Amendment 1

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 3:29 pm ar 12 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Chakrabarti:

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “The” insert “first”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment, and others in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti to Clause 1, add the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence. The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, we commence the vital work of this Committee with amendments that address a fundamental dispute of fact that, because of the Government’s attitude to checks, balances and the rule of law, now threatens our unwritten constitutional settlement. Having failed to convince our highest court that the Republic of Rwanda is currently safe for asylum seekers and refugees, the Executive seek to overturn the Supreme Court’s recent factual determination, ousting the jurisdiction of domestic courts to reconsider those facts in the light of further developments, including the Rwanda treaty on which the Government rely. The Government further purport to take powers to ignore interim orders of the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, they threaten both the domestic rule of law, especially the separation of powers, and the international rules-based order.

I remind noble Lords not just of the Supreme Court’s decision of 15 November last year but of subsequent reports of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, endorsed by an overwhelming vote in your Lordships’ House; of the Constitution Committee, including three former Conservative Ministers and a former No. 10 chief of staff; and now the majority report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will assume that some members of those committees will speak, so I will leave them fully to outline the clear results of their deliberations.

None the less, as your Lordships overwhelmingly decided to give this Bill a Second Reading, I will approach the task of amendment in the spirit of constitutional compromise, seeking to amend the Bill in line with the Government’s desired policy of offshoring asylum decisions while also seeking to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and the unequivocal advice of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee and Constitution Committee—this notwithstanding my personal objection to transporting human beings for processing, which will no doubt be subject to further political and legal scrutiny in the months and years ahead.

For present purposes, I take the Government at their word—even if that word has been put rather belligerently to the Supreme Court and your Lordships’ House. I will assume that the Government do not want to put the Executive of the United Kingdom on a collision course with our Supreme Court or our international legal obligations, so amendments in this group seek to offer a way through the stalemate for people of good will from all sides of your Lordships’ House. Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 in my name are supported by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I have signed Amendments 3 and 7 tabled by the noble Viscount. The noble Lord, Lord German, has Amendments 11 and 12.

Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee warned of a number of concerning trends in the present Government’s approach to our constitution and our courts, which seeks, for example, to disapply the Human Rights Act for particular unpopular groups rather than repeal it wholesale for everyone. I observe another new fashion in adding a lengthy introduction to a relatively short Bill that deems facts changed, making its purposes so clear that the courts should be wary of interpreting the legislation as they might otherwise do. However, since the arrival of this Bill in your Lordships’ House, the Prime Minister has stated—by a press conference, but stated—that his Rwanda Bill was designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Therefore, Amendments 1 and 2 add a secondary but essential purpose to the primary purpose of preventing and deterring what the Government see as unlawful migration. This purpose is to

“ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law by providing that no person will be removed to the Republic of Rwanda by or under such provision” unless two conditions are met. The first condition is that there is advice from the UNHCR that Rwanda is now safe; for example, as a result of the successful implementation of promised reforms and safeguards to the asylum system there. The second condition is that this advice has been laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Now, some may balk at what they regard as a foreign body having any role whatever in the assessment of facts on the ground in Rwanda. However, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights noted, our Supreme Court’s concerns about the lack of safety there were in no small part in the light of unequivocal expert evidence from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with its special expertise and role under the refugee convention.

If the Executive is now asking Parliament to become complicit in overturning findings of fact by our Supreme Court—this is made explicit by Amendments 3 and 4 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—it should at the very least allow Parliament to hear advice from the expert body that the Supreme Court found so authoritative before allowing facts to be deemed as having changed. Accordingly, Amendment 5 replaces the edict that Rwanda “is” safe with that belief that it “may become” so, because it should be our unanimous aspiration that the whole world becomes a safer place for persecuted and displaced people.

Further, as even an independent expert body should never usurp the fact-finding jurisdiction of our courts, especially in dangerous and fast-changing times, Amendment 34 makes it clear that even clear and positive advice from the UNHCR would create only a “rebuttable presumption” that Rwanda is safe. In keeping with earlier legislation, as observed by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, it would not hobble our courts with an absolute conclusion. Yet, if the Government are really so confident that that Rwanda treaty, unlike the refugee convention so long before it, will be implemented so as convincingly to render that country safe, they have nothing to fear from either these amendments or our courts. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I must begin by apologising for the fact that I was abroad at the time of Second Reading and was therefore not in my place at that time. Much was made at Second Reading of the notion that the Bill in some way contravenes our constitutional principles, is an affront to the separation of powers, and infringes on the power of the judiciary. Those allegations are thoroughly misconceived but they are highly relevant to this amendment.

The plain fact is that we are a parliamentary democracy. That means that Parliament is sovereign and the reason why so many of us cherish that overarching principle is that we attach high importance to something called accountability. Accountability was not a word which featured very large in your Lordships’ debate at Second Reading. The courts are accountable to no one; they proudly proclaim that fact. Many of the bodies to which Parliament has in recent years outsourced some of its responsibilities have little, if any, accountability. But Parliament itself, or at least the other place—the House of Commons, in which I was privileged to serve for 27 years—is truly accountable. It is answerable to the British people at regular intervals and its Members can be summarily dismissed.

There are those who seem uncomfortable with our system and it is indeed true that there has been something of a whittling away at it in recent years. The courts have extended their power. Parliament itself has contributed to it by the outsourcing to which I referred. I often think it is a pity that those who praise these developments failed to come up with some suggested alternatives to parliamentary democracy, but there it is.

These amendments, if passed, would mark a new jump in this process. I ask those who support them to address the question of accountability. To whom is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accountable? They might say to the General Assembly of the United Nations, perhaps. To whom is that body accountable? Neither the high commissioner nor the General Assembly have any responsibility for securing our borders. They have no responsibility for the safety of those who make the perilous channel crossing. They have no duty to take into account the resentment felt by so many against the sheer unfairness of illegal immigration and the way in which it gives preference not to the most deserving, but merely to those who can afford to pay the people smugglers.

Our elected Government and this Parliament bear those responsibilities, and the House of Commons is directly accountable to the electorate for the way in which those responsibilities are discharged. These amendments would prevent our Government and Parliament discharging those responsibilities. They seek to outsource those responsibilities to an unelected body with no accountability. The acceptance of these amendments would constitute nothing less than an abdication of the responsibilities of government. I note without surprise—

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I do not understand the argument that the noble Lord is making. As I understand the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the responsibility laid on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would be to advise the Secretary of State. I do not see how that makes him accountable; it would remain the Secretary of State, surely, who was accountable to this Parliament for the decisions that he decided to take in the light of the advice he received.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

I fear not. The easiest way of replying to the noble Lord is to read from the Member’s explanatory statement on the amendment:

“The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda”.

If there is no positive advice from the UNHCR, those claims cannot be processed in Rwanda. I think that will aid the noble Lord’s understanding of what I am saying.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

I think it is perfectly reasonable, if one wants to know the intention of the amendment, to look at the Member’s explanatory statement. That is, indeed, the purpose of the explanatory statement.

I note with interest, but not with surprise, that none of these amendments is signed by any member of the Opposition Front Bench. I am not surprised because no party that aspires to government could support the abdication of the responsibilities of government, which these amendments would achieve.

I will just say a word about Amendment 7 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and others. It asserts that the decision of the Supreme Court was a “finding of fact”. But it was not; it was a finding of opinion—the Supreme Court’s opinion that the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda would expose them to the risk of refoulement. It is an opinion on which men of good faith and true can disagree. Indeed, it is an opinion on which distinguished judges disagreed.

The Divisional Court, one of whose two members was a Lord Justice of Appeal, came to the conclusion that what the Government were proposing was entirely lawful. The Court of Appeal, by majority, disagreed, but the then Lord Chief Justice dissented. In my view, when the Supreme Court reaches a conclusion on a matter of opinion, it is entirely legitimate and proper constitutionally for Parliament—the House of Commons is democratically accountable to the people, and the Supreme Court is not—to substitute its own opinion. That is what the Bill does, and that is why I support it.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I want to put on record for this Committee that the Bar Council has a real concern about the apparent incompatibility of the European Convention on Human Rights and this Bill. The Supreme Court, as we know, made a decision—in my view, on the basis of facts—that Rwanda is not a safe country. It put forward a whole series of points to support that view. The Bill has not in any way countered any of the points made by the Supreme Court in its judgment. The Bar Council is concerned about that.

