29 Viscount Hailsham debates involving the Scotland Office

Mon 12th Feb 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one
Wed 31st Jan 2024
Tue 25th Oct 2022
Tue 11th Oct 2022
Wed 27th Apr 2022
Judicial Review and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 24th Feb 2020
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 24th Feb 2020
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage & Report stage
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, on Monday overwhelming majorities of your Lordships voted to amend this Bill by adding compliance with the law to the purpose of deterrence in Clause 1, by requiring a statement from the treaty monitoring committee, before and for as long as Rwanda may be presumed safe, and by allowing such presumption to be displaced by credible evidence to the contrary. It is the last of these that provided the most legal, as opposed to political, protection. Yet even that would become illusory if the dangerous interference with His Majesty’s judges’ jurisdiction in the current Clause 4 passes unamended, so Amendment 33 would restore to decision-makers, and crucially our courts, the ability to consider the safety of Rwanda for people and groups to which they belong.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to today’s thunderer, expressing the personal reflections of the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on her recent visit to Kigali. Decision-makers and courts would once more be able to consider any real risk of refoulement contrary to international law. Vitally, this amendment also restores our age-old common-law tradition of His Majesty’s courts having discretion to grant interim relief while a case is considered—to protect a claimant, in this case, from removal in the meantime. We have had rule-of-law appetisers; this is now the main course, but it must be fast food to prevent filibuster and to allow more votes. That was two minutes; I beg to move.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, perhaps within two minutes I will complete my observations to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. To anticipate what my noble friend the Minister is going to say, I acknowledge that there is force in his prospective argument, which I suspect will be that if we allow these amendments we facilitate a number of unmeritorious applications to the courts, and that will stand in the way of the Bill being effective. There is force in that argument, but I put before your Lordships three considerations that point the other way.

First, the judiciary can be more robust in the way it deals with unmeritorious applications. Furthermore, although I am not an expert in this field at all—I have not practised in immigration law for a long time—a more effective filter could be put in place to weed out the unmeritorious. That is the first point. The second is really the point of principle: I regard it as very dangerous indeed to exclude individuals who happen to be within the jurisdiction from having recourse to the courts for protection. I regard that as a very dangerous proposition, and we should accede to it with the greatest caution. That takes me to my last point, which is essentially a pragmatic one. Those of your Lordships who share my doubts, especially on the matter of principle, should ask themselves whether the Bill is likely to achieve its policy objective. If it is not, we will be doing things that are very bad in principle in support of a policy that will achieve nothing.

My own judgment—I concede that it is a matter of judgment—is that individuals will not be deterred from crossing the channel in small boats by the slight prospect of being relocated to Rwanda. If that is right, we will be doing something that is in principle profoundly wrong in support of a policy that is going nowhere. It is for that combination of reasons that I shall support the noble Baroness. I have spoken for three minutes.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister one question in the context of the provisions in Clause 4. Is it or is it not the Government’s policy that they will look at each individual case, regardless of any other evidence, even if it is only to decide that there are no merits in that particular person’s case?

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, there is always an alpha and an omega, and here we are. Earlier, the Minister said that he does not apologise for insisting on accountability—parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary accountability for the crucial decisions that are being discussed here. He said, “We will not ratify until we are satisfied that various provisions of the Rwanda treaty have been fully implemented”. Who is “I” and who is “we”? I think the Government’s argument throughout the Bill’s deliberations has been about parliamentary sovereignty, which is a fair point, but if it is parliamentary sovereignty and not executive domination, my Amendment 45, supported by 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, really challenges the Government to say whether they believe in parliamentary sovereignty, as opposed to executive domination. This amendment is about commencement. It would give Parliament, rather than just the Executive, a role. As I see the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his place, I ask him to explain.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I will make just a one-minute contribution to this debate on Amendment 45. This is the rolling sunset to which I have previously referred. It is a natural phenomenon not previously identified by meteorologists, but the purpose is, as the noble Baroness has said, to ensure that the Secretary of State is accountable. He or she has to come to Parliament to trigger the commencement, and the rolling sunset provides for assessment every two years, in effect. That seems to me highly desirable, and in that spirit of desirability I support this amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very interested in this amendment. It gets rid of the current commencement provision, Clause 9(1), that says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.


Article 24 of the agreement says:

“This Agreement shall enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by the Parties”—


that is, the parties to the agreement—

“that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed”.

There is a statement that the only thing needed in order for the Bill to come into force is the bringing forward of this new legislation, the Bill we are debating now. I assume, on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said when he visited the Rwandan Parliament, that the Rwandan Government have now done all that is necessary to ratify the agreement.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Viscount Hailsham Excerpts
For example, if we end up with an amendment, yet to be agreed, whereby the Secretary of State is to lay some kind of advice before Parliament that Rwanda is now safe because the treaty is now fully implemented, it would not be appropriate for that Act or legislative initiative—whatever you want to call it—to be second-guessed in the courts. The proper place for the courts is after government has initiated and Parliament has decided. That is the moment when the courts should review the factual situation as well as legality. That is what my Amendment 36 is there to demonstrate. It is probably unnecessary. It is there really to demonstrate that the courts in this country are very restrained and respectful of parliamentary sovereignty; it is the Government who do not respect parliamentary sovereignty, as opposed to executive diktat. The Government do not respect the courts.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the generality of Clause 3. I signed the notice opposing Clause 3 standing part—not on this occasion, although that may be something to do at a later stage. We need to be cautious about advancing the proposition contained in Clause 3, because it disapplies the provisions of the Human Rights Act in the various respects specified in Clause 3(2). As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, has rightly reminded your Lordships, this is domestic legislation. It is not legislation imposed on us but legislation that Parliament chose to enact. It is also the cornerstone of the proposition that human rights in this country should be universal in their application.

I regard what we are doing in disapplying serious sections of the human rights legislation in respect of specified groups in the community as deeply dangerous. It is a precedent which we should not formulate. At Second Reading, I took the liberty of reminding your Lordships of what Pastor Niemöller said about not crying out in opposition when bad things were being done. We are being asked to stand on a very slippery slope, and very slippery slopes lead very often to very dirty waters. We should not embark on this exercise.

That is not just my view but the view of, for example, the Constitution Committee. I commend to your Lordships paragraphs 27 to 31 of the report that was published on 9 February. I also commend to your Lordships the views of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which were published on 12 February. Paragraph 95 and conclusion 7 are extremely critical of the Bill.

I turn directly to my noble friends on the Front Bench. I do not blame them personally for what is happening. My noble friend Lord Deben and I were Ministers for many years at all levels. I know perfectly well that my noble friends will communicate our views to their departments, but I also know that they do not determine policy and it is not their fault. However, the overriding conclusion that I have come to from this whole debate is that this Government intend to railroad this Bill through without challenge.

