Baroness Chakrabarti debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Asylum Seekers: Rwanda

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 21st March 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the reasons for their new policy of paying failed asylum seekers to travel to Rwanda; how this policy will deliver (1) justice, and (2) deterrence; and how they expect it will work alongside their policy of seeking to forcibly transport illegal migrants to that country.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, voluntary relocations to Rwanda support efforts to remove individuals with no right to be here. This will be offered to failed asylum seekers, those without leave to remain and those who have put in a claim to the UK’s asylum system that was unsuccessful. Once the Bill and the treaty are in place, we will look to enforce the removal of individuals entering illegally, so that their asylum claims can be processed in Rwanda.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, I am grateful to the Minister, particularly this morning. Can he help me a little with the following logic? As I understand the Government’s own case, in pursuit of deterrence some genuine refugees who have come by irregular routes will be forcibly transported to Rwanda, while failed asylum seekers, including some who have made fraudulent claims, will be given the £3,000 golden goodbye.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, yes. The fact is that people who have paid £5,000 to £10,000 to a murderous criminal gang to get to the UK—let us not forget that they have been sold a lie and will not be able to stay here—are unlikely to be attracted by an offer of £3,000. I do not believe that it will have any effect on the deterrence principle.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
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?

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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.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
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”.

Protest Measures

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I take my noble friend’s point, though I must admit that I did not realise that he had quite such a colourful past. I am afraid that, on this, the Government disagree, and think that this is a proportionate measure.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, not for the first time in the last 24 hours, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Why was this announcement made by vague press release on a Wednesday evening, rather than in the House of Commons? While I am grateful to the Minister, as always, for that lengthy answer, I do not quite understand the gaps in the present law. We have all these stop and search powers, for example, including specific and blanket powers in relation to protest. Why do we need additional face covering removal powers—are they not a form of stop and search? I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, on the huge relevance of facial recognition technology to why people are concerned about uncovering their faces. At the moment, it is for the police, totally unregulated by statute, to decide who goes on the watchlist, what kind of technology is used, and the trigger for stop and search on the basis of being on this watchlist. The noble Baroness is quite right: if we are going down this path in relation to face coverings, we should be regulating the use of facial recognition technology as well.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I do not entirely disagree with the noble Baroness, but I do not think this is the particular forum for that discussion. It is clearly a philosophical discussion, as much as a legal and operational one, that is required around the appropriate extent of facial recognition technology. I am sure that is a debate we will return to. These particular powers are very specific and can happen only under certain circumstances, so in this context they are proportionate.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege for this daughter of migrants to share your Lordships’ House, but today in particular it is a huge responsibility.

People were once imprisoned for being in debt and transported across oceans as punishment for the smallest crimes of hunger and desperation. I believe that future generations will come to look at this Government’s flagship policy with an incredulity similar to our feelings about those past inhumanities. But that is just my opinion.

It is also just my opinion that this Bill is repugnant to each tradition represented in your Lordships’ House. It is discriminatory, undermining the dignity of our fellow human beings, which is what asylum seekers and refugees are. It is illiberal and unconservative in its attack on a hard-won international rules-based order, the creation of which a previous generation of British statesmen was so proud. It is unchristian—indeed, contrary to the better instincts of all the great world faiths in its cruelty and dehumanisation. People are not sacks of carrots or widgets to be shunted around the globe for “processing”. To offshore one’s humanitarian responsibilities is as immoral as it is to offshore personal wealth as a means of evading public duty. But, as I say, that is just my view.

However, that the Republic of Rwanda is not currently or yet a safe place for those seeking asylum is not mere opinion; it is, as we have heard, fact. Furthermore, these are the facts found by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: not an international or “foreign” court, as the Prime Minister—another child of migrants—likes to caricature referees whenever he concedes a penalty or misses a goal, but the highest court in a land that has contributed so much to the development of the rule of law across the world. Your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee has ably reported on the factual conditions that must be met before the Rwanda treaty—the trigger for the commencement of this proposed Bill—can even begin to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Wisdom counsels changing our minds when the facts change, not doctoring the facts when our minds are made up. In attempting to change facts with a draftsman’s pen while simultaneously ousting the jurisdiction of our courts, the Bill is repugnant to the rule of law in general and the separation of powers in particular. In purporting to take ministerial powers to ignore interim rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, a permanent member of the Security Council will lose any moral authority to lecture other states on their international rule of law obligations in dangerous times.

