All 12 Lords Chamber debates in the Lords on 20th Mar 2024

Wed 20th Mar 2024
Wed 20th Mar 2024
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent
Wed 20th Mar 2024
Wed 20th Mar 2024
Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage

House of Lords

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Wednesday 20 March 2024
15:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Royal Assent

Royal Assent
Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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15:06
Royal Assent was notified for the following Acts:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act,
National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Act,
Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Act,
Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Act.

Free Childcare Scheme

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Question
15:07
Asked by
Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the availability of additional funded childcare provision, ahead of the expansion of the free childcare scheme in April.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, we are delivering the largest expansion of childcare in England’s history. Latest projections show that more than 150,000 new funded places will be secured by April. We expect that number to grow, collectively saving parents more than £500 million in costs. We continue to support the sector’s expansion, with £400 million of additional funding to uplift hourly rates next year and a guarantee that rates will increase in line with cost pressures for two years after that.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, on these Benches we agree with the ambition of the policy, but delivery of the expansion of the free childcare scheme is falling short. With the charity Coram Family and Childcare finding that parents in some parts of the country are spending over 50% of their income on childcare, and with children needing to be registered for nurseries before they are born, what more are the Government doing to ensure that parents and children get the expansion of free childcare that they have been promised?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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It is slightly curious to say that delivery is falling short when the new entitlements start in April of this year. The noble Baroness knows that we have made a significant investment in capital to support local authorities. We have made a number of innovations in relation to the workforce and the uptake of the scheme has been very encouraging. Most importantly—I think the Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed this—we have announced very generous funding rates, particularly for younger children.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, I think we are surprised at the confidence of the Minister, given that we have seen a 50% increase in the number of nurseries that have closed in just the last year, that 40% of nurseries say they are undecided as to whether they will deliver the new funded offer for two year-olds, and that 20% say that they will but that places will be limited. Why is the Minister so confident about this scheme? We hope she is right, but can she give us more reassurance as to why she thinks it will definitely happen?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The first thing I would say is that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are right that this is a very ambitious expansion of childcare. However, the really significant increase in capacity will be in September 2025, so we have some time to put in place what is needed to deliver on that. The noble Lord talked about the number of nurseries that have closed. I know he is also aware that the childcare workforce has gone up year on year, over 2022-23, and is up by 40,000 places—I mean that the number of places has increased in the past five years by 40,000, while there has been a 1% annual decline in nought to five year-olds.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that there have been reports suggesting that the pressure on childcare places will cause special needs children to be squeezed out of the provision. Could my noble friend clarify the situation?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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We are aware of the concerns to which my noble friend refers. The House knows that we are doing a great deal to create a fairer special needs system. One of the key things here is the phased implementation of the expansion to the 30-hours offer, to make sure that we develop and continue to monitor the capacity for children with special educational needs.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, why does it take a crisis before the Government act? Is there no forward planning in her department to identify need and do something before it becomes a crisis?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Some people might recognise that the Government are making a very substantial investment in this area. We have already spent more than £20 billion over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare, and this next step will be another major one.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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I really do not think that the House would wish to cast aspersions on the intention of this policy. Most people would think that it was good and worth supporting. However, can the Minister say whether there is an accurate match between the funds that will be available to the sector from the Government to support this expansion and the need that they have identified for the funds in order to do it successfully? I think she will agree that there has been some doubt as to whether those two numbers match.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I genuinely thank the noble Baroness for her question, because it gives me the opportunity to set out a couple of things. One might want to look at funding rates for different ages of children to see whether there is sufficient funding. The funding for three to four year-olds is almost identical in the new scheme to previous rates. For two year-olds, the Government will pay £8.28 an hour, compared to £6.07 previously, and for those between nine months and two years, £11.22, compared to £6.05. I leave the noble Baroness to draw her own conclusions.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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Could the Minister help me? She spoke about entitlement. Could she tell me what the difference is between entitlement and delivery?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government have committed to deliver the number of childcare places needed for those who are eligible and seek to take advantage of the opportunity that the Government offer.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree that many families up and down Britain are tearing their hair out over the cost and difficulty of accessing quality affordable childcare? Clearly, delivery is crucial. Would she also agree that childcare is one part of the jigsaw puzzle, and that many working families in Britain are also worried about security of employment and predictability of working hours and income in order to be able to access childcare? What we really need is a new deal for working people that delivers that security, as well as childcare provision.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I know the noble Baroness is well aware of the very substantial increases that we have made in the national minimum wage. To put it in context, the 30 hours of free childcare is equivalent to just under £7,000 per child, which I think she will agree is a substantial contribution to the average family income.

Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the best things we had under Tony Blair was Sure Start; it was all over the country and children benefited. Why can we not introduce full Sure Start again, like we had 20-odd years ago, so that children up and down the country can benefit?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am not sure time permits me to go into everything regarding Sure Start, but I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the family hubs that the Government are rolling out around the country. The learning that we took from Sure Start and put into the family hubs was a focus on disadvantage and the length of time for which families can get support. Sure Start was, understandably, focused on very young children, but those of us who are parents know that one might need support with one’s children at different point as they grow up. That is one of the philosophies behind the family hubs.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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Has the Minister looked at comparative data which shows that childcare is so much more expensive and the requirements so much more stringent here than in other countries around the world? It is also the case that calculations have been done in the States to show that, if all childcare was absolutely free, it would eventually be covered by the tax returns from women and other parents who would be freed up to go back to work.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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That is exactly what the Government are delivering, and exactly those calculations were behind the Government’s decision to make such an increase. In 2027-28, we will be spending in excess of £8 billion on free childcare hours and early education. To make sure that the noble Baroness is aware, from September 2025 there will be 30 hours of free childcare from when a child is nine months old until they start school.

Children’s Cancer Services

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Question
15:17
Asked by
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether a fully funded delivery plan has been agreed in relation to NHS England’s proposal to relocate children’s cancer services away from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to other providers across London.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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NHS England has decided that Evelina London should be the future location of the principal treatment centre, following extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders across the south London/south-east region. A delivery plan has been assessed as affordable by NHS England, with capital funding in place, and remains subject to robust financial scrutiny. Ministers are considering next steps.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer and draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. This is an extraordinary act of self-harm. NHS England, in a decision delegated to the London region, announced that it will be closing the world-leading paediatric cancer services of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton and transferring these to the Evelina Hospital in central London. The Royal Marsden is the largest centre for clinical trials for new drugs for children with cancer in Europe. Its unique co-location with the ICR and the team developing new adult cancer drugs and researching how these can be used to help support childhood cancers means risking the loss of many of these trials and breakthroughs by breaking this bond. Will my noble friend undertake to ask the Secretary of State to call in this decision, as legislation allows her to?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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First, I thank my noble friend for the tireless work she does on behalf of the Royal Marsden, and convey the views of probably all noble Lords on the fantastic work the Royal Marsden does. The current situation, as I think noble Lords know, is that the NHS has reached a decision. The Secretary of State does have the power to call in exceptional cases, and as a result of that, Minister Stephenson is undertaking a fact-finding mission. I have set up a meeting with him to discuss this, and my noble friend is very welcome to join me at that meeting.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, structural healthcare decisions are among the most challenging, and my worry is that there are greater risks now the Evelina has been chosen. It will be the only principal treatment centre in the UK where neurosurgery is not carried out on-site. St George’s has over 25 years’ experience in caring for children with cancer and a dedicated staff team of over 430 people, only four of whom will be moving to the Evelina. What actions will the Government be taking to monitor and ensure a continuing standard of cancer care for children?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Ministers are on a fact-finding mission. I understand the points the noble Earl makes; the NHS made the point that it wants cancer treatment to be co-located alongside an intensive care unit. Following Professor Sir Mike Richards’ review, it believes that it is best to have those services co-located, which is why it has chosen the Evelina. There are pros and cons to every decision, and that is why Ministers are doing further fact-finding.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, this decision is daft on many counts, some of which have already been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. I declare an interest in that I am an occasional contributor to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. As has already been mentioned, the Royal Marsden is a world-renowned centre for cancer research, including in children.

Going back to the decision, even if the Royal Marsden was closed down and all the children’s cancer services were shifted to the Evelina, it does not and will not have all the facilities to deliver medical oncology services to children. Compromised children with cancers will then have to be transferred out of the Evelina to other places where radiotherapy is available. Why shut down a centre which last year transferred to intensive care only three children out of 700—all of whom survived —and instead use another centre which does not have major radiotherapy facilities?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord makes some very good points. Following the NHS review and the evidence put forward, specific cancer treatments will take place at University College Hospital London, which has two particular benefits for patients: radiotherapy and proton beam technology. Ministers want to understand and make the points the noble Lord has made, and to see whether this is a decision we are comfortable with. As I said earlier, since January 2024 we have had the power to call in a decision in exceptional circumstances.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, we have heard a lot in this House about joined-up thinking, but this is not joined-up thinking. Instead, we are thinking of fragmenting a service which works very well. Co-location is important, in order to enable experts to talk, research and take decisions together. Can the Minister do everything he can to change the decision?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I am happy to go through the facts. I hope noble Lords know me well enough to know that I like to look at all the evidence, and, clearly, we are at that stage. I saw an excellent example just the other day in Cambridge, where we are building a new centre to put research and treatment under one roof. That, of course, is what the Royal Marsden has for children’s cancer, so I am aware of the benefits and they will be at the front of my mind.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sure the Minister understands that cancer cannot be seen as an isolated disease. One aspect of that is how you provide for children in their entirety during the treatment, which does not always involve just cancer but other organs and other parts of the child.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, and the Royal Marsden has a very good track record on that. As was explained to me on the Cambridge visit, having all those services together under one roof is a definite advantage. When the pros and cons are weighed up, that will definitely be a pro.

Lord Reid of Cardowan Portrait Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister will be aware by now that there is considerable doubt, controversy and concern around this decision. He has said—and we all take it in good faith—that the Secretary of State is calling this in at this stage for fact finding. When does he anticipate that such a review of the facts might be finished?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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It is only now that the facts are starting to come to us. On something as important as this, we definitely do not want to be hurried into it. Normally, I would be saying at this Dispatch Box that I want to “go, go, go”, but on something as profound as this I want to make sure that we are not hurrying into it. All noble Lords will agree that we have a very good service in operation. For instance, I looked at the Royal Marsden’s stats on speed of treatment and diagnosis, and they are excellent. I am afraid I cannot give a timetable because, quite deliberately, I want to make sure that we do not rush into any decision until we know all the facts.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, there seem to be two issues here. One is the seemingly inexplicable nature of the decision, but also the process by which it was made. Can the Minister please talk to his colleague, not only on a fact-finding mission about this decision, but about how decisions such as this are taken within the NHS, what issues are being considered, and which are considered more important than others? It seems to me that there is an imbalance in the decision-making process. Perhaps that is also an issue that needs to be addressed.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I want to be fair to the NHS here. It has done an extensive study, with a lot of professionals rating extensive criteria, and they really did believe that in certain areas, the Evelina scored higher than St. George’s and the Marsden. It is a balanced decision; all I can do is absolutely promise noble Lords that we will take all those factors into account.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister is looking at all of this, but given the difficulties of achieving the number of clinical trials in the UK, what effect is anticipated on research because of the proposed relocation of paediatric cancer services? Is there an intention to factor into the final decision the need to expand research capacity for childhood and adult cancers?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Among the criteria the NHS has taken into account are clinical services, the patient care experience and research, and it scored the Evelina higher on research. I want to understand that, because many noble Lords will be surprised by that finding. I assure the noble Baroness that research and the ability to do clinical trials, which is a vital component of our life sciences industry, is an important factor in this decision.

Teesworks Project: Audit

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:27
Asked by
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the audit arrangements for the Teesworks project, and of whether they are effective for the scale of the work being carried out.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Swinburne) (Con)
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The public and private sector bodies engaged in the Teesworks project are responsible for ensuring that they comply with all relevant audit requirements. Additionally, the Government commissioned an independent review of the project, which we published in February. The Tees Valley Mayor is implementing its recommendations, including recommendations 27 and 28, relating to the internal and external audit functions.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, but I honestly think that the people of Teesside deserve better than to be fobbed off like this. The independent review published in January said:

“Based on the evidence from the review the governance and financial management arrangements are not of themselves sufficiently robust or transparent to evidence value for money”.


We are told by Ministers that the NAO does not look at individual authorities, so we questioned on 30 January and 7 March just what the arrangements are for auditing this project, so local people can be reassured about the return their significant investment is giving them. We were promised an answer in writing, which has not appeared. In view of the parlous state of local government audit generally, and the nature of the 28 scathing recommendations set out in the review, an NAO financial investigation seems appropriate. Why are the Government still resisting that?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her supplementary question. I assure her that the letter is on its way; I thought that it was already sent, so I apologise if she has not received it yet. As I outlined in my response to the debate on the regeneration of industrial areas on 7 March, it is not the NAO’s role to audit or examine individual local authorities, and its power would not normally be used for that purpose. I have since looked into this, and expanding its remit previously required the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to grant statutory powers. Therefore, given that we have had a thorough independent review, it is time that we learned from it and implemented those lessons rather than repeat it.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, two businessmen are making multi-millions of pounds of profits on the back of £0.5 billion-worth of taxpayers’ investment, without them putting any of their own cash at risk or taking any liabilities until they are negated against guaranteed income streams. The Tees Valley Review said that these generous contractual arrangements should be renegotiated, as the businessmen are making super-profits at the expense of local taxpayers. Do the Government agree with that finding and the suggested change that needs to be made?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I can assure this House that the mayor has accepted all the recommendations in that report and is enacting them now. We have asked for a report in six months’ time on how much progress has been made. We expect that there will be significant progress, including any renegotiation of those contracts.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab)
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My Lords, I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. In the debate, I thought that we had established that the mayor was dealing with only a limited number of the recommendations, particularly on governance. There is a whole raft of others that he did not address in his letter. Neither we nor the public in Tees Valley have heard from the Government on what they will do to ensure that proper procedures, which have been undertaken by other local authorities for generations, are adhered to in Tees Valley. Can the Minister reassure us that there will now be a tendering and procurement process that is understandable in the public sector, even though this is a public/private arrangement? Will that take place, particularly given that the Secretary of State just last week transferred to two of the development corporations set up within the Tees Valley money from the local authorities without consulting them?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I assure the House that all procedures are being followed and, where necessary, they are being tightened as a result of the review. Therefore, where the recommendations need changes to be made, they will be made. Indeed, one of the recommendations affects DLUHC and another, more broadly, affects departments in central government. We are dealing with those now, including one for new systems of governance.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, this project relates to the Government’s wider levelling-up agenda. We heard last week that only 10% of the Government’s levelling-up funds have been spent. What assessment does the Minister make of that?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. I already have an outstanding question from one of his colleagues on his Benches from the debate last week. I am trying to find the exact numbers for how much is in progress, given that there is lag between the money being allocated and being spent. I am chasing that and will come back to the House as soon as I have the number.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, returning to the Teesworks project, in writing to the mayor—the noble Lord, Lord Houchen—the Secretary of State said:

“Improvement takes time, and where the recommendations related to cultural change especially it is important that sufficient time is given”.


But is it really right to leave a six-month hiatus? Should the Government not monitor what is happening much more regularly than that, given the level of concern expressed by the independent inquiry into what is happening at Teesworks?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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Again, I can only give an assurance that this will not be waiting for six months. A number of these actions are required immediately and are therefore ongoing. We will be monitoring it both centrally and locally.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, many years ago when I was leader of a council, if I had acted in this way, I would have faced a surcharge. What sanctions are open against the mayor for the activities he has been involved in?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I need to be very clear that the review did not find any wrongdoing. Some governance issues need to be fixed; they are being fixed. On whether commissioners needed to be put in because there was wrongdoing, that is not the case in this instance. Therefore, time has being given to the combined authority to get its house in order. I am sure, as I have been assured, that it is doing so right now.

School Meals for Children

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:35
Asked by
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent remarks by a head teacher in Southampton criticising the quality of school meals for children.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I am aware of the recent remarks from a Southampton head teacher. We cannot comment on individual catering arrangements, as arrangements with particular suppliers are made at a local level. Governors and trustees are responsible for ensuring compliance with the school food standards. We encourage local authorities and schools to work with their caterers to address any quality issues when they arise, to ensure that children receive nutritious meals in school.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. I am grateful too to Mr Ashley for raising this issue, and to the Times and the BBC for picking up on it last week. This is a topic of great concern to all of us. One in three children now leaving primary school is overweight or obese. This, in part, links back not only to what they are eating at home but to an area where the Government have some influence and control, which is school meals. It was 2014 when the regulations were last reviewed; it is time they were looked at again. Much has changed since then. Children are eating far too much sugar these days. We need to reduce it; we need to look after their health and stop abusing them in this way. Will the Government act on that?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government believe that the school food standards are very clear. Schools must ensure that they provide children with healthy food and drink options, that they get sufficient energy and nutrition across the school day, and they clearly restrict foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Earl of Effingham Portrait The Earl of Effingham (Con)
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My Lords, in 1825 the great politician Jean Brillat-Savarin coined the phrase “You are what you eat”. It is concerning that, according to research, ultra-processed food makes up 64% of the average UK school lunch. What is the Government’s strategy to both teach and empower children to make the right food choices?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Cooking and nutrition are firmly within the national curriculum: in design and technology they are compulsory between key stages 1 and 3, they aim to teach children how to cook and the principles of healthy eating and nutrition. It is also picked up in the science curriculum; indeed, through the Oak National Academy, we funded a module on cooking and nutrition that will equip children leaving school to be able to cook at least six predominantly savoury recipes that will support a healthy diet.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, is not the problem that the tendering process for school meals is based on cost and not quality? Of course, there is another side to school meals, and that is the famous packed lunch. The experience of teachers and head teachers of packed lunches is that they are mainly filled with bags of crisps, chocolate biscuits, fruit drinks et cetera—not necessarily fruit drinks but canned drinks. Has the Minister any idea how we can ensure that packed lunches as well become a healthy nutritional meal?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord touches on issues relating to how parents bring up their children, which is obviously delicate territory for the Government to pronounce too firmly on. Our messaging around the risks of obesity and on healthy lifestyles more broadly is obviously picked up by parents. Our family hubs also look at things such as nutrition. On the first part of his remarks, I should say that the department centrally offers a service called Get Help Buying for Schools that supports schools to negotiate high-quality and affordable catering arrangements.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning (Con)
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I am very pleased to be a member of the committee sitting in this House at the moment looking at ultra-processed foods and obesity. From its evidence sessions that are in the public domain already, the diets of children in school meals, packed lunches and the food that they eat at home should worry everyone in this House. Given what my noble friend has replied today, can I gently suggest that her civil servants please follow the evidence being taken by the House?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I should clarify that I did not in any way want to diminish the importance of addressing ultra-processed foods, but the school food standards already restrict foods that are described as low-quality reformed or reconstituted foods, which include ultra-processed foods.

Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has eaten more school meals than I care to mention, most of them very good, and as someone who rather unwillingly teaches food at school at the moment, where we do a lot about nutrition. However, the research from Northumbria University has found that a quarter-pint of milk a day has an enormously beneficial effect on children’s confidence and concentration and against obesity. What plans do the Government have to increase the free school milk programme?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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We know that milk is, as the noble Lord says, excellent for children’s growth and development. As part of the school food standards, lower-fat milk or lactose-reduced milk must be made available for children who want it to drink at least once a day during school hours, and it must be provided free of charge to all pupils eligible for free school meals. Schools can offer milk as many times as they wish, but it must be free to infants and benefit-based free school meal pupils when offered as part of a school meal.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Brooke and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, I am a member of the Food, Diet and Obesity Committee. There are many concerning issues, one being the influence of the food industry. Can the Minister have urgent discussions with the food industry so that it fully understands the impact of high-processed foods and the need for urgent reformulation, to reduce salt and sugar in those foods and to improve the health and well-being of all our young people?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am more than happy to take that back to the department, for Ministers who are directly responsible for this area to talk to the food industry. The noble Baroness will be aware that there has been some success in reducing sugar in breakfast cereals, yoghurts, fromage frais and soft drinks. However, I share her concerns.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Can my noble friend tell us what effect exercise has on the health of school- children?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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As my noble friend hints, exercise has a very positive impact on physical health and, crucially, on mental health.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, anyone who saw the pictures in the newspaper article to which the Question refers will be fairly appalled at the quality of the food offered to the children. The head teacher concerned asked how hard it was to bake a potato. Is the real problem that children do not learn how to cook any more and therefore do not see jobs in institutional catering as a viable career? What action is the DfE taking to ensure that the skills exist to meet government guidelines that state that school food should be nutritious, look good and taste delicious?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am not sure whether I have to declare my interest as the mother of a chef. I think careers in hospitality are great, but I might be slightly biased. I have already responded on where food and healthy eating fit within the curriculum. We take this very seriously. The specific case that was alluded to in the media related to a PFI contract. Obviously, that gives greater constraints on the ability of a school to negotiate with, or potentially even change, suppliers.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best source of food for schools is locally sourced, sustainably grown produce from identifiable farms that have an educational relationship with the school through which they teach children how and where their food is made? If so, will she encourage local procurement of school food?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am more than happy to encourage that. Just to take it one stage further, I encourage schools that have the space to follow the example of some schools that I have visited that have their own allotments and grow some of their own food. Some of them keep chickens, for example, and eat their own eggs for breakfast. That is also a great approach.

Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2024

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:46
Moved by
Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 22 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 March.

Motion agreed.

Single Source Contract (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:46
Moved by
Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 22 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 March.

Motion agreed.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels: Fire and Rescue Services) (England) Regulations 2024

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:47
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 8 February be approved.

Relevant document: 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 March.

Motion agreed.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Wednesday 20th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:47
Moved by
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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That the Regulations laid before the House on 26 February be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 March.

Motion agreed.
Commons Reasons
15:48
Motion A
Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because the Commons consider that the provisions of the Bill are compliant with domestic and international obligations, and that it is therefore not necessary to provide expressly that this is the case when setting out the purpose of the Bill.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak also to Motions A1, C, D and D1. Motion A relates to Lords Amendment 1B, which adds to the Bill’s purpose, seeking to ensure that the eventual Act maintains full compliance with domestic and international law. As my noble friend has set out throughout the passage of the Bill, and as the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration made clear in the other place,

“the Government take our responsibilities and international obligations incredibly seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 659.]

We are facing a global crisis of illegal migration, and it requires us to seek new, bold, innovative solutions to tackle the increasing numbers of people crossing our borders illegally through such dangerous means. Although we are making progress, and small boat arrivals were down by a third in 2023, we still need to do more. That is why we are increasing our partnership work and signing new deals with our European neighbours; we have a plan, of which this Bill forms part.

Although some of the provisions in the Bill are novel, the Bill strikes the appropriate balance of limiting unnecessary challenges that frustrate removal while maintaining the principle of access to the courts where an individual may be at real risk of serious and irreversible harm. As I will make reference to later, Clause 4 preserves the ability of individuals to challenge removal due to their particular individual circumstances if there is compelling evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country for them.

Taken as a whole, the limited availability of domestic remedies maintains the constitutional balance between Parliament being able to legislate as it sees necessary and the powers of our courts to hold the Government to account. Furthermore, the migration economic development partnership with the Government of Rwanda is one part of our wider programme of work to stop the boats. This partnership will act as a strong deterrent while also demonstrating that taking these perilous and unnecessary journeys to find safety, as promoted by smugglers, is simply not necessary. The Bill—and the partnership with the Government of Rwanda—is predicated on both Rwanda and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the internationally binding treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda.

Motion C relates to Amendments 4 and 5, which do significant damage to the core provisions and purpose provided for in the Bill. They seek to provide a statutory mechanism to qualify the Bill’s deeming provision and so enable decision-makers, including courts and tribunals, to decide that Rwanda is not a safe country if presented with credible evidence to that effect. The amendments remove the prohibitions on courts and tribunals reviewing decisions on the grounds that Rwanda is generally unsafe, as well as on the grounds of risk of refoulement or other non-compliance with the terms of the treaty.

It is the treaty and the published evidence pack that together demonstrate that Rwanda is safe for relocated individuals and that the Government’s approach is tough but fair and lawful. The Government are clear that we assess Rwanda to be a safe country and we have published detailed evidence that substantiates that assessment. This is a central feature of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic courts.

As my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne set out on Report:

“All the Government are doing in the Bill is to reassert their responsibility, as traditionally understood by the principle of the separation of powers, for executive decision-making. There is a reason why it is the Government and not the courts who have that responsibility: because it is the Government and not the courts who are accountable. The courts are accountable to no one—they pride themselves on that—but accountability is at the heart of democracy. That is why the Government are fully entitled to bring forward the Bill and why much of the criticism directed at them for doing so is, for the reasons I have given, fundamentally misconceived”.—[Official Report, 4/3/24; col. 1330.]


I also remind the House that this is not the first time that legislation has been used to determine a country as a safe country. Again, I refer noble Lords to the point made by my noble friend Lord Lilley when we last debated this matter. In 2004, the Labour Government of Mr Blair introduced legislation which created an irrebuttable presumption that a number of listed countries were safe. It was subsequently tested in the courts and upheld.

Furthermore, the courts have not concluded that there is a general risk to the safety of relocated individuals in Rwanda. Rather, the Supreme Court’s findings were limited to perceived deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system as it was and the resulting risk of refoulement should any lack of capacity or expertise lead to cases being wrongly decided. As we have set out repeatedly, the treaty responds to those key findings.

We cannot allow people to make such dangerous crossings, and we must do what we can to prevent any more lives being lost at sea; nor can we allow our asylum and legal systems to be overwhelmed, our public services to be stretched or the British taxpayer to continue to fund millions of pounds of hotel costs every day.

For the reasons I have set out for not accepting Amendments 4 and 5, the Government also cannot accept Motion D1, which relates to Amendment 6B. Lords Amendment 6B would omit Clause 4 and replace it with a clause that seeks to restore the ability of decision-makers to consider whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country and the jurisdiction of domestic courts and tribunals to grant interim relief. This amendment would strike out a key provision of the Bill and is simply not necessary. The court recognised that changes may be delivered in future that would address the issues it raised. These are those changes. We believe that these address the Supreme Court’s concerns, and we will now aim to move forward with the policy and help put an end to illegal migration.

Throughout all our debates on this matter, my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom and I have made it clear that we cannot continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges mounted on its general safety. In this context, the safety of a particular country is a matter for Parliament and one where Parliament’s view should be sovereign. The Bill reflects that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if that is Parliament’s judgment, requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised.

That said, there are suitable safeguards within the Bill that do allow decision-makers and the courts to consider claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual person because of their particular circumstances if there is compelling evidence to that effect, and to grant interim relief where removal would result in a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm for the individual before their appeal was determined. The threshold for “serious and irreversible harm” is high, and the harm in question must be both imminent and permanent. This reflects the test applied by the European Court of Human Rights when granting interim measures and ensures an appropriately limited possibility of interim relief consistent with what is required by the ECHR.

Furthermore, the Government will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures in the treaty will be expedited, and we continue to work with the Rwandans on this. The legislation ratifying the treaty has passed both chambers and is awaiting presidential sign-off. The legislation implementing the new asylum system will be introduced to the Rwandan Parliament soon and passed at pace.

However, the Bill will preclude almost all grounds for individual challenge that could be used to suspend or frustrate removal where no risk exists. This means that illegal migrants will not be able to make an asylum claim in the United Kingdom, argue that they face a risk of refoulement in Rwanda, or make any other ill-founded human rights claims to frustrate removal. The Bill strikes the appropriate balance of limiting unnecessary challenges that frustrate removal while maintaining the principle of access to the courts where an individual may be at real risk of serious and irreversible harm.

On this basis, and in view of the votes in the other place to disagree with Lords Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6, by strong majorities in each case, I hope the noble Lord will now feel able to support Motion A. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 1B in lieu—

1B: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “while having due regard for domestic and international law.””
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this debate in your Lordships’ House. He mentioned that the amendments had been returned from the other place. I say to the Minister that, at some surprise to all of us, it has come back without a single word changed, not a single comma moved or a single full stop inserted—and the Government lecture us about constitutional convention. We have said all along, and I repeat here, that it is not our intention to block the Bill, but it is also part of constitutional convention that the other place reflects on what your Lordships have said and does not just carte blanche reject it, which is what has happened. Who is not respecting constitutional convention now?

Whatever anyone’s view, I do not believe that any of your Lordships, wherever they come from with respect to this debate, can be accused of the following, which a Conservative MP said on Monday:

“Their lordships clearly do not care about the people dying while trying to cross the channel”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 695.]


That is just not the case for any single Member of this Chamber. I believe that is not the view of any single Member of the other place or anybody who comments on it in the media. There are real differences between us about how we stop the boats. That is the debate we are having: not about whether one party or the other, or one side or the other, wishes to stop the boats but about the most appropriate way to do it.

16:00
That would have been bad enough, but we yet again see the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, as repeated in the papers this morning, saying that your Lordships are lacking in compassion. What sort of statement is that? Does the noble and learned Lord the Minister agree with the comments I just read out? I do not agree with them at all with regard to anybody in this Chamber, wherever they come from with respect to this debate. I start with that. I will be very interested in what the Minister has to say, because it is a difference not in compassion but in the way we achieve the common objectives we all have for our country.
We are also accused of trying to block and delay the Bill. Let me deal with this, because it is also a very real issue. I ask the Minister: how on earth is this Chamber delaying and blocking the Bill? The other place was supposed to be discussing anything that we pass—if we indeed do pass anything today—next Monday, 25 March. I know for a fact that Members in this Chamber, from all across the House, were being prepared for us to deal next Tuesday, 26 March, with anything that had been discussed by the other place. Those two dates have gone; they have disappeared. Noble Lords on the other side have had emails apologising that they were asked to come on 26 March when they no longer need to. What is going on? It is chaos, a shambles; we have no idea.
Did the Minister have any input into that decision? Did he know it was going to change? Did the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, know? As has happened on numerous occasions, it seems that the Front Bench in this Chamber finds out what is happening on the “Today” programme or on Times Radio. It would be interesting to know whether they knew anything about it, because the Back Benches of their own party certainly were all lined up to be here on 26 March. The serious point I am making is that the Government need to answer the question: if they are accusing this Chamber of delaying the Bill, why is it not going to be back in the other place on Monday 25 March and back here on Tuesday 26 March, when it could be dealt with again? Where is the answer to that? We are now told that it is coming back after Easter. That is not our fault; it is the Government’s management of their own timetable. They need to sort this out and try to understand what is going on.
We read that it is now 300 migrants for half a billion pounds and counting. We are apparently now having a “staged approach”, whatever that means. Did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, know about that? Was it his suggestion that we pay people £3,000 to go if they volunteered? It would be interesting to know where that came from.
My Motion A1 would amend Motion A. Why have I tabled it? I will start with domestic law. Noble Lords will recognise that, because I respect the constitutional conventions of this place, my amendment would no longer require
“compliance with domestic and international law”;
it now asks the Government to have “due regard” to domestic and international law.
I would have thought that was a given, but of course it is not. On the front of this Bill, we read that the Government are
“unable to make a statement that … the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill”.
This is a really important amendment. I know my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti will deal in her Motion D1 with other aspects—I will leave her to deal with those—but the rule of law goes to the heart of this, whether it is in the later amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, or in the amendments that my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and I are putting forward. The rule of law goes to the heart of this Bill.
I have referred to domestic legislation—I will be brief, as I want to test the opinion of the House—but I say this to all noble Lords: if you read this Bill, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has pointed out on numerous occasions, it says:
“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.
People ask, “Why is your amendment relevant?” It is relevant because the Bill says international law will not apply, and then it lists all of the conventions that will not apply. It lists them: this does not apply; that does not apply; this Council of Europe convention or this United Nations convention against torture; all of this does not apply. Then I am told that the amendment is irrelevant. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, could explain. If my amendment is irrelevant, why is all of that included within the Bill? Why does the Bill say that this
“Act is unaffected by international law”?
It just beggars belief.
This is the really important point. What do the Government say about what President Putin is doing in Ukraine? What is the word they put before it? “Illegal”—it is an illegal invasion because it is illegal under international law. Why are we taking action against the Houthis in the Red Sea? Because what they are doing is illegal. We support all of that because what they are doing is illegal under international law. Why are we upset with what China says with respect to Hong Kong or with respect to Taiwan? Because we believe that it breaks international law. Where is our global reputation as a country with regards to the pursuit and maintenance of international law if, within a fundamental Bill of our country, we say that it will be unaffected by international law, whatever that international law says? That cannot be right. That surely undermines where we stand as a country and where our reputation is, and the proof of that is the Prime Minister of Pakistan citing the Rwanda treaty in defence of his country’s decision to expel hundreds of Afghans who had fled from the Taliban. That is where it takes us, and that is why it is so important.
That is why this statement of principle should underpin every single piece of legislation that we pass. I would have thought that most, if not all, Members of Your Lordships’ House, would have believed that, as the Government will say, this is completely unnecessary. So why on earth have we put this forward? We have put this forward because the Bill that your Lordships are discussing now explicitly disapplies aspects of domestic law and disapplies aspects of international law. That cannot be right, and as such I beg to move.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, in overturning our Amendment 6, which reinstated domestic courts’ jurisdiction, the Minister in the other place called it “unnecessary” and “wrecking”. Well, it cannot logically be both. Still, to assuage any genuine rather than confected concerns about delays in removal to the future hypothetically safe Rwanda, we now add the stipulation that any interim relief be for

“no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case”.

This is a significant concession. Motion D1 effectively prioritises these cases above other vital work of relevant courts and tribunals; it is a genuine legislative olive branch to an Executive that have snapped all others in two. But when they go low, let your Lordships’ House go high. I shall, I hope, be pressing Motion D1 very soon.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, we have some very difficult questions to answer here this afternoon, and there are many Members of this House who may not have quite made up their minds how to vote, if the opinion of the House is sought. I shall be brief. In a few moments, I shall ask a few questions of the noble and learned Lord the Minister, which may help us reach those decisions. But I hope that I speak for everyone in this House in saying that, although we may be viscerally concerned about the provisions of this Bill, we are not here just to obstruct it; we are here to make this a better Bill, in the way in which this House is set up to do.

I will reflect for a moment on the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to the outrageous statement made by a Member of another place about compassion. If we look at this Bill and the previous related Bill together, what does this tell you about compassion? People who would, in some cases, have had a legitimate right to asylum—a legal right to asylum under UK and international law—have now been excluded from applying for asylum, even if they had been tortured in their home country, because they came here in a small boat. Compassion? Is that really compassion?

The fact they are forbidden to apply means they are deprived of all connection with the United Kingdom jurisdiction, which has an immense tradition of judicially reviewing administrative action to ensure that those who are affected by bad decision-making can, in certain restricted circumstances, obtain redress. Before I decide how to vote in these Divisions, I would like to hear the noble and learned Lord the Minister’s answer.

