Amendment to the Motion

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Second Reading – in the House of Lords am 3:37 pm ar 29 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Lord German:

Moved by Lord German

Leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to give the bill a second reading because it

(1) places the United Kingdom at risk of breaching its international law commitments;

(2) undermines the rule of law by ousting the jurisdiction of the courts;

(3) will lead to substantial costs to the taxpayer;

(4) fails to provide safe and legal routes for refugees; and

(5) fails to include measures to tackle people smuggling gangs.”

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I direct the House’s attention to my interests as laid out in the register.

The treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, which this Bill is seeking to affect, is completely contrary to how we should act as a country with a reputation for protecting individuals’ rights and freedoms, where the rule of law is upheld. I do not need to repeat the key points of last week’s debate on the Rwanda treaty, but the decision of this House is significant in respect of the Bill. This House resolved that it could not ratify the treaty that the Government are using to declare that Rwanda is safe. The House determined that the safeguards and protections outlined in the treaty must be fully implemented. Moreover, the House agreed that future assurances of changes in the processing of asylum seekers in Rwanda were not sufficient: the changes needed to be fully operational and effective.

Significantly, the treaty is the instrument by which the Government declare that they can state in this Bill that Rwanda is safe. Clause 1(2)(b) is clear:

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

However, this House of Parliament has not determined that this is the case. The treaty is the platform on which the Bill sits. If this platform is not in place, the Bill sinks. The legs have come off the table, or, to put it another way, the Bill’s foundations have been removed. It was the settled will of this House last week that the treaty cannot yet be ratified. How, therefore, can this House consent to a Bill that relies on that treaty having the approval of this House?

This is critical, because the decision of the Supreme Court was based on its analysis of the facts. The contrary case put forward by the Government in the Bill has not been supported by this House. The Bill before us requires Parliament—which of course includes this House—to agree that, in our judgment, as a House, Rwanda is safe. This House, in this respect, needs to be consistent with itself, and with the decision it took last week.

The Bill places the UK at risk of breaching our commitments under international law. We as a country have signed up to comply with the obligations of international treaties and conventions. Having done that, we need to demonstrate that, as a country, we can be relied upon to uphold international treaties, and that we promote a rules-based international order—because if we do not then we cannot expect others to comply, and are in no position to call out other countries when they fail to comply with international law.

The West is often accused of double standards, and under this legislation this accusation will only increase. Our global leadership and our ability to have a serious voice on the world stage will be severely damaged. We will no longer be a country whose voice is respected and listened to. We simply cannot rely on our historical traditions when our current actions are going in the opposite direction. Global responsibility-sharing is the foundation of the 1951 refugee convention; it relies on us all doing our part. The Government say that this plan is a “partnership” and “burden-sharing”, but, frankly, it is offloading—offloading the most vulnerable people on our planet and offloading our responsibilities under international agreements we are signed up to.

If the Bill is enacted, we will be legislating contrary to our international legal obligations. Our domestic law would be out of step with these obligations. Some might say that is acceptable but I do not believe that is the case; I think this House will stand up for the object and the purpose of these international instruments to which we are signed up. Our courts would have their hands tied by this legislation. There is a strong possibility, particularly without pre-existing safeguards being proved operational and effective in Rwanda, that this would lead to refoulement and breaches of Article 2 and Article 3 rights. That is why it is critical for the steps set out in the treaty to be seen to be working before the Bill can have any effect.

The Bill introduces the option for Ministers to refuse to comply with a Rule 39 injunction from the European Court of Human Rights. Ignoring an injunction would be a clear breach of international law, as the president of the court declared last week, and this view is strengthened by the Rule 39 reforms which the court itself has introduced.

Domestically, the Bill undermines the rule of law and, further, ousts the jurisdiction of our courts. The rule of law is a central tenet of our society, expressed by AV Dicey, well-known to all lawyers, who wrote,

“we speak of the ‘rule of law’ as a characteristic of our country, not only that with us no man is above the law, but that here, every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals”.

My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford will elaborate on this in his contribution.

The Bill seeks to exclude a group of people from accessing the legal protections we grant to everyone else in our society. It is critical in a democratic society that the law is applied equally and that human rights apply to everyone, not just some in our society. The Government’s Bill prevents the right to access redress, which is afforded to the rest of us.

Further, the Bill is an abuse of Parliament’s role in reversing the Supreme Court’s factual assessment of risk of harm in Rwanda. If the Government believe they have new evidence to show that Rwanda is safe, surely the correct procedure to follow is to let the courts decide it and consider the evidence and come to a judgment. That is the proper way to go. If Rwanda was indeed safe, there would be no need to have the option to ignore interim injunctions from the ECHR or disapply elements of the Human Rights Act. This Bill represents an overreach of Parliament, and it is critical that we retain the balance in our democracy achieved by the separation of powers.

Despite all this, the Bill will not actually achieve its stated aim, and it certainly does not represent good value to the taxpayer—£368 million at the last count, added to which at least £169,000 for each person removed to Rwanda. These are staggering, eyewatering costs, which could pay for 100 million free school meals or nearly 6 million more GP appointments.

Far from being a deterrent, the Bill will promote smuggling—a point which my noble friend Lady Northover will develop in her remarks. It does not address real solutions to prevent people using criminal gangs to take dangerous journeys to the UK. The focus on deterrence is misplaced. Two-thirds of all those who have crossed the channel since the Illegal Migration Act was passed came from six high-grant countries. The push factor for these people is far stronger than any deterrent the UK may dream up. We need safe alternatives to dangerous journeys, and this must be part of the strategy to reduce dangerous crossings. Swift, efficient, accurate and just determination of asylum claims and humane removal of those who do not qualify will be a deterrent in itself to people without a protection claim.

We also need constructive engagement with European neighbours on co-operation on asylum. Addressing the root causes of displacement and onward movement is critical, and a strong international aid and development budget is key to that. Instead, we are presented with a political totem of the Tory right—a device to satisfy its internal party politics and a Bill from which there is no going back. If Rwanda is found to be unsafe then this Bill will act as a block to putting matters right. This legislation was not in the Government’s manifesto; the Addison/Salisbury convention does not apply. I maintain that this is one of the rare occasions—which have been used by both Conservative and Labour parties in this House, and which was foreseen by a report of the Constitution Committee—when this House should vote against a Bill at Second Reading. It is within our powers as described in the Companion.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Llafur

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord German, for giving way. Does he agree that the function of this House, the second Chamber, is as a revising Chamber? It is not a vetoing Chamber; it is a revising Chamber. Can he explain to me the Liberal Democrat’s novel constitutional thinking that, by throwing out this Bill on Second Reading, we should prevent the revising Chamber revising?

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

The noble Lord is wrong. I think in 2011 he voted against the Health and Social Care Bill at Second Reading, as had happened before, in earlier versions, by Members of the Conservative Party. If our laws and the rules of this House say we can do it then we can do it, and it has been done by both sides here.

I maintain that this Chamber should listen to the real power in what people will be saying this afternoon about the nature of this Bill. It asks us to believe that black is white—that facts are not facts. It breaches conventions and treaties to which we are signed up. It damages our credibility on the world stage and the agreements that we have with other countries. It seeks to damage our relationships with things that we have already signed up to, including the European convention on trafficking, the CTA with the European Union, the United Nations, the ECHR and many more. It damages the separation of powers in this country, which is a fundamental tenet of our democracy. It offends against the rule of law. Fundamentally, it treats some of the most vulnerable people in the world—people who are facing persecution and torture and fleeing for their lives—as undesirables. For us on these Benches, that is unconscionable. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Deputy Chairman of Committees, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 3:49, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the United Kingdom is a three-legged stool. Each of the legs—the judiciary, the Government and Parliament—waxes and wanes a bit in its thickness as power shifts in small ways, a subject of much work and comment by my noble and learned predecessor, Lord Judge. However, each leg is required to operate independently to ensure that balance at the core of our democracy. It would not do for one of the legs to instruct another on how to operate or how to look at a particular issue. By way of example, it would be quite wrong if the House of Lords sought to instruct the judiciary on whether to hear a particular case.

I hope that the Prime Minister, sitting atop, as he does, the government leg of the stool, will reflect on those simple thoughts as he thinks back to his words of 18 January at the Downing Street press conference, concerning our role and this Bill. The duties of this House are inextricably linked with a series of conventions by which we, an unelected Chamber, cohabit with our elected neighbour. Among these conventions, the Salisbury/Addison convention is especially pertinent today and to the Bill in general. It has a number of parts but, simplifying matters for reasons of time, one is that a government Bill with manifesto characteristics will be given a Second Reading in this House. One can see that the convention has a number of people concerned about it and, as your Lordships know, I am currently preparing a series of papers on this convention. For my part, I feel that the convention is engaged here. Accordingly, I will not be supporting the amendment to the Second Reading Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord German.

The convention also has elements concerning the speed with which this House will consider things. The House is already assisting the speed of consideration of this Bill. We have changed our business around and freed up today for Second Reading. Three days have been set aside for Committee, which, given the likely number of amendments that will be tabled, will work only if the House sits late—to at least midnight on probably two of those three days. However, I am sure that on those days, and nights, the Benches will be full and the quality of the debate will remain high, with our natural respectful tone. I expect that this House will send back various matters to the other place for its consideration—for it to think again—as is our role. I imagine that we will then enter a ping-pong phase.

Conventions will apply if agreement cannot be reached, but the elected House, at the end of the full due process, has the right to pass law, whether that be good law or bad law. In the meantime, this House will engage in our full processes, uncowed by any creaks and groans in the other legs of the stool.

Photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury Bishop 3:52, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, in almost every tradition of global faith and humanism around the world, the dignity of the individual is at the heart of what is believed. In the Christian tradition, we are told to welcome the stranger. Jesus said:

“I was a stranger and you invited me in”.

In numerous places in the Old Testament and the New, the commands of God are to care for the alien and stranger. It has already been said, and I agree, that the way that this Bill and its cousin, which we debated in the summer, work is by obscuring the truth that all people, asylum seekers included, are of great value. We can, as a nation, do better than this Bill.

With the Bill, the Government are continuing to seek good objectives in the wrong way, leading the nation down a damaging path. It is damaging for asylum seekers in need of protection and safe and legal routes to be heard. It is damaging for this country’s reputation, which the Government contradicted even as late as last week, when the Prime Minister himself spoke eloquently on the value and importance of international law for this country. It is damaging in respect of constitutional principles and the rule of law.

Most of all, it is damaging for our nation’s unity in a time when the greatest issues of war, peace, defence and security need us to be united. We are united on, I think, almost all Benches, in agreeing that the boats must be stopped. The Government are to be congratulated that the number has come down. We also agree that the people smugglers who trade in human misery must be brought to justice, and it is good news that so many of those groups have been broken up. We need to be united on effective controls on agreed limits to immigration. The right way forward, though, is to enable the unity on ends to be translated into a unity on means. That is not happening in the way that these Bills are successively brought to the House and before the country.

The challenge of migration is, as has been said, long-term and global. So must our response be. We need a wider strategy for refugee policy—I spoke on this at boring length in the summer and will not repeat it—that involves international co-operation and equips us for the far greater migration flows, perhaps 10 times greater, in the coming decades, as a result of conflict, climate change and poverty. Instead, the Bill offers only ad hoc, one-off approaches.

Rwanda is a country that I know well. It is a wonderful country, and my complaint is not with it, nor its people. It has overcome challenges that this House cannot begin to imagine. But, wherever it does it to, the Bill continues to outsource our legal and moral responsibilities to refugees and asylum seekers—when other, far poorer, countries are already supporting multitudes more than we are now—and to cut back on our aid. At the end of 2022, 76% of refugees globally were being hosted in low- and middle-income countries—countries far poorer than our own. The UK should lead internationally, as it has in the past, not stand apart.

Others on these Benches will say more about international and domestic law, human rights and the constitutional impact. I say simply that a pick-and-choose approach to international law undermines our global standing and offends against the principle of universality that is their increasingly threatened foundation.

Finally, my colleagues and I on these Benches take our revising role seriously. When we vote, we seek to improve something. I will—sadly—not be voting with those who want to vote the Bill down today, although I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord German, convincing and powerful. We must wait until Third Reading and we have done our revising work. We on these Benches have been criticised many times over many decades by those thinking that defence of the Government of the day should be our highest virtue and aspiration. We were accused last week of voting against the Government’s Whip. I am sorry to say we do not take the Government’s Whip. It may be worse news for this House to recognise that on the Labour Benches it is not 95% of times that there has been a vote against the Government’s Whip—that is a false statistic—but 100%. Maybe they should be criticised for that obnoxious behaviour.

We serve on these Benches as independent Members. As recently as last Thursday, we were discussing what had happened in a particular vote and saw that we had cancelled each other out—bishops often cancel each other out in every possible way. We vote because we value deeply the traditions of this country and this House, and the truth we derive from the Bible and our service to Jesus Christ—our first priority. To misquote Luther, slightly: on that we stand. We can do no other.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:59, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, this Chamber has had to consider many complex and challenging Bills, as has already been observed. This Bill is in that category. Legal experts and experienced hands in the realm of international affairs in your Lordships’ House will have their views—we have already heard some of them—but I look at this issue through a different prism: one based on pragmatism, not party-political tribalism and certainly not ideology.

The exploitation of vulnerable, frightened people by repugnant criminal gangs and extortionists is unacceptable and must be stopped. Watching and listening to the harrowing accounts of overturned boats and drownings in the channel demands that action be taken. There is little dignity in any of that for these poor souls.

What I have gleaned is that, across the gamut of opinions about these perilous channel crossings, one inescapable conclusion is drawn: something must be done. The most reverend Primate referred to that. Paradoxically, with the exception of the Government’s proposals, I have seen no other credible, deliverable solution advanced—and I am afraid to say that, so far in this debate, that lacuna remains. So I have been prompted to speak in this debate in support of the Government not because I consider this measure excellent but because I think it is the only thing to do. I therefore do not support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German.

Why are the criminal gangs able to extort money from these vulnerable victims? Regrettably and tragically, it is because their victims, desperate to reach the UK, feel that any risk—even the risk of drowning in the channel—is worth taking, and the gangs ruthlessly exploit that desperation. The gangs could not care less about the safety of the migrants; all they care about is money. So we have to cut off that money supply, which will happen only if migrants seeking to come here illegally realise that they will not be able to stay here. I say to the noble Lord opposite that the examples of Australia and Albania indicate that that approach works.

Recent measures to reduce the flow, which have been referred to, can only ever be a mitigation. The Government are obliged to find a solution, and I believe that this Bill and the accompanying treaty provide it. This solution is not perfect, but I do not believe that a perfect solution exists. Those who believe it does have yet to produce it. I am clear that pragmatism has to usurp perfection. We have to act.

I am in no doubt that the Bill and the treaty place onerous obligations on the Government. I do not agree that the treaty should be delayed for reports to Parliament on how the arrangements are unfolding. We shall know how the treaty and the Bill are working only once the arrangements are being delivered in practice. There is no other way to make a meaningful assessment.

There are explicit safeguards in the treaty and in the Bill, but these require the UK Government to know in detail who has been sent to Rwanda, where they are, what is happening to them, the outcome of the individual’s application, and of course continuing engagement with the Rwandan Government. Without that information, the United Kingdom Government will not be in a position to assess whether these safeguards are being met. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me on these points?

I am clear that parliamentary sovereignty is a uniquely precious attribute. It is fundamental to a nation’s democratic freedoms that, when a grave and extraordinary situation confronts that nation, the Government must be able to act, and act untrammelled. I am sure that it was never intended that the laudable arrangements entered into long ago by different nations would, as clamant challenges emerged, render those nations powerless to deal with them. That would be perverse. Mainland European countries are now wrestling with such challenges. That is why I believe that Clause 2 and the other provisions in the Bill are justified and necessary.

I will make two final points to my noble friend the Minister. In Scotland, we have a worrying skills deficit, incapable of supplement from the indigenous population. Are we clear that, where such deficits exist, we are realistic about the need to meet them, including from immigrant applicants?

In relation to asylum seekers, in my own community many volunteers have supported asylum seekers with language education, provision of clothes and including them in social activity, such as attending my own local church and church events. There now seems to be a Home Office instruction to disperse asylum seekers, separating them from that human contact and support. Is that a sensible approach? Can my noble friend the Minister offer me any reassurance on that point?

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Llafur 4:05, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, for whom I have great respect, but telling asylum seekers to “suck it and see”—to find themselves in Rwanda and, if we have made a mistake, we might be able to do something about it—is frankly ridiculous.

The Minister clearly has a terrific job in reading out something he did not agree with. When he mentioned resettlement routes, which used to exist, the resettlement was from other dangerous parts of the world to the UK, not from the UK to other countries. This afternoon, in the brief time available, I will address that issue, because others have addressed and will address the questions of convention rights, morality, the reputation of this country and the clash between the different parts of our constitution. I happen to take a Jonathan Sumption view of the balance between Parliament and the courts.

One thing is absolutely clear in the Nationality and Borders Act, in the Illegal Migration Act, and now in this so-called Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill—this is nothing to do with finding solutions. It is everything to do with virtue signalling, with “virtue” in quotes, to a particular part of the electorate and finding scapegoats for government failure. The scapegoats are, of course, the Opposition, the courts themselves and this House.

This House cannot fall into elephant traps by allowing the Government to say that, if only they had been able to process this Bill, they would have shown the British people that this worked, but because this House declined to give a Second Reading, they were not able to. It is a very silly and old elephant trap, and anyone who falls into it needs to take a degree in politics.

I will say this about the issues before us today. It seems that Tory Members of the House of Commons did not understand the issue of the one-way ticket to Rwanda. You can understand the electorate not understanding something that we have never done before. In fact, we have said the opposite—time and again, the Government have said that asylum seekers should have chosen to claim asylum in the last country they were in. This is the last country they will have been in when they are sent to Rwanda and refused by the Illegal Migration Bill the right to claim—only to claim in Rwanda. In his wind-up, will the Minister say what they will be claiming—will they be claiming asylum in Rwanda? What happens if they choose not to claim asylum in Rwanda, having chosen to claim asylum in the United Kingdom under their convention rights? If they do not claim asylum, will they be at risk?

The UK judiciary are in massively short supply, by the way. I met a barrister this weekend who is defending an individual four years on from the alleged crime. Our judiciary, courts and criminal justice system are in meltdown, and we are going to send people over there to try to ensure that this is safe. When someone has their asylum claim processed and is duly accorded refugee status, why are they not allowed to come back to the United Kingdom?

If Giorgia Meloni, who is addressing African leaders today, can say that her offshoring proposals would allow return to Italy, Lord help us: the Brothers of Italy can do it, but our Tory Government in 2024 cannot. What sort of country are we? If they cannot return, then all the risks being debated on this Bill kick in, including what happens to the most vulnerable when they do not get proper treatment and support after their claim has been approved.

When their claim is approved and they are allowed to settle in Rwanda, what would stop them, in time, being able to come to the United Kingdom? Surely, they would have travel rights, or are they imprisoned in Rwanda? These are questions that I hope will be addressed at the end of this debate; but let us make no mistake, we are not dealing here with practical issues.

Yes, the Albanian agreement was a success, quite rightly; it is entirely responsible for the drop in numbers. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the threat to asylum seekers—it is not a threat to traffickers—is not the reason that we have had the drop so far. What will achieve that drop is Britain getting its act together: securing the borders, ensuring the processing and, yes, reaching further agreements with the French. What will not do it is the safety of Rwanda Bill, which is shoddy and less than this country deserves.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 4:11, 29 Ionawr 2024

I greatly admire the noble Lord, Lord German, but I cannot support his amendment. I dislike the Bill as much as he does. I explained at length in last week’s debate why I dislike it. In the time available today, I just want to add two points.

First, on sequencing, I was struck as a member of the International Agreements Committee by Rwanda’s rejection rate for asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Syria. It is 100%. Rwanda has always rejected them all, out of hand. That was one of the reasons why the IAC recommended, and the House last week resolved, that the new treaty should not be ratified until the reforms prescribed in the treaty have been implemented.

The Government clearly accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling that, without those reforms, their Rwanda scheme would be unsafe. The House agreed, adding that fine words would not be enough; what mattered would be implementation. Until the new systems are up and running, and none of them yet are, Rwanda cannot be deemed safe for those the Government want to send there. Yet that is precisely what Clause 2 of the Bill does. We are asked to deem Rwanda already safe now, today; and we are asked to require everyone—individuals and courts—from the moment the Bill becomes law, to treat Rwanda as safe.

This is Lewis Carroll country. In Alice, the Queen believes six impossible things before breakfast. To make sense of the nonsense, we have to get the sequencing right. It has to be: first, implementation, when Rwanda reforms; secondly, ratification, when Parliament is satisfied that Rwanda has reformed; and third, legislation—a Bill, maybe this Bill, when all are clear that Clause 2, on the determination of safety, is based on real facts and not Trumpian “alternative facts”. If the Government insist on reversing the right sequence, they must surely consider amending Clause 9 to introduce appropriate commencement conditionality, so that our Looking Glass world aligns with reality.

My other point concerns deterrence. Clause 1 of the Bill says that its purpose is to

“prevent and deter unlawful migration”, and the Government make much play with the deterrent effect. I cannot see it. The Home Office Permanent Secretary could not see it either, or at least he could not quantify it and so justify the Rwanda scheme as providing value for money, just as the lawyers will not let the Home Secretary claim that it is compatible with convention rights.

Those seeking asylum here are fleeing from war, torture, famine and persecution. In the year to last September, 93,000 applied, with 46,000 having arrived on small boats. Much the largest groups came from Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria. Of those in these groups whose cases were considered—there is still a backlog of 165,000, 75% of whom wait for more than six months—the large majority were granted refugee status, over 99% in the case of Afghans and Syrians.

Our rejection rate verges on zero, while the Rwanda rate is 100%. It is hardly surprising that it verges on zero, as we knew all about the Taliban and the ayatollahs, the atrocities and the bombing. It is absurd to suggest that those people would not have tried to come here, risking the Channel passage, if they had heard about our Rwanda scheme. If you are an Afghan, now in Pakistan and at risk of being sent back, you have already faced far greater dangers than the Channel. Crossing the Mediterranean kills many more than the Channel. If you have made it to Calais, and 9,000 Afghans did last year, would you turn round and go home if we passed this Bill? Of course, you would not.

Let us suppose the Government had been able to send 200 people to Rwanda last year, as they hoped. That is 200 out of 46,000 people who arrived on small boats, so it is less than a 0.5% risk of Rwanda. If you had heard about it in Calais, it certainly would not have deterred you. Of course, there would be some deterrent effect if the Rwanda system stays unreformed, maintaining its 100% rejection rate, but the reforms, if they are implemented, will eliminate that. Any vestigial deterrence disappears as Rwanda reforms; the policy eats the policy. It is a Goya; Saturn is devouring his children.

I profoundly believe that the deterrence argument just does not stack up. The Rwanda scheme will not break the smugglers’ business model. What would put them out of business, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, is new, safe and legal routes, but there are none in the Government’s Section 61 report, despite what we were led to expect. Like the Italians in Albania, we could try offshore processing but instead of offshoring, we are offloading, with a treaty that offloads responsibility in defiance of convention commitments and a Bill to create “alternative facts” in Africa. Next step, shall we legislate the sky green and the grass blue?

Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Ceidwadwyr 4:17, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, with Rwanda, rather like that venerated old Irishman, I would not have started from this point either. But we do, and so many countries are struggling: Germany, France, Greece, little Malta and even the muscular Turks, who have 3.5 million refugees massed on their southern border. The challenge is felt around the world, not just here.

I wish that we could have realised some years ago the world’s new direction of travel and accepted that the international conventions on human rights and refugees were created for a very different era before jumbo jets, before the criminal gangs and modern slavers, and before the scourge of mutant lawyers whose objective is not to uphold the law but to evade it. I wish we had reached out to others and tried to create new conventions and a new understanding of the challenges of mass migration, but we have not. While that must surely eventually happen, many countries are struggling with the short-term consequences.

This Bill is not our final destination. It is a means to a specific end and the end is clear: to break that sickening trade of the people smugglers, to protect the weak, the children and the vulnerable young women, and to smash the criminal gangs whose trade is human flesh.

I believe that we in Britain have come closer to living out Martin Luther King’s dream of racial togetherness than perhaps any other country in the world. I have spoken before in this House about that. It is work in progress, of course, but this dream, his dream, has taken root here. We are a good and a decent people, yet that is under significant threat. Look elsewhere: “Wir schaffen das”, Angela Merkel said. Oh no, she did not, and look at what is happening today in Germany as a result, and France and elsewhere: extremism and intolerance are on the rise.

No one is pretending that there are easy solutions but the problem is real, growing and a pressing and present danger to us all. Even here, we might find that we so easily fall back into those dark days when race was a dividing line that cut so deeply through our community. Yes, these are all connected issues, and no amount of hand-wringing is going to make them go away. There is no dignity of the individual to be found in a small boat in the hands of people smugglers.

To all those who have their doubts, who say that they do not like this direction and who claim the moral high ground, I simply ask: what is your alternative? How will you smash the evil trade? How long will you wait, watching the suffering and refusing to offer any hint of an alternative solution, content to sleep comfortably in your beds wrapped up in your consciences?