It is hard to justify unelected legislators in a democracy. Noble Lords no doubt have their own arguments to offer their children and grandchildren, such as the expertise, experience and wisdom of a scrutinising and revising Chamber. For me, the most important argument, in an unwritten constitution that lacks entrenched protections even for the independent courts themselves, is that independent parliamentarians will stand with judges against executive abuse, because before democracy—before even our modem notion of rights and freedoms—the bedrock of any civilised society is the rule of law.

Asylum: UK-Rwanda Agreement

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 22nd January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow the two noble Lords, and in particular my noble and learned friend. I congratulate not just him on his remarks but the whole International Agreements Committee, a cross-party committee, on, among other things, the succinctness and clarity of this report, which I hope we will all take as a model for the vital work that the committees of your Lordships’ House do. That clarity and succinctness are so important to expressing the message, and I think we have heard it delivered with enormous precision. I shall try, therefore, not to be repetitive. There are many noble Lords to follow in this debate.

I have a few additional comments, if I may, on the treaty. It is light on numbers. The actual number of asylum seekers who would be sent—transported, even—to Rwanda under this scheme is not there. These numbers may exist in some private communications between the two states, but they are not in the treaty. What is in the treaty is the suggestion that it would be for the Republic of Rwanda to make a case-by-case judgment on accepting each individual asylum seeker. That is very interesting because, among other things, it would mean that the Republic of Rwanda would get to do a case-by-case assessment that it is now impossible to do through any Minister, official or court here in the UK. I find that strange.

I will also comment on the question of whoever comes back under this treaty: whoever comes back to the United Kingdom from Rwanda. There is a lack of clarity here, but I understand that Ministers in the other place commented that those who commit crime having been sent to Rwanda would be sent back to the United Kingdom—which again smacks of no little irony, because it would mean that criminals could come back to the United Kingdom but not recognised convention refugees under the scheme. That is a slightly odd view of deterrence, in my view, which we repeatedly hear is the Government’s ambition here. What kind of deterrence is that? Some might even suggest that there is the potential perverse incentive to commit crime if you want to end up in the United Kingdom.

I am of course conscious of the Prime Minister’s recent remarks in the special press conference that he held last week for the benefit of your Lordships. We are always available for anyone who wants to come and have a chat but, if they want to do it by press conference, so much the better. Much was said about “the will of the people”, a phrase that has gained so much currency in the polarised and difficult recent years in our country. A lot is said about the will of the people as if it is something that a charismatic—or less charismatic—leader has a direct telephone line to. Perhaps it is not even a telephone any more; perhaps it is telepathic. I suggest that, in a constitutional democracy, as we have heard outlined, instead of there being this sort of telepathic connection between any individual leader and the will of the people, it is Parliament that reflects the will of the people to the best of its ability and represents people in this country while championing the rule of law.

Of course, as we have heard from my noble and learned friend, in the safety of Rwanda Bill, it is suggested that Parliament is now of the view that Rwanda is safe. So everything hinges on Parliament, with the courts having been ousted. It seems to me that, if Parliament is to step up to that awesome responsibility—it is even more awesome than usual—with the courts having been ousted from their usual fact-finding role in relation to the anxious scrutiny of individual refugees’ cases and fundamental rights, it had better be pretty sure that Rwanda is safe. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, questioned the concept of safety—that is, what is and what is not a safe country—but I remind him that even the Government have used this formulation because Clause 1 clearly states that the Bill

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

Difficult or otherwise, that concept is a recognised concept of international law.

This is the case not just in relation to the refugee convention. I remind noble Lords that many of us and many international jurists now believe that non-refoulement is so vital to the international rules-based order that it has become a principle of customary international law, binding even countries that do not recognise the convention. That is how important these concepts of safety and non-refoulement are. Like it or not, whether or not it is difficult to debate, safety is in the Bill and it is for Parliament to be very sure before deeming these new facts.

That brings me to another part of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric. We had the sabre-rattling about the unelected House of Lords having to do the right thing but another part of his address was less strident, if I can put it like that. He said that

“we have addressed the Supreme Court’s concerns”.

That was the softer side—the good cop next to the bad cop. If Parliament is to address the Supreme Court’s concerns, my noble and learned friend and his committee must be listened to because, with all due respect to our Commonwealth partner in the Republic of Rwanda, everything that they say is triggered not by what we say or deem with the flick of a pen but by the legitimate and totally noble aspiration that Rwanda will become safer—and even Britain too; perhaps we will all become safer. It is that greater safety in future that our own United Kingdom Supreme Court—not a foreign court, let alone an international one—called for and which my noble and learned friend and his committee are suggesting we should test. His comments on the contradiction between current safety and the Home Office’s evidence to his committee were perhaps the most devastating part of his argument.