The Minister also referred to the cost of hotels. Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said a few minutes ago, I think the figure is £592 million to keep 300 people in Rwanda for three years. That is £1.8-something million per head. I have not looked on the Ritz Paris website for some time—I may have had a meal there once at somebody else’s expense—but my recollection of looking at that website is that one could keep somebody in that hotel for three years, and have some money back, at the price that this process, as the National Audit Office says, will cost the country. Is this a fair and compassionate system, and is it a cost-effective one?

I turn to my second question. The Minister referred to the appropriate legislation to give effect to the treaty being already before the Rwandan Parliament—I think I cite him accurately. My understanding is that the Government accept that Rwanda is a democracy, so is the First Reading of a Bill, in our parlance, before the Rwandan Parliament, a guarantee of any kind that that legislation will be passed without amendment to give effect to the treaty? I do not see it that way. It certainly would be seen as an affront to both Houses of Parliament if Rwanda were to make that assumption about us.

My next question is this. What if our Government, contrary to their instincts, statements, wishes and insistence, find that Rwanda is, after all, as the Supreme Court found as a fact, not a safe country? Will the noble and learned Lord tell us what the Government would then do? How would they set about that problem? What would be the involvement of the monitoring committee? Who would decide that Rwanda was not a safe country after all? Would we simply have complacency, in which we just got on with the job of sending people, at £1.827 million per head, to Rwanda?

16:15
Then there is the treaty itself. The noble and learned Lord has said that the Government are completely satisfied that Rwanda is going to give effect to the terms of the treaty. He cannot say that Rwanda has given effect to the terms of the treaty, because it has not. We all know that. Nobody would believe—and I do not think the noble and learned Lord would claim it was true anyway—that it has given effect to the terms of the treaty as yet. Can he tell us when he expects Rwanda to give effect to all the terms of the treaty? Will he give us a guarantee—this would be very important in how we decide to vote in any Division—that the Government will not send anybody to Rwanda until they are satisfied that all the terms of the treaty have been met?
My inclination, at the moment at least—unless I am reassured by the Minister—is that we are a very long way from being satisfied that Rwanda is a safe country. There is a danger of repeating ourselves. We were treated yesterday to a short lesson and some new regulations on not repeating ourselves, particularly at the later stages of a Bill, but it is impossible not to repeat oneself on this Bill, because basically it all goes back to the principles behind the Bill. We need reassurance from the noble and learned Lord that something is being done so that, if it turns out that Rwanda really is not a safe country and/or that it has not complied with all the requirements of the treaty, people will not be sent there.
Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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My Lords, the phrase “the elected House must prevail” is a meme around this place. We have certainly heard it from both the Government and the Opposition, and we heard it again from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, this afternoon. Most of the time, it is completely right that we bow to the will of the House of Commons. But is it always right?

On the basis of the 25 years I have spent here, I would say that this House has three roles. There are two very obvious ones: one is amending Bills, at which we are jolly good; the other is setting up Select Committees, quite a number of which I have served on, and I would say that we are jolly good at that too. There is a third one, which very rarely comes into place, and that is this House as a backstop, challenging the Commons when it goes too far and flirts with breaking international law, usurping the role of the courts or behaving unconstitutionally in general. Does this Bill, without the amendments being put forward this afternoon, pass that threshold? I would say that it comes perilously near it.

There is also a matter of timing, which troubles me. Obviously, this was not in the Government’s election manifesto, so the Salisbury convention does not apply. How can the Government argue that they have a mandate to legislate for this policy now, forced through in the face of huge opposition in this House and elsewhere, when in six months’ time they will face the people of Britain in an election which will decide what their manifesto should be? Let them put the Rwanda Bill in their next manifesto—let them put it before the British people. The British people, who are much gentler and more sympathetic to people in the situation of those who are to be exported, will give their verdict. I may be wrong, and if the Government win the election they can bring back the Bill and it will sail through without any opposition, because it will be a manifesto pledge. To do this now, when there is more than a suspicion that it is just a device by No. 10 in a desperate attempt to pull a lost election out of the fire, cannot possibly be justified.

If the amendments are defeated today then that is the end of the story, but I hope they will not be. I dare to hope that the Commons will think again. If not, it will be for each individual Member of the House—guided, in our case, by the Whips—to decide whether or not to keep blocking the Bill.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, what a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, with whom I agree. I felt that the Minister’s opening remarks were so full of mistakes that I shall go through them tomorrow in Hansard with a red pen and pass them back to him, if that is all right, so he can see exactly where I think he went wrong.

It was expected that the other place would take out all our important amendments, but at the same time you have to say that it was not the move of a democratically minded Government but that of an authoritarian, tyrannical one. This Government are choosing tyranny over democracy in this instance. We now have the job of revising the Bill again. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, the British public are actually kinder and more concerned than this Government. The Government do not represent the public any more, and it is time they went.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am not a fan of the Bill but I think it is time for it to pass.

I want to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who asked if it is always right that the elected House must prevail. The truth is that the elected House must prevail and that yes, that is always right. We are an unelected House. We have a job to do, but at some point it has to be the elected House that decides in a democratic society.

I want to comment on the remarks made about compassion. I too disapproved of Members of the other place who tried to suggest that anyone arguing against the Bill lacked compassion. That is a ridiculous accusation and does not hold. However, I also make the point that the inference in reply—that anyone who is trying to push the Bill at this point lacks compassion—is equally low politically. It is irritating to have a situation where people start to try to compete with each other in the kindness stakes. The big political issue is that this country has lost control of its border and the asylum system is not fit for purpose. This Bill—not one that I support—is trying to tackle that. No one is doing it because they are lacking in compassion.

There are double standards here. I have heard that anyone who supports this Bill must be verging not just on the right but on the far right, does not care about anyone crossing in the boats and is actually a racist. I have heard that said by people active in political life. I ask that, for the remainder of the discussion that we have, we take each other seriously enough not just to dole out insults but to say that, if we are genuinely committed to tackling the problem of border control, this is the Bill that is on the table now and has been accepted by the House of Commons a second time, and, even if we disagree with it, we have to go along with it.

As for the people who have argued that this was not in the manifesto, the suggestion that there is no public concern about control of the borders has no finger on the pulse of any public. However, it is true that there will be elections shortly. It seems to me that people who feel strongly that this is the worst piece of legislation ever passed will stand on that in their manifesto and will commit, here and now, to overturning the Bill once it goes through. Then we will see where the votes lie and, if the Opposition become the Government, whether they stick with that and tear up the Bill. Fair dos if they do.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to answer one question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. He asked your Lordships to ponder the position of the Rwandan Parliament and said that we must not second guess what it may do. What he forgot to mention is that Rwanda has a monist system, so a treaty entered into by the Government of Rwanda is capable of being relied upon in their domestic courts. As I previously informed the House, the Chamber of Deputies of Rwanda has ratified the treaty, and we now learn from my noble and learned friend the Minister that the Senate of Rwanda has also ratified it. The only matter that remains is for the president to agree the ratification and when that happens, the safeguards in the treaty will apply.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but does his reference to the monist system and the guarantee that it goes through the courts not mean that there is no separation of powers between the political and judicial elements of Rwanda?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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No, that is simply not the case at all. What the noble Lord appears to suggest is that there is a confusion in the Rwandan constitution; I do not see that at all. The point is that they have agreed that treaties will have a kind of direct effect in domestic courts and once ratified, that is indeed the case. The concern by which he sought to encourage noble Lords to support the Motion before us today is, I suggest, simply not on a secure foundation.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak only once in this debate and very briefly, as usual. I should just mention my interest as president of Migration Watch UK. We have been pressing the Government for three years to get a hold of asylum but, regrettably, the situation has deteriorated greatly. There is something missing from the discussion of this subject, and that is the public. There have been plenty of very interesting and capable legal arguments—I do not touch on any of those—but we must not forget that very substantial numbers in this country are concerned about what is happening now on our borders. The Government need to get a grip and if they do not succeed, the next Government will have to tackle it so let us not be too legalistic. Let us see if we can find a way through.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, as I am for their contributions throughout the progress of the Bill through your Lordships’ House, but these amendments do significant damage to the core purpose of the Bill. In relation to political language, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said from the Front Bench but on this subject, I wish to do no more than echo the wise and temperate words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. Her observations, as she said, come from someone who is not a supporter of the Bill, but she spoke about the manner in which arguments should be conducted, and the manner in which this House should treat the views of the other place—not a tyrannical assembly, contrary to the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, but elected Members representing their constituents.

In relation to Section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, addressed from the Front Bench, the matter is touched on in the response to the Constitution Committee which the Government have issued. The use of a Section 19(1)(b) statement does not mean that the Bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. There is nothing improper or unprecedented in pursuing Bills with a Section 19(1)(b) statement; it does not mean that the Bill is unlawful or that the Government will necessarily lose any legal challenges on human rights grounds. Parliament intended Section 19(1)(b) to be used as it is included in the Human Rights Act 1998. All such a statement means is that the Home Secretary is not able to state now that the Bill’s provisions are more likely than not compatible with convention rights. A range of Bills has had Section 19 (1) (b) statements in the past. As we discussed at an earlier stage, that includes the Communications Act 2003, passed under the last Labour Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, extends an olive branch, as she puts it, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, came back on that. But the other place saw these provisions, olive branch though they may be. I do not for a second seek to challenge the noble Baroness’s assertion that she is attempting to improve the Bill, but what the other place recognised was that these provisions are integral to the functioning of the Bill. Therein lies the deterrent effect by which the Government intend that illegal crossings of the channel should come down and be deterred altogether.

16:30
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, in his desire to be jocular at the expense of the Government and the Bill, overlooks the deterrent effect of the Bill. He cites the figures that will be expended in the Rwanda system but, of course, the objective His Majesty’s Government have with this Bill is to deter crossings. His Majesty’s Government would be entirely delighted if no one were ever to be sent to Rwanda, because the deterrent effect was effective.
We have spoken at length about the assurances given between His Majesty’s Government and the Government of Rwanda, and I do not intend to go any further on that. The noble Lord also went rather too far when he said that the Supreme Court had determined that Rwanda was unsafe. No such finding was made; the finding bore on the risk of refoulement, a matter addressed in the treaty and debated at length with noble Lords.
The noble Lord asked wherein lie the safeguards once the Bill is in place. The answer to that, of course, is in the monitoring committee made up of independent persons, and the extensive presence of UK civil servants assisting with it.
In relation to that, the terms of reference of the monitoring committee will include monitoring compliance with assurances given in the treaty and associated notes verbales, and reporting to the Joint Committee on its findings, such as on the implementation by His Majesty’s Government and the Government of Rwanda of the obligations of the treaty; reception conditions; accommodation; processing of asylum claims; and treatment in support of relocated individuals at all times while they remain in Rwanda. It may publish its reports following notification to the Joint Committee. It is expected to report any significant issues to the Joint Committee straightaway. It may provide advice or recommendations to the Joint Committee on actions that should be taken to address identified issues. It will monitor complaints handling by His Majesty’s Government and that of Rwanda, and it will develop its own complaints system to allow relocated individuals and their legal advisers to make confidential complaints regarding any alleged failure to comply with the obligations of the treaty, including as to treatment of relocated individuals or any element of the processing of their asylum claim in accordance with the treaty. Therein lie the protections.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, spoke about the duties of this place in relation to the other place and urged the House to consider taking steps to prevent these measures coming in. He urged a future Conservative Government—the one who will take their place after the next election, I venture to suggest—to bring them forward as part of their manifesto. I hear what the noble Lord says and note his genuine commitment to the constitutional proprieties and workings of this place. However, this Government do not intend to stand idly by. We must address the problem of fatalities in the channel now.
Along with other countries with similar constitutional arrangements to the United Kingdom, we have in this country a dualist approach whereby international law is treated as separate to domestic law; international law is incorporated into domestic law by Parliament through legislation. The purpose of this Bill is to invite Parliament to agree with its assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and to address the measures in the Bill accordingly.
In relation to the nature of our monist system, where the manner in which the United Kingdom approaches these things is not shared and where international treaties are incorporated directly into domestic law, I happily adopt the observations of my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth in his intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, spoke usefully about the public’s perception of this matter. The Bill prevents domestic courts and tribunals granting interim remedies on matters relating to the general safety of Rwanda. It makes it clear that there is very limited scope for individuals to challenge their removal to Rwanda.
The Bill will enable us to create a deterrent only if people can be returned swiftly to their home country or removed to a safe third country. To permit that to happen, we must end the cycle of late, repeated and spurious legal challenges. We must make it clear that, on the basis of the published evidence pack and the internationally binding treaty, Rwanda is a safe country which will offer the necessary protection and support to those who are relocated there. These amendments would simply perpetuate that cycle of legal challenge and render the Bill worthless.
Ours is a strong track record of rights, liberties and protection of human rights internationally, and this Government are committed to enhancing that record. Although some of the provisions in the Bill are novel, the Government are satisfied that the Bill can be implemented in line with convention rights. Noble Lords will know and have heard in the course of our debates on the Bill that Australia has taken a similar approach with Nauru, and we now know that other countries are exploring similar models—for example, Italy, which has announced a partnership with Albania.
Noble Lords from various sides of the House have spoken about the need, ultimately, to address these matters on an international, global basis. The Government share that aspiration, but steps must be taken now. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, we must urgently address the matter of fatalities in the channel through people attempting to cross illegally. The Bill will do that.
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed on this group of amendments. I will say just one particular thing. This is not an argument between people who want to stop the boats and those who do not: it is an argument about how we do it. The Government need to listen to what has been said, rather than just set up these artificial targets. We of course want to deal with the boats as much as the Government do, but my amendment to Motion A, on which I will test the opinion of the House, seeks to do it in a way that is consistent with the traditions of our country and with the laws, both domestically and internationally. I wish to test the opinion of the Motion A1.

16:38

Division 1

Ayes: 271

Noes: 228

16:51
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)
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My Lords, before I call Motion B, it may assist the House if I say that Amendment 3B in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, would be in lieu of Lords Amendment 2, and that his Amendment 3C would be in lieu of Lords Amendment 3.

Motion B

Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 2 and 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3A.

3A: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary to refer expressly to the arrangements in the Rwanda Treaty being, and continuing to be, implemented and adhered to; the Bill is clear that it comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force and it is not appropriate for the Bill to legislate for Rwanda adhering to its obligations under the Treaty as Rwanda’s ongoing adherence to its Treaty obligations will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the Treaty.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, we set out in earlier debates, and this was re-emphasised by Members in the other place earlier this week, the fundamental purpose of the Bill: to firmly place with Parliament—rather than with decision-makers in individual cases or with courts reviewing those cases—the decision on whether Rwanda is a safe country to relocate people to. It asserts parliamentary sovereignty on an issue that this Government are committed to tackling: stopping the boats.

Motion B, as well as Amendments 3B and 3C in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, relate to the status of Rwanda as a safe country. Amendment 3B seeks to make Rwanda’s status as a safe country conditional on the treaty arrangements being fully implemented and continuing to be fully implemented.

The UK Government and the Government of Rwanda have agreed, and begun to implement, assurances and commitments to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system. In advance of agreeing the treaty, we worked with the Government of Rwanda to respond to the findings of the courts by evidencing Rwanda’s existing asylum procedures and practice in standard operating procedures relating to and reflecting the current refugee status determination and appeals process.

The Government will ratify the treaty in the UK only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. The legislation required for Rwanda to ratify the treaty has now passed through both Chambers of the Rwandan Parliament—as my noble and learned friend mentioned earlier—and is awaiting presidential sign-off. The legislation implementing the new asylum system will be introduced to the Rwandan Parliament soon.

We have of course worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that there are safeguards in place to be able to continue to assert that Rwanda is safe. The implementation of provisions in the treaty will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee, which will ensure that the obligations under the treaty are complied with in practice.

The monitoring committee will report to the joint committee, which is made up of both UK and Rwandan officials. As per Article 15(4c) of the treaty, the monitoring committee will make any recommendations to the joint committee that it sees fit to do.

As set out previously, the monitoring committee will undertake daily monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months to ensure rapid identification of, and response to, any shortcomings. This enhanced phase will ensure that comprehensive monitoring and reporting take place in real time. During the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee in accordance with an agreed action plan to include weekly and bi-weekly reporting as required. Due to the structure of the monitoring committee, the Government cannot support Amendment 3C, which would require the Secretary of State to obtain and lay before Parliament a statement from the monitoring committee that the measures in Article 2 of the treaty had been secured.

The measures within Article 2 include, first, creating a mechanism for the relocation of individuals to Rwanda; secondly, providing a mechanism for an individual’s claim for protection to be determined in Rwanda or for alternative settlement in Rwanda; and, thirdly, providing those relocated to Rwanda with adequate tools to successfully integrate into Rwandan society. The amendment would create an imbalance in the independence and impartiality of the monitoring committee whereby the UK Secretary of State would be required to consult the committee directly. It is the joint committee, comprising both Rwandan and UK officials, that the monitoring committee reports to under the original MoU and under the terms of the treaty.

I remind the House of Rwanda’s track record in providing sanctuary to many refugees and how it has been internationally recognised for its general safety and stability, strong governance, low corruption, and gender equality. In doing so, I refer to the words of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who on Report quite rightly disagreed with

“the continued assertion underlying this group of amendments that somehow Rwanda as a country is untrustworthy unless every single ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ is dotted”.

