Illegal Immigration - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 3:26 pm ar 20 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 15 November.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s plan for ending illegal immigration.

The Supreme Court has today upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, meaning that we cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda. The important thing to note is that today’s judgment was made on the basis of facts from 15 months ago. The Government, of course, fully respect the Supreme Court, but its judgment does not weaken our resolve to deter people from making these illegal, dangerous and unnecessary journeys.

This is a lengthy judgment that we now need to digest and reflect upon. We take our obligations to the courts very seriously, which is why we have already taken action to address a number of points raised by the lower courts. It is only through breaking the business model of illegal people traffickers that we can fully take control of our borders and save lives at sea. This is why the Prime Minister backed our deal with Rwanda, passed legislation to deliver it and said, last December, that other countries would follow our lead. We have now seen that other countries are, indeed, also exploring third-country models to address illegal immigration, including Austria, Germany and Denmark. Italy’s deal with Albania is a new and innovative model for processing asylum claims.

Nothing in today’s Supreme Court judgment dims our commitment. The Supreme Court said there are issues with Rwanda’s asylum system that could create the possibility of someone being returned to a country where they could face persecution. I am struck by the court’s remarks about the risk of refoulement:

‘The structural changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate that risk may be delivered in the future, but they were not shown to be in place at the time when the lawfulness of the policy had to be considered in these proceedings’.

The judgment was making reference to the earlier proceedings.

We have a plan to provide exactly that certainty. We anticipated this judgment as a possible result and, for the last few months, have been working on a plan to provide the certainty that the court demands. We have been working with Rwanda to build capacity and to amend our agreement to make it clear that those sent there cannot be sent to any country other than the UK. Our intention is to upgrade our agreement to a treaty as soon as possible, which will make it absolutely clear to our courts and to Strasbourg that the risks laid out by the court today have been responded to, will be consistent with international law and will ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise it.

The Prime Minister has said that, if our domestic legal framework frustrates our plans, he is prepared to change our laws, but we are not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row for political gain. We have a plan to deliver the Rwanda deal and we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats.

Illegal immigration is a huge global challenge, and that challenge is growing. It was a topic that I regularly raised with countries across Europe and around the wider world in my former role as Foreign Secretary. Across Europe, monthly illegal migrant numbers are trending upwards, with an exception: our numbers are falling. Illegal immigration is dangerous, it undermines the laws of our country, and it is unfair on those who come here legally and on the British people who play by the rules. It must and it will stop.

This a wonderful country. I recognise that because I have just had the chance to see it as others see it from overseas. Inevitably, people aspire to come here. But more people coming here illegally is not fair on those struggling to get GP appointments, housing or access to schools, or on those people living near to asylum hotels. The impacts are felt by some of the poorest in our society and we have a duty to address their concerns. While the Conservative Government have taken action to protect our country, the Labour Party has voted time and again—more than 80 times—not to protect our borders.

Rwanda is ready and willing to help. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operates its own refugee scheme in Rwanda. Rwanda is ready to receive thousands of people, process their claims, give them excellent care and then support them to integrate in Rwanda; this is an African country full of potential and promise. We have a future-focused, mutually beneficial partnership with it, and we have a plan to deliver it.

The Rwanda plan has only ever been one tool in our toolbox. We have a plan to drive down numbers and our plan is working. Before the Prime Minister launched his 10-point plan last December, the number of people entering the UK illegally in small boats had more than quadrupled, but while illegal migration in the rest of Europe continues to rise, crossings to the UK are now down by a third.

We are tackling illegal immigration at every stage of the journey of a would-be illegal migrant, and our plan is working. Last year, the Prime Minister signed the largest ever small boats deal with France. We have expanded our joint intelligence cell to deepen intelligence sharing and dismantle the criminal gangs. Cutting-edge surveillance technology is in play, and we have beefed up security infrastructure, such as more CCTV, at key border crossing points along the channel. We have ensured that more French officials and officers patrol French beaches, and they are working closely with UK staff. So far in 2023, nearly 22,000 crossing attempts have been prevented because of the close co-ordination between British and French officials. That means less money that the British taxpayers have to spend on hotels, less profit for the criminal gangs and fewer people to process. It sends a clear message to the gangs and to those who want to cross that we will stop them.

