Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee
15:29
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely. I remind the Committee that unless they are leading a group, remote speakers speak after the mover of the lead amendment in a group and may therefore speak to other amendments in the group ahead of Members who tabled them.

Clause 1: Introduction

Amendment 1

Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “The” insert “first”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and others in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti to Clause 1, add the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence. The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, we commence the vital work of this Committee with amendments that address a fundamental dispute of fact: that the Government’s attitude to checks, balances and the rule of law now threatens our unwritten constitutional settlement. Having failed to convince our highest court that the Republic of Rwanda is currently safe for asylum seekers and refugees, the Executive seek to overturn the Supreme Court’s recent factual determination, ousting the jurisdiction of domestic courts to reconsider those facts in the light of further developments, including the Rwanda treaty on which the Government rely. The Government further purport to take powers to ignore interim orders of the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, they threaten both the domestic rule of law, especially the separation of powers, and the international rules-based order.

I remind noble Lords not just of the Supreme Court’s decision of 15 November last year but of subsequent reports of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, endorsed by an overwhelming vote in your Lordships’ House; of the Constitution Committee, including three former Conservative Ministers and a former No. 10 chief of staff; and now the majority report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will assume that some members of those committees will speak, so I will leave them fully to outline the clear results of their deliberations.

None the less, as your Lordships overwhelmingly decided to give this Bill a Second Reading, I will approach the task of amendment in the spirit of constitutional compromise, seeking to amend the Bill in line with the Government’s desired policy of offshoring asylum decisions while also seeking to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and the unequivocal advice of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee and Constitution Committee—this notwithstanding my personal objection to transporting human beings for processing, which will no doubt be subject to further political and legal scrutiny in the months and years ahead.

For present purposes, I take the Government at their word—even if that word has been put rather belligerently to the Supreme Court and your Lordships’ House. I will assume that the Government do not want to put the Executive of the United Kingdom on a collision course with our Supreme Court or our international legal obligations, so amendments in this group seek to offer a way through the stalemate for people of good will from all sides of your Lordships’ House. Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 in my name are supported by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I have signed Amendments 3 and 7 tabled by the noble Viscount. The noble Lord, Lord German, has Amendments 11 and 12.

Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee warned of a number of concerning trends in the present Government’s approach to our constitution and our courts, which seeks, for example, to disapply the Human Rights Act for particular unpopular groups rather than repeal it wholesale for everyone. I observe another new fashion in adding a lengthy introduction to a relatively short Bill that deems facts changed, making its purposes so clear that the courts should be wary of interpreting the legislation as they might otherwise do. However, since the arrival of this Bill in your Lordships’ House, the Prime Minister has stated—by a press conference, but stated—that his Rwanda Bill was designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Therefore, Amendments 1 and 2 add a secondary but essential purpose to the primary purpose of preventing and deterring what the Government see as unlawful migration. This purpose is to

“ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law by providing that no person will be removed to the Republic of Rwanda by or under such provision”

unless two conditions are met. The first condition is that there is advice from the UNHCR that Rwanda is now safe; for example, as a result of the successful implementation of promised reforms and safeguards to the asylum system there. The second condition is that this advice has been laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Now, some may balk at what they regard as a foreign body having any role whatever in the assessment of facts on the ground in Rwanda. However, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights noted, our Supreme Court’s concerns about the lack of safety there were in no small part in the light of unequivocal expert evidence from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with its special expertise and role under the refugee convention.

If the Executive is now asking Parliament to become complicit in overturning findings of fact by our Supreme Court—this is made explicit by Amendments 3 and 4 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—it should at the very least allow Parliament to hear advice from the expert body that the Supreme Court found so authoritative before allowing facts to be deemed as having changed. Accordingly, Amendment 5 replaces the edict that Rwanda “is” safe with that belief that it “may become” so, because it should be our unanimous aspiration that the whole world becomes a safer place for persecuted and displaced people.

Further, as even an independent expert body should never usurp the fact-finding jurisdiction of our courts, especially in dangerous and fast-changing times, Amendment 34 makes it clear that even clear and positive advice from the UNHCR would create only a “rebuttable presumption” that Rwanda is safe. In keeping with earlier legislation, as observed by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, it would not hobble our courts with an absolute conclusion. Yet, if the Government are really so confident that that Rwanda treaty, unlike the refugee convention so long before it, will be implemented so as convincingly to render that country safe, they have nothing to fear from either these amendments or our courts. I beg to move.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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My Lords, I must begin by apologising for the fact that I was abroad at the time of Second Reading and was therefore not in my place at that time. Much was made at Second Reading of the notion that the Bill in some way contravenes our constitutional principles, is an affront to the separation of powers, and infringes on the power of the judiciary. Those allegations are thoroughly misconceived but they are highly relevant to this amendment.

The plain fact is that we are a parliamentary democracy. That means that Parliament is sovereign and the reason why so many of us cherish that overarching principle is that we attach high importance to something called accountability. Accountability was not a word which featured very large in your Lordships’ debate at Second Reading. The courts are accountable to no one; they proudly proclaim that fact. Many of the bodies to which Parliament has in recent years outsourced some of its responsibilities have little, if any, accountability. But Parliament itself, or at least the other place—the House of Commons, in which I was privileged to serve for 27 years—is truly accountable. It is answerable to the British people at regular intervals and its Members can be summarily dismissed.

There are those who seem uncomfortable with our system and it is indeed true that there has been something of a whittling away at it in recent years. The courts have extended their power. Parliament itself has contributed to it by the outsourcing to which I referred. I often think it is a pity that those who praise these developments failed to come up with some suggested alternatives to parliamentary democracy, but there it is.

These amendments, if passed, would mark a new jump in this process. I ask those who support them to address the question of accountability. To whom is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accountable? They might say to the General Assembly of the United Nations, perhaps. To whom is that body accountable? Neither the high commissioner nor the General Assembly have any responsibility for securing our borders. They have no responsibility for the safety of those who make the perilous channel crossing. They have no duty to take into account the resentment felt by so many against the sheer unfairness of illegal immigration and the way in which it gives preference not to the most deserving, but merely to those who can afford to pay the people smugglers.

Our elected Government and this Parliament bear those responsibilities, and the House of Commons is directly accountable to the electorate for the way in which those responsibilities are discharged. These amendments would prevent our Government and Parliament discharging those responsibilities. They seek to outsource those responsibilities to an unelected body with no accountability. The acceptance of these amendments would constitute nothing less than an abdication of the responsibilities of government. I note without surprise—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I do not understand the argument that the noble Lord is making. As I understand the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the responsibility laid on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would be to advise the Secretary of State. I do not see how that makes him accountable; it would remain the Secretary of State, surely, who was accountable to this Parliament for the decisions that he decided to take in the light of the advice he received.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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I fear not. The easiest way of replying to the noble Lord is to read from the Member’s explanatory statement on the amendment:

“The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda”.


If there is no positive advice from the UNHCR, those claims cannot be processed in Rwanda. I think that will aid the noble Lord’s understanding of what I am saying.

15:45
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I was referring to the text of the amendment.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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I think it is perfectly reasonable, if one wants to know the intention of the amendment, to look at the Member’s explanatory statement. That is, indeed, the purpose of the explanatory statement.

I note with interest, but not with surprise, that none of these amendments is signed by any member of the Opposition Front Bench. I am not surprised because no party that aspires to government could support the abdication of the responsibilities of government, which these amendments would achieve.

I will just say a word about Amendment 7 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and others. It asserts that the decision of the Supreme Court was a “finding of fact”. But it was not; it was a finding of opinion—the Supreme Court’s opinion that the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda would expose them to the risk of refoulement. It is an opinion on which men of good faith and true can disagree. Indeed, it is an opinion on which distinguished judges disagreed.

The Divisional Court, one of whose two members was a Lord Justice of Appeal, came to the conclusion that what the Government were proposing was entirely lawful. The Court of Appeal, by majority, disagreed, but the then Lord Chief Justice dissented. In my view, when the Supreme Court reaches a conclusion on a matter of opinion, it is entirely legitimate and proper constitutionally for Parliament—the House of Commons is democratically accountable to the people, and the Supreme Court is not—to substitute its own opinion. That is what the Bill does, and that is why I support it.

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.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendments 11 and 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord German. I cannot stop myself saying that it really goes against the grain to do anything that suggests that Liberal Democrats regard the Bill as requiring only some tweaking to be acceptable.

First, I would like to make a general comment about Clause 1. For many years, Governments have opposed amendments setting out the general purpose of a Bill on the basis of such a clause having no effect and being rather confusing. I used to find that understandable, although I signed such amendments; they have tended to be narratives describing hopes, rather than expectations or anything firmer. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has commented on the changing fashion—of such measures being there to make the courts wary of the direction in which they might like to go. This problem applies to Clause 1.

There is a notable omission from the exposition of the Government’s policy—and that is tackling people smuggling, which is abhorrent in itself, not only because of the smugglers’ role in bringing asylum seekers to the UK. The Illegal Migration Act has a similar introductory section. Specifically, Section 1(3) says:

“Accordingly, and so far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect so as to achieve the purpose mentioned in subsection (1)”.


It is important to be clear about the legal effect of Clause 1. If it is intended that the clause is to be relied on, it needs to be sharpened up—for instance, in the case of terminology such as

“the system for the processing of … claims … is to be improved”,

an objective of the treaty, which is a pretty low bar. But my central point is that we need to be very clear about the legal effect and status of this clause, because there will be little point in amending the clause on Report unless the amendment has an effect, either as a stand-alone or by subsequent reference, such as the Act not coming into force unless a provision in Clause 1 is met. This may seem a rather technical point but, looking ahead, I do not want to be tripped up on it.

Amendment 12—I am aware that it is an amendment to the clause whose effect I have been querying—therefore probes the definition of “safe country”. The Bill refers, in Clause 1(5)(b)(ii), to a person having

“their claim determined and … treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law”—

that is, Rwanda’s obligations. The amendment would leave out “that country’s” and insert “the United Kingdom’s”, changing it to being the UK’s “obligations under international law”.

The treaty is predicated on Rwanda being under the same obligations, and as observant of them, as is the UK, so that the transfer to Rwanda, as I understand it, means really only a change of venue. Dr Google did not really help me yesterday in finding what conventions Rwanda has signed up to and, importantly, ratified and observed. But we are proceeding with this on the basis that everything that we would do in this country will apply under the new regime, and I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

Amendment 11 is related to this. Clause 1(5)(a) also defines a safe country for the purposes of the Bill. It refers to the UK’s obligations

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

Surely, all our obligations are relevant to the treatment of persons removed there, not just in that country. So both amendments go to the issue of safety—that is, the Bill’s compatibility with the UK’s human rights obligations, which are the obligations that are crucial as part of this whole regime.

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, it is a hard act to follow so many lawyers here: I hope that my compassion and conviction might help me where I am missing legal expertise. I support the amendments to Clause 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which introduce an additional purpose of compliance with the rule of law and a role for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I apologise that I was unable to join your Lordships for Second Reading, as I was overseas. I have read the Hansard record of the debate, during which many noble Lords raised what I see as the fundamental issue at stake with the Bill and the Rwanda scheme more broadly: how it is squared with the rule of law and with the international agreements and obligations that are the bedrock and defence of our freedom and prosperity.

I come to this with a conviction that our best chance of solving the global challenges we face, illegal migration among them, is not through unilateral action but through international co-operation and standing up for the rule of law. Other noble Lords have explained how these amendments would help ensure that refugees really are safe, and the importance of this as a matter of humanity as well as of law. I suggest that recognising a role for the UNHCR is also important from an international perspective, and as a route towards the lasting solution the Government seek. It is right to want to reduce people smuggling, but, if the Bill is to have a positive impact, it will be only as part of a wider approach.

The preamble of the 1951 refugee convention is surely correct when it states that a “satisfactory solution” to the problem of supporting refugees in a fair and humane manner, without placing an undue burden on any one state,

“cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation … the effective co-ordination of measures taken to deal with this problem will depend upon the co-operation of States with the High Commissioner”.

As I have argued in your Lordships’ House before, a lack of respect for international law and the weakness of international institutions lie behind the large number of people forcibly displaced around the world. While not the only cause, wars of aggression, indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians, war crimes and crimes against humanity drive displacement. We will not reduce the number of displaced persons globally while wars and atrocities continue unchecked, and while international law is applied unevenly. At a time when we and the wider West are struggling to maintain any credibility when it comes to the rule of law and international co-operation, recognising in law a place for UNHCR in determining the safety of the Rwanda scheme would be a small step towards demonstrating our ongoing commitment to international institutions and agreements that are critical for global security.

It has become a bit of a trope to say that the refugee convention and UNHCR itself are outdated and unable to rise to the magnitude of the task at hand. In supporting a role for UNHCR in this legislation, I challenge that view. It is worth putting the scale of the refugee situation in some context. As a recent book, How Migration Really Works by Professor Hein de Haas, one of the world’s leading experts on migration, sets out very clearly, current refugee numbers are not in fact exceptional or unprecedented. There are 30 million refugees globally, but this is 0.3% of the global population, only marginally above the proportion of refugees in 1992. The vast majority of the displaced stay either in their country of origin or their immediate region; it is a small minority who come to Europe and to the United Kingdom.

We should be able to rise to this challenge. The refugee crisis is one of protection and political will, not only of sheer numbers. This Bill is all about signalling. The Government hope to signal that they are tough on illegal migration and to deter small boat crossings, but we are at risk of signalling that we are uninterested in the rule of law and in our international agreements and co-operation. That would be a very serious mistake for our ability to co-operate on refugees and other global issues, as well as for the international rules-based order.

16:00
Lord Bishop of Southwark Portrait The Lord Bishop of Southwark
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My Lords, I support Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Amendments 2, 5 and 34, tabled by the same noble Lords and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I also offer supportive comments on Amendment 7 to Clause 1, tabled by the noble Viscount, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The most reverend Primate is present but cannot attend the entirety of this debate and the right reverend Prelate cannot be with us this afternoon.

It will be a very slight augmentation of the wisdom of this House to know that we on these Benches do not favour the outsourcing of asylum claims to other countries or territories—which is rather different from what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was saying about the outsourcing of power. We recognise, however, that the courts have deemed this lawful in certain circumstances and that we have a Bill from the other place which is designed to deal with a particular designation that the Supreme Court deemed to fall outside our obligations under the law.

I accept that the recent treaty between His Majesty’s Government and the Republic of Rwanda makes legally binding, with additional enhancements, the 2022 memorandum of understanding between the two Governments—for example, the commitment under the new asylum procedure that no person relocated to Rwanda under the treaty will be sent to any country other than the UK, if the UK so requests. However, as the House knows, the International Agreements Committee of this House recommends not ratifying until further evidence is available.

None the less, there remain very significant concerns about the contents of the Bill, not least about using legislation to make a declaration of fact in order to correct a court that has heard evidence. It is clear that the Government have gone to a great deal of effort to provide evidence to persuade critics of the feasibility of removal to Rwanda as a safe and properly functioning process while at the same time trying to satisfy their policy aim, and critics of a different stamp, that the limited capacity of the scheme will be a deterrent to those who make long and dangerous journeys to cross the channel.

The purpose of these amendments is to match the Bill more closely to the requirements of the Supreme Court judgment, so that it is more just and less open to challenge. For the sake of the people whose lives will be affected by yet more upheaval, who as it stands will not even have the opportunity to have their claim heard in this country, we cannot afford to get this wrong. Courts and tribunals must be able to make a judgment about the safety of Rwanda based on a consideration of the facts. We are not primarily discussing the suitability of Rwanda; we are discussing its safety for people who, by definition, have highly complex lives and circumstances.

The treaty introduces safeguards and checks, as it should, but these are not yet in force. I share the view that more is needed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency the Government have worked with in a highly effective way over many years, should provide that positive judgment of safety. Until then, the Government are taking an unreasonable risk by sending anyone to Rwanda.

