Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “The” insert “first”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential to the amendment at Clause 1, page 1, line 5, in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti, to add the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence.
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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, after such a thorough Committee, which showed this House—if not the Government or their flagship policy—in the best light, I will be brief and urge others to do the same. This way, those seeking important votes will avoid self-harming delay and highlight any deliberate filibustering by others.

My amendments in this group, shared with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, would add the purpose of compliance with the international and domestic rule of law to deterrence in Clause 1. They require actual evidence of real implementation of the Rwanda treaty before that country is presumed safe, and only that this be presented by government to Parliament. That is all. I have revised my approach after the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, that initial decisions be in Parliament’s accountable hands, rather than those of others. While still finding the forced transportation of human cargo completely repugnant, I note my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s distinction between offshoring and offloading by ensuring that those granted asylum be returned to the UK under the treaty.

These are wholly reasonable amendments, but if the Government still cannot accept them, I will urge my noble friend Lord Coaker to test the opinion of the House on his single requirement, respecting the rule of law, which is surely completely incontrovertible for those, such as the Prime Minister, who now claim to be liberal patriots. That was two minutes. I beg to move.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by saying how much I regret the death of my noble friend Lord Cormack. He was a great friend of mine and a close colleague for more than 40 years in the House of Commons and here. He was also a very close Lincolnshire neighbour, and he rendered great service to the city and county. He was a very considerable parliamentarian, and I know that he intended to participate in these debates. He would have made a significant contribution. His is a very great loss.

I hope I will be forgiven if I remind your Lordships that, for the reasons I expressed at Second Reading and in Committee, I am a root and branch opponent of the Bill. In my view, many of its provisions are objectionable in principle. Moreover, I do not think it will achieve its intended policy objective: to deter illegal migration across the channel.

However, I recognise that the Government are determined to have this Bill, so our purpose at this stage should be to address some of its more objectionable characteristics. It is in this spirit that I address the amendments in this group and adopt the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I can and I will support any of the substantive amendments included in this group that are moved to a Division. However, I especially commend to your Lordships Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which I have signed.

One of the Bill’s great deficiencies is that it purports to describe Rwanda as presently a safe country when both the Supreme Court and this House have decided otherwise. The Government rely on the treaty as being sufficient evidence of present safety. In my view, that is clearly not a sustainable position. It is possible that Rwanda will become a safe country—that is, when the treaty is ratified, when its provisions have been implemented, when the infrastructure is in place and working, and if the country’s culture has changed. That may all happen in the future; it has not happened yet. On any view, it will require assessment.

Proposed new subsections (1B) and (1C) in the noble Baroness’s Amendment 3 are designed to provide a mechanism for such an assessment. The amendment provides that the initiative lies with the Secretary of State. That takes account of the observations my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne made at Second Reading, when he stressed the importance of proper democratic accountability. The amendment ensures just that. I commend Amendment 3 to the House. However, if others in this group are the subject of Divisions, I shall support them.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I did not succeed in my urging of brevity, but never mind. I am grateful to all noble Lords none the less, particularly for the very worthy tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and my noble friend Lady Henig. They were liberal patriots indeed.

I remind your Lordships’ House that the Prime Minister invoked the rule of law in his Downing Street address on Friday, but I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for reminding us that, in the post-war age, the international rule of law is part of that.

I will not be tempted down the rabbit hole of the slightly unorthodox and creative version of the rule of law presented by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, save to say that he and his noble and learned friend the Minister effectively gaslit the Supreme Court. But they should have compared notes first, because one accused the Supreme Court of trespassing on the province of the Executive, while the other, in his usual soft and seductive tones, said how much he respected our highest court. I guess one of them must be telling us the truth, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, who gave the best response to both of them: this is post-truth legislation indeed.

I am shocked if not surprised by the response of the Government and, for fear of some of the specious and nitpicking excuses around my slightly longer amendment, I urge my noble friend Lord Coaker to press his very short, very simple, and incontrovertible amendment requiring compliance with the rule of law. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I apologise to your Lordships for my mistakes earlier on, with standing up at the wrong time.

I have Amendment 19 in this group, with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. However, I commend all other amendments, in particular the simple and clear amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. While we suggested a rebuttable presumption, his formulation—that a finding of safety may be displaced by “credible evidence to the contrary”—is clearer and even more attractive. Therefore, I urge him, as he has indicated, to press his amendment to a vote.

In concluding, I merely flag, as a sort of advert for Wednesday, that it is very important that as many noble Lords as possible can be here early on Wednesday to support Amendment 33, which introduces a new Clause 4. That will be debated and pressed then, because without that amendment, which restores the general jurisdiction of the courts, other amendments, even these ones, could well be illusory. The purpose, as I say, is to restore the jurisdiction of courts and tribunals to decide what the facts are, based on the evidence before them, including to invoke this rebuttable presumption. That is what our courts are for, despite all the dancing we heard before about novel interpretations of the rule of law. Our courts are admired for that jurisdiction all over the world. That is what we mean by the rule of law.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has said, as well as, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti; I signed her Amendment 19. This House should try to insist that, if the facts change, a mechanism is provided to the courts to reassess the situation. Anything else is profoundly unjust. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, moves his amendment, I will support him.