My noble friend referred this House to paragraphs 54 and 57 of the Government’s report on Rwanda dated 12 December 2023 and said:

“The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an independent organisation, rates Rwanda 12th out of 54 African countries. The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report makes Rwanda 12th—the UK, by the way, is 19th. The World Bank scored Rwanda at 16 out of a maximum score of 18 on the quality of its judicial processes. Lastly, the World Justice Project index on the rule of law ranked Rwanda first out of 34 sub-Saharan African countries” .—[Official Report, 4/3/24; col. 1351.]

To conclude, Clause 9(1) of this Bill is clear: the Bill’s provisions come into force on the day on which the treaty enters into force. The treaty enters into force when the parties have completed their internal procedures. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the amendments in lieu, but they continue to confuse the process for implementing the treaty with what is required for the Bill’s provisions to come into force. I beg to move.

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Moved by
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 3B in lieu—

3B: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “is a safe country” and insert “will be a safe country when the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda Treaty have been fully implemented and for so long as they continue to be so.””
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall speak also to my Motion B2 and to Amendment 3C in lieu.

I asked for these amendments in lieu to be put down because I believe that Lords Amendments 2 and 3, to which I propose Amendments 3B and 3C in lieu, raise important issues to which further thought needs to be given by the other place. I should make it plain that it is my intention, if I do not receive a satisfactory reply, to test the opinion of the House on both amendments.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill states that

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

That proposition lies at the very heart of this Bill; everything depends on it. Careful thought therefore has to be given to the use of the word “is” in that statement. What does it mean? What are its consequences and what does it lead to? I have been teased by some Members on these Benches behind me for picking on one of the shortest words in this entire Bill, but there is a really important point here. I am doing what lawyers tend to do and that is to look at words and ask what they really mean. That is why I suggest that we have to get that word right.

17:00
The Act will come into force on the day on which the Rwanda treaty enters into force—that is what the Bill says. This means that your Lordships are being asked to say that, as from that very moment and without more, Rwanda is a safe country. I do not believe that your Lordships have been told enough to enable that judgment to be made. Moreover, as the Bill stands, the assumption seems to be that Rwanda will continue to be safe for ever after, come what may, because the decision-makers referred to in Clause 2 are required conclusively to assume that Rwanda is a safe country without any qualification whatever as to what may happen in the future. No provision is made anywhere in the Bill for what should be done if the facts were to change and everyone could see as clearly as daylight that Rwanda was no longer safe.
In view of a point that the Minister made a moment ago, I want to make it plain that I do not for a moment question the good faith of the Government of Rwanda when they entered into the agreement or when they seek to give effect to what the treaty says. I do not for a moment question their determination to fulfil the obligations that they are undertaking. That is not what my amendments are about. My first point is that before Rwanda can be judged to be a safe country, these obligations must be put into practice. Ratifying the treaty is an important step, but that is not enough. It needs to be implemented before Rwanda can be considered safe. Secondly, there must be some way of dealing with the situation if, for whatever reason, the facts change.
I do not want to take up time going over the ground in support of my first point. We discussed it very fully in Committee and on Report and we had the benefit of the report by the International Agreements Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, which was approved by this House by a very large majority. It set out a list of the things that needed to be done before the treaty is put into operation. However, if the noble and learned Lord will forgive me, I will refer briefly to the Home Secretary’s letter of 14 March in response to his report, and to his reply of the same date. What they say reinforces my point that the treaty must be implemented before Rwanda can be considered safe and that the Bill should say so.
In his letter, the Home Secretary did not address any of the issues raised by the report. All he said was that the joint committee provided for by the treaty
“met last month to discuss readiness for operationalisation. Implementation continues apace”
and that more steps needed to be taken. There were no further details. In his reply, the noble and learned Lord said
“since the Bill asks Parliament to declare that Rwanda is a safe country based on the provisions of the Treaty, it is important that Parliament should be satisfied that the Treaty has been fully implemented. That can only be done by updating Parliament in detail on the outstanding issues highlighted in the IAC Report”.
He asked for a “substantive response” by the end of last week
“so that Parliament has this information as it considers the final stages of the Bill”.
I am open to correction but, as far as I am aware, there has been no such response. We cannot let the matter lie there. That is why it is so important that Parliament should be advised by the monitoring committee that the mechanisms listed in the treaty for its implementation have been created, before Rwanda can be considered a safe country for the purposes of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out what these measures are, as the treaty provides. That is what my amendment in lieu seeks to achieve.
As for my second point, which is about the future, there was an interesting feature about the debate in the Commons on Monday. We often complain that the Commons pay no attention to what we say, simply disregard our debates and carry on without listening or picking up what we have said. However, on this occasion, my amendments were picked up by three very experienced lawyers speaking from the Conservative Benches in the other place.
It is enough for me to refer as briefly as I can to what they actually said. Sir Jeremy Wright began the debate by saying that he could not accept my amendments because they transferred authority to say whether Rwanda remains a safe country to the monitoring committee. He said that could not be right, as the Bill is intended to give Parliament that authority. I accept that criticism and, indeed, my Amendment 3C in lieu does my best to make it clear that the authority lies with Parliament and not with the committee.
The debate in the other place did not end there, however. Sir Bob Neill said that he thought my amendments were fair and honest if facts change:
“Facts change, and if Parliament sets itself up as an arbiter and decider on fact, it must have a means of changing its decision if the facts change … Can we find a way forward?”
Sir Jeremy Wright then agreed. He said that my amendments, flawed as they were, raised the valid issue of what happens if Rwanda at any point falls below the standard expected of it to justify its safe-country status:
“it is simply not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently, save through primary legislation, if the facts were to change”.
He said that the Government should give some thought to the situation under the Bill:
“It must be right for Parliament to retain the capacity to reconsider and if necessary revise it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; cols. 678-80.]
Then Sir Robert Buckland said that he agreed with Sir Jeremy Wright’s point about giving authority to the monitoring committee to decide that Rwanda is no longer safe. He went on:
“The amendment is capable of perfection … there is force in their lordships pursuing that point, so that we marry up the reality with what we want to achieve legally”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 717.]
I regard that as an invitation for us to pass my amendment and send the matter back, so that the other place can consider the point. That, indeed, is what my amendments in lieu seek to do. Furthermore, in his reply, the Minister in the other place said that he would consider the points raised carefully, so my amendments, if approved by your Lordships, would give him that opportunity.
The point, however, really is this: if we do not send the matter back, the opportunity disappears because the point is not raised again. I know that some noble Lords feel that the Commons must have the last word, and that it is not really right to keep sending things back again, but on this occasion, in view of these invitations, I really invite those Lordships who are minded to take that view to think very carefully, because if we do not send it back, there is a hole in the Bill that needed to be filled and will be left empty and unfilled.
Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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The noble and learned Lord quite rightly quoted the views of Sir Jeremy Wright, Sir Bob Neill and Sir Robert Buckland from the debate in the Commons on Monday night. He could also, in fairness, quote the response from the Minister, Mr Tomlinson. His response, if I have it right, was that what the Government were looking for by compensation for whether the Bill was actually working in practice was that this was the role of the monitoring committee. There is a danger here of extending the law beyond what is reasonable. There comes a certain point where the law has to be left where it is and the people on the ground—namely the monitoring committee, which is an independent body—have to be the guardians of what happens. Surely that is the role of the monitoring committee, and if it always has to refer back to Parliament, surely there is something deficient with its set-up. I therefore ask the noble and learned Lord to consider that. I understand why he would want this to be referred back by this House, but there is a role for the monitoring committee that we should not ignore.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his point. I imagine that the monitoring committee was put there at the request of His Majesty’s Government because something needed to be done to keep an eye on what was going on in Rwanda. It is made up of people who are independently appointed, with no allegiance to either Government, so one can trust them as looking at the matter dispassionately, and therefore their advice can be trusted. That is why I have introduced the monitoring committee into my amendments as the best way of finding out whether the treaty is being properly implemented.

If I followed the noble Lord’s intervention correctly, I agree with what he is saying. However, on the other hand, I accept the point made by Sir Jeremy Wright that, in the end, Parliament has to have the final say based on the advice which it receives. There has to be some mechanism so Parliament can comment on it before the fact that Rwanda is safe is reversed. How that is to be done I simply do not know, which is why I am anxious that the Government should be able to have another look at it and decide how best to proceed. However, I thought it right that Parliament should have an opportunity to comment before the conclusion is reached that Rwanda is no longer safe. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s question.

The Minister in the other place said that my amendments should be resisted because they risk

“disturbing the independence and impartiality of the monitoring committee”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 663.]

I simply do not understand that, because the members are all independent and nothing in my amendments would in any way undermine their independence. I am very glad that the Minister here, when he was introducing this debate, did not put that point forward as a reason for resisting my amendments.

As for the Commons reasons set out in the Marshalled List, which I think the Minister here endorsed, they say that

“it is not appropriate … to legislate for Rwanda adhering to its obligations under the Treaty”,

as those obligations

“will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the Treaty”.

However, that fails to address the problem that is created by the use of “is”, especially should something go wrong and it is apparent to the monitoring committee that Rwanda is no longer safe. I think the Minister was suggesting that in some way it was wrong that the Government should enter into discussions with the monitoring committee, and that in a way that would undermine its independence. However, I am not asking for that. I am simply asking for it to receive advice—that is all. The advice is given; I am not suggesting that it needs to be discussed or indeed that there should be any sort of conversation, simply that it would be given.

I have probably said enough to make my points clear, and for the reasons I have given, I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I will update the House on a further development in relation to the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. We had the privilege in the Constitution Committee this morning to have the Lord Chancellor give evidence to us. We spoke of the Rwanda Bill and raised specifically with him the question that the effect of the Bill is to say that Rwanda “is” a safe country, and that the Bill once passed means that for ever and ever it will be treated as a safe country. His response, unprompted, was that one of the great protections was the monitoring committee. He said that if the monitoring committee said that the provisions of the treaty were not being adhered to and that was made public—he envisaged that it would be made public —the consequence would be that it could lead to some sort of parliamentary debate or occasion. What he had in mind was not the automatic non-application of the Bill, as with the amendment of the noble and learned Lord. However, there is not much difference between what the noble and learned Lord proposes—namely, that if the monitoring committee says it is not being adhered to, it stops applying—and what the Lord Chancellor said: namely, that there would be the opportunity for a parliamentary occasion. Therefore, I strongly support what the noble and learned Lord said. An unanswerable part of his argument is that this must be sent back to the Commons so that it can express a view and we can hear more from the Lord Chancellor in relation to this.

On a completely separate point, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, before the Question was put. He said that the Rwandan Government— I am not sure quite how it works—were going to put a Bill somehow to the Rwandan Parliament to implement the terms of the treaty. That is separate from the point that the noble Lord, Lord Murray, made. Could the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, give an assurance to the House that the treaty will not be ratified and, therefore, that the Bill will not come into force until the Rwandan Bill has gone through its Parliament and been given effect to?

17:15
Lord Cromwell Portrait Lord Cromwell (CB)
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My Lords, Rwanda is a safe country, Rwanda will always be a safe country. How can I say that? Because shortly we will have an Act that makes it legal fact. But, no matter how often I repeat it to myself, I just cannot make it stick. That is why I think these two amendments in lieu from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are so important. I refer to Amendments 3B and 3C, which will undoubtedly improve this Bill substantially.

I will mention one other factor. A few kilometres away, over the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is a war going on. More than 100 armed groups are involved in this conflict, and the M23 is in an escalating battle for Goma with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s troops. This is just a few miles across the border. The situation was described by UNHCR as “catastrophic”. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. This is just across the border from Rwanda. I am not going to get into arguments about whether Rwanda at this precise moment is safe, but surely we need to look at what is happening just over the border and put in the amendments the noble and learned Lord has suggested so that we can deal with the situation should it change.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I wonder whether we are making rather heavy weather of this. Surely, the objective is that, if the situation changes in Rwanda, we stop sending people there. Do we not have a thing called an embassy? Could it not tell us? Is it not going to be in touch with the people on the ground and the administrators of the scheme? It can advise the Government, and if the Government say it is going badly, out we go—pack it up. It is quite simple.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, I am puzzled by this amendment. For 18 years, between 2004 and 2022, we had on the statute book an Act of Parliament which said there was an irrebuttable presumption that certain countries on a list were and would always be safe. I do not recall any Member of this Chamber, or anyone in the other Chamber when I was there, demurring. We had on the statute book an Act of Parliament that had no provision for a monitoring committee, and I do not remember any Member of this Chamber or that Chamber complaining about that. For 18 years, we had provisions which had none of the safeguards that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, wants to include—and I do not recall him or any other Member of this Chamber demurring.

As I understand it, the only difference was that we were required to have that list by our membership of the European Union and still would have that list now if we had not left the European Union—and I do not recall anybody in this House saying it was wrong that that situation should persist or using it as an argument for leaving the European Union, so that we could then get rid of it, as we did. So, I think we are now making a bit too much of the lack of provisions and safeguards around one black country when we had no concerns about a list of white countries.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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Is it not the case that that legislation did not simply lack the controls advocated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope? It did not have the controls that are in this Bill. There was no monitoring committee. It simply did not have these controls in that legislation.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right, as he always is.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register that I am supported by RAMP. I am grateful for the history lesson, but, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury told us, two wrongs do not make a right, and certainly it was without the history of my time in this House and beforehand. We are dealing with this issue, this country and a Bill about this country, and doing it in the right way.

These amendments seek to build on a view that this House has already taken. The fact is that the treaty is locked into the Bill and we are being asked to affirm that the treaty has made Rwanda a safe country. That is not the view of this House. This House made a determination that it should not ratify the Bill until such time as the conditions placed by the International Agreements Committee were put into operation.

This discussion has gone on through a variety of different parts of this House and its Select Committees, but the significant one was the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I know Members hoped that the report would reach us before Third Reading, but in fact it did not. It was published the day after, so we did not have time to consider it at that point. What the Government said in response is something they have indicated in other statements:

“We will not ratify the treaty until the UK and Rwanda agree that all necessary measures in the treaty are in place”.


However, in subsequent discussions the Government could not tell us which measures were in place and which measures were about to be in place. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said in one of his responses that we were “working towards” the country being safe. It is clear that the Government are asking Parliament not only to declare a fact contrary to a finding of fact by the highest court in the land but to believe in the effectiveness of measures set out by the Government to ensure safety that are not yet fully implemented.

For example, the Minister has already referred to the fact that domestic legislation has still to be passed in Rwanda, including and in particular laws on the processes for making immigration decisions and laws for dealing with appeals. These new laws are to be followed by appropriate training and guidance for practitioners before they can be put into operation.

We are also mindful that David Neal, the former Borders and Immigration inspector, gave evidence to a committee of this House yesterday. He told the committee there were pieces of work that the inspectorate did in relation to the safety of Rwanda that were not yet in the public domain. In particular, he referred to the Home Office’s Rwanda country information report, which was subject to Supreme Court scrutiny but, as we understand it, is complete but not yet published. Other material has also not been scrutinised by our independent inspector because there is no longer one in place.

We are told by the Government that we have sufficient material before us to judge that Rwanda is safe. Putting aside the question of whether Parliament is the right place for people to judge whether a country is safe—we think it might not be—we are being asked, with the Bill, to make that decision ourselves. That it is safe was not the view of this House, and the House made a decision on what it wanted to see before it could determine that it was indeed safe. Now the Government are intent on telling us to change our minds. That is what the Government have to convince us to do. This House has taken its view. That view is now before us and the Government are asking us to change our minds —without the exact evidence that the House required being provided.

These are all areas of concern that make it clear to us that the very basic safeguards that the Home Office has set out in the treaty need to be fully implemented before the Bill is passed. These amendments are crucial to making that happen because they would protect us both now and in the future. We on these Benches are pleased to support them.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, we are very pleased to say that should the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, wish to test the opinion of the House with respect to Motions B1 and B2, we would be very supportive of them as well. I just say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that the change he has made in Motion B1 from “is” to “will be” is a very significant change, and indeed goes to the heart of the problem that this House has considered on many occasions; namely, that the Government’s declaration in the Bill is that Rwanda is safe and in the treaty that it will be safe should the mechanisms contained within the treaty be put in place. I find it incredible that the Government cannot accept what is basically a very simple amendment, which in a sense puts into practice what the Government themselves have accepted.

I will just reinforce to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made, that the Minister in the other place implied that there was something to think about here and that the Government needed to think about how they responded to Amendments 2 and 3—as they were then—that had gone to the other place. That is why it is really important. Again, it goes back to what I said in the initial part of this debate: when the other place just dismisses amendments, it also denies itself the opportunity to properly reflect on a Bill and how it might improve it. This debate that we are having very much proves the point that we need to pass the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Government may wish to adapt part of it to make it more consistent with what they themselves think. None the less, it is a really important amendment. As I say, we would be happy to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, should he choose to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions of noble Lords to this debate. I am grateful in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for the very gracious way he introduced his amendments, as ever.

It is unnecessary, however, to record on the face of the Bill the position the Bill already sets out in Clause 9. This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda treaty enters into force. The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan Governments have made, consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection. It also commits both Governments to deliver against key legal assurances in response to the UK Supreme Court’s conclusions.

I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Howard, Lord Lilley and Lord Horam for pointing out, perhaps rather gently, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is placing not much faith in the safeguards that the real-time monitoring committee will offer. We believe that this will be much more effective than any other form of scrutiny. My noble and learned friend went through the monitoring committee’s terms of reference in the last group, and I will not repeat those. I will say that the enhanced monitoring that has been discussed—the enhanced phase—will take place over the first three months on a daily basis. An enhanced phase will ensure that monitoring and reporting take place in real time, so that the independent monitoring committee can rapidly identify, address and respond to any shortcomings or failures to comply with the obligations in the treaty and identify areas for improvement, or indeed urgently escalate issues prior to any shortcomings or breaches placing a relocated individual at real risk of harm. That will include reporting to the joint committee co-chairs within 24 hours in emergency or urgent situations. I could go through the various minimum levels of assurance that have been agreed by the monitoring committee, but I fear I would lose the patience of your Lordships.