These amendments offer practical steps which strike the kind of balance we are wise to pursue in this revising Chamber. They do not wreck the Bill, nor remove the objective of deterrence from it—and we can debate in due course the degree of inhibition that brings to the process. Rather, these amendments would provide an adequate mechanism for addressing concerns about the UK’s compliance with international law, and, appropriately, given the name of the Bill, the safety of Rwanda as a destination for the processing of asylum claims intended originally for the UK. These amendments are important for the preservation of judicial oversight and for the maintenance of the separation of powers, which is a fundamental component of our constitution. It is for Parliament to make laws and it is for the judiciary to judge cases, including the lawfulness of government decisions, and to make findings grounded on the basis of evidence.

Amendment 7 seeks to make it plain that the Bill replaces the Supreme Court’s finding of fact. A Bill cannot change the actual situation on the ground in another country; it can only mandate that evidence to the contrary is disregarded. We have a duty of care in international law towards asylum seekers who arrive in this country. Legislating that Rwanda is a safe country does not necessarily make it so for the potentially vulnerable people who might be sent there. However, the Bill’s primary purpose is to disregard the UK’s own Supreme Court’s finding that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers.

Let us be clear what we are doing. The Law Society has said, unequivocally, that it is inappropriate for the Government to undermine the judiciary in this way and that the Bill threatens the balance of powers in the United Kingdom. The amendment would put in the Bill that a judicial finding of fact is being replaced. I hope that we give these amendments a fair wind.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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I give my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. In doing so, I express slight puzzlement that the Government seem to have difficulty in accepting the amendments. The Government tell us again and again that nothing in the Bill is contrary to our international obligations. Okay, they should then just accept the amendments and make it clearer than it was before. One may have one’s doubts as to the reasons the Government are not going to accept the amendments, but, basically, their position is that of the Red Queen in Alice: “It is so because I say it is so”.

I will address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, because they were extremely far-reaching, damaging and disruptive of our ability to support a rules-based international order. He seemed to not take into account that it was this sovereign Parliament that ratified our membership of the United Nations in 1945. The Charter of the United Nations contains the charter for the General Assembly, and the General Assembly appoints the High Commissioner for Refugees. Therefore, I do not think his argument about lack of accountability stands up. If you think about it, contradicting any role for the High Commissioner for Refugees to give advice to us about whether Rwanda is a safe place is an extraordinarily far-reaching and damaging claim to make.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, it is not simply a question of seeking advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The amendments clearly state that, unless positive advice is obtained, no one can be removed to Rwanda. So the decision will no longer be the decision of the Secretary of State; it will be the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That is the point. It is not just advice; it is advice which would be binding, according to these amendments, on the Government.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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I thank the noble Lord for that point. He interrupted me before I got to the answer to his question—but that is fine. I had been going to say that the doctrine, according to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is that every member that has signed the refugee convention—well over 150, I think—and ratified it, including our sovereign Parliament, has the right to reinterpret the convention as it wishes. You have only to stop and think for one minute what that implies to realise that it implies complete chaos and the law of the jungle. If all 150-plus members of the United Nations refugee convention are able to stand up and say, “Well, actually, this is what I think the convention means, and I don’t care a damn what the High Commissioner for Refugees says”, then we are living in chaos. It is to avoid that that these amendments are being put forward.

I strongly support the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who expressed extremely eloquently the reason this country has a real interest in paying attention to these matters.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I thought it might help the Committee, before this debate with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, rumbles on, for me to clarify that he is quite right. This amendment, as currently drafted, requires positive advice from the UNHCR, and not just advice, positive or negative. In the current iteration of the amendment, the reason for that is that the Prime Minister expressly said that the Bill is designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court, which were based predominantly on the negative advice from the UNHCR about the situation in Rwanda—such was the nature of the evidence of the UNHCR and the credence that our Supreme Court gave to it.

However, if that formulation is too rich for their blood, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, or the Government, are welcome to amend the amendment or offer their own, which requires only advice positive or negative by the UNHCR before either the Secretary of State or Parliament can look again at whether Rwanda has changed subsequent to the treaty and is now, or in the future, a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, I do not wish to pursue that course at all. I am not one of the proposers of this amendment; I am merely supporting it.

The arguments that I am adducing relate to the state that this country would be in if it issues forth into the world and says it has an absolute right to interpret a United Nations convention which it ratified many years ago, and which it has supported through thick and thin ever since, and now wishes to contradict. That is a serious matter and I do not believe that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, ought to carry weight, because the implications of them for our position in the world and our support for a rules-based international order would be extremely damaging.

16:15
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I want simply to say a few words in support of Amendments 3 and 7 in my name, and to express more general support for the position adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

On Amendment 3, it is simply untrue to state that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country. That may be the opinion of the House of Commons—I was a Whip there for many years, so I know the forces that are put in place to assure the opinion of that House; the “elective dictatorship” of which my father spoke—but what is absolutely certain is that it is not the opinion of this House. We know that to be a fact because of the vote that took place here on 22 January.

In my opinion, we should not put into a Bill a statement that is manifestly untrue. Hence, I put down amendments that state the truth: that the safety of Rwanda is the opinion of the Government. That is the truth, so why on earth should we not enact that simple truth, rather than commit what, in other circumstances, would be described as a lie?

On Amendment 7, we should state in clear terms what we are doing. We are, in fact, using a statutory and untrue pronouncement to reverse a recent finding by the Supreme Court. I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Howard; we were colleagues for very many years, and he was in the House of Commons for 27 years. I beat him, as I was there for 30 years, but he was a lot more distinguished than me. However, to try to say that the Supreme Court did not make a finding of fact is to turn the situation on its head. It expressed an opinion as to fact, as juries do in criminal cases—and an opinion as to fact is a finding of fact.

I will take a slightly broader view. I happen to share the view—I suspect it is pretty general in this House—that both legal and illegal migration are far too high and should be reduced. I share the very correct intention of the Government to deter illegal migration, which we need to do. My objection is not to the purpose but to the means being advocated, which is wrong in principle and will not succeed. However, it is clear to me, as it is to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the Government have decided to push ahead and will doubtless reverse our amendments in ping-pong.

In the spirit of compromise, I will make some positive suggestions, as the noble Baroness did. Leaving aside the issue of principle, I am concerned that the Government are seeking to enact, without any proper assessment, their judgment as to whether Rwanda is safe. That means not just whether the treaty is put in place in Rwanda, but whether its provisions are implemented over a period of time—and whether we can for other reasons say that Rwanda is safe. That, we are entitled to do. To be clear: that is not a one-off assessment; it has to be a continuing assessment, because things can change.

The other thing we need to be absolutely clear about is whether the policy objective is working. We are told that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce illegal migration across the channel. That is a judgment—I do not happen to think it will work—but one thing is certain: we do not know now whether it will work, but in the course of time, we may be able to form a view.

My concern is that the Bill provides no mechanism for a continuing assessment of both the safety of Rwanda and the success of the policy, and I believe that Parliament is entitled to demand a continuous and authoritative assessment. We can argue whether it should be based on the European body; or, as Amendment 81 suggests, it should be done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights; or, as I have in the past suggested, by a special Select Committee appointed for the purpose. However, there is a way forward. The Bill does not come into operation without both Houses of Parliament triggering it by an affirmative resolution, and they can do so only once a report has been received from whatever assessment monitoring board we put into place.

That is not enough because, as I say, we need continuing assessment. Therefore, I contemplate something like this. The initial trigger should be, say, for two years. It could then be renewed for two years by another statutory process—affirmative resolution—on the basis of a further report; and then again, if the Secretary of State thinks he will get away with it. That way, we will have a continuing process of assessment, which would give this House and Parliament in general something on which it could honourably proceed.

I would like to think that my noble friends on the Front Bench will show a certain degree of flexibility. If they do not, it may be quite difficult to persuade their critics to be flexible.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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My Lords, I briefly want to follow my noble friend Lord Hailsham in his remarks. Had he been the presider in a three-person court, I would have been very happy to say that, having heard his speech, I had nothing else to add. However, since we are here, your Lordships have the disadvantage of hearing what I have to say. Like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne and my noble friend Lady Helic, I regret not being present at Second Reading and apologise, but I have read the Hansard of the debate.

I am always reluctant to disagree with my noble friend Lord Howard, but he took too narrow an approach to the questions before us. I use Clause 1(2)(b), which is the subject my noble friend Lord Hailsham attacks, as a hanger on which to make a few remarks. I think, if I understood him correctly, that my noble friend Lord Howard said that Parliament can essentially do what it likes, and of course he is perfectly right. Parliament can be as foolish as it likes. It can pass a law saying that all dogs are cats, but that does not make all dogs cats. It can pass a law saying that Rwanda is a safe country, but that does not make it a safe country. In addition—this is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham—it is for the Executive to advance their policy, whether it is a good policy or a bad one. It is for the Government to say that it is their policy that Rwanda is a safe country to which to send failed asylum seekers. If the Government then wish to have their view tested by Parliament, again, they can go ahead and do it.

Therefore, what the Government are proposing as a matter of policy is not a constitutional outrage, but the way in which they are writing it down in Clause 1(2)(b) is, if I may respectfully say so, just plain silly. It is worse to be silly than it is to be guilty of a constitutional outrage, and this is not a constitutional outrage but just plain silly.

Ridicule is a more powerful weapon than the constitutional and legal arguments of any number of lawyers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, advances in one of her amendments, it would be helpful to have a UNHCR opinion on the safety or otherwise of Rwanda. However, I have a feeling that exporting government policy to the UNHCR is not a good idea. It would be helpful to have that opinion, but it is not essential. The Government must stand on their own feet, bring their policy to Parliament and have it tested. It will survive or not on the merits of the facts. The assessment of whether Rwanda is a safe country must be for the Government to consider and for Parliament to agree; we as a bicameral parliamentary body are not equipped to reach those sorts of conclusions. We can agree or disagree with the Government, but we are not equipped in a presidium to reach a conclusion on whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country as a matter of fact.

I do not wish to undermine or underestimate the hugely difficult political problem that the Government face with illegal immigration and the making of unsound asylum applications. Nor do I wish to undermine their genuine and very proper decision and policy to stop the boats. However, if we are to stop the boats, and if we are to reduce the amount of illegal immigration and bogus asylum applications, the Government would go a long way if they had the confidence of their own convictions and allowed Clause 1(2)(b) to say that that the Bill gives effect to the politically expedient policy of the Government that the Republic of Rwanda is safe, rather than trying to shift the responsibility for that opinion on to Parliament. Parliament may come to agree with it, but the initial policy is one for government. To that extent I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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I am another supporter of Amendment 3. Clause 1 is an example of the current vogue for starting Bills not with operative provisions but with preambular statements of the obvious, a custom which is always irritating but normally harmless. However, there is harm, not just silliness, in Clause 1(2)(b) with its rather grand invocation of

“the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”,

a judgment for all time, apparently, that there is no provision to revisit or change. That invocation is unnecessary and contrary to principle. It is unnecessary because there are other ways for Rwanda to be declared or deemed safe. The Secretary of State could be entrusted with the decision or, if it really is necessary for Parliament to take it, there could at least be a power for the Secretary of State to amend it in the light of changed conditions, as was the case with Section 75 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

It is contrary to principle because it requires us to come to a judgment on a fact-specific life-and-death matter on which, frankly, we are ill equipped to adjudicate. Of course, this is not the first time that such a thing has happen. It was tried in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, when the countries of the European Economic Area—all signatories to the ECHR—were deemed, beyond rebuttal, to be safe. That experiment, a requirement of European Union law, was not a successful one. Its unwieldiness was demonstrated in the case of Nasseri. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords dismissed a challenge to the safety of Greece but, through the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, whom I am delighted to see in his place, indicated that the courts might have to issue a declaration of incompatibility if the deeming provision was contradicted by the evidence. The issue was sensibly addressed in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 by transforming the irrebuttable presumption into a rebuttable one.

16:30
No such good sense is on display in Clause 1(2)(b), which is a much more contentious provision because of its very different context. It asks us to state definitively that Rwanda is safe, when all the evidence points the other way—in particular, the verdict of our own Supreme Court, which identified defects that it did not consider solvable in the short term, and the judgment of our International Agreements Committee, which we endorsed by a healthy majority when we voted on it on 22 January.
Of course, we can do anything we want, but this does not mean that it is sensible to do so. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights put it in its report of this morning:
“the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact”.
A unanimous Constitution Committee, on which I serve, went a little further last week when it described this clause as “constitutionally inappropriate”. It invoked both the rule of law and the separation of powers.
I emphasise the practical point that this clause puts Parliament on a quite unnecessary collision course with the courts, both domestic and international. Amendment 3 would not solve all the Bill’s problems; it would not even stop Clause 1 from being pointless, but it would at least render it harmless and that is why I support it.
Lord Tugendhat Portrait Lord Tugendhat (Con)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, I was unable to be present for Second Reading two weeks ago, but I cannot allow the Bill to pass through the House without making my deep concern about it evident in public. I am speaking on this group of amendments because they go to the heart of my concern.

I have been a Member of Parliament for a very long time, on and off, and a member of the Conservative Party for some 66 years, when I counted it up. I find it quite extraordinary that the party of Margaret Thatcher should introduce a Bill of this kind. Like some other noble Lords, I have a clear memory of the great battle that Margaret Thatcher fought with the European Union—the European Community in those days—over the British budget contribution. From time to time, it was suggested that she should cut the cackle, put the continentals in their place and cut off the British contribution. That would have been very dramatic, and very popular in some circles, but she did not countenance the idea because she believed that it would be contrary to the law. There were those who warned that it might even run into trouble in the British courts. How different that is from this Bill and the way in which we are now asked to behave towards the Supreme Court and the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is no esoteric matter that concerns only the subject under discussion and is of interest only to lawyers. We in this country frequently boast that Britain is such a marvellous place to do business because of our great respect for the rule of law and because the Government, unlike some Governments of the world, can be relied on not to make arbitrary and unreasonable acts. It is very difficult to sustain that argument in the light of the Bill now before us. I do not know whether those who envisage doing business in this country will draw that conclusion or not, but we are going against a fundamental interest, not just on this issue but for our wider reputation.

What we are asked to do represents the sort of behaviour that the world associates with despots and autocracies, not with an established democracy nor with the mother of Parliaments. It is a Bill we should not even be asked to confront, let alone pass.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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It is a privilege to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, and I strongly agree with it. I will focus on two things in relation to what the Government are asking us to do. Before that, I apologise for not having been here at Second Reading—I, too, was abroad. I declare an interest as a member of the Constitution Committee of this House, which published a report unanimously expressing very considerable concerns about the Bill.

I have two concerns about the Bill. As a nation, we have accepted for the last 70 years that we will not deport asylum seekers to a place where they may face death, torture or inhuman treatment, and that, if asylum seekers feel that that is a risk, they can seek protection from the courts. The courts may well give an applicant short shrift if they do not think there is anything in it, but we have stood by that protection for 70 years and incorporated it into our domestic law in the Human Rights Act 1998. The Bill envisages the possibility—or indeed it being the more-likely-than-not result, according to those who have looked at it independently—that people will be sent to Rwanda, where they will be at substantial risk of being refouled, which means sent back to a place where they could be tortured or killed.

The claim made by the Government is that we have entered into an agreement with Rwanda that says it will not send anybody who comes from here to anywhere except the UK, to which the answer is that given by the international treaties committee: that the reason there was a risk of refoulement was that Rwanda did not even have the most basic system of properly assessing asylum claims. The idea that the Bill envisages—that the moment the new treaty comes into force, it will provide that protection—is absolute nonsense. Everybody appreciates that except, as far as I can see, the right honourable Mr James Cleverly, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. If we look at the conclusions that the Supreme Court introduced, we see that, factually, it is just a non-starter.

The Government say, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, will confirm it on their behalf, that they stand by the commitment we have made for the last 70 years that asylum seekers will not be exported to a place where they might be refouled. If that is their true position, how on earth can they allow this? The international treaties committee also said that, quite separately from the fact that we would need to reform completely Rwanda’s asylum system, we would have to enter into a number of other detailed provisions before it could be seen whether the provision in the new agreement prevented refoulement. Those agreements have not yet been entered into with Rwanda, and there is no requirement for them to be so before the Bill becomes law.

My first big objection to the Bill is that it goes against commitments we have made as a nation and stood by for the past 70 years. If we are looking for solutions to the problems of immigration in the world, turning our backs on all the international agreements that we have made seems a very bad start indeed.

