Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office
Moved by
17: Clause 2, page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) This Act and the Illegal Migration Act 2023 will have effect in relation to removals to Rwanda notwithstanding—(a) any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts,(b) the Human Rights Act 1998,(c) EU derived law and case law retained under sections 2 to 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018,(d) any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law), and(e) international law, including any interpretation of international law by the court or tribunal.(6) Nothing identified in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (5) may prevent or delay the removal to Rwanda of an individual under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023, or affect the interpretation or application of any provision of this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023, including the actions or policies of public authorities, in relation to the removal of a person to Rwanda. (7) To the extent that any provision or requirement included in paragraphs (a) to (e) of subsection (5) has been given effect to in legislation (including the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004), that legislation does not apply in relation to provision made by or by virtue of this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to the removal of an individual to Rwanda, and shall not prevent or delay the removal to Rwanda of an individual under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023.(8) A person or body to which subsection (9) applies may not have regard to international law, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (11).(9) This subsection applies to —(a) the Secretary of State or an immigration officer when exercising any function related to removing, or considering for removal a person to Rwanda under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023;(b) a court or tribunal when considering any application or appeal which relates to a decision or purported decision to remove, or to consider the removal of a person to Rwanda under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023.(10) No inference is to be drawn from this section as to whether or not a person or body mentioned in subsection (9) would otherwise have been required to have regard to international law.(11) The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 is amended as follows. (12) In section 2, at end insert “except in relation to the removal of a person to Rwanda under the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023”.”
Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support the aims of the Bill and I hope that it—and they—will succeed, that it will not be challenged and that there will be no further obstacles put in the way of removing people who come to this country illegally and by these dangerous routes.

My Amendment 17 would leave out Clause 2(5) and substitute the text on the Marshalled List. The aim is to tighten the Bill on what may

“prevent or delay the removal to Rwanda of an individual”

under any of the Immigration Acts, the Human Rights Act 1998,

“EU derived law and case law … under sections 2 to 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”


“any … provision … of domestic law (including … common law), and … international law”

relevant to the aim, so as to limit legal challenges to the Bill. I do not share the views of those who say that the Bill contravenes the rule of law. Their view rests on assumptions about the role of international law, its place within our own system, the creative approach of the Strasbourg court in applying the convention and the tendency now to accord something of a primacy to courts over Parliament.

These assumptions are contested within the legal profession itself. I will refer to one KC, Anthony Speaight, whose paper was published at the weekend by Politeia, of which I am research director. I therefore declare a special interest in the matter. Speaight explains the comparative novelty of the view, which he dates from Lord Bingham’s 2010 book, that the rule of law requires adherence to international law.

I am not a lawyer. I approach the question as a historian of British political and constitutional history. It is a history, by and large—and certainly in the era since the franchise was extended in the 19th century—of the interplay between Executive and Parliament, with the Government accountable through Parliament to the will of the people, even before the extension of the franchise. At the moment, both the Government and Parliament are intent on being accountable on the matter of curbing illegal immigration. But they are prevented by laws and the judiciary that operates them or, as in the case of the Strasbourg court, interprets them in a manner that takes from and does not protect their liberty, on which good law is based—the freely expressed will of the people who are governed.

On immigration, legal and illegal, the people have spoken loud and clear. They want Britain’s borders controlled and the flow of immigration curbed. Parliament has passed the laws to bring such control, but each Bill it brings forward meets a challenge in the courts. Is removal to Rwanda to be stopped not by a recalcitrant authoritarian monarch or an oligarchic, aristocratic, landowning Parliament, as in the past, but by a judiciary acting—I do not doubt in good faith—to give effect to a cocktail of legislation binding this country from an era whose laws are not our own and from times that are not our own?

There are practical limits to what a good Government can achieve. It is recognised, perhaps more clearly by voters than by rulers, that uncontrolled immigration facilitated by the obstacles now put by the courts, often—as in the case of illegal immigration through asylum claims—has consequences for the economy in terms of the budgetary costs. It puts demands that cannot be satisfied on Britain’s domestic arrangements—not just for processing claims but on every manner of the support that the UK’s people have over the centuries shown to those who, for whatever reason, come to make their lives in this country.

If our constitution is to survive the onslaught of legal challenge, the will of Parliament, reflecting the mandate of the voters, must triumph and, with it, the stability, transparency and accountability it has brought to Britain and its people, rather than be challenged on account of international or our own laws.