It is on that point that I would like my noble friends to communicate another message to the Government. People such as me are Conservatives. We will always be Conservatives. Yet we are deeply troubled, deeply distressed, by how this Government are operating. It is manifest in many ways in this Bill. We are disregarding the rule of law. We are ignoring the principles of the separation of power. We are disapplying protection given to minorities. We are becoming immoderate in our tone. We have abandoned pragmatism in the conduct of policy. I know why they are doing that. They suppose that they can win the election by dog-whistle policy, but they cannot. The outcome of the election is probably already determined by circumstance and by Mr Johnson and by Liz Truss and various other things that have already happened and which the public are probably not going to forgive the Government for. You cannot solve that problem by dog-whistle policies, but you can deepen the rift between the electorate and us.

I am a great admirer of Matthew Parris, one of my oldest friends. His articles, which he writes regularly, tell one what moderate conservatism should be about. At this stage in government, we need to show that we can reinstate the traditional values of conservatism. That will not save us at the general election, but it will make recovery a lot easier.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Viscount—probably inadequately. I added my name to the clause stand-part notice because, as I made clear at Second Reading, I am dismayed by Clause 3’s disapplication of parts of the Human Rights Act. I support everything that has already been said by various noble Lords.

The main concern raised by bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Law Society and the JCHR, on a majority, together with more than 250 civil society organisations, is that, in the words of the EHRC, this

“undermines the fundamental principle of the universality of human rights”

and

“damages the UK’s human rights legal framework”.

One of the main voices, a group of asylum seekers and refugees, some of whom are from Rwanda, have said how painful they have found the idea of a two-tier human rights system and the loss of what they rightly see as a legal right to seek protection.

Not only is this becoming a habit on the part of the Government, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti has pointed out, but the JCHR report, on a majority, cites as particularly alarming the disapplication, for the first time ever, of Section 6 of the HRA. It warns that this

“would effectively grant public authorities statutory permission to act in a manner that is incompatible with human rights standards”.

As such,

“it is very hard to see how it could be consistent with a commitment to complying with international law”.

As has already been pointed out, the Constitution Committee comments that disapplication—

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I will introduce my Amendments 81 and 82 in this group, which I have the privilege of sharing with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I remind the Committee that the Government concede that this policy is novel and might even concede that it is controversial. There are grave concerns about whether Rwanda is currently safe and further concerns, raised eloquently earlier today, that even if it becomes safe at some point—for example, as a result of the successful implementation of the treaty—it may not be safe for ever.

Throughout these debates, the Government have relied heavily on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty—not executive sovereignty. That is why Amendment 81, which I share with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and which is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, makes commencement a matter for the Secretary of State but to be approved by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and both Houses of Parliament by way of resolution. It is hence not executive fiat. Currently, Clause 9(1) says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.


Treaty ratification is for the most part a matter for the Executive, but if we are to be the high court of Parliament and oust the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts of the land, parliamentary sovereignty at the very least requires parliamentary commencement. I leave to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, Amendment 82 on his system of rolling sunsets.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and entirely agree with what she has said on Amendment 81. My amendment is an additional concept. The concern has become apparent in Committee that, if Rwanda can become safe, it may also cease to be safe. It is important that we should have in place a mechanism for determining if it becomes unsafe, so that the provisions in the Bill cease to operate. That is what my Amendment 82 seeks to do.

I have called it rolling sunsets, but this is what I have in mind: the amendment from the noble Baroness triggers the implementation of the Bill for a period of two years, in the circumstances that she set out, and at the expiration of that period, if the Government want another two years or any other period, they must get an affirmative resolution of both Houses. Before they can get that, the procedure outlined by the noble Baroness must be complied with, including a report from the Joint Committee as to safety. If they want to roll it on for a third period of two years and so on, each time Parliament would be given the opportunity of receiving a report and triggering the extension of the Bill. In that way, rolling assessments of safety could be provided.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s amendment, as amended by that of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. It is incredibly important that the Act comes into force only when there is satisfaction that Rwanda has become a safe country and a rolling assessment can be made. I say that subject to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, indicating to us earlier—we were very excited by this—that he would tell us whether Parliament could in some way reopen whether its judgment on whether it was a safe country had changed. He told us that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, would tell us how this would work on a later amendment. I anticipate that he will tell us on this very amendment how Parliament can in some way be activated to get rid of it. I am very excited to hear that, because at the moment I cannot see how it could without the amendments of my noble friend and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.

I will raise two points about where we are at the moment. The first is about when the future Act will come into force. Clause 9 says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.


One would envisage that the treaty will not enter into force until the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is safe. That is a minimum requirement for a Minister. I assumed that that was the position, but I then had the misfortune to look at the agreement that the country has entered into with Rwanda. It says:

“This Agreement shall enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by the Parties”—


Rwanda and the United Kingdom—

“that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed”.

I understand that to mean that, when the process has been gone through constitutionally in Rwanda and the UK—to ratify, as it were—each country notifies the other that that is the position, and the agreement immediately comes into force.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I want simply to say a few words in support of Amendments 3 and 7 in my name, and to express more general support for the position adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

On Amendment 3, it is simply untrue to state that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country. That may be the opinion of the House of Commons—I was a Whip there for many years, so I know the forces that are put in place to assure the opinion of that House; the “elective dictatorship” of which my father spoke—but what is absolutely certain is that it is not the opinion of this House. We know that to be a fact because of the vote that took place here on 22 January.

In my opinion, we should not put into a Bill a statement that is manifestly untrue. Hence, I put down amendments that state the truth: that the safety of Rwanda is the opinion of the Government. That is the truth, so why on earth should we not enact that simple truth, rather than commit what, in other circumstances, would be described as a lie?

On Amendment 7, we should state in clear terms what we are doing. We are, in fact, using a statutory and untrue pronouncement to reverse a recent finding by the Supreme Court. I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Howard; we were colleagues for very many years, and he was in the House of Commons for 27 years. I beat him, as I was there for 30 years, but he was a lot more distinguished than me. However, to try to say that the Supreme Court did not make a finding of fact is to turn the situation on its head. It expressed an opinion as to fact, as juries do in criminal cases—and an opinion as to fact is a finding of fact.

I will take a slightly broader view. I happen to share the view—I suspect it is pretty general in this House—that both legal and illegal migration are far too high and should be reduced. I share the very correct intention of the Government to deter illegal migration, which we need to do. My objection is not to the purpose but to the means being advocated, which is wrong in principle and will not succeed. However, it is clear to me, as it is to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the Government have decided to push ahead and will doubtless reverse our amendments in ping-pong.

In the spirit of compromise, I will make some positive suggestions, as the noble Baroness did. Leaving aside the issue of principle, I am concerned that the Government are seeking to enact, without any proper assessment, their judgment as to whether Rwanda is safe. That means not just whether the treaty is put in place in Rwanda, but whether its provisions are implemented over a period of time—and whether we can for other reasons say that Rwanda is safe. That, we are entitled to do. To be clear: that is not a one-off assessment; it has to be a continuing assessment, because things can change.

The other thing we need to be absolutely clear about is whether the policy objective is working. We are told that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce illegal migration across the channel. That is a judgment—I do not happen to think it will work—but one thing is certain: we do not know now whether it will work, but in the course of time, we may be able to form a view.

