabouts, as I understand it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, for telling me that. Perhaps the Minister could give us details of when the Government of the United Kingdom expect the Government of Rwanda to have done all that is required under Article 24. When do they expect the last notification from the Rwandan Government? Am I right in saying that all that is required for this agreement to be ratified by the UK Government is this Bill becoming an Act, which presumably means when it gets Royal Assent? If that is right, will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, explain to the House when the Act is going to come into force? On the face of it, it looks like it will come into force when the agreement with Rwanda comes into force. On the face of the Rwanda agreement, it looks like that comes into force when the last thing that is required for ratification takes place. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said a moment ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said, the Government will not bring it into force until they are satisfied that the agreement with Rwanda has been properly implemented. Well, that is not what the Act appears to say, so will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, explain what appears to be a contradiction?

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Article 16(5) of the treaty confirms that any alteration to the terms of reference of the monitoring committee must not be,

“contrary to those provided in Article 15”

of the treaty. Article 15 sets out pretty comprehensively what the independent monitoring committee should be doing.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The very fact that extra terms of reference can be given by the co-chairs of the joint committee shows that it is not truly independent; that is the point I make.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on what I have just said, because it is clear that tried-and-tested experience, backed up with 30 civil servants, would show whether the promised obligations in Act and the treaty indeed were in place and had been implemented to a standard that gives people dignity, safety and future security, so that if this terrible Bill is enacted, no one is offshored to a place that clearly at present has not met the test set down by the Supreme Court and so cannot be considered a safe place.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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I understand that but I said at the beginning of my speech that I was going to range more widely. There are difficulties concerning children, but the point of the Bill is deterrence. If the Government can deter people from coming here, they are saving themselves a lot of difficulties. If the Government can deter people from sending their children here, often alone, they can avoid the difficulties the noble Baroness and her colleagues have so rightly described.

I have just one other point to make. The British public are very angry indeed. Some 68% want to see effective action; I sympathise with them and would like to find a way to deal with the problem. The Bill clearly has some serious difficulties and it has been strongly attacked in this House without much attention given to the real issue facing the Government—and the next Government—of how to deal with the inflow and the state of public opinion.

In reviewing where we have got to, I have looked at the amendments being discussed. There are at least nine that would render the Government’s policy completely ineffective; they would torpedo it and, therefore, later in this process, will have to be addressed. I am referring to Amendments 1C, 8, 20, 36, 39, 48, 57, 81 and 90. Most of those would pretty much destroy the Government’s policy.

I conclude with a quotation from the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who wrote in connection with a paper produced by the CPS:

“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system. And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration”.


I recognise that that is a different note and I am quoting the former Home Secretary, but a lot of people outside this Chamber would agree with that.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green. For my part, I agree with his assessment. However, it is one of the unfortunate features of the area that our more generous arrangements for handling unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are open to abuse and are abused. We needed to take steps to stop that. That is why, in the Illegal Migration Act, we put into force Sections 57 and 58. In the Nationality and Borders Act, authorisation was given for the utilisation of scientific methods of age assessment, all of which aim to prevent adults abusing our special arrangements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

All these amendments, in particular Amendment 55, will not have the objective that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, sought to persuade the Committee. She says in her Member’s explanatory statement that the amendment

“avoids a situation in which an unaccompanied child is erroneously relocated to the Republic of Rwanda”.

That is simply not the case. If one looks at the Illegal Migration Act, one will see that Section 57(1) makes it clear that it applies only if the

“relevant authority decides the age of a person … who meets the four conditions in section 2”—

ie, that they are an illegal entrant—and determines their age in accordance with Sections 50 and 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act, using scientific methods. The effect of the provision is to avoid the hazard that there will be repeated challenges which would be suspensive of removal. It does not take away someone’s opportunity to challenge completely the finding that they are, in fact, an adult. It simply says that they have to do that from Rwanda, and there is nothing wrong with that. For those reasons, I oppose these amendments.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this group has been about children. We spoke at length during the passage of the then Illegal Migration Bill about the danger posed to children by the changes in that legislation. To open, I have a couple of questions for the Government. Can the Government give an update on the number of children who have previously been identified as adults but have later been identified as children? How many of them would have been on the list to be moved to Rwanda had the scheme been working?

It is clear that the asylum system is failing, and failing vulnerable children. Beyond the risk of children being sent to Rwanda before their age has been identified, there have been ongoing reports about missing children, children exposed to assault, and children waiting potentially years for a decision on their protections claims. Given this, how can we trust the Government to make the correct decisions for children when it comes to Rwanda?

My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said that it was cruel for children who come in under the age of 18 and live here for a number of years to be sent to Rwanda when they get to 18. She rightly said that this provides an incentive for children to disappear when they know that birth date is arriving. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, talked about the age-old issue of age assessment. I know that very well because, as a youth magistrate, one of the first bits of training I did was on age assessment. Despite all the processes which are rightly in place, sometimes you are bounced into making those decisions, both as an adult magistrate and as a youth magistrate. I am very conscious of the difficulty in making those decisions. I think it was last week that somebody referred to Luke Littler, the darts player, and how he does not look like a 16 year-old boy.

All noble Lords have set out the case very well, and I will not go over the same points that they have raised. I will raise a different point, which I have raised in previous debates. This arises out of a trip with my noble friend Lord Coaker to RAF Manston about a year ago, facilitated by the noble Lord, Lord Murray. At that trip, it became evident to me from talking to the officials there that there is a reasonably large cohort of young people who identify as adults. I have debated this with the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe—before, and he has written me a letter about it. They identify as adults because they want to work when they get here. They may well have been working in their own countries since they were about 14 years old. They identify as adults, they may look like adults, and they move into an economy—maybe an underground economy—because they want to work. It seems to me that by having the provisions within the Bill, they will have no incentive to identify as an adult. That will be taken away from them. They would prefer to identify as a youth. Have the Government made any assessment of the increase in people likely to identify as youths when they are coming irregularly into the country? I suspect it is not an insignificant figure and that it is actually quite a large figure.

Nevertheless, this is a very important group of amendments, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have to respect the noble and learned Lord’s point of view on that; I am afraid that I am not as well up on the court process as perhaps I should be. I will have to come back to him, if he will allow me to do so.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My noble friend the Minister might want to make reference to the powers that this Parliament has already passed in Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act, which provide for those judicial reviews to be conducted abroad once the section comes into force.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend is right; I might very well want to refer to that.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I remind noble Lords that it is illegal only because we made it illegal in the legislation that previously went through this House. There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum; there is an international right to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, questioned the explanatory statement. This has been drafted by a lawyer for me; I will not go into all the legal stuff now. The Minister rattled through section this and section that, and I am afraid I could not even keep up with it, so I will not try to address that; obviously, I will read what he said afterwards. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, said that there is nothing wrong with sending children to Rwanda and expecting them to challenge a decision from there. There is everything wrong with it. Think about it.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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There is nothing wrong with sending adults, I said rhetorically, because that is the effect of Section 57. Those who are found to be adults may be sent, and if they wish to challenge that finding, they can do that from Rwanda.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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We are talking about children who have been wrongly assessed. I do not think it is reasonable to expect them to challenge a decision. Other noble Lords made points on this: the sort of legal support they will get there; they will have to do it through video; and then, if they are lucky, they will be sent back.