As Foreign Secretary, I worked closely with my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister to agree a new deal with Albania, with better data sharing, closer operational working and financial support. In response to the work that he and I did, the number of Albanian small boat arrivals has fallen by 90%—I repeat that figure of 90%—so far during 2023, and we have returned more than 4,600 people in just 10 months. We want to ensure that it is harder to get into one of those boats in the first place, including by reducing the supply of boats. We are targeting the movement of those goods, such as dinghies and engines that are used to facilitate the crossings, in order to undermine a key component of the smugglers’ business model.

Those who do make it through will not be able to stay. We have expedited returns arrangements with countries including France, Albania, Turkey and Italy. We have increased the number of illegal working raids by almost 70%. We have cut the asylum legacy backlog by more than 59,000 cases. We have freed up hundreds of hotel beds with the use of alternative sites. We have announced the closure of the first 50 asylum hotels and we have passed the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades, which makes clear that the only route to asylum in the UK is via one of the safe and legal routes we have put in place. Anyone who comes to the UK illegally will not be able to stay. They will be removed either to their home country, if it is safe, or to a safe third country, if it is not.

I can assure you that our commitment to ending illegal immigration is unwavering. We are a positive outlier in Europe. Our efforts are working. Small boat crossings are down. Our decision making is faster. We are removing those with no right to be here, and taking action against those who are working illegally.

We have done deals with multiple countries and will continue to do so. Arrivals down, decisions faster, returns up—we are getting on with the job and will do whatever it takes to deliver on our commitment to stop the boats. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, does not the Rwanda judgment made by the Supreme Court make damning reading for the Government? Does it not expose once again the complete failure of the Prime Minister to get a grip, even at the most basic level, on the boats and asylum crisis?

The previous Home Secretary, appointed by this Prime Minister and then sacked, said to him:

“If we lose in the supreme court, … you will have wasted a year … only to arrive back at square one … your magical thinking … has meant you have failed to prepare any sort of credible plan B”.

Those are the words of one who was Home Secretary until only a week ago. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, who is also now not in post, was repeatedly told of problems with the Rwanda scheme as he drove the then Illegal Migration Bill through this House. Does the Minister agree that the former Minister was wrong to ignore the warnings that this House repeatedly made? These warnings were contained in the Supreme Court judgment, which outlined a number of problems with the policy. Ministers were warned about the failings in the Rwanda asylum system, so why did they just press on? They were told repeatedly of the failings of the Israel-Rwanda deal, so why did they just press on again?

The Government say that they will introduce a new treaty to deal with all of this, but why only now? Why has so much time been wasted, when these problems were known about? Can the Minister explain how the Rwanda policy, if implemented, can actually work? Since the Act came into force—since the 20 July date that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, brought forward in an amendment in Committee—approximately 13,000 people have arrived illegally. According to the Act, they are deemed illegal and therefore need to be sent abroad. How are they to be sent to Rwanda? Are they all expected to go to Rwanda, or are the reports we read in today’s media accurate that the Government are considering giving thousands of people deemed to be here illegally, in light of the Supreme Court judgment and since the passage of the Act, access to the asylum system? Is not the truth of the matter that thousands upon thousands of people deemed illegal are being held here indefinitely, with families often traumatised, and women and children in limbo? What sort of policy is that?

The Government are bringing forward new legislation, which we will consider fully and to which we will give proper consideration in such an important area in your Lordships’ House. But what do we learn? We learned today that the Government are split on what this should be. Is it the case that the current Immigration Minister is pushing for this new legislation to disapply the Human Rights Act and ignore the ECHR, even though the Supreme Court, in its judgment, said that the ECHR had nothing to do with it? Does the Minister—and indeed the Home Secretary—therefore agree with the Immigration Minister, or with those who say that this hard-line approach, as proposed by his colleague, the current Immigration Minister, is actually mad? Does he agree with the Home Secretary, who in private—as reported in the newspapers—also confirmed, in colourful language, that he regarded the policy as to be less than satisfactory?

What of the plan in the new legislation to simply declare Rwanda a safe country in its upgrade to change it from an agreement to a treaty? Again, the latter is something that many in your Lordships’ House have said should actually have happened. How long will it take? What do the Government say to Lord Sumption’s criticism that you cannot

“change the facts, by law” by proposing legislation that would, as I say, declare Rwanda safe? How would that work? As the former Supreme Court judge said, you cannot say that black is white.