My concern is that the Bill provides no mechanism for a continuing assessment of both the safety of Rwanda and the success of the policy, and I believe that Parliament is entitled to demand a continuous and authoritative assessment. We can argue whether it should be based on the European body; or, as Amendment 81 suggests, it should be done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights; or, as I have in the past suggested, by a special Select Committee appointed for the purpose. However, there is a way forward. The Bill does not come into operation without both Houses of Parliament triggering it by an affirmative resolution, and they can do so only once a report has been received from whatever assessment monitoring board we put into place.

That is not enough because, as I say, we need continuing assessment. Therefore, I contemplate something like this. The initial trigger should be, say, for two years. It could then be renewed for two years by another statutory process—affirmative resolution—on the basis of a further report; and then again, if the Secretary of State thinks he will get away with it. That way, we will have a continuing process of assessment, which would give this House and Parliament in general something on which it could honourably proceed.

I would like to think that my noble friends on the Front Bench will show a certain degree of flexibility. If they do not, it may be quite difficult to persuade their critics to be flexible.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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My Lords, I briefly want to follow my noble friend Lord Hailsham in his remarks. Had he been the presider in a three-person court, I would have been very happy to say that, having heard his speech, I had nothing else to add. However, since we are here, your Lordships have the disadvantage of hearing what I have to say. Like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne and my noble friend Lady Helic, I regret not being present at Second Reading and apologise, but I have read the Hansard of the debate.

I am always reluctant to disagree with my noble friend Lord Howard, but he took too narrow an approach to the questions before us. I use Clause 1(2)(b), which is the subject my noble friend Lord Hailsham attacks, as a hanger on which to make a few remarks. I think, if I understood him correctly, that my noble friend Lord Howard said that Parliament can essentially do what it likes, and of course he is perfectly right. Parliament can be as foolish as it likes. It can pass a law saying that all dogs are cats, but that does not make all dogs cats. It can pass a law saying that Rwanda is a safe country, but that does not make it a safe country. In addition—this is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham—it is for the Executive to advance their policy, whether it is a good policy or a bad one. It is for the Government to say that it is their policy that Rwanda is a safe country to which to send failed asylum seekers. If the Government then wish to have their view tested by Parliament, again, they can go ahead and do it.

Therefore, what the Government are proposing as a matter of policy is not a constitutional outrage, but the way in which they are writing it down in Clause 1(2)(b) is, if I may respectfully say so, just plain silly. It is worse to be silly than it is to be guilty of a constitutional outrage, and this is not a constitutional outrage but just plain silly.

Ridicule is a more powerful weapon than the constitutional and legal arguments of any number of lawyers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, advances in one of her amendments, it would be helpful to have a UNHCR opinion on the safety or otherwise of Rwanda. However, I have a feeling that exporting government policy to the UNHCR is not a good idea. It would be helpful to have that opinion, but it is not essential. The Government must stand on their own feet, bring their policy to Parliament and have it tested. It will survive or not on the merits of the facts. The assessment of whether Rwanda is a safe country must be for the Government to consider and for Parliament to agree; we as a bicameral parliamentary body are not equipped to reach those sorts of conclusions. We can agree or disagree with the Government, but we are not equipped in a presidium to reach a conclusion on whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country as a matter of fact.

I do not wish to undermine or underestimate the hugely difficult political problem that the Government face with illegal immigration and the making of unsound asylum applications. Nor do I wish to undermine their genuine and very proper decision and policy to stop the boats. However, if we are to stop the boats, and if we are to reduce the amount of illegal immigration and bogus asylum applications, the Government would go a long way if they had the confidence of their own convictions and allowed Clause 1(2)(b) to say that that the Bill gives effect to the politically expedient policy of the Government that the Republic of Rwanda is safe, rather than trying to shift the responsibility for that opinion on to Parliament. Parliament may come to agree with it, but the initial policy is one for government. To that extent I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham.

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It would not be right for our ability to deliver this policy—which is key to our commitment to stop the boats—to be left solely dependent on a further, independent assessment by an external body such as the UNHCR, which, we further note, has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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On that point, would my noble friend consider a domestic assessor—for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If it were to advise, would he accept that?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, one of the groups that we are coming on to looks at the organisations and committees that are set up under the treaty. We will return to that discussion about the provisions of the treaty in respect of what my noble friend has just asked. As I say, it would not be right for the delivery of our policy, which is key to our commitment to stop the boats, to be left solely dependent on this.

Amendments 11 and 12 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, seek to ensure that individuals relocated to Rwanda must have any asylum claim determined and be treated in accordance with the UK’s international obligations. This is unnecessary in view of the comprehensive arrangements that we have in place with the Government of Rwanda. It is important to remember that Rwanda is a country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It works already with the UNHCR and hosts more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them to rebuild their lives.

We will get on to this again in a later group, but I remind the Committee that the UNHCR has signed an agreement with the Government of Rwanda and the African Union to continue the operations of the emergency transit mechanism centre in Rwanda, which the EU financially supports, having recently announced a further €22 million support package for it. Indeed, as recently as late December, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the international agreements that Rwanda has signed. That is dealt with at paragraph 25 of the policy statement. I will read it for convenience:

“Rwanda is a signatory to key international agreements protecting the rights of refugees and those in need of international protection. It acceded to the Refugee Convention, as well as the 1967 Protocol, in 1980. In 2006 it acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness. Regionally, it is a signatory of the Organisation of African Unity Convention on Refugees in Africa and the 2012 Kampala Convention”.


Paragraph 26 goes on to say that:

“Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded in its domestic legal provisions. The Rwandan constitution ensures that international agreements Rwanda has ratified become domestic law in Rwanda. Article 28 of the constitution recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum in Rwanda”.


The presumption which appears to underpin this amendment is that Rwanda is not capable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership. I disagree. Rwandans, perhaps more than those in most countries, understand the importance of providing protection to those who need it. I remind the Committee that my noble friend Lady Verma spoke very powerfully on that subject at Second Reading.

The core of this Bill, and the Government’s priority, is to break the business model of the people smugglers. That will not happen if we undermine the central tenet of the Bill, which is the effect of these amendments, and a point that was well addressed by my noble friend Lord Howard. We are a parliamentary democracy, and that means that Parliament is sovereign. Parliament itself is truly accountable, and I therefore invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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As the noble Lord will know, the other clause in the Supreme Court judgment, which he did not refer to, said that it will take a considerable time for those matters to take place. That is why I have asked the Minister in this Chamber, having heard the views of the treaties committee of this House and the matters which it raised after taking evidence last month, whether the provisions in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c) are in place now. Are they operational? Which ones will be in place, and by when? If we follow the noble Lord’s remarks, that is the judgment that we are trying to make now.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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It is not only a question of whether they are in place but whether Rwanda is compliant and remains compliant, and whether there are any other reasons to doubt the safety of Rwanda.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Indeed. That is why, in this suite of amendments, the Secretary of State has to take the advice of a number of organisations—not one in particular but a number of organisations. The Secretary of State must produce the evidence to show that the requirements are in place, operational and working according to the decisions that were originally in place as wanting to see this thing through.