The Minister simply repeated what we said about two separate senior immigration officers assessing people visually, but he did not engage with the arguments that we put as to why that is inadequate. I sometimes feel as though we take note of the arguments that have been put, look at them and come up with evidence that suggests that they are not strong arguments, only for those arguments to be put all over again. There is no real attempt to engage with what we have said. I am sure that we will come back to this. A number of questions have either not been answered adequately or not been answered at all, so I look forward to the Minister’s letter. I hope that we will get that letter before Report, because there are important questions that need to be answered.

I finish with the image raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for whose support I am grateful. Do the Government really want us to see images of traumatised children on planes, because we can be sure that when that first plane goes to Rwanda there will be a lot of TV cameras there? Does the Minister really want us to see that image of traumatised children either being sent to Rwanda or being sent back again like parcels, as I said, because they have managed somehow to be assessed as the children that they are? I do not think so.

I will leave it there for now, although I do not think that my noble friend Lord Dubs will be satisfied with the responses that we have had. We will certainly come back at Report with something around children and probably age assessment, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Murray of Blidworth Excerpts
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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It gave the decision that the ongoing domestic judicial review process should be concluded.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Of course it is right that NSK’s application for an interim injunction was heard by the High Court—by the lead judge of the Administrative Court—and the interim relief application was refused. That was appealed to the Court of Appeal, which agreed with the single judge that there should be no interim relief. Application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed. It was only the European court that decided to grant the interim relief. It appears that our own domestic courts at all levels and at great levels of distinction were satisfied with the Government’s statement that they would return NSK to the UK in the event that his judicial review challenge succeeded. Why does the noble Lord say it is right for the European court to form a view by way of press release when our own courts, in detailed judgments, had considered all the arguments and decided the other way?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in view of the hour and the information which I have to hand, and given the stark terms in which the noble Lord expresses himself, that might perhaps be the better course.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Is it not the case that the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is that it depends? We know from the Policy Exchange paper and many other sources that there have been many cases where Rule 39 indications have not been complied with by states parties, including France, Italy, Albania and Slovakia. It all depends on the circumstances, does it not?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend but the answer “it depends” renders the matter, to a certain extent, even more complicated and emphasises the number of considerations that I will have to take into account in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. While I am grateful to my noble friend for his contribution, my undertaking to write to the noble Lord remains in place.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Well, that is the deterrent effect. Assuming that of those who are coming, 50% on a regular basis are deterred, then over the long term there would still be 50% coming by boats. That is not my estimate, it is the Government’s estimate.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Before I give way, presumably what the noble Lord wants to get to is a deterrent effect of 100%, so that the boats are stopped, which is what we all want. But so far I have not found anything in any government documentation of policy that says that anything they are going to do will bring about 100% deterrence. Has the noble Lord found it?

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The Permanent Secretary at the Home Office was unable to do so. That is why he sought ministerial direction. Home Office civil servants sought ministerial direction because the Permanent Secretary said that the Government’s policy was not proven value for money.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I will address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and then happily give way to the noble Lord.

The valid question is, “If this Bill will not work, what would work?” We know that this Bill will not work, so the better deterrent effects are those policies such as relocation and resettlement agreements, which comply with international law and have policing mechanisms attached to them. That is called the Albania deal. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that this has been a success.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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From a sedentary position. I agree with the noble Lord. I think Hansard picked it up: a successful 90% deterrent. The noble Lord heard me at Second Reading saying that we welcomed the Albania deal. An internationally legal, efficient, effective resettlement and relocation agreement is what works. This is not any of those. I happily give way to the noble Lord, Lord Murray.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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It is very interesting that the noble Lord should refer to the effectiveness of the Albania arrangement. The document that the noble Lord likes to refer to in relation to the ministerial direction on deterrence came before the Albania deal, the 90% drop and the tangible evidence that deterrence works that we saw as a result of the Albania deal. We can extrapolate from the experience of the Albania deal to say that deterrence will work more generally if we can be sure that a significant proportion of those crossing the channel in small boats are sent to Rwanda for third-country processing.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Even for the noble Lord, it is a bit of a leap to say that a negotiated relocation agreement with Albania has been a deterrent because they may have thought we were going to send them to Rwanda. Even factually, I am afraid that he was incorrect. The noble Lord knows that the ministerial direction sought on the migration and economic development agreement with Rwanda was specifically for this Rwanda agreement. He also knows that when the Permanent Secretary was giving evidence in December, after the Albania agreement was agreed, he said that no circumstances had changed with regard to his view for value for money for this agreement. The Permanent Secretary still believes that the Rwanda agreement will not propose to be value for money. I agree with the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.

The monitoring committee will have eight members, as the Minister said, and its terms of reference are online. The Minister said earlier that it would be independent of government, and that is true to an extent—if you think that four members being appointed by one party and four by another constitutes independence, because when it is being established, each party will appoint them. The key thing from our point of view is the ability of the monitoring committee to, as the Minister wrote in a letter to me,

“ensure all obligations under the treaty are adhered to”.

It will not, because it cannot—the monitoring committee has no powers of enforcement. It will be able to refer aspects it considers important to the joint committee, but it is under no duty to publish any of those recommendations or any of its findings, which can be significant. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said, the safeguards that must be in place as far the Government are concerned will be considered to be in place only if the monitoring committee has said that they are in place. We in Parliament will not know; but we are supposedly the decision-makers when it comes to whether Rwanda will be safe.

The joint committee, under Article 16, can make only non-binding recommendations to the parties. So, there is a monitoring committee that does not have a duty to publish its findings and cannot ensure adherence to the treaty. It can make only recommendations to a joint committee, which can make only non-binding recommendations, and which itself is not duty bound to report to the body that is apparently to be making the decisions: Parliament.