Would it not have been a much better thing—rather than the wasting of time that we have seen from the Government, with over £140 million spent without a single person sent to Rwanda—to have had a proper plan to tackle the criminal gangs? That is something that I moved in Committee, only to see it rejected, and then to see the Prime Minister announce the same policy two weeks after the passing of the Act. Would it not also have been a good idea to improve our agreement with France, to speed up asylum decisions, to establish safe and legal routes and to tackle the problem at source? We have this chaos: a Government who are divided, no clarity on the new legislation to come, Ministers sacked, briefings and counter-briefings, and some even saying at the highest level in our governing party that we should just ignore the law, which is simply outrageous.

We all know that there have to be effective border controls and that illegal immigration needs to be tackled, but to do so the Government must get a grip for the sake of our international reputation. They must deliver the effective humane immigration system that this country deserves, and not the chaos that we have now. It is simply not good enough and the Government need to get a grip.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, this Statement is welcome; of course, we could have had it last week, but that was not to be the case. However, that has allowed us the whole weekend to understand slightly more the Government’s intentions—at least some of the Government’s intentions, some of which are being challenged. It means that we have to examine this Statement very carefully. The Statement says that the Government of course “respect the Supreme Court”, but we are being asked to suspend belief—to convert black into white on the say-so of the Government.

Are the Government intending to implement legislation that simply allows them to make an opposing declaration to that of the Supreme Court on the safety of Rwanda for refugees? To what extent is that respecting the Supreme Court’s decision? Do the Government agree with the Supreme Court that, in order to see their Rwanda policy in operation, they would need to disregard the ECHR and the United Nations system of international treaties, including the refugee convention, the United Nations convention against torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and also change not just the Human Rights Act but also domestic asylum legislation from 1993 and 2002?

Further, the Supreme Court judgment states about the Rwanda system that

“necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

Therefore, in the past 12 months, have the UK Government provided any effective training to Rwandan officials?

Thirdly, this Statement says that arrivals are down, decisions are up, returns are up—we are getting on with the job. Believe that if you wish. Small boat arrivals are down on last year, but if you remove Albanians—clearly, we must accept the policy that returns those who are not genuine asylum seekers to their safe home country—total numbers are up from 2022. Going by the recent annual grant rates, 75% of those who crossed this year would be granted asylum. Of course, because clauses of the Illegal Migration Act have not yet been brought into force, the Government will have to hear this backlog of cases. The current backlog of cases is 122,585, taking legacy and flow numbers together. In addition, government figures show that small boat arrivals represent only 37% of people claiming asylum, up to June 2023.

What actions are being taken to ensure that those from high grant rate countries have a safe way to travel to the United Kingdom to claim asylum: for example, an Iranian female political protester, a Russian anti-war activist, a young man at risk of forced conscription from Eritrea, and so on?

Finally, I note that the Statement says:

“we are not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row” for short-term political gain. Good luck with getting people to agree to that.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, it goes without saying that Wednesday’s outcome was not what the Government wanted to see, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.

The core part of our policy—to relocate those who entered illegally and have no right to be here to another country—remains lawful. We have also made progress on other fronts of our plan to tackle the small boats—which I will come back to in a minute—but crossings are down, the backlog is being cut, and it is interesting to note that countries across Europe have seen what we are doing and are interested in following suit.

The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which would address the issues it raised. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Kagame of Rwanda and both countries reaffirmed their unwavering commitment to deliver on our landmark partnership. We will work with Rwanda to address the Supreme Court’s concerns by setting out strong assurances in a new treaty binding in international law. However, we are also going a step further. As has been noted, the Prime Minister has announced that we will take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation to enable Parliament to confirm that, with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe.

As to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on the various newspaper-based speculation about what people, including the new Home Secretary, may have said, I will not speculate but I note that he did not recognise the phrase that I think the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, described as colourful, and therefore I wish to take him at his word. What the current Immigration Minister thinks on this, I do not know.

