Amendment 18

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 11:48 am ar 14 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Scriven:

Moved by Lord Scriven

18: Clause 2, page 2, line 33, leave out “Every decision-maker must” and insert “Subject to subsection (1A), every decision-maker may”

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, as we enter day two and the world of fantasy and fiction on the Bill, which is based on the premise of an untruth, I am the fiction of my noble friend Lord German—his substitute. I am a poor substitute; all the same, he unfortunately cannot be in his place today.

Amendments 18, 23 and 47 in this group, which are in my noble friend’s name and to which I have added mine, seek to ensure that Rwanda is not to be conclusively treated as a safe country where there are persons to be removed who are an unaccompanied child, a victim of human trafficking or a victim of modern slavery. Amendment 47 builds on this by ensuring that decision-makers must specifically consider circumstances where

“an individual … is … an unaccompanied child … a victim of human trafficking, or … a victim of modern slavery” when they consider individual cases.

It is important that the courts can do this because anyone who clicks on the signatories to UN treaties, to see which countries have signed up to them, will see that there are significant and optional treaties at the UN, based not just on the rights that are required but the type of inquiry carried out on those individuals, which Rwanda has not signed up to. This is therefore significant for some of the most vulnerable people, who should be afforded extra protection because of the lack of protection that Rwanda provides them.

The amendments in this group in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, also seek to protect victims of modern slavery and of human trafficking. They are drafted in a more comprehensive manner. In a later group, we will focus more specifically on children.

At Second Reading, a number of noble Lords highlighted that the vulnerable are not at all protected in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill places at risk the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, to which Rwanda is not a signatory, given that victims of modern slavery and trafficking are among those who face forced removal to Rwanda. The obligations include the duty to investigate without delay and to take operational measures to protect potential victims, where there are sufficient indicators available of circumstances which give rise to credible suspicion—I emphasise “suspicion”—of a real risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Further, according to the US Department of State’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, Rwanda does not

“fully meet the … minimum standards … for the elimination of trafficking”.

The 2023 Global Slavery Index tells us that the prevalence of modern slavery in Rwanda is more than twice as high as it is in the UK. The previous Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner raised concerns that Rwanda has detained thousands of potential trafficking victims without conducting adequate screening or referring identified victims to proper care and assistance; that in 2021 Rwanda investigated fewer trafficking cases and prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers compared with the previous year; and that it

“lacked a victim-witness support program”.

We are deeply concerned that survivors will not be seen as safe in Rwanda, as they would be here in the UK. The aim of our amendment is therefore simple. It is to try to offer a degree of protection to those who are most vulnerable by ensuring that Rwanda is not seen to be conclusively safe for unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking and victims of modern slavery.

I also note that Amendment 75, which my noble friend Lady Smith has signed, tries to ensure that if those brave men and women who have helped our Armed Forces in conflict in areas such as Afghanistan who, because of the incompetence of Home Office schemes, decide to flee here because their lives are in danger, they are not forcibly sent to Rwanda. What a shame on our national reputation that we would do such a thing as a nation.

As I say, the aim is very simple. It is to make sure that these people—unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking and victims of modern slavery—are not sent to Rwanda, because it is not seen as conclusively protective. I know that my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee will speak in more detail about these categories of vulnerable people, who surely deserve our protection. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who introduced the amendments in this group. I have signed Amendments 18, 23 and 47, but, like him, I have considerable sympathy with the others. The amendments discussed on Monday focused much on the rule of law and how the Bill sits within that. This group changes the focus to look at the most vulnerable asylum seekers, defined in our Amendments 18, 23 and 47 as unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking or victims of modern slavery, and says that, for the purposes of this Bill, Rwanda should not be regarded as a safe country.

Noble Lords who worked on the Illegal Migration Act last year will remember that, during that Bill, these were three groups of asylum seeker where there was considerable cross-party concern about the Bill reducing their rights under domestic law and ignoring them under international law. There are amendments to follow that will go into more detail on these cases. I will not speak in detail ahead of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, but Amendments 23 and 47 would set on the face of the Bill, in Clause 2, that these groups of people should always be considered separately and not just with everybody else or as a generic group.

