Clause 1 - Introduction

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – in the House of Commons am 9:56 pm ar 22 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 9:56, 22 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3J.

It is a great pleasure to open the debate. I start by echoing and agreeing with my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who started his speech during the previous debate, just a short number of hours ago, by agreeing with what the Opposition spokesman, Stephen Kinnock, said about there being nothing new to say, just pitying that he then spent 40 minutes saying nothing new.

I do not intend to emulate what the shadow Minister did on that previous occasion, because it is clear that amendment 3J is almost identical to the previous amendments that we debated and that this House rejected just a short number of hours ago. The amendment is in two parts, inserting when Rwanda may be treated as a safe country and when Rwanda must cease to be treated as a safe country. The amendment is not necessary.

Turning to the amendment from the noble Lord Anderson of Ipswich, I will make it clear once again that we will ratify the treaty only when all necessary implementation is in place. The implementation will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee. Clause 9 of the Bill makes it clear when the Bill and its provisions come into force. Implementation continues at pace. I can confirm again that on 21 March the Rwandan Senate passed legislation ratifying the treaty. As I confirmed this afternoon, on 19 April—just last Friday—the Rwandan Parliament passed domestic legislation to implement its new asylum system.

In an attempt to reassure my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, let me say that, as we have made clear, if the monitoring committee were to raise any issues to the joint committee, standing members of the joint committee are senior officials of the Government of this country and the Government of Rwanda, and the Government will, of course, listen. I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that it will be up to the independent monitoring committee to raise issues at any point.

There is nothing new in this amendment. Such amendments have already been rejected. Enough is enough.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 10:00, 22 Ebrill 2024

For several months now, the Prime Minister has been ferociously attacking their lordships in the other place simply for doing their constitutional duty by seeking to revise and improve this Bill. Tonight, we see the evidence of why it is so important that they did just that.

I wish to put on the record my thanks to the noble Lord Browne for his tenacity in securing a significant concession—and it is a concession—which promises that Afghans in the UK who have put forward credible claims and evidence of a connection to Afghan specialist units will not be deported to Rwanda. This has not gone as far as we would want it to, but at least the Government, albeit begrudgingly, have inched towards doing the right thing by standing by some of those who so bravely stood by us in the face of the Taliban. We owe them a debt of gratitude and it is a great shame that the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, first turned their back on those to whom we promised sanctity by cancelling flights from Pakistan. They then spent months resisting Lord Browne’s efforts to prevent these brave Afghans from being sent to Rwanda despite repeatedly being pressed to do so and to do the right thing by our armed forces, and now finally they are being dragged kicking and screaming to where we find ourselves this evening.

Even this afternoon, the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, who is not in her place at the moment, was revealing. She raised in detail a case of her constituent who supported British efforts, but whose family were stuck in Afghanistan, yet the Minister could not even bring himself to reassure my hon. Friend that he would meet her or even look into the specifics of that case. That is why it will be so important for us to hold the Government to account on this concession, because it is so difficult to take what Ministers say at face value.

Turning now to the amendment in the name of Lord Anderson, I find it staggering that Ministers still have not conceded on this very basic point: that this House is not just trying to legislate that Rwanda is safe now—in other words that white is black and black is white—but that Rwanda is safe in perpetuity. The noble Lord Anderson was right when he said in the other place this evening that this is a post-truth Bill. We cannot possibly legislate for something that is in the lap of the gods.

I spoke earlier about the dangerous and turbulent world in which we live and how, at any point, the situation in Rwanda could change radically, just as it could in any other country.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

I am aware that the only consistent thing in the Labour leadership is its inconsistency. Will the shadow Minister confirm that in the past decade Rwanda was assumed to be so unsafe that the UN safely rehoused there 30,000 refugees from other countries?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I am very glad that he asks about what has happened in the past decade. Let us not forget that, just six years ago, 11 refugees were shot dead by the Rwandan police for protesting about food shortages, as reported by the UN. I thank him for his intervention, because he makes the point clearly for me: six years ago, 11 refugees were shot dead.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I would welcome the hon. Member’s comments on that point.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

I am sorry about that incident, but 30,000 refugees have been safely rehoused in Rwanda. Rwanda is deemed to be safe by the United Nations. It is deemed to be safe by pretty much everybody apart from the Labour party. That is my point.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

The whole point of this is that we do not have a crystal ball. The evidence of what happened six years ago should clearly give us some cause for concern. All that this amendment seeks to do is create a position whereby the independent monitoring committee, handpicked by the Government, is able to advise the Home Secretary on laying a statement, which is absolutely fair enough.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North

I listened carefully to the intervention that referred to 30,000 refugees in the past decade. Is my hon. Friend aware that within the past 12 months the UK has accepted a refugee from Rwanda?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

It was not just one refugee; many refugees are taken from Rwanda by this country, which begs the question how safe Rwanda can be. All that the amendment would do is trust but verify. It would put in place the kind of mechanism that is embedded in thousands of pieces of legislation that are on the statute book. I simply cannot understand why the Government cannot simply accept the amendment and enable the Home Secretary to lay a statement on whether Rwanda is safe or unsafe. That would provide important safeguards. It is not in any way a wrecking amendment; just like all the other amendments that the Government rejected, it would not prevent flights from taking off.

At his press conference this morning, the Prime Minister boasted about the progress that he has supposedly been making to stop the Tory small boats chaos. Yet as he stood at the lectern, it emerged that small boat crossings have increased by 24% compared with the same period last year. Next, he refused to give details about the operationalisation of the Rwanda scheme, saying that

“we will not be giving away sensitive operational detail which could hinder all the progress made to date”— or so he thought. It subsequently emerged that one of his Ministers had left behind under some chairs in the front row a secret document entitled “Official Sensitive”, which included—wait for it—operational details of how the scheme will work. You simply could not make it up, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yet another day of chaos, empty boasts, and shambolic incompetence.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he made one point in his press conference that Labour did agree with. In response to a question from the media, he clearly stated that the test for the policy will not be whether a few “symbolic flights” take off, as his former friend Robert Jenrick, the former Immigration Minister, said. In the Prime Minister’s words:

“Success is when the boats have been stopped.”

That is how he wants to be judged, and I assure the House that it is how Labour will judge him, and how the public will judge him too.

For two years, we have been urging the Prime Minister to stop the boasts and instead start stopping the Tory boats chaos. Sadly, he has chosen to ignore us on both fronts. Instead, we need Labour’s plan—[Interruption.]—to redirect the Rwanda money into a cross-border police unit to smash the criminal gangs upstream, and a returns and enforcement unit to remove those who have no right to be here, reversing the decline in removals that we have seen under this Government. Only Labour’s plan can fix our country’s broken asylum system—[Interruption.]—and only Labour’s plan can restore order at our border. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not want to hear it, but that is the reality of the situation. I hope that every Conservative Member will join me in the Division Lobby this evening.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

It was going so well, and then it descended into a Second Reading diatribe from a Labour Opposition that have absolutely nothing to say about the serious challenge of immigration. They pretend that they will do what the Government are doing, only slightly better, but they do not really approach the level of events and the seriousness of the issue. We face a blank page on the other side of the House.

Let us deal briefly with the issue that we have left. I still think that there is strong merit in what their lordships say about not just the way in which we designate Rwanda to be a safe country but the parliamentary mechanism that we have to deal with things changing in the future, if they do. It seems to me that in the absence of the amendment there would be the need for further primary legislation in the future, which I do not think is a great place for the Government to end up in. However, in the context of where we are in the detailed consideration of Lords amendments, there comes a time when the unelected House has to cede authority to the elected House. I think we are now approaching that moment.

While I in no way resile from the merits of the argument, we need to look at the bigger picture, remember the balance that we have to strike and, frankly, think ahead to what future Governments there might end up being—hopefully not of a different complexion to our own. We need to strike a balance between both Houses. I judge that now is probably the time for us to—

Hon. Members::


Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Would not the right hon. and learned Member’s argument about whether their lordships should cave in have more weight if the policy had any mandate from the people? It was not mentioned in a general election. It was not in a manifesto. It is not the will of the people.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman’s argument has merit, under the Salisbury-Addison convention, when it comes to the principle of a Bill. Their lordships have absolutely the leeway to deal with it in the way that they have on the basis that it was not in a manifesto—he is not wrong about that—but there is a more fundamental point about the way in which the balance between both Houses must be maintained.

This is the fourth round of ping-pong—I think the record is seven—on this short Bill. For the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—a much lengthier Bill—we had only two rounds of ping-pong, because, in the end, the other House respected the primacy of this place. However reluctant and conflicted I feel about this issue, I think that we have reached that moment. That does not necessarily mean that I will vote against the Lords amendment, but I will consider whether I vote in favour of it on this occasion.

However, I do say this to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and to the Government: getting ourselves into the position of having four rounds of ping-pong on a Bill as short as this is not a great place to be, with respect to him. Had the Government made other concessions—as they have probably now done on the Afghan question, and as they did on the modern-day slavery question—perhaps we would not have had to wait this long, until this late hour, and goodness knows perhaps until a later hour, before making them. I remind my hon. Friends that Lords amendments are not about the principle of the Bill; they are about the detail of scrutiny. Given the spirit in which my right hon. and learned Friend has approached the amendments, it would have been wiser for us to reach this position slightly earlier, but that is the only criticism that I offer at this stage. The principle of the Bill is now settled, and the will of this House should prevail.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I rise again to put on the record the SNP’s opposition to this awful Bill. We do not support the state-sponsored people-trafficking Bill on Rwanda, and we will oppose it in any way we can.

I was quite disappointed to hear the Labour Lords caving on the Afghan amendment. If they think that this is some kind of concession, I have some magic beans to sell them—honestly, it is pathetic. Holly Bancroft, a journalist at The Independent who has done so much work to expose the weaknesses of the Government’s Afghan schemes, says:

“This review is already happening and is only for Afghans with links to specialist units. The Home Office is saying they won’t deport the Triples granted leave to remain in the UK by the MoD, who came here irregularly. The number of people in this situation will be very small.”

Before I came into the Chamber, I was phoned by Councillor Abdul Bostani of Glasgow Afghan United. He wanted to know what was happening in this place and what protections there will be for the Afghans he is constant contact with. He wants to know what happens to the journalists, the interpreters, the people who put their lives in danger to safeguard the UK’s mission in Afghanistan, and their children and families? He says: “Those people who the UK left behind, nobody is listening to them, nobody is replying. The safe and legal routes are not there.”

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I make this point because it is important and I want it recorded in Hansard. My constituent Trevor Young worked for the British Army in Afghanistan, alongside his comrade and friend, an Afghan who now happens to be in Pakistan because he had to leave Afghanistan after threats to him and his wife and children. The police have removed his phone, and he faces deportation from Pakistan back to Afghanistan. This is so important for my constituent. Minister, my constituent’s friend, an Afghan soldier, has been forgotten about by the British Government. I make a plea for him because he is not covered by the legislation.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:15, 22 Ebrill 2024

I thank the hon. Gentleman—he is quite right to point that out in the way that he has. It has been further reported in The Independent that an Afghan intelligence analyst who worked alongside members of the RAF has been threatened with removal to Rwanda. He says,

“I call on the prime minister and the government to stand by the promise they made during the fall of Kabul. If the legal ways, such as Arap and ACRS…were actually working, people like me wouldn’t have to wait for years just for a response and wouldn’t be forced into taking a small boat to come to the UK… Being in limbo is nothing but a waste of the UK’s resources. I have the skills to contribute to the UK’s community and the tax system, but I have to rely on Home Office help, because I cannot work.”

There are thousands of people in his position.

I have also an email from a person who emails me quite regularly. I do not know whether this person ever gets a response from the Afghan relocations and assistance policy email address that he emails, or from the other people who he copies in, but I see and read those emails when they come in. It is in tribute to Sayed, who is constantly seeking some safety, that I read this:

“You caused me to miss the evacuation flights. Why should I be in this situation. It is all because of you…I can’t endure it anymore. I am tired and I am faced with so many challenges. It happened several times today…that I had to stop myself with difficulty from crying in the middle of the street. Everyone was looking at me. I can’t endure it anymore.”

These are the people who have been left behind by this Bill, and have now been left behind by the Labour party, which would not press the amendment further.

I now turn to the one remaining amendment of all the amendments we have had. [Interruption.] I am sorry, am I boring Conservative Members? Do they want to pop back out to the Prime Minister’s office and have some drinks, instead of listening to the important cases being put in this debate? They care so little. What we are asking—[Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am just anxious that the hon. Lady addresses the amendment that is in front of us.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am addressing the amendment that is in front of us. Lords amendment 3J seeks a very small concession to Parliament: that this place should have some kind of scrutiny over whether Rwanda remains a safe country. Conservative Members were all about taking back control, but when it comes to scrutiny of the treaties and obligations we are signing up to, it is quite clear that they could not give a hoot. All that we are asking for—all that the Lords are asking for—in this amendment is some assurances, now and in the future, that there will be scrutiny of whether Rwanda is indeed a safe country. That is not asking too much.

The Government say that they will be ready to remove people in 10 to 12 weeks, and that Rwanda will be safe when the treaty is in force. I ask the Government this: will all the matters of implementation be in force in 10 to 12 weeks? Will the policies be in place in 10 to 12 weeks? Will the staff be in place in 10 to 12 weeks? Will the judges be in place in 10 to 12 weeks? Will the lawyers be in place in 10 to 12 weeks? Will the appeals system be in place in 10 to 12 weeks? Will all those things be there? Will the accommodation be there in 10 to 12 weeks—we know that that has already been sold off—and what airline company has the Government contracted with to remove people in 10 to 12 weeks? They have been extremely unclear about whether they even have an airline company. They have not told us that, and this House deserves to know, because we are not going to get the opportunity again to scrutinise the Government on whether or not the Rwanda treaty is actually being implemented.

The very least that this House should be able to do is check whether the Government and future Governments are fulfilling the obligations they have committed to carry out. We know that even when this treaty was being negotiated, Rwanda was engaging in refoulement. If that was happening when the treaty was being negotiated, is it still happening now? Can the Minister give any assurances that Rwanda is not refouling people right now? If he cannot come to the Dispatch Box and give that assurance, we should not be rejecting this Lords amendment and approving the Bill this evening.

This Bill has been very unusual in the number of Lords amendments we have had. I have never seen the like. I do not believe in the House of Lords—it is a principled position of the SNP not to send people to an unelected Chamber—but this Westminster system is broken when the supposed revising Chamber has been ignored throughout the entire process of this Bill. A revising Chamber is supposed be allowed to revise, yet this Government have ignored every single reasonable amendment the House of Lords has made. The Bill will be exactly the same as when it was introduced when it comes out of this process.

This elected House has absolutely no mandate for this Bill. It was in no manifesto, the Prime Minister does not have a mandate for it, and this House has no business approving it. I support the Lords in rejecting it. This Bill is not a deterrent. It has not been a deterrent, and nothing the Government have done has been a deterrent. It will not work. It will pile misery on to people who have already suffered incredible trauma, which the folk crowing on the Government Benches cannot even imagine. It does not happen in Scotland’s name, and we will vote against it at every opportunity we get.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3J.

Rhif adran 134 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 3J

Ie: 310 MPs

Na: 237 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 237.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 3J disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That a Committee be appointed to draw up a Reason to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their Amendment 3J;

That Michael Tomlinson, Scott Mann, Dr Kieran Mullan, James Sunderland, Stephen Kinnock, Colleen Fletcher, and Alison Thewliss be members of the Committee;

That Michael Tomlinson be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Rhif adran 135 Motion to appoint a Reasons Committee in respect of Lords Amendment 3J

Ie: 306 MPs

Na: 42 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


The House divided: Ayes 309, Noes 41.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reason to be reported and communicated to the Lords.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That concludes consideration of the Lords message received today relating to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. The House may be called upon to consider a further Lords message later today, if necessary. I am suspending the sitting to await any such message from the Lords. The Division bells will ring before the House resumes.

Sitting suspended (Order, this day).