When people know that if they come here illegally, they will not get to stay, they will stop coming altogether and we will stop the boats. Illegal immigration destroys lives and costs British taxpayers billions of pounds a year. We need to end it, so we will do whatever it takes.

However, as the new Home Secretary has pointed out, the Rwanda plan has only ever been one tool in our toolbox, and we have other schemes to drive down these numbers. We are tackling illegal immigration at every stage of the journey of a would-be illegal migrant, and our plan is working. Last year, the Prime Minister signed the largest ever small boats deal with France—I believe that 22,000 crossing attempts have been prevented because of the close co-ordination between British and French officials, and that is in 2023 alone.

Cutting-edge surveillance technology is in play, and we have beefed up security infrastructure, such as more CCTV at key border crossing points along the channel. We have ensured that there are more French officials and officers patrolling French beaches, and, as I said, they are working closely with their UK counterparts. So that is less money that British taxpayers have to spend on hotels, less profit for the criminal gangs and fewer people to process—fewer people also, I should add, putting their lives at risk. That sends a clear message to those who want to cross that we will stop them.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that we now have a returns agreement with Albania, and seemed rather dismissive of it, but the fact is that so far during 2023 we have returned more than 4,600 people in just 10 months. He should be applauding that. We are targeting the movement of goods, such as dinghies and engines, that are used to facilitate the crossings in order to undermine a key component of the smugglers’ business model. Apart from Albania, we have expedited returns arrangements with countries including France, Turkey and Italy. We have increased the number of illegal-working raids by almost 70%. We have cut the asylum legacy backlog by more than 59,000 cases. We have freed up hundreds of hotel beds with the use of alternative sites. We have announced the closure of the first 50 asylum hotels and we have passed the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which is the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades. It makes it clear that the only route to asylum in the UK is via one of the safe and legal routes that are in place.

Noble Lords asked about treaties and why this was not considered at the start. The fact is that a memorandum of understanding is a common mechanism for establishing an arrangement or partnership between countries. The Supreme Court was clear that Rwanda entered into the partnership and signed the MoU in good faith, and both countries remain committed to the partnership. We always knew that the partnership would face challenges, but we have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to deliver it.

On the Supreme Court’s decision and conclusion, the Prime Minister has said that we respect the Supreme Court’s decision. The rule of law is fundamental to our democracy, but it is also of fundamental importance that we stop the boats. I have of course taken note of the comments of Lord Sumption, but at the moment the only fact that is changing is that that MoU is being, shall we say, converted into a treaty. I do not know the details of that piece of legislation, but I have little doubt that we will be discussing it all at considerable length.

Something else that the Supreme Court said which I think is worth pointing out is that

“changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate the risk”— it was talking, of course, of refoulement—

“may be delivered in future, but they were not shown to be in place when the lawfulness of the policy had to be considered in these proceedings”.

I make the point that the lawfulness of the policy that needed to be tested dated back to June 2022, more than a year ago. So, in answer to the noble Lord, Coaker, about what we have done since, the answer is that we have taken considerable measures since the Court of Appeal’s judgment in terms of getting skills and people into Rwanda to help them with their processes.

The noble Lord asked me about commencing parts of the Illegal Migration Act. We are moving ahead with operationalising other measures in the Illegal Migration Act, which will make it easier to remove people with no right to be here—for example, those who have travelled from fundamentally safe countries. On the cohort to which he referred who arrived under the new terms, I believe that they are still expected to be returned to Rwanda, but, obviously, at some point that will be tested in this House and the other House, so, as yet, there is no point in speculating as to how that might happen.

The ECHR has also come up. It is clear that this was a judgment from our domestic courts, not the ECHR. We always said that our plan will deliver the changes necessary to take away the incentive for people to risk their lives through illegal crossings, while complying with our international obligations. But, as the Prime Minister said, if people continue to put obstacles in the way of this policy, we will remove those barriers. As I said, we have already started the process on the treaty to address the Supreme Court’s concerns. The Prime Minister’s announcement of emergency legislation was clear, but I do not know what the content of that legislation will be.