The Bar Council is also concerned that the Government are standing down the judges from their role overseeing the work of the Government in operating this Bill. The Bar Council sees this as a clear infringement of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. It seems that, in disapplying in this context the convention on human—

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

Is it not right that Clause 4 of the Bill provides exclusively that members of the judiciary will have the opportunity to consider challenges brought of an individual nature in relation to a particular claimant?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, that may be so, but I think that the point I have made stands—and I think that perhaps I have said enough to point out that the Bar Council has very real concerns about this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendments 11 and 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord German. I cannot stop myself saying that it really goes against the grain to do anything that suggests that Liberal Democrats regard the Bill as requiring only some tweaking to be acceptable.

First, I would like to make a general comment about Clause 1. For many years, Governments have opposed amendments setting out the general purpose of a Bill on the basis of such a clause having no effect and being rather confusing. I used to find that understandable, although I signed such amendments; they have tended to be narratives describing hopes, rather than expectations or anything firmer. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has commented on the changing fashion—of such measures being there to make the courts wary of the direction in which they might like to go. This problem applies to Clause 1.

There is a notable omission from the exposition of the Government’s policy—and that is tackling people smuggling, which is abhorrent in itself, not only because of the smugglers’ role in bringing asylum seekers to the UK. The Illegal Migration Act has a similar introductory section. Specifically, Section 1(3) says:

“Accordingly, and so far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect so as to achieve the purpose mentioned in subsection (1)”.

It is important to be clear about the legal effect of Clause 1. If it is intended that the clause is to be relied on, it needs to be sharpened up—for instance, in the case of terminology such as

“the system for the processing of … claims … is to be improved”,

an objective of the treaty, which is a pretty low bar. But my central point is that we need to be very clear about the legal effect and status of this clause, because there will be little point in amending the clause on Report unless the amendment has an effect, either as a stand-alone or by subsequent reference, such as the Act not coming into force unless a provision in Clause 1 is met. This may seem a rather technical point but, looking ahead, I do not want to be tripped up on it.

Amendment 12—I am aware that it is an amendment to the clause whose effect I have been querying—therefore probes the definition of “safe country”. The Bill refers, in Clause 1(5)(b)(ii), to a person having

“their claim determined and … treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law”— that is, Rwanda’s obligations. The amendment would leave out “that country’s” and insert “the United Kingdom’s”, changing it to being the UK’s “obligations under international law”.

The treaty is predicated on Rwanda being under the same obligations, and as observant of them, as is the UK, so that the transfer to Rwanda, as I understand it, means really only a change of venue. Dr Google did not really help me yesterday in finding what conventions Rwanda has signed up to and, importantly, ratified and observed. But we are proceeding with this on the basis that everything that we would do in this country will apply under the new regime, and I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

Amendment 11 is related to this. Clause 1(5)(a) also defines a safe country for the purposes of the Bill. It refers to the UK’s obligations

“that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there”.

Surely, all our obligations are relevant to the treatment of persons removed there, not just in that country. So both amendments go to the issue of safety—that is, the Bill’s compatibility with the UK’s human rights obligations, which are the obligations that are crucial as part of this whole regime.

Photo of Baroness Helic Baroness Helic Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, it is a hard act to follow so many lawyers here: I hope that my compassion and conviction might help me where I am missing legal expertise. I support the amendments to Clause 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which introduce an additional purpose of compliance with the rule of law and a role for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I apologise that I was unable to join your Lordships for Second Reading, as I was overseas. I have read the Hansard record of the debate, during which many noble Lords raised what I see as the fundamental issue at stake with the Bill and the Rwanda scheme more broadly: how it is squared with the rule of law and with the international agreements and obligations that are the bedrock and defence of our freedom and prosperity.

I come to this with a conviction that our best chance of solving the global challenges we face, illegal migration among them, is not through unilateral action but through international co-operation and standing up for the rule of law. Other noble Lords have explained how these amendments would help ensure that refugees really are safe, and the importance of this as a matter of humanity as well as of law. I suggest that recognising a role for the UNHCR is also important from an international perspective, and as a route towards the lasting solution the Government seek. It is right to want to reduce people smuggling, but, if the Bill is to have a positive impact, it will be only as part of a wider approach.

The preamble of the 1951 refugee convention is surely correct when it states that a “satisfactory solution” to the problem of supporting refugees in a fair and humane manner, without placing an undue burden on any one state,

“cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation … the effective co-ordination of measures taken to deal with this problem will depend upon the co-operation of States with the High Commissioner”.

As I have argued in your Lordships’ House before, a lack of respect for international law and the weakness of international institutions lie behind the large number of people forcibly displaced around the world. While not the only cause, wars of aggression, indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians, war crimes and crimes against humanity drive displacement. We will not reduce the number of displaced persons globally while wars and atrocities continue unchecked, and while international law is applied unevenly. At a time when we and the wider West are struggling to maintain any credibility when it comes to the rule of law and international co-operation, recognising in law a place for UNHCR in determining the safety of the Rwanda scheme would be a small step towards demonstrating our ongoing commitment to international institutions and agreements that are critical for global security.

It has become a bit of a trope to say that the refugee convention and UNHCR itself are outdated and unable to rise to the magnitude of the task at hand. In supporting a role for UNHCR in this legislation, I challenge that view. It is worth putting the scale of the refugee situation in some context. As a recent book, How Migration Really Works by Professor Hein de Haas, one of the world’s leading experts on migration, sets out very clearly, current refugee numbers are not in fact exceptional or unprecedented. There are 30 million refugees globally, but this is 0.3% of the global population, only marginally above the proportion of refugees in 1992. The vast majority of the displaced stay either in their country of origin or their immediate region; it is a small minority who come to Europe and to the United Kingdom.

We should be able to rise to this challenge. The refugee crisis is one of protection and political will, not only of sheer numbers. This Bill is all about signalling. The Government hope to signal that they are tough on illegal migration and to deter small boat crossings, but we are at risk of signalling that we are uninterested in the rule of law and in our international agreements and co-operation. That would be a very serious mistake for our ability to co-operate on refugees and other global issues, as well as for the international rules-based order.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 4:00, 12 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I support Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Amendments 2, 5 and 34, tabled by the same noble Lords and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I also offer supportive comments on Amendment 7 to Clause 1, tabled by the noble Viscount, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The most reverend Primate is present but cannot attend the entirety of this debate and the right reverend Prelate cannot be with us this afternoon.

It will be a very slight augmentation of the wisdom of this House to know that we on these Benches do not favour the outsourcing of asylum claims to other countries or territories—which is rather different from what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was saying about the outsourcing of power. We recognise, however, that the courts have deemed this lawful in certain circumstances and that we have a Bill from the other place which is designed to deal with a particular designation that the Supreme Court deemed to fall outside our obligations under the law.

I accept that the recent treaty between His Majesty’s Government and the Republic of Rwanda makes legally binding, with additional enhancements, the 2022 memorandum of understanding between the two Governments—for example, the commitment under the new asylum procedure that no person relocated to Rwanda under the treaty will be sent to any country other than the UK, if the UK so requests. However, as the House knows, the International Agreements Committee of this House recommends not ratifying until further evidence is available.

None the less, there remain very significant concerns about the contents of the Bill, not least about using legislation to make a declaration of fact in order to correct a court that has heard evidence. It is clear that the Government have gone to a great deal of effort to provide evidence to persuade critics of the feasibility of removal to Rwanda as a safe and properly functioning process while at the same time trying to satisfy their policy aim, and critics of a different stamp, that the limited capacity of the scheme will be a deterrent to those who make long and dangerous journeys to cross the channel.