I have made it crystal clear that the Government will ratify the treaty in the UK only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures within the treaty will be expedited, and I am grateful for all the work that continues to be done by officials in the Government of Rwanda.

Just to conclude, again I agree with my noble friends Lord Lilley and Lord Howard, that the proper parliamentary response to any changes is of course to change the legislation, either by amendment or appeal. On that basis—

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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Before my noble friend sits down, he will have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, tell us what the Lord Chancellor said about a parliamentary occasion if the monitoring committee was to advise that Rwanda was not safe. Would my noble friend care to tell us what the parliamentary occasion would be?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Well, no. As I was not party to the comments of the Lord Chancellor, I think it would be very foolish of me to try to second-guess what he may have meant by that comment.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, particularly the Minister, for the careful way in which he replied. There is only one thing I should say, and it is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley: he is absolutely right that there was a list of safe countries in that legislation, and it certainly did not occur to me to question the proposition in that Bill.

But everything depends on the context, and we are dealing here with a Bill that has fenced around with barbed wire every possible occasion, as I said on an earlier occasion, to prevent anybody bringing any kind of court challenge whatever to protect their human rights and other rights in the event of their being faced with being sent to Rwanda. That context transforms the situation entirely from the measure the noble Lord was talking about. That is why, I suggest, it is so important to get the wording of that crucial sentence in Clause 1(2) of the Bill right. It is for that reason that I wish to test the opinion of the House.

17:30

Division 2

Ayes: 285

Noes: 230

17:43
Motion B2 (as an amendment to Motion B)
Moved by
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 3C in lieu—

3C: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“(7) The Rwanda Treaty will have been fully implemented for the purposes of this Act when the Secretary of State has obtained and laid before Parliament a statement from the independent Monitoring Committee formed under Article 15 that the Objectives referred to in Article 2 of the Treaty have been secured by the creation of the mechanisms listed in that Article.
(8) The Rwanda Treaty will cease to be treated as fully implemented if Parliament decides, on the advice of the Monitoring Committee, that the provisions of the treaty are no longer being adhered to in practice.””
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

17:44

Division 3

Ayes: 276

Noes: 226

17:59
Motion C
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 4 and 5, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 5A.

5A: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary or appropriate to amend the provisions in the Bill that require decision-makers to treat Rwanda as a safe country.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, my noble and learned friend has already spoken to Motion C, so I beg to move.

Motion agreed.
Motion D
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 6, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 6A.

6A: Because the Commons consider that it is not appropriate to leave out clause 4 of the Bill and insert the new clause in the Amendment, as the Bill allows decision-makers to consider claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual due to their particular circumstances.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, again, my noble and learned friend has already spoken to Motion D, so I beg to move.

Motion D1 (as an amendment to Motion D)

Moved by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 6B in lieu—

6B: Leave out Clause 4 and insert the following new Clause—
Decisions in individual claims
(1) Section 2 does not prevent—
(a) the Secretary of State or an immigration officer from deciding (under any applicable provision of, or made under, the Immigration Acts) whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which the person belongs,
(b) a court or tribunal considering a review of, or an appeal against, a relevant decision to the extent that the review or appeal is brought on the grounds that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which that person belongs, or
(c) a decision-maker considering whether there is a real risk that the Republic of Rwanda will remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of any of its international obligations.
(2) The court or tribunal may grant an interim remedy that prevents or delays, or that has the effect of preventing or delaying, the removal of the person to the Republic of Rwanda, providing such prevention or delay is for no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case.
(3) Section 54 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is disapplied for the purposes of this Act.
(4) In this section—
“interim remedy” means any interim remedy or relief however described (including, in particular, an interim injunction or interdict);
“relevant decision” means a decision taking by the Secretary of State or an Immigration officer (under any applicable provision of, or made under, The Immigration Acts) that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question.””
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I wish to test the opinion of the House on Motion D1.

18:01

Division 4

Ayes: 263

Noes: 233

18:12
Motion E
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 7A.

7A. Because the Commons consider that it is not appropriate to disapply the age assessment provisions of existing legislation.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Motions E1, F, G, G1, H and H1.

We have now debated at length the individual provisions in the Bill. Far too many lives have been lost at sea as migrants have chosen to leave the safety of safe third countries, such as France, to make perilous journeys across the channel. It remains the Government’s priority to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys, but this deterrent will work only if we apply the same rules to everyone. Although I have no doubt these amendments are well intended, they will encourage more and more people to make spurious claims to avoid their relocation to Rwanda, as well as undermine legislation passed by Parliament in recent years.

Amendment 7B relates to Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, “Decisions relating to a person’s age”, to amend the definition of a relevant authority for that section if a person is to be removed to the Republic of Rwanda. Section 57 applies to decisions on age made by a relevant authority on persons who meet the four conditions under Section 2 of the IMA. Section 57 disapplies the right of appeal for age-assessment decisions made under Section 50 or 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, prevents a judicial review challenge to a decision on age from suspending removal under the 2023 Act, and provides that the court can grant relief in that judicial review only on the basis that a decision is wrong in law and not because a decision is wrong as a matter of fact. A relevant authority is defined in Section 57(6) as the Secretary of State, an immigration officer, a designated person within the meaning of Part 4 of the 2022 Act and a local authority within the meaning of Part 4 of the 2022 Act.

If somebody is to be removed to Rwanda, this amendment changes the definition of a “relevant authority” in this scenario to mean only a local authority, as defined in the 2022 Act, that has conducted an age assessment under Section 50(3)(b) of the 2022 Act—that is, where the local authority has decided that it will conduct an age assessment itself and inform the Home Office of the result. Therefore, this amendment would result in Section 57 applying only to decisions on age made by local authorities under Section 50(3)(b) of the 2022 Act where the removal is to Rwanda. The amendment would prevent Section 57 of the 2023 Act from applying to decisions on age taken by the other listed decision-makers in Section 57(6) where the removal is to Rwanda—for example, decisions made by the National Age Assessment Board. This would result in treating differently those who are to be removed to Rwanda under the 2023 Act from those removed to another country.

The purpose of the IMA is to tackle illegal migration and create a scheme whereby anyone arriving illegally in the UK will be promptly removed to their home country, or a safe third country, to have any asylum or human rights claim processed. All cohorts who are removed under the Illegal Migration Act should therefore be treated the same for the purposes of Section 57.

On arrival, where an individual claims to be a child without any documentary evidence and where there is reason to doubt their claimed age, immigration officers are required to make an initial age decision to determine whether the individual should be treated as a child or as an adult. This is an important first step to prevent individuals who are clearly an adult or a child from being subjected unnecessarily to a more substantive age assessment, immediately routing them to the correct adult or child process for assessing their asylum or immigration claim.

Current guidance provides that immigration officers may treat that individual as an adult only where that individual has no credible and clear documentary evidence proving their age, and two members of Home Office staff assess that their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that the individual is significantly over 18. This approach to initial decisions on age has been considered by the Supreme Court in the 2021 case of R (on the application of BF (Eritrea) (Respondent) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, UKSC 38, and held to be lawful.

Where that threshold is not met but there remains doubt about the individual’s age, they will be treated as a child and transferred to a local authority for further consideration of their age. This often involves a further, more comprehensive Merton-compliant age assessment, if deemed necessary. This typically involves two qualified social workers undertaking a series of interviews with the young person, and taking into account any other information relevant to their age. The 2022 Act allows local authorities to refer age assessments to designated officials of the Home Office who form the National Age Assessment Board.

The National Age Assessment Board, which launched in March 2023, aims to achieve greater consistency in the quality of age assessments, reduce the incentives for adults to claim to be children, and reduce the financial and administrative burden on local authorities of undertaking assessments. The aim of achieving accurate age assessments is its primary consideration. The board consists of expert social workers whose task is to conduct full Merton-compliant age assessments on referral from a local authority or the Home Office. Local authorities also retain the ability to conduct age assessments themselves. The introduction of the board offers significant improvements to our processes for assessing age. It aims to create a greater consistency in age-assessment practices, improve quality and ensure that ages are correctly recorded for immigration purposes. It will also help to reduce the resource burden on local authorities: where the board conducts an age assessment, it also takes on the legal risk.

The National Age Assessment Board has shown that the social workers working within the Home Office can conduct age assessments to a high standard without political interference, or have their professional integrity as social workers and adherence to social work professional standards inhibited. Every assessment is conducted by two social workers on its own merits and reviewed by a team manager, and achieving accurate age assessment is the primary consideration. As I have set out before, assessing age is difficult, but it is important that the Government take decisive action to deter adults from knowingly claiming to be children. Given that unaccompanied children will be treated differently from adults under the IMA and the obvious safeguarding risks of adults purporting to be children being placed within the care system, it is important that we take steps to deter adults from claiming to be children and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age-assessment decisions, preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults.

We consider that these provisions within the IMA are entirely necessary to safeguard genuine children and guard against those who seek to game the system by purporting to be adults.

Between 2016 and September 2023, there were 11,977 asylum cases where age was disputed and subsequently resolved, of which nearly half—5,651 assessments—were found to be adults. We cannot allow this figure to rise, but by disapplying Section 57 of the IMA for removals to Rwanda, we will undoubtedly open up our systems to more abuse, given that adult males account for 75% of small boat arrivals. It is for that reason that the Government cannot support this amendment: it will simply open the floodgates for more abuse within the system and encourage adults to knowingly claim to be children to avoid being relocated to Rwanda, placing genuine children at risk of being disadvantaged.

Continuing our focus on the Illegal Migration Act, I now turn to Motion F and Lords Amendment 8. This amendment aims to secure a commitment from the Government to set out the process for how we will remove to Rwanda those who meet the four conditions of Section 2 of the Illegal Migration Act—the duty to make arrangements for removal—and who have arrived in the UK since 20 July 2023, the date of Royal Assent of the IMA. Specifically, it requires details on the numbers of asylum seekers impacted and a commitment to publishing a timetable for these removals. The Government cannot accept this amendment. As I have previously set out on Report, it is seeking information normally used only for internal government planning purposes, and this is not something that is normally shared, nor is it appropriate to legislate for such a commitment. We do, however, recognise the importance of having clear and coherent data.

The Home Office routinely publishes data on asylum, enforcement and irregular migration in the quarterly releases—the immigration system statistics quarterly release, and the irregular migration to the UK statistics. This includes information on people arriving irregularly to the UK; volumes and method of entry; information on cases being considered on inadmissibility grounds, including the number of cases who have received a notice of intent and who have been deemed inadmissible; the number of people returned, including breakdowns by destination; and initial decisions on asylum claims. Official statistics published by the Home Office are kept under review in line with the code of practice for statistics, taking into account a number of factors including user needs, as well as quality and availability of data.

This amendment is seeking information normally used for internal government planning only, and this is not something that is often shared, nor is it appropriate to legislate for such a commitment. The Government’s primary objective is ensuring flights can relocate people to Rwanda, and, once commenced, provisions in the Illegal Migration Act will support this objective.

Turning to Motion G, Amendment 9 would in effect prevent any removal to Rwanda for someone who has received a positive reasonable grounds decision in the national referral mechanism, irrespective of whether they had been disqualified from the NRM under the Illegal Migration Act, or, in relation to pre-IMA cases, by a decision in an individual case to make a public order disqualification based on criteria set out in the Nationality and Borders Act. Furthermore, confirmed victims with positive conclusive grounds decisions could not be removed from the UK without consideration of the specified factors and, if any of those factors apply, without the consent of the individual concerned.

The Government cannot accept this amendment for reasons similar to those I set out in relation to Amendment 7. It undermines provisions in existing legislation—the Nationality and Borders Act and the Illegal Migration Act—which introduced the means to disqualify certain individuals from the NRM on grounds of public order before a conclusive ground is considered. The provision in the Illegal Migration Act was intended to deal with the immediate and pressing broader public order risk arising from the exceptional circumstances relating to illegal entry into the UK, including the pressure placed on public services by the large number of illegal entrants and the loss of life caused by illegal and dangerous journeys.

Where someone has entered the UK illegally and is identified as a potential victim of modern slavery, we will ensure they are returned home or to another safe country, away from those who have trafficked them. The UK Government are committed to supporting victims of modern slavery and will continue to do so through the national referral mechanism. However, it is vital that the Government take steps to reduce or remove incentives for individuals to enter the country illegally. These illegal practices pose an exceptional threat to public order, risk lives and place unprecedented pressure on public services. The protections that the NRM provides are open to misuse and could act as an incentive for those making dangerous journeys, particularly in light of other ways of staying in the UK being closed off through the Illegal Migration Act.

The UK has led the world in protecting victims of modern slavery and we will continue to identify and support those who have suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of criminals and traffickers. As I set out on Report, we remain committed to ensuring that where indicators that someone is a victim of modern slavery are identified by first responders, they continue to be referred into the NRM for consideration by the competent authorities. For all cases, steps will be taken to identify whether a person may be a victim of modern slavery. If a person is referred into the NRM, a reasonable grounds decision will be made.

Under the treaty, the Government of Rwanda will have regard to information provided by the UK relating to any special needs an individual may have that may arise as a result of them being a victim of modern slavery and human trafficking. Rwanda will take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated. The Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence. Therefore, this amendment is unnecessary and would undermine the core purpose of the Bill, which is to create a deterrence—not to create exceptions and loopholes which will lead to further abuse of our immigration systems.

Turning to Motion H, Amendment 10, the Government greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas, and that is why there are legal routes for them to come to the UK. Having said that, in response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, subsections (7) to (9) of Section 4 of the Illegal Migration Act, passed by Parliament last year, enable the Secretary of State by regulations to specify categories of persons to whom the duty to remove is not to apply, whether on a temporary or permanent basis.

We want to reassure Parliament that once the UKSF ARAP review, announced on 19 February, has concluded, the Government will consider and revisit how the IMA, and removal under existing immigration legislation, will apply to those who are determined ARAP eligible as a result of the review, ensuring that these people receive the attention they deserve. This Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether our own or those who showed courage by serving alongside us. We will not let them down. I beg to move.

Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Moved by
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 7B in lieu—

7B: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
Age assessment of unaccompanied children
In section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 (Decisions relating to a person’s age), insert after subsection (6)—
“(6A) If a person is to be removed to the Republic of Rwanda, subsection (6) does not apply and in this section “relevant authority” means a local authority, within the meaning of Part 4 (age assessments) of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which has conducted an age assessment of the person under section 50(3)(b) of that Act.”””
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, my starting point is the treaty, which makes it clear that it does not cover unaccompanied children, as emphasised by the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration on Monday. My sole purpose has been to ensure that, in so far as it is possible, this treaty intention is upheld: that no unaccompanied child is removed to Rwanda because they have been mistakenly assessed as an adult. Wrongful age assessment happens all too frequently, given that the only safeguard, referred to repeatedly by the Minister, is that two immigration officers independently determine age on the basis of a brief assessment of physical appearance and demeanour, which the Home Office itself concedes is notoriously unreliable.

The original amendment would have ensured the status quo ante: that no age-disputed child would be removed to Rwanda until any legal challenge through domestic courts and tribunals was exhausted, and it would have enabled such a challenge to be made on the basis of the facts, not just the law. This amendment in lieu is much more modest and in effect meets the Commons’ formal objection to the original amendment. It would permit an age-disputed child to be removed to Rwanda with a pending challenge on a limited basis, but only if a proper age assessment has first been carried out by a local authority. This would ensure that a Merton-compliant assessment is undertaken, and it is only at this point that so-called scientific methods would come into play.

It was clear that MPs including Dame Priti Patel and Mrs Elphicke, who argued against the original amendment by lauding scientific methods, did not understand that age-disputed children would be sent to Rwanda without any use of scientific methods, never mind the existing Merton-compliant methods. Yet as the Minister in the other place himself acknowledged on Monday,

“assessing age is inherently difficult”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 666.]

In this House, the Minister stated on Report that this is “a challenging task”, and that a

“combination … of … methods will deliver more accurate age assessments”.—[Official Report, 6/3/24; col. 1584.]

However, without this amendment, there could be no combination of methods, just a brief, visual assessment that belies the challenging and difficult nature of the task.

18:30
I will not repeat all the arguments—they were addressed on Report to the satisfaction of noble Lords, who voted in support of the original amendment by a majority of 84 from all Benches—but I point out that, if an adult pretends to be a child, as feared by some Conservative MPs and Ministers, they will still be sent to Rwanda, but following a proper assessment of their age. This is not an opening of the floodgates, as the Minister put it.
On the new argument—that it would be wrong to treat differently those to be removed to Rwanda from those to be removed elsewhere—I simply quote back the official response to the Constitution Committee:
“It is legitimate to treat people differently in different circumstances”.
The different circumstances here are that there is a treaty that makes clear that unaccompanied children are not covered by it.
This boils down to a simple choice that we face: either we can risk unaccompanied children being sent to Rwanda on the basis of unreliable, quick, visual assessments—despite the treaty making it clear that they should not be—or we can introduce a minimum safeguard to ensure that, at the very least, there is a proper age-assessment process that reduces the risk of such children being removed erroneously to Rwanda. If we believe in safeguarding the best interests and welfare of children, surely the least that we can do is pass this compromise amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I warmly support Motion E1 moved by my noble friend Lady Lister. I will be very brief. This House has consistently supported the rights of children in relation to asylum. These are the most vulnerable people in the whole of the asylum system. If a mistake is made, the consequences would be out of all proportion to the damage done if a mistake is made in the other direction. That is to say, to send a child who is wrongly assessed as being an adult to Rwanda would be an appalling dereliction of our responsibilities to vulnerable young people. If the mistake is made the other way and one more person stays here, I honestly do not think that it will make much difference, because, in any case, the majority of asylum seekers will not be sent to Rwanda even if this legislation were to go through. It is such a modest proposal—almost too modest, if I may say that to my noble friend—but it would be in keeping with the traditions of this House to take a stand in supporting unaccompanied child refugees.