Lastly, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth for his hard work, professionalism and absolute dedication to stopping the boats. He is a friend, he was an excellent colleague and I am going to miss him.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 3:44, 20 Tachwedd 2023

My Lords, first, I too praise the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, at least for his determination with this Bill and the courtesy that he showed to the whole House at all times. However, why do the Minister and the Government not see that the proposal of a treaty with Rwanda would produce a document that would be yet another historically worthless piece of paper? Rwanda, on the facts and merits, has been found to be unsafe and, once somebody was sent to Rwanda, there would be no realistic possibility of enforcing their rights, whatever they were, through the Rwandan courts.

Secondly, does the Minister not agree that the ignominious squabbling among senior and former members of the Government is demeaning a serious subject on which we all have merited concerns, apart from a few who seem to regard it as trivial? Is it not now time for the Government to set about a doubled programme which would produce value, in cost terms, of dealing with the people in the backlog, wherever they are, as quickly as possible, by increasing the number of officials and putting the relevant courts and tribunals around the country so that they can deal with these cases on a day-by-day basis? Does he not agree that most of these cases could be dealt with within a few days if they were properly managed?

Finally, does the Minister agree that the Government should put all people who are de facto refugees back into the refugee system so that they can be dealt with according to the law and not by some artificial construct?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord has asked me a number of questions. There is another one in there inviting me to speculate about something. Again, I will not do that. I do not know what will be going into the treaty or how it will look, so there is very little point in me commenting on that.

I do not regard the subject as trivial. It is of fundamental importance to the country and to Parliament. I respect the fact that we can debate it and look forward to many more debates on it. As regards the arguments that are allegedly going on behind the scenes, I am afraid I have not seen any evidence of that. How they are being leaked and whether they are happening, I do not know—but of course passions do run high on this subject.

The noble Lord asked another question. I have totally forgotten what it is, but I am sure that somebody else will remind me and I can then answer it.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

Putting them back in the refugee system.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I cannot comment on that at the moment, but, again, I am sure we will come back to it in due course.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr

Does my noble friend agree that whether Rwanda is or is not a safe country is a matter of fact and that to displace such a finding of fact by the Supreme Court using a statute is very hard to reconcile with the rule of law? Perhaps I may make this suggestion. If we must have this Bill, we could have a delayed implementation date, to be triggered only by an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, with that debate to be preceded by a report of a Joint Committee of both Houses advising on whether Rwanda is a safe country.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, regarding the Supreme Court’s decision, that as of 14 June 2022 it did indeed regard it as a fact that there was a risk of refoulement. However, that is a fairly narrow interpretation of the rest of the system that is currently set up in Rwanda. Again, I will not speculate on how things may change. I also note that the Supreme Court specifically acknowledged that there were cases where it could see the situation changing in the fullness of time. I expect that this is the area we are looking to explore.

As regards my noble friend’s suggestion of an affirmative SI, I am happy to take that back and enter that into the conversation that is taking place.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, it is of course quite right that when the facts change or, to put it better, are emphatically revealed by the Supreme Court, wise people change their minds. They do not attempt to legislate to change the facts. Will the Minister acknowledge that, contrary to various statements that have been made in this House by Benches opposite, the Supreme Court acknowledged the special role and expertise of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in evaluating the facts—that is, the safety of countries?

As for treaties, does the Minister agree that, whatever new treaty comes, there is a treaty in this area. It is a very well-established treaty called the refugee convention. It is so well established that aspects of it are arguably now part of customary international law. I know that the Minister cares about the rule of law. If the Government are going to disapply or abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights, will he encourage his colleagues to counsel what effects there might be on the behaviour of the Russian Federation and others—and those currently in jeopardy, including Ukrainian prisoners who are relying on interim orders for their lives and protection from the Strasbourg court?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness. The Supreme Court did acknowledge that the UN has a role to play in this; indeed, it was heavily referenced in the Supreme Court’s judgment. I also accept that a treaty already exists regarding refugees; that is incontestable. As regards what might happen regarding the ECHR, I have already said that that was not part of any of the discussions around this particular decision. This was a domestic court’s decision. I think it is a few steps away to discuss the ECHR, and the noble Baroness is well aware of my views on the subject.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Convenor of the Lords Spiritual

My Lords, we on these Benches are quite clear that we cannot have open borders, that we must stop people risking their lives, and that we need to stop the people smugglers. But we are also clear that we cannot export our moral responsibilities towards those seeking sanctuary on to the shores of another country, be it Rwanda or anywhere else. This is such a long-term, complex, worldwide problem that we need a long-term strategy for tackling this refugee crisis, in concert with our global partners, so while the Government are proposing some immediate new laws, what are they doing to address the scale of the problem, to provide long-term certainty? Will the Minister commit to developing and publishing a long-term strategy so that we can all try to engage with this in a much more measured way?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right reverend Prelate for those comments. I agree with his point that it is obviously also morally wrong for criminal gangs to profit from this evil trade, and to ship people across the Channel at incredible risk to themselves. In fact, I think we are very close to the anniversary of that particularly unpleasant tragedy that happened in the Channel last year. As regards this problem of illegal migration becoming long-term, the right reverend Prelate is of course right. There are many drivers of this, and it therefore seems likely to me that the world will have to get together to address the various things that are driving these movements of people—what makes people so desperate to leave their homes—and try to do something about it. So far, it seems to have eluded the world, but I sincerely hope the right reverend Prelate is right, and that we can do something about it sooner rather than later.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, I am not sure that the Minister fully answered the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Will he now explain how a treaty or indeed legislation declaring Rwanda safe will solve the problem, given that the Supreme Court said that it was not the lack of

“good faith of the government of Rwanda” that was the problem, but

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances … in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system”?

Presumably, they can make whatever binding commitments they like in a treaty, but the issue is the practical ability to deliver. Also, given that the Home Secretary says that the Government take their

“obligations to the courts very seriously”, how can they change the law to “do whatever it takes”? What does “whatever it takes” actually mean?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would not try to explain that. I do not know what will be in the new legislation. I do not know how it is worded; I do not know what the intention is for it, so I cannot answer any of those questions, for obvious reasons. I do not know whether it will solve the problem; I sincerely hope it does, for obvious reasons. One thing I would expect to be in a treaty—I am just speculating—is that it will be enforceable in some way. Whether that is through the Rwandan courts or through other international means, I really do not know. But we are going some way to try to address the Supreme Court’s concerns.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that we need a solution that is accepted across the political parties, particularly as there will be a general election within the next 14 months? Is there not an overriding case for saying that if ever a Bill needed pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses, it is this Bill?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord probably makes a good point, but my understanding from reading the likely timetable is that parliamentary time would not allow.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that his noble colleague told me several times—times beyond count, really—that I was totally wrong when I said that the Government’s attempts to send people to Rwanda were contrary to the refugee convention? So will he be very kind and tell me that now it has been upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court that view was correct? He will know that the Prime Minister has described the European Court of Human Rights as a foreign court. Does the Prime Minister regard the International Court of Justice, whose compulsory jurisdiction we accept and on which court we have no judge, as a foreign court?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was not present in the debate when the noble Lord said he was right, so I am not going to say whether or not my noble friend was right because I do not know what he said. As regards the Prime Minister’s views on the International Court of Justice, I am afraid I do not know as I have not asked him.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Llafur

My Lords, the Minister more or less said that the Government had no intention of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights—he is shaking his head. In which case, are the Government aware that if they tamper with the ECHR, they are also tampering with the Good Friday agreement, which is linked to it? Is the Minister furthermore aware that there is still the Human Rights Act that the Government are talking about getting rid of? There is the 1951 refugee convention. There is the convention against torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There is a range of conventions, treaties and agreements. Are the Government saying that they are all liable to be changed as a result of the Supreme Court decision?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I did not say what the noble Lord asserts about the ECHR. I said that I do not know. The fact is that this decision was a domestic decision, not a European one. I am well aware that the ECHR is a cornerstone of the Good Friday agreement, and of course we recognise the significance of that. However, I reiterate that the Prime Minister has committed to stopping the boats and to removing barriers if necessary. The detail and any implications of doing so would obviously be carefully considered at the time.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Ceidwadwyr

Has my noble friend had any luck in securing the conviction of so-called human rights lawyers who tell illegal migrants to throw away their passport and pretend that they come from a war zone when they do not or tell them to say that they are subject to child trafficking or modern slavery? Surely these people should be convicted and should not be part of the legal system in any way whatever.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If my noble friend is right in his assertions, yes, they should be convicted, but I do not what has happened with prosecutions and convictions in that space. I will endeavour to find out.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

Does the Minister recall that the International Agreements Committee criticised the form taken for the previous agreement with Rwanda—a memorandum of understanding—and thought it should have been a treaty, partly because it was so weighty and partly to provide this House and the other place with an opportunity to scrutinise it properly. I think this new agreement will be scrutinised properly in this House so I am very glad that it is taking the form of a treaty, which will enable us to do that. The Statement said that it will be amended

“to make it clear that those sent”— to Rwanda

“cannot be sent to any country other than the UK”.

That is what the Home Secretary said in the other place. How is that consistent with our Illegal Migration Act, which says that those who come illegally, in its terms, to this country can never be admitted to this country, will be sent to Rwanda and will be processed there by Rwanda for asylum in Rwanda?

The Minister said that other countries are seeing what we are doing and following suit. With respect, that is not the case. We are the only country that is saying, “If you come by a route that we do not like, we refuse to look at your claim”. We are telling people they may claim asylum in Rwanda but they can never come back here. No other country is doing that. Other countries are considering outsourcing the process and having the processing done abroad, but then the people could go on claiming asylum in the country they intended to go to. How does the Minister reconcile the statement that these people will never be sent to any country other than the UK with the Act, which we spent so long debating here and which I thoroughly disagreed with, that says they can never be sent back to the UK?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, I agree with the noble Lord about the International Agreements Committee and the previous comments made there. The fact is that the International Agreements Committee is now getting its wish. Legally enforceable treaties should be the vehicle of choice; obviously, it will be scrutinised in both Houses of Parliament. As regards the apparent anomaly between what the Home Secretary has said and what the noble Lord has just pointed out, to respond to that would be to speculate as to what will be in the forthcoming legislation when I simply do not know. I will make sure that point is well made, and I hope to come back to the noble Lord with a strong answer very soon.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, the Supreme Court quite rightly emphasised the importance of the experience of the UNHCR, which had been disregarded. Are the Government now consulting with it and with other relevant NGOs?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the UNHCR was not disregarded by the Court of Appeal; that was really the subject of the Supreme Court’s decision. It very much took the court at its word. As I already said, the Government have made a lot of effort to pre-empt the Supreme Court’s decision by doing some of the things that were suggested by the Court of Appeal. Having said all that, we of course maintain close co-operation with all our international partners whether they be states, NGOs or whatever.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur

My Lords, on 15 November, last Wednesday, the Home Secretary told Parliament in the other place that the Government have

“for the last few months”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/11/23; col. 649.] been working in Rwanda, building capacity—of decision-makers, I presume—and trying to amend the agreement with Rwanda. Since the Appeal Court decision in June this year, the Government have known that our courts thought there was a real risk of claims being wrongly determined in Rwanda, resulting in asylum seekers being wrongly returned to their country of origin. Can the Minister help me? Where in our deliberations on the then Illegal Migration Bill was either the House of Commons or our House told that this training was going on because the Government thought that real risk needed to be engaged with, or that the treaty that had been entered into was being renegotiated? If we were not told, why not?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was not present in all the debates regarding the Illegal Migration Act so I cannot honestly answer that question: I do not know whether we were told. I do not know whether the subject came up, whether it was a subject for discussion or any of those things. I am not sure it was relevant to the debates—maybe it was, maybe not; I do not know. I will endeavour to find out and come back to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, has the Minister seen the suggestion of Lord Sumption that the Rwanda scheme would be more acceptable if more of the assessment were done by British officials rather than Rwandan officials? Will he undertake to look into that in any review of the situation?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend makes a good point. I will absolutely take that back. We have been capacity building in Rwanda—the noble Lord just referred to it—and I know that a lot of that work is ongoing.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, press reports at the weekend stated that, between 2020 and 2022, 100% of asylum claims by people from Afghanistan and Syria were rejected by the Rwandan authorities while almost 100% of asylum claims by people from Afghanistan and Syria were accepted by the UK authorities. How can the Government maintain that Rwanda has been treating asylum seekers fairly in the light of these statistics?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, it does not matter whether the Government assert that we have been treating them fairly; the fact is that the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. As I said, we are capacity building; we are working with the Rwandans. We are working on a new treaty. I am sure that the noble Lord’s concerns will be addressed in the fullness of time.