Before we hear all the lectures about unelected second Houses, et cetera, I think that your Lordships have a part to play on matters of the rule of law—especially in a country with an unwritten constitution and a Human Rights Act or modern Bill of Rights that is not entrenched and where, even the highest court in the land, our Supreme Court, does not have the strike-down powers that other democracies reserve for their constitutional or highest courts. In such a system, noble Lords are entitled to be a little more muscular than usual on matters such as this that were not in anyone’s manifesto; that risk being contrary to the domestic rule of law, including by ousting the jurisdiction of the courts or changing the reality that was found by the Supreme Court on 15 November; that risk breaching international law, as found not by a foreign or even international court but by the highest court in our land; and that risk breaching human rights that were baked in to the hard-won and precious Good Friday agreement—all this in what may be the last days of the Government, when the temptations to blow dog whistles and to be destructive to consensus and the rule of law are all too great.

For those reasons, I hope that your Lordships approve my noble and learned friend’s Motions.

Immigration Detention: Brook House Inquiry

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the Government’s view is that a time limit on immigration detention would significantly impair our ability to remove those who have breached our immigration laws and refused to leave the UK voluntarily. It is likely to encourage and reward abuse, allowing those who wish to guarantee their release to frustrate the removal process until the time limit is reached. It would encourage late and opportunistic claims to be made simply to push a person over the time limit, regardless of the circumstances of their case. That would undermine our ability to maintain effective immigration control and would potentially place the public at higher risk, in particular through the release of foreign national offenders into the community.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister talks about abuse, but the abuse found in the Brook House inquiry report was by G4S staff, with terrible abuse perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable people. We believe in custody time limits in this society. Even suspected terrorists can be held for no more than 14 days. Why should these desperate people be held without limit of time?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the supplier has changed; as of 2020, Serco now looks after this particular situation. I would also say that the vast majority of people are in fact detained for less than 28 days: 65% are detained for 28 days or less and 23% are detained for seven days or less.

Refugees: Homelessness

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(4 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I will take that up with DWP colleagues, as it sounds very much like it is for their department. I cannot answer the question.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, in the spirit of Christmas, will the Minister reflect on his answer to the right reverend Prelate that 28 days is “more than enough” for a recognised refugee about to be evicted, whose knowledge of English may be minimal, who may have children and who might have suffered trauma back home?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I think so, because the refugee will have been processed under a legacy asylum case and will therefore have been in that accommodation for a very long time—over a year. They would have had ample time to learn English and embed themselves to some extent into British society. An extra month is perfectly generous.

Asylum Seekers: Deportation from France

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have seen those reports, and I certainly have seen nothing of the sort from any civil servants.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent decision of the Supreme Court is a decision of a domestic court, not a foreign one? Does he also agree that its rationale was predominantly based on not the European convention but the refugee convention and various domestic statutes?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I agree with both those comments.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government how they propose to prioritise reducing violence against women and girls both domestically and internationally.

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 are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls at home and abroad. We passed our landmark Domestic Abuse Act and are delivering the Tackling Violence against Women & Girls strategy and the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan to help keep women and girls safe. Internationally, we are making progress through our flagship “What works to prevent violence” programme and pioneering work to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister. He will recognise that this Question was tabled in recognition of White Ribbon Day, which was just over a week ago. What additional resources have the Government deployed since last year’s White Ribbon Day to give greater support to victims of sexualised violence in our domestic criminal justice and asylum systems? What support have they given to international mechanisms charged with investigating and prosecuting sexualised violence as a weapon of war?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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On noble Baroness’s second question, the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative is a key focus for the UK. We are a global leader on this. We have committed £60 million since the launch of this programme in 2012. In November 2022, the UK hosted an international PSVI conference with over 1,000 attendees. A political declaration came out of that, which was endorsed by 53 countries. It sends a clear message that these types of crimes must end and sets out steps on how to achieve that. We have also launched the PSVI strategy, which sets out how the UK will work to drive global action to prevent and respond to CRSV—conflict-related sexual violence—and that includes sanctions. I refer noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Ahmad’s comments on that in June. Regarding the domestic picture, significant amounts of money and resource have been committed. I am sure I will be answering more questions on that shortly.