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Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I will briefly support Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor. I will say a few words about the Northern Ireland perspective on this, because whether this will really apply to Northern Ireland has been discussed at various stages, as have the effects if it does not.

A number of things in the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper have already been exposed as not correct. I would have liked more specific language in proposed new subsection (5)(c) in the amendment and more specific mention of Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act when we talk about international law. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, is absolutely right: this will not go away and, sooner or later, we will have a legal challenge, probably first in Northern Ireland, on Section 7A and whether this applies.

Last week, we saw that the effect of the protocol framework is to give EU law supremacy in Northern Ireland, even to the point whereby the legacy Act that was passed—whether you agreed with it or not—could be struck down due to inconsistency with EU law applying because of the protocol. The Government and the Minister need to clarify because there is a lot of confusion and—I will put this gently—misleading information about how Article 2 works.

In a Written Answer to me on the Rwanda Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, claimed that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights did not apply to Northern Ireland via Article 2 of the protocol framework, and this is directly at variance with the High Court judgment in Angesom and the High Court in Northern Ireland disapplying 10 provisions of the legacy Act last week. The Government cannot keep making claims that are so obviously not true and then get almost angry when we point out things about how it is working legally.

This is another example of the degree to which control over part of the United Kingdom has been genuinely surrendered by this Government while they pretend that it is not happening. Let us not forget that the Windsor Framework is very specific: paragraph 46 of Safeguarding the Union says that

“the Windsor Framework applies only in respect of … trade”

and that Article 2 does not apply to immigration issues. I think we will find that this is not correct.

On the Rwanda Bill and the effect of Article 2 of the protocol framework, the proponents of the deal need to be clear. The Bill does not apply in the same way in Northern Ireland because Article 2 prevents it from doing so. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights continues in Northern Ireland, and we should be honest about that. The protocol framework provision trumps domestic law and the wishes of our sovereign Parliament. Noble Lords should be aware that, whatever your views on this Rwanda Bill, we will find that this will ultimately end in another legal challenge. Whether the Bill has gone through or not, this will delay its implementation. I support the amendment, even if it does not specifically mention the Windsor Framework.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 18, and Amendment 20 which I share with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. I support the starred Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German.

Amendments 20 and 21 both restore Human Rights Act protection in full for those subject to the Bill pending removal to Rwanda. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord German, does this in even clearer language by not referring internally to last year’s immigration Bill but clearly stating for the lay reader that Human Rights Act protection is restored.

However, Amendment 18 is a revision of the amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. It is a modest revision to address the concerns of some of his noble friends. He is not able to be here this evening. I begin with that one because it is so mild and in keeping with the thrust of the Bill, and it cannot be described as wrecking or disturbing the framework—even of a Bill I object to—in any way.

Noble Lords will know that, in Clause 3, most Human Rights Act protection is removed for these vulnerable people. The one thing that is left is the possibility of a declaration of incompatibility. Contrary, I fear, to some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and others, there is no possibility in our arrangements for the Supreme Court to strike down the Bill, were it to become an Act, because that is not the arrangement that we have in the elegant British constitutional compromise of the Human Rights Act and the balance it strikes between the rule of law, which is the bedrock of any democracy, and parliamentary sovereignty.

If an Act is declared incompatible, that declaration has merely moral and persuasive effect, and the Act continues in operation. That is why, with the greatest of respect to him, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, was optimistic to the point of being wrong about that. What the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, came up with last time was just the suggestion that, if there were to be a declaration of incompatibility made by a higher court in relation to this legislation, there should be accelerated consideration in Parliament. That is it. I am flabbergasted by the Government’s response, that they would not even have a look at that most modest amendment from their noble friend—a former Immigration Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate.

In the noble Lord’s absence, I have retabled the amendment, and it has been tweaked slightly to address some of the points made by his noble friends last time—and I really look forward to hearing what the objection is to that modest suggestion that he made, that, if is there is a declaration, Parliament should have an accelerated timetable, and Ministers should put their arguments to Parliament, not to a court, and Parliament should be given the opportunity to consider what to do next.

As for our amendments to restore Human Rights Act protection, that is another way of trying to restore the protection of the domestic courts. I say to the Government—and here the noble Lord, Lord Frost, has a point—that where they have left us with this Bill, if it passes unamended, is in a situation whereby the only court that will really be seized of these matters and have full jurisdiction over the safety of Rwanda and individual removals, from this country to that country, will be the European Court of Human Rights. Of course, interim measures will be ignorable by a Minister of State, but final orders of the European court will still be an international legal obligation, which is not removed by the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, is the one who is telling the truth about the logic of where this Government are heading—really, for walking out of the European Court of Human Rights and walking out of the Council of Europe. We can follow Russia and be the next one out. At least the noble Lord is honest about that position, whereas the Government are trying to have it both ways. They have defenestrated domestic courts and gaslit the Supreme Court, but the only court that will be left for redress in any real terms will be the Strasbourg court. Then the Prime Minister can say, “I told you what I said about foreign courts”, because foreign courts will be all that is left, if that is what we now say about international courts. Goodness me, what terrible politics.