I asked how we would then change this if the circumstances changed. Even if we in Parliament found that out from a monitoring committee and joint committee that do not report to us, how would we change it? The noble and learned Lord rightly said that no Parliament can bind its successors. That seemed to imply that a future Parliament could change this arrangement. Well, it cannot, because, of course, no Parliament can bind its successors, but no Parliament can bind a Government on making or ending treaties—that is a prerogative function. How can we in Parliament change the treaty if we decide that Rwanda is no longer a safe country? I hope the Minister can explain that to me when he winds up.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Murray of Blidworth Excerpts
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Baroness appears to suggest that, because the Bill disapplies Section 6, local authorities would be obliged to act or could act in a manner that was unlawful. She ignores the fact that, from the British accession to the European Convention on Human Rights until 1998, our domestic bodies were still deemed to be a part of the United Kingdom state, which obviously had an international obligation to comply with the rights convention. All the provision of Section 6 did was to impose a domestic law obligation. Its removal in this context does not have the effect that the noble Baroness seeks to persuade your Lordships it does.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry, but I was only quoting—I know it was a majority vote and that the noble Lord did not vote for this bit—from the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, which still stands, even though it was a majority vote for that particular paragraph. Perhaps I will leave it to the lawyers, if I have not quite got the legal point.

The Constitution Committee comments that disapplication of HRA provisions is of “considerable constitutional concern”, and invites us to

“consider the potential consequences of undermining the universal application of human rights”.

The UNHCR expresses its deep concern at the exclusion of asylum seekers from some of the human rights protections, not only because it

“undermines the universality of human rights”

but because of its

“implications for the rule of law both domestically and internationally”,

setting

“an acutely troubling precedent”.

Universality means all humans, regardless of their immigration status. In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, universality principles stem from recognition of the

“inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members”—

all members—

“of the human family”.

As I said at Second Reading, breaching this principle speaks volumes as to how the Government see asylum seekers, for they are, in effect, being treated as less than human.

I make no apology for repeating these points from Second Reading, because even though a number of noble Lords raised their disquiet about the disapplication of the Human Rights Act, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, did not address our concerns in his closing speech or his subsequent letter to Peers.

The closest the Minister came in the debate was perhaps to do so implicitly, when he dismissed in a peremptory manner the advice of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to

“review the adequacy and effectiveness in Northern Ireland of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights”.

When challenged by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, who is no longer in her place, as to whether he had actually read the commission’s advice, he responded that

“the Government take a different view to those opinions”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. 1099.]

The commission’s opinion, which is perhaps better described as formal advice, concludes that the Bill

“does not consider the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and the integral role of both the Human Rights Act and ECHR in the complex fabric of the NI Peace Process and devolution”.

Indeed, it warns that it

“appears to be incompatible with obligations under the … Agreement”.

That position is echoed by the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland. In its view, these proposals

“represent a violation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by effectively limiting access to the Human Rights Act … for those seeking refuge in Northern Ireland. They also represent a violation of the Article 2 commitments of the Windsor Framework by undermining the commitment to the non-diminution of rights contained within the ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’ section of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement—a section which explicitly guaranteed our access to the rights protected in the Human Rights Act”.

The JCHR saw these concerns as “serious” and, by a majority, reported that

“The Government has not adequately explained why it considers those concerns are not merited”.


It therefore asks for

“a full explanation of why it”—

the Government—

“considers the Bill to be consistent with the Windsor Framework and Good Friday Agreement before … . Report stage”.

I am not quite sure which Minister will be responding, but will the noble and learned Lord undertake to provide such an explanation? Can he please explain why we should put more faith in the Government’s interpretation of the implications for the Belfast/Good Friday agreement than those of both official and unofficial human rights watchdogs in Northern Ireland? That is all the more so given the Constitution Committee’s invitation to us

“to pay particular attention to the constitutional consequences … for the Good Friday Agreement”,

and the questions that it raises about the compatibility of Clause 3 with ECHR rights. I know that the question of Northern Ireland came up late on Monday, but it was from a rather different perspective.

Finally, more generally, can the Minister tell us what he thinks the universality of human rights actually means? What is the Government’s justification for breaching this fundamental tenet of human rights?

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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I understand the point the noble Baroness is making; it is a very valid point. But what deduction should one draw? One of the tasks of the legal advisers in the Foreign Office is to lead on the development of international law. I do not argue that international law is set for all time, fossilised and ossified. Where are the proposals from the noble Baroness and her friends for the future development of international law? Why does she simply say that we must pull out of the bits we do not like? Where are the ideas for reforming and advancing? That is where the hem of history is going.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, tempted though I am to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on that very interesting philosophical question, that might be beyond the ambit of this particular amendment.

I will speak in particular to Amendment 33, which I oppose because it has no purpose. I remind the Committee that Section 4 of the Human Rights Act provides to the courts, at High Court level and above, a power to make a declaration of incompatibility, but the section itself is clear. Section 4(6) of that Act sets out in crystal clear terms:

“A declaration under this section (‘a declaration of incompatibility’) … does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given; and … is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made”.


In those circumstances, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said that this amendment is required to preserve some sort of responsibility belonging to this Parliament. That seems to be a misreading of Section 10 of the Human Rights Act, which provides a power to take remedial action. The important part in Section 10(2) says:

“If a Minister of the Crown considers that there are compelling reasons for proceeding under this section, he may by order make such amendments to the legislation as he considers necessary to remove the incompatibility”.


It is therefore clear that, if there is a declaration of incompatibility, the default setting is that the law continues as passed by this Parliament. Therefore, there is no need for the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Kirkhope because it is clear that, if no remedial order is laid, the law remains as it is.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I will give way to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in a second. The very idea that, in some way, the argument would be better achieved by accelerating the process is simply mistaken, not least because Section 10 says that the declaration of incompatibility can take effect only following the conclusion of the final appeal and confirmation by the parties that that is so. That is likely to be a long time afterwards, given the nature of the types of cases that tend to go to appellate courts. So there is no need for Amendment 33. I give way.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am intervening because he referred to something I said. Let me be clear: I totally agree with his analysis that Section 4 declarations of incompatibility have no binding legal effect; I think that I said so and emphasised that in my remarks. I referred to that as part of the exquisite constitutional compromise between parliamentary sovereignty, on the one hand, and the rule of the law, on the other, that is the Human Rights Act’s scheme.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, knows the scheme so well and is seeking to honour it so well. In fact, when he reads from Sections 4 and 10, he treats them as sacrosanct—something that the Government do not generally do in relation to the Bill. If it is okay for the Government to disapply reams of the Human Rights Act for the purposes of sending some of the most vulnerable people in our territories to Rwanda, why should his noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope—not be able to improve on the Human Rights Act too, by accelerating the procedure for bringing a declaration to Parliament, rather than to the Government, for consideration?

