All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Viscount Hailsham

Mon 4th Mar 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage: Minutes of Proceedings

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Viscount Hailsham
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.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 10 and 43 in this group. I remain concerned about the potential constitutional fallout from this Bill, despite what my noble friend Lord Hannay has referred to as a “sterile” issue. There must be a reference to its remarkable impact on vital constitutional elements, such as the rule of law, the separation of powers and parliamentary sovereignty. Although these are probing amendments, such is the gravity of these possible consequences that they surely deserve to be noted, if not in the Bill then at least in the record of its passage.

The Supreme Court has stated unequivocally in a former judgment:

“The courts will treat with particular suspicion … any attempt to subvert the rule of law by removing governmental action affecting the rights of the individual from all judicial scrutiny”.

In this Bill, the Government are doing just this by writing into law a demonstrably false statement—that Rwanda is a safe country to receive asylum seekers—thereby forcing all courts to treat Rwanda as a safe country despite clear findings of fact.

It is clear that the Bill subverts the rule of law, the key elements of which are abiding by international law, equality before the law, respect for fundamental human rights and guaranteeing access to the courts. These rights are negated by this Bill, and as such it is a legal fiction. The longer-term impacts might be considerable—for example, could the Supreme Court in future rule, with any authority, a Prorogation unlawful?

The Bill in its present form enjoins all relevant courts and officials to deem Rwanda a safe country and specifically disallows any rational challenge by the courts. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, expressed the hope that there will be a challenge, thereby enabling the Supreme Court to strike the Bill down as unconstitutional. Should this happen, a review of the Bill’s impact on the rule of law in the UK would prove invaluable evidence.