My second big objection to the Bill is that it fundamentally crosses over the separation of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, whom I greatly admire—he was a member of our Constitution Committee—said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’re just taking the opinion of the former Lord Chief Justice, who is the dissenting voice in the Court of Appeal”. No, that is not what the Government say they are doing. They are saying, “We’ve taken account of the Supreme Court judgment. We respect that judgment. We’re not going with the former Lord Chief Justice’s judgment; we’re dealing with the points that have been made—and, by the way, dealing with them while not letting anybody question us about that”. That is absolutely not the role of this House or the courts.

What this Bill leads to is Parliament delivering what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, described as silly, but is so much more profound than silly. I quite agree with him that the beginning of the Bill is very silly in the way that it reads—it is a cack-handed attempt to deliver a judgment, like a court would read—but it is not silly; it is dangerous.

Think of three examples. First, Parliament can say, “Even though we see Rwanda refouling people we are sending, and it is sending Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis back to death or torture, we will do nothing”. We will say that that is okay because we made our judgment that it was a safe country.

That is one example. Let us take another. Suppose the Prime Minister has a friend or a crony in the House of Commons who is convicted in a court of corruption of some sort. The Prime Minister then presents a Bill to Parliament, saying, “It is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP actually wasn’t able to present this new evidence to the criminal court that convicted him, so it is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP is innocent”. That is the route this Bill takes Parliament down.

Take a third example: the Electoral Commission decides that it will not investigate some problem of, say, not complying with expenses and the courts then say, in relation to that decision, “The Electoral Commission was overinfluenced by party-political considerations”—for example, the governing party was very unkeen for there to be a proper investigation of some expenses fraud in an election, and on judicial review the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate was set aside on the basis there was no basis not to investigate. Once again, relying on this precedent, the Government of the day, assuming they have a big majority, can produce a Bill that says, “It is the judgment of Parliament that the courts have got that opinion wrong”—as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, introducing a whole new concept in the law, said is the position.

That is the danger of this Bill. I am not sure that I support all my noble friend Baroness Chakrabarti’s solutions—in particular, I am not sure the reference to the United Nations commissioner on refugees is the right source—but, my goodness, if we start letting Parliament make such judgments, we open a door that will be incredibly difficult to close. We in this House surely should not give effect to it.

I have one final point. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said, “Don’t worry, it’s all Clause 4”. It is not. Clause 4 allows appeals to be made only by people who say something different from “the country is not safe generally”; it is only if there is something specific about them. If, for example, I am a voluble member of the Rwandan opposition and I am then sent to Rwanda, where I may get tortured or killed, then I have a ground, but if I am from Syria or Afghanistan and Rwanda is refouling regularly, I have no basis for appealing.

My first point is that we should stand by our commitments to asylum seekers. My second is: do not listen to this siren song that this is not a fundamental change in our constitution. It is, and it will be the foundation of very bad things to come.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I was at Second Reading. I do not know if that makes me less interesting to listen to than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and all the rest. I have heard some of these remarks before, of course, but it is always a pleasure to hear them again, if I agree with them. I will say something quite similar to what noble Lords have just heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I will obviously say it less competently, because I do not have legal training, but what I do have is common sense. I am not suggesting that they are mutually exclusive, but they are two completely different things.

16:45
This is an absurd Bill. It is nasty. It is inhumane. I do not want any part of it, and Greens have made it clear, along with our friends—on this occasion—the Lib Dems, that we would stop it if we possibly could. In line with that, I support Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It has been claimed that “silly” is not an appropriate term; but it is frankly silly drafting.
Clause 1(2)(b) says that
“this Act gives effect to the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.
Acts of Parliament are not vehicles for Parliament to express its opinion about issues, so this clause ought to be removed on that basis alone, or else we will start legislating opinions instead of laws.
But Parliament is not of the opinion that Rwanda is a safe country; we have not been presented with any evidence to prove that, and we have no process to make such determinations. The best we have is a debate on amendments, which we may pass and return to the Commons—to the other end, or whatever we call it. The Government will, of course, disagree with any amendments we pass; they will almost certainly strip them out, and we will be back here debating again, wasting long hours trying to make this Government see sense. This is bad lawmaking, and a silly precedent.
Is not a Motion, rather than legislation, the correct vehicle for each House to formulate its judgment and express its view on an issue, independent of one another? What future opinions will be voiced in legislation? What views will be forced on your Lordships’ House by the elected House, no matter how wrong or how wicked? This deals with just one small part of this awful Bill, but it is illustrative of the constitutional and moral nonsense that runs throughout. This Bill cannot be amended; it must be stopped.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, with these amendments we are trying to stop the Government forcing us to lie. That is what we are trying to do.
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I had the privilege of serving as a Cross-Bench member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in her remarks. Indeed, she referred to the 50-page report that was finally agreed by a majority in the committee—it is a majority, not a unanimous, report—on 7 February. It was published today, as others have said, and is available in the Printed Paper Office.

In my remarks, I will say something about what the report has to say about safety. Before doing that, I will agree in particular with the tone of many of the contributions that have been made so far on this group of amendments. As always, my noble friend Lord Hannay put his finger on our international obligations, not least among which is the 1951 convention on refugees. It may well be that this is not written in stone and that there should be attempts to try to change and reform this in the climate of today’s demands—I am happy to give way.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving way. He has just referred to international agreements. Would he agree with me, therefore, that this Bill contravenes international agreements such as the UDHR and also the ECHR? I am reminded of the fact that the provisions of this Bill extend to Northern Ireland. Hence, this provision and this Bill undermine the very basis of the Good Friday agreement.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness; I was not intending to touch on Northern Ireland, but she is right that this does touch on the Windsor agreement and on our obligations to Northern Ireland, which are separate from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. I commend that section of the report. These are not my opinions; the report does touch on that question.

The noble Baroness also asked about our other obligations. We have many obligations, not just under the refugee convention but under the ECHR, to which she has just referred. The Government on this Bill, as on the Illegal Migration Bill, decline to give a compatibility statement because they cannot say that it will be compatible—although I know Ministers take a contrary view that there is uncertainty around that. However, if there is uncertainty, we must be very careful where we tread.

On the issue of our international reputation, I was very struck by the statement made by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is referred to in the JCHR report. He justified what he was intending to do and has done in sending back 430,000 Afghan refugees to Pakistan. He said it was modelled on what we were seeking to do in the British Parliament. So, even though we know that is casuistry and extreme, nevertheless we can see where this argument can lead and the way in which it be used. So, yes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, our international reputation can easily suffer.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark got to the heart of this when he said that legislating that Rwanda is safe does not make it so. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, touched on that point. Just saying an apple is a pear does not make it such. Saying that a dog is a cat does not make it such. It may be your opinion, but it is not true—and that is surely what we have a duty to try to do in this place.

On process, procedure and governance, during our debates on the Illegal Migration Bill and the treaty, I complained that we had not been treated properly as a Select Committee in the way you would expect Select Committees to be treated. Suella Braverman, the then Home Secretary, declined to appear before the Select Committee. We did not see James Cleverly in the context of this Bill. However, we did see the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, and I pay tribute to him for the way he delivered his evidence and took the questions we put to him. As the noble and learned Lord has just said, it is the duty of the Home Secretary of the day to explain the intentions of legislation. If there is anxiety about something as important as a compatibility statement, they should explain why they feel unable to give it.

My noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich rightly said that we are ill-equipped to make these decisions in Parliament. I did not serve as long as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, although we have the distinction of contesting the same parliamentary seat in the heart of Liverpool on separate occasions, or as long as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, but I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said about the way in which legislation has traditionally been dealt with in another place and here. I cannot remember Select Committees being treated by Secretaries of State in the way that I have just described. Thinking all the way back to the British Nationality Bill 1981, on which I spoke many times, there were opportunities to hear the arguments, to discuss the implications and to make appropriate amendments. I have not felt that about this legislation or that which preceded it. I think it has been pushed through in a pell-mell way, bringing to mind the thought that, if you enact legislation in a hurry, you will end up repenting at some leisure.

Let me take noble Lords to page 15 of the report, which comes down to the role of the UNHCR and safety. “As of January 2024”, therefore as recently as last month,

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

The Supreme Court, not the House of Commons or the House of Lords, relied on the UNHCR when it came to a decision about questions of fact. The report states:

“UNHCR notes the detailed, legally-binding commitments now set out in the treaty, which if enacted in law and fully implemented in practice, would address certain key deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system identified by the Supreme Court. This would however require sustained, long term efforts, the results of which may only be assessed over time”.


Well, clearly, we have not had the time to make those assessments, and again we are being urged to rush pell-mell. I will not detain the Committee much longer. One witness, Professor Tom Hickman KC, said:

“Parliament is effectively being asked to exercise a judicial function, to assess evidence, to look at detailed facts and, effectively, to distinguish the Supreme Court’s judgment, to say that things have moved on and it is not binding on Parliament—I do not mean in a non-legal way—in making its judgment. In my view, that is an inappropriate exercise for Parliament to conduct. It is a judicial function”.


This view was echoed by Professor Sarah Singer, who is quoted in paragraph 57 as saying:

“To contradict the Supreme Court in this way is, perhaps, not showing the respect to the court that should be owed as a constitutional principle”.


I conclude with the summary on page 35, which says:

“We have considered the Government’s evidence that Rwanda is now safe, but have also heard from witnesses and bodies including the UNHCR that Rwanda remains unsafe, or at least that there is not enough evidence available at this point to be sure of its safety. Overall, we cannot be clear that the position reached on Rwanda’s safety by the country’s most senior court is no longer correct. In any event, the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact, so the question of Rwanda’s safety would best be determined not by legislation but by allowing the courts to consider the new treaty and the latest developments on the ground”.


For all those reasons, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has done noble Lords a great favour in bringing these amendments to us in Committee. She has already shown her willingness to think further about whether they might be applied in other ways. That surely is what Committee stage is all about. The tone that has been struck in the course of this debate behoves noble Lords to think very deeply. I commend this report to the Committee.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the tone of this debate, particularly in relation to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I warmly welcome her obvious desire to find some way forward in this difficult area, which we certainly need to do, but I am afraid there is a rock—a difficulty—in the way of her amendment. It makes a classic mistake: taking two separate organisations with different objectives and obligations, and placing one with a veto over the other.

According to my reading of the amendment, the UNHCR would in practice have a veto over what the UK Government can do; this is the difficulty. The noble Baroness used the word “stalemate”, but her proposals would also lead to a stalemate while the UNHCR went on for ever, we know not when, saying whether Rwanda was safe. There would be debates, hostilities and probably no eventual consensus as to whether it was safe. Surely a more sensible way forward would be to take existing circumstances and practice, and for each side to engage properly and responsibly with the other.

We have obligations to the UNHCR; we are obliged under the refugee convention to engage with the UNHCR, and so we should. We are obliged to take account of the social and humanitarian consequences for refugees, and so we should. But, equally, the UNHCR should take into account the real responsibility of Governments to defend their borders in the sensible way that their own democracies would expect. If we can get the two working together, something sensible may emerge from that.

It already has in Australia. I wish we would not always be quite so insular. For 10 years now, Australia has been operating an outsourcing policy of the kind to which the UK aspires. It started off in precisely the same way—with precisely the advocates on each side—that we did. In the end, the Australian Government invited in the UNHCR at three different levels: the prime ministerial level, the ministerial level and the ordinary regional level of civil servants and so forth. They came to an agreement on how it should work.

Not only that but the UNHCR, as a consequence of its willingness to get involved, had leverage. It got out of the Australian Government more legal routes for genuine asylum seekers, and the same should happen here. Our legal routes for asylum seekers are at present wholly unsatisfactory, because they are confined to a small number of countries and most countries are excluded.

My view of a proper immigration policy has always been that there should be a settled cap on how many we should bring in, which we put publicly to the people every year in Parliament. Within that cap, the priority should be genuine asylum seekers and only thereafter economic migrants or people joining their families here. That is the right way to approach a total immigration policy, of which this is numerically only a very small part.

17:00
We should therefore follow the Australian example, which is now operating successfully and is supported by both parties. The Labor Party in Australia has just reduced the cap on the number of immigrants allowed into that country because it is dissatisfied with the numbers going there; it is a vast country, after all. We have a similar but even more acute problem here. If we followed that example of Governments working within the existing acknowledged framework of their obligations to the international community, surely we could make some progress. If we hang on to too many bells and whistles of the kind that the House seems to want, I am afraid that we will fail and not make the progress available to us here.
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, this has been a long debate and I shall therefore be extremely brief. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark spoke powerfully, as have many extremely well-qualified lawyers, so I will not talk about the law. I found myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. He put important points that I hope will be reflected later in our debates.

We also need to take account of what one might call the real world. I am glad to see that the Opposition Front Bench is being cautious at this point; perhaps that is one of the reasons. The reality is that the Government have lost control of our borders, and even the backlog of asylum seekers is enough to fill the largest stadium in the UK. I regret to say that there is deep public anger, but there is, and we have to take it into account—I am sure that the Commons will—when we take this forward. It is therefore for the Government to take action to bring all this under control and for us to give some advice as to how that could best be done. But let us not lose sight of the fact that this is a very difficult and widely resented situation, and we need to be careful ourselves.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to speak to this group of amendments; I apologise to the Committee that I could not be here for Second Reading. Even though I was on the estate, I had a bad chest infection. I was coughing and sputtering, which I did not think would add to the debate, so I listened to it in my office and have subsequently read the Hansard. I was also very proud to vote for my noble friend Lord German’s fatal amendment to the Second Reading Motion. I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests in the register on this issue. I will try not to do a Second Reading speech but to keep my comments to this clause and the amendments.

These amendments are quite important, based on what I would call this candyfloss clause. It is a bit like candyfloss because the Government are trying to make it big, enticing and sweet but, the moment you touch it, it starts to disintegrate as you realise that it is built on nothing. Clause 1(3) says:

“The Government of the Republic of Rwanda has, in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty”—


these are the important words—

“agreed to fulfil the following obligations”.

They have not yet done that, nor given an indication of how they will. It is therefore important, before any person is sent to Rwanda, that those obligations are fulfilled. There also needs to be some form of independent assessment of how that is done.

In the normal course of the rule of law, the courts of this land would make an assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is trying to put in at least some form of independent assessment. People may argue about whether it is independent, but the UNHCR and its role in the legal understanding of refugees and safe countries is well understood. I have a slight problem with the amendment from the noble Baroness, as it involves just one set of evidence and, clearly, courts would normally look at a wider range of evidence. However, it is important that, in Amendment 34, there is a rebuttable presumption. I assume that it would, at some point, give some leeway and a doorway to the courts to test that, so the legality of the decision made by the Executive can be reviewed by the independent judiciary. It will be interesting to see that. That is the aim of the amendment from the noble Baroness.

I ask the Minister, when responding to these amendments, to pick up what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said regarding the incompatibility at times between Rwanda and the laws of this land, and the obligations and treaties that have been signed. Particularly, how will refugees’ claims be assessed in Rwanda? Where there is incompatibility between the laws or obligations of Rwanda and the UK, exactly how will those contradictions be dealt with?

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I think the majority of those who have spoken have apologised for not being here at Second Reading. I am worried; I think I ought to apologise for having been here at Second Reading and for having spoken then and a week earlier on the treaty. I have spoken about the apples and pears, the rule of law and our international reputation, and I do not want to bore the Committee on that anymore.

I think the aim shared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of making the Bill, if not pointless, harmless—or harmless though still pointless—is impossible in Clause 1. We are dealing with a Bill that is very hard to make acceptable.

I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is hoping to do in her amendments and I share that. We need to take account of the fact that we voted in this House, on the report from the International Agreements Committee, that Rwanda is not yet safe. We did that not in an off-the-cuff way but on the basis of a reasoned report, which was written on the basis of a stack of evidence submitted to the International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member. The House voted that it is not safe; therefore, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is completely correct: how can we possibly now stand on our heads and say that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is safe—as if we could do that anyway? We cannot legislate that apples are pears, or cats are dogs. We need to have some sort of triggering or commencement mechanism, which means that the Bill, when an Act, does not come into force until Rwanda can be seen to be safe. The International Agreements Committee set out the 10 areas in which change is required.