The first group is unaccompanied child asylum seekers. We have had many debates in the last three of four years, in the Nationality and Borders Act and Illegal Migration Act, about difficulties in assessing the age of unaccompanied children. We will come back to that detail next week. It is important to note that, on 22 January, the Guardian reported that at least 1,300 child refugees are at risk after being classified as adults, with some placed in adult jails after the Home Office wrongly assessed their ages. Others were sent to adult hotels without the right support. The Refugee Council, Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network report, Forced Adulthood, says that these children are exposed to “significant” harm. It reported that age assessments can be as short as 10 minutes. The consequences for these young people, if they are children, are serious. They breach international law, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which this country is a signatory.

For victims of modern slavery and human trafficking —I will not go into the detail of the excellent introduction by my noble friend Lord Scriven—I share my noble friend’s concerns. I note that this Government appear to have a short memory. In the Modern Slavery Act 2015, promoted by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was created to improve and better co-ordinate the response to modern slavery. It introduced a defence for victims of slavery and trafficking, placed a duty on the Secretary of State to produce stat guidance on victim identification and victims’ services, and enabled the Secretary of State to make regulations relating to the identification of and support for victims. That is why the simplistic processing proposed in this Bill is completely inappropriate and why the Government need to respond to these amendments, as well as those proposed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this group. We have a duty as a nation to take care of the most vulnerable asylum seekers.

I also support Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, which my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham has supported. It is unconscionable for us not to recognise the very particular circumstances of those who have supported our troops in the most difficult circumstances.

This Government used to believe in supporting asylum seekers, particularly the most vulnerable, and had processes by which they could do so, but they clearly do not anymore. Can the Minister explain to your Lordships’ Committee why this U-turn has happened and on what basis it is appropriate to disregard the rules they created less than 10 years ago?

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 70, 73 and 85. I support the other amendments in this group. I declare an interest as co-chair of the parliamentary group on modern slavery and vice-chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation. The purpose of my amendments is to draw attention to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the plight of victims of modern slavery trafficked to the United Kingdom, to ensure greater transparency and to put in place appropriate structures of due diligence and accountability.

I remind the Committee that the Modern Slavery Act is outstanding legislation—and from a Conservative Government, for goodness’ sake. We were all extremely proud of it; it was admired across the world and copied in Australia and other countries. I also give credit to the Home Office for its excellent statutory guidance on how to deal with those who had suffered the trauma of being victims of slavery and trafficking.

The current system is for a first responder, not the possible victim, to refer the victim to the national referral mechanism, or NRM, where there are two stages: a reasonable grounds decision followed by, if proven, a final positive grounds decision, which says that the person is a victim of modern slavery and maybe of human trafficking. As far as I can see, this scheme, which I hope will continue to work in the United Kingdom for UK citizens and residents, is no longer possible for those trafficked into this country for exploitation here. It will have a devastating effect on victims and the United Kingdom’s ability to deal with the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The combination of the Nationality and Borders Act, the Illegal Migration Act and this Bill will prevent the necessary assessment of victims of modern slavery who come to this country.

As far as I know, Rwanda does not have any modern slavery or human trafficking legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, according to the 2023 Global Slavery Index the prevalence of slavery in Rwanda is twice as high as in this country—and we cannot be proud of how many people are victims of it in this country—and Rwanda is not a signatory to ECAT. The Government assert without evidence that the system for assessing whether a person is a genuine victim is being abused, but the figures from the NRM show that the majority of those going through the system are found to be genuine. There is no evidence to show that anything more than a tiny minority of people may be abusing the current NRM system.

It appears that our much-admired Modern Slavery Act and the process for identification of victims are no longer available for anyone who comes to this country other than through the very limited safe routes. The possibility of prosecuting traffickers will also be dramatically reduced. These amendments are intended to give some support to those who are or are about to be victims of a hugely profitable and odious trade in men, women and children. I ask the Government to listen and exempt them from removal from this country.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr 12:00, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord German, could not move the amendment in his name. I can tell that House that he is a marvellous chairman of the Parliament Choir and has an unrivalled ability to speak the poetry of Dylan Thomas with all the Welsh fervour that it demands.

I understand the good intentions of those who are putting forward the amendments in this group, but I fear they suffer from a real difficulty. In particular, in Amendment 23 the new subsection (1A)(c) would exempt a person who is

“a victim of human trafficking”.

The problem with that is that it drives a coach and horses through the Government’s intentions, which are, of course, to draw the category for exceptions extremely narrowly, so that most people do go to Rwanda, and therefore it is a definite deterrent to people leaving France and trying to get to this country as illegal immigrants. That is the whole point of the legislation, and it needs that sharpness and narrowness of exclusivity to achieve that aim. I fear that, in the hands of any sensible immigration lawyer, simply saying that the person might be a victim of human trafficking opens the whole thing to abuse.