The Opposition, so silent about what they would do, say that we are rushing things through—words from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on the Opposition Front Bench. Delay, delay, they insist—or do nothing. It is the silence of the lambs. Ordinary, decent British people want us to do things more rapidly and believe that we have not moved fast enough.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Ceidwadwyr

If I have it wrong, I very much look forward to hearing the specifics of what the Opposition would do instead. We will wait and we will wait.

Weigh a doubt against a certainty—the doubts about the destination to which we are asked to travel against the certainty that if we stand still and do nothing, the consequences for this country are likely to be catastrophic.

Photo of Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield Crossbench 4:22, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, to understand a nation and its people, you need a feel for the inner bundle of practices, characteristics and states of mind that create the image that a country carries of itself, which in turn shapes the way that others see it. For those of us fortunate enough to have been nurtured within the bounds of our cherished archipelago in the cold northern seas, the rule of law has a fair claim to be the most lustrous of our values, almost talismanic in its properties, so anything that threatens, weakens or tarnishes our crucial defining value, the inspirational principle for governing and living well together, is a first-order matter. I regret to say that the Bill before us falls into that category.

This is a moment of immense significance for Parliament, the judiciary, our people and the very quality of our democracy. In no way do I diminish the electric charge of the question that uncontrolled immigration generates, but I fear that the Government have become fixated on their talisman, the Rwanda policy, which Ministers claim will break the economic model of the cruel, evil, heartless people who put the boats and their desperate passengers to sea off the beaches of northern France. For what it is worth, my own view is that it cannot be beyond the capability of Whitehall to work up a scheme for the swift dispatch of asylum claims, with safe and humane shelter provided in the UK for claimants while they await the results of their applications.

By rushing this emergency legislation through Parliament with the intention of getting the deportation flights to Kigali under way by late spring, the Government have already secured for themselves a special place in British political history. The day may not be far off when the Rwanda Bill, having cleared all its parliamentary stages, will be forwarded from the Cabinet Office to Buckingham Palace to receive Royal Assent. In the few minutes that it takes to pass down The Mall and across the tip of St James’s Park on its return journey to Whitehall, our country will change, for the Government will have removed us from the list of rule-of-law nations. We shall be living in a different land, breathing different air in a significantly diminished kingdom. Is that what any of us really wants?

Photo of Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Ceidwadwyr 4:24, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is easy to list the defects in the Rwanda proposal; it is expensive and cumbersome and, as we were told at the beginning of the debate, has taken up an inordinate amount of parliamentary time without any guarantee that it will not yet be challenged in the courts. Let us admit that there is something slightly distasteful; there is an aesthetic objection to shifting the problem half way around the world. I get all that. I have heard all the arguments, including from many of the people in the Chamber now. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, reminded us, we have spent a great deal of time debating this—three times in as many years. I have heard those arguments very eloquently articulated, but I have not heard a plausible and credible alternative.

Politics is often a choice between imperfect outcomes. These days it is almost always such a choice. In an ideal world, there would be no need for a Rwanda scheme. We would have a Rolls-Royce Home Office bureaucracy where all claims were processed swiftly and immediately. In an ideal world, we would have no judges who push the limits in an attempt to overturn deportation orders. We would have a judiciary that rules solely on the basis of what the law says, rather than what it feels the law ought to say. We would have neighbouring countries that played by the rules of the game and took back people who had entered our territory improperly from theirs. In an ideal world, international conventions would have kept up with changing circumstances.

But the world we live in is not ideal; it is gross and sublunary, and we have to make choices that are less than perfect. We are deluding ourselves when we repeat pieties about smashing gangs, as though somehow, if you took away the people offering the supply, the demand would dry up. The demand comes not from gangs but from the fact that people understand what the figures say—that once you have entered this country, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be removed from it.

I also think there is a certain wishful thinking in what seems to be the main argument of the Opposition—I am willing to be corrected—which is that all this can be solved with better collaboration across the channel, as if that is something that nobody has thought of or tried before. I looked up the figures from when we were last subject to EU jurisdiction and covered by the returns agreement. In 2020 we attempted to return to other EU countries 8,502 people who should not have been here—people who had arrived here improperly—and succeeded in removing 105 of them. The rest of the EU tried to remove 2,331 people to the United Kingdom and we accepted 882, which is a significantly higher proportion. It seems very difficult to argue that a returns agreement with the EU would mean anything other than taking more people from the EU than we send there.

I will not argue that the Rwanda scheme alone will be enough to solve the problem; it will not even be the biggest component of it. There is more to be done on individual return agreements. I think there was agreement on all sides about the efficacy of the Albania scheme, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said. There is more to be done in speeding up claims and, yes, there is probably more to be done on collaboration. But it is part of a package to have some element of deterrence. The facts of geography mean that people have to pass through several safe countries on their way here. If they think there is a prospect that they will end up in Rwanda, even if it is a percentage chance and not a certainty, that is bound to have some impact on whether they make their final claim here or in another safe country en route.

It is in that spirit, and not in any great mood of joy or enthusiasm—rather in a spirit of grim realism—that I oppose the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, and support the legislation.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:29, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, speaks with his usual eloquence. One of the problems from our Benches is that he seems to think that it is an acceptable risk to breach the rule of law. It is that fundamental issue that my noble friend Lord German set out in his Motion, and that is why, unusually, this is something that we should vote against at Second Reading.

This weekend, the i newspaper reported:

“Four Rwandans have reportedly been granted refugee status in Britain over ‘well-founded’ fears of persecution … the cases are in addition to the six people who Home Office figures suggest had UK asylum claims approved between April 2022 and September 2023, according to the Observer”.

So how can the Prime Minister say that Kigali is “unequivocally” safe?

I want to raise a couple of issues in the short time that I have available on the details of how this will work. First, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, referred to access to healthcare, but the British Medical Association raised the important point that:

“The use of offshoring has previously led to asylum seekers being removed to countries where they are unable to access medical care they may need … Medical reviews of 36 people under threat of removal to Rwanda revealed that 26 displayed medical indicators of having been tortured”.

Is it right that people like that should be going elsewhere?

The government website on the agreement with Rwanda talks about age assessment for both accompanied and unaccompanied child asylum seekers. Article 3(4) says that the United Kingdom

“confirms that it shall not seek to relocate unaccompanied individuals who are deemed to be under the age of 18. Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom”.

How is that going to work if they are assessed in Rwanda? How is the decision made on who are deemed to be under age, given the provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023, and the arrangements set out in the Rwanda treaty? Will an unaccompanied child or young person have been entitled to appeal prior to removal to Rwanda—or will, as the latter part of the paragraph implies, they be sent to Rwanda and assessed with all other asylum seekers, and only then returned to the UK? That is against the United Nations rights of the child declaration. Will Rwanda use age assessment, as we debated during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill?

I particularly want to ask about those who are accompanied and remain with their families—and it is good that families are kept together. But Rwanda does not have a secondary school system, so does the arrangement that is being made with Rwanda ensure that these children will have access to education, if they are of secondary age?

Open Democracy reported that:

“LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Rwanda have previously been given immediate verbal rejections by officials responsible for registering applications, who said it ‘is not the place for them, or Rwanda does not deal with such issues’, according to evidence by the UNHCR submitted to the Home Office”.

So is it appropriate for these vulnerable people to be sent to Rwanda?

Finally, the Illegal Migration Act stipulates that, if someone arrives in the UK irregularly, there will be a duty on the Home Secretary to detain and remove them—even those arriving who are known to be victims of modern slavery. In the passage of that Bill in the Commons, Theresa May, former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, said sending people to Rwanda would

“consign more people to slavery”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/23; col. 219.]

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, asked what opposition parties would do. We would ensure swift and effective assessment of cases. What we will not do is to send people to a country where we do not yet understand how the treaty will work, because what is said in the treaty is that there are arrangements proposed, but they have not yet been sorted. For vulnerable asylum seekers, that is not good enough. It is certainly not good enough for what any British Government and British Parliament should do.

Above all, for vulnerable people, Rwanda is not a safe place. As the treaty says specifically, there is much still to be sorted out. I believe that this House should not agree to the Bill at Second Reading.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:34, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the movement of large numbers of people seeking asylum is in danger of overwhelming the international asylum system, as the Government’s policy statement on this Bill suggests, and this requires a different response. There appear to me to be two alternatives: work collaboratively with all countries affected, with a global response to a global problem; or take this Government’s approach, working in the United Kingdom’s sole interests, or, arguably, in the interests of party politics. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in this House on 12 July last year,

“this is a massive, international issue on a generational basis and that tackling it needs profound thinking on a long-term basis ... It is essential that the solutions, as we go forward, bring together the whole of politics, all sides of both Houses, and unite our country instead of using this as a wedge issue to divide things”.—[Official Report, 12/7/23; col. 1872.]

The most reverend Primate reiterated that this afternoon.

The Government quote figures from last year, when boat arrivals into mainland Europe apparently increased by 80% while boat arrivals into the UK fell by about one-third, according to the Minister in his opening remarks, as if this were some kind of victory. I am sure that for domestic party-political purposes it might look that way, but I doubt our European neighbours see it in the same light: “I’m all right, Jack” does not translate well in continental Europe.

The Government insist that the Rwanda scheme is only one part of their plan to “Stop the boats”, co-operation with our European neighbours arguably being a far more important part of the plan. What will our European neighbours think if, as the Prime Minster seems intent on doing, the United Kingdom ignores so-called pyjama injunctions issued by a so-called foreign court? Of course, what the Government are referring to are Rule 39 indications issued by the European Court of Human Rights, an international court of which the UK is a member. As the noble Lord, Lord German, said, last Thursday the President of the ECHR said:

“Where states have in the past failed to comply with rule 39 indications, judges have found that the states have violated their obligations under Article 34 of the convention”.

If the Government decide that, like Russia, they no longer wish to be bound by international law, because, like Russia, they do not agree with the decisions of judges of the ECHR, then they should ask Parliament to remove the United Kingdom from the European Court of Human Rights. Two days on from Holocaust Memorial Day, perhaps we should remember why the UK was instrumental in establishing such a court and consider the impact such a withdrawal would have on the willingness of our European neighbours to co-operate with us on this issue.

What other steps might ease the flow of asylum seekers? A representative of the International Organization for Migration told the Radio 4 “Today” programme this morning that what drives people to migrate is that they feel they have no options in their home country, with climate change overtaking conflict as the biggest driver. If the Government were serious about doing whatever it takes to stop the boats, why have they pushed back the deadlines for selling new petrol and diesel cars and the phasing out of gas boilers? Why have they announced plans to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences, and given the go-ahead for a new coal mine that will produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year? Why have they reduced overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, while spending almost 30% of that budget in 2022 on housing asylum seekers in the UK, rather than spending it overseas? I am not saying that these are not legitimate political decisions, but they are not consistent with the claim that the Government are doing everything they can to stop the boats.

Doing everything the Government can to stop the boats should include doing whatever they can to encourage co-operation with our European neighbours and to improve conditions in asylum seekers’ home countries. They should not ignore or withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights; they should reinstate their previous commitments to combat climate change and their commitment to 0.7% on overseas aid—what one might call a strategic approach. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the most reverend Primate have said, this Bill is not the answer.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Llafur 4:39, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the Bill exhibits several characteristics of this Government. Exhibit A is their contempt for the courts, the rule of law and the constitution. They are smarting at the judgment of the Supreme Court, which found conclusive factual evidence that Rwanda was not a safe place to send asylum seekers. The court found “serious and systematic defects” in Rwanda’s procedures for processing asylum claims. The Rwandan authorities practice refoulement and have breached an agreement with another country, Israel, on that issue.

Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, has ruled by dint of rigged elections and contempt for civil rights. He despatches his agents to murder political opponents. He targets journalists who report killings, disappearances and torture. Even as the Government have been insisting that Rwanda is safe, Home Office officials have been giving asylum to Rwandan dissidents, accepting that they have a well-founded risk of persecution. The Government’s policy is morally and practically chaotic. It is a monstrous fantasy to assert that, by hastily negotiating a treaty with the regime and by legislating to declare that it is safe, Rwanda thereby becomes safe.

The Bill is unconstitutional. It usurps the function of our domestic courts. It ousts their jurisdiction in regard to its main provisions. It requires tribunals and courts to treat Rwanda as a safe country, whatever the reality may be and notwithstanding any existing provision of statute, common law or international law. By giving Ministers the power to refuse to comply with the interim rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and preventing a UK court having regard for them, the Government show particular contempt for a court that we were once proud to have been instrumental in establishing.

The Government are also suborning the Civil Service. By obliging civil servants to act on a basis they know to be false, the Bill would legitimise and institutionalise dishonesty in Whitehall and its agencies.

Exhibit B is therefore the Government’s denial of reality. The persecuted of the world will not be deterred from seeking asylum in Britain by this policy—they will not understand the law. The traffickers will not break their own business model by informing their clients that there is no point in them travelling to Britain. The traffickers, who get paid before they launch the small boats, will have no incentive to desist. The former Immigration Minister, Mr Robert Jenrick, who is the biggest enthusiast for deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and deeply informed, says the Bill will not work. Clause 4, which provides limited scope for individual cases to be heard in our courts, intended to provide a veneer of conformity with international law, creates a major loophole.

Exhibit C is the cruelty of the policy the Bill seeks to implement. Desperate people, fleeing from persecution and danger to their lives, instead of being greeted with compassion, respect and help, are to be deported out of hand. To despatch people who may well be suffering the physical after-effects of torture, and whose mental health is highly likely to have been damaged by their experience as asylum seekers, to a country with an underdeveloped health system is horrible.

Exhibit D is political misjudgment. This would-be populist appeal to the worst in human nature is to misread the British people. The great majority of the British people do not want to see their Government acting cruelly; they want to see fair play, competent administration and the rule of law upheld.

Exhibit E is obsession. What the Government would have us believe is a great crisis—an invasion by foreigners in small boats—is a confected crisis, blown out of all proportion. In the peak year of 2022, 46,000 people crossed the channel in small boats, whereas 1.2 million migrated legally into the UK. According to the Migration Observatory, 86% of asylum seekers arriving in small boats whose cases were determined between 2018 and 2023 were granted refugee status or permission to stay. By closing off safe and legal routes, while disingenuously pretending their purpose is to save lives, the Government have forced these people into acting illegally and then scapegoated them.

Instead of cynically buying ourselves out of our obligation, the Government should deal humanely and competently with these arrivals. Instead of the literal displacement activity that the Bill exhibits, the Prime Minister should focus on the real ills and challenges of the country.

Photo of Lord Etherton Lord Etherton Crossbench 4:44, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, there are so many impermissible aspects to this Bill that it is difficult to know where to start. There is the overarching point that the Rwanda treaty—which underpins the central theme of the Bill that Rwanda is a safe country—has not yet been ratified, and then there are all those aspects of the Bill which contravene our constitutional norms or breach our international obligations.

The Bill seeks to pre-empt any future consideration by the courts on the factual question of whether Rwanda is a safe country. This is a blatant usurpation of the judiciary’s function. Contrary to Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Bill contains no domestic remedy should the courts conclude at any time that the Bill is incompatible with Articles 2 or 3 of the ECHR. The courts could make a declaration of incompatibility under Section 4 of the Human Rights Act, but that would not be an effective remedy in the present case, as it is plain that the Government have no intention of complying with their obligations in so far as they conflict with the Bill.

Clause 4, which provides for a decision not to remove based on compelling evidence relating specifically to a person’s particular individual circumstances, is inconsistent with established jurisprudence that, for members of a particular social group within Article 1A(2) of the refugee convention who have a well-founded fear of persecution, it is sufficient merely to establish membership of such a social group. This is of particular importance to LGBT+ people. I was given assurances from the Dispatch Box during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill by both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, that the principles found in the 2010 Supreme Court case HJ (Iran) would continue to apply. They expressly confirmed that, if the open expression of a person’s sexual orientation would prevent them living in a third country without facing persecution, that would constitute a risk of serious and irreversible harm. Rwanda is such a country, as the Government accept and as the current travel advice of the FCDO describes.

Clause 5, which gives Ministers a discretion to ignore interim measures of the ECHR, plainly breaches the convention. It would deny a refugee an effective right to apply to the European court and be in direct conflict with the obligation to comply with decisions of the court. In its latest analysis, the UNHCR has repeated that the Bill represents impermissible burden-shifting in contravention of the refugee convention.

Finally, the proposed Rwanda treaty does not remedy the human rights deficiencies in Rwanda—other than refoulement—mentioned in the Supreme Court judgment. I have already described the hazardous situation there of LGBT+ individuals seeking to live openly, consistent with their sexual orientation.

What conclusion can we draw from all this? The Bill is a travesty of our constitutional and legal norms and our historical moral standards.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Llafur 4:48, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, who is among those noble Lords who have shown authoritatively and powerfully the moral, constitutional, legal, financial and practical difficulties of this Bill. In the time available, I shall focus on three narrower points: how safe Rwanda is; where public opinion lies; and how alien to us are the laws this Bill proposes to breach.

First, the measures in Clause 3 of the Bill and set out in detail in the treaty, intended to meet the arguments of the Supreme Court that Rwanda is not safe, are not in place. It is therefore just not possible to accept that Parliament can decide, by passing this Bill as it stands, that Rwanda is safe, as was extensively discussed and agreed in the debate on the report of the International Agreements Committee.

At present, Rwandans flee to Britain. Will the Minister tell the House what was the well-founded fear of persecution of each refugee from Rwanda granted asylum here since 2022? How many Rwandans have our police warned to beware of assassination by Rwandan government agents? Is it the case that Rwanda will not take LGBT refugees and that blasphemy is a crime there?

Secondly, the Prime Minister has warned parliamentarians not to defy the will of the people by finding fault with the Bill. In fact, YouGov—widely respected—polled on 17 January that a majority did not support getting the policy through and thought that the proposals were not effective or not very effective. Only 19% thought they were value for money. Members in the other place cited Savanta’s findings that 72% of Britons were dissatisfied with the policy—hardly a ringing endorsement. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has noted, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office told the Select Committee that he could not supply value-for-money figures. I ask the Minister: can we see them now?

Thirdly, as regards the so-called foreign laws—that is, international law, which members of the government party have decried as alien to the processes in the Bill—the clue is in the name: international, or, literally, between nations. These treaties and conventions were hammered out with full, often leading, British participation. They are our laws too. Usually, when a new Government are elected, they undertake to honour the international agreements made by previous Governments. I ask the Minister: did his Government do so?

In conclusion, this Bill would allow contravention of laws we are party to. It abrogates the rule of law to achieve unknown and possibly dangerous results at vast expense to the taxpayer, in order to get rid of a very small proportion—probably less than 1%—of the asylum seekers who arrive in boats. As currently drafted, it looks like a desperate and absurd answer to a real and tragic problem, but I await the Minister’s answers.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 4:52, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the policy of offshoring asylum seekers for assessment and resettlement abroad will indeed be costly, to judge from the down payment already made. Its likely deterrent effect is at best uncertain. However, as a lawyer, I start by acknowledging three things. The policy was given statutory force in the Illegal Migration Act, which we passed last year. It is consistent in principle with the refugee convention, which does not oblige us to settle asylum seekers here, but only to avoid sending them to places where their lives or freedoms are threatened. The principle was not called into question by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

The only issue that remains is safety. This Bill, said the Minister,“puts beyond … doubt the safety of Rwanda”.

How could it? The Supreme Court has already found that Rwanda operates a profoundly dysfunctional asylum system. We know from our own International Agreements Committee, whose conclusions we supported last Monday, that work still needs to be done to build institutions, change attitudes and monitor compliance. A solution may be within our grasp, but it is not a legal fiction, still less a legal fantasy. A way must be found of determining whether Rwanda is and will remain safe in reality.

When we are concerned about the safety of a country, we often consult the Foreign Office travel advice. Expertly informed and responsive to events, it is a valuable resource. However, in expecting Parliament to come to a judgment, in the words of the Bill,

“that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”, the Bill makes no provision for expert scrutiny, second thoughts or revision of that judgment. Flattering as it may be for some of us to be treated as infallible, to cast Parliament as decision-maker in this changeable and fact-specific context is fraught with constitutional danger. If we are persuaded to take on that role, we will surely need, at least—as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has hinted—an independent body on the ground to tell us when the deficiencies already identified have been remedied, and a mechanism for ensuring that, when conditions change, the verdict can change.

Ouster clauses—even partial ousters such as those in Clause 4—are among the most fundamental attacks on the rule of law because they challenge, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, Dicey’s first principle. Indeed, more impressively still in my book, they challenge the first principle of my noble friend Lord Hennessey that nobody—not even the Government—is above the law. However, the very seriousness of these issues means that we owe the Commons the courtesy of our careful consideration of them. For that reason, I will not support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, tonight.

Finally, I turn to Clause 5, with its proposed exclusion of the right to seek interim measures from the Strasbourg court. I view with dismay the proposal to defy successive rulings of the court, whose opinion on the matter is decisive under Article 32 of the ECHR, to the effect that these measures are binding on the states party to the convention. As we acknowledge in our own legal systems, and have previously acknowledged in this context too, the effective adjudication of any case can depend on a workable system of interim measures. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether interim measures will be a feature of the new Rwandan asylum law, which, as far as I am aware, no one has yet seen.

We did, it is true, in the end accept Section 55 of the Illegal Migration Act, but that was presented as a negotiating ploy—perhaps a productive one, since the court is now in the course of improving its procedures for interim measures. This clause, however, is different. No such conditions are mentioned in it. The crocodile, having devoured the bun offered by the international court, now proposes to kick it into the water with a casual swipe of its tail. Some will say that this pass is sold, but I hope that, if only out of self-respect, your Lordships will push back hard at this casual dismantling of international protections that are as necessary now as they ever were.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop 4:56, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register. I stand in agreement with the arguments already made regarding the domestic constitutional, international standing and human rights concerns surrounding this Bill. I echo the belief that we should not outsource our moral and legal responsibilities to refugees and asylum seekers. However, today I hope to bring some insight to this debate through my own experience of Rwanda.

Rwanda is a country that I love. It is a country that I have travelled to on 20 occasions since 1997. I have observed the amazing transformation of Kigali and some aspects of the whole nation. My visits take me to rural villages, small towns and cities, not simply the glamour of a great international city. I have had the privilege of becoming friends with many local people whom I have met and stayed with there. The conversations I had there last August further led me to conclude that this policy will simply not work.

Under the new UK-Rwanda treaty, Rwanda is required not to remove any person relocated under this partnership. Instead, those sent to Rwanda will remain in the country and live there for the foreseeable future. However, is Rwanda truly capable of delivering the support and opportunities required for each of these refugees and asylum seekers to rebuild their lives? Can Rwanda offer enough employment opportunities for them to provide for themselves, when many of its young people are leaving because there are no jobs? In Rwanda you need Kinyarwanda and English. Will adequate language training be available to enable those sent there to successfully integrate? Locally, also, Kigali residents know where a few hundred might be initially housed—they offered to take me to see it—but seriously wonder how thousands would, or even could, be received with dignity.

From what I have observed during my time spent in Rwanda, there will not be enough in all of these areas. Low incomes in the country require people to rely on their own land to provide crops. However, those removed there from the UK will not have ownership of, or access to, such land. In a country without high levels of social security, who will ensure that these people do not face destitution?

Each time I have travelled to Rwanda, I have been met with great kindness and hospitality. I am aware, though, that this is not the case for every individual who steps foot on Rwandan soil. I note, for example, the arrest of pastors who criticised the Government in 2018, following the closure of churches due to legislation, some of which made sense. How can we ensure that Rwanda is safe for people of all faiths to practise their religion? Courts and decision-makers should not be compelled to treat Rwanda as safe without a commitment to ongoing scrutiny. Simply put, the Bill is not workable either in the UK or in Rwanda.

My right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol regrets that she cannot be in her place today, but I express her concerns that the Bill might also create a greater risk to victims of modern slavery. There is reason to be sceptical that survivors will be as safe in Rwanda as they would be in the UK. According to the 2023 Global Slavery Index, prevalence of modern slavery in Rwanda is more than twice as high as in the UK, and Rwanda is not a signatory to ECAT.

I further worry that this legislation will apply to people who have been receiving support through the UK’s national referral mechanism for some time. Could this support be replicated to the same quality in Rwanda, and what would be the impact of removal of any such people on their physical and mental health? My right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol will seek to pursue this issue in Committee.

We are speaking of some of the most vulnerable people, many of whom have experienced the devastation of war and conflict, leaving behind their homes and livelihoods. They are human beings, each with value and deserving of dignity. We need solutions where people are provided with adequate support and opportunities to rebuild their lives. I and many others in this House have made many proposals as to how this can be done better. I am afraid that the Bill will not achieve it.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Ceidwadwyr 5:01, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, last year I listened to quite a lot of the debate during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act and contributed to it once or twice. I had difficulty making up my mind as to whether I was going to support that Act. Eventually, although I expressed my reservations about whether Rwanda was a suitable place, I was persuaded that it was a good thing to support and I gave it my backing. Unfortunately, in the light of subsequent events we now have this Bill. At the moment, having considered it carefully, I must say that the details of the Bill, or its main point as in Clause 2, are a step too far for me, so I do not think I could possibly support it unless it is substantially amended as it goes through this House; we should urge the Commons to revise it.

My motive was that, first, it is necessary to have a credible and effective policy on illegal migration. It is a big problem and it is growing. It is small in relation to our total migration but its symbolic effect on public opinion is very important. The public need to be reassured that we have control of immigration into this country; if they think we have lost control, that threatens a very nasty change in public attitudes caused by doubts. We should all be proud of the relatively strong, multicultural and multi-ethnic society we have created in this country, much more successfully than most other European countries. That will be threatened by reactions to illegal immigration if it obviously starts to grow again and gets out of control.

The only policy I have heard in the debates so far, either here or anywhere else, that really resembled a possible working policy was that of using a safe third-party country to consider the refugee status of applicants. I listened to the debates here, most of which were legalisms and arguments about international law—which I last studied for my postgraduate degree and which I have never practised. I thought that the safe third country proposal—if you could find a safe third country—was worth a try, and I continue to back it in principle.

That policy hit a brick wall when it got to the Supreme Court. It failed there not because of any finding of international law that a policy of using a safe third country was in any way contrary to any convention, such as the refugee convention or the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government were defeated on an issue of fact. Five Supreme Court judges considered the evidence submitted to the High Court, and all five of them were persuaded that on that evidence, which they had heard arguments testing, Rwanda was not a safe country for this purpose, particularly because of the risk of refoulement. That brought the Rwanda aspect of the policy completely to a stop.

The Government’s reaction, which we are asked to approve, is quite startling to me. They have decided to bring an Act of Parliament to overturn a finding of fact made by the Supreme Court of this country. If we pass this Bill, we are asserting as a matter of law that Rwanda is a safe country for this purpose, that it will always be a safe country for this purpose until the law is changed, and that the courts may not even consider any evidence brought before them to try to demonstrate that it is not a safe country.

That is a very dangerous constitutional provision. I hope it will be challenged properly in the courts, because we have an unwritten constitution, but it gets more and more important that we make sure that the powers in this country are controlled by some constitutional limits and are subject to the rule of law. Somebody has already said in this debate that Parliament, claiming the sovereignty of Parliament, could claim that the colour black is the same as the colour white, that all dogs are cats or, more seriously, that someone who has been acquitted of a criminal charge is guilty of that criminal charge and should be returned to the courts for sentence. Where are the limits?

As time goes by in my career, I always fear echoes of the warnings that Quintin Hailsham used to give us all about the risks of moving towards an elected dictatorship in this country. The sovereignty of Parliament has its limits, which are the limits of the rule of law, the separation of powers and what ought to be the constitutional limits on any branch of government in a liberal democratic society such as ours.

The way this should be resolved is for the Government to say that the facts have changed. We are not hearing or testing arguments. I am meant to cast a vote as to whether Rwanda is safe, and I have received an email, the text of the Government’s treaty and the Explanatory Notes. I do not have the expertise on Rwanda that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has just demonstrated. I have never been there. I know that it has been a one-man dictatorship for more than 20 years, that we sometimes give refugee status here to people fleeing persecution in Rwanda and, indeed, that it has a rather dodgy record—not as bad as some African countries—on human rights in various respects. I am not surprised by the judgment.

The Government say that things have changed, but I have no means of testing that, and I agree with all those who have said that change is subject to the Rwandans actually complying with the treaty, to the training being effective, to change on the ground reaching the required standard and to periodic checks being made of that. That is not what Clause 2, which we are asked to approve, sets out.

I hope we consider this Bill with very particular care. I will probably be attracted to support some pretty startling amendments that go to some of the main purposes in the Bill. If the Government wish to demonstrate that the facts have changed, some means should be found of going back to the court, facing another challenge, having a proper hearing of up-to-date evidence in the light of demonstrated improvement in the situation of Rwanda and getting a fresh judgment, if necessary, from the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, search for other safe countries. Do not vote for the Liberal amendment today because, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, although I would love to see the Conservative Party got out of this particular mess, the main effect of the amendment would be to get the Government out of the hole that they have dug for themselves. They have based far too much on this Rwanda policy, putting it at the heart of their political ambitions for the election. To be able to turn around and say that they would have stopped the boats but the unelected House of Lords, the Liberal Democrats and the metropolitan elite stopped them would save this Government from what I think are their follies in crashing on with this policy in this way, and I hope we will not fall into that trap, at least, in our proceedings.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General 5:10, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, since he sets the foundations of what I am about to say. I agreed with everything that he said except his conclusion.

This Bill does two things. It creates a legal fiction that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and it purports to exclude the courts of this country from examining that fiction. Let us first consider the morality of creating a legal fiction that a country is a safe haven for an asylum seeker when in fact, as the Supreme Court has found and this House has agreed, it is not. Is it in accordance with the ethical standards which the British people were once proud to carry across the world to deal with refugees from oppression, or indeed, any person within this jurisdiction, on the basis of a lie—a lie which may put their very lives in danger, not least for the reasons given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham?

How is that legal fiction, this lie, to be created? By the “judgement of Parliament”. This is a new constitutional concept. It is certainly not a judgment in the legal sense, which requires an impartial tribunal, weighing the evidence and arguments on both sides of an issue and coming to a considered conclusion. How then is the “judgement of Parliament” to be ascertained? By a majority vote? In which case, the upper House of Parliament has determined that, for the moment, Rwanda is not safe. It seems that the Government construe the “judgement of Parliament” as a majority vote in the House of Commons only.

Your Lordships will quickly appreciate that the so-called “judgement of Parliament” is a very different animal from a legal judgment of the Supreme Court. “Judgement” is even spelled differently in the Bill from the conventional spelling of a court judgment. It cannot subsume or supplant the legal judgment of the Supreme Court. In our constitution, under the doctrine of the separation of powers, it cannot usurp the Supreme Court’s function.

Sir Winston Churchill championed the ultimate sovereignty of law in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, where he wrote, in volume 2, page 169:

“The underlying idea of the sovereignty of law, long in existence in feudal custom, was raised into a doctrine for the national state. When in subsequent ages the state, swollen with its own authority, has attempted to ride roughshod over the rights or liberties of the subject, it is to this doctrine that appeal has again and again been made, and never, as yet, without success”.

Finally on this point, this legal fiction could exist only in domestic law. It has no effect on international law, international courts and United Nations institutions, not least the European Court of Human Rights. “International law? Poof!” say the uber Tories. I remind them that we are currently relying on the doctrine of self-defence in international law in bombing the Houthis.

Turning to the second issue, the denial of access to our courts:

“To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay justice and right”.

That is just Magna Carta, chapter 40.

In 1769, James Somerset, born in Benin, was brought to England by a customs officer who had purchased him in a Virginian slave market. Two years later he escaped his master, who pursued him and imprisoned him on a ship bound for Jamaica. He was to be sold there to labour in a plantation. He was not denied access to the court of King’s Bench in habeas corpus proceedings. Lord Mansfield ordered his release. Slavery was odious, not recognised in the pure air of England. That was a judicial decision; it was another 60 years before Parliament abolished slavery in the British colonies.

The “judgement of Parliament” is a novel concept, introduced into the Bill, I suggest, to avoid judicial review. After all, how would you judicially review Parliament as a body? Whose clever, tricksy idea was that? Habeas corpus disappears as the major protector of the liberties of all within the jurisdiction of this country, whether foreign-born slave like Mr Somerset, or an asylum seeker. Trashing our legal obligations in international law, the Bill is odious and an affront to the 800 years of the common law of these islands, its values and traditions. The Bill must go no further.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Ceidwadwyr 5:15, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the flow of migration, unless obstructed, is rather like the flow of water—it finds its own level. The Bill is, of course, intended as an obstruction to that level. To take my water analogy, the Thames Barrier is a necessary obstruction to prevent the flooding of the City of London. We read in many assessments that the number of people who will potentially come to this country is now over 100 million. The number who can come is obviously limited by the capacity of the country to absorb them, either temporarily or permanently. The natural level at which migration will find itself, if not impeded to a level that meets the capacity of a country, is when the standard of living that a country can provide has been diluted to a level so close to the country from which people want to come that the journey is no longer worth the risks, hazards and costs of undertaking it.

That being said, what is absolutely clear is that the Government have made a huge mistake in choosing Rwanda. Why Rwanda? We have heard from the right reverend Prelate what a good place it is, and I absolutely accept that. But Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in Africa which is a tenth of the size of the United Kingdom and has a population density that is double ours. The United Kingdom has 278 people per square kilometre and Rwanda has 569. Can the Minister reveal to us the process of thought by which the Government came to the conclusion that they would even suggest Rwanda as a suitable obstacle to try to get to the right number of people whom we can absorb.

Some of your Lordships may remember that, in 2015 and 2016, I put forward an alternative plan, again to address the obstacle of finding another country. I said that we needed a very big country that had a desert and was very underpopulated. I suggested that the migration problem was a global problem that must be dealt with by the United Nations. I suggested that—and bear in mind this was several years ago—perhaps Libya might meet that aim. I thought that an area of desert could be negotiated by the UN to which everyone would go and there it would be determined whether they went where they wanted to, or went back where they came from, or whatever. The population of Libya is four people per square kilometre. I do not say that Libya is suitable now, but I cannot understand why the Government are persisting with Rwanda, since it is obviously wholly impractical. I hope the Minister will address that point.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur 5:20, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a privilege for this daughter of migrants to share your Lordships’ House, but today in particular it is a huge responsibility.

People were once imprisoned for being in debt and transported across oceans as punishment for the smallest crimes of hunger and desperation. I believe that future generations will come to look at this Government’s flagship policy with an incredulity similar to our feelings about those past inhumanities. But that is just my opinion.

It is also just my opinion that this Bill is repugnant to each tradition represented in your Lordships’ House. It is discriminatory, undermining the dignity of our fellow human beings, which is what asylum seekers and refugees are. It is illiberal and unconservative in its attack on a hard-won international rules-based order, the creation of which a previous generation of British statesmen was so proud. It is unchristian—indeed, contrary to the better instincts of all the great world faiths in its cruelty and dehumanisation. People are not sacks of carrots or widgets to be shunted around the globe for “processing”. To offshore one’s humanitarian responsibilities is as immoral as it is to offshore personal wealth as a means of evading public duty. But, as I say, that is just my view.

However, that the Republic of Rwanda is not currently or yet a safe place for those seeking asylum is not mere opinion; it is, as we have heard, fact. Furthermore, these are the facts found by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: not an international or “foreign” court, as the Prime Minister—another child of migrants—likes to caricature referees whenever he concedes a penalty or misses a goal, but the highest court in a land that has contributed so much to the development of the rule of law across the world. Your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee has ably reported on the factual conditions that must be met before the Rwanda treaty—the trigger for the commencement of this proposed Bill—can even begin to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Wisdom counsels changing our minds when the facts change, not doctoring the facts when our minds are made up. In attempting to change facts with a draftsman’s pen while simultaneously ousting the jurisdiction of our courts, the Bill is repugnant to the rule of law in general and the separation of powers in particular. In purporting to take ministerial powers to ignore interim rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, a permanent member of the Security Council will lose any moral authority to lecture other states on their international rule of law obligations in dangerous times.

It is hard to justify unelected legislators in a democracy. Noble Lords no doubt have their own arguments to offer their children and grandchildren, such as the expertise, experience and wisdom of a scrutinising and revising Chamber. For me, the most important argument, in an unwritten constitution that lacks entrenched protections even for the independent courts themselves, is that independent parliamentarians will stand with judges against executive abuse, because before democracy—before even our modem notion of rights and freedoms—the bedrock of any civilised society is the rule of law.

Photo of Lord McDonald of Salford Lord McDonald of Salford Crossbench 5:24, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the international system for dealing with refugees is breaking. That is hardly a surprise given that in 1951, when the refugee convention was approved, there were about 2 million refugees, whereas now the UN estimates there are 110 million forcibly displaced persons. We need a new system, but that would take years of painstaking multilateral negotiation.

His Majesty’s Government have reached instead for unilateral solutions. To be fair, so have other countries which normally welcome refugees, including Denmark and Sweden. But unilateral approaches to complex international problems generally fail. This policy has little chance of success.

When considering any new policy, civil servants always ask the key question: “Does it represent value for money for taxpayers?” On 13 April 2022, in the early days of the Rwanda scheme, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office sought a ministerial instruction on value for money grounds. Two years and at least £260 million later, without a single refugee sent to Rwanda, evidently Sir Matthew was right. The Government persist in wanting to dump our problem on a fragile central African country, which is only now beginning to put in place systems to cope with traumatised refugees.

Other noble Lords have pointed out the constitutional, legal and moral problems of the Bill. I add my voice to those questioning the Bill’s most basic contention—that Rwanda is safe. Rwanda is safe, but only for people on the right side of the regime. It is not safe for others—not at all safe for its political opponents. It is not safe for the LGBT+ community.

Rwanda is a well-run country in its neighbourhood, but it is a dictatorship; no one can safely challenge President Kagame. No one doubts the outcome of the next presidential election on 15 July; after 24 years in office, he will be elected to a fourth term, this time for five years. Rwandan institutions depend on Paul Kagame; what happens when he goes is uncertain. A country whose institutions are only 30 years old and one man deep cannot be said to be safe for vulnerable refugees simply because it signs a treaty promising to treat those asylum seekers well. But such a country can provide reassurance by proven good performance over time. That is the position taken by the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House.

Listening to today’s debate, we can all foresee that many amendments will be proposed in Committee. We can be sure that the Government will reject them, so Report will be fractious. Whatever we then send to the Commons will no doubt also be rejected. As the Prime Minister points out, we are merely an appointed House; he expects us to accept the Commons draft in toto.

After the Commons rejects Lords amendments, we will face a choice—either to cave, or to insist on, say, one essential change. That single change might relate to when the Bill’s provisions can be implemented. The International Agreements Committee set out 10 changes or tests related to structures, recruitment and training needed before the UK can safely proceed. We could insist that the Commons pays attention to that single, deep concern.

In the end, what is the point of a revising Chamber if it does not do all it can to improve fundamentally flawed legislation? I hope we do just that.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Ceidwadwyr 5:29, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I will support the Bill tonight, not because my Whips are suggesting I should do it but because I was the Home Secretary in 1990, the first to have to deal with a huge surge of illegal asylum seekers. In the previous 40 years from the refugee convention, there had been only a modest number of applications from people genuinely suffering persecution, and many were allowed in.

However, in 1990, the number surged to 45,000 in Britain and 90,000 in Germany. We soon moved on to 70,000 and then 90,000. What had happened was that the world’s human traffickers had realised that there was a wonderful loophole in the convention: it gave every citizen in any country of the world the right to go to another country if they were facing persecution—so redefine persecution. A lot of people who were not suffering persecution but suffering destitution, poverty and hunger in their own countries were sold the chance to go to another country. Who could blame them for paying out money if it would improve their lives? No one could possibly do so. The traffickers said, “When you go there, try to persuade them that persecution covers destitution—if the Government refuse to employ you or something; whatever it may be. If you don’t succeed, appeal, stay on. You will never be deported”.

That is the position that now exists. Where are the safe countries to which people can be deported? The only country we are deporting people to is, in the case of Albanian refugees, Albania. Albania will not take refugees from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, or any of the sub-Saharan African countries.

What the then Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and I tried to do in 1990 was not to stop immigration—we all need immigration; every country needs it; last year, Britain approved 745,000 people to come to this country. We welcomed them in a friendly way, which was much better than what most European countries do. Immigration is a fact of life—controlled state immigration.

Regarding illegal immigration, from 1990, human traffickers could say, “Once you get in, you will be there for good”. My noble friend Lord Clarke said that we must search for safe countries, but can anybody mention a safe country that would take refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or any of the sub-Saharan African countries? Can anyone name a safe country? Is there a cry of even one country? Your Lordships ought to know; you are highly intelligent and informed people. Where are these safe countries? There are none left; those human traffickers know that, once they can get a refugee into any country, they will stay there.

This presents huge political problems. I do not know whether any of your Lordships heard the speech by the President of Germany at the weekend about the AfD. The AfD is now the official opposition in west Germany. It is a right-wing, vicious party which supports violence and huge repatriation. The President said that it is likely to win three states in west Germany in elections this year. That is a problem for Germany because they have had 400,000 applications for asylum this year. In the case of Holland, its very popular and successful Prime Minister of 10 years was thrust out because Holland was going to abandon its policy of open borders. It is now following closed borders.

Many European countries are already transgressing international law. Hungary does not care a fig for it. It has created fences all around. If anybody gets over them, it provides the refugees with coaches to take them to the borders of Slovenia and Austria. In France, Macron has just appointed a right-wing Prime Minister to try to hold off the growth of the right-wing party in France, which is now ahead in the opinion polls.

This is happening right across Europe. We have a problem. As I have said, once a refugee gets into any country now, they are likely to stay there. I believe the Prime Minister’s policy of trying to stop them entering the march to migration is the right one. It is an immensely difficult policy to achieve. It will inevitably involve applications, from the individual countries themselves, by individual migrants. Some will be approved and some will not. We have that pattern now; 745,000 came in on that basis.

America is close to doing that, but the whole policy will be turned upside down by Trump. He has decided that he can win the next election this year by focusing on migration. The governors in the southern states have now loaded busload after busload of immigrants and sent them off to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The most liberal part of America is Brooklyn. Brooklyn has been invaded by immigrants, and even it is now saying, “Go home, go home”. I am quite sure that, if Trump does win, which I think is likely, he will not give a fig for international law or the views of other countries. He has a slight problem with inflatable boats, which are now taking refugees across from Mexico. He will deal with inflatable boats in rather differently than we are.

One has to realise that there has to be international agreement. We cannot do this policy by ourselves. I hope that our leaders will co-operate with Europe to find a way to tame mass migration. Human nature being what it is, if it becomes a conflict between humanitarian zeal and national politics, national politics will win over; and that has very ugly prospects.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 5:36, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I begin by urging noble Lords interested in the circumstances in Rwanda to pay close attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford. Members of the Rwandan Green Party have been at the forefront of opposition to President Kagame. They have paid dearly for it, including with their lives. I want to acknowledge that today.

My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will later concentrate on the contents of this Bill: its hideous human impacts and the indefensible politics behind its existence. I will focus chiefly on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German, which he so powerfully and effectively introduced to us. I will set out why the Green Party believes we should vote down this Bill today.

In that, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who, making arguments with which we are all too familiar, suggested that “We’re the unelected House; we cannot overrule the elected House”. Can we really claim to have a functioning government majority in the House of Commons, a fast-shrinking majority, put in place with the backing—four years ago and three Prime Ministers back—of little more than a third of registered voters, the majority of voters choosing opposition parties?

It is not working, our constitution accreted over centuries of historical accident. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, set out powerfully, the Government are seeking to overrule on a matter of fact a judgment of the Supreme Court. I ask those who have been in this House for decades to mull on that reality and consider how shocking, how unbelievable, how banana republic you would a decade or two ago have considered even a suggestion that that might happen.

So what do we do? We often hear praise for the independence of your Lordships’ House and the relative weakness of the party Whip in those old-fashioned parties that do still whip. How about we apply independent judgment, independent thought, to this Bill, as your Lordships’ House did last week in scrutinising the Rwanda treaty—scrutiny that the Government have said they are going to dismiss without any consideration?

If the House cannot stop this Bill that the UNHCR tell us is in breach of the basic principles of international law, what is this House for? What defence is there for its existence and for its very curious composition? Sure, we can scrutinise, tidy up the Government’s mistakes in legislation, straighten out some of the worst elements and loosen things a little, and that is a job worth doing, but what use is that if we are within a deeply broken system, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred. I think the noble Lord meant the asylum system, but it fits perfectly too as a description of our constitutional system, which is unable, it would seem, to defend the basics of the rule of law.

There is one point on which I somewhat disagree with the noble Lord, Lord German. He said that the West is often accused of double standards. I say that the West is often guilty of double standards—something that has all too often been hidden in the past behind gunboat diplomacy and economic might. The balance of the world is changing and we are no longer in a position to suggest that other nations should follow the rules while we do not. We desperately need the norms that have been established—very often by British campaigners, civil society and lawyers over decades—to be upheld, and that means that we need to uphold them ourselves. As the noble Lord, Lord German, said, to pass this Bill would be to undermine our global standing and the principle of universality, however often in the past the West has ignored it in its own interests.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for whom I have the highest respect, said that the Commons has the right to pass bad law. The question I am going to leave noble Lords with is this. How far would your Lordships go in accepting that precept? How bad does the law have to be? I have asked this question before, when we passed the policing Bill which explicitly targeted Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. I asked it during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill, when we declared millions of Britons to be second-class citizens, capable of having their citizenship taken away by the stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, asked where the limits are. That is the question I put to your Lordships’ House today.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Llafur 5:42, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, along with many other noble Lords, I am, frankly, distressed and shocked to see this proposed legislation in front of the British Parliament. To me, it is hardly credible that a British Government should ask Parliament to pass a Bill that insists on denying established facts, almost certainly breaks international agreements, lowers our reputation in the world sharply, takes away judicial powers and hands them to the Executive, and treats other human beings—including genuine refugees—in an outrageous, cavalier and reckless manner. And all this in some desperate and false attempt to fool the electorate that the Government are serious about immigration.

Yet the Bill is in front of us, and we have been warned—if not threatened by the Prime Minister, at perhaps the most ludicrous press conference ever heard at No. 10—to pass it speedily and without amendment, or else. This was surely the wrong approach and only encourages those of us who believe the Bill to be unconstitutional and not worthy of this country to be more determined.

I want to concentrate briefly on Clause 1(2)(b). I agree exactly with what the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, told the House a few minutes ago. That clause is a bold statement of fact, not of opinion—although there is an attempt at Clause 1(5) to give a ridiculously inadequate definition of a “safe country”. As a statement of fact, it is false. All the best regarded opinion is that Rwanda is, alas, not a safe country. That is what the Supreme Court unanimously found, and anyone who saw yesterday’s Observer newspaper, for example, will know that there is striking evidence that any opposition to the Government there is just not tolerated.

Again by way of example, how does the Minister begin to explain how four Rwandan citizens, all supporting the opposition party, have in the last four months all been given refugee status in this country—one of them, ironically, at the time the Supreme Court was considering the case? Does that not perfectly describe how absurd it is, in the face of so much evidence, to say that our courts and our judges have to assume that Rwanda is a safe country?

Like many others in this House, I was privileged to be at the memorial service last week for our late and much missed colleague Lord Judge. The reading was from Deuteronomy and concerned the obligations on those asked to do justice. One phrase struck me as being really relevant to this Bill. It is the direction given in the Bible—and this is the modern translation—that:

“You must not distort justice”.

If this Bill becomes law, with a plainly false proposition at its heart, how will it be possible not to distort justice? I agree with those who say that this Bill is not worthy of our country, neither its traditions nor its present, and certainly not its future.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 5:47, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I do not want to add to what has been said about the content of the Bill but want to make one or two observations on the role of your Lordships’ House in dealing with it.

As has been said, this is not a manifesto Bill, so it is not covered by the Salisbury/Addison convention and there is no constitutional bar to the House’s refusing to give it a Second Reading. On the other hand, when the elected House, having heard the arguments, has passed the Bill, even under the duress of the majority, and without amendment, I agree respectfully with the convenor that that gives it some of the aspects of a Bill covered by the Salisbury/Addison convention. I think the House would be wrong to refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading and wrong, therefore, to vote for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German.

The role left for this House to exercise is as a revising Chamber—to amend the Bill and send it back for further consideration. However, we need to be realistic about what, in these circumstances, is meant by a revising Chamber. I do not believe that amendments are possible which would make the Bill unobjectionable and yet meet the Government’s objectives. Amendments passed by this House are likely to be regarded by the Government as wrecking amendments, and I have no doubt that, as the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, said, the Government will use their majority to reverse them in the House of Commons.

Will we be wasting our time in debating and amending this Bill? In one sense, we will. Debates will take place and amendments will be passed, and in the end we will surrender after ping-pong and the Bill will go through. However, in another sense I believe that we will not be wasting our time. In our democracy, political parties and Members in this House have a right and a duty to assert their positions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said. If we did not do so, we would be adding to the damage that will be done to our democracy by the Bill itself.

In my view, the No. 10 spokesman was profoundly wrong in saying that this unelected House has no right to pass amendments removing what we regard as objectionable and dangerous features of the Bill. This House has a right and a duty to do so, even though we must recognise that such amendments will in practice be no more than a kamikaze operation.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop 5:50, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I share many concerns about the Bill that have been expressed by many other noble Lords, but I will focus on human rights. What underpins my contribution to the House is a fundamental belief that all people are made in the image of God. It is a belief that is the foundation not just of the Christian faith but of many other faiths and religions. People have an inherent immeasurable value and deserve dignity and respect. In the Bill, unfortunately, the value of people is consistently maligned. For example, the Bill decides who is and is not entitled to human rights. Has history not taught us the risk of that?

It is an odd situation that we find ourselves in when it feels necessary to state in your Lordships’ House that the Government should obey the law, yet the Minister has stated on the face of the Bill that he is unable to say that the measures within it are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 3 disapplies sections of our Human Rights Act and Clause 1(6) lists great swathes of international law that will be contravened to pass the Bill. As many noble Lords have said, it is illogical that the Government are disregarding international law while relying on Rwanda’s compliance with it to assure us it is safe. That is not a mark of global leadership.

Clause 5(2) states that compliance with interim measures made by the European Court of Human Rights will be decided by a Minister of the Crown. Disregarding these orders will cause legal uncertainty, with a profound impact on how we expect others to abide by international law. We have a respected place on the world stage, with very few injunctions in comparison to other European countries, because human rights legislation is so well embedded in our law. As a number of noble Lords have said, the Bill marks a change. We cannot afford to forfeit our place in the international community in the face of the significant global challenges that must urgently be navigated. Global conflict remains a serious issue, and we must not lose our focus or our leadership on it.

Passing the Bill will mean that other countries will be tentative in reaching forward to us on other international agreements. In addition, it is troubling that the vulnerable are not being protected in the Bill, with no exceptions made for victims of trafficking or children who either are in families or are suspected to be adults. The right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Chelmsford and the Bishop of Bristol are not able to be in their places today but hope to explore amendments to further protect these vulnerable groups, to which I hope the Government will give due consideration.

The Bill disapplies parts of the Human Rights Act with respect to asylum seekers, and the Government are doing the same in respect of certain prisoners in other legislation before this House. This is a slippery slope. Making a minority group unprotected from the actions of the Government undermines everyone’s collective access to justice.

If our courts find that this legislation is indeed incompatible with rights under the ECHR and issue a declaration pursuant to Section 4 of the Human Rights Act, will the Minister confirm that the Government will make a Statement to Parliament and bring forward regulations to remedy the incompatibility?

I underline that my overriding concern is that in this legislation we are deciding to whom human rights apply and to whom they do not. Again I say: has history not taught us the risk of that? I hope the Government will consider that question before proceeding any further. As the House has heard, we on these Benches will continue to engage with the Bill to develop better legislation that will recognise the value of each human being.

The House may not be surprised to hear that I also support the most reverend Primate in his call for a long-term strategy for immigration that is cross-government and worked out with our international partners.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr 5:56, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, in the absence of an immediate returns agreement with France, for which there seems little appetite, it is only by delivering the Rwanda scheme that the Government can achieve the deterrent effect necessary to prevent migrants from attempting to enter the United Kingdom by dangerous and illegal means.

In the brief time available to me, I shall focus on two matters that have been the subject of much misperception in your Lordships’ House. The first is the effect of the Section 19(1)(b) statement on the face of the Bill. As a person who has previously signed such a statement, I have carefully considered its significance. Contrary to a common misunderstanding among opponents of the Bill in your Lordships’ House and the other place, and as we have just heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the statement does not mean that the Minister is certifying that the measures in the Bill are incompatible with the human rights convention. Following a practice introduced under the last Labour Administration, a Minister will not make a Section 19(1)(a) statement of compatibility unless they are satisfied that, if there was a legal challenge to the new law or a decision taken under it, there is a greater than 50% probability that the court will find the measure to be compliant with the convention commitments of the United Kingdom. In all other circumstances, the Minister will issue a Section 19(l)(b) statement. That is what has happened here.

Therefore, the placing of a declaration of this kind on the front of the Bill cannot, and must not, be characterised as a statement that the Government believe that the measures in the Bill are incompatible with the UK’s convention commitments. The point is that in making such a declaration the Government do not concede any breach of the convention, and indeed there is every prospect that the Government will prevail in any litigation, as occurred in the 2013 Animal Defenders case, which upheld the compatibility of a provision in the Communications Act 2003 that had, when before Parliament, been accompanied by a Section 19(1)(b) statement.

In any case, it is for Parliament to decide whether it thinks the Bill is compatible with convention rights, and it should not be misled by the way in which Section 19(1)(b) statements are phrased, because that would be to misunderstand the substance. Given the treaty and the commitments underpinning the Bill, it is evident that the Bill does not expose anyone to a real risk of removal to conditions under which they would be tortured or exposed to any other convention violation.

The second misperception was exemplified in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord German, today, and the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, today and in last week’s debate on the ratification of the Rwanda treaty. It is that the outsourcing of asylum claims made in the UK to a third country is unlawful or, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, “dishonours our convention commitments”. This is not so. In the recent Rwanda litigation, this was rejected by the Divisional Court, which held that third-country processing was not unlawful or contrary to the refugee convention. The claimants unsuccessfully sought to appeal that finding. The Court of Appeal, unanimously on this point, agreed with the Divisional Court. The Supreme Court did not even grant permission for any further appeal on that and therefore the law is clear. Third-country processing of asylum claims is lawful.

Having clarified these two matters, I make one final point. This Bill will save lives and protect our borders. It warrants the support of this House.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 6:01, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, although it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murray, I would urge him to stop his tango on the head of a pin.

It is a remarkable but welcome thing that an issue, the outcome of which will apparently affect fewer than 200 people, should be debated twice within one week in your Lordships’ House. I agree with the comments made by noble friends and other noble Lords on the rule of law, including the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, my noble friend Lord Anderson and my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton.

This Bill and the treaty said to underpin it have attracted both headline and detailed criticism. The headline part has included the unusual press conference at which the Prime Minister, who in the past has been generally accepting of the role of your Lordships’ House, took time out of his busy schedule to wag his finger at us. I suggest that those who look after the Prime Minister, when he is on his much-publicised exercise bike tomorrow morning, should place before him the magnificent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. It was three and a half minutes of sheer eloquent wisdom from this House. The Prime Minister was just wrong, and this House will not be influenced by finger-wagging.

That episode reminded me of a brief remark by one of the heroes of my generation, Desmond Tutu. He said of such debates:

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument”.

I have been waiting for the Government to improve their arguments against those presented by most Peers who spoke in last week’s debate. So far, at least in this debate, the improvement has not occurred.

I agree with those noble Lords who have said that the fundamental question is if Rwanda is a safe country. At best, the Government’s position on Rwanda’s safety is ambiguous. For example, as one noble friend said privately to me earlier, Clauses 5(2) and (4) of this Bill are plainly in breach of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2005, but the Government seem to have overlooked that completely. There is plenty of evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country. The Government have said, in or out of court in a number of cases, that individuals applying for asylum in this country could stay here because Rwanda is not a safe country.

Last Saturday, an article in the Guardian referred to an investigation, which has not been refuted by the Government, by the Observer and the colourfully named campaign group Led by Donkeys. They found that, in the last four months, six Rwandans have been given asylum on the grounds that they would not be safe if they were sent back to Rwanda. Those decisions were on various grounds. In one case, the person was connected to an opposition party. In another case, the Home Office simply said:

“We accept that you have a well-founded fear of persecution and therefore cannot return to your country Rwanda”.

How can a country, in which opposition to the President makes it unsafe for a refugee to return—simply by expressing his or her political views—be safe? We have the spectacle in the teeth of the evidence of His Majesty’s Government telling us that Rwanda is safe. They are asking us to legislate a lie. I hope that we will not legislate that lie.

An admired teacher of mine had the habit of quoting Plato at bemused 15 year-olds. I stuck it out with him to the end of my schooling, and I remember him later reminding us of Plato’s advice. “To present arguments at a time when one is in doubt and seeking … is a thing both frightening and slippery”. This debate is about a proposal both frightening and slippery and, indeed, duplicitous.

If this Bill is to be passed, it must only be brought into force once the misgivings contained within paragraph 45 of the International Agreements Committee’s report are resolved and certified by this Parliament as properly resolved. Only then will I support this Bill.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 6:05, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, whom I worked with on the Illegal Migration Act. It seems as though we will be working together on this. I do not, as some have suggested on these Benches, come to this issue with party-political motives.

I approach this from a personal perspective. How would I want to be treated? How would I want my family to be treated? Therefore, I must stand in the shoes of others and imagine, as Shakespeare asked us to imagine in a brilliant speech in “Sir Thomas More”. The strangers have made their way from Calais to Dover. The threat of them is whipped up and the strangers are politicised. To paraphrase, to a voice among the crowd that says, “Remove them!”, Sir Thomas More replies: “You bid that they be removed, the stranger with their children upon their back, their families at their side, their belongings at their feet. You bid that they be removed. Imagine you are the stranger, with your children upon your back, your family at your side, your belongings at your feet. Bid that they be removed and show your mountanish inhumanity”. Four hundred years later, I beg the same question.

This Bill is outsourcing legal and moral obligations, and I consider it not only unacceptable but repugnant. It will have long-term profound consequences for the United Kingdom and in Rwanda, as outlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. The Bill is unacceptable, as we have heard, for many reasons—on legal, constitutional and moral grounds. In essence, I believe it is entirely unacceptable in any country that considers itself civilised or allied to the rule of law.

The Government have continually stressed that relocation to Rwanda, coupled with detention and the removal of rights within the Illegal Migration Act, are the deterrents that will end small boats crossing the channel and so-called illegal migration. It is one thing for the Government to try to fool their critics, but when they fool themselves, we are all the losers and democracy is the greater loser. Not in my name and not with my silence will this Bill pass.

It puts at risk the most vulnerable minorities and individuals. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that LGBT+ people will not be safe in Rwanda. Like him, I was given the same assurances during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act. I seek the assurances of HJ (Iran) again.

In conclusion, this is the heart of my concern: this drawback mentality offered by the Government will achieve nothing except diversion, division and greater degrees of inhumane treatment against those who are among the most vulnerable and in need. I hang my head in shame when I see what my country has fallen to, when all we can offer is a legislative lie.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 6:10, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I am honoured, as ever, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who has made a very passionate case. Many speakers today have focused on the legality and morality, or otherwise, of the Rwanda scheme, and the astonishing claim that this Parliament has the overriding ability to decide whether Rwanda is safe. I will focus on another astonishing aspect: the simple unsuitability of this scheme.

Last July, I was in Rwanda for a major conference on women’s rights. While I was there, I visited, with the UNFPA, the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda. Overseen by the UNHCR, this houses 60,000 refugees, largely from Burundi, but also from other countries in the region which have been suffering conflict. There are strong cultural similarities between the refugees and their hosts. Full provision is made for housing, schools, and training. There are villages led by local leaders, markets for stallholders, and a bus service to enable travel to work. We visited impressive health clinics, which covered a range of care, including minor operations, vaccinations, malnutrition care and mental health services. What is more, the local population can access these facilities, so they can see a benefit from having refugees among them.

Let us contrast this with what the UK plans to do for those seeking assistance at our borders. None of these elements is in place. It is no surprise that the Government do not want parliamentarians to visit the site, as we found. It is beyond amateur. It is in Kigali, in an unused housing development, surrounded by other housing developments for the local population. Its capacity is extremely limited, for merely a few hundred, and these will supposedly be men from diverse countries, backgrounds, languages, religions and experience—people who will have been uprooted from their countries, communities and families. How is that supposed to work? Of course, the site is not big enough to provide specialised healthcare, training, or language or cultural support—any of the facilities that such asylum seekers potentially need. It is right in the middle of the local population, with the strong possibility of mutual fear—a potential recipe for conflict and exploitation.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee refrained from speaking today because of the number of speakers, but she has mentioned to me points made by various organisations. Removing asylum seekers to a country where they do not want to be, with little prospect of work, not understanding the language, with inadequate support, increases the likelihood that they will seek to leave, or be open to offers to help them do so. Israel had an agreement with Rwanda, but no one knows what happened to that cohort. They are not there now; it is very likely that they were smuggled onwards or trafficked and exploited. The Minister says that he seeks to reduce trafficking, yet this policy opens up a new market for traffickers. The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law has advised that the Bill will put the UK in breach of the convention on trafficking in human beings.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury have rightly said, Rwanda has made great strides since the terrible years of its genocide. Nevertheless, the UK Supreme Court has deemed it still an unsafe country—and we have heard a number of reasons why that is the case, not least from the noble Lord, Lord McDonald. We have recently granted asylum to Rwandan refugees, as my noble friend Lady Brinton pointed out. Of course, it appears to be part of the Government’s narrative for the right-wing press that Rwanda is a desperate place in which to end up—acting as an apparent disincentive to those who may seek asylum in the UK. It is ironic that they then deem the country safe.

Conflict and climate change will doubtless increase migration. Working on global strategies to tackle this, as the most reverend Primate Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out, is clearly vital. Right now in central America, they are facing a massive traffic in migration. Costa Rica, with a population of 5 million, is housing a further 1 million from Nicaragua. One of the first things must be to invest in conflict prevention and development. The assistance that has been channelled to Rwanda since its terrible conflict has clearly improved the lives of many of its citizens, so there is less migration from Rwanda itself, despite the clear limits to freedom there. Yet we cut our aid budget—how short-sighted.

Others have argued with overwhelming force that the Bill offends against both morality and legality. From what I have seen of the UK’s plan on the ground in Rwanda, compared with more effective ways of supporting refugees in that very country, it seems to me that we are pouring huge amounts of money into what is almost an amateur scheme. That hardly reflects well on the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr 6:17, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, many moons ago I was a staff writer on the Financial Times and occasionally involved in writing leaders. Those of us who wrote leaders for national newspapers were well aware that they were not exactly the first point of interest. I do not know how noble Lords read their newspapers, but I start with the back pages, which were particularly pleasant today, with the reports of the win in India in the first test match. Then I went to the news on the front pages, then to the features and then finally the leaders. However, as a leader writer, I was aware that the opinion expressed in the leaders is the collective view of at least the senior people on the newspaper in question. Therefore, I was very interested to read the views of the Times on 15 January, where it said, under the headline, “Return of Rwanda”:

“The legislation would prevent a general claim that Rwanda is an unsafe destination but not rule out a specific case of an individual being at risk for some reason. That is in principle a sensible balance, respecting the will of parliament and the rights of the individual”.

That is precisely the view taken by our colleagues in the other place, without any further amendment.

Of course, we are here because the Supreme Court concluded that the Government’s policy was unlawful. I therefore took the trouble to read the Supreme Court evidence—57 pages of it. I understand from its procedures that it has to take a view on the hard evidence; that point has been made. The hard evidence that it took was from the UNHCR before September 2022.

However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, pointed out in his opening remarks, the problem with this approach is that it does not look at the evidence today or as it may be in the future. It did not go to Rwanda and took no evidence of that kind. The fact is, as has been pointed out many times, that Rwanda is a rapidly developing situation. It is helping the UK with its illegal immigration and, in return, getting a significant chunk of development aid. It hopes this will be a model for other European countries—and other European countries are following this closely—which will work for the future. Therefore, Rwanda has every incentive to make this policy work.

This raises the question, incidentally, of whether this sort of decision—as to whether Rwanda can be trusted—is one that should be made by Governments or by courts. The Supreme Court raised this question, but it did not, in the end, give a view.

We are where we are. I believe the Government have made a big effort to meet the Supreme Court’s points. In particular, they have put a lot of work into capacity building, which is what the Australians did when they faced a similar problem over outsourcing to Nauru, near the Solomon Islands. The Australians provided training, support and expertise, and had a permanent presence on the ground, and the UNHCR was kept in touch. This trilateral approach has worked and now has all-party support. That is the opportunity we may face here. I think it should be put to the test.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated 6:21, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I think we can all agree that the Bill is contentious. I think we can also agree about what it is actually about: controlling permitted migration and ending illegal entry. That is a good thing, but I suspect that is where the agreement ends.

This evening, we are discussing something that is part of a much greater problem facing the western world. History, it seems to me, tells us that there is only one way to respond to existential threats to western Europe and tsunamis of migration, and that is by coming together and standing shoulder to shoulder. For example, when Jan Sobieski led a European army to defeat the Turks at the Battle of Vienna, it was a composite army. When Wellington was victorious at Waterloo, the majority of the troops he was commanding were not British, and the day was saved by the Prussians, under Blücher. In the Second World War, when we played a crucial part, eventual victory is in fact owed to Russia and the United States. We are approaching this as though we can try to do it by ourselves, and I believe that that must be doomed to fail. We are all in it together.

We were told earlier in the debate that collective action has failed in the past, but we have to remember what financial advisers tell us: that the past is no guide to the future. We have simply got to make it work in some way or other, even if we end up with a collection of disjointed unilateral actions that have only some degree of coherence across them.

As long as there are boats and migrants on the other side of the English Channel, and as long as the view from there is that there is a better life in this country, there will be those trying to break into this country, thinking it is a Shangri-La—it is certainly an improvement on life in the camps at Calais. That is the reality. Sometimes, we seem to be using the same political advisers as King Canute did on that beach at Hunstanton, over 1,000 years ago. On that occasion, the king appreciated that they were talking nonsense.

I am not a good lawyer, and in the presence of so many distinguished lawyers I shall keep my opinions private. I simply say that the Bill as it stands is an attack on the rule of law. If Parliament, led by the Executive, excludes the proper and constitutional role of the judiciary and the system of checks and balances in the system, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We are being asked to go into a world of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, as was explained earlier, where Humpty Dumpty expounds the doctrine that a word means

“just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.

Much of this is fuelled by what is a fashionable, at least in some circles, antipathy to the European Convention on Human Rights. It may commend the convention to some at least in this Chamber that, let us not forget, it was devised by British Conservative lawyers. We should also recall that the reason it came into being—I think this was mentioned earlier in the debate—was to deal with exactly the Humpty Dumpty school of legal interpretation which, once adopted, spread widely in the 20th century to become the basis of horrifying totalitarianism and all that that led to. I believe we should not and must not allow this approach to the law to enter our system.

Let us have some leadership from our leaders in the great British tradition of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and not put our long-established traditions up for sale for the supposed benefit of a mess of short-term political pottage.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Llafur 6:25, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, this time last week, I was in Strasbourg for meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—a body dedicated to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. On its first day, as is usual, there were two meetings of its various committees. I sit on its migration committee. We were pretty much preoccupied with the plight of abducted Ukrainian children being forcibly taken into Russia to be Russified and eventually turned back to fight against their own people—a horrendous situation indeed.

However, in the informal times between our business items, I was besieged by people from Parliaments across Europe who wanted to ask me about what was happening here last Monday. I explained the nature of that debate, and wished I had been here myself. There was a short gap in the proceedings that allowed me, with such technical ability as I have, to get the debate on my telephone screen. I was able to follow a small part of the debate that took place here last week, pretty much on the subject we are debating right now. I got only a snippet of the debate, but enough to make me think a great deal.

I saw an exchange, some might call it a spat, between the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who is in his place—an honourable man of Tredegar, which is what confers the honourableness on him—and my noble friend, if I may be allowed to award him that accolade for the purpose of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. The discussion was about the rule of law and the role of the UNHCR in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Sitting next to me was Andreas Wissner, the UNHCR official in Strasbourg.

The point at issue was the decision of the Supreme Court that the UNHCR is entrusted

“with the supervision of the interpretation and application of the Refugee Convention”.

I am getting my bearings from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, because it is he who was quoting. Later, it was said that the UNHCR’s guidance

“should be accorded considerable weight”.

The two words that the noble Lord singled out in his speech were “supervision”—that is, of the interpretation allowed to each member state to apply the laws and conventions according to the light of their own experience—and “guidance”. Both of these, he argued, offered a clear indication that the UNHCR was not entrusted with final or binding decisions but merely with the giving of critical advice and counsel.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was clear that the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson and Lord Murray—who is not in his place; I could have been complimentary about him but I am glad not to be given the opportunity—were both wrong in their suggestion that the UNHCR is not charged with the interpretation of the refugee convention. It is so charged, said the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the Supreme Court agreed with him. When lawyers, even distinguished lawyers, disagree—I am a minnow here, swimming for his life in a deep bowl—it is sometimes a good thing to turn to the way the point at issue has been applied in previous cases.

Indeed, Section 2 of the Human Rights Act requires courts to take into account the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in making their decisions. This is good advice, not only for courts but for distinguished lawyers speaking in your Lordships’ House. The UNHCR has given detailed attention to all three major pieces of legislation that have been before this House in the last short period. Its reports make most interesting reading and have been very carefully drawn up. We have to bear in mind the role of the UNHCR and, in looking to resolve the dispute that was on air last week, case law—the way the laws have been applied—needs to play its proper part. The advice was clear: the way we are going will involve a serious breach of international law and seriously damage the UK’s standing in the world.

As I did some thinking on these matters in Strasbourg last week, the battery on my phone ran out. The screen darkened, and so did my spirits lower, as I thought, “Next week I’ll be here trying to make some kind of contribution to what I believe is a fundamental aspect of what it means to belong to this country”. Nobody could have said it better than the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in his welcome return to this House earlier—in three minutes, and, gosh, look at me. Well, to return to my meeting in Strasbourg—guess what? We were discussing migration and the rule of law.

Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead Ceidwadwyr 6:31, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, we do need to stop the abhorrent practices of the criminal gangs and save people dying at sea, and we do need to control our borders. I therefore commend the actions that the Government have implemented, as described by the Minister in his opening remarks. However, as other noble Lords have said, the Bill is not part of the answer.

I have had the honour of representing this country in international trade negotiations. In its current form, the Bill has the potential to damage the reputation of the UK as a defender of democratic principles, and the rule of law and all its facets, including the principle of the separation of powers. In so doing, if passed, it will damage the future ability of the UK to lead on breaches of international law, and more generally on the world stage.

The UK has a long and proud track record of respecting and promoting the rule of law. Indeed, the most recent European Court of Human Rights report demonstrates our impressive compliance: the court takes into account the fact that we have integrated the human rights convention into our public bodies and that it is overseen by our judiciary. But this hard-earned reputation is now at risk.

Although sending immigrants to safe countries is well established under international law, the Bill is being proposed for a very different situation, positioning itself and the treaty debated last week as an answer to a unanimous ruling by our Supreme Court that Rwanda was not safe as a matter of fact.

I will not repeat its detailed clauses, but many legal commentators, including those in this House, have questioned the Bill’s legality, arguing that, even if its passing enables Rwanda to be deemed a safe country under UK domestic law, it is not relevant in determining whether it breaches our obligations under international law.

The Bar Council of England and Wales commented:

“There is an obvious difference between a country that is in fact safe, and one that is not safe but is deemed to be safe. The United Kingdom’s obligation under international law is to ensure that asylum seekers are only ever sent to countries that are actually safe”.

The Bill does not respect the rule of law, including the separation of powers, as clearly articulated by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and it breaches our obligations under international law. The great irony, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London stated, is that the Bill is proposing that the UK breaches its international obligations but insists that Rwanda meet its own.

Ultimately, government is about two things: the making of laws and the allocation of money. If it is not bound by the laws it dislikes, the authority of government is eroded. That is why this House has an important role in helping the Government find solutions—but solutions that do not breach the fundamental principle on which their own authority is based. I will therefore not be voting in favour of the amendment, in the hope that our role as a revising Chamber can take place.

Like so very many in the House, I had the privilege of knowing and learning from the late and much lamented noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, called out already by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Lord Judge highlighted the critical importance of the rule of law during his lifetime. I will end by using words from his published essays, as I urge the Government to consider amending the Bill to comply with them. He said:

“The rule of law is indeed our safest shield … it has a resonance for each and every one of us, from whichever country we come. Never take the rule of law for granted. Never, ever. The best of constitutions can be subverted”.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr 6:36, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, in the short time available, I shall concentrate on my conclusions. The first point that I wish to make relates to the policy that the Bill is intended to facilitate: namely, deterring small boats. I do not believe that the Bill, if enacted, will serve as an effective deterrent. I believe that individuals who choose to make the perilous journey across the channel in overcrowded and vulnerable boats are unlikely to be deterred by the slight prospect of being relocated to Rwanda. Those of your Lordships who have principled reservations about the Bill should not support a Bill that cannot achieve its desired objective.

My second point, and my principal objection to the Bill, is the statutory reversal of the Supreme Court’s judgment that Rwanda is not a safe country. Whether Rwanda is or is not a safe country is a matter of fact, to be determined after careful assessment of the relevant evidence. This is what the Supreme Court did. In my view, it is contrary to long-standing principles to reverse, by a statutory pronouncement, a judicial finding of fact.

I turn to my broader objection. This country prides itself on being a country in which the rule of law prevails. We are a country which adheres to its international obligations. The Bill trashes our reputation for domestic and international probity. I cite two provisions. Clause 1(4)(b) states:

“It is recognised that … the validity of an Act”— any Act, I note—

“is unaffected by international law”.

International law is very broadly defined: see Clause 1(6). That provision is right in strict law, but its sole purpose in the Bill is to provide comfort for the Braverman wing of the Conservative Party and it is a proposition that we should voice with very great caution.

Clause 5 enables a Minister, at his or her discretion, to determine whether or not to be compliant with judicial rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Members of the international community reading the Bill would be entitled to conclude that the given word of the United Kingdom cannot be relied on.

On Clause 3—the disapplication of the Human Rights Act in respect of individuals who would otherwise benefit from its provisions—I call to mind the words of Pastor Niemöller, spoken in 1947:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.

Of course, the circumstances are very different from those of the 1930s, but we should beware the precedent that we would create. It is best not to step on to a slippery slope; it can end in some very murky places.

I end with what I hope is a constructive suggestion: the Bill should not be implemented without a positive resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Such a resolution should not be considered until Parliament has received a report on the safety of Rwanda from, for example, a Joint Committee of both Houses appointed for the purpose; there may be other ways of meeting the objective. In the event of no report or an unfavourable report, the Bill would remain in the long grass, where it should be. Such an approach could be reinforced by sunset clauses and constant, continuing assessment. That way, Parliament would at least have an assessment of fact on which it could properly rely. Incidentally, it also accords with the judgment of this House in last week’s vote.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop 6:42, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, as the 41st speaker, I will inevitably repeat or underline others’ points, but I will briefly make a couple of observations. I am struck that some noble Lords supporting the Bill nevertheless do so with a hint of equivocation, saying that it is not perfect or the final destination. In addition, I have not heard evidence that the proposal will work. The Minister commented in opening that progress had been made and the numbers of those coming across in boats had decreased. Why do we not put more effort into the courses that have enabled that reduction?

I do not think there is a single noble Lord who is not determined that the dangerous boat crossings of those seeking asylum in this country be stopped. Our valuing of and care for human life and the plight of those fleeing danger place a moral duty on us to work out a way to stop these perilous crossings and find a just and safe way for people to find refuge. We know from the Government’s figures that the great majority of those who have sought asylum in this country through this life-endangering method have had their applications upheld. We are not talking about people risking their lives without legitimate cause. We need to find, as a number of noble Lords have said, safe ways to achieve this goal with our European neighbours. This is a good moral purpose to which I believe we would all assent.

However, from every angle that I look at the Bill, it seems to have lost that moral compass. This continues to be a deeply immoral solution, treating victims as perpetrators and not providing a real, just and sustainable plan for the rapidly changing global refugee situation. I will touch on two related aspects of this.

First, His Majesty’s Government have signed a treaty with Rwanda which they believe addresses the concerns that led the Supreme Court to conclude that it was unsafe. The Government responded by arguing that the facts had changed and those changes are now expressed in the treaty with Rwanda. However, the International Agreements Committee asserts:

“Evidence that these arrangements have bedded down in practice is also needed”— as a number of noble Lords have said—

“the Treaty is unlikely to change the position … in the short to medium term”.

Rather than testing the evidence through the courts, or possibly via the method referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the Government have decided to introduce the Bill, which in reality dictates to the courts that they must treat Rwanda as a safe country. The use of Parliament as decision-maker in these circumstances is impractical and troubling. I see the Government’s approach as constitutionally inappropriate.

My second and more fundamental point is the constitutional danger of excluding the jurisdiction of the courts in future cases. Under these proposals, as we have heard, the courts would be required to ignore evidence that may emerge in future, thus removing their ability to protect. No Bill should place such limits on access to justice. This raises a serious constitutional issue and potentially, yet again, victimises the victims.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 6:46, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I will leave the important legal aspects of the Bill to the many outstanding lawyers who have spoken and will focus on much wider aspects of the current situation. This is a critical stage for the Government’s asylum policies and, by extension, their even more important immigration policies. Net migration last year was roughly 20 times the number of people who crossed the channel.

The Bill sets up a complex system to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda as a deterrent to future channel crossers, yet, at the same time, the Government are granting asylum to applicants from six Middle Eastern countries by a paper process without even an interview. Nearly all of them will have destroyed their documents and most will have crossed the channel and therefore come from a safe country. Young men in those countries total about 23 million. It is ludicrous to be talking purely about law—although it is right for this body to do so—when the policy has lost its way entirely.

The numbers could get even worse. The Migration Advisory Committee recently suggested that asylum seekers, including those who have crossed the channel illegally, should be allowed to work in any job after six months. Surely that would completely undermine the effect of any Bill before us. One is left with the suspicion that the Government’s policy is to focus on asylum to distract attention from the much greater scale of immigration more generally. As has been mentioned, net migration in the last calendar year reached 745,000. That is an incredible number, by far the highest in our history, albeit with some special factors such as Hong Kong, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

What are the possible consequences if we focus so much on asylum, without any reflection on the immigration policy itself? Migration Watch UK, of which I am president, has done some work on the population impact of asylum and immigration taken together. We have made one projection based on net migration of 600,000 a year at current birth rates. The result was a population increase of about 20 million for the UK in the next 25 years. That would be roughly 15 cities the present size of Birmingham. Even at a much lower migration assumption of 350,000, which some other think tanks have suggested, the population increase would be about 9 million.

We are looking here at policies that will have a massive effect on the future of our country. In either case, the implications for housing, health and education would, of course, be huge. To take one example from the education sector, according to government statistics, British children could become a minority in state schools in England in about 20 years’ time.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, was the only speaker to mention public opinion. The wider point of the Bill is surely that failure to achieve an effective legal structure to deter illegal immigration, combined with a failure to achieve a considerable reduction in legal migration, would lead to very serious consequences for the scale, the nature, and—indeed, let it be said—the continuing stability of our society.

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Ceidwadwyr 6:51, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is right that we approach this debate with seriousness. Once more, the responsibility to ensure real scrutiny of a Bill rests with our House.

Today, the Government are attempting to rectify what the UK Supreme Court has identified as

“serious and systemic defects in Rwanda’s framework and procedures for processing asylum claims … Its past and continuing practice of refoulement and the changes in procedure, understanding and culture needed” before Rwanda can be considered a safe third country.

However, the Bill, as it stands, risks entangling us in a complex web of ethical and legal dilemmas that could diminish our international reputation, betray our duty to the genuine asylum seekers, undermine the rule of law and place our courts in an exceedingly difficult position. It risks creating a legislative or legal fiction. Much has been said about the infamous late-night pyjama injunctions, or Rule 39 orders, and the meddling of the so-called foreign courts. Let us be clear: the European Court of Human Rights is not a foreign court; it is a shared court. The UK was instrumental in its establishment and has significantly contributed to its jurisprudence. A British judge sits on the court and British lawyers are involved in its administration.

In Rule 39 orders against the UK, the context is that the court grants only 2% of requests. Last year, there was just one. Also, last year, the court found the UK in violation of the ECHR on only one occasion—the 38th lowest of all member states. Under the Bill, Ministers will have the power to ignore Rule 39 orders. Neither these new powers nor any amendments to the Civil Service Code would alter our international legal obligations. Should a Minister opt to disregard interim measures, this would place the UK in direct violation of its treaty obligations. How can the UK continue to be a global advocate for the rule of law—as many others have said—and honouring international commitments if this happens?

To illustrate the unprecedented nature of such an action, I point out that no member of the Council of Europe has ever taken steps to disregard ECHR rulings or interim measures except Russia, and that is not good company to be in. I am not alone in being perplexed by the inconsistencies that this policy and this Bill will introduce. Our treaty with Rwanda obliges it to adhere to the refugee convention, yet the Bill explicitly exempts the refugee convention and other international obligations from consideration within the UK.

The Government may not thank me for doing so, but I feel compelled to remind the House of the agreement with Rwanda, which included an intent to

“resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees” here in the UK—a process that, as we know, is already under way, with numbers increasing. Even if the plan is enacted and we finally have refugees going to Rwanda, the numbers will be modest, in the hundreds at most. By comparison, in 2023, almost 30,000 irregular migrants entered the UK via small boats.

Even so, it is perfectly fair to ask those of us who dislike these provisions, “How are we going to deal with the rest?” There are many tools available to the Government. We simply need to know which tools to use and how to deploy them better. The Government have actually made progress and I commend them for that. Small boat crossings, as my noble friend the Minister has said, are down by 36% compared to 2022. The grant rate for asylum decisions in 2023 was 67%, down 9% on the year before. When I was Immigration Minister myself it was actually 19%, applying the criteria of the 1951 refugee convention fairly but firmly.

To clear the backlog, the number of staff working on asylum cases has increased significantly, and 112,000 asylum cases were processed in 2023, the most in any year since 2002. The Government have signed an agreement with Albania for removal of their nationals and to strengthen co-operation. To date, 5,500 Albanian migrants have been returned. The deal with France last year has greatly enhanced co-operation between our countries, and further agreements were secured—correctly—with Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy and Georgia. All these tools—and a number of others—have been, and will continue to be, more effective in stopping the boats than these Rwanda proposals. The Government should focus on these instead, and I believe the country would be grateful.

My remarks today stem from a deep sense of regret and disappointment in witnessing how we have become embroiled in what can be described only as an unhealthy obsession with Rwanda. This fixation appears to be an attempt to satisfy certain factions and individuals, who seem to possess neither the depth of understanding nor the nuanced appreciation of the complexities involved in asylum and immigration matters. For them, nothing will be enough—neither the Bill nor ever-more radical ideas. If we are to restore public confidence in our ability to manage our borders, we should focus on the other tools available and avoid the inevitable problems which will most certainly ensue if we persist with these proposals.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 6:57, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, when researchers and historians come to assess the work of the 2019-24 Parliament, I suspect they will be completely baffled by the reasoning that led three successive Governments—those of Johnson, Truss and Sunak—to rely so heavily in countering the obnoxious human trafficking of migrants across the channel on a scheme to send those migrants, despite the fact that a majority of them are likely to have legitimate grounds for seeking asylum, off to a small African country which our own Supreme Court has ruled is not a safe destination for them. That is without even considering their case for seeking asylum here.

This scheme, the third legislative iteration of which is before this House today for Second Reading, is deeply flawed on the grounds of practicality and of value for money. It requires the upending of the unwritten conventions which have governed the relationship between the legislature and the judiciary for centuries, by barring our courts, from the Supreme Court downwards, from intervening. It makes a bonfire of a large number of this country’s international legal commitments and puts others at serious risk of following them on to the fire—quite a score for one relatively short Bill.

I do not want to dwell for too long on the arguments about lack of practicality. We now know that the Prime Minister—when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer—set them out to No. 10 pretty cogently. It is argued by the Government that this year’s Illegal Migration Act has already proved to be an effective deterrent and has reduced the 2023 channel crossings by one-third. However, that assertion is completely unproven. A substantial part of that reduction has in fact resulted from the very welcome agreement with Albania, which enables nationals of that country to be returned as economic migrants. It is nothing to do with the Rwanda scheme.

Another unquantifiable but also substantial part of that reduction is due to the equally welcome intensified Anglo-French police and intelligence co-operation. It must be, or else we are paying an awful lot of money for nothing. Moreover, while the Government refuse to say whether there are any limits on the numbers who could be sent to Rwanda under the scheme, they must fall a long way short of those still being brought across the channel. Therefore, the deterrent effect of the Rwanda scheme is moot, to put it very politely.

As to the constitutional propriety, others have spoken about that issue, and I will not extend my remarks on it.

Then there is the bonfire being made of our international obligations by the present Bill and its predecessors. The refugee convention is first amongst them, as the Supreme Court recognised in its recent ruling. Then there is the convention against torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international legal instruments we took pride in signing and ratifying. That is without taking account of the risk that the Bill would empower the Government to step out on to a slippery slope that could lead to our departure from the European Convention on Human Rights and from the jurisdiction of its court, which, as was so rightly said by the previous speaker, is not a foreign court. I am aware that the Government assert that we are doing none of these things, but they assert that unilaterally, in the face of strong views to the contrary by the bodies set up to interpret and safeguard those commitments. On that, a reading of the testimony of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the Supreme Court, and more recently on this Bill, is really salutary. To do that is to make a mockery of the Government’s otherwise admirable championing of a rules-based international order.

There is a large amount to criticise in the present Bill, and little, if anything, to commend in it. It is surely a case of the cure being worse than the disease. Cures there are, and they are not simple; all require much closer, more effective co-operation with our European neighbours. They could also be helped if we were prepared to process swiftly and offshore claims for asylum. That is the approach which Italy, Germany and Denmark are said to be contemplating, not the Government’s choice of denying migrants who cross the channel any consideration at all of their asylum claims.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Llafur 7:02, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I am in favour of the amendment and opposed to this disgraceful and odious Bill. Other speakers have addressed and will address the Bill’s many faults, moral and constitutional. I will try to explain why it is right and necessary for this House to refuse to consider it further. In making the case, I will echo the speech I made on the Second Reading of the equally abhorrent Illegal Migration Bill.

We all agree that the House of Commons has a democratic mandate and is entitled to pass whatever legislation it wishes. The issue before us today is the role of the second Chamber when presented with legislation such as this Bill, which is so dreadful and unacceptable. As my noble friend Lord Grocott reminded us earlier, we are a revising Chamber, but the reality is—and we all know this—that there is no way this Bill can be revised to make it acceptable. At any rate, the Government are opposed to any meaningful amendment. This Bill is not a serious attempt to address the issues raised by immigration; it is a cynical, political fraud.

We are not just a revising Chamber; we have the power, as set out in the provisions of the Parliament Acts, to also act as a delaying Chamber. Ultimately, we cannot veto the proposed laws sent to us by the Commons, but we can delay them either for a year or until after an election. A Government who have a majority in the Commons can overrule this House, but that does not require us to always accept their proposals. In cases like this, I believe we have a constitutional duty to use our powers of delay.

In support of this view, I refer noble Lords to the words of Sir Winston Churchill on 11 November 1947, speaking as Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition in a debate on a fatal amendment during the debate on the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill. His words set out clearly why and when, in accordance with our constitution, this House is entitled—even under an obligation—to refuse to consider a Bill any further, even when it has been passed by the Commons. He argued the case for this House to take such action on the grounds of democracy. He said:

“The spirit of the Parliament Act, and the purpose of that Act, were to secure the intimate, effective and continuous influence of the will of the people upon the conduct and progress of their affairs”.

He also said something that is particularly relevant in our current circumstances:

“Is the party opposite really to be entitled to pass laws affecting the whole character of the country in the closing years of this Parliament without any appeal to the people who have the vote and who placed them where they are?”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1947; cols. 204, 214.]

Those words are particularly relevant in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield. In the closing remarks of his contribution to this debate, he said that if this Bill were passed, we would be living in,

“a different land, breathing different air in a significantly diminished kingdom. Is that what any of us really wants?”

Those are exactly the circumstances identified by Sir Winston as to when the House should say no and no further. In other words, the power of this House to delay legislation should be used in the interests of democracy. This Bill does affect the whole character of the country, and this House, to the extent allowed under our constitution, should delay its passage.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 7:06, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, for that speech. He did not pull any punches, which I liked, but I did not like anything else that he said. I find myself with “Sophie’s Choice” here. This is a Bill that I intensely dislike, but I dislike the Opposition’s arguments against the Bill even more.

I am no fan of the Rwanda plan. The absence of a much-promised review of safe routes means that there is no flexibility about who is permanently deported, and there is no ability to appeal. The Bills feels performative, very expensive and unworkable, but mainly I object to a narrow discussion on Rwanda as a substitute for tackling what should be obvious to all by now: the need for a complete overhaul of our current asylum system and a review of often outdated international laws and treaties that are regularly used to limit sovereign law-making.

Here is my dilemma: too often, opposition to any or all government proposals on migration—certainly since I have been in this House—leads to swathes of immovable blocks that effectively tell voters, “You can’t do that”. I am worried when this House plays that role itself, of being one of those blocks. Certainly, treaties and laws internationally made that no one in the UK voted for feel like a slap in the face of the electorate. I am glad to hear that, across the House, there is an understanding that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord German, is potentially improper overreach, a sort of cancel culture applied to the scrutiny of legislation. Despite this, however, when the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, told the House that the Labour Benches would treat the Bill like any other Bill, I am just not convinced that this Bill is being treated like any other Bill. In fact, all migration legislation and debates that I have sat through have felt less like scrutiny and revising in good faith, and more as though they are opposing because of a fundamental disagreement on immigration. Amendments that are being put forward even now, I fear, will gut the original aim of the legislation, and that seems to me to be anti-democratic.

There has been a lot of noise ahead of today’s debate. In fact, I was reading Politico, and one anonymous Labour Peer told that publication that the Lords were preparing for “trench warfare.” He then listed the Bill’s sins: overturning the Supreme Court, being contrary to international law and human rights and so on. He said:

“All these things are likely to put lead in the Lords’ pencil.”

It is interesting that those tools of governance are what excite the juices of noble Lords in this House and get them worked up, whereas they seem rather indifferent to public concerns and rarely reference them, and then only to dismiss with a sneer the “will of the people” phrase.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed the important issue of individual dignity and the value of each and every individual, and of course, he is right. However, that was very much with a focus on those seeking asylum. I ask noble Lords to broaden their focus. It insults the dignity of the British public when their concerns about the potential security threat posed by those entering the country illegally in the absence of proper checks are given second-class status versus international treaties. I can also imagine how vulnerable people feel when they discover that, for example, universities are offering visas to overseas students for lower grades than their kids need to get on to a degree course in this country.

Just a few other issues are bothering me. We are trapped here for hours and hours debating the safety of one African country. I feel uncomfortable reading the plethora of briefings sent out by NGOs detailing horror stories from Rwanda full of human misery, even with accusations of torture, but I seriously worry about demonising a country for the purposes of opposing a UK policy and defeating a Bill. Maybe I am being too cynical, but I cannot help but notice that, only recently, many of the same NGOs and commentators were cheering on and lionising another African country for taking Israel to The Hague. Why did they then turn a blind eye to South Africa’s horrendous record of corruption, massacres of its own workers and standing by during pogroms of Zimbabwean immigrants, and so on? It just seems a bit like picking and choosing.

Then there is the focus on whether the Bill will damage our reputation with international institutions. Should such institutions be treated as sacrosanct? Much play has been made of the condemnation of the Bill by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the fact that he denounced any UK lawmaking that wants

“to keep people away from your borders”, saying that that “will always meet” with the UN’s disapproval. It would mean we would never be able to control our borders. However, I object to taking moral instructions from the UN on refugees after the weekend’s exposé that one of its agencies was implicated in the 7 October anti-Jewish pogrom. I will leave it there.

Photo of Lord Udny-Lister Lord Udny-Lister Ceidwadwyr 7:12, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I do not like the Bill, but, as a number of noble Lords have said, I struggle with the alternative, as absolutely nothing else has been put forward—and certainly nothing has been suggested tonight.

I know that the Government are sincere in their desire to crack down on illegal immigration. We have an absurd situation at play in which criminal gangs and people-smugglers are taking advantage of individuals, facilitating continued violation of our borders, endangering lives and costing the taxpayer significantly. When the people of this country switch on the news, they are rightly horrified to see small boats crammed with people, and clips of small children being held dangerously in them.

The British people have proven throughout history, and indeed more so in recent times, that they are hospitable to the most in need and supportive of genuine refugees. However, their good will has been gravely exploited by the criminal gangs, who rely on an outdated legal practice and loopholes to run a mockery of not only our immigration system but the generosity of the British people. As has been said already, illegal immigration is a danger to race relations and to our society.

On the Bill, I uphold that it is for the British people alone to decide on who comes and who stays in this country. I have no doubt that they wish to see illegal immigration end and that they are fed up with the ping-pong process of legislation being passed in sovereign Parliament only for the courts to then block any attempts on the part of the Government to get on and apply it. In building on the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Bill will, I hope, allow the Government to get on with the task of not only deterring and stopping small boat crossings but applying some needed morality and fairness to our processes for dealing with illegal immigration.

While I agree that the Bill is a mechanism that is key to stopping the boats and preventing the courts from second-guessing the sovereign will of this Parliament, I am wary that the asylum backlog, marred by the complexity of individual circumstances, could once again see this matter return to the courts on a costly case-by-case basis.

The International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member, raised a number of concerns about the agreement. These concerns will arise when the Bill is challenged in the courts, so they need resolving, and quickly.

I do not think this point has been made tonight: Rwanda itself wants to see these safeguards in place, resolved and operating because it needs them for its own reputation, and indeed because it is presenting itself, and rightly so, as a modern, leading African country. Can my noble friend the Minister provide reassurances and clarify how the provisions of the Bill which provide limited scope for individuals to raise challenges based on their individual circumstances will not be exploited as a delaying tactic rather than being a sound legal provision to protect the rights of individuals?

Further, I am encouraged by the action taken by the Government in recent times to secure agreements such as the UK-Albania joint communiqué, which has been talked about already today. Working bilaterally in that case, the Government have proven that the return of over 5,000 people who have no legal right to be here to their safe country of origin is a powerful deterrent which has seen the number of illegal Albanian arrivals to this country drop by more than 90%.

I have in other addresses to your Lordships’ House called on the Government to direct their efforts to perfecting and creating additional bilateral agreements such as this, which surely must be the most sensible way to curb the flow of illegal immigration. In this ever-destabilised world, we need a pragmatic and diplomatic avenue for the UK to continue working bilaterally with other nations to collaboratively address the growing complexities of illegal migration. I would therefore welcome an update from the Minister on how the Government are seeking to further their work in this area.

That said, the challenges that we face today are impacting the people and security of the country and require us to act swiftly. For that reason, I support the Bill.

Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 7:17, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, were it not for the thousands of human tragedies and broken lives that are part of the problem which this Bill attempts so clumsily to solve, we would be looking at surrealism verging on the point of becoming comic. A scriptwriter suggesting this scenario would be told to go away and come back with something a little more credible. But alas, we are faced with a proposal to put legal fiction into statute.

My learned predecessor John Ley, Clerk of the House of Commons in the middle of the 19th century, once said:

“To hell with precedent! The House can do what it likes”, and 200 years ago, so it could—perhaps. However, now we have an infinitely more complex and nuanced relationship between Parliament and the courts. Still, a key element of our constitutional settlement and the protection of our freedoms is the rule of law and not what from time to time the Government of the day use a Commons majority to say what that is, whatever the courts may have said or may say.

I fear that over the next few weeks, if there are continuing disagreements between your Lordships and the House of Commons, we shall hear an awful lot of nonsense talked about the Salisbury/Addison convention—I immediately exclude from that possibility the lapidary contribution of the Convenor earlier in this debate. Other noble Lords have spoken and will speak about the legal complexities, but in the short time I have it may be worth taking a moment to look at the relationship between the two Houses.

The Salisbury/Addison Convention, as it became known, was not invented in 1945. If it had a progenitor, it was the third Marquess of Salisbury in the late 1880s. In an age of widening suffrage, he said that your Lordships’ House had an obligation to reject, and so refer back to the electorate, especially contentious Bills, usually involving a revision of the constitutional settlement. We have come a long way since then, of course, enacting the Parliament Act 1911 en route.

There is no doubt that a manifesto Bill has a special significance in the relationship between the two Houses—but this animal has become elusive. The Labour Party manifesto in 1945 was, with Attleian brevity, only eight pages long. It was a clear and specific checklist of intentions. Nowadays, manifestos may be 10 or 20 times that length, and they have taken on the character of a philosophical tract. Distilling legislative intent is not always easy.

In 2006, the Joint Committee on Conventions examined the so-called Salisbury/Addison convention. Its report is well worth reading. The committee did not support any attempt to define a manifesto Bill. It concluded that the 1945 convention, which was, of course, between parties rather than between the Houses, had evolved and it recommended naming the convention “the Government Bill Convention”. The logic of this was that, rather than struggle to find manifesto lineage in a Bill, it was better to treat the endorsement of the elected House as being sufficient democratic authority.

That is a reasonable position to take. I would not support voting against a Bill—even this Bill—on Second Reading. Rejection on Second Reading would be read by many outside this place as a suicide note. However, I counsel care and restraint in seeking to characterise the democratic authority I referred to a moment ago. Phrases such as “the will of the people” are not appropriate—as well as being, in terms, manifestly untrue.

If this Bill is given a Second Reading, I imagine that it will be significantly amended on Report. If so, I expect your Lordships’ views to be widely misrepresented—I hear echoes of “Enemies of the People”. Exchanges between the Houses are not a face-off. They are a constitutionally valuable way of identifying any common ground and of giving the Commons the opportunity to think again. We should not buy into the urban myth that there should be only, let us say, two exchanges. When the Bill for the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was before Parliament, there were seven exchanges between the Houses—as I have some personal cause to remember. If on this Bill there are continuing disagreements, we should have confidence in the strength of our arguments.

My final point is that, when there are exchanges between the Houses, it is important to see them as disagreements not between the Lords and the Commons but between Government and Parliament. That, I think, puts them in their proper context.

Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Ceidwadwyr 7:23, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, listening to the speeches this evening, I have heard a number of noble Lords state their opposition to the Bill on what they said were moral grounds. I am not qualified to comment on the international legal aspect, but I do not accept that those who oppose this Bill can claim the moral high ground. Let me make just five quick points to explain that.

First, it is not correct to say that those individuals seeking to enter the UK on small boats are coming because they need to seek asylum here. Of course, many may have come originally from countries where they faced persecution, but, once they arrive in France or Belgium, they are already in a safe country. European citizens are not allowed to claim asylum in the UK because of that, so their choice to board a boat and seek to enter the UK is a choice that they would rather live in the UK as a more tolerant country, offering better prospects. That is a very reasonable aspiration, but we have Immigration Rules to control the number of migrants coming to the UK, which they are seeking to evade.

Secondly, it is not right that would-be migrants who bypass our immigration system should be given precedence over others. It is a valid point of view that we should have no limits to immigration—open borders to all—but, as others have said, in the modern world, that is simply impractical. So, if you accept that the UK should have immigration controls to limit the number of people who settle here, you have to accept that those rules should be enforced.

Of course, we always have been and continue to be willing to accept our share of those fleeing persecution, and we should be proud of our record in that regard, as my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton said in his opening remarks. However, it is not fair or reasonable to allow migrants coming from an already safe country, choosing to come here as a matter of preference rather than necessity, to bypass our normal immigration controls and jump the queue by paying people traffickers to smuggle them in.

Thirdly, while many in this House have argued that Rwanda may not be an attractive location compared with remaining in the UK or France, if we pass this Bill, it will be those who choose to get on the boat to be smuggled into the UK who are making their choice to go there. We will not be imposing this outcome on unsuspecting individuals who come to the UK on different terms. Anyone seeking to bypass our immigration system will be making that choice in the full knowledge of where they will end up. It will be their choice about how comfortable they will be in Rwanda, not ours. If they are not comfortable with that, they can safely stay in France and apply to migrate to the UK in the normal way through our normal procedures.

Then there is the numbers argument. Some argue that the policy cannot work because, they say, thousands of migrants cannot be accommodated in Rwanda. That misses the point. If the policy is successful, very few individuals will actually be sent to Rwanda, because the certainty of being removed from the UK will remove the incentive to come here illegally. In fact, the most successful policy would be if no migrants were sent to Rwanda.

Finally, there are those who argue that there is a magic bullet—a better solution. But the only alternative offered to stop the flow of small boats is to crack down on criminal gangs. Well, while it may be possible to do more to disrupt the large criminal gangs, you do not need much organisation to procure a small dinghy and sell it to those who want to make the crossing. We cannot patrol the whole French coastline. So this alternative is simply not credible. As long as the channel crossings remains a viable route into the UK, people will keep coming.

In summary, I simply do not accept that it is the moral high ground to allow a situation to continue where people smugglers will put more lives at risk through dangerous channel crossings and where migrants who bribe their way onto these boats to evade our immigration controls can jump the queue over others who may have a better claim to settle in the UK. That is not moral, but that is what will happen if we block the Bill. So I will support this Bill on the basis that stopping the boats is the moral high ground, and I urge other noble Lords to do the same.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 7:28, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, finally we have it here. We have been waiting quite a long time for this Bill, and it is very irritating that it is so misleadingly named, because of course the Rwanda safety Bill is the opposite of what is: it should really have been called the “Rwanda Not Safe At All Bill”. It amounts to a stupid, messy, inhumane, cruel, immoral and idiotic way of thinking that you can solve the problem of migration like this.

The Government have created this problem by not putting in, for example, better safe, legal routes. There have been lots of answers coming from these Benches about other possibilities.

Sorry, did somebody speak to me? That is not on.

The Government have created this problem. They have thrown together something they call a solution that is not a solution at all.

It is the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who keeps talking. Can the Whips have a word with him, please?

The Government have dishonoured both Houses by tabling the Bill and bringing it to us to debate. It was wrong to bring this Bill to us; it was wrong to develop it at all.

First, there is the title. Rwanda is not a safe country. We have heard that again and again from the courts. The UK has just accepted for asylum Rwandans who were in fear of persecution if they stayed in Rwanda. That does not sound very safe. Just because this Government say that it is safe does not make it safe. I have heard some ridiculous things from that side of the Chamber. I have heard some very good things, by the way, but also some quite ridiculous things about how Rwanda is safe. It really is not. Secondly, we will be in violation of an international treaty. Do we want to be seen as a country that cannot be trusted, that signs an agreement then backs out of it? I would have thought not.

This is an exceptional Bill which needs us here in your Lordships’ House to take exceptional action. Stopping a Government who have a track record for introducing draconian laws overruling our courts is what we are here for. It is our job. Today we are talking about the rights of refugees but, if your Lordships accept this Bill going through, what is to stop a Government with a big majority then disapplying other human rights? The path to a totalitarian state is not just the Government banning strikes and effective protests or restricting the right to vote—all of which have happened—it is Ministers pushing through laws that say, “This group of people deserve no human rights and the courts are banned from helping them seek justice”. Today it is refugees but tomorrow there will be another scapegoat to target. Some of them might be vile people doing horrible things but that is the point of human rights. Human rights are for all of us. They are there to defend everyone’s right to justice, whether they are saint or sinner, whether the Government like them or hate them.

Convention is on the side of rejecting the Bill. The Labour Front Bench does not like the Lords blocking what MPs have voted for, and I understand that we should use this power sparingly, but, as we have heard, Labour has done it. It had its own successful fatal Motion 11 years ago so I think that it could support today’s fatal amendment if Labour Members just held their noses. I am proud to say that last year the opposition parties joined together to beat the Government on the water pollution rules. A year before that, we rejected outright the 18 pages of government amendments restricting the right to protest and forced the Government to come back with new legislation.

The Rwanda Bill was not in the Conservative Party manifesto. Disapplying the Human Rights Act was not in the manifesto. Convention allows us to reject it. Also, as someone said, it will take us hours. We will be sitting here for a very long time and many of us probably do not have that many hours left and should think, “Is that how we want to spend them—fighting this Government, not winning and having all our amendments sent back?”, because that end of Parliament does not understand what we are here for. If the Prime Minister genuinely believes that this is the will of the people, he should call a general election. Please give the public a chance to have their say about this, about the PPE corruption and about the mess that the Government have deliberately made of the NHS.

I have talked to a lot of people outside your Lordships’ House. Some, of course, are concerned about the boats arriving, for all sorts of reasons. But on doorsteps, in streets, offices, shops and pubs, the talk is less of “Stop the boats” and much more of “Stop the Tories”.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Ceidwadwyr 7:33, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and thank my noble and learned friend the Minister for introducing this Bill to deter illegal migrants from making the perilous journey across the high seas.

Despite the law being there, it has not been executed because of successful legal challenge and will not deter. It remains a hollow threat. The new Bill responds to this legal challenge and the Supreme Court judgment by ruling out any generic challenge based on debate about the safety of Rwanda. However, the Bill is not without its own problems, some of which have been referred to today. I will raise two.

Will a successful challenge on individual circumstances become the prototype for other challenges of the same sort? Will there be a successful challenge to the Strasbourg court and what will be the response from a Minister of the Crown to an interim remedy? While I am willing to give the Bill a chance, I am concerned that it is not a satisfactory basis on which to ask the UK Parliament to pass a law. I am concerned about an attempt to have it every way, to be within international law yet disapply certain parts so that that the UK somehow avoids its parameters. I urge my noble and learned friend to ask the Government to exclude, clearly and categorically for the purpose of this Bill, the provisions of those international treaties which make it impossible to honour the mandate to the electorate to control the UK’s borders.

The attempt to run with the hare and run with the hounds is bad for politics, bad for the courts and bad for the constitutional arrangements where Parliament makes the law and the courts interpret it. We have a sea border. We have our own Parliament. We have the finest judiciary in the world. It is time to capitalise on these facts. We need to make our law clear and, if need be, clearly exclude those parts of international law which bind this country and replace them with our own law; otherwise, we shall reap the constitutional and political instability faced by many western countries because we seem to be failing to honour the promise that the electorate sees as its priority.

Across Europe, settled Governments are crumbling, political systems have been undermined, constitutional stability and order have been threatened, and voters have lost confidence in the politics of “business as usual”. The EU is now proposing another measure to control illegal migration which involves quotas and fines on countries that do not take their quota and which is not set to come into law for a year. That is no answer; nor do our neighbouring countries consider it sufficient. In Germany, the left coalition seeks control over migration. France finally passed its own immigration law and, within weeks, the constitutional court of that country has challenged parts of it. Denmark is trying its own scheme and in Holland, Geert Wilders was elected because he promises to combat immigration and undermine the stability of the Rutte Government.

The UK Government should clearly and boldly reject those elements of the existing international treaties which make it impossible for them to act against illegal immigration as the electorate wishes. They should aim to return to the initial proposal of the coalition years to introduce their own Bill of Rights, covering these things with the generosity that we have always shown to asylum and protection claims from people in need. Far from making itself an international pariah, the UK would show itself to be a leader, the one country brave enough to face today’s facts and open the way to solving a problem that concerns almost every developed country.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Llafur 7:38, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I start by emphasising that the Bill is unlawful. It contravenes international law, it contravenes our own laws, it is unworkable, it is unaffordable, and it is immoral—because it involves taking incredible risks with human life. Your Lordships will remember that when the judgment from the Supreme Court came down, Lord Sumption was interviewed by the BBC. It was suggested to him that already the Government were saying that they were going to pass this kind of Bill. Quite shocked, he said that it would be “profoundly discreditable” of them to pass a law which flew in the face of a judgment recently given on the fact that Rwanda was unsafe. That is the shameful thing here. Of course, Parliament is entitled to do what it likes, but to say that black is white, or that Rwanda is safe when it clearly is not, is shameful.

The Supreme Court was clear about the facts. It based much of its ruling on the judgment from the Court of Appeal by the distinguished judge Lord Justice Underhill, whose judgment and contribution was as long as War and Peace in the number of words describing the failures of Rwanda in the past in considering applications for asylum; the ways in which it returned people by refoulement; and the climate of fear that exists in Rwanda. There is no independent judiciary because they are captured out of fear of Kagame, who rules with a rod of iron.

People are in fear of speaking out. If you go to Rwanda and ask people about their system, of course they cannot tell you the truth about what takes place. I received an email today from NGOs in the Congo that deal with immigration issues, and I asked if any of them was prepared to give us assistance at the Joint Committee on Human Rights. They said that no one was prepared to speak because they are so in fear of the long arm of Rwanda. They are entitled to feel that. The man who was the subject of the great film “Hotel Rwanda” and managed to evacuate so many Tutsis who were being massacred during the terrible genocide was himself arrested, picked up in Dubai, kidnapped and brought back to Rwanda, because he had criticised Kagame.

In 2018, 12 Congolese asylum seekers who made a peaceful protest about the rotting food they were being asked to eat were shot dead by the Rwandan police. If we are morally content to send people back to these risks, then we should think again.

Let us be clear on the purpose of this. It is because we have an election coming up and the Government want to run up the flag the old subject of immigration and put people in fear of what that might mean. The Government know they cannot fix Rwanda’s legal system in a matter of months or even years, so they have basically struck a deal with Rwanda to take everyone we send—economic migrants as well as asylum seekers. A person will get a place in Rwanda irrespective of whether they are an economic migrant or a refugee. All comers will be fitted in, except that in the treaty—as it was in the memorandum of understanding, although it is never mentioned to the general public—there is a special arrangement that Rwanda can send its vulnerable asylum seekers to Britain. I was glad to hear this mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope.

You may ask yourself, “Who are these vulnerable asylum seekers?” One example is that Rwanda has a problem on issues like homosexuality. It is not that there is a law against homosexuals, but they would have great difficulty getting by and living their life as homosexuals if people were to know it. The persecution of homosexuals is very real. There is a whole issue around the Afghani Hazaras, a minority within the Shia tradition of Islam, who are persecuted by Sunni Afghanis. Is there any risk to them if they were taken there for asylum? What about people with mental illness? There are very few psychiatrists in the whole nation of Rwanda, despite there having been a genocide 30 years ago, and 25% of the population suffer from mental illnesses that cannot be treated. The vulnerable people who will be sent here to make use of our medical treatment will be those poor asylum seekers.

It is costing £400 million for very little, but of course it is all about “performative politics”—to use the term mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—at the expense of human lives. We should be ashamed. We had a proud tradition of the rule of law, which I hold to my heart. Let us not forget it—but we are forgetting it here.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 7:44, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, we have had many excellent speeches today and I will, therefore, speak briefly. I am sure we all support the purpose of the Bill, to prevent and deter unlawful migration. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, argued so strongly, the Bill will not achieve that objective.

Our UK immigration policy must not involve breaking international law or human rights—this country has a proud history of upholding both, at all times. As a result, the UK has a priceless reputation enabling us to play a key part in seeking to persuade rogue nations to reform their policies in line with their international obligations.

Only when Rwanda is a safe country, and truly safe, and when the UK Parliament has endorsed this position, can people be removed from the UK to Rwanda in compliance with all our obligations under international law. To satisfy the definition of a “safe country”, all the provisions of the treaty with Rwanda must be implemented by Rwanda, including the establishment of a non-refoulement commitment; strengthening the monitoring arrangements; and strengthening Rwanda’s end-to-end asylum process. All these matters must be bedded in.

If this highly questionable policy is to be pursued—and I have picked up fairly strongly that it is highly questionable—the vital need is for the Bill to be delayed until Rwanda has implemented all the provisions of the treaty and those provisions are bedded in. Only then can the Bill legitimately refer to Rwanda as a safe country for immigration purposes. Delay is the role of your Lordships’ House in this situation, together with a request to the Government to think again.

Photo of Lord Frost Lord Frost Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 7:46, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, we have heard a lot of anger and outrage this afternoon, and a lot of agonising about nebulous concepts such as international influence and reputation. We have heard much effort to side-slip away from our dualist system of international and domestic law, a lot of advocacy of a purist view of separation of powers that has never applied in this country, and a surprising degree of deference by this sovereign Parliament to a Supreme Court that did not exist two decades ago, is not a constitutional court in the US or European sense—much as many people seem to wish it was—and has decided that it is the fount of wisdom not just on law but on complex issues of foreign policy. Indeed, when it comes to the safety of Rwanda, it seems that the Government’s facts are just judgments but the Supreme Court’s judgments are facts.

Maybe it is useful to get back to the essentials. Perhaps it is old fashioned, but I believe it is the job of a national Government to set terms for who may enter the country, and to control the border accordingly. I think that proposition would be widely agreed on in this country, but seemingly not here. Here, it is suggested by many noble Lords that in significant areas the terms of entry must be set by international conventions agreed decades ago by a European court that seems to believe it has the right to define the extent of its own powers, and by the people traffickers and criminals who make it possible for large numbers of people to take advantage of these terms. We are told, in other words, that the British Government should not, in practice, be able to set the terms under which people can come into this country. I put it that starkly because we can then see that this is not a proposition that would command widespread assent in this country.

This current situation cannot be sustained in modern conditions. The Government are right to do what is necessary to re-establish control. Control must mean that the Government define the conditions for entry into the UK; that one of those conditions is that if you arrive illegally, you do not have the right to stay and must therefore go somewhere else; and that we have no obligation to take in just anybody who shows up and can claim asylum, in whatever numbers. It may well also have to mean that if international law, whether the ECHR or any other agreement, says anything different, then so much the worse for international law. All these things may be unpalatable—and I know they are unpalatable to many in this Chamber; it is much easier to avoid thinking about them—but if you do not do these things, you do not have control.

To the extent that I understand the alternatives most widely advocated by noble Lords, they seem to involve establishing so-called safe and legal routes for the many people who currently show up here illegally—in other words, to acquiesce in the reality that we do not control our borders, and to give up trying. The truth is that safe and legal routes will be rapidly overwhelmed by numbers, and that illegal arrivals will continue.

The most reverend Primate, who is in his place, reminds us that all human beings are of great value. Of course I agree with him, and for the same reasons; of course we should welcome the stranger. But, in my very humble view, in this area you cannot get from that undoubted existential truth to a political proposition—a proposition that large numbers of people from many countries around the world, if they can persuade a criminal trafficker to take them, have the de facto right to settle in this country. Those are propositions of a completely different nature and kind.

It follows logically from all this that of course I support the Bill and its deterrent purpose. I admit some doubts as to whether, in its current form, it will be robust enough to achieve the desired end. I think it would certainly have been better if it had been amended to strengthen the exclusion of international law, as proposed in the Commons; in my view, we will one day have to go there. But it is done now; the Commons debated it fully and has spoken. I support the Government in bringing it into force swiftly and I hope noble Lords will do likewise.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 7:50, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, as I have listened to the debate today, I have been very much aware that noble Lords are seized of the fact that our role is to scrutinise legislation, not to rubber-stamp government proposals, as I think we are being asked to do by No. 10. This is our duty and I have no doubt that your Lordships will fulfil that duty with integrity.

Last week, we voted that the Rwanda treaty, on which the Bill relies for legitimacy, should not be implemented until the mechanisms and processes it establishes have been given effect. For the moment, they are aspirational. Anyone who has been involved in the process of establishing new systems and mechanisms knows that these things are not done properly, even in a country such as the UK, which has the advantage of a long-established judicial and criminal justice system and is familiar with accountability mechanisms. Rwanda is not that type of country.

I know that the Bill applies only to those who have come to the UK by unsafe and illegal routes, and that the destruction of the human trafficking business which facilitates access to the UK by these routes is a very necessary and desirable aim. That goes to the heart of the Bill.

Analysis and research led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law finds, inter alia, that the Bill and treaty would put the UK in breach of its obligations under Article 4 of the ECHR and Article 10 of ECAT: obligations to identify and assist every potential victim of modern slavery and human trafficking, regardless of immigration status or method of entry. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has said that the Bill

“will, deliberately, abdicate responsibility under the 1951 Refugee Convention, threaten the international refugee protection regime and risk the erosion of the UK’s standing and ability to collaborate in the multilateral system”.

We cannot by stating something make it a reality. If Rwanda is not safe for some people—many noble Lords have pointed out why and where it is not safe, and have pointed to the people who have been given asylum here from Rwanda—the question must arise: what does it mean to say that it is a “safe country”? As the Law Society of England and Wales said:

“Simply put, the Supreme Court found Rwanda to not be a safe country; legislating the reverse will not change the situation on the ground”.

We cannot by legislation make the statement in Clause 1(5) a reality. We have not been told what has changed since the Supreme Court judgment, apart from the making of the Rwanda treaty a few weeks ago—which, as I said, contains a range of aspirational measures that will require very significant work to become operational. As the Law Society also said, as the Bill stands, even if the court is presented with overwhelming evidence that Rwanda is not safe, it would have to ignore that evidence and treat Rwanda as a safe country.

Redress, which pursues claims on behalf of survivors of torture, makes a very important point:

“The Bill sends out a dangerous signal that the UK is willing to circumvent the rule of law, and so undermines the international rules-based order. The UK has historically led the way in establishing the rule of law and should not now contribute to the threats it faces internationally”.

But we know, because we have seen it in your Lordships’ House, that this Government are getting into the habit of disapplying their human rights obligations and undermining the rule of law. I point yet again to the legacy Act passed in Northern Ireland, which removes all rights to compensation under the civil law, to inquests and to prosecutions, except in very limited circumstances.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission advises that refugees and asylum seekers are protected by Article 2 of the Windsor Framework, and that rights particular to refugees and asylum seekers are within the scope of the Good Friday agreement by virtue, in particular, of the commitment to civil rights and to incorporate the European convention into domestic law. It cites many measures which are binding on the UK and which continue to set standards for human rights protection below which the law in Northern Ireland should not fall. Yet this Bill seeks to deprive individuals of that protection. It suggests that the current relationship between the UK courts, the UK Parliament and international law is balanced—but this Bill will create an imbalance.

We have heard so many voices articulating the dangers and, indeed, perils of this Bill. Undoubtedly, we have to find ways to resolve the problem that gave rise to the Bill and to dismantle, if possible, the highly lucrative businesses profiting from the plight of those who seek a safer and better life. I do not think that many of us could live in Syria, Afghanistan or anywhere else on a salary of about £10 a month, which is the average salary there.

This Bill is not the way forward. At the very least, until Parliament can be assured that the mechanisms and institutions of the Rwanda treaty are in place and that there is consideration of each asylum seeker and any particular vulnerabilities they may have, Parliament should exercise its sovereignty and decline to pass this ill thought-out Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pointed out, the Government have yet to respond to your Lordships’ decision on the Rwanda treaty, which is so fundamental to the Bill. This Bill does not stand alone. We will appear ridiculous if we pass a Bill saying that Rwanda is safe simply to overrule our independent Supreme Court, which said that it could not be considered a safe country.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 7:57, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I refer to the register of interests for support from RAMP. I start by simply noting rather than repeating the concerns I raised in last week’s debate: the incompatibility of the treaty and Bill with our international obligations, the treatment of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and of children, and the widespread scepticism about claims of a supposed deterrent effect.

Today, I will focus on Clause 3’s disapplication of the interpretive and remedial provisions of the Human Rights Act, in part because of this clause’s contribution to the Bill’s incompatibility with our international obligations, as advised by the UNHCR, with implications for the Good Friday agreement, as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission points out in its very critical advice on the Bill, and because of what it means for human rights and for how asylum seekers are seen and treated. Here I echo some of the points made by the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Durham.

A briefing paper from the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights warns of the significance of disapplication:

“Human rights are meant to offer a fundamental level of protection for every person on the basis of their humanity alone. As … noted in a previous report, if those protections are disapplied when they cause problems for a policy goal they lose the fundamental and universal quality that characterises them. This is arguably particularly the case when they are disapplied in respect of a particular group”.

While the Government are beginning to make a habit of disapplication to marginalised and unpopular groups, as has just been said, the briefing points out that the disapplication of Section 6, which places

“the obligation on public authorities to act compatibly with human rights, has never before been attempted and represents a significant inroad into human rights protections”.

These concerns are echoed in numerous briefings, including from the EHRC, the Law Society and Amnesty.

Let us stop and think what this breach of the universality of human rights means. In effect, it is saying that asylum seekers are to be treated as less than human—as, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon,

“a lesser form of life”.—[Official Report, 4/12/23; col. 1276.]

Their humanity is not worthy of human rights protection.

“Stop the boats” is the Government’s mantra, but what about the human beings in those boats? Do they somehow stand outside the universality of human rights? The Government have paved the way with the dehumanising language they have used to talk about asylum seekers—the language of “invasion”, “breaking in”, “cannibalise”—language which has helped induce the public concern that the Government cite to justify their policy, a point made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees when speaking to the BBC last week.

Words matter, as the Migrant Rights Network stresses. Their significance is brought home by Erfan, an asylum seeker who writes how he came to realise

“these are not just words. They build a completely new identity, which then justifies how you will be treated, seen and talked about. The language that dehumanises people makes it seem acceptable to place them in inhumane conditions and cut off from society”.

This language now makes it seem acceptable to deny human rights protection.

A statement from MIN Voices, a group of refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom are from Rwanda or neighbouring countries, ends:

“We are human beings, wanting and seeking a safe future”.

By King, a young client of Freedom from Torture who fled persecution, asked in a recent Big Issue piece about the Rwanda plan:

“Why is the UK government refusing to treat refugees like human beings?”

Perhaps the Minister could give her an answer. Instead of an approach which, to quote the British Red Cross’s VOICES Network of those with lived experience,

“disregards the wellbeing and dignity of vulnerable individuals seeking refuge”, we need, in its words,

“a more humane and compassionate asylum policy”.

I hope we can help achieve such a policy, because if the current Bill passes unamended, I will feel nothing but shame.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 8:02, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I wish to make three points, which have already been made several times in the context of this debate but will not suffer from repetition and which will also allow me to contribute to later stages of the Bill.

It is unreasonable that the Bill asks parliamentarians to override the rulings of the Supreme Court, thereby touching on the constitutional convention of the separation of powers. It is equally unreasonable that the Bill insists that Rwanda is safe—not “could be safe” or “might be safe” but “is safe”. It is also unreasonable that the Bill asks parliamentarians to vote to undermine very important international conventions and much UK domestic law.

The Bill needs radical scrutiny and amendment, and thereafter it needs a steadfast resistance to the pressure of the Government to accept what is, to my mind, a very bad Bill.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Ceidwadwyr 8:03, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register. I am an immigrant, the daughter of immigrants and the granddaughter of immigrants. My grandfather came to this country in 1938.

However, I support the Government on the Bill, because when we have spent millions of pounds in aid trying to help countries such as Rwanda become more accountable, have greater governance and become safer and more transparent, then to vilify them, like we are doing here today, really does make me quite sad and upset. I work a lot in Africa, and I see the progress that countries in Africa are making. Can noble Lords imagine what they must be thinking of us vilifying them the way we are today, when we spend millions of pounds in aid trying to support them to become more accountable? What is the point, then, of all those billions being spent by the global community?

Of course, we have to be fair. I am not a lawyer; I do not pretend to be a lawyer; I do not have the expertise or experience of good lawyers. But I do know—it is actually what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said—that we cannot be hypocritical here, where we look at one country and it is fine, and yet with another country it is not so fine, just because we happen to want to take asylum seekers, who should not be here in the first place, to a country we deem unsafe.

I have sat here and listened to this debate, and I have watched the debate on the TV. Trust me: I am not a person in the Conservative Party to the far right of anything. I have spent my lifetime fighting for people’s rights, but I also have found myself fighting for the continent that constantly is put down because it is poor. I did not want to say it, but I will say it, because I have sat here listening to most of the debate today. Is it because it is poor, and because it is Africa, that we have this debate where we can vilify a poor country? It is a country that has come through genocide, and is not perfect, but neither are most countries on earth.

Instead of saying that we will work with Rwanda continuously, and will support Rwanda and the people going there, we sit here and constantly call it unsafe. That is unfair on a country that has gone through so much trauma itself. I was looking at the statistics of Rwanda’s economic growth: it had 6.6% GDP growth last year, so it is doing something right. We need to encourage democracies that are trying to become more democratic, not stand here and vilify them as unsafe because we deem it so—because we in the West deem who is safe and who is unsafe. Perhaps it is time we start to have an honest discussion with ourselves about what we really want for our place in the world. Our place in the world should be one where we work with countries to elevate them, and they become safer and more economically viable, so that people do not want to leave those countries and so they are part of the growth.

I heard the word “odious” so many times today; I heard the words “black and white”, and it really does impact on me, as somebody who has worked so hard to be part and parcel of this community, to make sure that fairness runs through all of us. But that fairness has to then translate to countries that genuinely want to be on the path of growth. We sit here and decide through our lens which countries are safe and unsafe without actually saying that we will be part of the solution, to make them even safer.

Photo of Lord Hacking Lord Hacking Llafur 8:08, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, there are not many advantages to speaking so late in the debate, but one is that you can experience the feeling of the House. I have listened to all 55 speakers who have preceded me—except for four or five of them, when I was out of the House. Of those, 37 Members of your Lordships’ House have spoken against the Bill, including five Members on the Conservative Benches, who made very powerful speeches. We all remember the powerful speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham. Against that, only 10 speakers have spoken in favour of the Bill.

At this time of night, I think it best that I go straight to giving your Lordships my reasons for being strongly opposed to this Bill. Let us work with the facts. In the official statistics issued for 2022, it is recorded that 8,756 Afghan migrants arriving here applied for asylum status. Of those, 97% were granted asylum. This is hardly surprising given the reports that we still regularly receive of breaches of human rights by the Taliban. On the radio only a few days ago, I heard a report that women were not only banned from education but banned from going out to work, creating serious problems for supporting their families.

I turn to the statistics for 2023. We do not have the official statistics yet, but we have been told that there has been a drop in the overall migration figures in relation to the boat people; that has gone down from about 45,000 to 30,000. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that there are now about 5,000 Afghan migrants eligible for deportation to Rwanda.

Let us look at the journey that those migrants have made. The distance from Kabul to Calais is 4,168 miles, nearly double the journey from one coast of the United States of America to the other. I cannot tell your Lordships their exact route, but the assumption is that they took the land route, and that they would have had to go through Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, then decide whether to go north-east, to enter Europe via Greece, or west, to enter Europe via Italy. They would not have travelled in any air-conditioned coaches, let alone aeroplanes. Their only means of undertaking this colossally long journey must have been by hitchhiking on lorries.

What will happen to those 5,000 Afghans if they are deported to Rwanda—which will follow from the implementation of this Bill if the Illegal Migration Act is held to be lawful? They will lose their UK asylum rights and will be branded as illegal migrants. If they try to get back here, they will be rejected. Therefore, I ask the whole House, looking around to all Benches and those of us still here: is this remotely fair or right? Can we possibly allow this to happen when we have the constitutional right to stop it by refusing to allow the Bill to pass through this House? The question is whether we attempt to do so now, at Second Reading, or later, at Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated 8:13, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, the Government have stuck with the Rwanda scheme despite the Rule 39 decision in Strasbourg in June 2022 and despite the decision of the Supreme Court, which concluded that Rwanda was not safe.

The Strasbourg court’s interim ruling has been described as a ruling by a foreign court delivered by a judge in pyjamas. I do not think that is a helpful way of characterising it. All courts need to have the ability to make interim orders, sometimes at inconvenient times of day, and the court is not foreign to us as long as we remain members.

However, the decision was based on the Strasbourg court’s own rules rather than on what is in the European convention. It was made by a still-anonymous judge. No reasons were given and there was no chance for the Government to come back on a return date. This breaks just about every rule of natural justice and procedural fairness that normally applies in applications for interim relief.

As to the Supreme Court’s decision, it said that Parliament should not legislate to reverse the decision of what is the final court of appeal in this country. But Parliament has done precisely that in relation to three decisions, to my certain knowledge, in the last two years. I was chairman of the Independent Review of Administrative Law and the panel considered carefully whether it was appropriate for Parliament to reverse decisions of the Supreme Court. We concluded that Parliament should think long and hard before doing so, but that it was perfectly orthodox for it to take such a course. Indeed, the submissions we received from all senior judges did not suggest otherwise.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is there not a difference here—a difference between disagreeing with a view and disagreeing with a finding of fact?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated

I am grateful to the noble Lord; I am coming on to that point. There were certain unusual aspects of the decision of the Supreme Court, which is normally concerned with points of law of general public importance rather than findings of fact. It might be better to describe the decision as rather more of a risk assessment based on the evidence before it rather than a finding of fact but, in any event, the Government have since responded to the court’s concerns, as your Lordships have heard.

I ask the question rhetorically: if the matter were before the Supreme Court today, would the judges come to a different conclusion? One should bear in mind that, even before the new steps taken by our Government and that of Rwanda, this case was finely balanced. The Court of Appeal was not unanimous on the matter and the Divisional Court found in favour of the Government. I also note Lord Sumption’s evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights acknowledging the Government’s response to the Supreme Court.

The Bill tackles some really big legal issues. In the view of the lawyers for the Government, it has gone as far as it can go without infringing international law. We know that there remain opportunities for litigation—lawyers have already announced their intention to take them—but the arguments on the law will have to wait until Committee.

At this stage, it is important to consider what the alternatives to the Rwanda scheme are, and so I turn to Labour’s position, and here I would like to mention Sir Keir Starmer. He has been criticised as being a “lefty lawyer”. I have had the privilege of being against him in court and, if he is a lefty lawyer, he is certainly a good one. I think it inappropriate to criticise him for the fact that some of his clients would not necessarily feature high on everybody’s desired guest list for a dinner party. What is his policy vis-à-vis the boats? There has been some talk of better relationships with France and better safe routes, but at the absolute centre of what is said to be the strategy is apparently Sir Keir himself. He reminds us regularly that he was DPP from 2008 to 2013. He was not in charge of Border Force or the National Crime Agency; he was supervising prosecutions at a very macro level—which is why I am reluctant to blame him for shortcomings in relation to the prosecution of, say, Jimmy Savile, or even the poor victims of the Horizon scandal. But he cannot have it both ways. Is it really suggested that, on the very arrival of Sir Keir, a former DPP, at No. 10, the smugglers will simply roll up their rubber dinghies and give up their promising and profitable business model? Is Labour’s alternative deterrent none other than Sir Keir himself? I am afraid I am unconvinced by that.

It comes to this: Rwanda is, at the moment, the only game in town. We all agree that we must stop the boats. The Government have made progress but need to go further. This Bill will enable the scheme to take effect—courts here and in Strasbourg permitting—and I admit it may deter those who sustain the people smugglers’ business. Other European countries face the same challenges and are actively considering similar schemes. Of course your Lordships’ House will scrutinise this Bill carefully, but we should retain some constitutional modesty. The elected House has passed the Bill. Many people in this country consider that their Government should be able to control our borders against illegal migration, and we should not ignore them. In the absence of any cogent alternative, while we should strive to improve the Bill, we should not wreck it.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 8:19, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. My noble friend Lady Verma has just given an exceptionally powerful speech, and I was very pleased to be in the Chamber to hear it. Unlike her, I have not heard as many speeches in today’s debate as I would have liked, because I have been attending to other parliamentary business in the Moses Room. However, I am quite sure that there will have been lots of speeches by distinguished noble Lords drawing on their expertise, and particularly their legal expertise. My own perspective paints a bigger picture; while it will, I am sure, go against the majority of opinion expressed in this House so far today, it is a perspective I would like to give.

Earlier this month in a debate about the standing of parliamentary democracy, I said that the Post Office scandal illustrates powerfully what is driving many voters’ disaffection: namely, that those of us in positions of authority do not listen or take seriously what voters are telling us when what they say or want does not correspond with what we have decided is right and want to do. The same is true in how we react to the majority’s demand for lower levels of legal immigration and an end to the large numbers of illegal migrants entering and staying in our country. Instead of working together over the last eight years to address one of the underlying causes of Brexit, we have decided that the real problem is that, at best, the voters do not understand why they are wrong and cannot have what they want, or, at worst, they are bigoted for their views.

As I have said before in other debates, people do not expect simple solutions to complex problems but they do expect people such as us to be motivated by the kinds of simple values that any decent, upstanding citizen instinctively shares. We evidence that to them by how we do our job, which must include listening and showing that we understand their experience of the problem that only we have the power to fix.

The travesty of our collective response to the public’s demand that we—the whole of Parliament—get a grip on illegal immigration is that, time and again, convinced that we know better, we have chosen to stand alongside those who enter our country illegally and about whom we know nothing over our fellow citizens who are affected by our decisions and who we rely on to pay their taxes, abide by the law and generally keep the country afloat. When it comes to immigration, our repeated efforts to thwart what the majority have voted for are the clearest representation of the division between insiders and outsiders that led to Brexit and all the other democratic shocks that have since followed. That a majority of Members of this House persist in obstructing at every and any opportunity all measures to deal with illegal immigration shows voters that we have learned nothing and nothing has changed.

To those who argue that a majority do not support this Bill, I argue that it is hardly surprising that people who want tougher action to prevent illegal immigration are losing faith in our ability to succeed. We have done nothing to show that we want to. To be clear, it is normal for people who are angry and want us to clamp down hard on illegal migration to be at the same time welcoming of those who come to this country via approved schemes. My friends and family in Beeston Rylands, the area where I grew up, and which has recently become home to hundreds of people from Hong Kong, are testimony to that.

Whether or not the Rwanda scheme is implemented, it will likely do little to change the Conservative Party’s prospects come the next general election. That is not why I support the Bill and doing whatever it takes to deter people from attempting to enter our country illegally. For me, this is about our duty to deliver what people voted for, regardless of our own politics. The fact that we are having to consider a Bill that is causing so much angst among noble Lords is, in my view, a result of our collective failure.

People go on about populism and populist politicians and how they need to be counteracted. Perhaps those same people should consider why people are pushed towards populism and populist politicians in the first place. Unless we start listening and taking seriously what the majority of voters want, and work together to improve conditions for them—because they are the people who uphold all that we as a country say we stand for—we should not be surprised if they deliver for us yet more electoral shocks.

Photo of Lord Wilson of Dinton Lord Wilson of Dinton Crossbench 8:25, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I begin with an anecdote that has some tangential connection with what the noble Baroness has just said. In 1988, when I was minuting Baroness Thatcher’s meetings, I minuted a meeting discussing the Immigration Act 1988, which required polygamous immigrants to choose which of their wives they wanted to have with them. She listened and nodded it through, and then said: “Why do we always discuss second-order and third-order issues but never the bigger issues? We in this country have never had a big, real discussion about the level of net immigration, legal and illegal. It’s the biggest change we’ve had over the last 30 years but we’ve never put it to the electorate, heard their views or explained to them the policy that we’ve followed”. I thought today, as I listened to the Minister’s introduction, that that is also true of this Bill. It is an important part of immigration policy but not the biggest. The biggest issue is what is in the 2019 manifesto, which is bringing down the net level of immigration. There is no context for the Bill in that way. It is difficult politically because it takes in issues such as NHS manpower and social care, but none the less it is where the real issues lie. This is a kind of hectic, frantic displacement activity to distract attention from the big issues.

When I was Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, we had a big discussion in 1996 about world trends in migration. It was a disturbing discussion and we agreed that there was a coming storm. This is not a new problem; Governments have had decades to get ready for it. We discussed all sorts of things, some of which are not relevant now, including whether we should continue to have a border control policy rather than something like the French ID cards, and there are big issues there that need public discussion. Someone mentioned third-party safe countries, but that was dismissed pretty rapidly on the grounds that you would never find a safe country now. So I find myself looking at this Bill thinking, “Here we are, experimenting with that conclusion”.

I am opposed to the Bill. We have heard some very powerful speeches, which I support. I hope that, in Committee—I think we will have to go through Committee; I do not think we will pass the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord German—we can pursue some sort of amendment requiring the Government not to activate the Act until the Supreme Court has certified that Rwanda is safe. I think there is scope there for some sort of deal—you can phrase that as you want.

In the meantime, I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, would he please give a reply to my noble friend Lord Kerr about why exactly the Rwanda option is considered likely to be an effective deterrent? What is going on in the mind of the imaginary immigrant who, at the channel, suddenly changes his mind and stays in France? What is it that is putting him or her off—after they have been through mountain ranges, planes, wars, famine, deserts and goodness knows what—taking one small final risk before they get to their desired objective, the UK? What is it about the Rwanda option that is likely to put them off? We need to get inside the mind of the imaginary immigrant.

Secondly, I am deeply disturbed by the constitutional implications of the Bill, which have been set out far more adequately by others. I would like to know the limits in the Government’s mind of this new power—I think it is new—to declare fact by legislation, even where the facts are untrue. For instance, would it allow the Government to pass or propose a Bill stating that every returning officer in a general election must conclusively treat every vote for the Labour candidate as a vote for the Conservative candidate, or the other way around if you wish? You cannot use legislation to tell lies, and this is a lie in the sense that nobody knows whether or not Rwanda is safe. This is a very worrying innovation.

Finally, does the Minister think that Ministers should be able to instruct civil servants not to comply with international law? I would like answers to those three questions.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Ceidwadwyr 8:31, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, with his vast experience of Whitehall and the formation of policy.

I want to concentrate on Clause 5 and a legal issue at the very heart of the Bill: whether a Minister should be able to refuse to abide by an interim order of the European Court of Human Rights, made under its Rule 39 procedure. The president of the Strasbourg court, in a media interview given only last week, asserted that her court has the power to grant interim relief and that member states have an obligation to comply. However, the contrary position had been powerfully presented only the previous evening by Professor Ekins, giving the 37th Atkin lecture in this city.

The present Rule 39 dates from 2013 and provides that the full court or a single duty judge may

“indicate to the parties any interim measure which it considers should be adopted”.

That does not sound like a legal obligation, and that is for a simple reason. The 1950 convention contains no provision for a single judge, or even the full court, to grant interim relief to any person. That omission was not an oversight. There was an attempt in 1950 to give the court such a power, and that attempt was rejected. On every subsequent attempt to give the court that power, the member states have refused.

That is not to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, that a power to grant interim orders might not be useful, sensible or desirable, but that is not the question. The question is whether the court has that power, and the member states repeatedly decided that it should not. For a time, the Strasbourg court agreed that it did not have a power to grant interim relief. It so ruled authoritatively in 1991, and ruled to the same effect a decade later, in 2001. However, in 2005, the Strasbourg court performed a jurisdictional U-turn. It held that, by failing to comply with an interim measure ordered under Rule 39 to prevent a deportation, Turkey had breached Article 34—that is the article which provides that member states must not hinder the right of an individual to access the court. Perhaps that case was rightly decided on its own facts, although I doubt it. If the deportation was a breach of Article 34 then whether there was a breach of Rule 39 as well does not really make any difference. That decision became the slender basis for the court to assert, in a later case in 2009, that any non-compliance with a Rule 39 order necessarily also amounted to a breach of the convention.

Why the change of heart by the court in 2005? It appears to be what one might call judicial envy: the International Court of Justice had held a few years earlier, in 2001, that states had to abide by its interim measures, and it seems that the ECHR court considered that what was good enough for The Hague was also good for Strasbourg. But there is a critical difference. Article 41 of the statute establishing the International Court of Justice specifically provides for “provisional measures”. In other words, the ICJ statute contains in terms precisely the power that the member states had consistently refused to agree to give to the Strasbourg court.

As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, explained, there are also severe procedural problems with the approach that the Strasbourg court takes. Those problems are not my concern this evening; I welcome the fact that the Strasbourg court is trying to address those procedural problems. But none of that addresses the underlying jurisprudential issue, which is whether the Strasbourg court has the legal power to issue binding interim relief in the first place.

In the absence of locating that power in the convention itself, it has been suggested that, over the years, state practice has given the court this power. I do not find that argument persuasive. I do not have the time now, but that state practice is neither uniform nor consistent. The details are set out between pages 35 and 41 of Professor Ekins’s paper on this topic for Policy Exchange, which repays reading in any event. I am sure that we will come back to it in Committee.

So far as the UK specifically is concerned, we have said, rightly and for good political reasons, that compliance with Rule 39 orders is our usual policy. All other things being equal, so it should be. But accepting compliance as our usual policy is quite different from accepting a Rule 39 direction as a legal obligation, which we should not do, because it is not.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:36, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, my noble friends Lord German and Lord Thomas told us that we have a Bill in front of us, which the Government are asking us to support, which compels decision-makers to treat as fact things that have already been found to be false and to bar courts and tribunals from considering any evidence or arguments to the contrary. I have listened carefully to every contribution in this debate, and they have not been contradicted.

In addition, these Benches cannot support a Bill which states in Clause 1 that both Houses of Parliament consider a country to be safe when, actually, one House of Parliament last week conclusively stated we cannot yet make that judgment and refused to do so. It is not only that we are asked to consider alternative facts for Rwanda; we are now being asked to legislate a false record of our own votes. But we are not alone in saying that we cannot make that judgment about Rwanda: so did the Supreme Court; as we heard, so did the Home Office officials who, since the Government said that Rwanda should only be considered a safe country, have themselves determined that Rwanda is unsafe for four of its nationals to whom we have given asylum, while the Home Office was drafting this Bill to determine Rwanda safe. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that is indeed the case.

The Government have said that the treaty addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns but are now asking us to bar the Supreme Court from judging whether it does. These Benches reject that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, said at the start that the Supreme Court used out-of-date information when it came to its judgment, but we know, and he knows, that the Supreme Court gave considerable weight to the UNHCR, which just this month concluded again that the UK-Rwanda arrangements are

“incompatible with the letter and spirit of the 1951 Convention”.

The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law told us that, fundamentally,

“Safety is a factual question which cannot be conclusively determined in advance, for all cases, by the legislature. Enacting a conclusive deeming of Rwanda as a safe country is a legislative usurpation of the judicial function”.

We agree.

Some in this debate, such as the noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord Hannan, have said that they have to support the Bill because, alas, Opposition parties are not in power. There is a ready solution to their quandary, of course.

An alternative argument from the Government Benches came from the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who said that the Bill is “the only thing to do”. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, quoted Lewis Carroll. Lewis Carroll also said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. I say with great respect to my friend Annabel—the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie—that we are not going to follow her on that road.

Some noble Lords raised the constitutional issue of our voting today, or

“defying the will of the people”, as the Prime Minister said. Let us deal with the “will of the people” thing first. This is where the Prime Minister has determined that any piece of his legislation emanating from the Government, a government Bill, is “the will of the people” and therefore must be passed. He said it to us about this one, and we have had many Ministers and advisers from the Commons at the Bar just to make sure that we were aware of it. However, there is a wee flaw in this argument as, according to the Hansard Society, in the last Session of Parliament the Government themselves defied the will of the people by withdrawing a whopping 10% of their own legislative programme, or six Bills, four of which had actually been in the 2022 Queen’s Speech. So, if the Government themselves are defiant of the will of the people to such an extent, we are being modest in suggesting that just this one should be withdrawn.

The second argument concerns voting on Second Reading. This is unusual, of course, as my noble friend Lord German said, but it is not unheard of. In 2000, the Criminal Justice Bill was rejected at Second Reading in this House. On that occasion, my noble friends joined the Conservatives and some Cross-Bench Peers in voting the Bill down at Second Reading in this House. Then, as my noble friend indicated, in 2011 on the Health and Social Care Bill, Labour voted against a Bill that had just passed Second Reading in the House of Commons. I respect him greatly—I am not sure whether he is in his place—but the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, intervened on my noble friend to complain about that process, forgetting that he voted in that Division, as did five of his colleagues on the Labour Benches who have spoken this evening. All three parties and many on the Cross Benches—including 20 on that Bill, I say to my friend the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—have sincerely made a decision to vote on Second Reading, so that really is not an issue for this evening.

Others have referred to the Salisbury/Addison convention. I am not an expert like the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, but even if the Bill got close to being anything like what was in the 2019 Government manifesto, these Benches have never adhered to that convention. Since the Bill was not in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, it might be worth reminding ourselves briefly, regarding immigration, what was. Page 20 had an

“Australian-style points-based immigration system”, with the commitment that

“There will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down”.

The result? The ONS estimates that net migration to the UK was 745,000 in 2022, up from 184,000 in 2019, with overall numbers at a record high. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, was in Cabinet then, and I and others feel his pain and regret for failure—we felt that in his contribution, but he admitted it, so that is to be welcomed. Also on page 20 was the brightest-and-best visa. Remember that? That was when the UK was going to be catnip for the world’s global talent through the global talent visa. The result? Three applications in two years.

Page 21 is where it gets very worrying:

“We are committed to the Windrush compensation scheme”.

It has taken my noble friend Lady Benjamin and others in this House to be tireless campaigners on this, given the delays and inaction from the Government. The tragic result has been that, four years on, over 50 people have died before receiving recompense.

The overall record on the wider management of immigration is not much better. Actually, it is worse. According to Home Office figures, in 2013 the then Government returned 21,000 migrants voluntarily, but this fell to 4,000 in 2021. For those who had no right to be in the UK, the Government in 2012 returned 15,000 people, but in 2021 that had shrunk to 2,700.

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said, “We need this Bill because we cannot wait”. Well, on these Benches we have been impatient for action on this for years, and the Government have not acted.

It was not just us complaining: the independent review by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in 2019 warned of consequences of poor data sharing and low morale among Home Office staff. The warnings were unheeded. I make a personal plea this evening: if we heard a contribution this evening with a warning we should heed, it was that from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who is a moral and intellectual guardian of our constitution.

But the Government now seek to present the whole issue as being just for those seeking asylum. We know that there is a much lower share of failed asylum seekers as part of returnees: 8% in 2021, compared with 2010, when it was 23%. So we know that those arriving here, no matter how they arrive, have a higher cause, and the Government have considered that cause and given refuge to them—not under 1951 rules but under 2020 rules.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said, “The Government have been blocked all along from having this solution”. The Government have had every single migration measure that they wanted passed. It is that side’s issue, not ours.

The Home Office itself shows us that those seeking refuge are a smaller part of the problem than over a decade ago, but we know that returns are a much bigger problem because of the Government’s own mismanagement. Now, £290 million was spent, with a further £78 million on a notice for tender, last autumn—for nothing, as the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, said.

We now have a policy that is meant to be a deterrent, but the noble Lord, Lord Green, was right: how successful will it be if a Government issues a press release in the morning saying that their migration policies are a deterrent but then admit in the afternoon that, without a face-to-face interview, they gave 12,000 refugees right to remain, and potentially right to work, for five years? How that will that be successful?

A perfectly legal and acceptable returns agreement with Albania is working, but the Government have failed to agree other legal return and resettlement agreements. These are the very agreements that the noble Lord, Lord Bellamy, said in the Illegal Migration Bill proceedings would be necessary, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, said would be desirable. But the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, told me they were not a silver bullet, and we have not seen any progress since.

We are not alone in highlighting the issues. The National Audit Office report on immigration enforcement ended with these words:

“The Department’s success in meeting its mission to prevent illegal immigration through greater compliance with immigration laws is unclear”.

On the Bill,

“the government’s position depends on the treaty to sufficiently conclude there is no risk of Rwanda deviating from its terms”, but the Supreme Court found that

“obligations which Rwanda has previously breached” were already contained in its agreements and “in binding international law”. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, said, we do not then set aside the ability to question this in any other treaty that we have signed, including a trade treaty, as we said. Not only that, but we have not made any concerns unchallengeable.

Parliament is being asked to judge Rwanda safe in primary legislation in perpetuity, but the Government’s own admission is that it will be in that situation only when the treaty is fully operational. But the Minister opening this debate was not able to answer the simplest question from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile: when will it be operational? The Minister told us that we must have “no doubt Rwanda is to be a safe country”—but he had plenty of doubt in answering when.

So how will we in Parliament know? We have been told time and time again that treaty making and treaty keeping are prerogative powers, not parliamentary ones. Now, apparently, those are our powers. Given that a key part of the Supreme Court’s ruling was that Rwanda had agreements already in place but did not adhere to them, how will we know?

The Government say it will be through a monitoring committee, but the committee in Article 15 of the treaty has no powers of enforcement: it can simply report to the Joint Committee, which has only advisory powers itself.

Before I close, I will pick up the point about trafficking made by my noble friend Lady Northover and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. In 2022, 2,658 people who arrived via irregular routes were successfully referred through the national referral mechanism for report. However, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons 2023 report on Rwanda, which the Home Office cites as a gold standard and operates on the basis of, said that the Government of Rwanda

“did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to lack specialized SOPs to adequately screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations and did not refer any victims to services. The government provided support to

So we are now expected to send a woman trafficked by a British gang, who arrived undocumented and cannot even claim that she has been trafficked here in the UK, to another country which will somehow operate a system which the TIP report has said does not even meet minimum standards.

Before I close, I will pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, about the UK’s characterisation of Rwanda and how we are seeing our relationship through the lens of vilification and ignoring development partnership. Well, it is the Government who say that being sent to Rwanda is a deterrent, not the Opposition. Even before the MoU was agreed, I raised my alarm in this Chamber that the Government had slashed development partnership support from £85 million in 2018 to less than £16 million. Now the financial partnership relationship with the Government of Rwanda is almost exclusively around migration. This relationship with Rwanda is being seen through the Government’s lens, not ours, and I regret that.

I will close by quoting Lord Williams of Mostyn, who opened a debate in 2000 when the House decided to defeat a Government at Second Reading:

“I recognise that most of those who will speak tonight are my personal and professional friends and that they will feel unable to support the Bill … I recognise that their motives are entirely honourable. It is not their motives I question but their conclusions”.—[Official Report, 28/9/2000; col. 961.]

Equally, I do not question any noble Lord’s motives for voting this evening, but these Benches have concluded, for all the reasons that my noble friends and colleagues have given, that this Bill should go no further.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 8:52, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and join the debate that has been going on through most of the afternoon and well into the evening. I will start with the context of this particular debate. For the avoidance of any doubt, this is not a debate between those who think we should control our borders, have an immigration policy and stop the small boats and all the rest of us who do not think we should have a policy on any of those things. Everyone accepts that there is an issue around all those challenges. The context of this debate is: what is the right way to go about dealing with that particular problem? That is what is before us today. Getting to a point where you are either in favour of stopping the small boats or not will do nothing for the legislative progress that we all wish to make.

I want to say from the outset that we opposed this Bill at every stage in the other place and that we continue to oppose the Bill and the measures contained within it. We do not think they will work, we think they are unaffordable and we think they raise real questions about the rule of law. But let me also say that we as His Majesty’s Opposition also believe that it is not appropriate for us to support and pass a fatal amendment at this stage, so we will not do that. We do not think that is the appropriate way for us to act.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has laid it out, as he is entitled to do, and said that he respects everybody’s opinion. We also respect everybody’s opinion. However, we do not believe that, at this stage, it is appropriate for the House of Lords to do that. We believe that the revision and scrutiny of legislation—the traditional role of the House—is the way forward for us.

I gently say to noble Lords opposite who remind me of the constitutional proprieties with respect to this, that if there is to be a change of Government, I look forward to them failing to block or get in the way of or unnecessarily delay a number of Labour Bills that will be brought before your Lordships, including the re-establishment of employment rights from day one. I look forward to noble Lords welcoming that with open arms, and not wishing to delay it at all, and to voting for votes at 16. However, the serious point is that there is a proper role for this House, and we believe that that is to scrutinise and amend but not to block.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is one that we take on board. The opinion we want to change, and the battle and vote we want to win, is at a general election, where we can vote for a change of Government. We will do whatever we can to win that battle.

Here we are again. Some noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, have pointed out that this House seems to be getting in the way of immigration legislation, preventing the Government tackling a very real problem. I did not notice that with the Nationality and Borders Act, which passed two years ago. That was supposed to solve the problem and nobody blocked that. We made suggestions, but nobody in this House blocked it. Only last year we had the Illegal Migration Act, and that was supposed to solve all the problems. Nobody blocked that, but we passed amendments, gave opinions and said that things needed to be done. As I have said from this Front Bench for His Majesty’s Opposition, we do not intend to block this particular Bill; that is not our proposition.

However, former Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries, perhaps the current Home Secretary and the current Minister, and certainly the previous Immigration Minister, have all questioned whether the Bill is workable. Robert Jenrick MP said that it is both “legally flawed” and “operationally flawed”. That is not just anybody; that is a senior member of the governing party, who has got other aspirations, should it work out for him.

This raises a number of questions. Some £400 million has been spent and not a single asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda. What is really remarkable is that the Rwandan Government say that they will take a couple of hundred asylum seekers. What on earth are we doing spending all this time debating Rwanda when it will be dealing with a couple of hundred of asylum seekers? Perhaps the Minister could tell us what will happen to the other 27,700 that came in small boats in 2023. Where are they going? How does the Rwanda policy work in respect of that? That is if they can find them—we now understand that the Government have lost thousands of them and do not know where they are. The Rwanda Bill we have here really beggars belief.

The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and other noble Lords made the point that it is quite astonishing to read in Clause 2 that:

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

As the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, in questioning the noble Lord, Lord Faulks—who may be right; I am not a lawyer—if the Supreme Court makes a finding of fact, seeking to change that by legislation does not seem to be constitutionally the right way forward. As other noble Lords have said, what else could be changed because a finding of fact by the Supreme Court was found not to be consistent with what you wanted it to say?

It is made even more worrying and troubling—and this is a Conservative Government; the party of law and order—by Clause 2(3), which tells us that that any court must ignore any appeal that is brought forward

“on the grounds that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country”.

That is quite astonishing; our own courts cannot determine the rights and wrongs of legislation under this Bill. Even a Government under Margaret Thatcher might have found it difficult to believe that some of this was actually happening.

Various clauses disapply the rule of international law and provide for the disapplication of the European Court of Human rights and various other international bodies. There are some who say that it does not matter that we stand accused of breaking international law, or that the UNHCR says that the Rwanda Bill and the treaty are inconsistent with the refugee convention, the European Court of Human Rights and international law. We are told by some that this is of no consequence. However, many noble Lords have talked about the importance of our global standing and international reputation. I think that matters. If the Government are saying that it does not matter, and that the public do not care, I am quite happy to go to the country and argue that Britain’s place in the world matters, that our global reputation matters, and that our abidance by and adherence to international law matters.

If we do not think international law matters, what are we doing in Ukraine? What are we doing in the Red Sea with respect to the Houthis? What are we doing with respect to China and its policies on Taiwan and the South Pacific? If international law and conventions do not matter, and you can disregard them when you want, what does that say for the international rules-based order? Our country, of which we are all proud, is a country that should be and is right at the forefront of standing up for that, as a senior member of the United Nations, NATO and so on. I say that that does matter. Some say that that is irrelevant to the British people and to public opinion; I say that it is not.

There will be amendments. We read that the Government have included in Clause 1(3) many of the obligations that they expect the Government of Rwanda to take up to ensure that it is a safe country. However, it says that Rwanda has

“agreed to fulfil the following obligations.”

As noble Lord and noble Baroness after noble Lord and noble Baroness have said in this debate, we have no way of knowing whether these obligations are actually going to be fulfilled. The Bill says that they will be but we do not know. It will be an act of faith; it will be a belief that it is going to happen. We hope it will happen, but there is no mechanism in the Bill by which we can ensure that we hold the Rwandan Government to account and know that the things that we want to happen will happen. I suspect that the amendments will seek to address that particular point and ask whether there is some way to make a reality of the various things that have been put in the Bill.

As I said, there is no difference between any of us in wanting to deal with this problem. The Labour Party is continually goaded on the basis that, if His Majesty’s Government continually say that we have no plan, then sooner or later people will think there is no plan. It may be that noble Lords do not agree with what we are saying, but time after time my noble friend Lady Smith and I, and many others, have said that there should be tough measures to tackle the criminal gangs and that we should establish new agreements with other countries. We believe in the establishment of safe and legal routes. We believe that the asylum system and process should be speeded up, so that applications are dealt with speedily and effectively. We also believe that it is necessary, as the most reverend Primate continually points out, for problems to be dealt with at source, through a new way of looking at this together, so that there is a sharing of the problem.

That is the plan. If people do not agree with it, they should argue about it and say it will not work, in the same way that we say the Government’s plan will not work. But I am quite happy to go and put before people that five-point plan as a better way of dealing with those problems than what the Government have laid before us.

We need to ensure that, above all, we have a system that is built on our traditions of fairness, openness and recognising that this issue needs co-operation and sharing, not the offloading of responsibility to others. It also needs to be a system rooted in a system of international law and respect—a system our great country helped to establish. The Bill deserves to be amended to protect those principles as far as possible.

The Government will get their Bill, as I say, even if amended. But the reward will be not only an unworkable system but one that comes with a cost to our international standing and reputation. Now is not the time for us to panic or ditch our principles but to put forward an asylum system and an immigration and asylum law that will work and be based on the principles of which this country has always been proud.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:06, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken today and shared their thoughts on this legislation. We have heard many thoughtful speeches from many noble Lords, but I welcome particularly the valued insights of my noble friends Lady Goldie, Lady Verma, Lord Wolfson, Lord Dobbs, Lord Horam and Lord Murray. It is clear from across the Benches that there is common ground in needing to find a solution to the challenges we face. Just for the record, of course I agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on the worth of individuals.

Stopping illegal migration is an important issue for both the public and the Government. Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal migration, as my noble friend Lady Stowell powerfully argued; therefore, we need a deterrent. As noble Lords will have heard me say last week, we made progress towards stopping the boats but we must do more to break the business model of the criminal gangs and deter illegal migrants. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that there is evidence of deterrence—and that it works. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Udny-Lister and Lord Horam for reminding us of Albania and the Australian example.

The dangerous channel crossings are often made by young, fit men in search of better life opportunities. Many of those have travelled through safe countries to reach the UK, as my noble friend Lord Hannan set out, and they have paid substantial amounts of money to the criminal gangs to facilitate their journey. As my noble friend Lady Goldie highlighted, these criminal gangs could not care less about the safety of migrants; they care only about the money. I think noble Lords are in agreement that we cannot let this continue.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and other noble Lords were right to place the Bill in its moral context, but proceeding with it is the moral course, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell powerfully noted. We must put a stop to the dangerous channel crossings that are putting lives at risk and to this mass trafficking of people in order to save lives. That is the humane thing to do, and it is the fair thing to do, as my noble friend Lady Verma argued.

By delivering our key partnership, relocating those with no right to be in the UK to Rwanda and not allowing them to stay in the UK, we will deter people from making these journeys and we will save those lives. We also need to ensure that we are meeting our international obligations, so the treaty the Home Secretary signed in December last year sets out to Parliament and the courts why Rwanda is, and will remain, safe for those relocated there. The Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and will prevent the courts second-guessing Parliament’s assessments.

The Prime Minister has been clear that he will not let a foreign court block flights. We simply cannot let Strasbourg dictate our border security and stop us establishing a deterrent.

I turn to the matters raised in the debate, including the points addressed in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord German. A number of noble Lords asked why the legislation seeks to confirm that Rwanda is safe when the treaty simply sets out the aspirations of what should happen, and the measures are not in place. The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which could address the conclusions it came to. We have been working closely with Rwanda on these changes. The partnership with Rwanda is now set out in a new treaty, binding in international law, with specific provisions to address the court’s findings.

Since the evidential position considered by the UK domestic courts in summer 2022, we have obtained further specific information, evidence and assurances from the Government of Rwanda explicitly to address the challenges raised by the claimants and the UNHCR in the litigation, and the findings of the Supreme Court, following its judgment in November. This primarily takes the form of detailed standard operating procedures, reviews of contracts for services that the Government of Rwanda have procured—for example, with accommodation, facilities and medical insurance companies—and new and revised training programmes.

The noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Coaker, mentioned this all in the context of the UNHCR. Rwanda has successfully hosted over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers in collaboration with the UNHCR and other organisations. That is not including the nearly 2,000 supported in Rwanda by the emergency transit mechanism to evacuate to safety refugees and asylum seekers trapped in or fleeing civil war in Libya. That is also supported by the EU, which will support the operation of the ETM until 2026, and the EU announced a further €22 million support package for it. As recently as December 2023, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda, and the European ambassador to Rwanda described the scheme as:

“A crucial life-saving initiative to evacuate people facing major threats and inhumane conditions in Libya to safety in Rwanda, It is a significant example of African solidarity and of partnership with the European Union. We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for hosting these men, women and children”.

Regarding our agreement with Rwanda, we have taken crucial steps forward to respond to the Supreme Court findings, which recognise that changes could be delivered to address its conclusions. Both the Court of Appeal and the High Court found that the principle of relocating individuals to safer countries for their protection claims to be assessed was consistent with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and the Supreme Court did not disturb this.

It is imperative that we continue to work at pace to stop the boats, save lives and break the business models of the evil criminal gangs. The fundamental accusation that Rwanda is incapable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership is wrong, as my noble friend Lady Verma pointed out. I disagree with that. Rwandans, perhaps more than most, understand the importance of providing protection to those needing it. At this point, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the monitoring of all this is of course dealt with by the treaty, which we debated at some length last week.

I turn to the early intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on the Motion set down by this House not to ratify the treaty. Your Lordships will be aware that a resolution made in this House on the treaty does not necessarily stop its progress. The International Agreements Committee report did not fundamentally find anything objectionable in the treaty itself. The report was about implementation, not any flaws in the treaty. The treaty will therefore follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. Ultimately, the Minister responsible can decide to issue a statement declaring that the treaty should be ratified in any event, and the Home Secretary will confirm the Government’s position in due course.

The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, also asked about the timings of the Bill. This reflects an answer I also gave last week. Both the treaty and the Bill need to progress their respective paths through Parliament in the usual way before they can be ratified or receive royal assent respectively. Rwanda will also need to adjust its legislation and ratify the treaty on its side. Once these things have happened, the Bill and the treaty will be operable.

The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, asked about the Government’s safe and legal routes. The UK is a generous country. We are proud of that fact, and we are proud of the fact that we have helped so many refugees to safety. The Government have made it clear that we will continue to provide sanctuary to those most in need, but we can act only within our capabilities. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it is not about “I’m all right, Jack”; it is about capability and capacity. While the compassion of the UK is unlimited, our capacity is not. Local authorities have played a vital role in delivery of our safe and legal routes, but they are feeling the pressures caused by both legal and illegal migration. We can bring people over on safe and legal routes only when local authorities are able to receive them. We remain committed to looking at new or expanded safe and legal routes to the UK for those most vulnerable, but only once we have drastically reduced the unacceptable number of illegal, dangerous and simply unnecessary small boat crossings, which are putting a huge amount of pressure on our public services.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Llafur

Perhaps the Minister can answer the simple question which I put early in this debate. If that is true, why do the Government not accept that those who are accorded refugee status through the process that this Government wish to apply in Rwanda should be allowed back into the United Kingdom?

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

My Lords, I will come back to that.

On 20 October 2023, the Home Office launched the consultation on the cap on safe and legal routes, to understand local authority capacity. This consultation closed on 9 January 2024. Home Office officials are currently reviewing those responses and are planning further engagement with the respondents through a series of regional dialogues to validate responses and to determine a capacity estimate. We will produce a summary of the consultation by the spring and, in summer 2024, the Government will lay a statutory instrument in Parliament which will then need to be debated and voted on, before the cap comes into force in 2025. Therefore, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, we have to wait for all those things to take effect. I have no doubt that this matter will be up for debate again after 2025.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Brinton, asked how we can deem Rwanda to be safe if we are granting Rwandan nationals refugee status in the UK. Rwanda is a safe country, which is what this Bill asserts. The meaning of a “safe country” is set out in Clause 1(5). However, our obligation when an asylum claim is lawfully lodged and admitted to the UK asylum process for consideration is to carry out an individualised assessment of a person’s particular circumstances. If, after that assessment, there is found to be a reason why a person, based on these individual circumstances, cannot be returned to their country of origin, then it is correct that we grant them protection. It is important to stress that people from many different nationalities apply for asylum in the UK and this includes—

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Llafur

My Lords, where, under Clause 4, an individual is seeking the court’s ruling on whether their individual circumstances might give them a reason to not be sent to Rwanda, might that be because they are able to argue that “It may generally be safe but it is not safe for me”? Will they be able to argue that, because they are homosexual or ill, it is not safe for them?

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

My Lords, quoting from the Bill in answer to the noble Baroness, it is

“the person in question, based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances (rather than on the grounds that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country in general)”.

That is pretty straightforward. It is important to stress that people from many—

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Llafur

My Lords, I asked what the grounds were for people from Rwanda being given asylum here. What was their well-grounded fear of persecution about?

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

My Lords, each individual case is different. I do not know the particular circumstances.

It is important to stress that people from many different nationalities apply for asylum in the UK. This includes nationals from some of our closest European neighbours and other safe countries around the world. That is why there are a small number of cases where we have granted asylum to individuals from countries that we would otherwise consider safe. This is a reflection of our system working. An individual claim is not a reflection of the country as a whole. This process also reflects the safeguards which the Bill provides to individuals in Clause 4, which I have just read out. Each case will be considered on its individual merits by caseworkers who receive extensive training. All available evidence is carefully and sensitively considered in the light of published country information, but I cannot comment on the specifics of individual cases.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, asked what support will be available for those who are particularly vulnerable. Rwandan officials will have due regard to the psychological and physical signs of vulnerability of all relocated persons at any stage of the application and integration process. Screening interviews to identify vulnerabilities will be conducted by protection officers in Rwanda who have received the relevant training and are equipped to handle competently safeguarding referrals. Interpreters will be available as required to ensure that relocated individuals can make their needs known. All interviews will be conducted with sensitivity for the individual’s well-being.

The Government of Rwanda have processes in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health, gender-based violence and addiction. All relocated individuals will receive appropriate protection and assistance according to their needs, including referral to specialist services, as appropriate, to protect their welfare.

Article 13 of the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided 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.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

How will they know? The Illegal Migration Act prevents someone who may well have been trafficked from even starting the process of claiming that they have been trafficked here, so how will the Rwandans know? We are not collecting that information.

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

My Lords, as I have just said, the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided about a relocated individual by the United Kingdom.

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

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord on that very specific point.

These are also detailed in the standard operating procedures as part of the evidence pack released on 11 January in support of the Bill. Furthermore, the UK is providing additional expertise to support the development of Rwanda’s capacity to safeguard vulnerable persons.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, asked about the treatment of LGBT persons, if sent to Rwanda. Rwandan legal protection for LGBT rights is generally considered more progressive than that of neighbouring countries. The constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law or policy. As set out in paragraph 36 of the Government’s published policy statement, the constitution of Rwanda prohibits, at article 16, discrimination of any kind based on, among other things, ethnic origin, family or ancestry, clan, skin colour or race, sex, region, economic categories, religion or faith, opinion, fortune, cultural differences, language, economic status, and physical or mental disability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about unaccompanied children deemed to be adults being relocated to Rwanda. As the treaty sets out in Article 3(4), we will not seek to relocate unaccompanied individuals who are deemed to be under 18 to Rwanda. Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the UK to either be under 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under 18, shall be returned to the UK.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

I am sure the Minister wants to be accurate. Is it not the case that he should recognise that homosexuality is illegal in Rwanda? The penal code criminalises same-sex sexual activity and individuals found guilty of engaging in such activity can face imprisonment. If that is right, is Rwanda really 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 am afraid I am not familiar with that part. However, I have just read out the relevant clause in the Bill that deals with specific individual circumstances.

Any person who has been relocated to Rwanda but who subsequently receives a court or tribunal order from the UK that they must be treated as a minor, and are therefore a child who is in Rwanda without a parent or guardian, shall be provided with suitable accommodation and support that meets all the requirements for families with children set out within the treaty under paragraphs 1.1 and 1.2.2 of Part 1 of Annex A to the treaty until the child is returned to the UK.

With regard to concerns about the impacts of the policy on children treated as adults, I reassure noble Lords that there are safeguards in place to prevent that happening. The Home Office will treat an individual claiming to be a child as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two officers—one of at least chief immigration officer grade or equivalent—have separately determined that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are “significantly over 18 years” of age. If doubt remains about whether the claimant is an adult or a child, they are treated as a child for immigration purposes until a further assessment of their age by a local authority or the National Age Assessment Board. This will usually entail a careful, holistic age assessment, known as a Merton-compliant age assessment. Only once this assessment is complete could the individual then be treated as an adult if found to be so.

Many noble Lords have asked whether this Bill will comply with international law. Its provisions are consistent with our international law obligations. They retain rights challenge based on compelling evidence of serious and irreversible harm in specific individual circumstances, which will arise in narrow circumstances.

In response to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Howarth, I say that the Bill makes it clear that it is only for a Minister of the Crown to determine whether to comply with an interim measure of the Strasbourg court. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wolfson and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for their comments on this.

I will not get drawn into speculation about hypothetical scenarios, but the internationally binding treaty agreed between the UK and Rwanda contains binding commitments to ensure that the scheme is compliant with international law, including the ECHR. It also makes it clear that domestic courts may not have regard to the existence of any interim measures when considering any domestic application flowing from a decision to relocate a person to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty.

The Permanent Secretary for the Home Office has confirmed that if we receive a Rule 39, instead of deferring removal immediately—as the guidance currently indicates—officials will refer the Rule 39 to the Minister for an immediate decision. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, I say that the Cabinet Office has confirmed that it is the responsibility of civil servants under the Civil Service Code to deliver that decision. Consideration will be on a case-by-case basis depending on the facts. I also remind noble Lords that, as the Government have set out, both the UK and Rwanda are committed to making this partnership work.

As my noble friend Lord Murray set out, the Section 19(1)(b) statement is not specific to one provision; it applies to the Bill as a whole. A statement under Section 19(1)(b) makes it clear, in this instance, that the Home Secretary is not able to state now that the Bill’s provisions are more likely than not compatible with convention rights. There is nothing improper or unprecedented about pursuing Bills with a Section 19(1)(b) statement. It does not mean that the Bill is unlawful or that the Government will necessarily lose any legal challenges on human rights grounds. Parliament clearly intended Section 19(1)(b) to be used as it is included in the Human Rights Act 1998. It is an important measure to safeguard parliamentary sovereignty. Section 19(1)(b) statements have been used by Governments of all stripes before. For example, the Bill that became the Communications Act 2003 included a provision banning paid political advertising on TV. The use in this case recognises the novel and ambitious approach taken by this Bill, and the fact there is room for argument both ways. We are testing the limits but remain satisfied that this Bill is compatible with international law.

The Bill allows decision-makers and the courts to consider claims that Rwanda is unsafe for a person due to their particular individual circumstances, as we have discussed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London noted, the Bill does not disapply Section 4 on declaration of incompatibility, as this is the only substantive remedy against the conclusive presumption that Rwanda is safe. Retaining DOIs allows the courts to respond to changing circumstances and for this question to be brought back for parliamentary consideration. Of course, the final say on the matter will remain with Parliament and the Government because Section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act makes it clear that a declaration cannot affect the operation or validity of domestic legislation.

The effect of retaining this Section 4 is therefore beneficial in limiting domestic and international legal challenge and, crucially, does not undermine the operation of the Bill, and in doing so reaffirms parliamentary sovereignty. The court could not grant interim relief on the basis of a DOI having been granted because of the clear and unambiguous language of Section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, asked about the impact of the Bill in Northern Ireland. The Bill will apply fully in Northern Ireland in the same way as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom. This is explicit in the Bill and will always be the case, reflecting that immigration policy is a UK-wide matter. Nothing in the Windsor Framework, including Article 2, or the trade continuity agreement affects this. The Bill’s provisions do not diminish the rights and commitments we have made on the convention on human rights in the Belfast agreement. The Government remain fully committed to that agreement in all its parts. The Government are unshakable in their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and the Bill does not undermine this.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench

Has the noble Lord actually read the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s advice on this matter? Has he taken cognisance of the number of measures he lists which are affected, and the fact it is an obligation under Article 2 of the Windsor Framework?

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

As I have just set out to the noble Baroness, the Government takes a different view to those opinions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the costs of this partnership. The spend on the MEDP with Rwanda so far is £240 million. Further funding will be provided to Rwanda once the partnership is operational. Costs and payments will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when this happens and the outcomes of individual cases. Spending will continue to be reported as part of annual Home Office reports and accounts in the usual way. Those focusing solely on the costs of this partnership are missing the point. It is incredibly frustrating for the British people and the taxpayer to spend billions to house illegal migrants in hotels. The daily cost of hotels for migrants is £8 million and the cost of the UK’s asylum system has roughly doubled in the last year; it now stands at nearly £4 billion. Criminal smuggling gangs are continuing to turn a profit using small boats. We must bring an end to this.

The Government recognise the extraordinary level of interest in this partnership, and we take our responsibility to be transparent seriously. However, that must be balanced with the nuances of managing our international relationships and respecting commercial sensitivities. We have said we will do what it takes to curb illegal migration and stop the boats. As we explore avenues of doing this, it would be against our direct interests to release all financial information. Costs and payments of course will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when this happens, and the outcomes of individual cases. Every individual’s needs are different, and funding will only be provided while an individual remains in Rwanda. Spending will be reported as part of the annual Home Office reports and accounts in the usual way.

I am getting to the end. Noble Lords have asked whether this Bill will, by disapplying international law, have a knock-on impact on wider international treaties and potentially worsen the UK’s relationship with the ECHR. We have a long and diverse history of freedoms in this country, and we are proud of the UK’s heritage and culture on human rights and democracy. But no country has all the answers to global human rights challenges. We continue to engage others about our ongoing journey on these issues—a point made by many noble Lords and emphasised by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary on 16 January.

I am again thankful for all the contributions made to today’s debate. It is absolutely essential that we tackle illegal migration, bring an end to such dangerous channel crossings and save lives. To the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I say that the integrity of our border also matters. I therefore urge noble Lords to support the Government in delivering the partnership with Rwanda, and our wider plans to take control of our borders and stop the boats. These are difficult choices to make with regards to tackling this issue. That is what this Government are doing, and we will continue to do so. The Bill will enable us to stop the boats, and I commend it to the House. I invite noble Lords to reject the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 9:32, 29 Ionawr 2024

My Lords, I have just read a report of the debate from a senior broadcast journalist. He says that the majority of Peers in this House regard this Bill as an “unholy abomination”. Therefore, in order to sort this matter out, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 84, Noes 206.

Rhif adran 1 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Second Reading — Amendment to the Motion

Ie: 82 Members of the House of Lords

Na: 204 Members of the House of Lords

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Lord German’s amendment to the Motion disagreed.

Bill read a second time.