The purpose of these amendments is to match the Bill more closely to the requirements of the Supreme Court judgment, so that it is more just and less open to challenge. For the sake of the people whose lives will be affected by yet more upheaval, who as it stands will not even have the opportunity to have their claim heard in this country, we cannot afford to get this wrong. Courts and tribunals must be able to make a judgment about the safety of Rwanda based on a consideration of the facts. We are not primarily discussing the suitability of Rwanda; we are discussing its safety for people who, by definition, have highly complex lives and circumstances.

The treaty introduces safeguards and checks, as it should, but these are not yet in force. I share the view that more is needed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency the Government have worked with in a highly effective way over many years, should provide that positive judgment of safety. Until then, the Government are taking an unreasonable risk by sending anyone to Rwanda.

These amendments offer practical steps which strike the kind of balance we are wise to pursue in this revising Chamber. They do not wreck the Bill, nor remove the objective of deterrence from it—and we can debate in due course the degree of inhibition that brings to the process. Rather, these amendments would provide an adequate mechanism for addressing concerns about the UK’s compliance with international law, and, appropriately, given the name of the Bill, the safety of Rwanda as a destination for the processing of asylum claims intended originally for the UK. These amendments are important for the preservation of judicial oversight and for the maintenance of the separation of powers, which is a fundamental component of our constitution. It is for Parliament to make laws and it is for the judiciary to judge cases, including the lawfulness of government decisions, and to make findings grounded on the basis of evidence.

Amendment 7 seeks to make it plain that the Bill replaces the Supreme Court’s finding of fact. A Bill cannot change the actual situation on the ground in another country; it can only mandate that evidence to the contrary is disregarded. We have a duty of care in international law towards asylum seekers who arrive in this country. Legislating that Rwanda is a safe country does not necessarily make it so for the potentially vulnerable people who might be sent there. However, the Bill’s primary purpose is to disregard the UK’s own Supreme Court’s finding that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers.

Let us be clear what we are doing. The Law Society has said, unequivocally, that it is inappropriate for the Government to undermine the judiciary in this way and that the Bill threatens the balance of powers in the United Kingdom. The amendment would put in the Bill that a judicial finding of fact is being replaced. I hope that we give these amendments a fair wind.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

I give my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. In doing so, I express slight puzzlement that the Government seem to have difficulty in accepting the amendments. The Government tell us again and again that nothing in the Bill is contrary to our international obligations. Okay, they should then just accept the amendments and make it clearer than it was before. One may have one’s doubts as to the reasons the Government are not going to accept the amendments, but, basically, their position is that of the Red Queen in Alice: “It is so because I say it is so”.

I will address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, because they were extremely far-reaching, damaging and disruptive of our ability to support a rules-based international order. He seemed to not take into account that it was this sovereign Parliament that ratified our membership of the United Nations in 1945. The Charter of the United Nations contains the charter for the General Assembly, and the General Assembly appoints the High Commissioner for Refugees. Therefore, I do not think his argument about lack of accountability stands up. If you think about it, contradicting any role for the High Commissioner for Refugees to give advice to us about whether Rwanda is a safe place is an extraordinarily far-reaching and damaging claim to make.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, it is not simply a question of seeking advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The amendments clearly state that, unless positive advice is obtained, no one can be removed to Rwanda. So the decision will no longer be the decision of the Secretary of State; it will be the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That is the point. It is not just advice; it is advice which would be binding, according to these amendments, on the Government.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

I thank the noble Lord for that point. He interrupted me before I got to the answer to his question—but that is fine. I had been going to say that the doctrine, according to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is that every member that has signed the refugee convention—well over 150, I think—and ratified it, including our sovereign Parliament, has the right to reinterpret the convention as it wishes. You have only to stop and think for one minute what that implies to realise that it implies complete chaos and the law of the jungle. If all 150-plus members of the United Nations refugee convention are able to stand up and say, “Well, actually, this is what I think the convention means, and I don’t care a damn what the High Commissioner for Refugees says”, then we are living in chaos. It is to avoid that that these amendments are being put forward.

I strongly support the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who expressed extremely eloquently the reason this country has a real interest in paying attention to these matters.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

I thought it might help the Committee, before this debate with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, rumbles on, for me to clarify that he is quite right. This amendment, as currently drafted, requires positive advice from the UNHCR, and not just advice, positive or negative. In the current iteration of the amendment, the reason for that is that the Prime Minister expressly said that the Bill is designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court, which were based predominantly on the negative advice from the UNHCR about the situation in Rwanda—such was the nature of the evidence of the UNHCR and the credence that our Supreme Court gave to it.

However, if that formulation is too rich for their blood, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, or the Government, are welcome to amend the amendment or offer their own, which requires only advice positive or negative by the UNHCR before either the Secretary of State or Parliament can look again at whether Rwanda has changed subsequent to the treaty and is now, or in the future, a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I do not wish to pursue that course at all. I am not one of the proposers of this amendment; I am merely supporting it.

The arguments that I am adducing relate to the state that this country would be in if it issues forth into the world and says it has an absolute right to interpret a United Nations convention which it ratified many years ago, and which it has supported through thick and thin ever since, and now wishes to contradict. That is a serious matter and I do not believe that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, ought to carry weight, because the implications of them for our position in the world and our support for a rules-based international order would be extremely damaging.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr 4:15, 12 Chwefror 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Ceidwadwyr

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I am another supporter of Amendment 3. Clause 1 is an example of the current vogue for starting Bills not with operative provisions but with preambular statements of the obvious, a custom which is always irritating but normally harmless. However, there is harm, not just silliness, in Clause 1(2)(b) with its rather grand invocation of

“the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”,

a judgment for all time, apparently, that there is no provision to revisit or change. That invocation is unnecessary and contrary to principle. It is unnecessary because there are other ways for Rwanda to be declared or deemed safe. The Secretary of State could be entrusted with the decision or, if it really is necessary for Parliament to take it, there could at least be a power for the Secretary of State to amend it in the light of changed conditions, as was the case with Section 75 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

It is contrary to principle because it requires us to come to a judgment on a fact-specific life-and-death matter on which, frankly, we are ill equipped to adjudicate. Of course, this is not the first time that such a thing has happen. It was tried in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, when the countries of the European Economic Area—all signatories to the ECHR—were deemed, beyond rebuttal, to be safe. That experiment, a requirement of European Union law, was not a successful one. Its unwieldiness was demonstrated in the case of Nasseri. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords dismissed a challenge to the safety of Greece but, through the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, whom I am delighted to see in his place, indicated that the courts might have to issue a declaration of incompatibility if the deeming provision was contradicted by the evidence. The issue was sensibly addressed in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 by transforming the irrebuttable presumption into a rebuttable one.

No such good sense is on display in Clause 1(2)(b), which is a much more contentious provision because of its very different context. It asks us to state definitively that Rwanda is safe, when all the evidence points the other way—in particular, the verdict of our own Supreme Court, which identified defects that it did not consider solvable in the short term, and the judgment of our International Agreements Committee, which we endorsed by a healthy majority when we voted on it on 22 January.

Of course, we can do anything we want, but this does not mean that it is sensible to do so. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights put it in its report of this morning:

“the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact”.

A unanimous Constitution Committee, on which I serve, went a little further last week when it described this clause as “constitutionally inappropriate”. It invoked both the rule of law and the separation of powers.

I emphasise the practical point that this clause puts Parliament on a quite unnecessary collision course with the courts, both domestic and international. Amendment 3 would not solve all the Bill’s problems; it would not even stop Clause 1 from being pointless, but it would at least render it harmless and that is why I support it.

Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Ceidwadwyr 4:30, 12 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I was unable to be present for Second Reading two weeks ago, but I cannot allow the Bill to pass through the House without making my deep concern about it evident in public. I am speaking on this group of amendments because they go to the heart of my concern.