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Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I regret that I was not able to take part in discussion on the previous group because I was on the train as it began.

The point that has been made here is an important one, which I did not hear elaborated on during the debate on the first group. Without wishing to disparage Rwanda in any way, countries in that part of the world do have a habit from time to time of changing their regimes, and those regimes often have very different characteristics. If you are approaching this problem, which seems to me entirely reasonable in normal circumstances, that the country where the asylum seekers end up should be safe, it does not follow that once it has been ruled to be safe it then continues to be safe. The problem with Clause 1(2)(b) is that, if the wording remains as it is now, even if you go through the procedures that the noble Lord, Lord German, is discussing, once there has been a ruling that the country is safe then there is no means to return to the question if circumstances fundamentally and damagingly change.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I commend to my noble friend the concept of the rolling sunset, which he will find in Amendments 81 and 82.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very interested in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. On one view, it is saying that the Secretary of State makes his or her decision only after properly considering all the relevant factors. It may be that what he has in mind is that, thereafter, there can be appropriate review of that by the courts. I assume that he has in mind judicial review. Therefore, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State that was judicially reviewable. It is worth thinking about whether, once that decision had been made and then upheld by the courts because there was a proper basis on which a Secretary of State could reach that decision, in general terms the question of whether the country was safe would not thereafter be open to consideration by the immigration office.

I would not be in favour of that as a matter of principle, but if one is looking for a compromise—this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, touched upon, and it may be dealt with in later amendments—I would be very interested to hear what the view of the Government is in relation to a situation where, in effect, the Secretary of State had to make a proper decision addressing the proper considerations and that decision was then open to judicial review. Could that be a compromise?

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So what are we going to do now? I do not think we should approve it, because we would now—on the statute book and unique among our legislation—have legislated in perpetuity, in primary legislation, defining a country’s asylum procedures in accordance with our standards. If that country changed them in any way, we would have to change statute in this country to follow what it does.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I know I am going slightly outside the ordering of clauses, but Amendments 81 and 82 to Clause 9 address the very difficulty that the noble Lord has identified. Circumstances can, and almost certainly will, change. We need to put rolling sunsets in place so that the Bill is never in force for more than, let us say, two years, and that each time it is extended there is a proper assessment of the safety of Rwanda, its compliance with treaties and, incidentally, whether the policy itself is succeeding.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I listened carefully to what he said, including at Second Reading, and when he comes to make the case I will also listen carefully for that. If he will forgive me for saying so, we will be into the categories of plan C, D, E and F to try to make the Bill a bit better. I refer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on the first group. These are all silk purse amendments, are they not? We are desperately trying to make something better that, in our hearts, we know cannot be better. We are trying to just take the rough edges off it slightly.

Our approach in this group is to revert the Bill to long-standing common practice for asylum laws that Ministers on those Benches have regularly said is the proper procedure, because it includes executive decision-making, parliamentary approval and then judicial review. That is what we are saying should be the case, because that is what, for years, Ministers have said is the case. We are seeking to restore that. Amendment 84 requires Ministers to report on these areas.

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary in December asking a whole series of questions regarding the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, gave me the courtesy of a substantive reply, and I am grateful for it. I asked specifically about when some of the mechanisms of the treaty would be in operation—for example, on the capacity for decision-making processes in Rwanda, for us to determine whether it would have the capacity and therefore be able to be safe. The noble Lord replied: “Some of the newer mechanisms will be finalised before operationalisation”. I want to know when. The Government are clearly working on it. They must have a working assumption of when they will be in place—so tell us. If the Government are saying that we are the determining body, tell us when those procedures will be in place. They cannot have it both ways and say that we are the determining body but they have the information—that does not cut it any more. If we are the determining body, we must have the information.

This is why I asked about when the judges will be in place. Under the treaty, judges who are not Rwandan nationals will have to be trained on Rwandan law, not UK law. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, who is not in his place, was completely wrong in the debate on the first group about this being similar to the Australian processes. The people who will be relocated will be processed under Rwandan law, not British law, so the judges will have to be trained on it. I asked when that will be complete, because we are obviously not going to relocate an individual where there will be a panel of judges to process them who are not sufficiently trained in Rwandan law. I am sure everybody will agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, replied: “The proper procedures, facilities and support for relocated individuals, with regard to the judges’ training, will be in place before they are relocated to Rwanda”. The Prime Minister, who bet Piers Morgan that the flights will leave, obviously knows when the judges will be trained—so what is the working assumption of when they will be trained?

I am desperately trying not to make this a silk purse exercise. We are fully in an Alice in Wonderland situation here. In the debate on the earlier group, the Minister said that because things have changed, we should now look at the new country note. The new country policy and information note version 2—and version 2.1 in January, which he was referring to—supersedes the summer 2022 country note. The Minister is saying that the old note should not be taken into consideration because there is a new note—and, if we want to refer to the UNHCR’s up-to-date position we should, as we heard him say, look at annexe 2 of that report. Not only have I read the country policy notes front to end, I also clicked on the annexe 2 links—anybody can do it now on their smartphone. A box comes up with a note that the publication was withdrawn on 11 December 2023. The publication the Minister referred to, which was withdrawn, was from May 2022, which the Supreme Court used as its evidence for the UNHCR.

If we are to be the decision-making body, how on earth are we going to be making decisions when the Government do not tell us even the basic information of when they—not us—think Rwanda will be a safe country?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative. On the second part, I cannot give a date.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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As I understand it, my noble and learned friend is effectively saying that, because the treaty is going to be in place, Rwanda can be presumed to comply with its obligations. However, Clause 1(4) of this Bill says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.


“International law” is very widely defined in subsection (6). If that is true of this country, is it not also true of Rwanda, and why should we necessarily believe in its commitments to the treaty?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Another noble Lord is perhaps too ready to disparage the activities and views of the Rwandan Government. As to the first point, paragraph 54 of the Constitution Committee’s report, which was published recently and quoted by the noble Lord, Lord German, towards the beginning of this debate, says:

“It is the case that United Kingdom Parliament is sovereign, and therefore may enact legislation which breaches international law. It is also true that the validity of an Act of Parliament, in domestic law, is not affected by international law. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is still subject to the provisions of international law”.


I do not disagree with anything that the Constitution Committee says in that document. The United Kingdom and this Government take their international commitments extremely seriously, but this measure, this treaty and this Bill are drawn up in response to a considerable problem. People are dying, and a huge amount of money is being spent by the United Kingdom in accommodating people, many of whom have no business being here in the first place. This Bill is an attempt to drive the matter forward.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said when winding up for the Opposition Front Bench at Second Reading, a number of things are being done already. He endorsed them on behalf of his party. He spoke about the directions against criminal groups to try to break their business model. He spoke about the enhanced levels of co-operation with our partners on the continent of Europe. Patently, however, while this is a complex and multilayered problem, these things are not working of themselves and the Government have taken a view that we must take further measures to try to stop the boats.

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Moved by
9: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (4)
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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 13. I will be very brief, because the hour is late. At this time I am usually putting my dogs out, but on this occasion I have the pleasure of addressing your Lordships’ House.