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I find it a little odd for the noble Baroness to say that she is criticising the Government for disapplying various provisions of the Human Rights Act, yet criticising us for not, as it were, expressly disapplying Section 4. As we have heard, the reason for not disapplying Section 4 is clear; namely, it demonstrates that the Government are complying with their obligations on the international plane to provide a right of a remedy under Article 13 of the treaty.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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I am sorry, but as I listened to the noble Lord, I was getting the impression that he was agreeing with my amendment to a large extent, except perhaps for my suggestions that we move the process on a bit more and improve the accountability with this House. Is that not the case? He said that my amendment serves no purpose; I think that it serves a very valuable and important purpose to give reassurance to this House that Parliament will have some say on, and be involved in, these processes; otherwise, I think that he is trying to minimise the impact of these matters and the way in which we can look at them.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that the amendment still has no purpose. The point is, as I hope I demonstrated to your Lordships’ Committee, that the decision as to whether and how to act on a declaration of incompatibility is clearly set out in the Human Rights Act, and it rests with a Minister of the Crown. This Parliament does not have a role other than to consider, under the procedure for a remedial order, whether a decision is taken to lay one. That is the law as it stands and as it should be, so this amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this group of amendments focuses on Clause 3 and demonstrates the threat to the domestic rule of law posed by the Bill. The Bill proposes ripping up not only our international obligations but our existing domestic legal structure, and it sets a dangerous precedent. It is clear that, when taken in combination with the serious limitations put on our own courts to decide what is and is not true, the Bill shows no respect for our domestic structures. I ask again: what are we getting in return? Do the Government really believe that delivering this scheme as it is currently proposed is worth it?

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, moved the first amendment in this group, and he said, quite rightly, that the Bill usurps the role of the domestic courts and disapplies the Human Rights Act. He emphasised that the domestic courts are usurped within the Bill.

There has been a lot of discussion about Amendment 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and there was some legal discussion just now between noble Lords about the best way that that amendment can prevent delay in considering making a remedial order. I will not comment further on that because it is above my pay grade as a magistrate rather than a lawyer who deals in this type of law.

More widely, there were very wide-ranging comments on the law, the theological principles underlying the Human Rights Act itself, and the principle of treating everybody equally, and an almost theological debate about whether this is a properly Conservative Bill. I am reluctant to trespass on theological or Conservative Party debates but, from the Opposition’s point of view, this group and the disapplication of a number of elements within the Human Rights Act go to the core of the objections to the Bill. I am sure we will come back to this in some form at a later stage. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Murray of Blidworth Excerpts
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I want to put on record for this Committee that the Bar Council has a real concern about the apparent incompatibility of the European Convention on Human Rights and this Bill. The Supreme Court, as we know, made a decision—in my view, on the basis of facts—that Rwanda is not a safe country. It put forward a whole series of points to support that view. The Bill has not in any way countered any of the points made by the Supreme Court in its judgment. The Bar Council is concerned about that.

The Bar Council is also concerned that the Government are standing down the judges from their role overseeing the work of the Government in operating this Bill. The Bar Council sees this as a clear infringement of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. It seems that, in disapplying in this context the convention on human—

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Is it not right that Clause 4 of the Bill provides exclusively that members of the judiciary will have the opportunity to consider challenges brought of an individual nature in relation to a particular claimant?

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, that may be so, but I think that the point I have made stands—and I think that perhaps I have said enough to point out that the Bar Council has very real concerns about this Bill.

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He has said repeatedly that the Supreme Court has held as a fact that Rwanda is an unsafe country. If one looks at the judgment of the Supreme Court, in paragraph 105 the noble Lord will see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, said that Rwanda was unsafe at the time that the Divisional Court was considering the evidence. As my noble friend the Minister said on the last group, the short point is that the question which this Parliament is determining as to the safety of Rwanda is in light of the new arrangements.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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As the noble Lord will know, the other clause in the Supreme Court judgment, which he did not refer to, said that it will take a considerable time for those matters to take place. That is why I have asked the Minister in this Chamber, having heard the views of the treaties committee of this House and the matters which it raised after taking evidence last month, whether the provisions in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c) are in place now. Are they operational? Which ones will be in place, and by when? If we follow the noble Lord’s remarks, that is the judgment that we are trying to make now.

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“the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership runs counter to the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing that underpin the international refugee protection system. It shifts responsibility for identifying and meeting international protection needs from the UK to Rwanda … By entrenching responsibility-shifting, the treaty remains at variance with the spirit and letter of the Refugee Convention”.
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the divisional court in the Rwanda proceedings upheld the principle of remote, third-country processing—that it was lawful in UK law—and that decision was upheld in the Court of Appeal and was not appealed further to the Supreme Court? So I think the noble Lord would agree that it is unquestionably and entirely lawful.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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It is a breach of international law. The noble Lord made the same point when we had the same debate at Second Reading. It is at variance with the refugee convention and with the European Convention on Human Rights Articles 2, 3 and 13. It may be that in the UK domestic courts it is not seen as a problem; it certainly does not seem to be seen as a problem by the noble Lord, Lord Murray. For me, it is a problem. For a country which purports to support the international legal system, it should be a problem.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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I am prompted to intervene by Amendment 80, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. Although I do not support that amendment, I think that he has raised a very significant issue. He referred to Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, as amended by the Windsor Framework, and to the principle of non-diminution of rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as he knows, has a statutory duty under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to monitor the implementation of Article 2 to ensure that there is no diminution of rights.

As the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission explains in its advice on the Rwanda Bill, referred to in the Constitution Committee’s report last week—and I declare an interest as a member of that committee—the rights not to be diminished include the EU procedures directive. That requires, among other things, by Article 27, that a third country can be considered safe only where the authorities are satisfied that key human rights principles will be respected. The procedures directive cannot be satisfied by a deeming provision; that is not how EU law works. It requires decision-makers to be untrammelled by legal fictions, and it requires convincing evidence that third countries are safe in practice. So there would appear to be a clear mismatch between what the Bill says and what the procedures directive preserved in Northern Ireland says.

My understanding is—although I submit to noble Lords from Northern Ireland on the detail of this—that this by no means a theoretical question. Official statistics do not provide an accurate picture of the extent of human trafficking on the island of Ireland, but the Northern Ireland refugee statistics for December 2023 record that there were 3,220 people receiving asylum support in Northern Ireland, and they were eligible for that because they were destitute on arrival.