I have been a Member of Parliament for a very long time, on and off, and a member of the Conservative Party for some 66 years, when I counted it up. I find it quite extraordinary that the party of Margaret Thatcher should introduce a Bill of this kind. Like some other noble Lords, I have a clear memory of the great battle that Margaret Thatcher fought with the European Union—the European Community in those days—over the British budget contribution. From time to time, it was suggested that she should cut the cackle, put the continentals in their place and cut off the British contribution. That would have been very dramatic, and very popular in some circles, but she did not countenance the idea because she believed that it would be contrary to the law. There were those who warned that it might even run into trouble in the British courts. How different that is from this Bill and the way in which we are now asked to behave towards the Supreme Court and the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is no esoteric matter that concerns only the subject under discussion and is of interest only to lawyers. We in this country frequently boast that Britain is such a marvellous place to do business because of our great respect for the rule of law and because the Government, unlike some Governments of the world, can be relied on not to make arbitrary and unreasonable acts. It is very difficult to sustain that argument in the light of the Bill now before us. I do not know whether those who envisage doing business in this country will draw that conclusion or not, but we are going against a fundamental interest, not just on this issue but for our wider reputation.

What we are asked to do represents the sort of behaviour that the world associates with despots and autocracies, not with an established democracy nor with the mother of Parliaments. It is a Bill we should not even be asked to confront, let alone pass.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

It is a privilege to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, and I strongly agree with it. I will focus on two things in relation to what the Government are asking us to do. Before that, I apologise for not having been here at Second Reading—I, too, was abroad. I declare an interest as a member of the Constitution Committee of this House, which published a report unanimously expressing very considerable concerns about the Bill.

I have two concerns about the Bill. As a nation, we have accepted for the last 70 years that we will not deport asylum seekers to a place where they may face death, torture or inhuman treatment, and that, if asylum seekers feel that that is a risk, they can seek protection from the courts. The courts may well give an applicant short shrift if they do not think there is anything in it, but we have stood by that protection for 70 years and incorporated it into our domestic law in the Human Rights Act 1998. The Bill envisages the possibility—or indeed it being the more-likely-than-not result, according to those who have looked at it independently—that people will be sent to Rwanda, where they will be at substantial risk of being refouled, which means sent back to a place where they could be tortured or killed.

The claim made by the Government is that we have entered into an agreement with Rwanda that says it will not send anybody who comes from here to anywhere except the UK, to which the answer is that given by the international treaties committee: that the reason there was a risk of refoulement was that Rwanda did not even have the most basic system of properly assessing asylum claims. The idea that the Bill envisages—that the moment the new treaty comes into force, it will provide that protection—is absolute nonsense. Everybody appreciates that except, as far as I can see, the right honourable Mr James Cleverly, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. If we look at the conclusions that the Supreme Court introduced, we see that, factually, it is just a non-starter.

The Government say, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, will confirm it on their behalf, that they stand by the commitment we have made for the last 70 years that asylum seekers will not be exported to a place where they might be refouled. If that is their true position, how on earth can they allow this? The international treaties committee also said that, quite separately from the fact that we would need to reform completely Rwanda’s asylum system, we would have to enter into a number of other detailed provisions before it could be seen whether the provision in the new agreement prevented refoulement. Those agreements have not yet been entered into with Rwanda, and there is no requirement for them to be so before the Bill becomes law.

My first big objection to the Bill is that it goes against commitments we have made as a nation and stood by for the past 70 years. If we are looking for solutions to the problems of immigration in the world, turning our backs on all the international agreements that we have made seems a very bad start indeed.

My second big objection to the Bill is that it fundamentally crosses over the separation of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, whom I greatly admire—he was a member of our Constitution Committee—said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’re just taking the opinion of the former Lord Chief Justice, who is the dissenting voice in the Court of Appeal”. No, that is not what the Government say they are doing. They are saying, “We’ve taken account of the Supreme Court judgment. We respect that judgment. We’re not going with the former Lord Chief Justice’s judgment; we’re dealing with the points that have been made—and, by the way, dealing with them while not letting anybody question us about that”. That is absolutely not the role of this House or the courts.

What this Bill leads to is Parliament delivering what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, described as silly, but is so much more profound than silly. I quite agree with him that the beginning of the Bill is very silly in the way that it reads—it is a cack-handed attempt to deliver a judgment, like a court would read—but it is not silly; it is dangerous.

Think of three examples. First, Parliament can say, “Even though we see Rwanda refouling people we are sending, and it is sending Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis back to death or torture, we will do nothing”. We will say that that is okay because we made our judgment that it was a safe country.

That is one example. Let us take another. Suppose the Prime Minister has a friend or a crony in the House of Commons who is convicted in a court of corruption of some sort. The Prime Minister then presents a Bill to Parliament, saying, “It is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP actually wasn’t able to present this new evidence to the criminal court that convicted him, so it is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP is innocent”. That is the route this Bill takes Parliament down.

Take a third example: the Electoral Commission decides that it will not investigate some problem of, say, not complying with expenses and the courts then say, in relation to that decision, “The Electoral Commission was overinfluenced by party-political considerations”—for example, the governing party was very unkeen for there to be a proper investigation of some expenses fraud in an election, and on judicial review the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate was set aside on the basis there was no basis not to investigate. Once again, relying on this precedent, the Government of the day, assuming they have a big majority, can produce a Bill that says, “It is the judgment of Parliament that the courts have got that opinion wrong”—as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, introducing a whole new concept in the law, said is the position.

That is the danger of this Bill. I am not sure that I support all my noble friend Baroness Chakrabarti’s solutions—in particular, I am not sure the reference to the United Nations commissioner on refugees is the right source—but, my goodness, if we start letting Parliament make such judgments, we open a door that will be incredibly difficult to close. We in this House surely should not give effect to it.

I have one final point. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said, “Don’t worry, it’s all Clause 4”. It is not. Clause 4 allows appeals to be made only by people who say something different from “the country is not safe generally”; it is only if there is something specific about them. If, for example, I am a voluble member of the Rwandan opposition and I am then sent to Rwanda, where I may get tortured or killed, then I have a ground, but if I am from Syria or Afghanistan and Rwanda is refouling regularly, I have no basis for appealing.

My first point is that we should stand by our commitments to asylum seekers. My second is: do not listen to this siren song that this is not a fundamental change in our constitution. It is, and it will be the foundation of very bad things to come.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I was at Second Reading. I do not know if that makes me less interesting to listen to than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and all the rest. I have heard some of these remarks before, of course, but it is always a pleasure to hear them again, if I agree with them. I will say something quite similar to what noble Lords have just heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I will obviously say it less competently, because I do not have legal training, but what I do have is common sense. I am not suggesting that they are mutually exclusive, but they are two completely different things.

This is an absurd Bill. It is nasty. It is inhumane. I do not want any part of it, and Greens have made it clear, along with our friends—on this occasion—the Lib Dems, that we would stop it if we possibly could. In line with that, I support Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It has been claimed that “silly” is not an appropriate term; but it is frankly silly drafting.

Clause 1(2)(b) says that

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

Acts of Parliament are not vehicles for Parliament to express its opinion about issues, so this clause ought to be removed on that basis alone, or else we will start legislating opinions instead of laws.

But Parliament is not of the opinion that Rwanda is a safe country; we have not been presented with any evidence to prove that, and we have no process to make such determinations. The best we have is a debate on amendments, which we may pass and return to the Commons—to the other end, or whatever we call it. The Government will, of course, disagree with any amendments we pass; they will almost certainly strip them out, and we will be back here debating again, wasting long hours trying to make this Government see sense. This is bad lawmaking, and a silly precedent.

Is not a Motion, rather than legislation, the correct vehicle for each House to formulate its judgment and express its view on an issue, independent of one another? What future opinions will be voiced in legislation? What views will be forced on your Lordships’ House by the elected House, no matter how wrong or how wicked? This deals with just one small part of this awful Bill, but it is illustrative of the constitutional and moral nonsense that runs throughout. This Bill cannot be amended; it must be stopped.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, with these amendments we are trying to stop the Government forcing us to lie. That is what we are trying to do.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 4:45, 12 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I had the privilege of serving as a Cross-Bench member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in her remarks. Indeed, she referred to the 50-page report that was finally agreed by a majority in the committee—it is a majority, not a unanimous, report—on 7 February. It was published today, as others have said, and is available in the Printed Paper Office.