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, has had enough of international law, really—that is where he is coming from—but how on earth are we going to address in a unilateral way the pressing challenges of the 21st century, facing not just the United Kingdom but the world today, whether it is climate change, war and peace or the challenge of the ungoverned continent that is the internet, AI or robotics? It is just nonsense.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, does not seem to like law, whether it is domestic or international, I hope that she never has need of it and that she is never subject to the kind of abuse of power that sometimes people are subject to, and they need the protection of the courts.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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I ask the noble Baroness to be clear about what I proposed and to what I was referring. I was referring to the laws of this country, made by the people of this country, with the support of the people of this country—good laws. Yes, they support international treaty law, when that is in the interests of this country, and other wider interests that arise, whether they are trade treaties or international agreements over other matters. It is wrong to suggest that I am not in favour of law; I am in favour of good law, but not politicised law, as it very often is, by the interpretations of the Strasbourg court of the convention.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her clarification. As I pointed out, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Frost, was nodding, the Strasbourg court is unaffected in its final jurisdiction by the Bill—it is our domestic courts that are defenestrated by this government policy.

I look to the noble Baroness’s amendment, which abrogates domestic laws. It refers to

“any provision made by … the Immigration Acts … the Human Rights Act”

and other domestic statute, as well as

“any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law)”—

in case Magna Carta still got a shout-out there—and, of course, international law. The noble Baroness has been pretty comprehensive in her approach to law in the amendment, whether domestic or international.

Of course, the noble Baroness says that it is only bad law that she does not like—but of course we all have our own views about good and bad law. Some of us believe that there should be referees in a democracy that is built on the rule of law, and the rule of law was invoked by the Prime Minister, even in his slightly odd Downing Street declaration on Friday.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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May I clarify that my amendment is designed to promote the aims of the Bill to remove people who come to this country illegally to Rwanda and stop obstructions on that matter?

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I turn to Amendment 47, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and Amendment 18, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. These amendments are designed to expand the current process under Section 4 of the Human Rights Act, and to place pressure on the Government to present legislative proposals to Parliament. In doing so, they seek to oblige the Government to respond to declarations of incompatibility in a certain way. That is expressly—
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I think a closer reading of Amendment 18 will demonstrate that it is not ensuring that the Government respond in a certain way. They can respond favourably or negatively to the declaration; they just need to come to Parliament and have the debate.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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In her address today and I think at an earlier stage, the noble Baroness described the functioning of declarations of incompatibility in Section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 as an elegant compromise. I freely agree that it is an elegant constitutional compromise, which ultimately reflects parliamentary sovereignty, which lies at the very heart of our processes and constitution.

As detailed in Committee, Section 4 of the Human Rights Act in relation to the system of declarations of incompatibility is designed to strike an appropriate compromise between scrutiny of human rights and parliamentary sovereignty. Section 4 does not oblige the Government to take any specific action as a result of a declaration of incompatibility, and Section 4(6) expressly does not allow a judicial ruling to prevent the operation and enforcement of legislation passed by Parliament.

The operation of the section is to afford the Government the opportunity to reflect on matters, to listen to concerns brought by the courts and to act upon them as they see fit. I do not consider it necessary to adopt the amendment which the noble Baroness has tabled and argued for. I do so purely on the basis that the history of the application of this section, in my view, respectfully, shows it to be working.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, tabled Amendment 47, seeking to undermine Section 4(6) of the Act by providing that a declaration of incompatibility results automatically in the legislation ceasing to have effect. It seeks to give such declarations a binding character, and, as I said a moment ago in relation to the noble Baroness’s point, that is contrary to what those provisions were designed to be and removes discretion or oversight as is currently afforded to the Government and Parliament as to what action would be most appropriate to take in the circumstances.

It has been the accepted practice since the introduction of the Human Rights Act for the Government to address such declarations either through primary legislation or by way of a remedial order. Again, given how well the declaration of incompatibility procedure is working and has worked in the past, I respectfully submit that there is no reason for us to innovate on that basis. These amendments are therefore not only unnecessary but inappropriate in their attempt to legislate for parliamentary procedure in this manner. The declaration of incompatibility procedure works well to strike the right balance, and there is no reason to upset it.

I was addressed on the subject of the remarks made by the Lord Chancellor to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As your Lordships have said—it was predicted that I would refer to this again, and I will—the Lord Chancellor recently set out in his letter to the Joint Committee that while

“it is a fundamental tenet of modern human rights that they are universal and indivisible … it is legitimate to treat people differently in different circumstances”.

For example,

“a citizen may legitimately be treated differently, and have different legal rights from, a non-national”,

recognising that there is a difference between a citizen and a non-national. The convention,

“as interpreted by the case law of the ECtHR … recognises this principle”

in full.

“There is nothing in the … Bill that deprives any person of any of their human rights: in accordance with Article 1 of the ECHR, we shall continue to secure to everyone within our jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention. What we can legitimately do, and what we are doing, is to draw legal distinctions between those with a legitimate right to be in this country, and those who have come to this country illegally”.