To echo the call from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, for transparency and openness in this matter, my questions to the Minister are as follows. Does he agree with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission report, and in particular its conclusion that Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill are contrary to the principle of non-diminution of rights under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol? When he responds to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, on his Amendment 80, would he also explain how, consistently with the Northern Ireland protocol, this Bill can apply in Northern Ireland at all?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 9 and 13. I obviously have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Hailsham and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but let us look at the two subsections whose removal they called for at the beginning of the debate. Clause 1(4) says:

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


and Clause 1(6) defines what the term “international law” means. There is nothing at all controversial in either of these clauses: indeed, Clause 1(4) is a classic statement of the legal position. I am afraid that I find it frankly bizarre for speeches to be made in this Committee expressing outrage that the Government have had the temerity to put them into Clause 1, as though they were dark secrets to be discussed only among lawyers in quiet corners of the Inns of Court. It is simply a frank statement and it has every place in Clause 1, where it will help the courts interpret the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, one can see that the interpretation provision at the end of the Bill refers back to Clause 1(6). For those reasons, I oppose the amendments proposed by my noble friend.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, acutely aware of the hour, I will be extremely brief and restrain myself. I offer Green support for Amendments 9, 10 and 13 and I will simply say about Amendment 9—I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong—that I invite noble Lords who are opposing these amendments to turn this around and say how we would feel when the Chinese Government say, “Well, we’re just going to ignore the Sino-British joint declaration”—as indeed the Chinese Government do and we rightly condemn that behaviour, and I hope will continue to do so.

On the second point, I commend the noble Lord, Lord German, for trying to fix the British constitution. It is a brave attempt, particularly at this hour of the evening. I was reminded, looking at his amendment, of the conclusion of the historian Peter Hennessy, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, that we suffer from the fact that our constitution—uncodified or unwritten, whichever you prefer—relies on people being “good chaps” who will just follow along and do the right thing. We are well past the point, it is very clear, when we can rely on the Government being good chaps.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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That is an interesting point, but you cannot pick and choose. You cannot simply decide that you do not agree with something at a particular time and abandon it. If we suddenly decided, because a new Government with a particular political ideology had been elected, to abandon a treaty with X and another with Y, we would have no case with respect to numerous countries around the world. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, the new Chinese Government simply abandoned everything that they negotiated on the withdrawal from Hong Kong. That is a new circumstance, but it is not right in any sense of the word that they unilaterally abandoned the international treaty.

That is the fundamental point at the heart of what the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is saying. The proud tradition of this country—not just his party—is to adhere to international agreements, to be able to walk into a room full of diplomats and for them to know that, when we say something, we mean it and it will be adhered to. Sometimes it is on the basis of trust built up over decades, and we play with it at our peril.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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A moment ago we heard the noble Lord read out the list of the international conventions set out in Clause 1(6), as though in some way it would disapply them domestically. That is clearly not the effect of the drafting. All Clause 1(6) does is define what the term “international law” means in other places in this statute. It is just a definition clause, so I am unsure why the noble Lord felt obliged to read it out as though it was of great importance, on the basis that were resiling from these conventions. As was clear from my noble friend’s speech, we are not in any way resiling from these obligations.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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If Clause 1(6) is completely purposeless and meaningless, it is worth the noble Lord asking the Minister why the Government have included it in the Bill. It obviously has to mean something if it is included in the Bill. All I am doing is reading from the Bill, which says that

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

It then goes on to define “international law”. I am simply pointing out that there is a big list of international conventions and legal treaties that we have been members of for decades, in many cases, which we are now saying unilaterally do not apply with respect to this Bill. That is a very significant constitutional change and something to be regretted.

That is why I welcome the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has tabled Amendments 9 and 13. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jackson—I thank him for his nice remarks about me—that one of the ways the Labour Party can win at the next general election is to say that we are proud to stand up for the international law to which this country has traditionally adhered, and propounded across the world. That is why we take action in many areas of the world to reinforce those rules. The international rules-based order is something of which we can be proud. The Labour Party will stand—or indeed fall—on the basis of being proud to stand for that.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, before the Minister replies, can I mention that I have two amendments in my own name, which are consequential? They relate to the ability to have judicial review if the amendment to Clause 1 succeeds.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Migration and Borders (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has set out, Amendment 5 seeks to replace Clause 1 with a new clause that provides that nothing in this Bill requires an act or omission that conflicts with the five international agreements specified in the amendment. This includes the European Convention on Human Rights. Amendment 4, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is focused on compatibility with the ECHR. As I have repeatedly said in the debates on the Bill, and to reassure my noble friends Lady Helic and Lord Cormack, the Government take their international obligations, including under the ECHR, very seriously, and there is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with UK international obligations. Amendment 5 is therefore, on one level, unnecessary. But what might be viewed as a benign amendment takes a wrecking ball to our long-established constitutional arrangements, with uncertain consequences, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Wolfson.

Along with other countries with similar constitutional arrangements to the UK, we have a dualist approach, where international law is treated as separate to domestic law and incorporated only by domestic law passed by Parliament through legislation. We have, of a fashion, reproduced in domestic law aspects of the text of the ECHR through the Human Rights Act 1998, but that is not generally the case with other international instruments listed in the amendment.

The effect of this amendment would be to allow legal challenges based on international law in the domestic courts. As my noble friend Lord Wolfson has eloquently explained, this amendment would incorporate these instruments into our domestic law by the back door, thereby making substantive changes to the Bill. I therefore have to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, on the effect of Amendment 5. As my noble friend said, this is wrong in principle and far from being an academic point for the lawyers. There is a legitimate case to be made for incorporation but this is not the Government’s intention, and we should not make such a fundamental change to our domestic law on the basis of a two-hour debate in Committee and a rather shorter one again today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, hit the nail on the head in her insightful contribution in Committee. In the Bill we are legislating to prevent and deter the small boats by putting in place a scheme that makes it unambiguously clear that if you arrive in the UK illegally, you will not be able to stay; instead, you will be detained and returned to your home country or removed to a safe third country. That is the proposition we are seeking to put on the statute book. That is the proposition which Parliament will have endorsed and, having done so, that is the proposition that our courts should give effect to. As the noble Baroness said, we risk undermining the reputation of this place and the elected House if the clear intent of Parliament can be unravelled by this misguided amendment.

On the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the Government have published two memoranda addressing issues arising under the ECHR, and I remain unpersuaded of the case for statutory guidance on how the Bill’s provisions are to be implemented compatibly with convention rights. It will undoubtedly be necessary to provide Home Office staff and others with appropriate guidance to support the implementation of the Bill. In the Government’s view, it would not be appropriate for such routine operational guidance on the implementation of a particular Act to be subject to parliamentary approval.

Amendments 13 and 16, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would strike out Clause 4(1)(d), which makes it clear that the duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for the removal of a person who meets the conditions in Clause 2 applies regardless of any judicial review challenge to their removal. The noble and learned Lord’s explanatory statement for Amendment 13 describes it as consequential on Amendment 5. It may well be the noble and learned Lord’s intention to provide for judicial review challenges to removal—whether on ECHR grounds or otherwise—to be suspensive of removal, but that is not the Government’s stance, and I do not accept that his amendment is consequential on Amendment 5. We need a scheme that will enable removals in days and weeks, not, as now, in months and years. Clause 4(1) is critical to achieving that objective and I cannot support its evisceration.