In my remarks, I will say something about what the report has to say about safety. Before doing that, I will agree in particular with the tone of many of the contributions that have been made so far on this group of amendments. As always, my noble friend Lord Hannay put his finger on our international obligations, not least among which is the 1951 convention on refugees. It may well be that this is not written in stone and that there should be attempts to try to change and reform this in the climate of today’s demands—I am happy to give way.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving way. He has just referred to international agreements. Would he agree with me, therefore, that this Bill contravenes international agreements such as the UDHR and also the ECHR? I am reminded of the fact that the provisions of this Bill extend to Northern Ireland. Hence, this provision and this Bill undermine the very basis of the Good Friday agreement.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I am grateful to the noble Baroness; I was not intending to touch on Northern Ireland, but she is right that this does touch on the Windsor agreement and on our obligations to Northern Ireland, which are separate from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. I commend that section of the report. These are not my opinions; the report does touch on that question.

The noble Baroness also asked about our other obligations. We have many obligations, not just under the refugee convention but under the ECHR, to which she has just referred. The Government on this Bill, as on the Illegal Migration Bill, decline to give a compatibility statement because they cannot say that it will be compatible—although I know Ministers take a contrary view that there is uncertainty around that. However, if there is uncertainty, we must be very careful where we tread.

On the issue of our international reputation, I was very struck by the statement made by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is referred to in the JCHR report. He justified what he was intending to do and has done in sending back 430,000 Afghan refugees to Pakistan. He said it was modelled on what we were seeking to do in the British Parliament. So, even though we know that is casuistry and extreme, nevertheless we can see where this argument can lead and the way in which it be used. So, yes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, our international reputation can easily suffer.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark got to the heart of this when he said that legislating that Rwanda is safe does not make it so. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, touched on that point. Just saying an apple is a pear does not make it such. Saying that a dog is a cat does not make it such. It may be your opinion, but it is not true—and that is surely what we have a duty to try to do in this place.

On process, procedure and governance, during our debates on the Illegal Migration Bill and the treaty, I complained that we had not been treated properly as a Select Committee in the way you would expect Select Committees to be treated. Suella Braverman, the then Home Secretary, declined to appear before the Select Committee. We did not see James Cleverly in the context of this Bill. However, we did see the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, and I pay tribute to him for the way he delivered his evidence and took the questions we put to him. As the noble and learned Lord has just said, it is the duty of the Home Secretary of the day to explain the intentions of legislation. If there is anxiety about something as important as a compatibility statement, they should explain why they feel unable to give it.

My noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich rightly said that we are ill-equipped to make these decisions in Parliament. I did not serve as long as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, although we have the distinction of contesting the same parliamentary seat in the heart of Liverpool on separate occasions, or as long as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, but I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said about the way in which legislation has traditionally been dealt with in another place and here. I cannot remember Select Committees being treated by Secretaries of State in the way that I have just described. Thinking all the way back to the British Nationality Bill 1981, on which I spoke many times, there were opportunities to hear the arguments, to discuss the implications and to make appropriate amendments. I have not felt that about this legislation or that which preceded it. I think it has been pushed through in a pell-mell way, bringing to mind the thought that, if you enact legislation in a hurry, you will end up repenting at some leisure.

Let me take noble Lords to page 15 of the report, which comes down to the role of the UNHCR and safety. “As of January 2024”, therefore as recently as last month,

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

The Supreme Court, not the House of Commons or the House of Lords, relied on the UNHCR when it came to a decision about questions of fact. The report states:

“UNHCR notes the detailed, legally-binding commitments now set out in the treaty, which if enacted in law and fully implemented in practice, would address certain key deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system identified by the Supreme Court. This would however require sustained, long term efforts, the results of which may only be assessed over time”.

Well, clearly, we have not had the time to make those assessments, and again we are being urged to rush pell-mell. I will not detain the Committee much longer. One witness, Professor Tom Hickman KC, said:

“Parliament is effectively being asked to exercise a judicial function, to assess evidence, to look at detailed facts and, effectively, to distinguish the Supreme Court’s judgment, to say that things have moved on and it is not binding on Parliament—I do not mean in a non-legal way—in making its judgment. In my view, that is an inappropriate exercise for Parliament to conduct. It is a judicial function”.

This view was echoed by Professor Sarah Singer, who is quoted in paragraph 57 as saying:

“To contradict the Supreme Court in this way is, perhaps, not showing the respect to the court that should be owed as a constitutional principle”.

I conclude with the summary on page 35, which says:

“We have considered the Government’s evidence that Rwanda is now safe, but have also heard from witnesses and bodies including the UNHCR that Rwanda remains unsafe, or at least that there is not enough evidence available at this point to be sure of its safety. Overall, we cannot be clear that the position reached on Rwanda’s safety by the country’s most senior court is no longer correct. In any event, the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact, so the question of Rwanda’s safety would best be determined not by legislation but by allowing the courts to consider the new treaty and the latest developments on the ground”.

For all those reasons, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has done noble Lords a great favour in bringing these amendments to us in Committee. She has already shown her willingness to think further about whether they might be applied in other ways. That surely is what Committee stage is all about. The tone that has been struck in the course of this debate behoves noble Lords to think very deeply. I commend this report to the Committee.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I welcome the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the tone of this debate, particularly in relation to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I warmly welcome her obvious desire to find some way forward in this difficult area, which we certainly need to do, but I am afraid there is a rock—a difficulty—in the way of her amendment. It makes a classic mistake: taking two separate organisations with different objectives and obligations, and placing one with a veto over the other.

According to my reading of the amendment, the UNHCR would in practice have a veto over what the UK Government can do; this is the difficulty. The noble Baroness used the word “stalemate”, but her proposals would also lead to a stalemate while the UNHCR went on for ever, we know not when, saying whether Rwanda was safe. There would be debates, hostilities and probably no eventual consensus as to whether it was safe. Surely a more sensible way forward would be to take existing circumstances and practice, and for each side to engage properly and responsibly with the other.

We have obligations to the UNHCR; we are obliged under the refugee convention to engage with the UNHCR, and so we should. We are obliged to take account of the social and humanitarian consequences for refugees, and so we should. But, equally, the UNHCR should take into account the real responsibility of Governments to defend their borders in the sensible way that their own democracies would expect. If we can get the two working together, something sensible may emerge from that.

It already has in Australia. I wish we would not always be quite so insular. For 10 years now, Australia has been operating an outsourcing policy of the kind to which the UK aspires. It started off in precisely the same way—with precisely the advocates on each side—that we did. In the end, the Australian Government invited in the UNHCR at three different levels: the prime ministerial level, the ministerial level and the ordinary regional level of civil servants and so forth. They came to an agreement on how it should work.

Not only that but the UNHCR, as a consequence of its willingness to get involved, had leverage. It got out of the Australian Government more legal routes for genuine asylum seekers, and the same should happen here. Our legal routes for asylum seekers are at present wholly unsatisfactory, because they are confined to a small number of countries and most countries are excluded.

My view of a proper immigration policy has always been that there should be a settled cap on how many we should bring in, which we put publicly to the people every year in Parliament. Within that cap, the priority should be genuine asylum seekers and only thereafter economic migrants or people joining their families here. That is the right way to approach a total immigration policy, of which this is numerically only a very small part.

We should therefore follow the Australian example, which is now operating successfully and is supported by both parties. The Labor Party in Australia has just reduced the cap on the number of immigrants allowed into that country because it is dissatisfied with the numbers going there; it is a vast country, after all. We have a similar but even more acute problem here. If we followed that example of Governments working within the existing acknowledged framework of their obligations to the international community, surely we could make some progress. If we hang on to too many bells and whistles of the kind that the House seems to want, I am afraid that we will fail and not make the progress available to us here.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 5:00, 12 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, this has been a long debate and I shall therefore be extremely brief. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark spoke powerfully, as have many extremely well-qualified lawyers, so I will not talk about the law. I found myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. He put important points that I hope will be reflected later in our debates.