I am uneasy about conferring the role on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although I think that the Government have now accepted that one of his roles is supervising and monitoring the operation of the refugee convention. I am not sure that it is right to ask UNHCR to undertake this task; we are only one of the signatories of the convention, and so is Rwanda. He said in the memorandum that he submitted in relation to the treaty:

“UNHCR has continued to engage bilaterally with the Government of Rwanda on specific incidents of concern, and will continue to offer technical advice and support to the Government of Rwanda to strengthen its asylum system and the protection of all refugees, as part of its mandated responsibilities”.


For us to ask it to act as advisers to us might seem to UNHCR to be difficult—I do not know. I note that UNHCR did not want to give evidence to the International Agreements Committee. It seems to me that it may well feel, “This is something you have to sort out for yourselves—don’t drag me in”. But we need to have someone.

In later groupings, we can consider the proposals for an independent reviewer, or the proposal in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for using the monitoring committee set up in the treaty for that purpose. I am not sure about that—I am for an independent reviewer myself—but that is for later groupings. But for now I utter a word of caution as to whether this is really appropriate, and whether we would not be talking about a forced marriage. The Government certainly do not want to involve the UNHCR, and I am not 100% sure that the UNHCR wants to get involved either.

For me, the important amendments in this group are Amendments 5 and 6, which say that, instead of having the Bill say that Rwanda is safe, the Bill would say that Rwanda will become safe when the conditions for safety, such as those listed by the International Agreements Committee, are met. That would change the tense from “is” to “will be”—it would be forward-looking. That is where I feel most strongly about the amendments in this group.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests, in that I am supported by the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project. We have strayed very widely across the whole of Clause 1 in this debate. Of course, what we are here to do is to discuss the specific amendments before us. However, I start with the assertion that this Parliament finds Rwanda safe. I looked up in the Companion to see what the role is of resolutions of this House, and it is the resolution of this House that is the determination of this House—and the determination of this House at the moment is that Rwanda is not safe. That is the view on which the Government are trying to make us change our minds, so we need to bear that in mind first of all.

The second, broader point that has been drawn out, largely by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was the issue of offshoring versus offloading. We had that debate at Second Reading, and I think what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was talking about was offshoring, when you make the determination about whether people are right to come here, and then they come here. But this is not offshoring; this is offloading, whereby the Government hand over the responsibility to another country to be able to accept them, there is no way back, and it is a permanent situation.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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I think the noble Lord means “outsourcing”, and it is precisely what the Australians do.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Indeed: what the Australians did was to check whether people were ready to come to Australia.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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They handed that responsibility over to the Government of Nauru and the Solomon Islands.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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No, they did not. I am sorry, but the facts are otherwise. The essential point is that they were doing this work—whatever the noble Lord thinks the situation was, it is not what I think, but we can check the facts—in order that people could be admitted to Australia. That was the point; they were doing it somewhere else in order that they could come to Australia.

17:15
Trying to clear that knowledge and understanding, which we did at Second Reading, on these amendments in particular, the first thing we can say is that introducing scrutiny of the safety of Rwanda is a necessary and essential point, given the resolution and determination of this House. If the Government want to proceed and get this House to change its mind, we have to find a route for ourselves that allows us to do so. The amendments acknowledge that in this House we do not have credible evidence in order to make a finding of safety; whether we should do so or not is another matter, which we will examine in group two. It is right that the evidence should be broadly based; that whoever makes that decision should look not in one corner but at the evidence of NGOs, civil society and working groups on the ground in Rwanda in order to find out exactly whether a decision is the correct one. So, we would not limit the advice to that of the United Nations HCR, even if it was prepared to give it, but we do take the advice it gives us.
I just want to mention the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, raised at the outset. He said that outsourcing a positive recommendation on an asylum case to the UNHCR would be unacceptable, and that we should not give this decision to another body. Yet, at the same time, as we speak, and as the Home Office report of 12 January showed clearly, the only remaining global resettlement scheme is the UK resettlement scheme, which relies exclusively on a positive reference from the UNHCR. So, the UK does not seek to influence the cases the UNHCR refers. The fact is that we have passed that responsibility to the UNHCR, or are ready to do so. It is clear that we need a much broader understanding of the new information and advice that we need.
Amendment 34, of course, would create a rebuttable presumption. It is essential that this not be seen as a rock that can never be moved if the situation were to change one way or the other, from safe to unsafe, in the future. It is also right that court jurisdiction be restored, recognising the rule of law and the separation of powers. More of that to come.
On Amendments 11 and 12, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the decisions taken on refugees seeking asylum with us who are being sent to Rwanda to have their cases heard should be subject to the rules we impose ourselves—the laws and rules we have in front of us. The amendments say that we recognise the UK’s laws and responsibilities in this matter, and we want Rwanda to use those because we want the standards we accept to be accepted in Rwanda.
These amendments give us some basis for thought and for some major proposals in the future, but at the moment they are signposts rather than a milestone.
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to wind up on this group for His Majesty’s Opposition. The quality of the contributions has been truly outstanding. I start by saying to the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Howard, that whatever our views on the various amendments in this and the other groups, we are fundamentally and totally opposed to the whole Bill and have voted against it at all stages. That lays out our position fairly clearly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Amendment 2 says:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17:30
Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seek to include a second purpose to the Bill, which is to ensure compliance with the rule of law, by requiring positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before individuals can be removed to Rwanda. It also requires the UNHCR to consult international experts before providing the advice to the Government and Secretary of State. We consider the terms of the treaty—which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law—to be sufficient to ensure that those relocated under the partnership will be offered safety and protection with no risk of refoulement.
The Government have conducted their own assessment as to the safety of Rwanda, reflected in the published policy statement and the comprehensive supporting evidence, including two detailed country information notes and accompanying annexes, which have been published online. This evidence draws on a wide range of sources in addition to the institutional expertise of the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as experts on the bilateral relationship between the UK and Rwanda. Indeed, annexe 2 to the country information notes is comprised entirely of UNHCR evidence, which has already been factored into the Government’s assessment. It is also the Government’s understanding that the UNHCR has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments. It is unclear what is meant by “international experts” or who bears the cost of such consultation.
The provisions in the Bill prevent challenge on the grounds that Rwanda is not a safe country generally, reflecting the Government’s confidence in the assurances of the treaty, and in Rwanda’s commitment and capability to deliver against these obligations. As I have set out, the Home Office has reviewed a wide range of sources, including evidence from the UNHCR, via an established process for assessing country safety. This is, therefore, the most appropriate assessment on which to rely.
It would not be right for our ability to deliver this policy—which is key to our commitment to stop the boats—to be left solely dependent on a further, independent assessment by an external body such as the UNHCR, which, we further note, has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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On that point, would my noble friend consider a domestic assessor—for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If it were to advise, would he accept that?

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

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

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

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

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


Paragraph 26 goes on to say that:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to all Members of the Committee from around the Chamber for the constructive manner and tone with which these proceedings on the first group have been conducted. Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention every excellent contribution; they will understand that is not a discourtesy to Members of the Committee, but, I hope, a bit of kindness to those who have amendments to follow this evening.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, for following immediately, because he was able to crystallise some key issues between us, on my suite of amendments as well as on all the others in the first group. In essence, he had two points: one that I can embrace to some extent, and another that I cannot. I think that he was the first to point out that, in the way that I have formulated my suite of amendments, I have given perhaps too determinative a role for the UNHCR. I explained the reason for that: it was because the Prime Minister said that he was going to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court. None the less, I take the noble Lord’s point—which was echoed by subsequent speakers, if less robustly—so I hope not to create a determinative role for the UNHCR in the next stage of proceedings, although I also note that many Members of the Committee, including the Minister, referred to the important part that the UNHCR plays in the world on refugees and the convention.

However, the second crucial point—

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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Before the noble Baroness goes to the point where she disagrees with me, I thank her for her response to the first point I made. Of course, I do not speak for the Government, but no doubt we will consider the matter further when we get to Report.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Lord. However, his second central point was the big constitutional one: that Parliament is sovereign—that is pretty much it—and that the Supreme Court’s decision on 15 November was mere opinion rather than a determinative finding of fact in our system. I am afraid that I must disagree with him on that, in essence for the reasons outlined later in the debate by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. He in turn echoed some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, at Second Reading about the dangers that lie in the future should it be possible, in our country, for Governments with large majorities, of whatever stripe, to use legislation to change not only any old finding of fact but a finding of fact that was made recently by our highest court. That is not only silly, to echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, but very dangerous in a democracy that is built, fundamentally and first, on the rule of law. Parliamentary sovereignty follows, but Parliament, and the Executive in particular, must have a little respect for the independent referees of our democratic system.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for making the international point that follows from that: that the domestic rule of law is the bedrock of our system, but a quarter of the way into the 21st century, so is the international rule of law. All sorts of terrible consequences come when we do not respect that. She cited wars of aggression and war crimes that, in turn, drive a displacement of people that is leading to the refugee crisis that Governments around the world are trying to respond to. Therefore, she is a great proponent of the international rules-based order, as we know from her other work.

17:45
I am also very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for speaking on behalf of his Benches. He reminded us of our duty of care to refugees. Like me, he and the Church are uncomfortable with offshoring at all. None the less, they are engaging with the process—not a wrecking process but a constitutional compromise. That is the spirit with which I have tried to address the objections from the noble Lord, Lord Howard.
Therefore, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for asking what, ultimately, is the Government’s problem when what we are trying to do is to make sure that there will be further factual assessments to meet, for example, the tests of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, to make sure that Rwanda has become safe, per the terms of the treaty, before we deem it so. These are not wrecking amendments, but an attempt to do our duty.
On the contribution from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I hope that he will not be cross with me for suggesting that he has really done his father proud today. That famous speech that so many of us read as students about the “elective dictatorship” was in itself an answer to his noble friend Lord Howard, although it was made in 1976. Parliament is not just the House of Commons. Whether we like it or not, and whether we would all vote ourselves out of business, Parliament is both Houses in the current system. Parliament is not interchangeable with the Government of the day, however large their majority. We need to have checks and balances, and, at the moment in our system, for all our defects in your Lordships’ House, we are one of the Houses of Parliament, and Parliament is not interchangeable with government.
The noble Viscount went on to talk about how facts must be examined by the due process of law. I know that this might irritate the Minister, but he was right to flag future groups of amendments, because they are all so interchangeable in the scheme of what is a very short, but hugely controversial, Bill. If it is not to be the UNHCR, there must be some other process of examining the facts on the ground before Parliament just signs up with the Government of the day and says that dogs are cats. That is also what I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier.
I think that most, if not all, Members of the Committee would agree that the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was incredibly powerful and poignant. I repeat the point from Second Reading that this is a very un-Conservative Bill. Whatever one thought about the late Lady Thatcher, she was committed to the domestic and international rule of law. Despite politics that we would find controversial on our Benches, she was committed to the rule of law. Those who served her as Attorneys-General said that that was their experience, too.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton represented the Constitution Committee with great precision and not a bit of passion. He spoke of the 70-year commitment that this country has had to non-refoulement, which many of us now believe is part of customary international law rather just one treaty or another. He echoed your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee in saying that a lot more needs to be done before the Rwanda treaty can be the safeguard that the Government rely on. That is a lot of administrative and cultural change on the ground that does not happen overnight; it does not happen overnight in our own Home Office, let alone in the Republic of Rwanda.
I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for representing the Joint Committee on Human Rights, with its own similar—and further—criticisms of the Bill in its current form. His response to my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick was also important in acknowledging the violence that we may be doing to that precious settlement in Northern Ireland every time we violate international law, and the ECHR in particular.
I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, for the way in which he engaged—which was similar to the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, did so—and for his rather honest reflection that we have unsatisfactory safe legal routes to this country at the moment and the Bill does not address any of that. He said he would like to prioritise refugees over economic migrants, and I listened to his comments carefully.
I think I may have dealt with the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in what I said about the ECHR.
I am so grateful for my noble friend Lord Coaker’s support for the broad thrust of this suite of amendments. In particular, it is so comforting to know that any incumbent Labour Government will be committed to the international and domestic rule of law.
Finally, I say to the Minister, if the Rwanda treaty is, as he said, binding and sufficient, was not the refugee convention of 1951 binding and sufficient as well? It is a slightly circular argument to rely on one and not so much on the other.
We are not traducing Rwanda. We are just honouring the recommendations of committees of this House, and of our Supreme Court. That is why we must have in the Bill a commitment to compliance with the law; we must substitute “is” safe with “may become” safe, because that is the truth; we must have some kind of independent fact-finding assessment before we say that Rwanda is safe; safety must be only a rebuttable presumption, as in keeping with prior statutes—including Conservative asylum statutes; and the courts must not be ousted from their proper role in our constitution, which is fact finding and rights protecting. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out “Parliament” and insert “the Secretary of State”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, along with Lord German’s amendments to Clause 2, page 2, line 33; Clause 2, page 2, line, 39; Clause 2, page 3, line 3; and Clause 9, page 6, line 38 provide that it is the Secretary of State’s judgement that Rwanda is a safe country and for this judgement to be linked to commencement of the Act. This suite of amendments provides criteria for how that judgement may be made, including compliance by the UK and Rwanda of their obligations under the Treaty in furtherance of the rule of law.
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 4, I will speak also to a suite of amendments which go throughout the Bill. Perhaps that indicates the way in which all these things are interconnected, because this suite of amendments will deal with a lot of the concerns that were raised in the Committee in the course of group 1 and will be relevant to any changes that we might pursue on Report.

In summary, these amendments remove the absolute nature of the declaration that Rwanda is safe; enable the courts to consider the safety issue; require the Secretary of State, not Parliament, to judge when Rwanda is safe; and ensure that all the measures this House has considered in its resolution of the treaty are operational and functioning according to our international obligations before the Secretary of State can lay a commencement order before Parliament.

As we have heard, the Bill deems Rwanda to be safe regardless of whether it is in fact safe, and this House has already determined that it is not yet safe. Unlike the use of deeming clauses in domestic legislation, this deeming subclause is being used alongside an international obligation. However, as the Bar Council, among others, points out in its evidence to the JCHR, deeming Rwanda to be safe in order to meet the UK’s international obligations under the ECHR and the refugee convention steps outside the domestic use of deeming clauses. This is particularly so when you take into account the conclusions reached by the UNHCR that the Bill, as well as the treaty,

“does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law”.

If the arguments which the Government put forward about it being in the context of international laws are true, why do they not let the courts have their say, finally, about this matter?

Some on the government side are comfortable about overriding our international obligations, maintaining that it is perfectly acceptable to be incompatible with international rules, laws, commitments and obligations of which we are part. I am not a lawyer, but, having read all the evidence given to committees of this House and the other House, and from all the people who have put evidence before us, it seems they represent a minority of legal opinion, and we have witnessed incredible displays of legal acrobatics, most of it on the head of a pin.

Fundamentally, based on Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, no rule of a state’s internal law can be used to justify a breach of an international obligation. Further, as our own Constitution Committee states, to legislate in this way could undermine our constitutional principle of the rule of law. Back in 2020 and again recently it said that

“respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.

Today we have that view expressed by the report of the JCHR.

We will hear much more on the rule of law and the words of Dicey. However, this suite of amendments, taken as a whole, will ensure adherence to the rule of law, reinstate the role of the courts, protect human rights, and meet our international obligations. Fundamentally, these amendments seek to safeguard and uphold the UK’s constitution and the rule of law. It is deeply problematic that the terms of the UK-Rwanda agreement have not yet been met, especially as the Government have deemed it as the basis for the declaration in the Bill that Rwanda is in fact safe. In fact, in their own policy statement the Government refer to “assurances and commitments”—those are not things that are happening at this moment.

Through these amendments we seek to ensure that the final arbitration on the safety of Rwanda lies ultimately with the judiciary and not with Parliament. The Secretary of State would come to a decision on the safety of Rwanda but the legality of this decision can be reviewed by the judiciary. This would enable the proper role of the independent judiciary—our domestic courts and tribunals—to review the legality of the Secretary of State’s actions and decisions. The amendments in this suite would mean that the Secretary of State should deem Rwanda safe only if it is safe for every person of every description: women, people of all ethnic minorities and religions, LGBTQI+ people, those in power, those whose political opinion differs from those in power, and every nationality. In coming to their conclusion, the laws of Rwanda and how they are applied should be scrutinised, together with evidence from international bodies and civil society organisations.