Finally, as regards Amendments 1 to 3, I simply remind the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that it is an offence to knowingly enter the United Kingdom without the required leave or to arrive without valid entry clearance or electronic travel authorisation. That being the case, Clause 1(1) quite properly refers to “unlawful migration” and “illegal routes”.

In response to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, I point out that the refugee convention is clear that states can still operate controls on illegal migration. Under Article 31, it is indeed expressly permitted to disadvantage those who have arrived illegally from safe countries, which is true of all who come from France. This embodies the first safe country principle, in the sense that Article 31 protections apply only to those who have come directly from unsafe countries. The first safe country principle is widely recognised internationally, including in the common European asylum system, which is a framework of rules and procedures operated by the EU countries together, based on the refugee convention.

These amendments, particularly Amendment 5 but also Amendment 13, go to the heart of the workability of the Bill. Your Lordships’ House has a choice: either we can continue to accept the status quo, which could see the £3.6 billion spent on supporting asylum seekers in 2022-23 mushroom to £11 billion a year, or £32 million a day, by 2026, or we can back the Bill, retain Clause 1 and Clause 4(1)(d), and stop the boats. The House should be in no doubt that these are wrecking amendments. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, not to press his Amendment 4, and ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, not to press her amendment. However, were she to do so, I would have no hesitation in inviting your Lordships’ House to reject the amendment.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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With reference to what has just been said about the first safe country principle, I would point out to the Minister and to the House that the UNHCR is on record from last week as authoritatively, formally saying that there is no requirement in international law for an asylum seeker to seek protection in the first safe country they reach. We may not like what the umpire says, but he is the umpire.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As the noble Lord will recall, and as my noble friend Lord Wolfson made clear in Committee, the UNHCR is not empowered to interpret or referee the convention. That is clear from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The UNHCR is not in a position to make that assessment, and I refer the House to the comments I made a moment ago.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am so grateful, as always, to all noble Lords for their contributions and to most noble Lords for their brevity. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the second group of amendments centres on the major changes this Bill creates, particularly the duty to remove. We tabled Amendment 9, in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker, in Committee and hoped to hear from the Government, but since we last discussed this issue significant progress has been made on putting in place returns agreements. That is the answer to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann: putting in place returns agreements and negotiating them vigorously, so that people can be deported as they are now. Nobody on this side of the House has said that should not happen, but greater effort needs to be made to put them in place.

Turning to Amendment, 6 on retrospection, which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, spoke to, I hope he will get the response he is looking for from the Minister; we are behind him in seeking that response. As he said, retrospectivity is the enemy of legal certainty. He quoted some powerful figures showing that the threat of stopping the boats is not having any effect on the number of people crossing the channel. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that brevity does not mean half-heartedness, and I will carry on being brief in addressing the points raised.

My noble friend Lady Lister challenged the Minister again on the child rights impact assessment; I look forward to discovering whether he can give a more convincing answer than he managed yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who I would count as a friend outside this Chamber, gave a speech he has given on a number of occasions, concerning the overall figures, which are indeed very serious. As he fairly pointed out, illegal migrants, who are the subject of the Bill before us, account for roughly 10% of the overall figures. Everyone on this side of the Chamber—indeed, throughout the House—acknowledges that there is a very serious issue. The focus right now is illegal migration, although I acknowledge the point he made about the wider context.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke compellingly, as ever, about the rights of the child. I find it mind-boggling that she was having breakfast with my noble friend Lord Coaker this morning in Warsaw. Both gave compelling speeches this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Hacking also spoke with passion, and I am glad that he will not be putting his amendment to the vote today.

This has been a relatively brief debate and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, Clause 2 is the centrepiece of the scheme provided for in this Bill. Without it, the Bill as a whole would be fundamentally undermined. It therefore follows that I cannot entertain Amendment 8 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, who frankly conceded its wrecking effect in his speech. At its heart, this Bill seeks to change the existing legal framework so that those who arrive in the UK illegally can be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or to a safe third country. As my noble friends Lord Clarke and Lord Howard, both fellow lawyers, so powerfully put it, we cannot sit by and do nothing.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has set out, Amendments 6, 17, 22, 23 and 88 address the retrospective effect of the Bill. The second condition set out in Clause 2 is that the individual must have entered the UK on or after 7 March 2023—the day of this Bill’s introduction in the House of Commons. In effect, the noble Lord’s amendments seek to do away with the backdating of the duty to remove, as well as of other provisions in the Bill, so that they apply only to those who illegally enter the country from the date of commencement rather than from 7 March.

As I set out in response to the same amendments in Committee, the retrospective nature of these provisions is critical. Without it, we risk organised criminals and people smugglers seeking to exploit this, with an increase in the number of illegal arrivals ahead of commencement of the Bill. This would likely lead to an increase in these unnecessary and dangerous small boat crossings and could place even more pressure on not only our asylum system but our health, housing, education and welfare services. This risk will only grow as we get closer to Royal Assent and implementation. We must take action to prioritise support for those who are most in need and not encourage people smugglers to change their tactics to circumvent the intent of this Bill. I recognise that the retrospective application of legislation is not the norm and should be embarked upon only when there is good reason. I submit to the House that there is very good reason in this instance, given the scale of the challenge we face in stopping the boats.

Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, deals with entry into the United Kingdom via the Irish land border. As is currently the case, tourists from countries which require visas for them to come to the UK as visitors should obtain these before they travel. That said, I recognise the issue and accept that some individuals may inadvertently enter the UK without leave via the Irish land border. We are examining this issue further. I point the noble Baroness to the regulation-making power in Clause 3, which would enable us to provide for exceptions to the duty to remove where it would be appropriate to do so.

Amendment 10, spoken to by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, relates to the removal of an unaccompanied child once they reach the age of 18. To permit their removal only if it was in their best interests, even when they reach 18, would undermine the intent of this Bill. The Government must take action to undercut the routes that smuggling gangs are exploiting by facilitating children’s dangerous and illegal entry into the United Kingdom. As my noble friend Lady Lawlor indicated, this amendment would increase the incentive for an adult to claim to be a child and encourage people smugglers to pivot and focus on bringing over more unaccompanied children via dangerous journeys. The effect would be to put more young lives at risk. That said, where a person enters the UK illegally as a young child, Clause 29 affords discretion to grant them limited or indefinite leave to remain if a failure to do so would contravene the UK’s obligations under the ECHR, which would, among other things, take in any Article 8 claims. I hope that provides some reassurance to the noble and learned Baroness.