We also need to take account of what one might call the real world. I am glad to see that the Opposition Front Bench is being cautious at this point; perhaps that is one of the reasons. The reality is that the Government have lost control of our borders, and even the backlog of asylum seekers is enough to fill the largest stadium in the UK. I regret to say that there is deep public anger, but there is, and we have to take it into account—I am sure that the Commons will—when we take this forward. It is therefore for the Government to take action to bring all this under control and for us to give some advice as to how that could best be done. But let us not lose sight of the fact that this is a very difficult and widely resented situation, and we need to be careful ourselves.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I wish to speak to this group of amendments; I apologise to the Committee that I could not be here for Second Reading. Even though I was on the estate, I had a bad chest infection. I was coughing and sputtering, which I did not think would add to the debate, so I listened to it in my office and have subsequently read the Hansard. I was also very proud to vote for my noble friend Lord German’s fatal amendment to the Second Reading Motion. I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests in the register on this issue. I will try not to do a Second Reading speech but to keep my comments to this clause and the amendments.

These amendments are quite important, based on what I would call this candyfloss clause. It is a bit like candyfloss because the Government are trying to make it big, enticing and sweet but, the moment you touch it, it starts to disintegrate as you realise that it is built on nothing. Clause 1(3) says:

“The Government of the Republic of Rwanda has, in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty”— these are the important words—

“agreed to fulfil the following obligations”.

They have not yet done that, nor given an indication of how they will. It is therefore important, before any person is sent to Rwanda, that those obligations are fulfilled. There also needs to be some form of independent assessment of how that is done.

In the normal course of the rule of law, the courts of this land would make an assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is trying to put in at least some form of independent assessment. People may argue about whether it is independent, but the UNHCR and its role in the legal understanding of refugees and safe countries is well understood. I have a slight problem with the amendment from the noble Baroness, as it involves just one set of evidence and, clearly, courts would normally look at a wider range of evidence. However, it is important that, in Amendment 34, there is a rebuttable presumption. I assume that it would, at some point, give some leeway and a doorway to the courts to test that, so the legality of the decision made by the Executive can be reviewed by the independent judiciary. It will be interesting to see that. That is the aim of the amendment from the noble Baroness.

I ask the Minister, when responding to these amendments, to pick up what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said regarding the incompatibility at times between Rwanda and the laws of this land, and the obligations and treaties that have been signed. Particularly, how will refugees’ claims be assessed in Rwanda? Where there is incompatibility between the laws or obligations of Rwanda and the UK, exactly how will those contradictions be dealt with?

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I think the majority of those who have spoken have apologised for not being here at Second Reading. I am worried; I think I ought to apologise for having been here at Second Reading and for having spoken then and a week earlier on the treaty. I have spoken about the apples and pears, the rule of law and our international reputation, and I do not want to bore the Committee on that anymore.

I think the aim shared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of making the Bill, if not pointless, harmless—or harmless though still pointless—is impossible in Clause 1. We are dealing with a Bill that is very hard to make acceptable.

I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is hoping to do in her amendments and I share that. We need to take account of the fact that we voted in this House, on the report from the International Agreements Committee, that Rwanda is not yet safe. We did that not in an off-the-cuff way but on the basis of a reasoned report, which was written on the basis of a stack of evidence submitted to the International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member. The House voted that it is not safe; therefore, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is completely correct: how can we possibly now stand on our heads and say that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is safe—as if we could do that anyway? We cannot legislate that apples are pears, or cats are dogs. We need to have some sort of triggering or commencement mechanism, which means that the Bill, when an Act, does not come into force until Rwanda can be seen to be safe. The International Agreements Committee set out the 10 areas in which change is required.

I am uneasy about conferring the role on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although I think that the Government have now accepted that one of his roles is supervising and monitoring the operation of the refugee convention. I am not sure that it is right to ask UNHCR to undertake this task; we are only one of the signatories of the convention, and so is Rwanda. He said in the memorandum that he submitted in relation to the treaty:

“UNHCR has continued to engage bilaterally with the Government of Rwanda on specific incidents of concern, and will continue to offer technical advice and support to the Government of Rwanda to strengthen its asylum system and the protection of all refugees, as part of its mandated responsibilities”.

For us to ask it to act as advisers to us might seem to UNHCR to be difficult—I do not know. I note that UNHCR did not want to give evidence to the International Agreements Committee. It seems to me that it may well feel, “This is something you have to sort out for yourselves—don’t drag me in”. But we need to have someone.

In later groupings, we can consider the proposals for an independent reviewer, or the proposal in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for using the monitoring committee set up in the treaty for that purpose. I am not sure about that—I am for an independent reviewer myself—but that is for later groupings. But for now I utter a word of caution as to whether this is really appropriate, and whether we would not be talking about a forced marriage. The Government certainly do not want to involve the UNHCR, and I am not 100% sure that the UNHCR wants to get involved either.

For me, the important amendments in this group are Amendments 5 and 6, which say that, instead of having the Bill say that Rwanda is safe, the Bill would say that Rwanda will become safe when the conditions for safety, such as those listed by the International Agreements Committee, are met. That would change the tense from “is” to “will be”—it would be forward-looking. That is where I feel most strongly about the amendments in this group.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests, in that I am supported by the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project. We have strayed very widely across the whole of Clause 1 in this debate. Of course, what we are here to do is to discuss the specific amendments before us. However, I start with the assertion that this Parliament finds Rwanda safe. I looked up in the Companion to see what the role is of resolutions of this House, and it is the resolution of this House that is the determination of this House—and the determination of this House at the moment is that Rwanda is not safe. That is the view on which the Government are trying to make us change our minds, so we need to bear that in mind first of all.

The second, broader point that has been drawn out, largely by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was the issue of offshoring versus offloading. We had that debate at Second Reading, and I think what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was talking about was offshoring, when you make the determination about whether people are right to come here, and then they come here. But this is not offshoring; this is offloading, whereby the Government hand over the responsibility to another country to be able to accept them, there is no way back, and it is a permanent situation.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

I think the noble Lord means “outsourcing”, and it is precisely what the Australians do.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Indeed: what the Australians did was to check whether people were ready to come to Australia.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

They handed that responsibility over to the Government of Nauru and the Solomon Islands.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

No, they did not. I am sorry, but the facts are otherwise. The essential point is that they were doing this work—whatever the noble Lord thinks the situation was, it is not what I think, but we can check the facts—in order that people could be admitted to Australia. That was the point; they were doing it somewhere else in order that they could come to Australia.

Trying to clear that knowledge and understanding, which we did at Second Reading, on these amendments in particular, the first thing we can say is that introducing scrutiny of the safety of Rwanda is a necessary and essential point, given the resolution and determination of this House. If the Government want to proceed and get this House to change its mind, we have to find a route for ourselves that allows us to do so. The amendments acknowledge that in this House we do not have credible evidence in order to make a finding of safety; whether we should do so or not is another matter, which we will examine in group two. It is right that the evidence should be broadly based; that whoever makes that decision should look not in one corner but at the evidence of NGOs, civil society and working groups on the ground in Rwanda in order to find out exactly whether a decision is the correct one. So, we would not limit the advice to that of the United Nations HCR, even if it was prepared to give it, but we do take the advice it gives us.

I just want to mention the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, raised at the outset. He said that outsourcing a positive recommendation on an asylum case to the UNHCR would be unacceptable, and that we should not give this decision to another body. Yet, at the same time, as we speak, and as the Home Office report of 12 January showed clearly, the only remaining global resettlement scheme is the UK resettlement scheme, which relies exclusively on a positive reference from the UNHCR. So, the UK does not seek to influence the cases the UNHCR refers. The fact is that we have passed that responsibility to the UNHCR, or are ready to do so. It is clear that we need a much broader understanding of the new information and advice that we need.