The effect of Amendment 9 is to delete Clause 1(4), and the effect of Amendment 13 is to delete Clause 1(6). It is worth just reminding your Lordships what these two clauses say. Clause 1(4) says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act”—


any old Act, incidentally—

“is unaffected by international law”.

You then go to Clause 1(6) to see what is meant by “international law”, and that is everything to which we have ever put our name, which is there in very considerable detail. So the first question that your Lordships should ask yourselves is, why on earth is it there? I have no doubt that, as a matter of strict law, the statements are correct, but why are they there? They serve no legislative purpose whatever. I think I know why they are there: it is to provide comfort to the Braverman wing of the Conservative Party—and I, for one, do not wish to provide comfort to that wing of the Conservative Party, which has been bringing disrepute on the party which I have served for 40 years.

We then go on to consider: does it serve a purpose? Clearly, it does not. But what it does do is damage our reputation for probity, because any bystander reading the Bill will come to the conclusion that the given word of the United Kingdom, expressed in treaties and in international law, is not worth credit. I do not wish to give people that interpretation. Nor, for that matter, does the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution of your Lordships’ House, published on 9 February.

I commend to your Lordships paragraphs 54, 56 and 57. Paragraph 54 acknowledges that it is true that the validity of an Act of Parliament in domestic law is not affected by international law. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is still subject to the provisions of international law. Paragraph 55 states:

“We agree with Lord Bingham that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.


Paragraph 56 states:

“Legislation which puts the UK in breach of international law undermines the rule of law and trust in the UK in fulfilling future treaty commitments”.


The summary section, paragraph 57, states:

“We reiterate that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law. Legislation that undermines the UK’s international law obligations threatens the rule of law”.


It concludes:

“We invite the House to consider the consequences should the enactment of this Bill in its current form breach the UK’s international obligations”.


These two clauses are unnecessary. They are damaging to our reputation, serve absolutely no legislative purpose and should be removed from the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very proud to have signed the two amendments tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. When I first looked at them, I thought that, given the scale of obscenity that this Bill perpetrates, maybe this is flotsam— maybe this is just stating the obvious that for many years we have passed Acts of Parliament and sometimes aspects of domestic legislation have subsequently been found to be in breach of international law. As a matter of domestic law, a statute is not automatically invalid because it breaches international law without incorporation of the kind that we had with the EU and the Human Rights Act.

However, having spoken to the noble Viscount and thought again about the contemporary implications of provisions such as those in Clause 1(4) and Clause 1(6), I felt compelled to agree with him and to sign up to his amendment. We are sending a signal, initially to domestic civil servants, diplomats and Ministers, including in the context of the Ministerial Code, that we do not think our international obligations matter. That is a very significant cultural concern. It was perhaps the noble Viscount who made the point in relation to the Rwanda treaty earlier that we are saying, in the context of this Bill as a whole, that it is going to be alright, that Rwanda is not just going to be safe in the future but we can assume that is it safe now because of this treaty, this international binding agreement that Rwanda will of course respect because it is binding in international law—while simultaneously we are saying that international law does not affect the validity of UK law.

That is an extraordinary position, and an extraordinary position to put UK civil servants in—whether in the Border Force or the Home Office or whether they are diplomats anywhere in the world. Perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton will comment on this in a while as a member of the Constitution Committee. There are real tensions for Ministers and their duty to comply with the rule of law to put a provision such as this in primary legislation, notwithstanding the traditional point about the delicate relationship between the validity of domestic law and international law.

Then there is the bigger, existential question. At this particular moment in the world, in its state of insecurity, the United Kingdom’s position on Russia and Ukraine, events in the Middle East, Houthis and China is to say that international law matters. Across the Atlantic, Mr Trump has made some remarkable comments about his NATO allies. We are saying one thing, including with our arms, military support and rhetoric, about the importance of international law—“Do not breach it, because if you do, you will find us standing in your way”—while we pass a provision like this at the same time. I apologise to the noble Viscount for not seeing the vital importance of his amendments to begin with, but I certainly do now.

Week after week your Lordships’ House has noble Lords, including Ministers, talking about various parts of the world and the importance of the UK as a permanent member of the Security Council, and everything it will do and has attempted to do over many decades, including by military force, to uphold the international rules-based order— and then there is a dinner break or a change of personnel, and we have the Home Office back here saying that it will pass legislation to state that international law does not matter. That cannot continue. For those reasons, I am proud to support the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.

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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I have just two points. First, I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, but most especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. We share many concerns about this Bill.

Secondly, I have said enough for tonight, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Prisons: Suicides

Viscount Hailsham Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, we published the National Partnership Agreement for Health and Social Care for England on 23 February 2023, setting out a shared priority to deliver safe, decent and effective care, and improve health outcomes for people in prison and on probation. As part of the measures we have taken, new prison officers are trained in measures to assess and identify persons potentially at risk. The existing cohort of prison officers is receiving additional training, as understanding of the complex nature of this problem develops. There are increased facilities for sharing knowledge so that individual insights are passed between prison staff, the medical and psychological staff assisting them and the prisoners themselves, because we have measures to allow prisoners to mentor one another.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the number of suicides in prisons is likely to fall if we could reduce the number of people with mental health issues being sent to prison and, furthermore, if we could increase the amount of meaningful out-of-cell activity offered to prisoners?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with both points raised by the noble Viscount. The range of opportunities for activity outwith the prison estate, and within the estate by way of leisure and recreation, is an important matter that the Government are looking at.

I end by saying that negotiations require trust to be built and time; they require ministerial grip to find political solutions, as has been done time and again in Northern Ireland and other arenas. I have negotiated on behalf of the British Government in a number of different areas—the United Nations, the EU and Northern Ireland. We need less dogma and more flexibility. This Bill is getting in the way of that.
Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I express my support for the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the amendment advanced by my noble friend Lady Altmann. I would very happily have supported either, were this matter to be put to the vote.

I am against the Bill. I expressed my reasons at Second Reading and will not repeat them today because I appreciate that we are concerned here with a very narrow issue: whether this matter should go into Committee. In expressing my opposition to it going into Committee, I want to focus on one issue only, namely our relations with the European Union.

We have a new Prime Minister. I wish him well. Mr Sunak supported Brexit, a policy that I deeply regret. However, I am sure that he will be the first to recognise the need to improve our relations with the European Union. We must do so: they are our nearest, biggest and most important trading partner, very important allies and neighbours. We need to give this Government, led by Mr Sunak, the opportunity to reset their policy towards the European Union. I believe that the Bill, if enacted, will aggravate our relations with the European Union. It is possible that it will trigger a trade war. Both of these things would be highly undesirable. What this Government need is time: time to negotiate sensibly with the European Union. If we agree to defer the Bill and not let it go into Committee at this stage, we will be giving the Government and the European Union time to come to a sensible agreement. I commend that to this House.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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My Lords, I too will be brief. I have heard nothing in the preceding speeches with which I disagree, but I have one point that I would like to add.

I agree with the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and with the amendment suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. However, even in the unlikely event that the Government were to provide all six dossiers that have been requested, and in the even more unlikely event that these proved reassuring, I would still want to vote against this Bill. It is a matter of principle and honour.

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and this is a pig of a Bill. The powers it confers on government using these powers is simply not compatible with how this country views its commitments. We do not tear up treaties. That is the point of principle; that is the matter of honour. A deal is a deal is a deal: pacta sunt servanda. The noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General told us at Second Reading, in a rather labyrinthine reply:

“The assertion that the Government’s position breaches international law is too bald and lacking in nuance.”


When questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, he said that

“it would be wrong … to engage in a deeper debate.”—[Official Report, 11/10/22; cols. 765-66.]

He did not say why it would be wrong or when the moment would be, but I imagine he was waiting for the Constitution Committee’s report. Now that we have it, we see that the Constitution Committee is clear that even enacting this Bill would

“clearly breach the UK’s international obligations”.

There is not a lot of nuance there.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to express my opposition to the Bill. I am opposed to it both in principle and in detail. Because other noble Lords have developed the arguments, I will confine myself to a summary of my views.

First, I believe that the Bill is a serious breach of our treaty obligations. It will do great damage to our international reputation and thus to our interests. I do not believe that the doctrine of necessity has any application to the present situation. The reasons were eloquently expressed by my noble friend Lord Howard and, incidentally, by Mrs Theresa May at Second Reading in the House of Commons. It should therefore be noted that two former leaders of my party are against the Bill.

We are dealing with treaty obligations entered into very recently, in a treaty that, as most people—other than the then Prime Minister, apparently—correctly understood, created restrictions on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Such restrictions are the direct consequence of the hard Brexit favoured by present Ministers. To renounce obligations voluntarily undertaken, in full knowledge of their significance, is a serious breach of faith and an act unworthy of this country. A reputation for probity, once lost, is very hard to regain.

Secondly, the Bill confers on Ministers numerous powers to do by secondary legislation what should be done by primary legislation. It enables Ministers to abrogate most of the most important articles of the protocol without any effective parliamentary process. All the regulations will be unamendable, and most will be subject only to the negative procedure. The House should perhaps note that our Delegated Powers Committee recommended that 12 clauses or subsections should be removed from the Bill.

Thirdly, the Bill defies the majority opinion in Northern Ireland. Most Assembly Members, and the public, if the polls are correct, favour the retention of the protocol, albeit modified. The DUP should realise that a failure to compromise on its part will imperil political stability in Northern Ireland and damage the wider interests of the United Kingdom. For that, it will be directly responsible—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. Being part of the union involves obligations as well as rights. Moreover, the House should note, from the speech of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at Second Reading, that enactment of the Bill will not by itself lead to the restoration of the local institutions.

Fourthly, the passage of the Bill could trigger some form of trade war with the European Union, our biggest, nearest and most important partner. In the context of the present political and economic difficulties, this would be an act of extraordinary folly.

Fifthly, I treat with the greatest caution the judgment and underlying views of the leading advocates of the Bill. Most of them either were advocates of Brexit or have since advocated an exceptionally hard form of Brexit. These policies have done, are doing and will continue to do immense damage to this country’s interests.

So the way forward lies in negotiation, to seek a consensual outcome to the difficulties that exist. We must work with, not against, our neighbours in Europe. The present mood music is modestly encouraging, but a willingness to compromise on the part of the European Union is unlikely to survive the enactment of the Bill. If a consensual outcome proves impossible, the provisions of Article 16 could and should be triggered. Although that would be undesirable—I agree with my noble friend Lord Howard—it is at least compatible with our treaty obligations. Those in summary are my views. I cannot and will not support the Bill.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to say something about the proposal in relation to the coroners’ court. The problem in the coroners’ court is that well-heeled litigants are allowed to participate in the coroners’ inquest when the people with real interest, namely the relatives of the deceased whose death is being inquired into, are not able to afford any protection at all. The well-heeled litigants are able to use litigation experts—counsel, senior counsel maybe—and leave the relatives of the deceased without anything at all in the way of legal assistance.

This point arose in this House in connection with the Liverpool situation some years ago. The suggestion was that these well-heeled people should not be allowed to participate in the inquest, unless they were prepared to make available to the relatives legal advice and help to exactly the same limit that the well-heeled people were proposing. That applies to those well heeled by the taxpayer, and applies to those who are well heeled in other ways. It is much more general than legal aid.

Therefore, it seems to me that the inquiry that the Government are proposing would be well added to by taking account of this possibility, which we certainly advocated here. I think I am right in saying that my noble friend Lord Hailsham was also involved on that occasion. At that time, it seemed to be a Home Office responsibility, because it was the Home Office that was responding to the report from Liverpool. It was said that we would get an answer to this very obvious way of dealing with this and making it fair in due course. “Due course” is a very flexible expression. I would think it highly likely that it should be involved in this inquiry. Just restricting it to legal aid seems to make it impossible to really get adequate representation. It is much better that the representation should be equal and level on both sides.

Of course, in some of these inquests, there may be more than one well-heeled participant. Therefore, it should be made a condition of them being allowed to participate, if it is joint and several or if it is just one, that they are prepared to make resources available to the relatives of an equal standard to the resources that they wish to use. That seems abundantly fair; it is not a charge on a public interest or the public purse, except in the case where the well-heeled people are supported by the taxpayer. The taxpayer will have to pay what they seek to put out for their lawyers. I cannot see why dividing this between themselves and the other parties is not a fair way of dealing with it. It does not in any way increase the responsibility of the public purse.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, may I make one observation about Motion C1, which I am minded to support? It will bring a clear recommendation to Parliament within a year. This seems to be a very strong recommendation for it.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in this short debate. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, for the spirit of what they said on the legal aid point. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his helpful suggestion. I am also grateful to the Minister for the way in which he opened this debate and for his careful response. I add my warm thanks for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, during his time as Minister, and for his engagement with all of us on the Bill and on many others, going back to last year and to what is now the Domestic Abuse Act.

I will not press Motion A1 to the vote. I maintain my opposition to prospective-only quashing orders. I have read and appreciated the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, to the Times newspaper on this point. I understand his point of view. He puts it as eloquently and as highly as it can be put. Nevertheless, there are two arguments.

At this stage, we should recognise the importance of the Government’s withdrawal of the presumption which would effectively have fettered the discretion of the judges. I will seek leave to withdraw this Motion on the basis of the description of the discretion as given by the Minister. I do so with confidence that the Government will apply the principles applied in the Canadian courts and develop the jurisprudence in a way that secures protection for all parties or potential parties before the courts. I beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.

Motion A agreed.

Motion B

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is to end the automatic early release of terrorist offenders, moving the earliest point at which they can be released and making their release contingent on approval by the Parole Board. Noble Lords will be all too aware that twice in the last few months we have seen appalling attacks on members of the public by terrorist offenders. In each case, these known terrorists were released automatically at the halfway point of their sentence without any oversight by the Parole Board.

It is clear that we must put a stop to the current arrangements, whereby a dangerous terrorist can be released from prison by automatic process of law before the end of their sentence. It is clear that automatic halfway release is simply not right in all cases. We must now respond as quickly as possible. Further releases of prisoners serving relevant sentences are due by the end of February, and if the Bill is to achieve its desired effect then emergency legislative procedure and early commencement is required.

The Bill sets out new release arrangements for prisoners serving a sentence for a terrorist offence or an offence with a terrorist connection. There are two main elements to this: first, to standardise the earliest point at which they may be considered for release, at two-thirds of the sentence imposed; secondly, to require that the Parole Board assess whether they are safe to be released between that point and the end of their sentence. This will apply to all terrorist and terrorist-related offences where the maximum penalty is above two years, including those offences for which the Streatham attacker, Sudesh Amman, was sentenced. Only a very small number of low-level offences, such as failure to comply with a police cordon, are excluded by this threshold, and prosecution and conviction for these offences are rare. The changes affect those serving sentences for a specified offence, whether the sentence was imposed before or after the new section comes into force.

The emergency provisions will extend parole release to those serving standard determinate sentences and other transitional cases subject to automatic release before the end of the custodial term. In line with the normal arrangements for prisoners released by the Parole Board, for this cohort of offenders the board will set the conditions of an offender’s licence when they are released before the end of their sentence. The Parole Board has the necessary powers and expertise to make risk-based release decisions for terrorist offenders. The board currently deals with terrorists serving indeterminate sentences, extended sentences and sentences for offenders of particular concern.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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Will my noble and learned friend remind the House whether the Parole Board has to consider any burden or standard of proof? Is there any provision, statutory or otherwise, for the Parole Board to obtain a letter or opinion from the trial judge as to the dangerousness of the prisoner concerned?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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I am not aware of any statutory provision whereby the Parole Board can secure a letter from the trial judge. Regarding release, the Parole Board has to be satisfied that the prisoner does not represent a threat of harm if released under licence.

There is a cohort of specialist Parole Board members trained specifically to deal with terrorist and extremist offenders. This is, in effect, the specialised branch of the Parole Board that will be used to handle the additional cases. This cohort includes retired High Court judges, retired police officers and other experts in the field, all with extensive experience of dealing with the most sensitive terrorist cases.

We acknowledge that applying these measures retrospectively is an unusual step. However, this reflects the unprecedented gravity of the situation we face, and the danger posed to the public. The Bill simply will not achieve its intended effect unless it operates with retrospective effect, necessarily operating on both serving and future prisoners. The provisions do not, however, alter the length of the sentence, and therefore the penalty already imposed by the court. The Government are confident that the Bill is compatible with Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as both European and domestic case law have held that release provisions relate to the administration of a pre-existing sentence and do not form part of the penalty.

Due to the nature of this emergency legislation, the Government are proposing that the provisions in the Bill apply only to England, Wales and Scotland. The justification for emergency, retrospective legislation is to prevent the automatic release of terrorist offenders in the coming weeks and months, and such immediate measures are not currently required in Northern Ireland. However, we intend to make provision as appropriate for Northern Ireland via the upcoming counterterrorism Bill, which will deal with sentencing and release.

It is of course crucial that we continue to do our utmost to rehabilitate terrorist offenders when they are in custody. In prison and on probation, all terrorist offenders are closely managed by specialist counterterrorism personnel, and we have a range of capabilities to manage the risk posed by terrorist offenders, and to support their disengagement and rehabilitation, including tailored interventions. The time an offender spends in prison is an opportunity for us to do our best to rehabilitate them, while recognising that this is no simple challenge. Psychological, theological and mental health interventions are all used, and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has psychologists and specialists to supply formal counter-radicalisation programmes, both in custody and in the community.

The desistance and disengagement programme provides a range of intensive tailored interventions and practical support for terrorist offenders to tackle the drivers of extremism. This can include mentoring, psychological support, and theological and ideological advice. The programme draws on the expertise of academics both from the United Kingdom and internationally through its academic advisory group, ensuring that it is under- pinned by the latest research on desistance, disengagement and deradicalisation to provide constructive challenge and evidence on good practice in an innovative field.

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who was an outstanding inspector of prisons. I very much hope that my noble and learned friend who will reply to the debate will reflect on what he has said and try to give full answers to the questions that he very reasonably asked.

I support this Bill. I believe that it is necessary, but this is not the answer to the problems that we have been discussing this afternoon. The elephant in the Chamber is the Bill that is yet to come. It is crucially important that we get it right.

There are two things that we have not taken sufficiently carefully into account when we look at modern terrorism. I first entered the other place almost 50 years ago. The first 30 or more years of my time there were punctuated by terrorist acts, perpetrated for the most part for political reasons by people who wanted to kill others but did not want to kill themselves. We are now dealing with a wholly new dimension. I could not help reflecting on this at the weekend, when I read the disturbing case of the woman who had become radicalised and a convert, and decided that her mission in life was to blow up St Paul’s Cathedral, and as many people as possible, in an explosion. There is somebody who will have to be looked at for a very long time.

I suggest that we need a radical approach to dealing with terrorism. I believe that there should be a special court devoted to terrorism and a special parole board devoted to dealing with terrorists. In our prisons, it is crucially important that there are those who can deradicalise because they know what the authentic Muslim religion is all about. We have not fulfilled what we should have, by allowing these prisoners to continually refresh and re-radicalise themselves.

While the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, was entirely right when he talked about the unsatisfactory nature of indeterminate sentences, I believe that in this particular instance all terrorist-related offences ought to be subject to indefinite sentences. These would of course be reviewed regularly, with a benchmark for the number of years at which they should be reviewed.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham
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Will my noble friend consider the possibility that control orders, which are less confining, are an alternative to indefinite sentences?

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack
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They may be; that is certainly worth discussing. However, I still believe that when we are dealing with these people—bent on mayhem and murder of an indiscriminate nature, the most dangerous of whom believe that they are fulfilling a religious purpose —there is a need to monitor them constantly and do everything possible to deradicalise them, but to have sentences that do not present a danger to the general public. The first and overriding purpose of the Government and Parliament is to defend the realm and all those who live loyally within it. My noble friend Lady Buscombe was entirely right when she referred to treason.

We need a Bill that will really look deeply into these matters. This one cannot. It is necessary and expedient, but it is not the answer. I very much hope that there will be a Bill, subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, where my noble friend Lord Hailsham can pitch his case. We need to take time over that Bill. The one we are dealing with is addressing the emergency, but terrorism is here to stay for the foreseeable future, probably well beyond all our lifetimes and those of our children. If we are truly to protect society—bearing in mind, as other Peers have said, that there will be not hundreds but thousands coming back from Syria in the coming two or three years—we have to have a system that is as watertight as we can make it.

We owe an enormous amount to our police forces. St Paul’s might well have been blown up without the brave action of an undercover officer. We owe a great deal to those who serve in our prisons, but they have to work to an agreed strategy—one mistake is too many. In a previous incarnation, I had the great pleasure of having the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, as a pupil. He was right when he talked about Mr Bumble and the law being an ass. Those officers who shot down that man in Streatham High Road should never have been in that position. Let us haste this Bill through tonight and then have a long and determined look at how we tackle the problem in the future.

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Viscount Hailsham Excerpts
Committee stage & Report stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 View all Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 99-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Feb 2020)
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, my name is the fourth name on these amendments, and I am not going to add anything, save to say this: I wish it had not been necessary to table these amendments. They represent what I would have considered a reasonable Bill to tackle the difficult problems we are dealing with tonight. I support strongly my noble friend Lord Anderson and others who have signed these amendments.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I rise only briefly. First, I apologise for not participating in the Second Reading debate. I had a professional engagement that I thought would go on all day, so I did not put my name down to speak, but I have been present throughout almost all the debate, so I am familiar with the arguments that have been articulated.

Turning directly to the comments and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, like other noble Lords I do not like changing goalposts. I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, himself. In principle, it is an unsatisfactory business. I am not competent to form a view as to whether this is an infringement of Article 7 of the European Convention, but I am bound to say that I took a great deal of reassurance on that point from the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, both of whom addressed the matter most directly.

My arguments are of a more pragmatic nature. Firstly, the Bill introduces two elements of retrospectivity. The first is the introduction of the Parole Board filter—a point made by the Minister. The second, and different, element is the introduction of raising the minimum custodial period from one-half to two-thirds. Almost everybody who has spoken in this House, and everybody who I heard, welcomed the introduction of the Parole Board filter and thought it was a jolly good idea—but it is retrospective. Once one has decided that one can as a matter of principle accept that retrospective change, I find it quite difficult to see why as a matter of principle one should not accept the other change: namely, raising the minimum period from one-half to two-thirds.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich
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My Lords, I want to pick up on the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the independent reviewer. As a former independent reviewer myself, I am temperamentally rather inclined to the merits of independent review. However, in his note of 19 February on this Bill, Jonathan Hall said:

“I consider that the effect of sentences passed under the Terrorism Acts falls within my remit as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and therefore I would propose to report on the impact of these changes (and of the changes likely to be made by the more sizeable Counter-Terrorism Sentencing Bill later in the year) in one of my forthcoming annual reports, most likely my report on the Terrorism Acts in 2020.”


Perhaps I may ask the Minister, when he responds, to confirm whether it is his impression, as it is mine, that reviews of that nature fall within the existing remit of the independent reviewer. Perhaps I may also ask the noble Lord, Lord Marks, to comment on whether, in the light of that fact, his amendment will really add anything at all.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham
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My Lords, I rise very briefly to express my views on this amendment. I have a lot of sympathy in general with the proposition that we need a review. However, I cannot support it on this occasion for two reasons.

The first is, I admit, wholly pragmatic; this is going to go nowhere. This matter was discussed in the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, will know that there were two amendments, creating a new Clause 1 and a new Clause 3. The latter in the House of Commons was in exactly the same terms as the noble Lord’s amendment and was barely discussed. I think that new Clause 1, which was a Labour Party amendment, also received no effective discussion. So it will not go anywhere, and I personally am not in favour of parliamentary ping-pong on this matter, rather for the reasons advanced by my noble friend Lord Cormack.

The second reason is rather longer: this does not go nearly far enough. Indeed, such a review could stand in the way of the kind of review that I would hope to persuade your Lordships is desirable. We have a counterterrorism and sentencing Bill coming forward. For that purpose, it is absolutely essential that there is very wide consultation prior to the consideration by Parliament of that Bill. That could be called a review but is essentially a consultation, and it has to address at least four substantive matters.

First, there is the complexity of the existing sentencing and sentence arrangements. These were described very eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It is a hugely complex area. There is huge scope for consolidation and simplification. That should be addressed in a pre-Bill consultation process.

Secondly, we need to know much more about how terrorism prisoners are being managed in the prison estate, and in particular the degree to which Mr Acheson’s actual recommendations are being implemented. To the extent that they are not, we need to know the reasons why.

Thirdly, almost everybody who has spoken in these three debates has welcomed the Parole Board filter that is being introduced. But the Parole Board can only act on information that it receives. It is absolutely essential that there is provision within the prison system for making suitable information available. That means a whole range of things, such as having experienced probation officers; having experienced prison officers —which is very important, because too many are retiring and being replaced by very young ones; appropriate courses; meaningful out-of-cell activity; and not churning prisoners from prison to prison within the estate. We have to know about all of this. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made this point on many occasions. Provision of all of these things in prisons is lamentable. We are going to see really large sums of money being dedicated to the Prison Service. But if the Government are serious about increasing the number of prisons, the money will actually go on buildings, not to the provision of the courses and information that will be absolutely essential to enable the Parole Board to make an effective decision.

My last point is that, down the track, the Parole Board will release prisoners who go on to commit very serious offences—probably multiple murder. It will almost certainly happen and will be a tragedy. At that point, there will be immense public opinion calling for prisoners to be kept in prison indeterminately. If I may say so, that is the point that my noble friend Lord Cormack was addressing. My point is that that pressure will arise. I personally believe that it may be necessary to introduce some form of post-sentence control-order process, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. That may be necessary, but I think it should take the form more of the old control-order regime, rather than indeterminate sentences of the kind identified by my noble friend Lord Cormack.

Whatever the case, we need to consider it now, not in the context of emergency legislation. If there is emergency legislation, there will be immense pressure for indeterminate sentences, and I have a very strong feeling that that is profoundly wrong and that we should not do it. The consultation that will precede the introduction of the counterterrorism and sentencing Bill should address what happens if the Parole Board does release offenders who go on to commit multiple murder. It is much better to do this over a slightly longer period, without the urgency of emergency legislation, than to do it in the latter context.

Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that I am not against reviews, but I think his review is far too narrow and could stand in the way of the much bigger review that I think is essential.

Streatham Incident

Viscount Hailsham Excerpts
Monday 3rd February 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, my noble and learned friend has said that no terrorist offender will be released before the end of the full custodial sentence, or something very like that, unless the Parole Board agrees. Provided that the class of offender is not too broadly defined, that seems a very sensible approach. My noble and learned friend has already addressed this matter in part, but what additional provision will be made for the testing and assessment of such prisoners when in custody? That was not happening with the IPP prisoners, for whom no adequate courses were made available. What additional resources will be made available to the probation services, to monitor these prisoners on release? I also ask that Mr Jonathan Hall QC be asked to make any further recommendation that he deems appropriate when he conducts his review.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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There was a period when remedial courses for IPP prisoners were considered to be less than entirely satisfactory, and we have sought to address that. Certainly, there are various programmes for those who have been sentenced for terrorist offences, including the desistance and disengagement programme, which tries to mentor these individuals. I fully accept that it is a challenge, given that many have been radicalised long before they appear in prison and may be susceptible to the risk of further radicalisation once they are in prison. The availability of resources for the probation services has been discussed with those services. We will increase the number of qualified probation officers capable of dealing with such terrorist offenders. I shall try to put this into context: although the numbers may vary year to year we are talking about tens, not hundreds, in each year. This is not a tidal wave of cases that will suddenly emerge and impose itself upon the probation service. In the current year, the estimate is of 50 cases; we consider that manageable in its proportions.