With regard to Amendment 9, as I indicated in Committee, formal returns agreements are not required to carry out removals, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that returns agreements can be useful to improve returns co-operation. We will seek to negotiate these where appropriate.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Perhaps I might ask the Minister for clarification. He referred to the 16 agreements, and he knows I asked him specifically for the list of those 16 countries, because the House of Lords Library could not find them for me. The Minister obviously did not think it necessary to write to me between Committee and Report, so can he list those 16 countries now?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As the noble Lord will recall, during our exchange I made clear that not all of those 16 agreements are in the public domain, so I am not going to provide him with the list he seeks.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, I am very disappointed at the Minister’s response, for two reasons. First, despite being asked to produce evidence to show that retrospectivity has some factual basis for its inclusion, he has failed to answer that challenge, and he must have done so deliberately. I am afraid that leads me to be very suspicious about whether there is any such evidence whatever of a credible nature.

The second reason I am very disappointed in the Minister is that he knows perfectly well that it would be open to him to suggest a date other than the date of the commencement of the Act: for example, the day when this Bill does pass, which could be within days, or even today. That would, of course, be an element of retrospectivity, but it would be a considerable mitigation of what is provided in the Bill.

Given that discussions have taken place on these issues, I am very surprised that he has simply remained his intransigent self on this issue. The notion that a glut of small boats will be crossing the channel if the period between March and, say, now is not the subject of retrospectivity, is, frankly, absurd, ridiculous and completely lacking in any kind of credibility. I ask him to think about that; I am perfectly prepared not to press the amendment if he stands up and says he is prepared to consider that issue seriously and enter into discussions with other Ministers. Otherwise, I will test the opinion of the House.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to rise to support many of the amendments in this group, but in particular Amendment 12. I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for moving such an important amendment.

I start by saying that, as a proud Labour politician, I am the first to recognise the phenomenal achievement, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out, of the Conservative Government in passing the Modern Slavery Act. That is important, and he pointed out the cross-party nature of that. That is why it is so bewildering that we have a Conservative Government driving forward this legislation.

Notwithstanding that, Amendment 12 goes to the heart of the various amendments. It is important to reiterate the explanatory note to my noble friend’s amendment, which simply seeks

“to amend the Bill so that potential and recognised victims of trafficking will not be detained or removed before they get the opportunity to submit an application to the NRM and have it duly considered”.

That seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but of course, under this Bill, everybody who arrives irregularly —primarily by small boat, as far as the Government are concerned—is automatically excluded. That inevitably means that victims or potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking will be caught by the legislation and their needs will not be met.

We have talked about evidence. Helpfully, on Monday the impact assessment was at last published. The Government recognise the draconian nature of these provisions, as they have put in their own sunset clause, and they say they are doing this because the system is being gamed. On page 24, the impact assessment states:

“For context, of the 83,236 people that arrived in the UK on small boats between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2022, 7 per cent (6,210 people) were referred to the NRM”.


Of course, as was made clear, that 7% of those 83,000 were referred by government-approved officials. They were not necessarily then deemed to have conclusive grounds; they were referred in order to have their situation considered.

That is the issue Amendment 12 seeks to address. It does not say there are not sometimes people who apply who should not, but that the purpose of the Modern Slavery Act is to ensure that victims have the right to have their case heard, to be supported where necessary, and to not be removed from the country during that process. Amendment 12 is therefore perfectly reasonable and if my noble friend chooses to test the opinion of the House, I hope that many of us will support it, because it is a simple but very important amendment.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has explained, his amendments would prevent the detention and removal of any person who meets the conditions in Clause 4 and who is the subject of a NRM referral until a conclusive grounds decision and any appeal has been determined. The current average time taken from referral to conclusive grounds decisions, made in January to March 2023, across the competent authorities, was 566 days. Against that backdrop, these are wrecking amendments. They would profoundly undermine the Government’s ability to tackle the threat to life arising from the dangerous, illegal and unnecessary channel crossings and the pressure they place on our public services.

Amendments 95, 99, 101 and 104 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seek to mitigate the effect of the provisions in the Bill in a more targeted way, but here too I have concerns that the amendments would undermine what we seek to do in these provisions. As I set out in Committee, the NRM presents clear opportunities for abuse by those who would seek to frustrate removal. It is worth repeating the statistics relating to NRM referrals of people arriving in small boats, which demonstrate how the NRM could be open to abuse.

In 2021, 404 people were detained for return after arriving in the United Kingdom on a small boat, 73% of whom were referred to the NRM while in detention. The latest published figure, for the period January to September 2022, is only slightly lower, at 65%. This is a large increase on earlier years; just 6% of those detained for return in 2019 were referred to the NRM while in detention. So far, only a minority of people who arrived on small boats have been detained for return, but if enforcement activity is greatly expanded, as it would be under the terms of the Bill, and if this rate of referral continues, the number of referrals could be substantially higher. These figures cannot be ignored.

I can provide some assurance to my noble friend and other noble Lords. The Bill does not impact NRM referrals of British citizens or persons who are in the UK without valid leave, having overstayed, and who are therefore, I suggest, more susceptible to exploitation in the UK; nor will unaccompanied children arriving on small boats be affected while they remain under 18. They are not subject to the duty to remove until they turn 18. Finally, the Bill provides for an exception to the application of the public order disqualification where it is necessary for someone to remain in the United Kingdom to co-operate with an investigation or prosecution related to their exploitation.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Can the Minister explain whether the figures he has given us are in the impact assessment? It would have helped us if they were; I apologise if I have missed them. Has the Minister changed the way he is coming to the percentage figure? Are the Government now saying that it is not the percentage of the number of people who arrive by small boats but the percentage of those who arrived by small boats and are detained? The percentages are going to be significantly higher because the numbers who are detained are not the sort of numbers I was talking about. The number I quoted is from the Government’s own figures. What figures are the Government using and how are they coming to them? Perhaps he can explain to the Chamber how many of the 83,236 people who arrived by small boats were detained, so we can get some idea of the percentages he is talking about.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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First, I am afraid I have read so many documents in the past few days that I cannot immediately recollect whether the stats are in the IA. I will confirm whether they are, and I am sure I will be able to do that shortly.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Order! Secondly, I suggest that the material figures are those in detention. It is a fundamental part of the scheme that people will be detained and removed. We can see from the figures that those in detention have been utilising NRM claims; you can see the increase from the statistics I gave a moment ago. On the noble Lord’s final point, those are all published statistics, and I can confirm that the 65% figure is in paragraph 143 of the impact assessment.