Baroness Neuberger Portrait Baroness Neuberger (CB)
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I support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. It would be something of a disgrace if we did not take these measures to protect, to a very limited extent, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Motion G1. I declare an interest as co-chair of the parliamentary group on modern slavery and vice-chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation.

It is compassion that leads me to insist on the amendment that I put down on Report and bring back again now. We are talking about a group of people who are wholly different from any other group about which the Minister and others have spoken. They do not come here voluntarily, in the normal sense; they are brought here. Some of them are compelled to be here. They may think that they will not be victims, but that is why they are on a boat or in the back of a lorry. This group has no choice. It is not an issue of incentive—which the Minister speaks about—and how on earth can it be an issue of deterrence, since they are not in control?

In the past, the Government have offered evidence that the system of the national referral mechanism is subject to abuse. So far, I think that we have heard of only two cases of abuse out of the thousands of people who have gone through the national referral mechanism. The proposed arrangements in the Illegal Migration Act and the Nationality and Borders Act are absolutely inadequate. How on earth is it fair that someone in this group of people, many of whom will have gone through the traumatic experience of already being a victim, should be re-victimised by being sent to Rwanda? I ask the Members of this House to look at this most disadvantaged and vulnerable group of people, who are compelled to this country, and support my Motion.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Motion H1 and Amendment 10B in lieu. Having done so previously, I do not intend to rehearse the moral imperatives that underpin this amendment. In responding to the Minister, I will focus on the chasm that yawns between what the Minister in the other place said about what the Government might do post the current reviews of ARAP decisions of ineligibility and their unwillingness to accept this amendment that accomplishes their stated goal: to meet the debt of honour we owe to those who risked their lives in assisting the UK forces.

We are, once again, in a position where we are asked to deny the fruits of our reason and accept that black is white. First, we are asked to accept that, simply by legislative assertion, the Government can turn Rwanda into a safe country for all time, regardless of the facts. Secondly, having followed the somewhat convoluted logic-chopping of the Minister in the other place, we are told that men who braved death, courted injury and are forced into exile as a result of assisting our Armed Forces in fighting the Taliban are to be punished for arriving here by irregular routes—even where, owing to wrongful refusals on our part or possible malfeasance on the part of the Special Forces, they have been compelled to take these routes in the first place.

I will point out the inconsistencies in the reasoning of the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, when he addressed the predecessor of my Amendment 10B on Monday. In outlining why he wished to refuse it, he said:

“Anyone who arrives here illegally should not be able to make the United Kingdom their home and eventually settle here. A person who chooses to come here illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country”.


What do the words “chooses” and “particularly” mean in that statement, when you are fleeing for your life, having endangered it because of service to this country, and then having been wrongly refused a relocation visa? What sort of choices are available? “Particularly” tacitly concedes the existence of such scenarios in which safe and legal routes are not available and have been wrongly closed off, but the statement determines that we will punish the victims of our own incompetence regardless.

There are two classes of person to whom this amendment applies. First, there are those in Afghanistan and Pakistan whom we are told are awaiting review of their previously determined applications. They should be determined as eligible and granted a visa, and will have no reason to take an irregular route. Secondly, and more importantly, a much smaller number whom this amendment seeks to protect are already here. These people, far from being deterred by this Government’s action, were compelled by it to seek irregular routes or face certain death or torture.

For the last year, the Independent, Lighthouse Reports and Sky have been exposing cases where, owing to the Home Office’s bureaucratic sclerosis and errors—in fact, I think that it is mostly the MoD’s sclerosis and errors—and alleged interference on the part of the Special Forces, Afghans who served either in the Triples or otherwise alongside our Armed Forces were wrongfully denied the ability to relocate and were forced to arrive here by other means. In Monday’s debate in the other place, the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration suggested—not promised—that regulations may be made under Section 4 of the Illegal Migration Act to ensure that these

“people receive the attention that they deserve”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; cols. 667-68.]

If that is the intention, what has stopped the promulgation of these regulations before now? The Government have known for at least a year that these people existed and have been on notice for a year that the promulgation of these regulations would be necessary to accompany the Bill, if they had intended to use them to solve this problem.

Effectively, these people are being asked to trust the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and, more broadly, the British Government—the same bodies that wrongfully refused their relocation visas in the first place, failed to protect them and have, in many cases, repeatedly threatened them with deportation to Rwanda. The idea that they would now repose their faith in the Home Office is absurd. In this context, trust is a currency whose value is now completely debased. Rather than wait for these regulations, why not, as the former Lord Chancellor, Sir Robert Buckland, suggested in Monday’s proceedings, simply accept this amendment, which precludes the need for their development?

Which offence do we believe to be more egregious? That of fleeing to a country that asked you to serve alongside its troops via an illegal route, having already been let down by that country’s administrative incompetence? Or having the power and means to pay a debt of honour to those we have exhorted to serve alongside us in our interests but refusing so to do? I believe the latter is shaming, and it is why I will be seeking, in moving my revised amendment, to test the opinion of this House and have the other place examine it, and the consciences of its Members, again.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, but I would like to underline how important it is to support Amendment H1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I remind noble Lords of the critical difference it would make, by applying an exemption to those who have been employed indirectly in support of the UK Government in Afghanistan, as well as those employed directly.

To illustrate, very briefly, how this makes a difference, I can tell noble Lords that, for the past few weeks, I have been in correspondence with a former Afghan interpreter who was employed by an international agency that had a contract to provide interpreting and translation services to DfID, other government departments and the Armed Forces. His application under ARAP for relocation to the UK was rejected, as was his appeal. My understanding is that this was because he was employed not directly by HMG but through a third party—the agency. In his words:

“I endangered my life and future working for the UK Government in Afghanistan. Everyone in Afghanistan knew I worked for the UK Government. Being rejected by ARAP is an insult to my faithful services to the UK Government”.


This individual has already faced so many threats in Afghanistan that he has fled to a third country, where sadly he still lives in hiding and in fear. Having had his ARAP appeal rejected, he has told me that his situation is now so urgent and unsafe that he feels he has no alternative but

“to take the dangerous route to the UK by land, and if I get killed on my way to the UK it will be better than the problems I am faced with right now”.

If he manages to get here in one piece, despite having no alternative but to come via an unofficial route, he really does not deserve to have his loyalty to the UK rewarded by being sent to Rwanda. This amendment would protect him and, potentially, others like him. I implore noble Lords on all sides of the House to support this amendment, which would acknowledge his faithful service and his willingness to risk his life for us in Afghanistan, by doing what morally is just the right thing to do.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group highlight the cruel reality of this policy for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. What we need is an asylum process that identifies risks and vulnerabilities and then makes a decision on them when people are here.

We know very well that there are people in this country, including Afghans, who are on a waiting list to have their cases heard. People whose age has yet to be determined should not be sent to Rwanda while they are yet to be confirmed as a child. The Government have agreed that it is wrong to send unaccompanied children to Rwanda. So, if that is the case, they need to be extremely careful that they do not do that inadvertently. Children are not cargo that can be shipped from one country to another if the Government later decide they have made a mistake and someone is in fact a child after all.

Data collected by the Helen Bamber Foundation in 2022 found that, of 1,386 children who were initially assessed as adults by the Home Office, 867—that is, 63%—ended up being assessed as children by local authorities. That is the size of the error range that we have to be careful about. The key here is not adults being wrongly assessed as children, but children being wrongly treated as adults and therefore not being safe- guarded appropriately.

18:45
The prospect of victims of modern slavery being sent to Rwanda is again deeply disturbing. These are people who often had no choice about coming to the UK. It follows, therefore, that any level of deterrent directed at them, rather than the criminals who brought them here, is wrong. Reducing the rights and protections of victims of modern slavery increases the power the criminals have over them. The amendment we are discussing now shows that the Bill was never about saving lives; it is about trying to save the Government’s policy, which it never will. That is why these amendments are so crucial.
I ask the Minister: what information do the Government find and get from people who have been coming to this country since 20 July 2023, after the Illegal Migration Act received Royal Assent? What information is provided and sought by the Home Office? There are some, we hear, who think that their case for having an asylum hearing is being progressed. There are people who are asked the sorts of questions that would lead them to believe that their asylum process is being progressed. Could the Minister tell us precisely what the Home Office finds out in order to be able to determine whether people are young people—children—or whether they are victims of modern slavery or Afghans seeking our support?
We do not know what we are asking of these people and how questions are being put to them, whether they are given long interviews, whether they have access to a lawyer—all that sort of information. It means that we do not understand, at the same time as we are being told that all this policy will be put in place by the Bill—and I fear that we will still be waiting. In terms of the Afghans, having a promise to look at something in a few months’ time is not the sort of immediacy we need to deal with this problem, which we need to deal with right now.
So these amendments are critical for these three groups of very vulnerable people, and we would be mistaken if we did not agree them if noble Lords press them to a vote.
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord German, and I very much agree with the remarks he made. The Government has got themselves into a right mess with respect to this flagship Bill—partly caused by the fact that they have simply not been listening to the very serious and constructive amendments that noble Lords have tabled to it.

I ask again, because I did not get an answer from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart: what happened to the Government’s plan to discuss this Bill next Monday in the other place and then bring it back on a further round of ping-pong next Tuesday? What happened to that particular plan? The Government are delaying their own legislation and people keep asking me why they are doing it. I do not know, so I am asking the Minister. Why are the Government delaying it until after Easter, when they could have brought it back next Tuesday? Were the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, asked about it? Did they put their views forward or is it simply something that came out of the blue? I know that government Members were asked to be here next Tuesday and then it was stopped. I do not know the answer and people keep asking me. So, I am asking the Government again: what has happened with this flagship, emergency piece of legislation, such that the Government have delayed it themselves? The only defence they have is to turn around and blame us for blocking it, when we have said all along that we will not block it.

I ask again because I need to know the answer, since Conservative Members keep asking me and I say, “Well, ask your own Front Bench”—mind you, those here will not know the answer either. Somewhere along the line, there is a serious point to be made on why the Government are delaying their own Bill by not providing time next week.

I support the remarks of my noble friend Lady Lister on Motion E1 and her very serious points about age assessment. I welcome the anti-slavery amendment tabled by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in her Motion G1. I make no apologies for saying again that I am astonished that Conservative Members of Parliament in the other place, Conservative Peers and others are driving a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, an Act that as a proud Labour Minister I call one of the proudest achievements of a Government who happened to be a Conservative Government. It was flagship legislation that has been copied all over the world, but, in Bill after Bill over the last couple of years, we have seen a gradual erosion of some of the fundamental principles that drive it. I will not repeat the points made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—I should say that I am a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation, as mentioned in the register of interests—but I find that incredible. I hope that noble Lords will take account of the further amendment that the noble and learned Baroness has tabled.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Browne on his Motion H1. I am incredulous that the Government could not accept his amendment in the other place. I think it astonished not just this side of the House but all sides of the House that, even if they did not accept his amendment, they could not find a way when considering it a few days ago of ensuring that this country met its debt to those people who had fought with us when we needed them to. Many of them have been excluded from that support. That is a stain on our country and should have been resolved as soon as possible. The Government had it within their power to do that last week but, as with the other nine amendments, they turned it down. I simply do not understand that.

I accept the words of the Minister, which he will have said in good faith, that this will be revised, looked at and brought forward in due course, and that regulations and secondary legislation will be used. However, there is absolutely no excuse for the Government of the day not standing up in here—they did not do it in the other place—and saying, “We will honour those who honoured us by ensuring that they are protected, and to do that we will accept Lord Browne’s amendment”. They could have done that today, and it would have meant that we had it in the Bill.

Notwithstanding that the Government clearly will not do that, I hope that noble Lords in vast numbers will support my noble friend’s amendment so that when it goes back to the other place to be considered—whenever that will be—Members there will have the opportunity to honour the debt that we owe to those who fought with us in our time of need in the war in Afghanistan. We owe it to them. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, who is not in his place, said, in other conflicts to come, when we need support and help, what are we to say to translators, lorry drivers, interpreters and those who are fighting with us? Do we say, “Don’t worry, this country will support you in the aftermath of it?” They will look back at what we have done in Afghanistan and wonder whether we can be true to our word. We should resolve this and support the amendment. I hope that we do so in vast numbers.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful once again to noble Lords for their contributions and acknowledge the points that have been made. However, the Government are unable to accept these amendments.

It is worth me starting by again reading into the record Article 3(4) of the treaty for the avoidance of further doubt. It states that:

“The Agreement does not cover unaccompanied children and the United Kingdom confirms that it shall not seek to relocate unaccompanied individuals who are deemed to be under the age of 18. Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11 of this Agreement”.


The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, acknowledged, as I have from this Dispatch Box, that assessing age is challenging. That is why the National Age Assessment Board, which I went into in some detail in my opening remarks, was launched in March 2023. I will repeat some of those remarks.

The board was launched to achieve greater consistency in quality of age assessments, to reduce the incentives for adults to claim to be children and to reduce the financial and administrative burden of undertaking assessment on local authorities. The aim of achieving accurate age assessment is its primary consideration. The NAAB consists of expert social workers whose task is to conduct full Merton-compliant age assessments upon referral from a local authority or the Home Office. Local authorities also retain the ability to conduct age assessments. This is not some perfunctory nod in the direction of those who are obviously in a difficult position; it is a very comprehensive age assessment process. Let me make it clear that if an age-disputed individual requires a Merton assessment, they will be relocated to Rwanda only if determined to be an adult after that Merton assessment.

In terms of numbers of people, it was suggested that there were not very many. I will go through those again as well. Between 2016 and September 2023, there were 11,977 asylum cases where age was disputed. Of those, 5,651 were found to be adults. That is over 800 per year. I argue to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that it would be a mistake to put those people into a system that is designed for children. I was quite surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord German, suggesting the opposite. Those are the statistics that I recognise.

As I have previously set out, we cannot allow legislation to pass that would enable those who are to be removed to Rwanda to be treated differently from those removed to another country. The purpose of the IMA and this Bill is to ensure that anyone arriving illegally in the UK will be promptly removed to their home country or a safe third country to have any asylum or human rights claims processed. I will of course make sure that the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Coaker, are carefully scrutinised over the coming weeks. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for being unable to comment on the individual case that she cited.

The Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence. Rwanda has a proven track record of working constructively with domestic and international partners including the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and other non-government organisations to process and support the asylum seeker and refugee population. By temporarily accommodating some of the most vulnerable refugee populations who have faced trauma, detentions and violence, Rwanda has showcased its willingness and ability to work collaboratively to provide solutions to refugee situations and crises.

We need to focus on getting flights off the ground to Rwanda to create the reality that everyone who enters the UK via a small boat will not be able to stay but will be swiftly removed. This will help us to continue to stop illegal immigrants from taking dangerous journeys across the channel and to save lives at sea.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Can the Minister answer the question that I put to him and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart? What happened to the Government’s plans to do this next week? It was due to go to the other place on Monday and come back here on Tuesday. What happened to those plans and why have they been ditched?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord will not like my answer, but the scheduling of business is a matter for business managers.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not wish to intervene in this little local argument. I thank noble Lords who have supported my Motion E1 with very strong arguments. I thank the Minister for reading into the record Article 3(4). I did not do that because I wanted to save time, but he makes my case for me: the treaty makes it clear that we should not send underage or age-disputed unaccompanied children to Rwanda. That is what this amendment is about.

However, the Minister has shifted his ground, because in previous iterations, he talked just about the two independent immigration officers who were going to provide the assessment based on appearance and demeanour. Now, he is talking about social workers, but how many of those poor children get that far? I do not know whether he can answer that question; I suspect that he cannot. I have not heard anything from the Minister that undermines the case that I and others have made on behalf of these children. I therefore wish to press my Motion and seek the opinion of the House.

19:00

Division 5

Ayes: 249

Noes: 219

19:11
Motion F
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 8, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 8A.

8A: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary to impose the operational reporting obligations mentioned in the amendment.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I have already spoken to Motion F. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.
Motion G
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 9, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 9A.

9A: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary to include the modern slavery provisions mentioned in the Amendment as provisions for modern slavery and human trafficking victims are set out in existing legislation.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I have already spoken to Motion G. I beg to move.

Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)

Moved by
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss
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Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do insist on its Amendment 9.”

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister did not refer to my amendment at all in his summing up. However, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

19:12

Division 6

Ayes: 251

Noes: 214

19:23
Motion H
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 10, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 10A.