The Act could come into force only when the steps set out in Amendment 84 had been met—the Minister spoke of that amendment earlier; we have reached it already. In replying, can the Minister tell the Committee— I think this was a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as well—which of the matters listed in Amendment 84(1A)(c) are currently in place, which of them will be in place soon, and which will be operational on the date the Government think the Bill will be enacted? For those who have Amendment 84(1A)(c) in front of them, it is the 10 issues raised by the committee which reported to this House on the treaty.

As this House has determined in its resolution on the treaty, it is critically important for the safety of those concerned that any assessment of safety is completed before this Bill comes into force. The judgment on whether Rwanda is safe could be one of life and death. The Supreme Court has already made a factual assessment. Parliament should not be legislating to reverse the Supreme Court’s factual assessment while tying the hands of the judiciary and requiring them to ignore facts placed before them.

18:00
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.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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It is not only a question of whether they are in place but whether Rwanda is compliant and remains compliant, and whether there are any other reasons to doubt the safety of Rwanda.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Indeed. That is why, in this suite of amendments, the Secretary of State has to take the advice of a number of organisations—not one in particular but a number of organisations. The Secretary of State must produce the evidence to show that the requirements are in place, operational and working according to the decisions that were originally in place as wanting to see this thing through.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Is it right that what the noble Lord perhaps had in mind when referring to the Supreme Court judgment was its words that the problems in Rwanda were not a lack of good faith on the part of Rwanda but

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

The noble Lord, Lord German, might also have had in mind that the Supreme Court identified

“a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda’s obligations under the refugee convention”.

Would it be the case that the noble Lord, Lord German, might also have been rather worried that simply having to agree that “We won’t refoule” from a date which I assume would be about a month or two from today sits rather unkindly against that assessment by the Supreme Court? Am I also right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord German, would have been very heartened by the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who said that he accepted all that the Supreme Court had said?

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I am loath to say “yes” to a leading question from a leading lawyer, but he is absolutely right, of course. For those words added to what I said earlier and paragraph 104, which we have already had referred to, the

“necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

If you read the Supreme Court judgment, you will know what we have to test in order to prove Rwanda’s safety. That is what the committees of this House have been trying to do.

This suite of amendments turns it all around. It says that it is the judgment of the Government, which they would have to bring forward in an order for the House to accept, but before that they would have to address all the issues in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c). They would also have to consult and be certain that they had made the case. If, at the end, Parliament approved the order that the Government had put before it, the courts could intervene and test it on the basis of fact. That is our current procedure for dealing with issues of this sort. I am loath to say that this is back to the future, but it is keeping in track where we stand as a Parliament—how we make decisions, where they are tested and whether they can be tested in the courts.

We cannot allow a dangerous precedent to be set with this overreach of Parliament’s role. The courts need to remain as the check and balance on the exercising of the Secretary of State’s power. Parliament cannot be allowed to overturn the evidence-based findings of fact made by the highest court in the UK, given that this Bill is there for ever and does not look at what happens in the future. We need to stand firm against the Government’s attempt to subvert the separation of powers in this country. Today, this is about asylum seekers; tomorrow, this precedent will be applied to the next group who find themselves as the latest scapegoats of the Government.

I end with the words of the late Lord Judge in this Chamber. I sat here listening to him and I hear those words echoing in my head now. He said:

“the rule of law is a bulwark against authoritarian incursion, and even the smallest incursion threatens it”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1286.].

Those are wise words. This suite of amendments seeks to uphold the principle that he espoused so powerfully. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I regret that I was not able to take part in discussion on the previous group because I was on the train as it began.

The point that has been made here is an important one, which I did not hear elaborated on during the debate on the first group. Without wishing to disparage Rwanda in any way, countries in that part of the world do have a habit from time to time of changing their regimes, and those regimes often have very different characteristics. If you are approaching this problem, which seems to me entirely reasonable in normal circumstances, that the country where the asylum seekers end up should be safe, it does not follow that once it has been ruled to be safe it then continues to be safe. The problem with Clause 1(2)(b) is that, if the wording remains as it is now, even if you go through the procedures that the noble Lord, Lord German, is discussing, once there has been a ruling that the country is safe then there is no means to return to the question if circumstances fundamentally and damagingly change.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I commend to my noble friend the concept of the rolling sunset, which he will find in Amendments 81 and 82.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very interested in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. On one view, it is saying that the Secretary of State makes his or her decision only after properly considering all the relevant factors. It may be that what he has in mind is that, thereafter, there can be appropriate review of that by the courts. I assume that he has in mind judicial review. Therefore, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State that was judicially reviewable. It is worth thinking about whether, once that decision had been made and then upheld by the courts because there was a proper basis on which a Secretary of State could reach that decision, in general terms the question of whether the country was safe would not thereafter be open to consideration by the immigration office.

I would not be in favour of that as a matter of principle, but if one is looking for a compromise—this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, touched upon, and it may be dealt with in later amendments—I would be very interested to hear what the view of the Government is in relation to a situation where, in effect, the Secretary of State had to make a proper decision addressing the proper considerations and that decision was then open to judicial review. Could that be a compromise?

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this group, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has just raised an extremely interesting point. He suggested that a decision by the Secretary of State, having considered the factors referred to by the noble Lord, Lord German, should be subject to judicial review. The principles of judicial review are clear: the court does not substitute its own view of matters; it assesses whether the Secretary of State came to a reasonable decision.

Departing somewhat from the Government’s view, one of the problems that I have with the Supreme Court decision is that it was not based on the principles of judicial review. The Divisional Court did approach it on that basis and the Supreme Court said that that was wrong. The Supreme Court, relying on precedents that had never received the authority of Parliament or statute, decided that it should not apply the principles of judicial review, but should decide these matters for itself. That is a very important distinction between what happened in this case, which gave rise to this legislation, and the procedure now being proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise with some hesitancy, in the middle of a rather technical debate, but I would like to make a couple of points on this group. The Committee has already heard from my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb who, in her inimitable way, made it very clear that the Green Party remains utterly opposed to the entire Bill and greatly regrets that we gave it a Second Reading—but we are where we are.

From listening to the debate on the first group, a word that came up again and again, which might be surprising to people listening from outside the Committee, was “silly”. Of course, what we are talking about is deadly serious, but the definitions of “silly” are interesting, if you look them up. One is “showing a lack of common sense or judgment”. Common sense and judgment are two things that this group of amendments seeks to introduce to the Bill, so I commend the noble Lord, Lord German, for introducing it so clearly and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his excellent assistance in presenting the argument.

It is a statement of the obvious that Parliament, and certainly your Lordships’ House after our vote on the Rwanda treaty, does not believe that what the Bill states is common sense. It is not based on the evidence and has been disproved. More than that, these amendments are making a person, the Secretary of State, responsible for making a judgment. If we are to have the rule of law, a person has to be identified and held responsible for making that judgment. We are introducing a sense of responsibility and evidence here, which would at least be a step forward.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord German. It has been a short debate, in comparison to that on the first group, presumably because some have now given their Second Reading speeches on this Bill and that is sufficient for them. We will just have to go through the grind. It has, nevertheless, been an interesting debate.

I will pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. Of course, members of the Supreme Court are not here to answer questions, but I understand that they considered whether the Divisional Court was correct in deciding whether Ministers had followed an incorrect process, under law. The Supreme Court’s view was that the question to answer was whether issues of fact on refoulement, which was the origin of the appeal, were to be determined. That is why the Supreme Court made the decision that it did, and that is the relevant part of judicial review. I do not think that the relevant part of judicial review for the Bill is the Supreme Court’s judgment, but that judicial reviews of the process that decision-makers had followed in deciding to relocate anybody to Rwanda can no longer be carried out. That will now be prohibited which, if I may say so, is a major constitutional step, which the Bingham Centre and many others have warned against. I suspect we will hear that in other groups of amendments and, for me, that is the important part of judicial review.

18:15
The noble Lord, Lord Murray—who is not in his place to listen to the Minister’s closing speech, even though he spoke on this group—referenced the Supreme Court in an intervention on my noble friend, in regard to when the Supreme Court made its decision and whether that decision could be taken as only a snapshot view of its position on Rwanda then. That seems to be what Ministers have said: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the Advocate-General, said that at Second Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, referred to it in the debate on the first group. It seems to be a fundamental part of the Ministers’ case that we can look at the Supreme Court judgment only in the context of the evidence and information that it took up to the point of its judgment.
However, paragraph 104 of the Supreme Court judgment said categorically and clearly that:
“The necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.
Paragraph 102 of the Supreme Court’s judgment referred to
“the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.
So changes will be necessary in scale, as well as to attitudes, effective training and the current approach. However, we know from the UNHCR—to which the Supreme Court gave considerable weight—and its report from this January that those factors are still not in place. That is a major reason why this House declined to state that Rwanda is currently a safe country.
When the Minister winds up on this group, if he is to persuade us that the Supreme Court’s view should now be addressed because of the time lapse, what has happened between then and now has to be evidenced. That is what my noble friend is asking of the Minister, so I hope that he gives a clear, detailed response to Amendment 84. That lays out the 10 things that a committee of this House identified as needing to be done before we can consider whether Rwanda is a safe country.
At this point, I raise my challenge about “we”. The “we” here is Parliament, the legislature not the Executive, which will make a determination about a relocation or a safe country. We know it has long been the practice for there to be lists of countries to which someone could be relocated, either because we have a relocation or resettlement agreement with them or because the Minister has stated in secondary legislation, which subsequently has not been vetoed but has been approved by Parliament, that an individual may be sent back to those countries. Sometimes these schemes are voluntary, or they could be forced removals, but this is a long-standing practice. It is difficult and controversial, but there is consensus to that approach.
This is a world away from a system in which the Executive state that they consider a country safe, and that decision is approved by Parliament and can then be judicially reviewed. We are a world away from that when it comes to one country uniquely—Rwanda. It is the reversal of Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind—what do you do, sir?” It seems that, when Ministers change their minds, they want to change the facts.
So what are we going to do now? I do not think we should approve it, because we would now—on the statute book and unique among our legislation—have legislated in perpetuity, in primary legislation, defining a country’s asylum procedures in accordance with our standards. If that country changed them in any way, we would have to change statute in this country to follow what it does.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I know I am going slightly outside the ordering of clauses, but Amendments 81 and 82 to Clause 9 address the very difficulty that the noble Lord has identified. Circumstances can, and almost certainly will, change. We need to put rolling sunsets in place so that the Bill is never in force for more than, let us say, two years, and that each time it is extended there is a proper assessment of the safety of Rwanda, its compliance with treaties and, incidentally, whether the policy itself is succeeding.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I listened carefully to what he said, including at Second Reading, and when he comes to make the case I will also listen carefully for that. If he will forgive me for saying so, we will be into the categories of plan C, D, E and F to try to make the Bill a bit better. I refer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on the first group. These are all silk purse amendments, are they not? We are desperately trying to make something better that, in our hearts, we know cannot be better. We are trying to just take the rough edges off it slightly.

Our approach in this group is to revert the Bill to long-standing common practice for asylum laws that Ministers on those Benches have regularly said is the proper procedure, because it includes executive decision-making, parliamentary approval and then judicial review. That is what we are saying should be the case, because that is what, for years, Ministers have said is the case. We are seeking to restore that. Amendment 84 requires Ministers to report on these areas.

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary in December asking a whole series of questions regarding the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, gave me the courtesy of a substantive reply, and I am grateful for it. I asked specifically about when some of the mechanisms of the treaty would be in operation—for example, on the capacity for decision-making processes in Rwanda, for us to determine whether it would have the capacity and therefore be able to be safe. The noble Lord replied: “Some of the newer mechanisms will be finalised before operationalisation”. I want to know when. The Government are clearly working on it. They must have a working assumption of when they will be in place—so tell us. If the Government are saying that we are the determining body, tell us when those procedures will be in place. They cannot have it both ways and say that we are the determining body but they have the information—that does not cut it any more. If we are the determining body, we must have the information.

This is why I asked about when the judges will be in place. Under the treaty, judges who are not Rwandan nationals will have to be trained on Rwandan law, not UK law. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, who is not in his place, was completely wrong in the debate on the first group about this being similar to the Australian processes. The people who will be relocated will be processed under Rwandan law, not British law, so the judges will have to be trained on it. I asked when that will be complete, because we are obviously not going to relocate an individual where there will be a panel of judges to process them who are not sufficiently trained in Rwandan law. I am sure everybody will agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, replied: “The proper procedures, facilities and support for relocated individuals, with regard to the judges’ training, will be in place before they are relocated to Rwanda”. The Prime Minister, who bet Piers Morgan that the flights will leave, obviously knows when the judges will be trained—so what is the working assumption of when they will be trained?

I am desperately trying not to make this a silk purse exercise. We are fully in an Alice in Wonderland situation here. In the debate on the earlier group, the Minister said that because things have changed, we should now look at the new country note. The new country policy and information note version 2—and version 2.1 in January, which he was referring to—supersedes the summer 2022 country note. The Minister is saying that the old note should not be taken into consideration because there is a new note—and, if we want to refer to the UNHCR’s up-to-date position we should, as we heard him say, look at annexe 2 of that report. Not only have I read the country policy notes front to end, I also clicked on the annexe 2 links—anybody can do it now on their smartphone. A box comes up with a note that the publication was withdrawn on 11 December 2023. The publication the Minister referred to, which was withdrawn, was from May 2022, which the Supreme Court used as its evidence for the UNHCR.

If we are to be the decision-making body, how on earth are we going to be making decisions when the Government do not tell us even the basic information of when they—not us—think Rwanda will be a safe country?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, there is a suite of amendments in this group that, in many ways, cover the same ground as the first group. It is clear from this short debate, as well as the first, that this debate—approaching the Bill by ensuring that the terms of the treaty are being properly adhered to; essentially, we are debating the mechanism for how best to do this—will dominate the whole Committee stage. I hope colleagues can work together to return the best possible solution on this issue.

In the same way that the Opposition do not wish to delay the Bill’s passage, we do not want to create barriers for the scheme to start. Our focus should be on how we monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what should happen if Rwanda is judged not to be a safe country for those being removed to it.

The noble Lord, Lord German, introducing Amendments 4 and 17, said there should no commencement of the Act until Rwanda is deemed a safe country. A number of noble Lords spoke at length on proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84, which are the 10 issues raised by the committee of this House about how that might be achieved. The noble Lord looked at how that might be done, how many of those elements are in place, which are operational and—perhaps more fundamentally—whether Rwanda has the practical ability to fulfil the undertakings in a more long-term way. That is really the point that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made in his brief contribution to this group.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer speculated that the Secretary of State could, after making a decision, be open to judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that the Supreme Court did not use the principles of judicial review when it made its decision, but decided the case on first principles. Both my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord are well above my grade in legal matters, but it seems to me that this is another example of possible compromise as we move forward—as there were possible areas of compromise discussed in the debate on the first group.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, gave his customarily extremely articulate speech on the various provisions in proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84. He spoke of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and went through various ways in which that might be achieved—although he made his reluctance to do so very clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spoke about his Amendments 81 and 82, on the rolling sunsets, as he described them, which we will get to on a subsequent group.

So, really, this whole group is trying to make sure that the Government are properly held to account. As I said in my introduction, our focus will be on how to monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what Parliament’s role is in that, rather than putting up a barrier against the Bill itself.

18:30
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord German, for opening. I acknowledge the spirit across the Committee of approaching this matter by looking to see what can be amended and not setting out to wreck the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said on the first group.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I may have missed it, but could the Minister say whether Rwanda has drafted a refugee law?

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

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

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

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Just before the noble Lord sits down—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

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

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

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

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

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, might I add to that question? Is the noble and learned Lord the Minister not embarrassed by the word “is” in the clause, which I will address in the next group? It is the language of that particular provision that causes embarrassment to the Government. They really need to face up to the significance of using the word “is”.

18:45
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, taking the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, together with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I think that brings us to considering where we are with the decision of the Supreme Court, and how that sits with what we, as a Government, are inviting the House to do at this stage.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. We have not received any evidence as to how this change has taken place in this short period. Rather than an assertion, what evidence is being placed before this House as to what is taking place and what has taken place to totally change the assessment of safety? I really would like to hear what the evidence is.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, could I assist the noble and learned Lord in relation to this? There is a document called Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, and what this rather excellent document reveals—no doubt the noble and learned Lord will correct me if I am wrong—is that, since the Supreme Court decided, there has been the agreement that has been entered into, which is really just making legal and international law commitments they had already given, and that just before the Supreme Court gave its judgment, two courses were held, one from 18 to 22 September 2023 and the second from 20 to 24 November 2023, in which a number of Rwandan officials were trained, as the document says, to have a better understanding of the refugee convention.

Apart from those two courses and the entering into of the agreement the Minister referred to, will he tell us what else has happened since the rendering of the Supreme Court’s judgment, which I think was a few weeks ago?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19:00
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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People cannot be refouled to a different country under this treaty. They can be sent back to the United Kingdom; that is as far as it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative. On the second part, I cannot give a date.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


that refoulement does not occur. I repeat:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


which the Minister refers to “does not occur”?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I am sorry: those were not domestic figures but general violence against women and girls figures.

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

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

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

19:15
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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To be helpful, as the Minister finds his place, what is clearly becoming a bone of contention between the Government Front Bench and the Committee is the progress that has been made. To help us before we get to Report, can the Minister write to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate to show the significant progress—that is the phrase he used—that Rwanda has made to deal with the concerns of the Supreme Court? We would then have some evidence before we get to Report to see the exact content of those significant reforms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
19:21
Sitting suspended. Committee to begin again not before 8.10 pm.
20:10
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “is a safe country”, and insert “will be a safe country when, and only so long as, the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda Treaty have been fully implemented and are being adhered to in practice.”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, read with new subsections 1(7) and 1(8), seeks to give effect to the proposition that Parliament cannot judge Rwanda to be a safe country until the Rwanda Treaty has been, and continues to be, fully implemented.
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I have four amendments in this group: Amendment 6, 14, 20 and 26. They are all part of a single package. They are designed to address, in a slightly different way, the points that have been debated in the two previous groups. In a way, we are on very familiar ground, because we have covered the ground in considerable detail, particularly in the exchanges with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, at the end of the last group.

I take the Committee directly to the wording of Clause 1(2)(b). That clause states, as we know, that the

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

I am concerned with the word “is”. By way of preamble, I am not speaking entirely for myself in being unduly troubled by the fact that the Government are asking your Lordships to reverse the finding of the UK Supreme Court of 15 November last year. The court said that there were:

“substantial grounds for believing that the removal”

of claimants

“to Rwanda would expose them to a real risk of ill treatment, as a consequence of refoulement”.

In other words, it was not a safe country as defined for the purposes of the Bill by Clause 1(5).

However, that finding was based on the evidence which was before the court. Indeed, that was evidence which was before the Divisional Court a year before in 2022, as the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, reminded us. In a sense, it was talking about material which has moved on. At least, other things have moved on since the facts were gathered together, which was the basis of that finding. It is important to note that the document which was available at that time was not the treaty but the then memorandum of understanding between the two Governments, entered into in April 2022. That had some quite important differences to what we now find in the treaty.

As all judges know, decisions on matters of fact are open to review if there has been a material change of circumstances. I am very far from saying that there has been a sufficient material change to justify a different finding, but in principle, that finding is open to be looked at again if the circumstances change. Certainly, things have moved on since 2022. As I mentioned a moment ago, there is a new treaty. As for Parliament taking upon itself the responsibility of making the judgment referred to in Clause 1(2)(b), I suggest that one has to be quite sanguine about it and just recognise that there are circumstances where judgments can be looked at again. No judge is going to be particularly aggrieved if people suggest that this should be so.

If I was still in the Supreme Court, I would just shrug my shoulders at this and let Parliament carry on and do what it likes, as indeed it can. The President of the Supreme Court, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed of Allermuir, is a Member of this House, but unfortunately, he is disqualified by reason of his office from coming to address us. There is a mechanism by which, if he was unduly troubled, he could submit in writing his views for us to take into account. So far as I know, he has not done that, and I am not greatly surprised that he did not think it necessary to do that.

When I said that Parliament can do what it likes—even if, as is plainly the case here, what it is doing is plainly in conflict with our international obligations and therefore deeply regrettable—it must think very carefully about what it is doing. It must be careful in the choice of words. If it is going to take the place of judges who are very careful in their choice of words when they issue their judgments, it must exercise the same degree of care and skill. That is all the more important in view of the way the Bill gives effect to the judgment. It is surrounded by so many barbed-wire fences, all designed to prevent that judgment ever being challenged in any UK court under any circumstances. This means that the judgment your Lordships are being asked to make is crucial to the safety, lives and well-being of everyone, wherever they come from, who are at risk of being removed to Rwanda.

20:15
As I have said many times in this House, words matter. That is why the choice of the word “is” is so important. I suggest to your Lordships that its use here is so wrong, as the exchanges at the end of the last group demonstrated so powerfully. It refers to the state of facts when the treaty comes into force, which, looking at the end of the Bill, is the Bill’s commencement date. It asserts that from that very moment, simply because the treaty is then in force, Rwanda is a safe country.
Furthermore, the use of the word “is” asserts that it continues to be a safe country and must be treated as such by any decision-maker for ever after, whatever has happened and whatever the circumstances, so long as the Act remains in force. I simply cannot, in all conscience, make that judgment. The words “is a safe country” would be fine if one were simply creating a slogan or defining an aspiration, but that is not what we are dealing with. This is legislation that, as Clause 9(2) tells us,
“applies to any decision by a decision-maker relating to the removal of a person to the Republic of Rwanda that is made on or after the … Treaty enters into force”.
It has no regard to the safety of all those who are at risk of removal, wherever they come from, if they are exposed to the risk of refoulement while they are there.
There is a crucial difference between building legislation around a judgment of fact relating to the laws of physics, or propositions about things that have existed for all time and will not change, and what your Lordships are being asked to form a judgment about here. For example, there could be no objection to Parliament basing legislation around a declaration that, in its judgment, the earth is round. That might have startled some people a century or so ago, but not now, as we know it to be true and, furthermore, we know that it will never change. What we are dealing with here is human behaviour: people will have to implement the Rwanda treaty, so one has to be assured that they have the practical ability to fulfil the assurances being given.
I do not for a moment doubt the integrity and good faith of the Government of Rwanda. The parties have committed themselves to clear and binding obligations as to how the treaty is to be secured. They have committed themselves to taking all steps necessary or appropriate to ensure that these obligations can be, and are in fact being, complied with. But when you have to rely on people to achieve those things, there is always a question of whether they will always do what they are told to do, or indeed whether they are capable of doing what they are told to do. That is why the treaty itself provides for a monitoring process to see that what the treaty provides for actually happens.
The implementation of those obligations lies in the future, as do the making and bringing into force of the new Rwanda asylum law—which is not yet in force but nevertheless essential—designed to strengthen the decision-making and associated appeals processes. The Government’s policy statement of 11 January 2024 states that that will happen “in the coming months”, so it seems that it may well not be there when the treaty comes into force. To adopt a phrase used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the arrangements that we are working towards are a goal for something in the future that we cannot be assured will be there or will be achieved by the date when the Act commences. There are also the 10 points noted by the IAC and now very helpfully listed in proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84 from the noble Lord, Lord German, which was discussed in the last group. I am extremely grateful to him, because it illustrates the point that I am trying to make. That is the background to my amendments, which are very simple.
My Amendment 6 would remove the words “is a safe country”, which I submit are wholly misguided. Indeed, it became clear in the exchanges with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, that it was embarrassing for him that he was trying to assert that the word “is” really means what it says. I would replace it with the words
“will be a safe country when, and only so long as, the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda Treaty have been fully implemented and are being adhered to in practice”.
That is a formula that I would have thought the Government could perfectly well accept, because they believe that the Rwanda treaty is doing what is needed, so they would not be troubled at all by adopting those words. If they did, it would certainly reassure a lot of us who are deeply worried about the reliability of what we were being told. I encourage the Minister to look carefully at my wording and consider whether there is anything to object to. It does not in any way seek to undermine the Bill. It uses the words that any judge would use if he were forming the judgment that we are being asked to make.
My Amendments 20 and 26 would qualify the directions that are given to every decision-maker, and to the courts and tribunals mentioned in Clause 2, so that they are qualified to the same effect. My Amendment 14, which is an essential part of the package,
“seeks to provide a means by which it can be determined”
whether
“the Rwanda Treaty has been, and continues to be, fully implemented”.
I think that it is the feeling across the Committee that we really cannot just accept the Government’s assurance; there has to be some method of checking that the implementation is taking place and that it will continue to be the case in the future.
Two other means of addressing this vital issue are proposed in this group: in the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and in Amendment 64 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. So there are three solutions on the table. I am simply putting one forward, with no claim to priority in any way; it is just another solution that I suggest should be weighed up against the others.
My approach—which is, I think, in line with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made in his comments on the last group—is not to do something that would have the possibility of delaying the Bill or its implementation, as might happen if one were using the IAC or another outside body as a monitoring committee. I have based my formula on the provisions of the treaty itself, which I would have thought the Government would not complain about because they, after all, have agreed to these committees being in the treaty in the first place.
On the one hand, a monitoring committee made up of eight independent experts is already in existence. I cannot claim to know who they all are but I know that one of them, Harish Salve KC, of Blackstone Chambers, brings to the task many years of experience in public international law and human rights. From what one can see from the description of his career on the website, one can have a good deal of confidence that he knows what he is doing when he is asked to monitor what is going on there. The key function of the committee under Article 15 is to advise on all steps that it considers appropriate to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are adhered to in practice. That is precisely the point on which we require reassurance. The other committee is a joint committee whose role under Article 16 is to
“monitor and review the application and implementation”
of the treaty. Then there are the objectives of the treaty, which of course are set out in the treaty itself, listed in Article 2, together with the mechanisms needed to bring it about.
My amendment brings together these three points: the monitoring committee, the joint committee, and the objectives of the treaty itself. It proposes that the treaty
“cannot be considered to have been fully implemented … until the Secretary of State has obtained a declaration by the Joint Committee … after consultation with the Monitoring Committee … that the Objectives … have been secured by the creation of”
these mechanisms. It goes on to say that the Secretary of State
“must consult the Monitoring Committee every three months … and must make a statement to Parliament”
if the advice of the monitoring committee is that this is not happening. This provides a sufficiently reliable means of ensuring that what I have set out in my Amendment 6 has been and will continue to be achieved. It is relatively simple and I cannot see that it delays anything, because it uses the mechanisms in the treaty itself, which we are being asked to accept as reliable for the purpose for which it is designed.
As I said at the beginning, my four amendments are all part of a package, and they are designed to correct the wholly inaccurate and, frankly, sloppy use of “is”, which should never have been in the clause in the first place if it is going to be a declaration of what our judgment is. I suggest that my words are far better suited to the judgment that the House is being asked to make and to put it into practice. I beg to move.
Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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My Lords, I cannot of course surpass the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in quality but I can at least claim the advantage in quantity: I have seven amendments in this group to his four.

We discussed in the first group of amendments why Parliament is ill equipped to make the fact-specific and time-specific judgment asked of it by the Bill—that Rwanda is a safe country. I suppose that on Wednesday we will look at how this difficulty is compounded by restrictions on access to the courts, which is the most troublesome aspect of the Bill.

The amendments in this group do not provide answers to either of those concerns of constitutional principle. Instead, and very much as a second-best option, at least as far as I am concerned, they accept the proposition that Parliament should be the decision-maker and seek to make something workable out of it. The past few hours have surely served as a warning, following the similar warning delivered by the International Agreements Committee at the end of last year, that this House could not, as the noble and learned Lord put it, in all conscience sign off now or in the near future on the proposition that Rwanda is a safe country. The Minister came very close in the last debate to admitting the obvious—that this is at best a work in progress. If he is as sensible as I think he is, he should be very grateful for the olive branch that is Amendment 6 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

We turn to the question of what Parliament would need in order to make its judgment—the letter promised to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will be a welcome start, but it could not of course be enough—and how to ensure that this judgment can be revisited over time. My Amendments 15, 16, 77, 83, 88, 89 and 92 in this group, on which I am grateful for the assistance of the Law Society of England and Wales, are put forward in that spirit of slightly grubby compromise.

Amendment 15 provides for an independent reviewer to review the implementation and operation of the Rwanda treaty and report on it, initially at three-month intervals and thereafter annually. The objective is to produce an impartial report which Parliament can use to come to its own view. I am indebted for that idea to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer himself, who signed the amendment but unfortunately cannot be here today. I accept that there are bodies other than an independent reviewer which could give us the expert advice that we need to make the judgment required of us under Clause 1. It may not be realistic to expect the Government to accept the UNHCR or indeed the Joint Committee on Human Rights for that purpose. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, suggests involving the independent monitoring committee established under the UK-Rwanda agreement. There is a good deal of logic in that and it might be a satisfactory solution, so long as its reports are published in full and without interference by the joint committee—the body made up of officials from the two Governments and hence anything but independent—to which the monitoring committee, under the scheme of the treaty, reports. For that reason I see attraction in the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his Amendments 64 and 65, which cut out the middleman and require the monitoring committee to report directly to Parliament.

20:30
My Amendment 16 provides for what should happen if the independent reviewer should report that Rwanda is not or has ceased to be safe. That report would not be binding on Parliament. We have suggested that the House of Commons should have 28 days to resolve that Rwanda is none the less a safe country, failing which removals to Rwanda would have to stop immediately. I did wonder whether that was overgenerous, but it does at least preserve the accountability of which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, spoke earlier.
Amendments 83, 88 and 89 concern the commencement provision, Clause 9. They provide that the Act, with the exception of the proposed new clause creating an independent reviewer, would not come into force until the House of Commons is satisfied following a report from the independent reviewer that Rwanda is a safe country. Amendment 92 would ensure that the Act expires on the date on which the Rwanda treaty is terminated, subject to any transition provisions.
These amendments or others like them—and there is a good menu of options in this group—give Parliament the tools that it needs to make a judgment that Rwanda is safe. They provide a mechanism for that judgment to be revisited without the need for primary legislation in the event that independent observers find that the situation on the ground has deteriorated. They provide for the Act to be sunsetted in circumstances where the treaty has been terminated. They do not cure the constitutional difficulties of the Bill but they enable the central decision to be made on the basis of evidence rather than dogma, fiction or fantasy. I hope that the Minister agrees that this would be a refreshing change.
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I speak to Amendment 8 and associated Amendment 72 in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and to the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Bristol and the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich for their support. I have also added my name to Amendment 64 tabled by my noble friend Lord Coaker.

I have tabled Amendment 8 for several reasons in relation to what happens to those who would find themselves translated to Rwanda should this Bill become law and should there be time for the Government to find the mechanisms and processes to make it work, which is in considerable doubt. Nothing that I say this evening should be taken as any endorsement whatever for any part of the Bill, because I do not believe that it will work or that it is acceptable in terms of our international conventions.

I take up the point made at the end of the last group by the Minister, when making a gallant effort to defend the Government, that this is about deterrents. The deterrent is Rwanda. The deterrent is the refusal, through the Nationality and Borders Act and then the Illegal Migration Act, to allow people to claim asylum when they reach our shores if they do not come with the appropriate accreditation and passport. As there are no current resettlement routes outside the particular routes for Ukraine and Hong Kong that are currently working, anyone outside those bespoke processes is denied asylum in the UK. The previous Home Secretary and her predecessor both made it very clear that what they were doing here was indicating that someone who came without those papers and processes was illegal. By being illegal they became, in the words of Suella Braverman, a criminal—they therefore broke our values and should not have the right to be processed here but instead should be transferred to Rwanda.

My amendment and the associated Amendment 72, which deals with the treaty requirements, are very simple. Someone who is offshored and can justify their asylum claim by showing that they are a genuine refugee should be allowed back into the country. That was true of the Australian scheme mentioned earlier, which incidentally was about picking people up in the 1,000 nautical miles of sea before people reached Australia and translating them back to the processing company.

The one thing the Australian scheme had in common with the Rwanda scheme is the cost: it ended up at £1 million per individual, which is what we will end up with here. They had that in common.

What the Rwanda scheme does not have in common with the proposition from, I repeat what I said a few weeks ago, the very far-right Prime Minister of Italy, the leader of Brothers of Italy—I do not know whether Members on the Benches opposite accept that she is a genuine right-winger—for offshoring to Albania is that those who are adjudged to be asylum claimants and shown to have refugee status will be transported back to Italy. They have the right to come back to the country that originally transported them out.

I want to make this clear, although at this time of night the message probably will not get across, but I do not believe that Members of the House of Commons understood what they were passing. I do not mean to be patronising, but I just think that they did not take account of the detail; neither did the public. I do not think they understood that it is a one-way ticket. We are not offshoring by any known concept of that process, but showing Rwanda, as I just described, to be a threat. If it is a threat, it is a threat. What is the threat about Rwanda? It is that it is Rwanda.

The Bill is a one-way ticket that, bizarrely, allows asylum to be claimed or not. In the responses at the end—and I gave notice of this at Second Reading—I would be interested in knowing what happens if someone who is not allowed to claim asylum in the UK, having been transported to Rwanda, chooses not to claim asylum in Rwanda. It cannot be presumed that, because they had tried to claim asylum in the UK and were criminalised when denied it, they would claim asylum in Rwanda. Perhaps we could park that and someone can give me an answer.

Let us say that they do claim asylum in Rwanda: they will end up no different from those who have not claimed asylum, because they will be in Rwanda. Sadly, those who have demonstrated their legitimate claim to asylum, and therefore are refugees by every international convention, will be in exactly the same position as those who are adjudged not to be refugees but who remain in asylum. The only two categories among those who can reach the UK from Rwanda are those who are claiming asylum in the United Kingdom as Rwandans, or those who cannot be transported from Rwanda to the country of their origin because it is unsafe and who are allowed back under the Bill. Those are the only two categories. Those who are not allowed back are those who have actually demonstrated their refugee status. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff; it is absurd.

If this is all about sending signals to the traffickers that their business model is broken, we would really be breaking the asylum seekers rather than the organised criminals. They would simply say to people, “If you are going to be transported to Rwanda, but you demonstrate your refugee status, you will remain in Rwanda, just as those who do not will remain in Rwanda”, the asylum seekers will disappear into the ether. Organised criminals are to be dealt with in subsequent groups in Committee. Genuine refugees will find themselves in the hands of organised criminals and part of modern slavery. We know that that will happen, because that is what organised traffickers will tell asylum seekers: “We will give you a telephone number. Ring it, and we’ll find you a job and a bed, and we’ll own you”.

If there is anything moral in how we stop people coming across the channel in dangerous small boats, it is not the morality of sending away the organised traffickers. It is the immorality of encouraging people to disappear into the hands of those same organised criminals.

I am suggesting that—as with Giorgia Meloni, and every other system in the world that has ever existed, as far as I know—those who demonstrate their refugee status, and have been transported from the country they finally reached, should be allowed to come back as refugees. It might not fit the threat of Rwanda that we talked about earlier, and will talk about in subsequent groups, but it would fit our commitment to our international obligations and the human rights of those individuals. If we do not do that, we are developing a concept of the United Kingdom as a country that will not only breach all international conventions that we have signed but our basic morality. That would be demonstrably dangerous for this country and other parts of the world in years to come.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, the full incoherence and madness of the Bill has just been exemplified in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. The many possibilities here are incredible, such as the idea that asylum seekers may well receive the advice that when they get to Rwanda they should not apply for asylum. What do the Rwandan people do then? We should ask ourselves that question: where do you send them back to? To Britain, whence they came—they are not applying for asylum here—or back to France, our great partner in trying to deal with the crime that is emanating across Europe, with which we need to be collaborative, and need intelligence and serious investigation into criminal gangs?

I was rather attracted by the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that we change the tense and make it about the future: that if Rwanda does become the safe country we are being asked to vote that it is, that we feel it has a legal system capable of making these assessments, and it is properly monitored, and we receive evidence—I have mentioned evidence before—we must be sure of that, and putting it into the future might be rather appealing. The one thing I had concerns about was when the noble and learned Lord said that this would not cause delay. I am hoping that there will be delay.

I do not want to see people being flown to a place in which this great project of modernising and improving the system will take place. If it is going to happen at all, I want it to have happened before we send anybody there. I happen to take the view, unpopular among many, that exporting people and sending them away is part of the problem. We are not doing as Italy’s ultra-radical, proto-fascist leader Ms Meloni is doing, which is asking the Albanians to do on Italy’s behalf what the Italian system would be doing. We are not asking for that; we are sending them there. We are exporting a problem.

I am concerned about the issue of delay and perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will respond at some stage. I see him getting to his feet; maybe he can help me.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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I do not quite understand the point that the noble Baroness is making. When I talked about delays, I meant the delay of implementing the Bill—putting the various people in place for the monitoring to take place. The fact is that the committees I mentioned already exist. The distinction is between that situation and setting up new independent monitoring, which will take time. That is my only point, but of course I appreciate that all the time that is necessary should be taken to be absolutely sure that implementation has been achieved. That is a different question.

20:45
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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So the delay we were talking about is delay in the implementation of this legislation. I remind your Lordships of an example of that. The Human Rights Act passed in 1998. The point was made at the time that it would not come into operation until 2000, because it was accepted that there would have to be considerable training and learning before it could possibly take effect in the courts in a sensible way. We had to make sure that decisions would be made in a way that complied with that Act and the European convention. We recognised that, if you want to create change of that sort, there have to be concomitant changes in systems, training, lawyering and judging.

So I would certainly want to see evidence of more than four days of training. The International Bar Association is involved in training lawyers and prosecutors around the world in relation to, for example, coercive interrogation, as we politely call it, to prevent the torture of people who are arrested and to make sure that, to comply with the rule of law, we do not use those kinds of practices to extract confessions in our systems of law around the world, because we have learned that confessions extracted in that way are never reliable. Training takes place, but we all recognise that four days of training does not produce the goods. Two sets of four days of training, as we have had so far in Rwanda, do not create a change in the culture.

We are talking about something much more substantial and meaningful in changing systems. I remember, because I was in the radio studio with him at the time, when the Supreme Court’s judgment came out and Lord Sumption and I were asked, on the “Today” programme’s podcast, about the effects of it and the Government’s response that they were going to pass a Bill in which they said that the country was safe. He was absolutely shocked and said it would be disreputable to do such a thing. Why did he say that? He said it himself on the programme: it is the systems that are problematic here. The outcome of refoulement is a result of inadequate systems. To change them would be a substantial challenge, and not one that can be completed in a matter of months. The story is that somehow the evidence on which this was based was outdated, but we must have evidence of substantial change before we can possibly consider the Bill as an acceptable one to put through this House.

I certainly cheer on the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and any other amendments that may come forth that will delay this, but we know that this is really about an election that is coming up, in which this has become a very heated issue. There is a desire on the Prime Minister’s part to fulfil Ms Braverman’s dream: that she will see a flight go into the air to Rwanda, carrying on it some of these asylum seekers. That is the dream; that is the election flag that has to go up the flagpole. All I can say is that it would be unfitting, inappropriate and unworthy if this Parliament passed the Bill for that reason.

Lord Bishop of Lincoln Portrait Lord Bishop of Lincoln
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My Lords, I rise to speak because I suspect I am in a minority as one of the very few Members of this House who have had direct contact with Rwanda, having had 10 years’ engagement with the diocese of Kigali, the capital city, and the great joy of visiting the country and seeing life outside in the countryside. One of the most moving things of my nearly 40 years of ministry was praying at the national memorial for the holocaust in Kigali with a local bishop who had lost so many members of his family. He was still so distraught that I had to find the words for our prayer together.

I put on record that I have come across so many wonderful Rwandans who would be hugely great examples to us individually of the practice of forgiveness and trying to make life beautiful again after a terrible tragedy. I can think of one instance where I met a priest; most of his family had been murdered, and in an act of forgiveness he took the murderer of his loved ones into what was left of his family, because he felt there was a requirement upon him to demonstrate and show forgiveness in this terrible situation.

It is also true, in my experience, that Rwanda has done a remarkable job in developing its economy. I was going to say it was a “tiger economy”—that is perhaps the wrong fauna for the Great Lakes region, but there have been real strides forward in their economy. Of course, people have been very eager to support their President because he has largely delivered to them peace.

It is also my direct experience, relating to what the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, that the institutions of civil society remain substantially undeveloped. It seems to me that, although we may agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and might want to say that Rwanda could in the future be a third-party partner in dealing with these issues, I would strongly say that that day has not yet come.

Of course, I am not in principle against the idea of third-party partnerships; it is very interesting what we hear about Italy. It seems to me that what is required is a real, dedicated commitment to a partnership among western nations in seeking to see how this could be done effectively and generously towards those whom we categorise as criminals, many of whom have suffered dreadful trauma and persecution in their homeland, which is the only reason they have taken the risk and put themselves in the hands of these dreadful criminal gangs.

It is also very important that we take account of the fact that, if we are going to even think about the prospect of sending people to a third-party country, there has to be a guarantee, as evidenced in Amendment 8, that people have a right to return and establish their claims here. If this is not allowed, it is simply a case of our throwing the problem away. That seems to me to be simply immoral, and not something that we as a nation should be contemplating.

We need to look very carefully again at putting this burden on the people of Rwanda and how we might think much better about working together with other nations in developing a pattern that will help us, in the longer term, cope with huge further migration through climate change, which we have not even contemplated yet and which will affect us very deeply.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, with his fascinating and personal knowledge of Rwanda, and the very useful advice he has given us this evening. I have put my name to the seven amendments set out by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and I do not intend to refer in great detail to any of them, particularly at this time, because I would like to get home before midnight, if that is possible, and I am in the last group.

Shortly, the points I wanted to make are these: it is obvious that Clause 1(2)(b) is out of kilter with Clause 1(3). You only have to read Clause 1(3) to see that the Government of the Republic of Rwanda has “agreed to fulfil”—that seems to me to be partly in the present, but almost certainly partly in the future. In the treaty, which we pored over in the debate that I listened to and did not speak in—I thought enough people had spoken—the 10 requirements that we discussed are clearly not all fulfilled. The right reverend Prelate points out—and he knows; he has been there—that the structures are not all yet in place.

The noble and learned Lord the Minister made a brave effort to say that Rwanda is safe and, following discussions, will be safer. That is splendid wording, but it does not really work in this House, when we look at the fact that the Government want this House to say, despite our vote on the treaty debate, that Rwanda is safe when it patently is not. Speaking as a former lawyer as well as a fairly long-term Member of this House, I cannot believe that any Government are asking us to say that something is what it may well be—and for the sake of Rwanda, if it really wants our refugees, I hope it will be —when, quite simply, it is not there yet. Right around the Committee, we have all been saying that from the first few words, so how on earth can the Government expect the House to agree to a phrase that the,

“Act gives effect to the judgement of Parliament”—

Parliament including us—that Rwanda is safe?

I very strongly support what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. It seems to me that to some extent, subject to issues of modern slavery to which we will come in another group, the Bill could be partially redeemed by two points. One has been set out by the noble and learned Lord in Amendment 6, and the second is set out in the various amendments headed by my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich about an independent reviewer. If you had the twin of “will be” when it is ready, and an independent reviewer to assist the Government to say that at least the requirements in Clause 1(3) and the 10 requirements in the treaty have been met, then I have no doubt that the Government could say, “Now we can send people to Rwanda”. However, I plead with the Government: I cannot believe that they are really expecting us to say that that which is not safe is safe at this stage.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I am not sure that my noble and learned friend should call herself an ex-lawyer. That was very good indeed.

At Second Reading, I said that we live in a constitution that is akin to a three-legged stool, with Parliament, the Government and the judiciary in a balance between those legs. I think it is very important to realise how key to our constitution that stool really is. Clause 1(2)(b) represents grit in the relationship between those legs: the requirement that this House enters into a judgment that many in the House feel is very wrong, a judgment which is everlasting. At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord McDonald of Salford very eloquently spoke about the political risk within Rwanda at the moment. The judgment is largely in a vacuum, because a number of questions have been fired at the Minister about where we are with safety. That is very difficult for our House to do and is grit. That represents further grit because of course it will be something that the judiciary has to take account of when it comes to determine anything under the Bill.

That is why I find the amendment package that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has put together so very attractive. I hope the Government will look at it for the reason of logic alone and for a second reason, because the second half of my submissions at Second Reading were to do with the Salisbury/Addison convention. That is a convention about creating a smooth relationship between two of the legs of that stool. Indeed, we are here tonight because of that convention: we are working late, sitting extra late tonight, in order to speed things through because part of that convention deals with speed of consideration.

I do hope the Government will think of the convention in relation to how the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has expressed the amendments and the provisions in the Bill that represent grit in the relationship. We have a convention that is all about promoting a relationship, and we have a Bill before us that is all about putting grit in the relationship. This has to be thought of in terms of the convention.

21:00
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, each and every amendment proposed to this Bill shows the sheer nonsense of it. We are being forced by this Government to deny reality. We are being forced to create an enduring piece of legislation that states the proposition that Rwanda is “conclusively” safe, which cannot be rebutted even by conclusive proof to the contrary. This is Alice in Wonderland; it is complete and utter nonsense.

I have signed Amendments 6, 20 and 26 in the name of the learned Lord—I am sorry, it is very late—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I have tucked myself under his coat-tails because they are incredibly sensible amendments. They at least require the Rwanda treaty to be given effect and to remain fully implemented for the Act to have effect.

However, even with that, I am not sure that we can legislate that Rwanda is conclusively safe, so my Amendment 93 would go further. It would require the whole Act to be scrapped on the day that the Secretary of State is presented with evidence that Rwanda is not conclusively a safe country. Noble Lords might call this a wrecking amendment; I would call it a huge dollop of sanity in the mad world of this Bill. Surely the Minister and all other noble Lords should support this. Why would anyone want a piece of legislation to exist on the statute book with a key provision that

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


if Rwanda is not conclusively safe? Rwanda is either conclusively safe or it is not. If it is conclusively safe, why do we need legislation to force decision-makers to treat it as such? If it is not conclusively safe, why would we force decision-makers to treat it as though it is? This clause is either pointless or plainly false. I struggle to see how this Bill was ever written. Did lawyers really write this Bill? I cannot believe that anyone is going to defend it when it is so patently stupid.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I rise just to say that I entirely agree with those who have said that we should look carefully at the direction of travel suggested by the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and encourage the Government to do the same.

It seems to me that the Government have got themselves into a pretty strange position. In proceeding with what they want to do, they have given themselves a binary choice: either legislate a fundamental untruth or find a way of establishing a system that will bring about and give confidence on the safety of Rwanda. If they do not want to do the former—and they should not—they must investigate ways of doing the latter.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall first address the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. Speaking entirely for myself, nothing I say is intended to cast any aspersions on the state of Rwanda, the suffering that it has gone through or the plight in which it currently finds itself. I found his remarks incredibly moving. The Supreme Court made clear that it was not a lack of good faith that had led Rwanda to be in the position that it is in; it was just that Rwanda did not have a system that could properly deal with the analysis of asylum claims in a way that would be acceptable to the commitments that we as a country have made to asylum seekers.

I agree very strongly with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said: that Clause 1, in so far as it says that

“Rwanda is a safe country”


is not right, and it would be wrong for us as a Parliament, or as the House of Lords, to agree to that which we know is wrong.

May I address the four alternatives that are now before the House as a means of trying to deal with that? First, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has proposed that one can give effect to the provisions of the legislation only if the joint committee, set up under Article 16 of the recent Rwanda-UK treaty, says that the agreement is being complied with, and that committee would have to act on the advice of the monitoring committee. In principle, that sounds quite a good idea. As the noble and learned Lord acknowledged, one should recognise—I do not say this in a disparaging way—that the joint committee is just the two Governments.

If it is the joint committee alone, that gives no additional assurance. Because the UK Government want to do this come what may, it is hard to imagine that the Rwandan Government are going to say that they are not complying with a treaty which they say they are complying with and have committed themselves to complying with. If it was only the joint committee under Article 16, that would not provide much protection, I say with some respect.

The amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, says that the joint committee has got to act on the advice of the monitoring committee. Only if the monitoring committee positively advises that the agreement is not being complied with will the joint committee of the two Governments be prevented from giving the advice that it wants to give. I have no idea how this monitoring committee will work. It will presumably be 50:50 on each side. If it is paralysed, I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord’s proposed requirements would then be satisfied. If the joint committee was not getting positive advice one way or the other, it would still be able to give the assurance that one gives. Could that be dealt with by a number of tweaks? It might well be possible.

Subject to those points, I can see attraction in what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is saying. The only other point I have on his proposal is that the Minister appears to escape any duty at all. Should we not have it so that the Minister is subject to judicial review on the decision he takes about whether to implement the treaty?

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his comments on the significance of the joint committee. I would introduce it only at the beginning. For the future, it is entirely a matter for the monitoring committee to advise on whether the system is being fully implemented, once it has started up. One could remove the joint committee altogether and just have it rest entirely on the monitoring committee; that would be very close to the position of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and indeed that of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. We are working towards a solution of some kind, but I welcome very much the helpful comments of the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am grateful. The other proposal, which my noble friend Lord Coaker has put his name to, as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is to get the monitoring committee to decide. Then one of the only wrinkles would be: how does this monitoring committee work? It would require a positive assertion by the monitoring committee that the terms of the agreement are being broken. If the committee cannot get that, for example because it is deadlocked, then this potential Act would be given effect to. That is the second alternative.

The third alternative is the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that there be an independent reviewer. If that reviewer says it is not safe, this potential Act would be given effect to, as I understand it, only if there is a resolution by the House of Commons saying that it is safe. That has some attractions, but I am not attracted to it at the moment. First, the House of Commons has already shown its willingness—not because its Members are dishonourable people but because they are whipped by the Government, who have a significant majority—to pass a Bill that uses the word “is”. Secondly, surely such a resolution has the same vice as the Bill: one is asking Parliament to sit in judgment on the question of whether Rwanda is a safe country, and that is an inappropriate activity for Parliament.

I am in favour of one or other of the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in Amendments 15 and 16, or the monitoring committee—subject to my anxiety about how it would work. I strongly submit that we should not let the Minister off the hook; he or she should be subject to judicial review.

Of course, one has great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said. However, our attitude—although it sticks in the gullet—nevertheless has to be to try to make this Bill work. My own view is that, if you are going to do offshore processing or deportations to safe countries, the one thing you have to be sure of is that you are acting in accordance with the law.

What makes this Bill so discreditable is not necessarily the policy, which people can disagree with, of offshore processing in third countries, but trying to do something like that in breach of the law. We should be working to get to a point where we are acting in accordance with the law.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I agree with the noble and learned Lord, but I would like to say a word in defence of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. Mine is the louche, unlearned name on the otherwise very learned list, alongside the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

We would be in a different situation if the independent reviewer, in a reasoned public document, put forward the case that the country was not safe—that refoulement was happening or could happen and there were not adequate systems to stop it. Here, we are talking about the difficulty of working out what it will be like when the treaty is in operation. Then, the reviewer would be presenting the House of Commons and Secretary of State with a report which, let us say, is critical. Then, it would be more difficult for the House of Commons to conclude that it did not care about the evidence. If there was such evidence, unlike the present situation, the House would have to say, “We reject the evidence”. I therefore stick with my louche support for the learned amendment.

As for the other learned amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I understand it and it seems to have much merit. It has two possible downsides. First, the monitoring committee works for the joint committee, which is strange when you think about it—you might think it should be the other way around. It would therefore be very important, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, that the monitoring committee’s reports be published in full.

The second possible downside is the composition of the committee. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, spoke about one member of the committee. Another member is Alexander Downer. That seems to me to be a bit of a downer. This is a man who is chairman of Policy Exchange and who invented the Australian scheme. This is the man who pressed hard for push-backs—actually shoving the little ships off to Papua New Guinea—which is something our Royal Navy has always refused to contemplate. The committee has to be comprised of persons independent of both parties. I am not quite sure how independent Mr Downer is of the Government.

My name is also on nine amendments, I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and on the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, spoke. I see some attraction in the Blunkett scheme. If the Government are convinced that the system in Rwanda is fair and convinced that asylum seekers are given a fair hearing and assessment, why should we not accept that, if they are given asylum status, they should come here? The beauty of this is that he is turning offloading into offshoring. The distinction is one that some of us in the House have not always seemed quite to follow.

21:15
What we are proposing with Rwanda is something that has never been done before—there is absolutely no precedent. We are telling these people, “We are transporting you to Rwanda and you may, if you want to, seek asylum in Rwanda, but you can never seek asylum in the United Kingdom and, indeed, you can never come to the United Kingdom”. They may have decided to make for this country because they knew our language and had family and connections here. In addition to their escaping from persecution, fear, war and famine—and they will not be given asylum status anywhere unless they are escaping from those things—they may have chosen to come here because they have a reason for doing so. They probably do not have the same connections in Rwanda. The largest number of asylum seekers who come crossing in small boats come from Afghanistan and Syria, two countries with quite close links to the United Kingdom and not very close links with Rwanda.
I am against offshoring. It is unkind and cruel, and it makes it more difficult to provide legal advice and advice on age assessments, to make age assessments and to give psychological support if it is necessary—and these people may be fleeing from terrible persecution. I am against it, but I do not think that it is illegal, and it certainly is not unprecedented. What is unprecedented and illegal is what we are proposing to do. If we were to convert offloading to offshoring, I still think that it is undesirable, but it is not illegal.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, is in his place, so I would just like to explain why I say that what we are proposing is illegal. At Second Reading, he accused me of a misperception when I said that offloading our asylum seekers to a third country would breach international law. I maintain that it does, and I cite the UNHCR, which in its January memorandum said that
“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.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not think the Committee needs to apologise for an element of repetition and even circularity in contributions on the various groups, because that is the nature of the Bill before us. It is a relatively short Bill, but its provisions are interconnected, as are the different approaches that Members of the Committee have taken to amend them.

Let us take stock for a moment, because we have been on a bit of a stream of consciousness. Members of the Committee have expressed different opinions about whether offshoring per se is acceptable. To my mind, the exchange we have just heard reveals that we do not currently have legal authority in the UK that says that processing asylum claims in another country is unlawful. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, on that, but I have to say that my instincts are with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, on the fact that this is going to be debated for many years to come and we have not had higher court determination of it. It is a debated point internationally. That is a point we can put aside for the moment. There is another question in this Bill, about what is and what might be in the future.

I think that most Members of the Committee have either agreed or even reluctantly conceded that what is is a little different from what we are working on and what might be in the future, which then takes us to how we change the future and how we evaluate changed facts in the future. Then, under the scheme of what is before us, there is first the question of the treaty and then the question of the Bill before us that the Government propose to make an Act. I think there is some considerable support for Amendment 14, which says that the treaty—which is currently a very important trigger in the Government’s scheme, because it is the treaty coming into force that makes the Act come into force—needs to have been effectively implemented, so that facts change on the ground in Rwanda before even the treaty that is the current trigger for the Act can come into force. I certainly agree with that. There are different approaches in the amendments as to how that should be measured, but I think it is just logical that until the treaty, as suggested by your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, is effectively implemented, even under the scheme of the Bill as drafted, the Act should not come into force.

Then we have a range of amendments offered in subsequent groups about what commencement should look like in the Bill, and later we will have very important debates about judicial oversight and not ousting the jurisdiction of both domestic and international courts.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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I have two points. First, to correct the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, there is precedent in the Australian situation, in that, under the Australian rules, the Government of Nauru make the decisions, with assistance, training and support from the Australian Government. The Rwanda situation is exactly the same. We are trying to bring in training, support and assistance to the Rwandan Government, so the two examples are exactly the same. Australia’s, which has been working successfully for 10 years, has all-party support and is hugely successful. If I may repeat the point I made earlier in the day, there is a great prize here: if we can get genuine agreement on this subject, there is the prize of having a proper, whole immigration policy which the whole country can support, not just this Rwanda business.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I hate to cross swords with the noble Lord, but I am afraid that what he is saying is factually incorrect. The Australian hearings in Nauru are for asylum in Australia. The hearings that the Rwandans would carry out in Rwanda for people who came here would be for asylum in Rwanda.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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The people who are being investigated in Nauru want to go to Australia. Similarly, the people who will be investigated in Rwanda want to come here. The situation is exactly the same.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Within that debate about processing and offshoring is a question as to whether, if you succeed in your asylum claim when you are processed over there, you then stay over there or come back to the country from which you are sent. That is a crucial debate that is being fudged here.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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The situation here is exactly analogous to that in Australia, which has been working successfully for 10 years.

The other point in this debate, in reference to the interesting amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is the importance of the monitoring. I agree with him and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that the more transparent and obvious this is, the better it will be for everyone. Fundamentally, we cannot expect the law to do everything. We all know that there are many laws which are not adhered to in practice. It may go wrong on the ground floor in a way that lawyers, for all that has been said in the treaty, are not aware of until it is too late. You therefore need a strong monitoring committee whose information is available to this House and the general public, because you cannot do it any other way. The law cannot encompass what may happen in future.

That is a crucial point from this debate. I would have thought that my noble friend the Minister could accommodate the relative transparency of the monitoring committee, which has independent people on it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, may not like some of them because they disagree with him, but the committee is none the less independent. Precisely because of that, it will have people of differing views. The Government should look at that in response to the tone of this debate.

Lord Bishop of Southwark Portrait The Lord Bishop of Southwark
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My Lords, I will speak in favour of this group, particularly Amendments 6, 14 and 20, but I wish to avoid the circularity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was saying, that has been inevitable on something so interconnected.

The Home Secretary has said that

“we will not operationalise this scheme until we are confident that the measures underpinning the treaty have been put in place; otherwise, the treaty is not credible”.

This set of amendments enables this approach, so if the Government are not willing to accept these amendments, can the Minister explain how they will ensure that the obligations of the treaty—to quote the treaty itself—

“can both in practice be complied with and are in fact complied with”?

This is an even more pertinent question since any recommendations arising from the monitoring arrangements in the treaty are non-obligatory. To take just one example from the Government’s own evidence pack, a new asylum Bill is required in Rwanda before an assessment of the implementation of the treaty can be made. When will this legislation be published and will it be, to use the official term, fully operationalised before any flights take off?

Much wisdom has been articulated in this Chamber today. I urge the Government to listen and act accordingly.

21:30
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, my Amendments 64 and 65 seek to address the problem that all noble Lords have been seeking to address: Clause 1(2)(b), which basically says that Rwanda is a safe country. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was quite right, when moving his Amendment 6, to point out that the word “is” is absolutely fundamental to the meaning of the Bill and is why there is such a debate among your Lordships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21:45
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this very interesting debate. I am particularly grateful to those who have offered some support to my Amendment 6, which seeks to reword the clause with the word “is” in it, substituting words that are far more in keeping with certainly what I think the majority of the Committee has been discussing throughout the proceedings this afternoon. I am very disappointed with the Minister’s reply, because he simply brushes it aside as not necessary. However, anybody who listened to the debate with care would see that it is absolutely necessary to change the wording of that clause, and we will certainly have to come back to it on Report. As for the various options, we have a menu. I think those of us who have put forward suggestions as to how the matter might be regulated will think carefully as to where we go from here, but we will certainly come back to it on Report.

My only other point is that I was very taken with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about whether the House of Commons appreciated the significance of offloading people to Rwanda, and particularly those who, when they reach there, do not claim asylum. It is a horrifying situation, with these people just cast adrift in a country which, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, probably has no connections with what they were looking for—and indeed, they probably had a variety of good reasons for coming to the United Kingdom. It is a deeply disturbing situation and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, will pursue the matter a little further, because it really illustrates the harshness of the measure that we are being asked to consider. Having said all that, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 and 8 not moved.
Amendment 9
Moved by
9: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (4)
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 13. I will be very brief, because the hour is late. At this time I am usually putting my dogs out, but on this occasion I have the pleasure of addressing your Lordships’ House.

The effect of Amendment 9 is to delete Clause 1(4), and the effect of Amendment 13 is to delete Clause 1(6). It is worth just reminding your Lordships what these two clauses say. Clause 1(4) says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act”—


any old Act, incidentally—

“is unaffected by international law”.

You then go to Clause 1(6) to see what is meant by “international law”, and that is everything to which we have ever put our name, which is there in very considerable detail. So the first question that your Lordships should ask yourselves is, why on earth is it there? I have no doubt that, as a matter of strict law, the statements are correct, but why are they there? They serve no legislative purpose whatever. I think I know why they are there: it is to provide comfort to the Braverman wing of the Conservative Party—and I, for one, do not wish to provide comfort to that wing of the Conservative Party, which has been bringing disrepute on the party which I have served for 40 years.

We then go on to consider: does it serve a purpose? Clearly, it does not. But what it does do is damage our reputation for probity, because any bystander reading the Bill will come to the conclusion that the given word of the United Kingdom, expressed in treaties and in international law, is not worth credit. I do not wish to give people that interpretation. Nor, for that matter, does the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution of your Lordships’ House, published on 9 February.

I commend to your Lordships paragraphs 54, 56 and 57. Paragraph 54 acknowledges that it is true that the validity of an Act of Parliament in domestic law is not affected by international law. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is still subject to the provisions of international law. Paragraph 55 states:

“We agree with Lord Bingham that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.


Paragraph 56 states:

“Legislation which puts the UK in breach of international law undermines the rule of law and trust in the UK in fulfilling future treaty commitments”.


The summary section, paragraph 57, states:

“We reiterate that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law. Legislation that undermines the UK’s international law obligations threatens the rule of law”.


It concludes:

“We invite the House to consider the consequences should the enactment of this Bill in its current form breach the UK’s international obligations”.


These two clauses are unnecessary. They are damaging to our reputation, serve absolutely no legislative purpose and should be removed from the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very proud to have signed the two amendments tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. When I first looked at them, I thought that, given the scale of obscenity that this Bill perpetrates, maybe this is flotsam— maybe this is just stating the obvious that for many years we have passed Acts of Parliament and sometimes aspects of domestic legislation have subsequently been found to be in breach of international law. As a matter of domestic law, a statute is not automatically invalid because it breaches international law without incorporation of the kind that we had with the EU and the Human Rights Act.

However, having spoken to the noble Viscount and thought again about the contemporary implications of provisions such as those in Clause 1(4) and Clause 1(6), I felt compelled to agree with him and to sign up to his amendment. We are sending a signal, initially to domestic civil servants, diplomats and Ministers, including in the context of the Ministerial Code, that we do not think our international obligations matter. That is a very significant cultural concern. It was perhaps the noble Viscount who made the point in relation to the Rwanda treaty earlier that we are saying, in the context of this Bill as a whole, that it is going to be alright, that Rwanda is not just going to be safe in the future but we can assume that is it safe now because of this treaty, this international binding agreement that Rwanda will of course respect because it is binding in international law—while simultaneously we are saying that international law does not affect the validity of UK law.

That is an extraordinary position, and an extraordinary position to put UK civil servants in—whether in the Border Force or the Home Office or whether they are diplomats anywhere in the world. Perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton will comment on this in a while as a member of the Constitution Committee. There are real tensions for Ministers and their duty to comply with the rule of law to put a provision such as this in primary legislation, notwithstanding the traditional point about the delicate relationship between the validity of domestic law and international law.

Then there is the bigger, existential question. At this particular moment in the world, in its state of insecurity, the United Kingdom’s position on Russia and Ukraine, events in the Middle East, Houthis and China is to say that international law matters. Across the Atlantic, Mr Trump has made some remarkable comments about his NATO allies. We are saying one thing, including with our arms, military support and rhetoric, about the importance of international law—“Do not breach it, because if you do, you will find us standing in your way”—while we pass a provision like this at the same time. I apologise to the noble Viscount for not seeing the vital importance of his amendments to begin with, but I certainly do now.

Week after week your Lordships’ House has noble Lords, including Ministers, talking about various parts of the world and the importance of the UK as a permanent member of the Security Council, and everything it will do and has attempted to do over many decades, including by military force, to uphold the international rules-based order— and then there is a dinner break or a change of personnel, and we have the Home Office back here saying that it will pass legislation to state that international law does not matter. That cannot continue. For those reasons, I am proud to support the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.