Amendment 34, of course, would create a rebuttable presumption. It is essential that this not be seen as a rock that can never be moved if the situation were to change one way or the other, from safe to unsafe, in the future. It is also right that court jurisdiction be restored, recognising the rule of law and the separation of powers. More of that to come.

On Amendments 11 and 12, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the decisions taken on refugees seeking asylum with us who are being sent to Rwanda to have their cases heard should be subject to the rules we impose ourselves—the laws and rules we have in front of us. The amendments say that we recognise the UK’s laws and responsibilities in this matter, and we want Rwanda to use those because we want the standards we accept to be accepted in Rwanda.

These amendments give us some basis for thought and for some major proposals in the future, but at the moment they are signposts rather than a milestone.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:15, 12 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a great privilege to wind up on this group for His Majesty’s Opposition. The quality of the contributions has been truly outstanding. I start by saying to the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Howard, that whatever our views on the various amendments in this and the other groups, we are fundamentally and totally opposed to the whole Bill and have voted against it at all stages. That lays out our position fairly clearly.

It was helpful for the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to lay out as we start Committee that this debate is not about whether to stop illegal migration or reduce immigration, but how we do it. This Bill is not the way to do it, so he was right to remind us of that.

We support the thrust of Amendments 3 and 7, as did many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—I will come back to her lead amendment in a moment—because they go to the heart of the Bill. Clause 1(2)(b) replaces a judicial finding of fact with Parliament simply declaring that Rwanda is safe, irrespective of the Supreme Court judgment. I will not go into the legal niceties we have heard, but it seems remarkable to me that Parliament should make a judgment that the court has got it wrong and just change it without reference to the court.

There is a missing word in that paragraph which gives great credibility to many of the contributions made this afternoon:

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

As many noble Lords and the committees that have reported on this Bill have said, this paragraph says that Rwanda is safe now, not that it will become safe. The Supreme Court said that that is the point of difference between them. It has not said that the Government cannot act in this way—I would have thought they would be pleased and say, “Look, the Supreme Court says that what we’re doing conforms with international law”—but that they cannot say that Rwanda is safe now. The Government are saying: “Don’t worry about that; we’ll just pass a law saying that it is”. That is the point of conflict, as it flies in the face of the Supreme Court, the International Agreements Committee and many others.

The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was remarkable in its honesty and openness. He said that, as a member of the Conservative Party for decades—I apologise if I get his wording wrong—he was disappointed by the Government coming forward with legislation such as this, which he felt flew in the face of the party’s traditions. He said that Margaret Thatcher herself would have refused it because it flies in the face of her belief that Governments have to act in accordance with the law, or the constitution would be at stake. Many of these amendments seek to reassert the principle that this country has always operated on—that this Parliament operates according to the law. Parliamentary sovereignty is paramount and Parliament can pass what it wants, but as part of that, under our unwritten constitution, there is a belief that it will always operate according to the law even while recognising its sovereign power.

We broadly support much of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s lead amendment. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Howard, my noble friend, in the spirit of Committee, said that if she has not got the amendment completely right, it might need to be changed. That is the whole point of Committee; she accepted that he might have a point and that making the UNHCR the sole body advising the Government or preventing them from acting might not be the best way forward.

Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, drew attention to a point in Amendments 1 and 2. This may be flowery language that Governments put at the front of Bills—I am sure that we did it in government and may well do it again when, I hope, we are in government in future—but Amendment 1 would add

“the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence”,

and Amendment 2 says:

“The second purpose is to ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law”.

That is the fundamental point. Any Bill we pass into law should be compliant with international law. That is why our country has such standing across the world. What on earth are we doing? The UNHCR has said that the Bill is not compliant with the refugee convention, and that is why Amendments 1 and 2 are so important. Do we not care that the UNHCR has said that? Is it of no consequence to us? Have we gone beyond caring? Are we not bothered? Are we saying it is simply an irrelevance? If that is so, I honestly cannot believe that that is the way we want our country to go.

What are we doing? Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and said, with respect to Putin and Ukraine, that we are not going to stand for someone driving a coach and horses through the international rules-based order. That is what the country has always stood for and what we are proud of. Therefore, we are going to continue that tradition. We are right to do so. Why are we taking action against the Houthis in the Red Sea? Last week, I heard the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, say that it was because are not going to allow a group of terrorists to hold the world’s trading system to ransom and break every single rule of the international rules-based order.

These are the rules we adhere to and conventions we have signed. As a sovereign Parliament, we took the decision that, in certain areas of international life, it is better to pool sovereignty and stand together; that is the way to overcome common problems, not to retreat into your own country. That is why the compliance with international law is important. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and others, seek to say—as a point of principle—that a Bill dealing with migration, refugees, asylum or whatever should comply with international law.

I am astonished and astounded and find it unbelievable that His Majesty’s Government have to be reminded that we want our Government to comply with international law. I would have thought that was a statement of the obvious. I would have thought it was something around which we could unite, no matter our party or faith. We could have stood together and said that is why we are proud of our country.

What are we going to say when we go to the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth, the EU—if we still have talks with it—NATO or any other part of the world where there is an international organisation? How on earth can we lecture those people about conforming to the international rules-based order when we are prepared to drive a coach and horses through it ourselves? That is why much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and many others have said in their amendments is so important. The Government may dismiss it, but they will not win the argument on this one.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The overriding purpose of the Bill is to ensure that Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country is accepted and interpreted by the courts to prevent legal challenges which seek to delay removals and prevent us from taking control of our borders.

Amendments 3 and 7, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, suggest that the legislation is replacing a judicial finding of fact. The Government respect the decision of the Supreme Court in its judgment. However, the judgment was based on information provided to the court on Rwanda up until summer 2022. Their Lordships recognised, explicitly and in terms, that those deficiencies could be addressed in future.

In response, the Home Secretary signed a new, internationally binding treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, which responds to and resolves the concerns raised by the court. Alongside the treaty, the Government have also introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which buttresses the treaty, and supports the relocation of a person to Rwanda under the Immigration Acts.

It is our view that Parliament and the Government are appropriately equipped to address the sensitive policy issues involved in this legislation and, ultimately, tackle the major global challenge of illegal migration.

Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seek to include a second purpose to the Bill, which is to ensure compliance with the rule of law, by requiring positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before individuals can be removed to Rwanda. It also requires the UNHCR to consult international experts before providing the advice to the Government and Secretary of State. We consider the terms of the treaty—which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law—to be sufficient to ensure that those relocated under the partnership will be offered safety and protection with no risk of refoulement.

The Government have conducted their own assessment as to the safety of Rwanda, reflected in the published policy statement and the comprehensive supporting evidence, including two detailed country information notes and accompanying annexes, which have been published online. This evidence draws on a wide range of sources in addition to the institutional expertise of the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as experts on the bilateral relationship between the UK and Rwanda. Indeed, annexe 2 to the country information notes is comprised entirely of UNHCR evidence, which has already been factored into the Government’s assessment. It is also the Government’s understanding that the UNHCR has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments. It is unclear what is meant by “international experts” or who bears the cost of such consultation.

The provisions in the Bill prevent challenge on the grounds that Rwanda is not a safe country generally, reflecting the Government’s confidence in the assurances of the treaty, and in Rwanda’s commitment and capability to deliver against these obligations. As I have set out, the Home Office has reviewed a wide range of sources, including evidence from the UNHCR, via an established process for assessing country safety. This is, therefore, the most appropriate assessment on which to rely.

It would not be right for our ability to deliver this policy—which is key to our commitment to stop the boats—to be left solely dependent on a further, independent assessment by an external body such as the UNHCR, which, we further note, has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr 5:30, 12 Chwefror 2024

On that point, would my noble friend consider a domestic assessor—for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If it were to advise, would he accept that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paragraph 26 goes on to say that:

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

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

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

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

Clause 1(3) is just a simple restatement of the various facts of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Lord has rather disappointed me, because he declined totally to address any of the points that your Lordships’ House voted for a few weeks ago—in particular, the 10 criteria by which it would be possible to judge whether the Government’s statement that Rwanda was a safe place was actually true or not. Could he now stand up and deal with those 10 criteria? It would be quite interesting for the Committee to have his account of the Government’s view of those criteria and whether they have been met; if they have not, when they will be met; and what tests they will put them to.