10A: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary as the only way individuals should come to the UK is through safe and legal routes.
Motion H1 (as an amendment to Motion H)
Moved by
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 10B in lieu—

10B: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK Overseas
(1) Notwithstanding the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Illegal Migration Act 2023, any earlier Immigration Acts and the other provisions of this Act, the following categories of person may not be removed to the Republic of Rwanda—
(a) agents or allies who have supported His Majesty’s armed forces overseas in an exposed or meaningful manner that now affects their claim for protection;
(b) persons who have been employed by or indirectly contracted to provide services to the UK Government in an exposed or meaningful manner that now affects their claim for protection;
(c) the partners and dependent family members of persons referred to in (a) or (b) above;
(d) persons who were the partners or family members of persons referred to in (a) or (b) above in a manner that now affects their claim for protection.
(2) The exemption in (1) above includes but is not limited to persons eligible for entry to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (“ARAP”) and Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (“ACRS”).
(3) A person seeking to rely upon the exemption in (1) above must give the Secretary of State notice as soon as reasonably practicable to allow prompt verification of available records as to allies, agents, employees, contractors and family members.””
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg to move Motion H1, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

19:24

Division 7

Ayes: 248

Noes: 209

Committee (1st Day)
Welsh Legislative Consent withheld; Scottish and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought; Kings consent sought.
19:35
Clause 1: Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out from “the” to the end of line 8 and insert “political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct was the primary or sole factor in the decision”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that political and moral disapproval must be seen to be a central factor and not a supplementary consideration in any relevant decision.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, as we are starting Committee, I will say a few things about how we should handle the Bill from now on. After Second Reading and the Commons stages, during which there were a large number of sharp criticisms from Conservatives, as well as others, about the quality of the drafting and the coverage of the Bill, I would have expected the Government, between Second Reading and Committee, to have produced a number of government amendments to clarify some of the many imprecisions in the Bill and perhaps to have arranged to meet some of us who had spoken at Second Reading. I am sorry that that has not happened, and I very much hope that, between Committee and Report, the Government will respond to some of the criticisms by bringing forward clarifying amendments, and that the Minister and the Bill team will be willing to meet with us to discuss some of the arrangements.

The lack of engagement is troubling, and the absence of government amendments at this stage is extremely worrying. I recognise that this is very much a Michael Gove Bill and that he, as Secretary of State, probably wishes to get it through, if possible, without amendment. But here we are in the amending House, and the Minister also has a duty, as a Lords Minister, to listen to and engage with the reasoned criticisms made of the many highly imprecise elements in this Bill, and to respond.

I have two amendments in this group. One raises the question of what is meant by “political or moral disapproval”, and whether the word “influenced” in the phrase

“influenced by political and moral disapproval”

is sufficient. The second, Amendment 6, refers to

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”,

as well as the decision-maker.

As the Minister will know, environmental, social and corporate governance has a long history. It goes back to the Sullivan principles from the United States, which I am sure she will remember. They were formulated by Mr Sullivan, a director of General Motors, in the context of apartheid South Africa and set out a number of principles that companies and others should follow when dealing with investments and procurement. Those principles have since expanded into the whole ESG dimension, which we see actively discussed in Britain, the United States and a number of other market economy countries. The right wing in the United States is busily attacking them in favour of what one has to describe as an amoral capitalism, in which profit is the only thing you are ever allowed to think about. I recall that the first person who started attacking the Sullivan principles was Professor Milton Friedman, who strongly believed that companies have no other duties than to pursue the greatest profit possible for their shareholders.

We need to know what is meant by

“influenced by moral or political disapproval”.

My Amendment 1 suggests that it has to be very considerable in order to be a primary cause of the decision, not simply something that comes in as, or can be argued under Clause 5 to have been—we will get to that later in terms of judicial review—part of the reasons why the decision was taken.

One of our many worries about the Bill is the extent to which it opens the door to litigation through a great many of its imprecise terms. The question, therefore, is whether or not any indication of political or moral disapproval begins to get captured under the Bill, or whether this has to be the major reason why such a decision is taken.

I was very struck as I went through the impact assessment and the Explanatory Memorandum by the sheer lack of evidence that much of this has happened. We find a reference to a council that in 2014 discussed whether or not to, and that another council in 2016 discussed whether or not to. Neither of them actually did it, but they discussed it. “That is wrong and we should stop them doing things like that” seems to be a pretty thin basis on which to mount a Bill that has the sorts of penalties which this Bill begins to set out. That is very much part of our concerns.

Amendment 6 raises the question of whether it is not only the decision-maker who is going to be liable but

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”.

Does that mean that the Guardian journalist who writes an editorial suggesting that this should be done is going to be caught by it? Does it mean that the lobby group that sends things to the decision-maker is going to be caught by it? Does it have to be a more direct approach? How do we identify that “any person”? This is the sort of drafting that should not appear in a Bill before this House. It has to be clarified or we shall do our utmost to remove it. I beg to move.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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I speak to exactly the same issue as did my noble friend. Mine is a simpler amendment. I work on the basis that the Bill will pass in some form or another and if one does a modest, sensible tweak to a Bill, it has a chance of being incorporated into the final version. My Amendment 2 —purely adds one word: “materially”. This would raise the threshold that needs to be met before a decision is deemed to be in breach of this prohibition. If it is not “materially”, things could be prohibited for something very minor. Having “materially” improves the Bill and makes it more logical—we are looking at things of substance, not things that are minor.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, I rise merely to ask my noble friend the Minister to be very careful about her responses to this. I have a huge problem in that I cannot think of a speech that I have made in this House in which there has not been some moral content, because that is the way I think. I cannot help that. I am very concerned about the clarity with which the Bill is written. My noble friend and I go back a very long way. I have to say to her that when she was a civil servant working with me, she would not have produced a Bill like this. She would have been very angry if I had suggested that it should be as loose as all this. I am sorry to remind her of that fact. All I am interested in is that we do not unhappily and by accident cause a whole lot of legal cases that are unnecessary and which we never meant to.

I have some fundamental problems, not least with the specifics of this. I may wish at some later point to discuss the speech that was made at Second Reading by my noble friend Lord Wolfson, but the first point I want to make has nothing to do with the nature of the Bill itself or what it seeks to do. It is about precision. This is an imprecise Bill and it needs to be precise if it is not to be extremely malignant. All I ask is for my noble friend to try to understand that we need precision here, even those of us who in general do not come here with an antagonistic view. We just want to know what it is about, and you do not understand that if you merely read the Bill. I do not want this constantly to be in the courts. It would be much better to get it right now.

19:45
Lord Verdirame Portrait Lord Verdirame (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, Amendments 3 to 5 are in my name. All the amendments in this group have the same objective, which is to find some ways of mitigating the rather unusual and perhaps slightly sinister language of

“political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”—

the language that gives the provision its title. Amendments 1 and 2 seek to achieve that objective by retaining that concept but raising the bar for its application. I agree that this approach may be sensible, and it is one that I encourage the Government to consider very seriously.

My amendments go a little further. I tried to think of ways in which the main provision of the Bill—Clause 1 —could operate without the novel concept of a prohibition on

“being influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

I note that this is not an attempt to frustrate the Bill. As the Minister will recall, I spoke in support of the Bill at Second Reading and I support the Government’s intentions. I am suggesting this different way forward because I am not really persuaded that the policy objectives require us to introduce this concept in our legislation. I urge the Government to test more proportionate and more focused ways to achieve those objectives.

As I understand those objectives, the core purpose is to ensure that public bodies, when taking procurement or investment decisions, do not impose a de facto sanctions regime or a de facto ban or boycott on a foreign state on the basis of their own judgments about a territorial dispute, the status of a foreign territory or the presence of a foreign Government in a particular territory. It seems to me that that objective can be achieved equally effectively by focusing the duty in Clause 1 on not having regard to territorial considerations, rather than in the current formulation of a duty not to be influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct. Subject to the exceptions, it would still be the case that if a public authority were to have regard to a territorial consideration, it would probably do so because of disapproval of a moral or political kind of the foreign state’s conduct in the territory. But it would be better if we can get to the result that the Government are pursuing without that language of political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.

I accept that a criticism of the proposals may be that if we remove that expression “moral or political disapproval” from Clause 1, as my amendments would do, and focus instead on territorial considerations, the main provision of the Bill would not substantially improve on Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988.

The Bill would supersede the Local Government Act in the part where it prohibits local authorities from considering non-commercial matters in relation to decisions about public supply or works contracts, including

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to, or the location in any country or territory of the business activities or interests of, contractors”.

This part of Section 17 of the Local Government Act would be omitted by the effect of a separate clause in the Bill. But Clause 1, even with the amendment I propose, would still go further than Section 17. In particular, the duty not to have regard to foreign state conduct in relation to territorial considerations, such as the existence of a territorial dispute, would still be able to capture indirect bans or boycotts, which I understand is the Government’s main concern.

I look forward to what the Government have to say. Again, I stress that my main concern is to encourage them to think of ways of tightening the language in Clause 1, and mitigating or perhaps altogether removing this notion of

“political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for my not being able to speak at Second Reading, although if I had, I would have agreed with my noble friend Lord Wolfson on much of what he had to say. I also apologise for slightly jumping the gun on the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, particularly as what he said was so interesting and informative.

I just wanted to question Amendment 1. If one is seeking clarity and certainty, introducing the idea of having a

“primary or sole factor in the decision”

seems extremely difficult to prove, whereas showing that the decision was “influenced” is much easier and, as I understand it, a recognised legal term.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have problems with all the amendments in this group. Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would elevate “political or moral disapproval” to be the sole or main factor, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, wants to introduce the concept of materiality into influence. Both these would just create huge loopholes, which would allow public bodies to conceal their boycott activities within other factors. Clever lawyers would find ways of writing papers which support decision-making in, say, local authorities or other bodies affected by the Bill, by reference to a whole load of other factors, to support the claim that they were not “materially” influenced by their disapproval of a foreign state, or that it was not the sole or main factor. I genuinely have a problem with the watering-down implied by Amendments 1 and 2.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, said about his amendments. I understand that he is trying to find a way through by removing the reference to “political or moral disapproval”, but I am not convinced that his amendments work either. In particular, I am not sure what the restriction to “that territory” in his Amendment 4 will do. Let us suppose that the territorial consideration is Ukraine, because it has to relate to a particular foreign territory by virtue of subsection (3). Does that mean that the decision-maker must have no regard to what is happening in Ukraine itself? It seems to me that “that territory” can be related only to the territorial consideration referenced in subsection (2). In that case, it would be Ukraine. If, say, Russia is the foreign state you have a problem with, it seems that you can take account of its activities only in Ukraine. You could not take account of activities that were not in Ukraine—for example, attacks from other places, such as the Black Sea, or whether it takes children from Ukraine back to Russia. If you thought that Russia was the territory—still restricting it to one territory—you have the problem the other way around; you could take activities only in Russia, but not in Ukraine, which is the fundamental problem. That creates an interpretive problem.

While these distinctions might not matter if we are talking about Russia and Ukraine, if you try and then relate it to a council or other public body trying to boycott Israel, and relate that to the complexities of the different parts of the territory around the State of Israel, you may end up finding some odd conclusions on how the reformulation might work in practice. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, is a very clever lawyer and I am not, and I may well have completely misunderstood how his amendment is intended to work.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, because this is the first group, I again state that I think that a lot of these amendments are trying to establish what is intended by the Bill, in a probing way. In that sense, they are very helpful for clarification on the language used. It was clear from Second Reading that most of the people who have since tabled these amendments and are speaking now are not in any way defending BDS; it was clear to me anyway. These boycott schemes are censorious and illiberal, and very often, as was stated at the time, the seeding ground for anti-Semitism in public life. In that sense, I oppose them; I am just not clear how the Bill will actually tackle them.

As we speak, just to use an example, the Rio Cinema in London has just cancelled its Eurovision party on the basis that it will not hold it while Israel still has somebody in the Eurovision Song Contest. I do not know whether this is self-declared BDS; it is a charity, and I am not quite sure how the Bill would apply. The point I kept trying to make at Second Reading was that, so often, I feel that the Bill will miss where a lot of the anti-Semitic censorship is occurring, around the periphery, rather than just in terms of divestment and investment, and so on.

I say that because those of us who are interested in tackling those issues need to have as much free speech as possible. I particularly support Amendment 6 from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—although both his amendments are interesting—which makes the point about

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”.

That is what politics is, is it not? Trying to persuade a decision-maker—lobbying and trying to have an influence on politics—is surely the job we are all in, even if we disapprove of, in this instance, what someone is trying to persuade about. I just get anxious about this being in a Bill; it sets a dangerous precedent.

Points have been made well by other noble Lords about the use of the language of political and moral disapproval; I want there to be far more political and moral disapproval in politics today than there is. It is an entirely good thing to make that clear. I wish there was a bit more “political and moral disapproval” leadership in general, even though many of us arguing that would disagree over what it should be. That is fair, but it is far better than a kind of technocratic approach. Also, if we are to win the hearts and minds of many of the young people who go along with BDS campaigns, we will have to show our political and moral disapproval, and win them over and seek to persuade them. Noble Lords get the point, but it is not clear how the language in the section to which these amendments refer will help us to tackle the problem that the Bill seeks to address.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, I also wish to speak in support of Amendments 1 and 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Wallace. As a former councillor, I can imagine that former colleagues will be absolutely horrified at the scope of the Bill. We are talking about how moral and political disapproval cannot be used as the basis of a decision. Many councillors get into politics because they have moral and political views—they want to change the world and do something about things in their own area. I would welcome clarity, as others have asked for, on how it is to be established whether a decision-maker has been

“influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

What means might be used to actually determine this, in the event of needing to enforce action against it?

20:00
Councillors on a committee such as a pension committee receive expert professional advice from council officers and external advisers. Would these people be seen as people
“seeking to persuade the decision-maker”?
Surely it is entirely desirable that such advice be given. What is the position under the Bill of
“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”?
Is the adviser prevented from discussing risks of investment or procurement? It is not at all clear what the position of the person seeking to persuade is.
How will the possibility of liability for enforcement action and a potential monetary penalty affect the need for open and frank discussion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, asked, particularly with regard to relevant information and advice to people taking decisions in pension committees? Is there a risk that advisers will be unwilling to risk liability and councillors will be unwilling to serve on such a body if they risk their reputation, and penalties, including monetary penalties?
I would also welcome clarity from the Minister on the concept of “a reasonable observer”. Decisions on finance and investment are complex and may raise a range of issues and factors influencing a decision. Will the reasonable observer be someone with a certain level of financial expertise? If so, how will this be defined and determined? We need much more clarity, particularly for elected members in local government, as to how the Bill will directly affect them.
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have an entry in the register of interests. I seek clarity from the Minister. I may not need it, but I would like to tease it out, to see whether my interpretation of these clauses is correct. My question is about the word “decision”, and what the statutory understanding of that word is. My understanding is clarified by Clause 2(2), which says:

“A ‘procurement decision’ is a decision about a contract for the supply of goods, services or works to the decision-maker.”


That seems to me absolutely clear. I want to clarify if that is also the Minister’s understanding of what a decision in this context is.

I ask that because of an example from the University of Essex student union, which has a policy passed 15 or 16 years ago, described as a BDS policy, which is specifically targeted against the state of Israel. On the student union website that policy is deemed to be an educational policy to stimulate discussion and debate. But the student union, in applying the policy, has chosen specifically to address the purchasing of kosher food products, including those from Israel, in the student union shop.

In the context of the amendments, and in terms of how the general public might understand this, as well as those more directly impacted in the public sector and elsewhere, it would be helpful to know whether I am right in my understanding that the University of Essex student union policy, which has not been turned into a procurement decision, as defined in Clause 2(2), would not be covered by the Bill, because it is merely an educational policy, as opposed to a procurement and economic activity decision. To know that would be helpful in understanding what the scope of the Bill is and is not, and what the legal situation will be when it is enacted, as I presume it will be.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke on Second Reading, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben for taking the trouble to read my speech. I wait with anticipation to find out the, no doubt very few, points on which we disagree. That will perhaps be for another day, but I look forward to it.

On these amendments I can be brief, because the central point has already been made: that the proposed amendments, especially those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would add complexity and increase the likelihood of litigation; I declare the obvious interest in that respect. The amendments would therefore make the Bill not more precise but less.

I say that for three reasons. First, introducing words such as “primary or sole” is an invitation to litigation. My second short point—forgive the legal geekiness, but we are in Committee—is that a quick search of legislation.gov.uk indicates that that phrase does not appear anywhere else in legislation. “Sole or primary” does, so in case we go forward with this, I would invite the noble Lord to flip it round, so that we put the more general word “sole” first, followed by the word “primary”. That is not my main point, but as we are in Committee, which is the place for geeky legal points, I may have just made one.

Another amendment introduces the word “material”. That is a really problematic word in law, as are words such as “significant”, because we always have the debate about what the opposite of “material” is. Is it immaterial—that is, de minimis? In that case, that is not really, as I understand it, the force of the amendment. “Material” here really means “of substance”, and it is, I suggest, not a good word to use if one is seeking to get that point across.

However, my main point is that this part of the Bill is drafted clearly and that whether we add “primary or sole” or “material”, that would add complexity and invite more litigation.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I was going to intervene on the noble Lord, but he finished his speech before I could. Maybe we will have an opportunity when the Minister responds to the debate, because the idea that the words “moral” and “political” are not vague stuns me. Who is to define “moral”? That is very difficult.

This is one of the rare occasions in the House when I can honestly agree with practically all the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I also agree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I want to stress that with the amendments, especially those to Clause 1, it is necessary to probe what the words mean, and get a better understanding of them. Even if I do not personally feel committed to the amendments, it is important to use this stage to elicit from the Minister a better understanding of the intent of Clause 1.

I do not want to repeat what the noble Baroness said, but this is not about how we address BDS strategies. The impact of the clause is far wider and encompasses a whole host of things that the Government may not have really intended. Who knows? Clause 1 does not define “political” or “moral”. It is extremely wide-ranging and could cover any decision or consideration that suggests a negative view of an existing, previous or potential policy action or inaction, or other behaviour associated with a Government or any public authority in another country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, said, the reasonable observer of the decision-making process test sets an extremely low bar for considering whether a decision was influenced by political or moral disapproval. It does not distinguish between minor or significant influence, and it does not clearly define a reasonable observer. I hope we can use the amendments in this group to probe substantially on these issues.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the consideration of financial, reputational, legal, environmental, social, governance and other risks in procurement and investment decisions are often complex and overlapping, and some considerations may be confidential. How are we going to sort all those things out if the Bill becomes law?