This country is no outlier. Across the channel, the political systems of western European neighbours are buckling under the political immediacy of uncontrolled immigration, each seeking to exploit or avoid the system to which in law they are bound under EU law, convention law and the mass of internal legislation to which these have given rise. They also have to take account of Schengen.

Take the case of France. Its political system was practically frozen for two years, haggling over an immigration Bill that many see as promising too little, too late. The problems with which it grapples are immense. Constitutional arrangements and stability are under threat at different levels. Departments are pitted against national powers, as in the recent stand-off with some mayors, who refuse to accept and look after unaccompanied minors because they have no ability to do so. At government level, against the ruling of the Strasbourg court, it is voters against the traditional systems of the political parties, the republicans and the socialists.

In this country, we are free to make our own laws. Other noble Lords will speak to their amendments on the same theme. My amendment aims to tighten the Bill and to pre-empt further challenge. As the Minister mentioned earlier, a core principle and aim of the Bill is to prevent further challenge to the workings of ordered, representative and accountable democracy. It aims to promote the aims of the Bill to delay illegal and unsafe crossings and deter the horrid loss of life, such as the death of a little girl of seven in freezing waters in the channel on Sunday night. I therefore beg to move.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will also speak in favour of Amendment 17, tabled by my noble friend Lady Lawlor, to which I have added my name. As I said at Second Reading, I support the Bill. I am afraid that the Rwanda policy is a bit of a Heath Robinson arrangement. It shies away from some of the tough decisions needed to solve the problems. But I support the Bill because it is the plan we have, and we must hope it makes a difference.

It can certainly be improved. Most of the amendments discussed today would make it worse rather than better, and less effective rather than more effective. Amendment 17 is one of the few exceptions to that. It aims to provide a more clearly drawn Bill—one that can withstand challenges and fulfil its purpose more effectively, by making clear that no other legal provisions of any kind, whether in domestic or international law, can be used to frustrate the policy.

I do not want to repeat issues that have already been raised in Committee and discussed again at length today, but I will briefly explain why I support this amendment and then make one comment based on my involvement in recent years in the intersection between international and domestic law.

First, it is absolutely clear that this Parliament may legislate against international law, and indeed the Government may act in contravention of international law. As we have already heard, Clause 1(4) makes that clear and nobody is seeking to amend that. It is a long-standing, fundamental element of our constitution. It is not some sort of weird, UK-specific provision; there is good reason for the dualism in our system. First, otherwise Governments could act to create domestic law merely by signing an international treaty and thereby sidestep normal democratic processes. Secondly, it reflects the reality that international treaties are in practice very difficult to adapt to changing conditions because all the parties must agree to changes. It has been suggested by some noble Lords today and in previous debates that that is what should happen and that we should seek to renegotiate the international framework. The refugee convention, for example, has 149 state parties, including such well-known supporters of international law as China, Russia and Iran. Are we going to wait for them all to agree to amend this framework? We are clearly not, but if national Governments accept that they can deal with pressing national challenges only by renegotiating these treaties, they are in effect abandoning their duty to govern their own countries on matters of huge importance.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

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?

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I might add a few words to this debate on the Human Rights Act. I point out that this is the first time that I have spoken in this group. This amendment seeks to return the responsibility of interpreting the law to the courts and specifically underlines the unacceptability of a law on the statute book that is incompatible with domestic law, which of course includes the UK Human Rights Act. Unless and until the courts affirm that the Act conforms with the strictures of the Human Rights Act, it must not have any effect; to do otherwise would be to reject the rule of law, which is one of the pillars of the UK constitution.

--- Later in debate ---
As I say, the provisions in the Bill, while novel, are not without precedent. We are satisfied that the Bill can be implemented in line with the convention rights. I therefore ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I thank my noble friend the Minister; I am very grateful to him for his courteous and thoughtful reply on my amendment. I also thank all noble Lords who spoke in this debate. As others have commented, we have had a very refreshing debate, and it has been very spirited too. We all share a commitment to and a respect for the rule of law, but we differ over the interpretation we give to that, and the weight we give to the different parts of our constitutional powers: government, the judiciary and Parliament.

I especially thank my noble friend Lord Frost for reflecting on the continuing tension between laws made in this Parliament on the express wish of the people of this country, which command popular support, and laws made elsewhere, very often originating from different times to apply to different circumstances. I understand that my noble friend the Minister is keen to reject this amendment, but I hope he will reflect further on the aims of this measure: to prevent legal challenge to removing to Rwanda people who come to this country illegally, and to ensure that we operate a deterrence to stop the ghastly tragedies that we see too often in the channel. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.