I remind noble Lords that the application of the public order disqualification is firmly grounded in the provisions of the European convention against trafficking, or ECAT. Article 13(3) of ECAT clearly provides that states are not bound to provide a recovery and reflection period on the grounds of public order. It is again worth stressing that these provisions are time-limited. We recognise their exceptional nature, and the Bill expressly provides for Clauses 21 to 24 to cease to apply after two years unless both Houses agree to extend their operation for no more than 12 months at a time.

For the reasons I have set out, we consider that this sunsetting provision is more appropriate than the sunrise provision proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his Amendment 113A.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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I wonder whether the Minister could help me on this. On the figure of over 500 days in the NRM, from beginning to end, is that entirely due to Home Office officials not getting through it in a timely way, or is there any other reason why it is taking so long?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The NRM process requires the gathering of evidence and input from the party, so it is not down entirely to Home Office resourcing issues.

The appointment of the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner is at an advanced stage, and I am sure that once appointed they will want to monitor closely the impact of these provisions.

In relation to my noble friend’s amendments, I repeat the assurance that my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister made in the other place: namely that we will consider additional protections through statutory guidance for those who have experienced exploitation in the United Kingdom. We are continuing to develop such guidance and in doing so will adopt an appropriate balance between protecting victims of modern slavery and delivering the intent of this Bill.

As regards Amendment 103, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, quite properly raises the issue of how the modern slavery provisions in the Bill sit with the continued operation of the relevant EU directives in Northern Ireland. As I have said in earlier debates in Committee, the provisions in the Bill are compatible with the Windsor Framework. In particular, in the context of this amendment we do not consider that the 2011 anti-trafficking directive falls within the scope of Article 2 of the Windsor Framework.

Amendments 96, 102 and 105, tabled respectively by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, relate to the presumption that it is not necessary for a person to remain in the United Kingdom to co-operate with an investigation. As I outlined to the Committee, remote participation is now the norm in the workplace, and the criminal justice system is no different. It is simply no longer the case that a victim of crime needs to be in face-to-face contact with the police or others to assist with an investigation. In some cases, victims may even feel safer providing virtual or video-recorded evidence. I assure noble Lords that we are working to ensure that the relevant technology, interpreters and intermediaries are available where needed.

We have provided for statutory guidance to support decision-making by caseworkers when determining if there are compelling circumstances why the presumption should be set aside in a particular case, but there is no evidence as to why, in the majority of cases, such co-operation cannot continue by email, messaging and video conferencing. The presumption in Clauses 21(5), 23(5) and 24(5) is therefore perfectly proper and should be retained.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, I would be really grateful if the Minister could answer the question I asked him as to whether the Director of Public Prosecutions had been consulted about the effect on modern slavery and trafficking cases if the victim was not merely in another studio in another building in London or Manchester but in a country thousands of miles away, with no facilities to encourage or even compel them to give evidence.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I do not know whether the DPP has been consulted on that point but I will certainly find out and write to the noble Lord.

Amendment 112, put forward by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, would prevent the public order disqualification provided for in the 2022 Act being applied to a person whose positive reasonable grounds decision was based on exploitation which had occurred before they were 18. It is, in our view, entirely appropriate for the public order disqualification provided for in that Act to be capable of applying to all relevant individuals, including those exploited as children. In this regard, it is important to note that the public order disqualification in the 2022 Act applies only to specified persons, such as those who have been convicted of a serious criminal offence. In such cases, the age at which the exploitation took place is, I submit, irrelevant to the threat to public order an individual now poses, and we cannot tie our hands on this matter on the basis of the time at which exploitation took place.

The modern slavery measures in the Bill, alongside the others, are intended to deal with the immediate and pressing public risk arising from the exceptional circumstances relating to illegal entry into the UK. We need to take bold action and now. This Bill will not achieve its objective if removals are put on hold for over 500 days awaiting a conclusive grounds decision. As I indicated at the start, these amendments will quite simply wreck the Bill. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be content to withdraw his Amendment 12. If he is not, I invite the House to reject it.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but he referred again to the 500-plus days involved in the NRM process. Earlier, in response to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, he said that one of the reasons for that was examining the evidence. However, since he cites this as a reason for going ahead with these appalling proposals, can he explain to the House why it is not possible to shorten that period? Is he content that a process that takes more than 500 days is humane?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Considerable efforts are taken to seek to shorten the period but that is not an easy process. I agree with the noble Baroness that we should aspire to have a shorter period but we have to legislate for the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

I can now confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the CPS was indeed consulted in respect of these provisions.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in the spirit of reciprocity, we wholeheartedly support Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, as well as my noble friend Lord Dubs’s amendment.

My noble friend’s amendment points out that we should absolutely not rule out unaccompanied children from being admissible if they come via an illegal route. As we have heard from a number of noble Lords, this would not be in keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German, is a practical amendment on granting re-entry into the asylum system for those the Government are not able to remove, and we are happy to support it. It would avoid potentially thousands of children, as well as other asylum seekers, being kept in limbo. As he very fairly pointed out, this is a backstop for the Government because, if they are true to their aspirations for the Bill, they will never have to use the noble Lord’s amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord German, have explained, these amendments relate to the provision in Clause 4(2), which provides for protection claims and relevant human rights claims made by persons who meet the conditions in Clause 2 to be declared inadmissible.

On Amendment 14, we recognise the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children, as observed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which is why we need to prevent them making unnecessary and life-threatening journeys to the UK. If we are serious about wanting to prevent and deter these journeys, it is crucial that we maintain the position currently set out in the Bill. We must avoid creating a perverse incentive to put unaccompanied children on small boats and make dangerous journeys.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I point out that the Bill provides for a wholly new scheme. We are in a different position from the one we were in in the last Session, when the Nationality and Borders Bill, as it then was, was debated.

As I have said before, the Secretary of State is not required to make arrangements to remove an unaccompanied child from the UK, but there is a power to do so. The Bill sets out that this power will be exercised only in limited circumstances ahead of them reaching adulthood, such as for the purposes of reunion with a parent or where removal is to a safe country of origin. Where an unaccompanied child is not removed, pursuant to the power in Clause 3, we continue to believe that it is appropriate for the Bill to provide for the duty to remove to apply once they turn 18. To provide otherwise will, as I have already said, put more young lives at risk and split up more families by encouraging the people smugglers to put more and more unaccompanied children on to the small boats. In answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Bill is very much about protecting children.

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Moved by
18: Clause 5, page 7, line 31, at end insert “or territory”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment supplements the reference to a country in subsection (4)(b) of clause 5 with a reference to a territory, for consistency with the earlier reference in subsection (4) to a country or territory within subsection (3)(a) or (b) of that clause.