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

My Lords, this is Committee, and I am speaking to the various amendments in this group. As I have just reminded my noble friend Lord Hailsham, we will get to another group which debates the clauses in the treaty—as regards the various committees and so on that are in place—later in the day.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I know it is very boring, but could the Minister respond to my question about the legal status and the effect of Clause 1? I am still not clear what attention we should pay to it, were we to be in very formal proceedings rather than debating the situation broadly. In other words, if there is a breach of Clause 1—I do not know whether it can be called a breach; if there is no compliance with Clause 1—then what, in formal legal terms?

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

My Lords, it is simply the introduction to the Bill, so I am not entirely sure I get the drift of the question of the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, can he say whether he will be formally responding to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, especially before we reach Report?

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

I have not yet had a chance to read the report, which I believe was published only today, but I will of course read it in due course and respond accordingly.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, the Minister seems to rely on the emergency transit mechanism on which Rwanda works with the UNHCR. Can he confirm that this mechanism—which has a maximum capacity of 700—is a temporary processing point for asylum seekers from Libya, and that none of the 1,453 evacuated to Rwanda has actually opted to stay in the country?

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

My Lords, I do not rely on that at all. As I tried to explain, a variety of aspects of the UNHCR’s work are included in our safety assessment—and that is just one of them.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Ceidwadwyr

I apologise for interrupting, because I know that my noble friend the Minister wants to sit down for good. When he spoke to Clause 1(2)(b), was he speaking for Parliament or the Government?

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

As my noble and learned friend is aware, I speak for the Government.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

Can the Minister indicate when the Government will respond to the report on the Bill by the Constitution Committee of this House?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

And write to me with the answer.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee from around the Chamber for the constructive manner and tone with which these proceedings on the first group have been conducted. Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention every excellent contribution; they will understand that is not a discourtesy to Members of the Committee, but, I hope, a bit of kindness to those who have amendments to follow this evening.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, for following immediately, because he was able to crystallise some key issues between us, on my suite of amendments as well as on all the others in the first group. In essence, he had two points: one that I can embrace to some extent, and another that I cannot. I think that he was the first to point out that, in the way that I have formulated my suite of amendments, I have given perhaps too determinative a role for the UNHCR. I explained the reason for that: it was because the Prime Minister said that he was going to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court. None the less, I take the noble Lord’s point—which was echoed by subsequent speakers, if less robustly—so I hope not to create a determinative role for the UNHCR in the next stage of proceedings, although I also note that many Members of the Committee, including the Minister, referred to the important part that the UNHCR plays in the world on refugees and the convention.

However, the second crucial point—

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

Before the noble Baroness goes to the point where she disagrees with me, I thank her for her response to the first point I made. Of course, I do not speak for the Government, but no doubt we will consider the matter further when we get to Report.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Lord. However, his second central point was the big constitutional one: that Parliament is sovereign—that is pretty much it—and that the Supreme Court’s decision on 15 November was mere opinion rather than a determinative finding of fact in our system. I am afraid that I must disagree with him on that, in essence for the reasons outlined later in the debate by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. He in turn echoed some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, at Second Reading about the dangers that lie in the future should it be possible, in our country, for Governments with large majorities, of whatever stripe, to use legislation to change not only any old finding of fact but a finding of fact that was made recently by our highest court. That is not only silly, to echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, but very dangerous in a democracy that is built, fundamentally and first, on the rule of law. Parliamentary sovereignty follows, but Parliament, and the Executive in particular, must have a little respect for the independent referees of our democratic system.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for making the international point that follows from that: that the domestic rule of law is the bedrock of our system, but a quarter of the way into the 21st century, so is the international rule of law. All sorts of terrible consequences come when we do not respect that. She cited wars of aggression and war crimes that, in turn, drive a displacement of people that is leading to the refugee crisis that Governments around the world are trying to respond to. Therefore, she is a great proponent of the international rules-based order, as we know from her other work.

I am also very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for speaking on behalf of his Benches. He reminded us of our duty of care to refugees. Like me, he and the Church are uncomfortable with offshoring at all. None the less, they are engaging with the process—not a wrecking process but a constitutional compromise. That is the spirit with which I have tried to address the objections from the noble Lord, Lord Howard.

Therefore, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for asking what, ultimately, is the Government’s problem when what we are trying to do is to make sure that there will be further factual assessments to meet, for example, the tests of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, to make sure that Rwanda has become safe, per the terms of the treaty, before we deem it so. These are not wrecking amendments, but an attempt to do our duty.

On the contribution from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I hope that he will not be cross with me for suggesting that he has really done his father proud today. That famous speech that so many of us read as students about the “elective dictatorship” was in itself an answer to his noble friend Lord Howard, although it was made in 1976. Parliament is not just the House of Commons. Whether we like it or not, and whether we would all vote ourselves out of business, Parliament is both Houses in the current system. Parliament is not interchangeable with the Government of the day, however large their majority. We need to have checks and balances, and, at the moment in our system, for all our defects in your Lordships’ House, we are one of the Houses of Parliament, and Parliament is not interchangeable with government.

The noble Viscount went on to talk about how facts must be examined by the due process of law. I know that this might irritate the Minister, but he was right to flag future groups of amendments, because they are all so interchangeable in the scheme of what is a very short, but hugely controversial, Bill. If it is not to be the UNHCR, there must be some other process of examining the facts on the ground before Parliament just signs up with the Government of the day and says that dogs are cats. That is also what I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier.

I think that most, if not all, Members of the Committee would agree that the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was incredibly powerful and poignant. I repeat the point from Second Reading that this is a very un-Conservative Bill. Whatever one thought about the late Lady Thatcher, she was committed to the domestic and international rule of law. Despite politics that we would find controversial on our Benches, she was committed to the rule of law. Those who served her as Attorneys-General said that that was their experience, too.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton represented the Constitution Committee with great precision and not a bit of passion. He spoke of the 70-year commitment that this country has had to non-refoulement, which many of us now believe is part of customary international law rather just one treaty or another. He echoed your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee in saying that a lot more needs to be done before the Rwanda treaty can be the safeguard that the Government rely on. That is a lot of administrative and cultural change on the ground that does not happen overnight; it does not happen overnight in our own Home Office, let alone in the Republic of Rwanda.

I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for representing the Joint Committee on Human Rights, with its own similar—and further—criticisms of the Bill in its current form. His response to my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick was also important in acknowledging the violence that we may be doing to that precious settlement in Northern Ireland every time we violate international law, and the ECHR in particular.

I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, for the way in which he engaged—which was similar to the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, did so—and for his rather honest reflection that we have unsatisfactory safe legal routes to this country at the moment and the Bill does not address any of that. He said he would like to prioritise refugees over economic migrants, and I listened to his comments carefully.

I think I may have dealt with the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in what I said about the ECHR.

I am so grateful for my noble friend Lord Coaker’s support for the broad thrust of this suite of amendments. In particular, it is so comforting to know that any incumbent Labour Government will be committed to the international and domestic rule of law.

Finally, I say to the Minister, if the Rwanda treaty is, as he said, binding and sufficient, was not the refugee convention of 1951 binding and sufficient as well? It is a slightly circular argument to rely on one and not so much on the other.

We are not traducing Rwanda. We are just honouring the recommendations of committees of this House, and of our Supreme Court. That is why we must have in the Bill a commitment to compliance with the law; we must substitute “is” safe with “may become” safe, because that is the truth; we must have some kind of independent fact-finding assessment before we say that Rwanda is safe; safety must be only a rebuttable presumption, as in keeping with prior statutes—including Conservative asylum statutes; and the courts must not be ousted from their proper role in our constitution, which is fact finding and rights protecting. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.