The legislation does not require the reasonable person to be someone who is familiar with the subject matter and decision-making processes. Clause 1(4) and 1(6) do not define a public authority in a foreign territory, so it could include state-run companies in some countries. This could result in additional uncertainty where the conduct of a public authority differs from the official policy of a foreign state, and that is a threat to actions in support of persecuted people across the world.

The sweeping approach to Clause 1 will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on public bodies being able to make ethical procurement and investment decisions and take actions that support upholding international law, democracy and human rights. I know I have an amendment later on, so I will not go into too much detail now.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the Bill is incoherent and it waters down the Procurement Act 2023. That Act sets key objectives covered by procurement, including supporting public benefit, in Clause 12(1)(b), and acting and being seen to act with integrity, in Clause 12(1)(d). The Act also gave a mandate to commissioning authorities to award contracts based on the “most advantageous tender” submitted. That change of words moves away from the previous priority of the “most economically advantageous tender” under which the previous procurement regime existed. What was the intent of that change in language? The intent was to enable contracting authorities to give more weight to award criteria such as decent work and wider social values. Again, we are coming to other amendments, particularly about the environment.

This wide definition, which is covered in Clause 1, is the fundamental problem with the Bill. The Explanatory Notes state:

“Clause 1 prohibits relevant public authorities from having regard to a territorial consideration in a way that indicates moral or political disapproval of a country or territory’s foreign state conduct, when making decisions … This clause is designed to catch both open participation in boycotts”,


which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, talked about,

“or divestment campaigns, and more subtle ways of singling out countries or territories that could produce similar results”.

As I say, this sweeping approach will have a chilling effect and will impact on public authorities in upholding international law.

A point I want to focus on is that the UK Government have committed to implementing international standards, including the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—the UNGPs—as well as the commitment made in terms of the environment in the Paris agreement. Carrying out effective due diligence is central to public bodies, as state institutions, being able to fulfil their human rights obligations, implement UNGPs and make ethical procurement and investment decisions. However, because the terminology, such as “political and moral disapproval”, is undefined, this will create problems for public authorities when carrying out their due diligence. That is what will be needed in the due diligence process to avoid falling foul of this legislation, when clarity is so lacking.

20:15
Let us remind ourselves what the UNGPs say about corporate responsibility:
“The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights refers to internationally recognized human rights—understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”.
I am very familiar with the ILO and its conventions— I have spent a lifetime quoting them—and they are very important in terms of establishing minimum standards. I am not talking about workers’ rights—Rolls-Royce—but about very minimum standards. All public bodies have an obligation to think about those issues and decide what influence they will have on their final procurement decisions.
To come back to the clause, I am extremely worried that it will suddenly stop people thinking openly and having a dialogue or a debate. I worry that it will stop people thinking about what the right thing to do is and stop them making any decision or taking any of those things into account. The whole of Clause 1 would benefit from amendments so that we can ensure that they continue to carry out their duties in accordance with the sort of international law and conventions that this country upholds and values so much.
I give fair warning: we are in Committee and I am sure the Minister will be attempting to give us clarity, but I hope we can intervene to ensure that, when something is said, we can better understand the impact and intent of this clause.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their amendments and for their contributions to the debate. I look forward to scrutinising the Bill and these proposed changes in detail during the four Committee days that we have set aside—although this one has been a little truncated. I remain open to listening to noble Lords’ views from all sides, and I hope we can use these sessions to put forward the best possible version of this legislation.

Clarity on all sides is important, and I look forward to further meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, as the Bill progresses. He knows I enjoy meetings with him on the Bills that we have done together. Probing amendments are also important, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, has just said. We were of course both involved with the Procurement Act and I look forward to discussing how the two pieces of legislation interact and how human rights considerations are respected—as they are.

I hope that, in responding to these six amendments, I can assure the House that Clause 1 as currently drafted is the most proportionate and clear way of fulfilling the manifesto commitment of banning public bodies from imposing their own boycott and divestment campaigns.

Clause 1 sets out three tests that must be met to trigger the ban. First, the ban is narrow. It applies only to procurement or investment decisions. Secondly, the public body must have considered a specific territory or country as part of making its decision. Thirdly, that consideration must reflect political or moral disapproval of the conduct of a foreign state.

I turn first, if I may, to Amendments 3, 4 and 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame. I am grateful for his general support. However, together, his amendments would alter the scope of the clause. Amendments 3 and 5 would prohibit public authorities from being influenced in any way by foreign state conduct. This would widen the prohibition in Clause 1 to include considerations that relate specifically or mainly to a country or territory in a way that is influenced by approval of foreign state conduct. The current drafting prohibits only disapproval of foreign state conduct, and the inclusion of moral and political disapproval is necessary to ensure that the Bill does not capture legitimate territorial considerations that are not about boycotts and divestment campaigns and would take the Bill beyond the manifesto commitment. An example of this would include encouraging trade with important trading partners. These amendments would therefore prohibit a public authority from favouring goods or services from a particular country or territory, based on approval of that country’s conduct. It therefore captures a broader range of decisions that are not relevant to boycotts and divestment campaigns.

Amendment 4, on the other hand, would narrow the prohibition so that it applied only in the case of disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct within its own territory. It would not apply in the case of disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct outside its territory. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Noakes: this would effectively allow public authorities to boycott countries whose foreign policy they disapproved of. This could leave a significant loophole—a word I think she used—in the ban and undermine the manifesto commitment.

I will now address Clause 1(7) in response to Amendment 6 by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke. This amendment would permit public authorities to engage in boycotts and divestment campaigns as long as they were only a result of pressure from a third party, such as a student union, rather than a result of the public authority’s own moral or political disapproval. Subsection (7) is a necessary element of the Bill, as public authorities such as universities and local authorities are frequently pressured to engage in boycotts or divestment campaigns. For example, student unions at Warwick University and Sussex University have passed motions calling for their universities to divest from Israeli companies. If a university conducted a boycott or divestment campaign because of such pressure, rather than because of its own view of a foreign state, we would want that campaign to be caught. Subsection (7) extends to any person seeking to persuade the public authority. However, for there to be a breach of the ban, an enforcement authority must be satisfied that there is enough evidence that a third party influenced the public authority.

I will address the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, on decision-making, if she would agree, on group 2 because we are going to be discussing the meaning of a decision-maker for the purposes of the Bill.

Finally, and most importantly, I turn to Amendments 1 and 2, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Amendment 1 would narrow the scope of the prohibition in Clause 1 so that it prohibited public authorities from taking account of territorial considerations only where moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct is the “primary or sole” factor in the decision. My noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley asked a question which made this point, while my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar was concerned that it would increase uncertainty and lead to legal disputes.

Similarly, Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, would narrow the prohibition to decisions “materially” influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct. Like my noble friend Lord Wolfson, I do not agree with weakening the effect of the Bill in this way. Public authorities buying goods or services, or making investments, should not be influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct to any degree, unless—and this is important—one of the exemptions, such as environmental or labour misconduct, applies.

I reassure the Committee that Clause 1 will not capture fleeting and inconsequential remarks made during the procurement or investment decision-making process. The Bill prohibits only considerations that a reasonable observer of the decision-making process would consider a contributing factor to a decision.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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It is precisely that point I want to better understand, because many decisions are going to be complex. While the Minister mentioned the exclusion of things, there could be a combination of issues which would influence the final decision. Somebody might be able to say, “Actually, that combination has become a moral and political thing”. That is what really concerns me. The Minister is very confident that certain things will not be captured, but I do not see that. I would like her to explain in a little more detail that final point she made.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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We will try to do that. I am also happy to discuss this further, because it is obviously an important point in relation to the Bill and, as we agreed at the beginning, we need to try to find a way that does not create a lot of uncertainty.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, commented on the perceived lack of evidence for the Bill, but boycotts have been attempted by several public authorities in recent years. In 2014, Leicester City Council passed a motion boycotting goods from Israeli settlements, as far as the law allows. Several other local authorities have passed boycotting or condemnatory motions, including Swansea Council, Gwynedd Council—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt, but on that point can the Minister tell us what the FCDO’s advice and the United Nations decisions are in relation to the Occupied Territories?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I am certainly very happy to come back to that on a later group of amendments.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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But it is material to what the Minister has just said.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I will see if I can come back to it before we finish. I was trying to give the examples that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, had asked for. There was West Dunbartonshire Council and Stirling Council, and in 2021 Lancaster City Council passed a motion in support of the wider BDS movement.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I come back to the first point that the Minister made. It is really important that we are clear about this, because one concern we have mentioned—I am not going to make a Second Reading speech—is the impact that this Bill has on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy. If there is a discussion about goods from and investments in the Occupied Territories, she needs to explain why she has evidenced that and how it is supported by the FCDO’s own advice and the Government’s support for United Nations resolutions on that subject.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I can certainly provide more detail of the boycotts, if that is helpful.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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No, that is not what I am asking. The first example that the Minister gave was in relation to the Occupied Territories. I really think it is important that we understand why she has referenced that.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I was giving a list and I will certainly come back on that question. We have a group relating to the Occupied Territories later on, when we can go into this in more detail. If the noble Lord can give me a bit of slack, I will see if I can get fuller information and come back to that at the end.

I was trying to answer the question on evidence. If I may, I should also like to cite, from September 2023, Islington Council passing a motion in opposition to this Bill, expressing its support for BDS campaigns—which everybody has said that they are very unhappy about—and resolving to:

“Continue to ensure that our own ethical procurement strategy doesn’t include procuring goods and services produced by oppressive regimes”.


I have not covered all the BDS activity in public bodies, but I hope that this demonstrates to the noble Lord that there is a considerable evidence base.

Separately, I note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about student unions and the provision of kosher foods in universities. We are going to discuss that point. The noble Lord has tabled some interesting amendments on it in group 3.

20:30
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My point was not in relation to the amendment; it was in relation to the fact that a significant number of people in the Jewish community have said to me that they anticipate one of the key benefits of this Bill being that student unions will not be able to debate and pass BDS resolutions. My understanding of how the Bill is written and how it has been framed is that what the University of Essex student union has done, whereby it deemed its policy to be an educational tool rather than a procurement decision, explicitly would not be covered by the Bill. That is important, because the expectation is coming from multiple sources within the Jewish community that that is what would happen. Can the Minister clarify whether I am wrong on this, because my reading of the Bill suggests that I am right that—whether one calls it a good thing or a loophole—it would not be covered by the Bill?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The noble Lord is right—student unions are not covered, and I think that I made that clear at Second Reading. It is private activity. Clearly, what matters is the influence on public bodies, which is what we are discussing today.

To come back on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, obviously the Government recognise the risks associated with economic and financial activities in those settlements. We do not support boycotts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such boycotts are inherently divisive and could lead inadvertently to negative effects on Palestinians as well as undermining the aim of this Bill, which is to ensure that the UK speaks with one voice internationally. That does not change existing government guidance on doing business in those territories. The Government do not recognise the settlements as part of Israel, as the noble Lord knows, and we have already moved to ban those responsible for violence in the West Bank from the UK—there have been some recent sanctions.

I have tried to answer the probing amendments. I hope that this provides noble Lords with clarification and a rationale for the scope of Clause 1, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I am slightly better informed. We have many difficulties with this Bill. I must say that it would be much easier if it were simply a Bill about boycott of Israel and mainly about sanctions. It would be narrower, and we would know what we were talking about. But it is a Bill that is supposed to apply to every single foreign state in the world except for Ireland, which raises very large questions.

I disapprove strongly of the Rwandan Government’s support for M23 in the Congo civil war, and I disapprove very strongly of Myanmar’s behaviour towards the Rohingya, et cetera. Clause 1 is entitled “Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited”, which is itself a very uneasy label and not the sort of thing that ought to appear in legislation. I believed that I lived in a liberal democracy in which government’s reach was limited and free speech, as Conservative Peers are always telling us, is entrenched, and one is allowed to dissent. This appears to be extending the reach of government.

I appreciate that this is a DLUHC Bill that is aimed primarily at local authorities, although it is extended to include universities—and whether it includes student unions we will investigate further. As it happens, I had the current president of the Cambridge Students’ Union here last Wednesday, and I showed him a copy of the Bill—and he was convinced that it would apply to student unions; it is quite clear that some people would like it to do so.

There is a great deal more that we need to find out about all this. The closing down of public debate that the Bill implies is something that worries all of us a great deal. I am happy to withdraw my amendment for a moment, but we shall return to all these questions extensively as we move from one imprecise clause to another.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2
Tabled by
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, after “was” insert “materially”
Member's explanatory statement
The inclusion of the word “materially” would raise the threshold that would need to be met before a decision was deemed to be in breach of this prohibition.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My amendment was of a probing nature. I am grateful to the Minister for giving more detail. As we go forward with the Bill, I shall be particularly interested to see how “materially”—the word that I tried to add—is looked at in terms of local authority pension funds. That worries me, because they make their investment decisions. There needs to be a material point, otherwise those investment decisions can be upset very easily by the Bill.

Amendment 2 not moved.
Amendment 3
Tabled by
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out “political or moral disapproval of”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, along with two other amendments in my name, seeks to focus the prohibition in Section 1 on territorial considerations in connection with foreign state conduct, rather than political or moral approval of foreign state conduct, as this is a more proportionate way of achieving the policy objective.
Lord Verdirame Portrait Lord Verdirame (Non-Afl)
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I too shall not move my amendment, but I reiterate the point that it would be quite helpful if the Government gave some thought to that language that makes so many of us across the political spectrum, given the level of support for Bill, uncomfortable. Do we really need political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct as a central concept in Clause 1? I would be grateful if further thought could be given to that question.

Amendment 3 not moved.
Amendments 4 to 6 not moved.
Amendment 7
Moved by
7: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 20 to 22
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to seek clarity on when an individual is considered to be the decision maker for the purposes of this bill.
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, it might be helpful to explain that most, if not all, the amendments we have tabled reflect the fact that we find this quite a difficult Bill to amend in a way that would make it work because, as many noble Lords have already said, it is very wide-ranging and quite vague in many of its terms. Our amendments are mostly intended to elicit not a response from the Minister to the amendments as such, but an explanation of the Bill’s intention, so that we are clear, or as clear as we can be, about exactly how the Bill is intended to be interpreted. This group of amendments is more about who the Government wish to catch with the measures in the Bill, and how it will work. Through these amendments, we want to tease out how the Government will decide who will be subject to enforcement action.

Amendment 7 would remove lines 20 to 22 in Clause 1:

“and those references to the decision-maker include, in a case where the decision-maker is not an individual”—

I assume that that means a local authority, a university or some other public body—

“the individuals who in fact make the decision for the decision-maker”.

I am not sure whether the Government want, in Clause 1, to include members of a governing body or councillors serving on a particular committee—we will come on later to definitions of public bodies. Often, people serve in these capacities as volunteers or as inexpert lay members. Are the Government really trying to say that they want those individuals to be held to account in a way that, in other parts of the Bill, they seem to be suggesting the body itself is to be affected? We need to be clear in our own minds which it is.

We would like to understand in what circumstances individuals will be given notices and then fines. I know we will come on to this later, but we do not know the extent of these fines. Will the fines be applied differently to individuals, compared to a council or a university? Pragmatically, we would expect them to be, but how will they be treated differently if they are to be subject to enforcement action? How will the enforcement agency decide? Is there to be discretion as to whether it is holding an individual responsible as the decision-maker, or is the organisation the decision-maker? How will it assess that? Will it look at the individual behaviour of particularly influential senior managers, members of staff or elected representatives? Would the chancellor of a university, for example, be held to account, or the wider organisation; and how will that judgment be made? The Explanatory Notes do not help us with this question in relation to Clause 1. That is why we have also tabled Amendment 55, which asks the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the circumstances in which an individual is the decision-maker under the Bill, and the circumstances in which they are not.

I am not a lawyer, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, would like to help us out here. When does this corporate liability, if I can put it that way, become an individual liability? The LGA has helpfully given examples of this question arising. I do not know whether noble Lords have had a chance to look at the pre-legislative scrutiny that took place in the Commons. The LGA was very clear about lots of things in its oral evidence, including that some councillors who serve on pensions committees are not particularly expert in managing these funds, but they are very well supported and advised by their officers, and they take their duties very seriously. Even where, say, a newly elected councillor arrives with some grand intention or attempts to argue for some kind of divestment decision, actually, their fiduciary duties, it is pointed out to them, override such concerns, and that does tend to become the view of the committee.

The LGA, because of its experience of how these things work in practice, said in its evidence that any enforcement action should be directed towards the administering authority and not the individual councillors. Can the Minister explain how an enforcement authority will decide whether individual or corporate responsibility applies for a particular decision? The LGA talks about this in relation to judicial review as well, which we will come on to later. The LGA feels that the subject of the judicial review should not be the decision-making authority but rather the enforcement authority, so that it is its decision that is challenged. If it decides not to issue a notice, that can be challenged, but the risk does not reside with the individual councillors.

20:45
It is interesting that in relation to Clause 4, which I know we are all very worried about as it concerns the prohibition of statements in support of boycotts, the Explanatory Notes are quite clear, although we will want to tease this out; it helps reinforce the lack of clarity in Clause 1. The Explanatory Notes say on Clause 4: