All 9 Lord Stewart of Dirleton contributions to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024

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Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

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Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by craving the indulgence of the Lord Speaker in your Lordships’ House. I had temporarily stepped outside to collect another piece of paper. With your Lordships’ indulgence I shall now begin to open, and beg that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am speaking to the House today as a member of the Government for the Bill, not in my formal law officer capacity, and my contributions and responses will reflect this.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of providing protection to those who are most in need, through our provision of safe and legal routes. Since 2015, we have offered over half a million people safe and legal routes into the United Kingdom through our Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong routes. This includes over 28,700 refugees, including over 14,000 children, via our formal refugee resettlement schemes. These established resettlement schemes play a key role in the global response to—

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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I apologise for interrupting the noble and learned Lord when he has just got going, but I just wanted him to clarify his opening remarks. Is he saying that he is speaking to this House as a general government Minister and not in his capacity as a law officer—or did I mishear him?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lord heard me correctly. I remind the House of the convention that relates to law officers, whereby we do not divulge whether our opinion has been sought or the content of that opinion. It was in order to clarify my position—that I was not trespassing on that convention—that I spoke. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

I was discussing the refugee resettlement schemes that this country has in place. These established resettlement schemes play a key role in the global response to humanitarian crises, saving lives and offering stability to those most in need of protection. However, our willingness to help those fleeing war and persecution must be tied to our capacity to do so, and critical to this is tackling illegal migration. There is nothing generous about allowing the status quo to continue; that would serve only the deplorable people smugglers who facilitate these dangerous crossings. It would only put more lives at risk and continue to strain our communities and public services.

As the Prime Minister has made clear, it is this Government’s priority to stop the boats, and I welcome the fact that this is a shared objective across your Lordships’ House. The Government are making good progress in stopping the boats. Last year, in 2023, small boat arrivals to the United Kingdom fell by around one-third, with Albanian arrivals down by over 90%, while we saw illegal entry rise elsewhere in Europe.

We have ramped up efforts to prevent crossings and disrupt the smugglers, with particular success stemming from increased collaboration with the French authorities. Our joint work with France prevented over 26,000 individual crossings by small boat to the United Kingdom. Since July 2020, the joint intelligence cell and French law enforcement partners have dismantled 82 criminal gangs responsible for people smuggling of migrants via small boat crossings. As of September 2023, immigration enforcement visits were up 68% compared with the same period in 2022. Last year, the Home Office arrested 92 individuals identified as small boat pilots and 253 people smugglers. In addition, during financial year 2022-23, the National Crime Agency conducted what is believed to be the biggest ever international operation targeting criminal networks suspected of using small boats to smuggle thousands to the United Kingdom. The operation saw the seizure of 135 boats and 45 outboard engines.

However, the increase in crossings in recent years means that around 51,000 otherwise destitute migrants are currently being accommodated in hotels, costing the taxpayer in excess of £8 million per day. The small boats problem is part of a global migration crisis. It is a challenge that most of us accept has no single solution, but this Government remain resolute in our commitment to preventing the misuse and evasion of our systems by illegal migrants, stopping these dangerous crossings and addressing the concerns of the British people. Operationalising the Rwanda scheme is a key part of the Government’s efforts to deliver this mission—a partnership which has always been part of the wider programme of work to deal with one of the most significant challenges of our time. It is only by fully implementing the migration and economic development partnership that we will create the strong deterrent necessary to stop these dangerous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs. Doing nothing is not an option.

The Supreme Court’s judgment on 15 November 2023 concluded that deficiencies in the Government of Rwanda’s arrangements for determining asylum claims could lead to risks of refoulement. But their Lordships also recognised, explicitly and in terms, that those deficiencies could be addressed in future. In response, the Home Secretary signed a new internationally binding treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda which responds to the concerns raised and resolves those issues.

The Government also introduced this Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which buttresses the treaty, confirming that the Government of the Republic of Rwanda will fulfil their obligations under the treaty and supporting the relocation of a person to Rwanda under the Immigration Acts. The Bill is limited solely to the issue of the safety of Rwanda and relocations to that country and makes it clear that, with the new treaty, Rwanda is a safe country.

The Bill also makes it clear that Parliament is sovereign and that its Acts are valid notwithstanding any interpretation of international law. Let me make clear that the Bill does not “legislate away” our international obligations, nor does it seek to overrule or contradict the view of the Supreme Court. Its purpose is to say that, on the basis of the treaty and the evidence before it, Parliament believes those obligations to have been met and the concerns raised by the court dealt with, not that the Government do not care whether they have been or not.

The Bill creates a conclusive presumption that the Secretary of State, immigration officers and courts and tribunals must make decisions about relocation to Rwanda and review any such decisions on the basis that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of asylum and, in particular, will not send someone on to another country—the practice of refoulement, to which I referred earlier—in breach of the refugee convention.

The Supreme Court’s conclusions were based on the evidence submitted prior to the High Court hearing in September 2022 and did not—indeed, could not—consider subsequent work and efforts by and with the Government of Rwanda to strengthen the readiness of Rwanda to receive and support individuals relocated under the partnership.

Crucially, this has included work to bolster Rwanda’s asylum system in terms of both decision-making and processing by: delivering new operational training to asylum decision-makers; establishing clear standard operating procedures which capture new processes, and guidance in the asylum system on reception and accommodation arrangements, the safeguarding of vulnerable persons and access to healthcare; strengthening the Republic of Rwanda’s asylum system and appeals body; and strengthening procedural oversight of the migration and economic development partnership. When considered together with the legally binding provisions in the treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, this means that Parliament can conclude with confidence that Rwanda is a safe country.

Clause 2 also contains a clear notwithstanding clause, requiring courts to honour the previous clauses notwithstanding all relevant domestic law, the Human Rights Act to the extent disapplied by the Bill, and any interpretation of international law reached by the court or tribunal.

The Government remain committed to ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, and to fulfilling our international obligations. We will always ensure that our laws continue to be fit for purpose and work for the people of the United Kingdom.

We recognise that some of the provisions in the Bill are novel. However, the Government are satisfied that the Bill can be implemented in line with both our domestic law and international obligations.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he tell us his Government’s reflections on the debate on the International Agreements Committee report in your Lordships’ House last week? Will also tell us, clearly, whether the Government intend to send anyone to Rwanda under the Bill before all those concerns are met?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention. On whether I deal with it in this part of the speech or it is left to the end, I will consult with colleagues.

As I was saying, the provisions in the Bill will ultimately allow us to deter people from taking unsafe and illegal routes into the country.

It is also clear to us all that people will seek to frustrate their removal through any means and, to prevent people from making claims to prevent their removal, the Bill disapplies elements of the Human Rights Act 1998. It disapplies Section 2 in relation to any systemic challenges to Parliament’s settled view that Rwanda is safe, Section 3 in relation to the whole Bill, and Sections 6 to 9 where the courts and others are considering whether Rwanda is safe and where the test that must be met before removal is whether it will result in serious and irreversible harm. In the context of the Bill, which deems Rwanda a safe country, this will ensure that people cannot frustrate removal by bringing systemic challenges in our domestic courts and, when considering any question relating to the safety of Republic of Rwanda, domestic courts and tribunals are not required to have regard to Strasbourg jurisprudence. It makes it clear that the courts and tribunals should defer to Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country, as defined.

The Bill allows individuals to bring challenges against removal to Rwanda in exceptionally narrow circumstances, where there is compelling evidence relating specifically to their particular individual circumstances. The basis on which an individual may bring such a challenge is if they can demonstrate that there is a real and imminent risk that they would face serious or irreversible harm related to their particular individual circumstances if they were relocated. If people try to abuse this route by making claims without clear or compelling evidence, or in regard to general claims that they would be unsafe in Rwanda, their claim will be dismissed by the Home Office and they will be relocated from the UK before they can challenge that removal.

It is possible, but not necessarily likely, that those subject to removal may be subject to injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights. The Bill is clear that it is only for a Minister of the Crown to determine whether to comply with an interim measure of the Strasbourg court. It also makes it clear that domestic courts may not have regard to the existence of any interim measure when considering any domestic application flowing from a decision to relocate a person to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty.

The terms of the treaty that we have negotiated with Rwanda address the findings of the United Kingdom domestic courts and make specific provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, guaranteeing their safety and protection. The rule of law partnership that we have signed with Rwanda is a partnership to which both we and Rwanda are completely committed. The Bill, along with the treaty, puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda. We want to make sure that this legislation works. It is essential that we act now and do whatever it takes to stop people being manipulated into making dangerous crossings of the channel. Illegal migration is one of the most significant challenges of our time and the Government are acting in the national interest. I beg to move.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord German, for opening. I acknowledge the spirit across the Committee of approaching this matter by looking to see what can be amended and not setting out to wreck the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said on the first group.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I would like to wreck the Bill—just so the Minister knows.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I accept that and I did hear the noble Baroness make that point from the Benches opposite.

Since summer 2022, when judicial review proceedings in relation to the migration and economic development partnership began, the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda have worked to refine and improve that partnership. This has strengthened not only the operational readiness of Rwanda to receive and support migrants relocated under the partnership but the legal footing of the agreement and the commitments both sides undertake to ensure that national and international obligations and standards are met, having scrutinised closely and carefully all the circumstances of the country and information from appropriate sources.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region. It has also been recognised internationally for its general safety and stability, strong government, low corruption and gender equality. I quote from what the Kigali-based comprehensive refugee response officer, Nayana Bose, of the UNHCR said in December 2021—mark the date:

“Rwanda has done an excellent job integrating refugees in the national education system, including urban refugees in the national community-based health insurance plan, providing them with national ID cards and offering them livelihood opportunities”.


As the Committee is aware, the Bill is underpinned by the treaty, Article 10 of which in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein

“shall be met in respect of all Relocated Individuals, regardless of their nationality, and without discrimination”.

Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of measures within the treaty will be expedited. The treaty will follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. I note that amendments tabled by noble Lords on this topic will be debated in the group to follow.

Amendment 17 would also oblige the Secretary of State to consider Rwanda safe only if it was deemed so for every descriptor of person as set out in Section 7(3) of the Illegal Migration Act. In relocating individuals to Rwanda, decision-makers will make a case-by-case decision about whether there is compelling evidence that the particular circumstances of each case would mean an individual would be at risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be relocated to Rwanda. This means that each person’s circumstances are considered before relocation. We therefore consider the amendment unnecessary.

Amendments 24 and 27 relate to the roles of courts and tribunals. It is important that we recognise that these are considered decision-makers in relation to relocating individuals to Rwanda, and they may have a say in it.

Amendment 27 in particular would place an obligation on courts and tribunals to consider any claim that Rwanda may breach its international obligations by removing an individual to a country that was unsafe for them; that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of their asylum claim; and that Rwanda will not act in accordance with the terms of the treaty. This obligation is unnecessary. Rwanda is as committed to this partnership as we are. We have worked closely together to build this partnership and have trust that the commitments in the treaty will be upheld. That is why we have introduced the Bill, which reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty, allowing Parliament to confirm the status of the Republic of Rwanda as a safe third country.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—I speak to his later contribution, rather than when he was assisting the noble Lord, Lord German, with legal analysis—posed the question of whether judicial review might be applicable. My noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne took up that point as well. On that aspect, I refer noble Lords to the terms of Article 22 of the treaty, which provides:

“In the event of a dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity, termination, interpretation or implementation, the Parties shall refer the dispute to the Joint Committee which shall meet within 14 … Working Days to discuss and seek resolution to the dispute by consultation”.


Therefore, the process by which matters will be addressed, if there is some shock to the operation of the system once it is operational, is set out in the terms of the treaty and operates on the level between the two countries.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I thank the noble and learned Lord for answering the question, but I am not sure that answers the point. Suppose the position were that the UK said, “You haven’t implemented it properly”; the effect of this Act would be nevertheless that a Minister and every single deciding body would have to decide that Rwanda was a safe country. I am not quite sure how Article 22 responds to the suggestion that I think the noble Lord, Lord German, makes in his amendment that judicial review should be available—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, said, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State as to whether it was a safe country. Could the noble and learned Lord address that suggestion?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in relation to the operation of the treaty during its currency, we should bear in mind that a monitoring committee is in place, which examines these things on a going-forward basis, keeps them under supervision and reports back.

Annexe B of the treaty also sets out the claims process for relocated individuals and how they will be treated. It sets out clearly that members of the first instance body, who will make decisions on asylum and humanitarian protection claims, shall make such decisions

“impartially, solely on the basis of evidence before them and by reference to the provisions and principles of the Refugee Convention and humanitarian protection law”.

In preparation for the potential relocation of individuals, officials in the United Kingdom have worked together with Rwandan officials to develop and commence operational training for Rwandan asylum decision-makers. Most recently, Home Office technical experts, in collaboration with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development, delivered a training course aimed at asylum decision-makers in Rwanda.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I wonder if the Minister might tell us how long the course was, how many people were training and where they were from.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I do not think the noble Lord will be especially surprised to hear that I do not have those facts to hand, but I will undertake on behalf of the relevant department to communicate with him in writing on that topic.

The course focused on applying refugee law in asylum interviews and decision making—

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The UN has reported on the treaty and the deficiencies that the Supreme Court referred to. In January, it noted in paragraph 20 of its report that training, based on its historical review of what is required in such circumstances, is normally of limited use. Over and above the training, what else has been put in place for those decision-makers to ensure that they fully abide by and understand their obligations, not just within Rwandan law but international agreements?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, as I said when I was responding to a point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the presence of British officials and foreign judges in Rwanda, looking at these matters and collaborating to resolve them, will clearly inculcate an atmosphere and a spirit of proper observance.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister speaks in the future tense—that the presence of British judges and the training “will” have that effect. I guess he is right; it may very well have that effect. But the point is that we are asked to declare Rwanda safe now. I hope the Minister is going to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about timing: when do we expect Rwanda to produce the new asylum law? When do we expect the judges to be appointed? When do we expect the system that is to be devised to ensure that there is no refoulement? When will that system be created? When are the Government going to see it? When will the House see it? If we are asked to say that Rwanda is safe, then we have already voted that we cannot ratify the treaty until the measures set out in Amendment 84, which were in the International Agreements Committee report, have come into effect. It is all very well the Minister speaking in the future tense; he has to tell us now when things are going to happen.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, can I add to the Minister’s list the number of judges who have agreed to go to Rwanda and work there, and indeed the number of officials, and for how long?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, it is a matter of working towards having the safeguards in place. We have received assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures in the treaty will be expedited. The point is that we are working with them to accomplish that end. We have already developed and commenced operational training—

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister. That is the closest we have got to an answer: “working towards”. Can we pursue that a wee bit more? If the Rwandan Government are “working towards” putting safeguards in place, that means they are not currently in place. Is that correct?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Just before the noble Lord sits down—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Just before the noble Lord stands up or resumes his position, I have specific information on the point he raised earlier on information available electronically. I am told that the page on the GOV.UK site to which he was referring was in fact withdrawn on 11 September 2023 and has been superseded by one dated 11 January 2024.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful. I clicked on it half an hour ago. Maybe they can do some clicking in the Box, because the information the Minister has just provided is false. He needs to correct the record, but he can do it in writing to me if he so wishes.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think a discussion on this point would be taking up too much of the Committee’s time.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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As the Minister confirmed to me, by definition, the safeguards that would make Rwanda safe are not in place, because the Rwandan Government are “working towards” having them in place. Why then are we asked to determine that Rwanda is currently safe when the Minister has said it is not?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, taking the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, together with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I think that brings us to considering where we are with the decision of the Supreme Court, and how that sits with what we, as a Government, are inviting the House to do at this stage.

The point is—and it is one which has been anticipated by noble Lords contributing on this and the previous group—that the factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision has changed. The factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision was frozen in time, as it were, by the court of first instance. Since then, considerable development has taken place. The facts have changed; we are entitled to move forward. I also do not consider that that there is anything—

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. In January, the UN gave an assessment of where the Rwandan immigration system is. Paragraph 18 of that report states:

“As of January 2024, UNHCR has not observed changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns set out in its 2022 analysis and in the detailed evidence presented to the Supreme Court”.


What the UNHCR is saying is that, as of January this year, it has seen no evidence that the issues that the Supreme Court had in its evidence have been addressed to make Rwanda a safe country.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, we disagree with the views of the UNHCR on that point. As noble Lords were reminded at an earlier stage, the UNHCR is not the sovereign Parliament of this country.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way? Just a moment ago, he said that Rwanda was “working towards”—that is not the same as “is”. I hate to say it, but it would appear that he is contradicting himself.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I do not think that that is the case. I think that by saying that Rwanda is continuing to work on a process is to say that it is working on making things safer—not that they are not safe already.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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More than a few weeks ago, I think, but what we have is an internationally binding treaty between two sovereign states. That—if the noble and learned Lord will bear with me—is of the utmost significance in considering such matters.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Am I right in saying that the legally binding commitment commits Rwanda to do the things, particularly in relation to refoulement, which it had already promised—although not in an agreement—to do? Am I right in saying that the very judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said an hour ago the Government respect, would take considerable time to take effect because of cultural understanding and the need for very substantial change? I am looking for something other than simply signing an agreement to do with that which it had already promised to do, which the Supreme Court said it was not in a practical position to deliver. Will the Minister tell the Committee what has happened that gives one confidence that that which the Supreme Court says will take time will in fact be ready in an instant?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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It is not a matter of being ready in an instant. The work is being undertaken. The point is that we have a specific treaty commitment not to refoul. As the noble and learned Lord knows, but just to remind the Committee, that is not to send people from Rwanda anywhere other than back to the United Kingdom; and, specifically, not to send them to places where they might be subject to torture or mistreatment; and, further, not to send them back to the countries from which they emerged if those countries are deemed dangerous.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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Have we bought through financial consideration special treatment for the people we send for asylum, as distinct from anyone else being considered for asylum; or is the asylum system as a whole being reformed? If we are buying them business class, as distinct from sitting at the back of the bus, does that really conform to our high standards of the rule of law and the protection of human rights? Or are we just buying something a bit special for the folk we are intending to put on a plane?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the Government enter into diplomatic arrangements such as treaties with other countries on behalf of the Government, the people and the country of the United Kingdom. Decisions on how to approach handling immigration or asylum claims elsewhere are surely matters for other countries. We would not trespass upon their independence and privileges in order to negotiate on behalf of them with a separate sovereign country.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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Is their whole system to be reformed in order that we can be confident of the quality of decision-making?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think the noble Baroness has my answer, but the point is this: we do not impose or seek to impose upon anyone; nor, when the noble Baroness talks about buying privileged status, would I go along with that. What I am talking about and what the Government are seeking to enact in this measure is a commitment with a forward-looking, democratic country which is signatory to the same treaties and international obligations as we are.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is about to stand up to intervene. I am aware she has not been here for the whole of this debate.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to intervene again, but I have been here for the whole debate. May I take the Committee back to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, quoting from the UNHCR? The Minister said that we do not agree with the UNHCR, but it points out that its conclusions are based on

“UNHCR’s own extensive experience in capacity development of national asylum systems”.

Is the Minister saying that this Government have more experience than the UNHCR of the capacity of countries to change? It makes it very clear that training is not enough and that there needs to be systemic change and a change of culture.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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As I say, this is now a matter of a treaty commitment by that country. We surely accept the possibility that countries have changed. We know the trauma Rwanda has gone through in the comparatively recent past, and we support and acknowledge the work it is attempting to do as a forward-looking African country, looking to provide solutions as opposed to exporting problems.

Lord Howard of Lympne Portrait Lord Howard of Lympne (Con)
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These questions have ranged far and wide, but was not the one issue, as I understand it, on which the Supreme Court came to its decision the risk of refoulement? That is covered in the treaty, and anybody would be able to see and know whether anyone was refouled in breach of international law and the concern expressed by the Supreme Court.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. The matter is entirely patent on the Supreme Court’s decision. It is about refoulement. We now have a treaty commitment preventing that happening.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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I have a straightforward and simpler question for the Minister. Paragraph 20 of the policy statement states:

“in order to implement the treaty, the GoR will pass a Rwandan asylum law in the coming months”.

When will that law be produced? Has it already been passed? If not, when will it be passed? If it is going to be passed after we pass this Bill, obviously, the treaty cannot be enabled.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I do not have information specific to the questions the noble Lord raises.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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I have listened very carefully to this debate. I was particularly interested in the comments from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer about training people in Rwanda. I think he said there were two weeks of training. For any treaty to work, it must be between countries that are equal. My impression is that we are telling the Rwandan Government and people what to do, putting pens in their hands and making them sign without properly training them and giving them the experience to act equally to what we are looking to do ourselves. I may be wrong—perhaps the Minister can put me right.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think the noble Lord overstates the matter. Advice and assistance are being provided to assist a country to shape its laws and culture in a way which is consistent with ours. The work Rwanda has undertaken is substantial. Work has been done in response to the decision of the Supreme Court, albeit, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne pointed out, that that decision ultimately related to refoulement, which is expressly covered in the treaty.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is correct when he says that the fundamental reason why the Supreme Court said no to this was the risk of refoulment. But it said that the risk of refoulement was caused by Rwanda’s asylum system, which was totally defective across the board. Rwanda could not prevent refoulement because its system was so bad. The judgment refers to

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

That is what the Supreme Court identified as being required. So it is both accurate but rather misleading to say it was only refoulement. There was the risk of refoulement because of the failures. Would that be the Government’s understanding of the position?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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People cannot be refouled to a different country under this treaty. They can be sent back to the United Kingdom; that is as far as it goes.

Lord McDonald of Salford Portrait Lord McDonald of Salford (CB)
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The Minister rests a great deal on a signature on a treaty with a country that—with the current Government—has in the last decade refouled over 4,000 refugees sent by Israel to Rwanda. That was the current Government of Rwanda behaving badly with refoulement. Why is the Minister so confident that the same Government are so fundamentally different and reformed?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Well, my Lords, the treaty is governed by our laws, by the Government of Rwanda and by international law. For a former diplomat, the noble Lord seems to have very little confidence in the ability of treaties to regulate the conduct of Governments between one another.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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For the Minister to be persuasive in response to that question, he would not have said that they are working towards putting safeguards in place—safeguards which have to be in place, in respect of the point about refoulement made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The Minister said that they were working towards putting safeguards in place. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said no relocation would take place before these safeguards were in place. So can the Minister at the Dispatch Box reconfirm that position: that no individual will be relocated before the safeguards—including the appeals mechanism, the training and the capacity-building—are in place? And when will the date be for when relocations of individuals can happen? I ask because we will be informed in Parliament that all of those safeguards are in place; not that they will be in place or are being worked towards, but that they are in place.

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.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is quite right that the crux of the Supreme Court judgment is the question of refoulement. Ex-diplomats tend to take treaties very seriously. They read Article 10.3 of the treaty with Rwanda, which says:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring”


that refoulement does not occur. I repeat:

“The parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system”.


That is the crux of it. Where is that system? Can we see it? If we could see that system, it might help us to determine whether Rwanda is safe.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lord is aware that, as I explained a moment ago, the provisions of the treaty will send people to the United Kingdom only. They will not and cannot be refouled under the treaty and the arrangements we have with Rwanda.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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Why then does the second sentence of Article 10.3 exist? Why is there? Why does it say:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation”


which the Minister refers to “does not occur”?

Why do we need a system? If the Minister is completely confident, why have this Government signed a treaty that has a fallback to say what should happen if refoulement does occur? When will we see that system to ensure the fallback—the safety net? When are we going to see that? It is not good enough for the Minister to say that refoulement cannot happen because we have signed a treaty. The Government have also signed a treaty containing a provision for what happens if refoulement nevertheless occurs.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, it is entirely prudent and appropriate to anticipate contingencies in the terms of a document such as a treaty.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The noble and learned Lord is taking a much tighter and more defensive position than the Government themselves are taking. They accept the proposition of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. They do not say that Article 10 is enough on its own. They say the following:

“The Supreme Court concluded that changes needed to be made to Rwanda’s asylum procedures in order to ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement”.


They accept the proposition. That is paragraph 76 of the Government’s own statement. So tell us what changes and where we have got to. It is not enough—and the Government accept that it is not enough—just to rely on Article 10.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I have adverted at some length already to the Monitoring Committee that is in place and to the work currently under way by judicial and bureaucratic civil servant staff assisting the Rwandans in working through these matters.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am feeling slightly confused at this point. Am I correct in saying that the Government accept that, at present, Rwanda has not fully adhered to the commitments that it has given and that it follows that, by reference to those tests, it would be unsafe? As I understand it, even if the Government did nothing, if this Bill goes on the statute book as currently drafted, no changes will take place in the wider world and, suddenly, Rwanda becomes a safe country. Is that the reality of what we are looking at?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the intention of the Bill is to provide that Rwanda is a safe country. As I have explained to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in discussing Article 22 of the treaty, in the event of some disturbance to that situation the matter will be approached on a Government-to-Government basis by the convening of the relevant committee within 14 days.

Returning to a text which was prepared earlier for me, I ask the Committee to bear in mind that Article 10 of the treaty sets out particular assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein shall be met in respect of all relocated individuals, regardless of their nationality and without discrimination. Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. Furthermore, Article 10(3) in the treaty sets out clearly that the only place to which Rwanda can remove individuals—we have covered this ad longam—is the United Kingdom, which ensures that there is no risk of refoulement.

For noble Lords who remain concerned as to whether the Rwandan Government will abide by the treaty, the independent monitoring committee will be in place to ensure that obligations in the treaty are adhered to. For an initial period of at least three months, there will be enhanced monitoring; that shall take place daily to ensure rapid identification of, and response to, any shortcomings. I refer the Committee in that regard to Article 15(7) of the treaty. This enhanced phase will ensure that monitoring and reporting take place in real time. Individuals who are relocated to Rwanda will be able to raise any issues of concern, should they arise, with the committee. It should also be remembered, as I have said on a number of occasions, that this is a legally binding treaty that will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of this into consideration, I submit that these amendments are unnecessary. Further, they undermine the objective of the Bill, unnecessarily delaying, potentially, the relocation of individuals to Rwanda. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, if the Committee will forgive me, slid into an earlier part of the Minister’s response was a reference to some glowing statements about the progress within Rwanda on gender equality. Those statements should not be allowed to be left standing, because although we have been very much focused in this debate on refoulement, we are assuming that if refugees—in particular, women refugees—are given status in Rwanda they will remain and have to live in Rwanda. On those glowing statements made about gender equality there, yes, it is well known that Rwanda has made considerable progress in terms of parliamentary representation and ministerial representation—indeed, more progress than our own Parliament has.

None the less, is the Minister aware that in Rwanda, 83% of women work in the informal sector or are in low-wage occupations, earning on average 60% of men’s incomes? Its National Gender Statistics Report 2021 revealed that physical violence affected 36.7% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Rwanda. Will the Minister acknowledge, with regard to his earlier remarks, that making claims about gender equality progress in Rwanda needs to be done with caution?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to look at such matters with caution. In relation to the figures which she cites, the statistics concerning domestic violence would be primarily, one presumes, a matter for Rwandan society itself.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I am sorry: those were not domestic figures but general violence against women and girls figures.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am very aware of the noble Baroness’s campaigning work on the topic, and she will be aware that the bulk of violence visited upon women criminally is within the domestic setting.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Given that, what is the basis for the Minister’s assertion about gender equality, which was also made in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to Peers? Can he give us some references, since the noble Baroness has?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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With respect to the important point which the noble Baroness tables, I have a feeling that this matter is dealt with in a later group. I do not have the figures to hand at the moment. If we do not touch upon that in a later group, with which I may not be concerned—I have not had a look at that, as a result of the division of labour on these Benches—then on the point which the noble Baroness makes, which reflects the original question, I will make sure that those figures are either brought out in the scope of the debate or are the subject of correspondence.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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To be helpful, as the Minister finds his place, what is clearly becoming a bone of contention between the Government Front Bench and the Committee is the progress that has been made. To help us before we get to Report, can the Minister write to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate to show the significant progress—that is the phrase he used—that Rwanda has made to deal with the concerns of the Supreme Court? We would then have some evidence before we get to Report to see the exact content of those significant reforms.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am happy to take up the noble Lord’s suggestion. We will correspond with him and other noble Lords who have participated in this debate.

I touched on the role of the independent monitoring committee. We have heard about the presence of persons from outwith Rwanda offering their expertise and skills, bolstering the system that will rule in these situations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a point in relation to the situation in Rwanda. Of course, the Committee ought to be reminded that it is not the intention of the Government that this be a means of sending people to Rwanda; our intention is that people who want to come to Britain will be deterred from following illegal routes travelling to Britain. We intend to use Rwanda as a deterrent for those people. Rwanda itself is safe. The point is that the people who want to travel to Britain will be deterred from travelling if they know that they will be taken instead to Rwanda. This is expressed in a legally binding treaty, which will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of what has been said, including the extensive extemporary interventions from Members on all sides, I submit to the Committee that these amendments are unnecessary. They undermine the Bill’s objective. They unnecessarily delay matters in relation to the relocation of individuals and the deterrent effect of which I spoke. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on keeping his cool during this debate, because he has had a lot of information requests thrust at him.

If you were to separate this group of amendments into two halves, the first is about the process by which Parliament deals with the results of the Bill and how it should do it, looking at normal parliamentary practice. That is what was at the heart of this group; we should do it in a proper and appropriate manner. When the Government have determined that it is safe, according to the conditions laid down for them by this House, they would put an order before this House and the Commons, which would be voted on and could have a judicial end if necessary. That was the purpose of this group of amendments.

The second half of the group is much more about what we know in order to make that decision about whether Rwanda is safe. We have heard, “Rwanda is safe, but we’re going to make it safer”. We have heard “It will be expedited”, “We are working towards the treaty” and “We are”—as written down—“seeking assurances and commitments”. All those are in the future tense. The House is being asked to change our mind about what it has already determined, and we need to have the evidence to make that determination. On the most fundamental, simple question—whether, to implement the treaty, the Government of Rwanda will pass a new Rwandan asylum law—we do not know the answer, let alone having answers to all the other questions raised. We do not know where we will be by the time we get to Report.

On the issue of process, bearing in mind the idea of rolling sunset clauses—we need to look a judicial review and everything else—all those matters are important, but they do not deal with what happens before the Rwanda treaty is enacted; they deal with afterwards. I am interested in what happens both before and after, to find solutions which meet the needs of this Committee.

In a sense, I am in a quandary. If you were to ask me after listening to this debate to make a decision on whether Rwanda is safe, the answer would be, “I don’t know and I’ll come back later—but please tell me when I should come back”. As far as I can see, the Committee does not know when that will be. We have had no evidence, dates or timings, or rollout of information to help us make that decision. I hope that we will see it. If we do not, we certainly will be back. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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We have. The noble Baroness may disagree with us, but we have put forward a number of proposals involving tougher action to tackle criminal gangs, including more co-operation with our European partners—particularly France—and tackling the problem at source. That would be done through the re-establishment of the aid budget, which the noble Baroness’s party cut; however, I do not want to get party political about this. Those are the sorts of things we have suggested. The noble Lord shakes his head, but that does not mean that we do not have a plan—simply that he and the noble Baroness disagree with it. That is the nature of political debate. In supporting the amendments from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, we are saying that undermining international law is not the way to tackle a problem that we all agree needs to be sorted.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which has been a far-ranging one given the nature of the amendments. Clause 1(4)(a) and (b) states that it is recognised

“that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign”

and that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.

That is a statement in conventional terms of constitutional reality. My noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth expressed it with his characteristic clarity and concision. We have heard nothing in this debate—not from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, not from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, not from the noble Lord, Lord German, on the Liberal Democrat Benches—to disturb that reality.

I will take matters out of the order in which they were presented, to deal with them conveniently. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, replying a moment ago from the Opposition Front Bench, asked for a word about the status of the instruments enumerated in Clause 1(6). Following on from what I said, it is not the case that the Bill jettisons those commitments. It says—as my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth said—that this provision exemplifies what is meant by international law. When it lists these provisions, it does so for the purpose of stating what is, again, the constitutional reality—that the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law. That includes those provisions. That is and always has been the case. I appreciate that not all Members of the Committee think that it should be the case. We have heard cogent submissions from Members of the Committee to that effect. However, the point is that it is the case until such time as Parliament decides otherwise.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I shall be brief. Why did the Minister put that on the face of the Bill, when all the lawyers in the Committee agree that, as a matter of domestic law, unless a treaty is incorporated directly, it is not justiciable in the UK courts? None the less, as a matter of international law, our word is binding. My noble friend Lord Coaker made it very clear why it is so important in this dangerous world that our word should be binding. If this is just a statement of domestic law, why was there the need to put it in the Bill? Is it because the Minister wants to show a bit of ankle to his friends who are pushing even further to the right with their amendment? What on earth are the Government trying to signal with this kind of statement in primary legislation?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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There are a number of points that I could address there. As for the matter of me as a Minister showing ankle—the noble Baroness of course speaks metaphorically—I found it as difficult to comprehend as I found the references to a “Braverman wing” of the Conservative Party.

I go back to the submission of the noble Baroness earlier on. International law, as she is well aware, operates on the international plane, not on the domestic plane. There could be no greater restraint on state action than a treaty, and that is what the Government propose to deliver. She gave a submission earlier about the implications for Ministers and indeed for civil servants. To reassure her, I say that this does not bear on the actions of civil servants fulfilling their duties to assist the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, referred to Section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act. He was, I think, disparaging about the use of that provision, as opposed to Section 19(1)(a), which more familiarly is a statement given by the promoter of a Bill that, in his or her view, it is lawful. Of course, there is nothing unusual about the use of Section 19(1)(b) in these circumstances; it is entirely appropriate, which is why it appears in the Bill. It was used, for example, by the last Labour Government in, I think, the Communications Act 2003—I might be corrected on that, but it has been used by Labour when in government in those circumstances.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Can the Minister say how many times it has been used in total?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble and learned Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have the figure to hand, but I imagine it is readily available from Westlaw.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, “Answer yes or no, does our word continue to be our bond?”, or words to that effect. It continues to be our bond within the circumstances of the incontrovertible constitutional position set out in Clause 1(4)(b). The United Kingdom and this Government take their obligations—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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I wonder whether I can encourage the Minister to try that out on some foreigner with whose country we are signing a binding agreement, by telling him, “We will shake hands on that but, by the way, we can do what we like afterwards”. He ought to try it; he would find it quite an interesting experience.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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That would be a treaty commitment of the sort that is the strongest bond that two countries can enter into, as we have been reminding the Committee. The conventional statement of constitutional reality—as I described it and as my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough described it in his submission, citing AV Dicey—was little more than a reassertion of the position that applies in law and that always has.

The Bill, as currently worded, enables Parliament to come to the same conclusion and provides a statutory finding that decision-makers, including courts or tribunals, will conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country. Amendments 9 and 13, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, seek to remove the provision that recognises the sovereignty of Parliament and the provision that confirms that the validity of an Act is unaffected by a domestic court’s or a tribunal’s view that there is a conflict with international law. That is at the core of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic court. The treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, to which we referred, will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe, and the new Bill provides Parliament with the opportunity so to do.

I note that Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, is a probing amendment that makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the courts is to uphold the constitution of the United Kingdom, including the constitution’s fundamental commitment to the rule of law. That amendment again sets out the status quo. But the rule of law, as a concept, is difficult to tie down in a series of short statements, and I fear that the noble Lord’s amendment would be productive of debate in the abstract, producing perhaps more heat than light.

I again assure the Committee that the United Kingdom continues to be bound by and respects its legal and international obligations. The Bill is predicated on both Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda. It does not legislate away our international obligations. The purpose of the Bill is to say that, on the basis of the treaty and the evidence before it, Parliament believes those obligations to have been met—not that we do not care whether they have been. I repeat that the Government take their international obligations, including those under the ECHR, very seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires the United Kingdom to breach its international obligations.

As noble Lords will know, states take different approaches to their different international law obligations. Some states treat international law as automatically forming part of their domestic law, but the United Kingdom and other countries with a similar background, including many Commonwealth countries, with which we share so much, have a dualist system in which a treaty ratified by the Government does not alter the laws of the state unless and until it is incorporated into national law by domestic legislation.

On Amendment 32, tabled by my noble friend Lady Lawlor, this legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief, which prevents removal to Rwanda, only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. As my noble friend put it in her submission, the Bill needs tightening. We do not accept the amendment proposed by her and my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. None the less, I invite the Committee to consider that in the course of the discussion and the interventions which were made on my noble friends, matters of interest and importance emerged.

We do hold that law has to command public support and that it should emerge from public consideration, whether through our common law, which does no more than evolve to meet certain essential propositions that bargains should be sustained and that harm should be punished and compensated for, or whether it emerges from a representative Parliament. None the less, the law dare not risk moving too far from the confidence of the public. The risk to the maintenance of institutions and public peace of judicial activism and overreach moving too far away from what the public is prepared to appreciate is, I think, the point that my noble friends took.

My noble friend Lady Meyer added to the discussion by stating that while the Bill was, in her words, not perfect—that has been something of a leitmotif running through the submissions which we have heard today, and indeed at Second Reading—it is none the less not holding itself out as a silver bullet. It is not perfect because—to quote my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere—in a dull and sublunary world, very few things are capable of perfection. However, as my noble friend Lady Meyer pointed out, it is rather a pragmatic response to an urgent crisis. I commend my noble friends for their thoughtful analysis of the problems facing other countries grappling with the impact of mass migration, and the risks to their own domestic systems which have been identified as flowing therefrom.

I have said to the Committee and will say again that, as I think we heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, other countries are watching keenly the experience of this country in moving legislation of this sort. It is clear that this is a huge problem. I readily accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said from the Opposition Front Bench as the last submission to this group about the need to work with our partners abroad to devote resources to smashing the pernicious grip of criminal gangs on people’s lives. However, as I said at Second Reading, we are doing all of that now and there is no simple answer to the problem, and that is why the Bill is being advanced.

I will revert to Amendment 32. As I said, the legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief preventing removal to Rwanda only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. That is the same threshold which can lead to a temporary suspension of the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act. These measures are necessary to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and to ensure that the grounds by which people can challenge removal are appropriately narrow. This amendment also undermines the safeguards that we see as necessary to ensure that the Bill and the Illegal Migration Act are compatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations. The Illegal Migration Act and the Bill include provision for a person subject to removal to a safe third country to make a limited class of suspensive claim on the grounds that they would face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be removed.

The threshold for serious and irreversible harm is a high one. The harm in question must be both imminent and permanent. This reflects the test applied by the European Court of Human Rights when considering whether to indicate an interim measure under Rule 39, meaning that the United Kingdom courts will have to consider these questions before they are progressed to Strasbourg, further undermining the case for Strasbourg to intervene.

I turn to Amendment 80 tabled by noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. The Northern Ireland position was also adverted to in the debate on group 1 by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. She is not in her place, but I apply my remarks across the House. The Bill will apply in full in Northern Ireland, as it will across the whole United Kingdom. Nothing in the Windsor Framework or the Belfast/Good Friday agreement changes that. I seek to provide reassurance to the Committee in relation to the constitutionally vital point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn.

The Government’s position is clear that the Bill’s provisions relate to administrative matters of asylum procedure and as such do not engage Article 2. This is because the Bill does not relate to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, rights given effect in domestic law in Northern Ireland and underpinned by EU law before the end of the transition period, or the specific rights contained in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement which concern Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances. Any suggestion that the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should impinge on the Bill implies that the rights in the agreement are far more expansive than is the case. The Government will continue to defend the application of the Bill on a United Kingdom-wide basis.

I offer further reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and his colleagues on those Benches, with the letter written by my learned colleague in the other place the Minister for Immigration, Michael Tomlinson KC, to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP dated 19 January 2024. He said that as he set out in debate and at Second Reading on 12 December, the Bill applies across the entire United Kingdom, and

“neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the Windsor Framework do anything to cut across that position. I do recognise, however, the concerns raised by your colleagues in Parliament as to whether the Bill may have specific interactions in that regard”.

Nothing in the Bill affects the required incorporation into domestic law of the ECHR, as required in the agreement, or the ability of domestic courts to consider issues of compatibility. Nor does the Bill alter the capacity of the domestic courts to overrule incompatible legislation of the Northern Ireland Assembly with convention rights. The noble Lord referred the Committee’s attention to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government have underlined consistently that the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not form part of domestic law anywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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I want to be clear. I referred to the provision of the procedures directive which requires a case-by-case decision on whether a third country is safe. I contrasted that with Clause 2(1) of the Bill, which says that:

“Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.


Is the Minister saying that there is no difference between those provisions, or is he accepting there has been a diminution of rights under the procedures directive and saying that it does not matter? If that is case, can he explain why it does not matter?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I do not wish to enter into a matter that lies outwith my department and sphere of responsibility at this hour. With the noble Lord’s permission, we shall write.

Having offered those reassurances to the unionist Benches, I offer this conclusion. We have devised a solution that is innovative and within the framework of international law. It is a long-term solution that addresses the concerns set out in the Supreme Court judgment and ensures that this policy can go ahead, paving the way, as I said earlier, for other countries to look at similar solutions. I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, it is customary on these occasions to thank all noble Lords directly for their contributions to the Bill; but, in light of the remarks the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made from the Opposition Front Bench, the Committee will pardon me if I address those first.

I first acknowledge that, with characteristic courtesy, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, approached me informally and indicated that he would be making these points. He was also, if I may say so, animated by a characteristic concern for the standing of this House. I can give the assurance—which, if assurance were necessary, my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom gave me a moment ago as the noble Lord was winding up—that we as Ministers reflect very carefully on matters raised at every stage in the House, as we do with Questions, and we are concerned to pass back to directing departments and colleagues the views of the House, with an end to finding community between all sides of the House, or at least majorities of the House where possible. We do not allow these matters to go unsaid. Regarding one matter the noble Lord raised, the Government Front Bench can take no responsibility for the editorial policy of a national newspaper. Nonetheless, we can observe where that newspaper errs in anything it says.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Is the Minister saying that the quote of the Prime Minister’s words is not accurate?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I certainly was not. I was saying that, when the noble Lord quoted, or referred to the content of, that newspaper article describing every amendment as being a wrecking one, that is the matter to which I referred. I am happy to put the record straight. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his nod of acceptance.

I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate. The Bill builds upon the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, signed on 5 December 2023. The treaty, along with evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe, and the new Bill provides Parliament with the opportunity so to do.

That last proposition came under attack from a number of areas in the House. If I do not mention or cite them all by name, noble Lords will forgive me. I mention in particular the contributions from my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, speaking from the Cross Benches and, indeed, the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench.

I emphasise points made in Committee on Monday. The treaty does not override the judgment of the United Kingdom Supreme Court; rather, it responds to its key findings to ensure that the policy can go ahead. The court recognised in its decision that changes may be delivered in the future which would address the issues it raised. These are those changes. We believe that they address the Supreme Court’s concerns, and we will now aim to move forward with the policy and help put an end to illegal migration.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister has raised a really important point concerning the treaty. Clause 2(4) states that

“a court or tribunal must not consider … any claim or complaint that the Republic of Rwanda will not act in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty.”

That is quite significant. The Minister is saying is that the treaty deals with the Supreme Court’s concerns, but the Court will not be able under this Bill to determine whether the concerns that have been raised, which the treaty is meant to deal with, have been dealt with to the satisfaction of the UK Supreme Court. Is that correct?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the policy of the Bill is to respond to the United Kingdom Supreme Court’s decision in the form of this treaty and the Bill which accompanies it. This does not, Canute-like, revise or reverse the truth. As I say, it is a response to the findings of the Supreme Court—findings made, as they were, in relation to a period of time which dates from the High Court’s consideration of the matter.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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These were findings that related to a period of time. The Government are saying that that period of time has moved on and therefore they make other findings. But they are also saying that no one may make any other findings, even if that moves on. In other words, the Government are saying that there is only one moment in which we can make this judgment. We have not got there yet—the Government have said we have not got there—but there is one moment, and once the judgment is made, although I do not know what the opposite of “retrospectively” is, it cannot then be changed, even if the facts change and even if the courts want to change it on the evidence. Will he please tell me whenever or wherever, in what Bill, that has ever been put before this or any other House?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the point of the principle of the Bill is to remove the matter from the consideration of the civil courts and to place it before the court of Parliament; to take the matter from the civil courts and place it in the international and diplomatic sphere.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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What are the mechanisms —since, as my noble friend Lord Scriven said, the courts are no longer able to look at this—by which we can judge whether Rwanda will adhere to its treaty obligations? The Minister said that this is now going to be a duty of the court of Parliament: what is our mechanism in Parliament for doing that?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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First, I remind the noble Lord of some of the constitutional truths that were adverted to in the debate on Monday. No Parliament can bind its successor. Parliament can always come back and revisit matters in future. On the specific point of how Parliament will come to learn of any matters that are of concern, I will refer to this in greater detail in the course of my submission, but I can refer the noble Lord to the independent monitoring committee which the treaty and the Bill establish, and to the work that that will do, feeding back to the joint committee of the two Governments.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am fascinated by this new “court of Parliament” concept. Anyone who thinks that the Age of Reason ended in 1800 will need to read Hansard tomorrow because, if I may say so, the Conservative Privy Council Benches have perhaps delivered some of the finest contributions to this Committee today. I, for one, will be rereading the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because enlightenment is clearly not a single moment but something that has to be fought for again and again so as not to end up where the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, warned us. If there is now to be a court of Parliament that is examining the safety of Rwanda on an ongoing basis, I do think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, should have an answer on what procedures there are, under the Bill as currently drafted, for these monitoring committees to report not just to the Government but to the court of Parliament that is being so elegantly expounded by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, before the Minister answers the question, this is a rather unusual court, because it is a court that does not afford the most basic rights of justice to the people who will be affected by the decisions we make. In any other court, if you are about to be exported to a place you say will torture you, you can normally at least have your voice heard; but not in this new court that the noble and learned Lord has just set up.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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First, as the noble and learned Lord is perfectly well aware, the Bill blocks the possibility of refoulement and of return to any country other than the United Kingdom. In relation to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that Parliament is a court is a familiar and well-known concept; it is a name by which Parliament is well known.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Not on the theory point but on the practical point of what the Bill states, can the Minister just expand a bit more? He said that there will be a monitoring committee that will report to the joint committee of the Governments. How will they report to Parliament if we are to make a judgment, subsequently, that we wish to repeal this?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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As I said to the noble Lord when first responding to him, I will address those matters in more detail in the course of my submission.

Clause 2 creates a conclusive presumption that Rwanda is generally safe and will not send someone to another country in breach of the refugee convention. I respectfully disagree with my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and others that this amounts to an abuse, far less to a constitutional innovation. In relation to a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made on the matter of how the courts might respond, the noble and learned Lord put it to the Committee that there would be one case that would decide. I congratulate him on his optimism, but he must surely recognise—reflecting on the practice of immigration across the decades—that what happens is that, where a position is advanced and set forth before the court, it will remain open subsequently for people to argue that there has been a change in fact or a change in circumstances. Therefore, the proposal that the noble and learned Lord advances to the Committee that there would simply be one case that would determine all things is, I regret, a proposition to which I cannot accede.

The conclusive presumption as to the safety of Rwanda enables Parliament to confirm that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership. It reflects the strength of commitment from the Government of Rwanda on the safety and support that they will provide to individuals relocated there. Clause 2(2) notes that a decision-maker means the Secretary of State, immigration officers and the courts, including tribunals, when considering a decision relating to the relocation of an individual to Rwanda under provision of the Immigration Act. Clause 2 also excludes several general grounds of challenge and, as set out in subsection (3), prohibits generalised appeals or reviews.

As I have said already, the Government have signed an internationally legally binding treaty responding to the Supreme Court’s conclusions, in particular on the issue of refoulement. We have been clear that Rwanda will not remove any individual relocated there to another country, except to the United Kingdom in very limited circumstances. The implementation of these provisions in practice will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee, whose role is enhanced by the treaty, and which will ensure compliance with the obligations. Therefore, as set out in subsection (4), there is no reason for a court or tribunal to consider any claim that Rwanda may remove a person to another state, that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of an immigration claim in Rwanda or that Rwanda will not abide by the treaty terms. Finally, subsection (5) is a “notwithstanding” provision, requiring courts to honour—I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I am so sorry, I thought the noble Lord was poised to intervene.

Finally, subsection (5) is a “notwithstanding” provision, requiring courts to honour the previous clauses, notwithstanding all relevant domestic law, the Human Rights Act 1998 to the extent that it is disapplied by this Bill, and any alternative interpretation of international law reached by the court or tribunal.

The effect of Amendments 19, 21, 25 and 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, would be to remove the requirement for decision-makers and courts or tribunals to treat conclusively Rwanda as a safe country. That is similar to the terms of Amendment 22, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. These amendments would allow individuals to present evidence to challenge removal decisions on the grounds that Rwanda is not generally a safe country.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I just remind the noble and learned Lord that he said he would return to the temporal issue of how Parliament would be able to reassess the safety of Rwanda, if facts changed—if there were a sudden change of government or a coup, or if the monitoring committee found that people had been refouled, which was the fear of the Supreme Court, of course. What processes, under the Bill as currently crafted, are there for the court of Parliament to take an application to reconsider its safety, so that it is not determined as safe for all time?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness’s point echoes the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I had a brief communication on it with my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom as the noble Baroness was speaking. I think the temporal point that the noble Baroness referred to and the noble Lord raised is to be dealt with in a subsequent group. Perhaps noble Lords will be content if we treat that matter in detail in that subsequent group. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will bear in mind the burden of their questions and will come back to us if we have not answered them to their satisfaction. I am obliged to them.

I move on to consider Clause 4, which preserves the ability of individuals to challenge removal due to their particular circumstances where there is compelling evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country for them, other than where that allegation relates to onward refoulement, in relation to which the treaty is very clear. That is the appropriate mechanism to ensure that an individual’s circumstances have been considered.

In response, therefore, to Amendments 37 and 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, we maintain that it is right that the scope for individualised claims remains limited to prevent persistent legal challenges covering the same ground and to enable us to remove individuals who have entered the United Kingdom illegally.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, raised, quite appropriately, the constitutional implications of our response to the Supreme Court’s decision. I underscore my submission to the Committee: no constitutional violence has been done in referring this matter to Parliament, and in taking it into the international, diplomatic and political sphere, as opposed to the civil courts. Ultimately, returning to a remark made by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, who is in his place, this Committee must be concerned with the question of accountability for decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, also made the point that evidence must be of an holistic nature. The rules of evidence are based on the principle of exclusion of that which has nothing to do with matters of fact and law with which a particular case is concerned. I wholly accept the point that the noble Lord was trying to make, which was that all individual circumstances must be borne and considered in the round. Although referring to individual reasons is appropriate for considering individual cases, I dispute his submission that it is appropriate for the systemic general claim. I do not accept that.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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If the arrangements in the treaty are not in place, that would be specific to the individual, yet the Bill excludes that being looked at by the court. Would that kind of issue—whether the provisions within the treaty are in place—not be relevant to an individual case?

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The only thing relevant to an individual case would be matters specific to the individual.

In line with our obligations, I assure noble Lords—in particular the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord German —that individuals will still be able to challenge removal decisions on the basis of compelling evidence that Rwanda is unsafe for them due to their particular individual circumstances. The threshold for such claims is a high one, rightly. People must not be allowed to frustrate and delay removal with the kind of legal challenges we have been seeing for some time, which the Bill is intended to prevent. I have spoken at length—

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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Surely we come back to the point about temporality, which a number of noble Lords have raised. Surely the circumstances of an individual, and the nature of the Rwanda they are being transported to on the day their flight lands, are relevant to the individual case.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, that would depend entirely on the case presented by the individual.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for tabling Amendment 30 with regard to victims of torture. With reference to the points of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in winding up, while we will reflect on the matters she raises, at this stage I cannot support their inclusion in the Bill.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Is the Minister going on to another point? I did ask some specific questions.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am of course ready to take specific questions that the noble Baroness develops, but it was not my intention to pass by her contribution at this stage.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Is the Minister going to answer my questions?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, as I have said several times during this debate, at this and other stages, it is the Government’s assessment that Rwanda, which is a signatory to the United Nations convention against torture, is generally a safe country with respect to the rule of law. The treaty, at Article 15(9), provides that the monitoring committee is to develop a complaints system that can be used by relocated individuals. The committee will be expected to report any significant issues to the joint committee straightaway, and may provide advice and recommendations to the joint committee on actions that should be taken to address issues that have been identified. Any issues escalated will involve reporting directly to the joint committee co-chairs in relation to emergency and urgent situations. We will continue to assess complaints and observations by Redress and the other organisations to which the noble Baroness, and others—the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, made mention of this as well—have referred when they are referred to us.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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There is no obligation on the monitoring committee to publish its report, so how will we know what they are?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, as I said to the noble Lord, this matter is to be dealt with in further groupings. In the interests of saving the Committee’s time, I will revert to consideration of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.

The treaty which the United Kingdom has agreed with Rwanda makes express provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, demonstrating the commitment of both parties to upholding fundamental human rights and freedoms without discrimination and in line with both our domestic and international obligations. Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded too in its domestic legal provisions.

The High Court found that it was generally safe for individuals relocated under the MEDP to be in Rwanda. In view of its finding on the issue of refoulement, the Supreme Court found it unnecessary to decide the question of whether individuals were generally at risk of ill treatment in Rwanda. The Court of Appeal likewise did not reach a conclusion on this point. This means that the ruling of the High Court on the point of general safety remains undisturbed.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The amendment has two parts. One was the about treatment of asylum seekers in Rwanda and that there should not be evidence of torture for two years. The other was about asylum seekers who have already suffered torture. I asked a couple of specific questions in relation to them. One was about what investigations the Government have done about the support they can expect in Rwanda. Supporting people who have gone through torture is more than just everyday support. These people have been traumatised. They need help with their mental and physical health. Even in this country, that help is often inadequate, and they have to turn to civil society groups. The point was made the other day that civil society is still quite weak in Rwanda, so I do not know whether there are any organisations that could specifically help torture survivors. I also asked why the Home Office does not routinely collect data about the number of people in detention who have suffered torture, given that the Home Office’s rules say that torture is an example of a vulnerable group that needs special support in detention.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Baroness’s question about why those statistics are not kept. My noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom tells me that they are not. That may be a matter to be taken back to the Home Office to be given consideration. It would be pointless for me to speculate on the reasons why that should not be.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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I have not taken part in this debate—I came in only earlier this afternoon—but on this I have some information. It is that the mental health situation in Rwanda is very poor. The country suffered a genocide, as we all know, some 30 years ago. There is a very high level of mental illness within its population. Apparently 25% of the population have mental health problems or suffer depression or recurring episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is intergenerational, so the next generation also suffers the consequences. There are only 15 psychiatrists in the whole country and very few trained psychologists. We are talking about a very underresourced country when it comes to mental health problems.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am reminded that Article 13 of the treaty makes the specific provision:

“Rwanda shall have regard to information provided”


by the United Kingdom

“about a Relocated Individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated”.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I could well have missed it when I read the treaty, but the quotation the Minister has given talked about human trafficking and slavery but not torture. My noble friend has reinforced my fears about what will happen to torture survivors, who will probably have very serious mental health needs, if they are removed to Rwanda, however “safe” it might be.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, all relocated individuals will receive protection appropriate to them and assistance according to their needs, including, where necessary, referral to specialist services to protect their welfare. Furthermore, it remains possible for an individual to raise a claim that their individual circumstances mean that Rwanda is not a safe country for them. Should such a claim succeed in demonstrating that serious, irreversible harm will result from removal to Rwanda, that removal will not take place. We expect such successful claims to be rare, bearing in mind the safety of Rwanda, which I have already set out in my response.

The United Kingdom and Rwanda will continue to work closely to make this partnership a success. I do not accept that individuals relocated to Rwanda would be at risk of torture or any other form of inhumane or degrading treatment. I assure the Committee that, under this Bill, decision-makers will already be able to consider compelling evidence relating specifically to a person’s individual circumstances. Should someone with particular vulnerability concerns be relocated to Rwanda, safeguarding processes will be in place.

That Rwanda cares deeply about refugees is amply demonstrated by its work with the UNHCR to accommodate some of the most vulnerable populations who have faced trauma, detention and violence. We are confident that those relocated under our partnership would be safe, as per the assurances negotiated in our legally binding treaty. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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My Lords, it was once the practice of our courts to prevent the jury from dining until they had reached their verdict. Rising to my feet on the wrong side of 3.30 pm, it seems that this practice may live on, unreformed, in what we must get used to calling “the court of Parliament”. Your Lordships may feel that they have had enough food for thought in this debate and that it is time for sustenance of a different kind, so I shall be as brief as I can in response.

What a debate it has been—fully up to the standards of its predecessor earlier today. I will pick out a few of the highlights from the Back Benches. We had lessons from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, on precedent. It seems one has to go back to 1531 to find a precedent for this Bill. The moral I took from his tale was that it ended badly for both the cook and the Act.

We were reminded by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady D’Souza, of the astonishing fact that the courts must not consider even a complaint of risk of torture in Rwanda or a country to which Rwanda might send somebody. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, reminded us, that is no theoretical possibility. What an illustration it is of the lengths to which this extraordinary provision goes. We also heard a political analysis from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—I suspect it was very astute, but it is well above my pay grade so I will say nothing more about it. The right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Bristol and Leeds wove together the legal, moral and even philosophical aspects of the issue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. We are grateful to them for that.

I will single out two speeches, both from the Conservative Benches. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham. I followed with great care everything the noble Lord said, not just in this debate but in the debates on the Illegal Migration Bill. It seems that he is one of the very few people, either in this House or outside it, who can vocalise the quite understandable unease engendered in fair-minded people in this country by the prospect of immigration generally, and particularly by the prospect of people—as they see it—coming in without respecting the rules. He combines that with an absolute conviction that we need to address that problem without sacrificing our core values. I am so grateful to him, once again, for that extraordinary speech. How on earth did he never become Prime Minister of this country? There will be political historians who know the answer to that.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is the other speech I will single out, because he made the link so persuasively between this Bill and the most insidious of the threats to our democracy: disregard for the truth and subjugation of the truth to political expedience.

As to the Minister’s speech, he made the argument that considering even a claim that someone would be exposed to torture would place, as he put it, excessive demands on the resources of the courts and stand in the way of relocating individuals. With great respect to the Minister, I found that extraordinary coming from the mouth of a lawyer. I have rarely heard such a formulation of the argument for administrative expedience.

He raised Clause 4(1), and I acknowledge that it makes provision for decisions based on “particular individual circumstances”. If you have compelling evidence relating specifically to your individual circumstances, you might receive some consideration, either by the decision-maker or the court. However, as the clause also says, if your ground is that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country in general, it does not work. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffman, reminded me sotto voce during the debate, it is apparently therefore a defence to a claim under Clause 4 that you are about to be exposed to torture, “Oh, don’t worry, plenty of other people will be exposed to torture as well, it’s nothing to do with your own particular individual circumstances—case dismissed”. It is extraordinary.

We should be grateful, I suppose, to hear the Minister say that our amendments and speeches are listened to and that his party does not dictate the reporting of the Sun. I am grateful for both of those things, and we look forward to seeing those welcome words reflected in actions. On that theme, it was good to see the Opposition Front Benches listening intently throughout. I have no doubt that we will be coming back to these issues on Report. It may be that, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, the Bill will not be blocked, but we have to get it right and we cannot legislate for nonsense.

I say to the Minister that we do not want to boil him alive—although it may sometimes feel a bit like that—but this Bill poisons the springs of our democracy and I very much hope that this Chamber at least of the court of Parliament will continue to say so. However, because it is the convention at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this group of amendments focuses on Clause 3 and demonstrates the threat to the domestic rule of law posed by the Bill. The Bill proposes ripping up not only our international obligations but our existing domestic legal structure, and it sets a dangerous precedent. It is clear that, when taken in combination with the serious limitations put on our own courts to decide what is and is not true, the Bill shows no respect for our domestic structures. I ask again: what are we getting in return? Do the Government really believe that delivering this scheme as it is currently proposed is worth it?

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, moved the first amendment in this group, and he said, quite rightly, that the Bill usurps the role of the domestic courts and disapplies the Human Rights Act. He emphasised that the domestic courts are usurped within the Bill.

There has been a lot of discussion about Amendment 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and there was some legal discussion just now between noble Lords about the best way that that amendment can prevent delay in considering making a remedial order. I will not comment further on that because it is above my pay grade as a magistrate rather than a lawyer who deals in this type of law.

More widely, there were very wide-ranging comments on the law, the theological principles underlying the Human Rights Act itself, and the principle of treating everybody equally, and an almost theological debate about whether this is a properly Conservative Bill. I am reluctant to trespass on theological or Conservative Party debates but, from the Opposition’s point of view, this group and the disapplication of a number of elements within the Human Rights Act go to the core of the objections to the Bill. I am sure we will come back to this in some form at a later stage. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, as always, I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this group and added their wisdom to the Committee’s deliberations in relation thereto.

Clause 3 disapplies in particular circumstances certain provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, specifically Sections 2, 3 and 6 to 9. I state and emphasise at the outset that we do not strip human rights from anybody by this means. It is

“a fundamental tenet of modern human rights that they are universal and indivisible”—

I happily associate myself with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford in that regard—

“this is reflected in, amongst many other things, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Articles 1 and 14 of the ECHR.

But it is legitimate to treat people differently in different circumstances: to take just two examples, a citizen may legitimately be treated differently, and have different legal rights, from a non-national; and a person in detention may have certain rights restricted when compared to a person at liberty. The ECHR, as interpreted by the case law of the ECtHR, fully recognises this principle. Rights are therefore universal, but what rights may mean for different people may legitimately differ depending on the circumstances, so long as any difference in treatment is justifiable within the framework of the relevant right. Therefore, everybody holds their rights without distinction on any ground; but the extent to which those rights may be limited, restricted, interfered with, or indeed vindicated, depends on each individual’s circumstances, and the legitimacy of the limitation, restriction, interference, etc.


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


I have just quoted ad longum—extensively—the submission of the Lord Chancellor to the Joint Committee on Human Rights last year.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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The noble and learned Lord’s noble friend is just trying to speed up parliamentary consideration after a declaration of incompatibility. As the nature of the noble and learned Lord’s argument throughout the Committee has been about parliamentary sovereignty, not executive diktat—“we do not need the courts”—what would be wrong with the idea that Parliament should be seized of these issues a little quicker than usual?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Given how well the declaration of compatibility procedure is working and has worked in the past, there is no reason to innovate on that basis.

As the Minister of State for Illegal Migration set out in the other place, the United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and that we are fulfilling our international human rights obligations. We remain committed to that position and will ensure that our laws continue to be fit for purpose and work for the people of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, raised the matter of refoulement, the sending back of people to dangerous places from whence they came. I refer again to the debate of Monday night about the extent of the treaty. Although some of the provisions in the Bill are novel, the Government are satisfied that it can be implemented in line with convention rights. We know that people will seek to frustrate their removal from this country, and the Bill prevents the misuse of the courts to that effect. As such, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sorry to prolong matters, but I asked an explicit question about Northern Ireland. I pointed out that the Bill applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, by majority, asked for an explanation before Report of why the Government do not accept the advice of Northern Ireland’s watchdogs —its Human Rights Commission in particular—on incompatibility with the Good Friday agreement and Windsor Framework. If he cannot provide an explanation, can I please get confirmation that we will get that explanation before Report?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg the noble Baroness’s pardon for seeming to ignore her contribution. I was at fault. I touched on the Northern Ireland situation in answering Amendment 80 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, on Monday night. That is to be found in the relevant Hansard at col. 120. As I said to the noble Lord, and to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, I am reluctant to step outwith the responsibilities of my department in relation to Northern Ireland matters, which may have certain aspects with which I am not readily familiar. To that extent, if the noble Baroness is content, I will write to her, making sure that the answers reflect the specific questions that she has posed in debates to your Lordships’ Committee.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Scotland Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who reminded us of the importance of the law in protecting the rights of individuals against states. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and yet another speech in which he said that the debates and discussions on these groups of amendments bring us to fundamental principles of democracy, including the rights of law, freedom of speech and the separation of powers. Debating and discussing these in the context of the Bill is an important reminder of the power and responsibilities of this Chamber.

I am pleased to support the amendments of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, on reasserting the role of the domestic courts. To the noble and learned Baroness and my noble friend I say that it shows what a strange world we live in that, when the current Minister for Illegal Migration was Solicitor-General, he is reported to have told the Government that ignoring interim relief would put us in breach of the ECHR and that they should act with great trepidation. Now he is no longer Solicitor-General but is responsible for illegal migration, and he seems to have forgotten the advice he gave the Government. He could do with reading his own advice. All this, of course, is “so we are told”.

We are also told that the Attorney-General has had serious worries about this, but of course nobody can know about that because legal advice is always kept secret. Although he is the Advocate-General for Scotland, the Minister is not acting in a legal capacity but as a Justice Minister of some sort, and no doubt he will have read the comments made in the other place by various Members about how the Bill works with respect to the interaction with the Scottish judicial system. This is a parallel universe in which we exist, but, none the less, these are all extremely important amendments.

In speaking to my Amendment 48, I wish to highlight a particular aspect that goes alongside Amendment 39 and the others in my noble friend’s name. As a barrack-room lawyer, I take on board the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, with respect to my inadequate amendment and the fact that it does not include interim relief. I apologise profusely for that oversight. In due course, it may return on Report with interim relief.

On a serious point, the Supreme Court said that the main reason it found Rwanda not to be a safe country in general was the risk of refoulement. The Government have gone to great length, in the treaty and in other things they have published, to say that they have dealt with all the concerns the Supreme Court had—although we note that, in its report published a few days ago, the JCHR continues to assert that there are problems that need to be considered.

I draw attention to Clause 4, which allows individuals who have compelling reasons to argue against their deportation under this Bill and the Illegal Migration Act. I remind noble Lords that even this minor concession of allowing individuals to do so, rather than debating the general safety of Rwanda, was regarded as a step too far by many in the Conservative Party and the Government.

My amendment seeks to delete Clause 4(2). I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, although he is not in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. The particular aspect I draw noble Lords’ attention to is that, although an individual can present compelling circumstances, and try to persuade the Government that this Bill should not apply to them and that they should not be deported to Rwanda, it does not allow them to do so if they say that they should not be sent there as there are reasons why they might be refouled—in other words, sent to a third country.

Under Clause 4(2), they are prohibited from arguing that in the courts. Subsection (2) says this is so

“to the extent that it relates to the issue of whether the Republic of Rwanda will or may remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of … its international obligations”.

It includes the word “will”. An individual cannot even argue that they “will” be sent to another country, never mind that they “may” be—the Government included the word “will”. I find that extraordinary; it is almost that an individual cannot argue in a court, as a matter of fact, that they will be refouled. They cannot say, “I have compelling evidence that I will be sent to a third country”. It is extraordinary that legislation would say that you cannot as an induvial—let alone the point about general safety made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—argue in a court that you will be refouled. The court could dismiss such an argument, of course, but it would be up to the court—that is the whole point of the courts.

I take the point about interim relief, but I want justification from the Government as to why an individual cannot take that argument to a court, an immigration officer or the Secretary of State. The Home Secretary, or an immigration officer, cannot consider an individual saying to them, “I will be refouled if I am sent to Rwanda”. How on earth is that consistent with the principles of democracy of this country, of which we are all so proud? That is why I tabled the amendment, and I would like to hear the Government’s justification.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to an interesting debate on this important point.

Clause 4 provides that a Home Office decision-maker, or a court or tribunal, can consider a claim that Rwanda is unsafe only

“based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s individual circumstances”.

Subsection (2) prevents a decision-maker or the courts considering any claim where it relates to whether Rwanda

“will or may remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of any of its international obligations”.

Where the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act does not apply, subsections (3) and (4) prevent the courts granting interim relief unless that person can show that they would face

“a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”

if they were removed to Rwanda. This is the same threshold that can give rise to a suspensive claim based on serious and irreversible harm under the Illegal Migration Act. Subsection (5) provides that the consideration of “serious and irreversible harm” will be in line with the definition set out in the Illegal Migration Act, with any necessary modifications. Any allegation relating to onward removal from Rwanda is not an example of something capable of constituting serious and irreversible harm, as the treaty ensures that asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda under the partnership are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

Regarding the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, spoke to in opening, I remind noble Lords that the evidence pack published alongside the Bill details the evidence the United Kingdom Government have used to assess the safety of Rwanda. It concludes that, alongside the treaty, Rwanda is safe for the purposes of asylum processing, and the policy statement outlines the key findings. As experts on the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Rwanda and its development over the past 30 years, FCDO officials based in the relevant geographic and thematic departments, working closely with colleagues in the British high commission in Kigali, have liaised with the Home Office throughout the production of the policy statement.

As my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom and I set out in earlier debates, the United Kingdom Government and the Government of Rwanda have agreed and begun to implement assurances and commitments to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system. These assurances and commitments provide clear evidence of the Government of Rwanda’s ability to fulfil their obligations generally and specifically to ensure that relocated individuals face no risk of refoulement. In answer to the points raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, which were adopted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, and by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, from the Opposition Front Bench, among others, the position is that a person cannot argue this fundamentally academic point over a long period of time, occupying court resources. It is a point rendered academic because of the provision of the treaty governing the Bill.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for stating clearly that the Government of Rwanda have begun putting the safeguards in place. That is consistent with what he said earlier in Committee—that the Government of Rwanda are moving towards putting safeguards in place—but he accepted that Rwanda will be a safe country only when those are place, which may be after Royal Assent. Will an applicant be able to argue, even after Royal Assent, that Rwanda is not safe until the measures that are being moved towards are put in place?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, on the passing of the Bill, the Act will decree that Rwanda is safe. Just because work is being done to render a place safer it does not make it unsafe.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister just said that Rwanda is becoming safer, but in his earlier comments he said that it has begun to put measures in place, and he has previously confirmed to me that until they are in place, it cannot be determined that Rwanda is safe. The Bill will decree that it is safe before the measures are in place so that it is safe. Surely someone would be able to argue in a court that it is not safe until those measures are in place. That is what the Minister just said.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, what I said was that on the passing of the Bill, Rwanda is safe. What I say is that it is—

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You said that the safeguards had to be in place.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

I did not. I said that just because safeguards have not yet been fully put in place, it does not mean, as a result, that Rwanda cannot be deemed safe.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If Rwanda is not safe now, but it will be safe, then the period between now and the point at which it will be safe must be one in which somebody could argue that it is not safe, otherwise it does not mean anything. My noble and learned friend has himself said that it is not safe now but will become safe. I am not one who thinks that we cannot have an extraterritorial arrangement, but I do not understand the logic that says that it is not safe now, it will be safe, but you cannot appeal to the courts in between those times otherwise it is just academic. This is a use of “academic” that I do not really understand.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

I reiterate my previous answer: the fact that further work is being done does not mean that the safety or otherwise of a place is conditional on the completion of that further work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, cited the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford, concerning a journalist. She is quite correct: I did not address that specifically when I spoke earlier. The question was not pressed on me subsequently, but given that the noble Baroness has returned to it, I will look into the matter with officials and correspond.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have one final point for the Minister. If this legislation decrees on Royal Assent that Rwanda is a safe country, what is the point of having the safeguards he has mentioned?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, any work being done to improve a place is desirable of itself.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister still stand by the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, that nobody will be deported to Rwanda until the monitoring committee is up and running? He is talking as though people will start to be deported the moment this Bill passes, which is not what the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, led us to believe.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My noble friend Lord Sharpe confirmed to me a moment ago that the monitoring committee is already operational; it is up and running.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the monitoring committee consists of four people, two of whom are apparently in the pay of the Rwandan Government. Can the Minister reassure us that he thinks it will be completely unbiased?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in the first instance, the monitoring committee consists of not four but eight people. If I might express the words of my noble friend sitting next to me on the Front Bench, I can give that assurance.

My noble friend Lord Deben quoted John Donne’s line that

“No man is an island, entire of itself”.


I think in that piece of prose, which is one of his sermons, Donne also says the familiar passage about asking not for whom the bell tolls; “it tolls for thee”. None the less, while accepting everything of a universalist nature that my noble friend says about our obligations one to another as humans, I have to say that the Government’s scope for operation is restricted. We can operate within our powers and jurisdiction, must legislate to protect our borders, and cannot seek to exceed our powers.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised the point that the progress and content of this legislation are under scrutiny. His Majesty’s Government fully accept that scrutiny and appreciate that it is timely and important because of the scale of the problem that we face. It is a problem faced across all sorts of different countries, and the Government are undertaking to address it by this legislation.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister may be about to speak on this but I did ask a specific question as to the Government’s response to the absolutely damning statement from the UN commissioner for human rights, which was published today and which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also quoted. It talked about

“drastically stripping back the courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions”

and

“a serious blow to human rights”.

This is serious stuff. I would like to know the Government’s response.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

The noble Baroness indeed anticipated me as I was turning to that point. As she says, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, had touched on that. I have the statement by the United Nations human rights chief. The Government repudiate the charges that he places when he says:

“The combined effects of this Bill, attempting to shield Government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles”.


We disagree with that.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister answer a very simple question? Did the United Kingdom vote for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take his post? If so, by what right does it now repudiate his views?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

Whether or not we as a country voted for him to take his place does not exclude the possibility of disagreement with anything that any official, be he ever so high, may have to say.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am encouraged by the noble and learned Lord’s statement that the monitoring committee is up and running. He will know that the international treaties committee of this House said that

“the implementation of the Treaty requires not just the adoption of new laws, systems and procedures, but also the recruitment and training of personnel. For example, the Monitoring Committee has to recruit a support team”.

Are we to take it that the Minister is saying the committee has indeed already recruited a support team? If not, it is very difficult to see how it could be described as “up and running”.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

That is the information given to me, but I am happy to look into the matter to reassure the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it that it has recruited a support team, or that it is up and running?

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

The point I am making is that I have been told the body is up and running. That does not touch on the matter of the recruitment of a support team, which is the basis of the noble and learned Lord’s supplementary question.

From the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, touched on advice said to have been given by the former Solicitor-General and by the Attorney-General. I think he is aware—I have touched on it from the Dispatch Box at earlier stages—of the existence of the law officers’ convention. I will return to it again in a later group, but the essence of that convention is not only that the content of advice given is confidential but also that it is confidential that advice has even been sought. The reason for that, accepted by Governments of every stripe over the years, is to assist with the passage of decision-making and the consideration of legal matters that touch on legislation to be passed. As I said, if I may, I will revert to that in consideration of a later amendment.

The assurances and commitments that the Government have received, together with the treaty and conclusions from the FCDO experts reflected throughout the policy statement, allow his Majesty’s Government to state with confidence that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been addressed and that Rwanda is safe. As the point has been taken in this debate, albeit in passing, I stress once again that this is a matter not of overturning the findings of the United Kingdom Supreme Court but rather of acting on them.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being generous in giving way, but what he just said contradicts what he said previously in Committee. At col. 70 of 12 February’s Official Report, I asked about the mechanisms for safeguards. It had been the Government’s position—until today, it seems—that the requirements of the Supreme Court would be met by the implementation of the treaty, which includes the safeguards within it. These include the appeals mechanism and the training and capacity-building. They have to be in place. If they are not in place, the treaty is not operative. Progress is being made towards them, as the Minister said, but he has just said that the Government’s view is that the requirements of the Supreme Court have been met. These comments are contradictory. This is important because, when I asked,

“can the Minister at the Dispatch Box reconfirm that position: that no individual will be relocated before the safeguards—including the appeals mechanism, the training and the capacity-building—are in place?”,

the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, responded:

“I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative”.—[Official Report, 12/2/24; col. 70.]


Is that still the case, or did he mislead the House?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

The point I was making was in answer to the point raised earlier in the debate by noble Lords, who were characterising the Government’s actions as going back on, or overturning, the Supreme Court’s decision. As I said, the point is that the terms of the Bill and the treaty are a response to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But it is absolutely clear from the policy statement, and from answers that the Home Secretary gave to the international treaties committee of our House, that the position is not complete in Rwanda until it implements new Rwandan asylum legislation, which has not yet been passed. The Home Secretary was specifically asked when that legislation would be passed by Rwanda, and he was unable to give a timeframe. For the noble and learned Lord to say that Rwanda is now safe, when even the Home Secretary accepts that this law has yet to be introduced in Rwanda, seems to completely contradict the Government’s position. I ask him to reconsider the answer to the question: are the Government saying that Rwanda is now safe, without that legislation in Rwanda?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

I think the terms of Article 9 of the treaty are clear. The Act comes into force the day that the treaty comes into force. As to the specific Rwandan legislation to which the noble and learned Lord refers, I am not able to give a categorical answer from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister answer a couple of rather simple questions? Has he read the Rwandan legislation? Does he believe it is in conformity with the treaty?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

The answer to the former is that it does not fall to me to read the Rwandan legislation; but, given that decisions are taken collectively by the Government, I can answer the noble Lord’s second question in the affirmative.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Advocate-General for Scotland may not be the right person to express a view in relation to Rwandan legislation, but I assume that somebody in the Government has seen a draft of this legislation. Could he indicate who that is and what that person’s opinion is?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will look into that. Presumably, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will take this matter under its wing. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, refers to the Home Office. We will look into that and provide the noble and learned Lord with an answer.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister confirm, for the benefit of all of us, that the Home Office team in charge of the Bill has not seen the Rwandan legislation and has no idea who has?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, what I have said was that I have not seen the Home Office legislation. I have not been called upon to review it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I would be keen to know what is the basis for the noble and learned Lord’s assertion that Rwanda is safe, which he is putting forward on behalf of the Government.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it has been a matter that has been canvassed exhaustively already, but it flows from the treaty which the Rwandan Government and His Majesty’s Government have entered into.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister tell us whether the draft Rwandan law exists?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, again, if the noble Lord is asserting that the relevant Rwandan legislation is a figment of the imagination of the Rwandan Government or His Majesty’s Government, I am not quite sure I can answer that. However, the point is that the treaty and the work going on—which has already been substantially completed—between the British Government and that of Rwanda must indicate that there is such a piece of legislation.

The assurance and commitments to which I have referred, given to and drawing upon the conclusions made by FCDO experts, reflected throughout the policy statement, allow us to state with confidence that the concerns of the Supreme Court have been addressed and that, I repeat, Rwanda is safe. We do not, therefore, consider it necessary to make the proposed changes to Clause 4 to permit decision-makers or courts and tribunals to consider claims or grant interim relief on the basis of Rwanda’s safety generally or that Rwanda will or may remove persons to another state in contravention of its international obligations. That is contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill. The assurances we have negotiated in a legally binding treaty with Rwanda address the concerns of the Supreme Court and make detailed provision for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, ensuring they will be offered safety and protection with—it must be emphasised—no risk of refoulement.

I turn to Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. If I may build on a point I have been making, the treaty makes clear that Rwanda will not remove any individual relocated there to another country, except the United Kingdom in very limited circumstances. Article 10(3) of the UK-Rwanda treaty sets out explicitly that no relocated individual shall be removed from Rwanda except to United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11(1). Annexe B of the treaty also sets out the claims process for relocated individuals and how they will be treated. Part 3.3.2 of Annexe B sets out clearly that members of the first-instance body, who will make decisions on asylum and humanitarian protection claims,

“shall make decisions impartially, solely on the basis of evidence before them and by reference to the provisions and principles of the Refugee Convention and humanitarian protection law”.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If there is no risk of refoulement because of all those processes, all the legislation and all the things the Minister has just read out, in view of his earlier answers will he confirm that all of that is in place now? Or is it due to be in place? And if it is due to be in place, when will that be? How long into the future will all of the various points that the Minister has read out be in place? At the moment, as it stands under the Bill, I cannot go to the Home Secretary or to any immigration official and say I might be refouled, because I will not be allowed to under the Bill. And yet the Minister cannot tell us that all of the processes to protect me from refoulement are in place. So, what am I supposed to do if I am at risk of refoulement?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

If the noble Lord were to be threatened with refoulement, it could only happen to him once the Bill and the treaty were in place. A person could not be relocated to Rwanda until the Bill and the treaty are in place, and once the Bill and treaty are in place, there is no risk of refoulement.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very concerned with what the Minister has literally just told us. The Minister has just said that, once this Bill has passed, there is no risk of refoulement. Article 10 of the treaty says:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation does not occur”.


Those are not consistent. The effective system has to be in place, because that is what the treaty says; the effective system is not the passage of this Bill. So can the Minister now correct the record?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government are working with the Government of Rwanda to implement new protections to the Rwandan asylum system, including the introduction of new legislation. I am reverting to a point that was taken earlier, but I give the same answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Protections offered by the treaty will prevent refoulement from Rwanda to elsewhere.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister, who has been very patient with so many concerned Members of the Committee, but everything that he says very honestly in relation to each question suggests that the safeguards are not yet in place. Therefore, Rwanda is not yet safe, because that was the whole point of the treaty: to offer additional protections and to attempt to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court. How can all of this be academic? This is not a bathroom that has been plumbed in and we are now just painting the tiles; we do not have the plumbing yet.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the treaty guarantees that anyone relocated to Rwanda will be given safety and support and will not be returned to a country where their life or freedom will be threatened. That directly addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns about refoulement. As to the matter of the use I made of the word “academic”, I was using that in answer to points raised by noble Lords in relation to why the Bill bars the taking of general points of academic interest, which was referring to a point once the Bill and the treaty are in place. Once they are in place, there is no possibility of refoulement from Rwanda without contravention of an international instrument. The point is that, at that stage, argument before the domestic courts would be academic. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think that the Minister has taken on board what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked him. Article 10(3), which is the provision in the treaty that allows relocation only back to the UK, contains the following phrase:

“The Parties—”


that is, Rwanda and the UK,

“shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation—"

the obligation being to remove only to the UK—

“does not occur”.

The parties have not yet agreed that. The parties, the UK and Rwanda, therefore accept that, currently, there is not in place an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to the obligation only to remove to the UK exists. Could the Minister please explain to the Committee how he can possibly say that, at the moment, under the agreement—that is the overarching agreement, not the agreement to agree an effective system for ensuring non-refoulement—such safeguards currently exist? We need an explanation for that.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the point is that the treaty, while it has not been ratified, is a matter of agreement. I spoke about the work—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the Minister’s answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, does the system—the effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to the obligation does not occur—exist?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am not fully clear that I follow the import of the question that the noble Lord poses. If he will bear with me, I am going to defer answering that point and will do so with him in writing.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Forgive me: I am just trying to understand the Minister’s position on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and pursued by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The treaty requires the parties to set up a system—it says they shall agree a system. The Minister is saying that Rwanda is safe and implying that that system has been set up, or at least has been agreed, and will come into force the moment the treaty is ratified. Is that the case?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The system has been agreed and will come into place along with the treaty.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister then tell us what that system is? When will the House see that system? It would help us to judge how real the remaining risk of removal to a third country is if we could see the system that has apparently been created to ensure that that risk does not come to fruition.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I will expand on the matter in the correspondence to which I referred the noble Lord.

I will go into more detail about the work that has been and is being conducted between Rwandan and British officials. Officials from the UK and Rwanda have worked closely together to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system. We have already developed and commenced operational training for Rwandan asylum decision-makers and strengthened procedural oversight of the MEDP and asylum processes.

In November 2023, technical experts from the Home Office, working with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development, delivered a training course aimed at asylum decision-makers in Rwanda. It focused on applying refugee law in asylum interviews and decision-making, and on best practice in assessing credibility and utilising country-of-origin information.

Furthermore, as set out in paragraph 14.1.15 of the published country information note on Rwanda’s asylum system, once the treaty is ratified there are provisions for Rwanda to move to a case-worker model when deciding asylum claims. Under that model, for the first six months Rwanda’s decision-making body will consider advice from a seconded independent expert prior to making any decision in relation to a claim.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Under CRaG, the scrutiny period for the treaty has now been concluded, so, for clarification, when will the UK ratify the treaty?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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That is a decision not for me to take. It will be taken by the Government collectively. I am not in a position to give a date to the noble Lord, if he was asking me to give one. In the circumstances, I cannot supply him with any further information.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The Minister just referred to the independent experts who are going to help the Rwandans in relation to their processing of claimants. Our International Agreements Committee said those independent experts have yet to be appointed. Could he give the House an indication of how the appointment process is going? How many have been appointed, and when?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, that is a matter of detail upon which I will have to correspond with the noble and learned Lord.

The Government of Rwanda are committed to this partnership. Like the UK, they are a signatory to the refugee convention and have an international obligation to provide protection to those who are entitled to it. The Bill is predicated on the compliance by both Rwanda and the UK with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the UK and Rwanda.

Taking together the strengthened Rwandan asylum system and the commitment set out in the legally binding treaty—which, once ratified, will become part of Rwandan domestic law—it is unnecessary for a decision-maker, whether that be an immigration officer or a court, to consider any claim made on the ground that Rwanda may remove a person to another state. Furthermore, as I said earlier, that would delay unnecessarily the relocation of individuals to Rwanda, thereby undermining the core of the Bill.

For the reasons outlined, I respectfully ask that noble Lords do not move their amendments.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords—before the Minister sits down—it becomes crucial to know when this Act will come into force. This is not a personal observation, but the Minister has given the most unsatisfactory series of answers about what the position is in Rwanda. Clause 9 of the Bill says:

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


On Wednesday, I took the Minister through what the statement and the agreement suggest, which is that the Bill comes into force when the steps required for ratification are completed by both countries. The only step required for ratification that is referred to in the policy statement made by the Government, as far as the UK Government are concerned, is the passage of this Bill. So it appears that the Government are envisaging that, almost automatically on the passage of the Bill, they will treat the agreement as ratified. The consequence is that the Bill will immediately come into force. If that is right, it is pretty obvious that the Bill will become law and the Government can deport people to Rwanda when the safeguards are not in place. Could the Minister confirm that my understanding of when the Bill is going to come into force, which I set out in detail last week, is correct?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I cannot go beyond the terms of the clause to which the noble and learned Lord refers. Clause 9(1) states:

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

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, I am grateful to the Committee for its deliberations, but on this occasion I am particularly happy to welcome the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, to those deliberations, and indeed to what I hope will be a long and happy role as a legislator in your Lordships’ House. I think the Committee will agree that she dealt with this important group of amendments with the expertise and clarity that we would have expected. She pointed out the dangers of the “for ever” conclusion that Rwanda is safe and therefore the inability of our domestic courts to ever look at that issue—something that I think every speaker other than the Minister found unsatisfactory and said so more than once.

The noble and learned Baroness pointed out the oddity of a situation where there would be at least the possibility of jurisdiction in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in circumstances where our domestic courts had been stripped of jurisdiction. For those concerned about sovereignty, that seems to be a very odd state of affairs. The one thing that the Bill does not purport to oust is the final jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—although it attempts to allow Ministers to ignore interim relief from Strasbourg—but it completely ousts all serious jurisdiction of our domestic courts, particularly in relation to the issue of the general safety of Rwanda. That is a very odd and unsatisfactory state of affairs and, again, no one in the Committee other than the Minister appeared to say otherwise.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for reminding the Committee what the UNHCR said just today about the Government of the UK attempting to shield themselves from judicial oversight. My goodness me—what would we be saying about any other country or jurisdiction in the world that that was said about by the main refugee monitor at the UN? Furthermore, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for pointing out the significance of this in places such as the UN Human Rights Council, and how shameful it is that an examination of the UK should now be threatening to eclipse the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine. There are almost no words.

When there are almost no words, thank goodness for the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I refer the Committee to Hansard last Wednesday, when he spoke about the “nature of truth” and how we should always be seeking after it and never trying to end that exploration. I say to the Minister that rather more important than any references to John Donne today was the allusion to Al Gore; it is the inconvenient truth that the Government are constantly seeking to avoid with this Bill. It is the inconvenient truth that Rwanda is not yet safe, hence the need for the treaty in the first place and all the mechanisms that need to be brought in and operated under it. This was put so well, repeatedly, by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. There is also the inconvenient truth that we still believe in the rule of law in this country. We still believe in anxious scrutiny of individual cases before people’s rights are put in jeopardy. There is the inconvenient truth that, even if Rwanda became generally safe tomorrow, things could change quickly, as they do in countries all over the world, as was pointed out once more by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Whitaker for pointing out very real concerns about journalists currently detained in Rwanda. We wait for responses “in due course” from the Government about reports of torture of the journalists currently incarcerated there. I was grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Coaker on the Opposition Front Bench. I thought, if I may say so, that the courtesy and deference he gave to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and the mutuality of respect between them, boded well for the attitude of a future Labour Government. I will hold him to that in due course, I hope.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Scotland Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 62 in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker would ensure that a Minister of the Crown making a decision on an interim injunction consults the Attorney-General. This would ensure that, before making a decision on compliance with any interim measures issued by the ECHR for the purpose of blocking a person’s removal to Rwanda, the relevant Minister consults the Attorney-General, creating an additional safeguard. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, introduced his speech by saying he was not going to be arrogant or impudent, so I will adopt the same approach in my speech, which will be brief. I am not going to go into the legal arguments—many eminent lawyers have done that—but I am going to go into the politics and address what seems to me to be the question that has been left hanging in the air.

Yesterday morning, I watched the television and Mr Michael Tomlinson, the Illegal Migration Minister, was on our screens and he was absolutely explicit: he said that the flights will take off as soon as the Bill becomes an Act and the treaty comes into force. He said they will be going pretty much immediately. There was no question of the niceties of Rule 39 and all the other things we have been talking about; the subject simply did not come up. That is the politics of it: when the Bill becomes an Act, the treaty comes into force and those flights will be taking off.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer went into how the decision on Rule 39 might be made. The question he, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, asked, was, would it be subject to judicial review? To me, that is the question hanging in the air, and I look forward to the Minister’s answer, because as far as I can see it will be for the Attorney-General to make that decision, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and she will be doing that as a law officer. Today’s Daily Telegraph said—I do not know how it knows this—that when Mr Tomlinson was Solicitor-General, he had written legal advice saying that it would be illegal to go against Rule 39. I know it is private advice; nevertheless, that was in today’s Daily Telegraph.

So, there are two issues. First, the Illegal Migration Minister was explicit about the flights taking off on the conclusion of proceedings on the Bill. Secondly, what is the status of judicial review of any Rule 39 decision?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Committee for an exceptionally lively, informed and learned debate on this matter. The consideration of obligations to obtemper interim measures—interim indications from the European Court of Human Rights—seemed to gravitate around two poles. On one hand we had the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble Lords, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard and Lord Hannay of Chiswick, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and others. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne spoke powerfully, my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough added his weight, and we heard supportive contributions from my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, who spoke from the Cross Benches offering, if I may say so, a qualified view as to the obligation to obtemper any such interim measures.

The scheme of the Bill is to enact Clause 5 to put beyond doubt that the decision about whether to comply with an interim measure, in proceedings relating to the intended removal of a person to the Republic of Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of or made under the Immigration Act, is in the hands of a Minister of the Crown. The requirement for a Minister of the Crown is to exercise the decision personally, which reflects the seriousness of the decision to be taken.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Why, then, does the Victims and Prisoners Bill, as presented by the Government, require the Secretary of State to consult the Attorney-General before amending the victims’ code, if there is this long-standing convention that the Government are indivisible and the Attorney-General will always be consulted on important matters? Also, why is this significant decision potentially to ignore interim relief from the Strasbourg court for Ministers and not Parliament, given that the Government’s central argument in this Bill is about parliamentary sovereignty?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think the answer to the first point is that the Victims and Prisoners Bill relates to victims, a matter on which the Attorney-General, exercising her supervision over aspects of the criminal legal system, would be in a good position to answer. That distinguishes it from this measure. However, that is only my instinctive answer. So as not to mislead the Committee, if the noble Baroness is content then I will write to her on the topic. I am grateful for her nod of agreement. As to whether this should be for Parliament as opposed to the Executive, in the form of the Minister, I can only repeat that the scheme of the Bill and the Government’s intention is that this decision should lie with the Minister responsible.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, made two points, the second of which echoed the question anent judicial review posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Our position is that the decision on the part of a Minister to comply with an interim measure is not amenable to judicial review. His other question related to the views expressed by my honourable friend in the other place the Minister for Immigration about flights taking off as soon as the Bill passes. While this Committee is engaged in detailed legal scrutiny, my honourable friend is speaking in public about the Bill’s policy: to see to it that these flights take off as quickly as possible and the deterrent effect of which my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom and I have spoken should take effect.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Why is it not susceptible to judicial review? Ouster of the courts normally involves at least a provision in a Bill. There is no such provision here. Ousting the courts by a statement from the Dispatch Box in the House of Lords is very unusual.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am not in a position to go into detailed discussion on this point, but I have given the Government’s position on the amenability of judicial review in relation to these decisions.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Could the Minister indicate when he might be in a position to debate it?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I undertake to correspond with the noble and learned Lord on that.

Amendments 58, 60 and 61 would bind the United Kingdom Government, preventing a Minister of the Crown or discouraging domestic courts from considering the individual facts of the case or the determination of the domestic courts as to whether a person would face a risk of serious and irreversible harm if returned to Rwanda.

The amendments would also require the United Kingdom courts to take account of an interim measure issued by the Strasbourg court, potentially supplementing the ECHR’s decision, rather than making their own independent finding about whether a person would face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm.

Finally, the disapplication of Section 55 of the Illegal Migration Act would lead to a conflict between the duty to remove established by the Act and the effect of an interim measure issued by the Strasbourg court. That would create uncertainty as to which will prevail.

Clause 4 includes a specific provision enabling the United Kingdom courts to grant an interim remedy preventing removal to Rwanda where it is satisfied that a person would face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. Those measures have been designed to ensure that our courts are not out of step with the Strasbourg court; the serious and irreversible harm test is broadly the same that the Strasbourg court applies. Clause 4 would have our courts apply the same test as the Strasbourg court when considering the position of a person who might be sent to Rwanda. There is no reason why the United Kingdom courts, which we would expect to be in possession of all the evidence and facts in the case when making such a decision, cannot be relied upon to reach their own decision rather than being required to have regard to another court which may not have complete information on the case.

The Government submit that these amendments risk hampering or thwarting our efforts to stop the boats and to remove people with no right to remain in the United Kingdom.

There have been references from various quarters about the absence of my noble friend Lord Hailsham today. I indicate to the Committee that he was courteous enough to contact me directly and let me know what the position was. He has tabled Amendment 63, which relates to rules governing Rule 39 procedures. In support of that, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was the first to make inquiries of the Government as to what the position is in relation to the changes in the procedures. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who also discussed this. On 13 November 2023, the Strasbourg Court announced proposed amendments to its rules and practice concerning interim measures, including the naming of judges who make the decisions on interim measure requests, interim measures communicated as formal decisions, considering state representations before interim measures are indicated, and parties being able to request reconsideration of an interim measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred to his observations at Second Reading, expressed again today, concerning the differences between procedures when interim remedies are sought in our domestic courts and the case that is hitherto applied in the European court. I do not intend to repeat in any detail the points the noble Lord made. The point was that in relation to that case, as the noble Lord described, there was what amounted to a breach of natural justice, as it would be identified in a domestic court, as the United Kingdom was unable to put its case. As the noble Lord pointed out, in the domestic sphere, a person is able to seek and be granted an interim remedy.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful that the Minister was kind enough to inform the Committee about the November reforms from the Strasbourg court, so surely all these natural justice concerns have now been met.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I gave the noble Baroness a list of the recommendations, or the proposed amendments to the rules, but I do not see them as answering all of the concerns which the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, expressed, and with which I agree. The question of the ability to go to court directly after an indication has been made, or an interim interdict or injunction in our jurisdictions has been granted, and to argue the point with the court, does not form part of the reforms to the direct ability to challenge which the Strasbourg court has announced.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, ultimately the matter for the Committee to take into account—I appreciate that I am not giving the noble Lord an answer—is where this leaves our domestic obligations, not our international ones.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
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Surely it is relevant to this Committee, if we are being invited to pass Clause 5 into law, to know whether or not, in the Government’s view, it will enable or facilitate a breach of international law by a Minister acting in reliance on it. The Minister does not seem to be able to tell us whether he takes that view or not. I read the human rights memorandum as taking the orthodox view that there is a breach of our international obligations when interim measures are disregarded by a Minister. Is the Minister telling us that the position has changed since that memorandum was drafted?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in addressing the Committee, I outlined that the position in relation to international measures is that they must be incorporated into domestic law before they take on binding character for our domestic courts.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not believe there is any dispute in this Committee about the proposition that the Minister has just delivered himself of. However, we are not talking about domestic law; we are talking about international law. If the Minister cannot answer the question now, will he add it to what is, I am afraid, the lengthy list of questions on which he has kindly offered to write to the Committee in due course?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, in view of the hour and the information which I have to hand, and given the stark terms in which the noble Lord expresses himself, that might perhaps be the better course.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it not the case that the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is that it depends? We know from the Policy Exchange paper and many other sources that there have been many cases where Rule 39 indications have not been complied with by states parties, including France, Italy, Albania and Slovakia. It all depends on the circumstances, does it not?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend but the answer “it depends” renders the matter, to a certain extent, even more complicated and emphasises the number of considerations that I will have to take into account in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. While I am grateful to my noble friend for his contribution, my undertaking to write to the noble Lord remains in place.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this predominantly technical debate on the view of the UK’s legal position if it were to ignore an interim measure from the European Court of Human Rights. The final intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and the Minister’s answer leave me just as confused as when we started the debate. It reminds me why, after I graduated 40 years ago, when I was offered the chance of becoming an NHS manager or going to law school, I chose to become an NHS manager. That was hard enough.

Clearly, noble and noble and learned Lords have raised several issues, but because of the lateness of the hour, I will not repeat them all. There is the issue of judicial review, which is quite bizarre. If a Minister’s sole decision on such an important issue cannot be judicially reviewed, particularly if the position is completely irrational, I think most noble Lords would agree that it would be easy for international law to be broken and for the individual to have no recourse even to our own domestic courts. As many noble Lords have said, the perverseness of Clause 5 as it stands is that it is preposterous that even our own domestic courts are ruled out from making any interim judgments. The Minister has not been able to give any convincing answer as to why that is.

A number of noble and noble and learned Lords asked this question in different ways, which the Minister, in answering, still ignored: if an interim decision is of such a serious nature, why would a Minister of the Crown wish to ignore it? It is hard to conceive why a Minister would wish to do that, particularly if there is no judicial review. It makes the individual completely reliant on a rational Minister making a decision devoid of the policy of the Government, which is absolutely central to stop the boats. It gets the Minister in a political and legal position that is highly suspect both for the individual on the receiving end of the decision and for the Minister having to make it. I am absolutely convinced of that, based on the views that have been raised.

Of all those views raised, the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, about the judgment and Articles 32 and 34 is one that I felt was definitive, as, I think, did many other noble Lords. However, the Government refused to accept that and continue to insist that Clause 5 is not in breach of international law and is not in any way a dilution of the separation of powers. I believe that this issue will come back on Report, and quite rightly so. Depending on what the Government say, I am sure that it will be a bone of contention for the House. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a very small amendment. I tabled this amendment because I read that, according to what the Home Secretary said, it will be possible for people who have sought or been given asylum in Rwanda to be returned to this country if they are guilty of a serious offence.

Can the Minister say whether the Government have any idea of the numbers that they expect to be returned, or is it just a small number, as the Home Secretary said? What is the definition of a serious crime that would require somebody to be returned to the UK from Rwanda? Can we refuse somebody who is in Rwanda and the Rwanda Government are seeking to return on the basis that they have been guilty of a serious crime? Can the UK Government refuse to accept them back from Rwanda, if that is the case? If they are successfully returned to the UK from Rwanda because of the serious crime that they have committed, or the national security threat that they pose, what is their status when they are back in the UK? If we chose to do so, would we be able to deport them to another country?

This is a probing amendment; I was just curious, when I heard the Home Secretary talking about the possibility of criminals who had been deported to Rwanda being returned to the UK. It would be helpful to have a few answers to those questions. I beg to move.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for Amendment 68, but I cannot support its addition to the Bill. We do not consider such a change necessary, as individuals would be returned from Rwanda only in extremely limited circumstances, which we have agreed to in this legally binding treaty.

The first question that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, posed was to ask the Government again for numbers, as he had in the previous amendment. I do not think that any attempt to estimate likely numbers of people committing serious crimes is something that the Government could be expected to provide. If somebody who has been relocated to Rwanda commits a very serious crime, there is a chance that they could have their status revoked. In these limited circumstances, they may be removed to the United Kingdom, but only after they have served any prison sentence in Rwanda. This will ensure the non-refoulement element of the treaty will not be breached.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Could the Minister define the prison sentence? Is it any prison sentence, or is it a sentence of two, four or five years?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The provision in the treaty is reserved for the most serious crimes—one punishable by five years or more imprisonment.

The amendment would necessitate, in the rare event of such returns to the United Kingdom, parliamentary consideration as to whether the Rwanda treaty should be suspended. However, it does not follow that, because an individual is returned from Rwanda to the United Kingdom because of serious criminality, the whole treaty is called into question. The return of individuals to the United Kingdom, including in these circumstances, is envisaged expressly by the treaty. It would be an example of the treaty functioning as it should, not a reason for its suspension.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister quite rightly says that it is in the treaty—under Article 11, I assume. But that article says that the person will come back to the United Kingdom only with the relocated individual’s consent. If that consent is not given, what happens in this instance?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I will have to revert to the noble Lord with an answer to that question, which is a hypothetical situation I had not considered.

The Government have set out the expense caused to the British taxpayer of billions of pounds in relation to illegal migration. As my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom has pointed out on more than one occasion, our primary concern is the dreadful cost in life that it is inflicting. That is why we need bold and novel solutions towards ending it. Deterrence is a key element of the Rwanda partnership. Ultimately, we need to stop people making dangerous and illegal journeys across the channel. It is vital that we can show those who enter the United Kingdom illegally that they will not be permitted to remain here, thus breaking the model of the people smugglers and helping us to put an end to their vile trade. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to wind up this group of amendments for His Majesty’s Opposition. We have become used to the quality of the debate on the Rwanda Bill, but I start by associating myself with all the remarks made about Lord Cormack and add my recognition that he was a marvellous individual. In marking his passing, I also mark the passing of my noble friend Lady Henig in recent days. I am sure that fuller tributes will be made to her; we have lost a valued colleague.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, presented a challenge to me. If we were to win the next election, we would have the big advantage of being in power and would repeal the Bill. That is the point I make to the noble Baroness.

It is our view, whether or not it is held universally, that it is important for us to respect what we see as the constitutional traditions of the House. We would expect them to be followed were we to be in power, and that is why we take the position we do. I say to the Government, as I have on a number of occasions, that constitutional convention also requires the Government to listen to what the House of Lords says, to respect what it says and to listen to its views and not just dismiss them before they have even been discussed. We have made that point continually throughout this debate.

The Government may disagree with all the amendments, but to dismiss them as the Government have, before this House has even debated many of them, undermines the constitutional proprieties of the way this country operates. As much as the Government say to us that we should respect those, the Government should respect the amendments your Lordships consider and, on occasion, pass.

I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for her amendments and for the way she put them. She will see that my Amendment 2 seeks to say that the Act, as it will be, should comply with domestic and international law. I want to focus particularly on the international law aspects but, with respect to the debate we have had on domestic law, I refer noble Lords to the report from the Constitution Committee. The report made a number of challenges to the Government about how simply saying something was a fact in legislation accorded with the separation of powers.

Clause 1(2)(b) says that

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

Paragraph 11 of the Select Committee report says:

“Clause 1(2)(b) could be interpreted as a breach of the separation of powers between Parliament and the courts. It is the role of Parliament to enact legislation. It is the role of the courts to apply legislation to the facts”.


The Bill says that the facts are not convenient so we will change them by legislation, saying that Rwanda is safe by an Act of law rather than by application of that legislation to the facts as they are within the country.

International law is also extremely important. In Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, helpfully pointed out that Clause 1(4)(b) says:

“It is recognised that … the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.


That is quite astonishing. The Bill later lists all the various laws and conventions which will not apply. As a country, is that really where we want our legislation to be? My noble friend Lady Lawrence referred to the UNHCR’s view that the Bill is incompatible. Do we simply dismiss that with a wave of the hand and pass legislation to say that it does not matter? Do we say that disapplying the Council of Europe from this legislation does not matter, despite the fact that it was mainly Conservative politicians, not least Churchill and Maxwell Fyfe, who moved forward the legislation on it? All sorts of other conventions are dismissed with a wave of the hand as though they do not matter.

Yet, time after time from the Dispatch Box, both here and in the other place, respect for international law is used as a justification for this country’s actions. The international law of the sea is used, rightly, as a justification for our actions against the Houthis in the Red Sea. When we say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal, it is because it breaks international law. We often talk about “foreign courts” as a disparaging term for international courts that we have agreed to join, but where do we wish to take Putin for what he has done in Ukraine? It is to an international court to be held to account by international law. In all these examples, we expect international law to apply to the actions of an individual or a Government.

My amendment says that it matters what this country does, with respect to both domestic and international law, because in all the international institutions of which we are a member we often stand up and say that international law is important and should be applied and adhered to. We do so because we recognise that if it is not, that will be the road to chaos, confusion and the problems across our world getting not better but worse.

The Bill is dealing with a difficult problem that we all wish to see solved. This is not between those who wish to see it solved and those who do not, but about the differences in how we would do it. There is a need to deal with the challenges of the small boats, immigration, migration, refugees and asylum seekers in this country, but let us do it in a way that is consistent with our proud tradition of respect for law—both our domestic law and the separation of powers, and the international law based on treaties that we signed as a free, independent country.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of the Government Front Bench, I will first speak about noble Lords who have recently passed out of this Chamber and out of this life. I echo everything said about my noble friend Lord Cormack. I did not know Baroness Henig as well as her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, did, but I mourn her loss and those better able to speak about her will do so in due course.

As to Lord Cormack, I can say something. If the welcome which he extended to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on his entering the other place was as kind, heartening, pleasant and wise as the one which he extended to me on my coming among your Lordships a scant few years ago, I would not be very surprised. The House will miss his contribution to our deliberations.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, set out, Amendments 1, 3 and 5 add the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence in Clause 1, requiring the Secretary of State to consider all relevant evidence and lay a statement before Parliament that Rwanda is currently a safe country. Amendment 10, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, would mean that decision-makers cannot conclusively treat Rwanda as safe if the Supreme Court rules otherwise, even if Parliament had declared it safe.

The overarching purpose of the Bill is to deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the United Kingdom, which are putting people’s lives at risk, and to disrupt the business model of people smugglers who are exploiting vulnerable people. Picking up a point that my noble friend Lord Hailsham made, we know that deterrence can work. We have seen this through our Albania partnership, where we have removed more than 5,700 people, and the number of small boat arrivals has dropped by 93%. The number of migrants crossing the channel has fallen year on year for the first time since current records began, with the total arrivals in 2023 down more than a third on 2022. We know that this is not a Europe-wide trend—there has been a 16% increase in detected irregular arrivals to Europe.

This Government’s joint work with France prevented more than 26,000 individual crossings by small boat to the United Kingdom in 2023. Since July 2020, the joint intelligence cell and French law enforcement partners have dismantled 82 organised criminal gangs responsible for people smuggling of migrants via small boat crossings. However, as we know, the small boats problem is part of a larger global migration crisis—one that this Government are committed to tackling, along with our international partners.

The migration and economic development partnership—MEDP—with the Government of Rwanda is one part of our wider programme to stop the boats. This partnership will not only act as a strong deterrent but demonstrate that it is not necessary to take dangerous and unnecessary journeys to find safety, as promoted by the smugglers. This partnership with the Government of Rwanda has now been set out in a new treaty, binding in international law. As your Lordships’ House heard from my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth a moment ago, it has been ratified by the lower house of the Rwandan Parliament and is moving on to its upper house. This treaty has been agreed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda and was worked on by both parties with close care and attention.

As was set out repeatedly in earlier debates, the Government respect the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of AAA v the Secretary of State for the Home Department. However, I remind noble Lords that the Supreme Court’s conclusions were based on evidence submitted prior to the High Court hearing in September 2022 and did not consider the subsequent, ongoing work that has been undertaken between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda since the partnership was announced, to prepare for the operationalisation of the partnership and, later, to address the findings of the Court of Appeal.

Indeed, the Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which could address the conclusions they reached, and as I have just set out, we have done this through the treaty. I repeat: the Bill and the treaty do not overturn or disregard the Supreme Court’s decision; they act on it.

Article 10 of the treaty ensures that people relocated to Rwanda are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. It ensures that people relocated to Rwanda who are not granted asylum will receive the same treatment as those recognised as refugees, including permanent residence. It strengthens Rwanda’s asylum system, including through the constitution of a new appeal body composed of judges, from Rwanda and other countries, with asylum and humanitarian protection expertise to hear individual appeals. It clarifies the availability of free legal representation for all stages of the process and availability of free legal representation for court appeals, and it enhances the functions of the independent monitoring committee.

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Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Lord Clarke of Nottingham (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend asserts that the Government are complying with the rule of law and respect the position of the courts and so on. Why does the Bill expressly rule out any court in future considering any evidence that Rwanda perhaps is not complying with the treaty that he has described, and why does the Bill expressly rule out the provision of various features of international law when it comes to consider future behaviour by the Government of Rwanda? The terms of the Bill seem to contradict the complete confidence with which my noble friend is putting forward this ideal situation that is likely to prevail for all time on the ground in east Africa.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, the point of the Bill is to move the matter into the diplomatic and political sphere. The Bill and the treaty make the point that the matters are better considered there than they are in the court. That is my answer to the point which my noble friend makes.

Regarding Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I cannot accept that the provisions of this Bill undermine the rule of law. Amendment 2, implying that this legislation is not compliant with the rule of law, is simply not right. The Bill is predicated on Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda, as my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth pointed out following his recent visit.

As has been stated in the debates on this Bill, the Government take their international obligations, including under the European Convention on Human Rights, seriously. There is nothing in this Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with the United Kingdom’s international obligations. Along with other countries with similar constitutional arrangements to the United Kingdom, and again echoing points made by my noble friend Lord Murray, we have a dualist approach, where international law is treated as separate from domestic law and incorporated into domestic law by Parliament through legislation. This Bill invites Parliament to agree with its assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and to enact the measures in the Bill accordingly. The Bill reflects the fact—going back to my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne’s opening points—that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if it be Parliament’s judgment, requiring