I make that point because I have just been reading in the newspaper this morning that the Home Office is about to buy, or has bought, 16,000 homes in this country to house those illegal asylum seekers who are at the moment in hotels. It wishes to transfer those people, because of the public cost, to residential houses or flats, and that is what it is proposing to do. This housing they are taking is social housing and private rental housing, particularly in areas such as Bradford, Hull and Teesside, which are low-rent areas and obviously comparatively deprived areas. I think this shows the domestic consequences of allowing in the present number of illegal migrants and why the Government have to bear those in mind as well as our undoubted sympathy for those who may be suffering from human trafficking, slavery and so forth. These factors clearly have to be balanced; the domestic responsibilities of the Government with the concern for illegal immigration of this kind. I hope the House will bear that in mind when it considers these amendments.

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

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he answer a question? Under Home Office figures, 78% of those people who have been referred to the national referral mechanism for being trafficked or in modern slavery have been successful and, by definition, a woman who is trafficked here—not smuggled but trafficked—will be unaware of the final destination. It will be against her will. How will she be deterred by this Bill?

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

She will be deterred because the Bill is designed to send people to Rwanda, with a very narrow area of exemptions for those who cannot be sent to Rwanda. That is the way it will operate. Obviously, it will need to be spelled out, and the Government will have to put behind it all the explanations they can through modern social media et cetera to get across the message to the people who are at present in France that there is a real possibility that they will end up not in the UK but in Rwanda. That is how it works. That is how it is supposed to work, and I submit that widening it to all these other possibilities will detract from that deterrent element and therefore destroy the purpose of the Bill, with the domestic consequences that we can see.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, it is extremely difficult to debate anything in the Bill if the only answer of those who are happy with it is, “It is all very difficult, and therefore we have just got to do it as we are saying, because we really cannot deal with any of the details”. I have to say to my noble friend that the fact that we are talking about people who come to this country not illegally but involuntarily means that we are not talking about people who are going to be deterred by anything. They do not want to come here, so the question is how we deal with those.

I must say I am a bit tired of having to remind this Government of what it means to be a Conservative. I had to do it earlier, on the single market, and I am now doing it on this. We have a reputation in the world because of our Modern Slavery Act. It was a brave and important thing to do. It was welcomed across the whole House. I am proud that it was a Conservative Government who did it. I am not proud that there is a Conservative Government undermining that, when we know that more than three-quarters of those who appeal in these circumstances are found to be right in their appeal.

We also know that appeal is very difficult. We know how many people who are trafficked do not get into the system because of the nature of trafficking. Those of us who sit in our comfortable places might just think, on Ash Wednesday, that this is a moment to reach out to those who are uncomfortable and not able to speak up for themselves. There are few people who are in a worse position than those, so on what possible moral basis do you threaten to send them to a country which has not signed up to the international agreement on modern slavery, has twice as many modern slaves as we do—and we admit that we have many whom we have not traced—and has a history of ignoring this problem? How on earth can we defend that on a moral basis, leave alone a practical one? What the blazes is the use of claiming that there is a deterrent effect when the person you are talking about is not in a position to be deterred because they have been taken up by someone who has made those decisions for them?

I believe we cannot allow the Bill to go through without some serious consideration of this point and make sure that we do not allow our country to be let down in this way.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 75 in this group, which is in my name and supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins and Lady Smith of Newnham. The noble Baronesses have asked me to tender their apologies as they are unable to attend today’s Committee. I confidently expect that they may get an opportunity in later stages of the Bill to explain to your Lordships’ House their reasons for supporting this amendment.

Before I turn to Amendment 75, I wish to make clear my support for the other amendments in this group, those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I commend them both for tabling these amendments and for the powerful clarity with which they were moved. I am strongly in favour of excluding unaccompanied children, victims of modern slavery and the victims of human trafficking—in fact, I am in favour of excluding those who have no option about where they are from deportation to Rwanda.

These debates are fundamental, even leaving aside the morality of offshoring—or, perhaps more accurately, offloading—a question which has received sufficient attention in your Lordships’ House to require no further explication from me. These decisions on exemption speak to the values we project around the world. Given the political capital that has been invested in the Rwanda scheme, its realisation, were that to occur, will attract a correspondingly large amount of international scrutiny. It is difficult to imagine the global derision and horror that would result from pictures of children and victims of slavery and trafficking being bundled on to flights for forcible removal from the UK, a place in which these vulnerable people have sought sanctuary, to any other country, never mind to one which is not, as we hear, in a condition to look after them and to protect them from the vulnerabilities that caused them to seek sanctuary here in the first place.

I turn to Amendment 75. As the explanatory statement makes clear, the new clause proposed would exempt people who are a very special case—those who have put themselves in harm’s way in support of His Majesty’s Armed Forces, or through working with or for the UK Government overseas—from removal to Rwanda, as well as exempting their partners and dependent family from such removal. Again, I ask your Lordships’ House to consider what message would be sent by the spectacle of someone who has faced peril in service of the UK receiving the reward of forcible removal from the very country for which they risked their life?

Last Monday, 5 February, in the debate on a UQ on the relocation of Afghan special forces, I welcomed—and I repeat that welcome today—the Government’s undertaking to review all the ARAP applications from members of the Afghan special forces, known as the Triples, that have already been deemed ineligible. Some of these very brave men and their families and dependants are hiding in Afghanistan, and others are in Pakistan fearing deportation, and awaiting whether the new Government in Pakistan have the same policy as the previous Government to deport them back to Afghanistan, where they would be in danger of their lives.

However, as I said then, in addition to those who are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there are members of this group of people who are here in the United Kingdom. In the chaos of leaving Afghanistan—your Lordships will remember that—and the chaos around Kabul airport, they were denied access to evacuation flights. The Taliban were in attendance in sufficient numbers around the airport to identify them—they knew where they lived. These people were forced, when the killing of their colleagues and families started, to get here by irregular and dangerous routes.

I asked then whether the Ministry of Defence in the review would undertake not to make them ineligible for ARAP simply because of how they got here. The Minister—who had no prior notice of this question, because it only occurred to me in the debate on the UQ—was not able to give an undertaking on this question at the time, but an answer is vital because the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act are so unambiguous. If any of them got here with the assistance of traffickers and crossed the channel in small boats, they are illegal migrants. Section 1(2)(a) places a binding duty on the Secretary of State to arrange for their removal. In conjunction with the provisions of this Bill, were they to enter into force, that removal would be to Rwanda.

Some have already been threatened with deportation to Rwanda. Without wishing to trespass too much on the patience of your Lordships’ Committee, I intend to share a description of some of the cases that show the fundamental inequity that will result if Amendment 75 is not added to the Bill. I do this by drawing on information from open sources. I have no special information about any of these cases. They are reported in significant numbers in our media, and I draw from that media.

The first is of a CF 333 Triple Afghan sniper, who joined high-level missions with British troops. He was abandoned at the airfield, and amid the chaos of our withdrawal from Afghanistan found himself unable to board a UK evacuation flight. He found that the Taliban knew his address and, in fear of his life, he was left with no option but to pay smugglers to flee the country and seek refuge in the UK, arriving by small boat in August 2022. As it stands, his reward for serving alongside the UK in a unit conceived, mentored and funded by His Majesty’s Government would be removal to Rwanda.

The second is an Afghan colonel who was part of the Afghan National Police special forces and worked alongside British forces in joint operations in the Helmand province. After Kabul fell, he fled in fear of his life and stated that, despite reaching out, he was not helped in any way by Britain or our proxies. After travelling with a leg injury sustained in service and leaving family behind, he arrived in the UK by small boat in September 2022. Unless this amendment or a similar provision is enacted, his reward for serving alongside the UK and acting in our interests—sustaining severe injury while so doing—would be removal to Rwanda.

These cases of ARAP failures are not limited to the Trebles. An Afghan air force lieutenant who served alongside British Armed Forces and flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban stated that it was impossible to make a safe journey to Britain and arrive in the UK via a safe and legal route. When the coalition troops left, the pilot was among those left dangerously exposed. Having been promised safe haven by the UK, he waited in hiding in Afghanistan for months before making the heartbreaking decision to leave his wife and young children and find safe refuge.

A long journey over land and sea culminated in a dangerous journey across the English Channel in November 2022. The pilot’s application for ARAP was originally rejected, compelling the US Department of State to reach out and consider granting asylum after the UK Home Office threatened deportation to Rwanda. It is embarrassing and shocking that the Americans were reaching out to our allies and those who worked with us to rescue them, which we should have been moving to do. Bizarrely, although he was not granted ARAP status, he was granted asylum by the Home Office in August 2023.

The last of my few examples is an Afghan intelligence analyst who played a key role in helping the British military in Kabul through gathering information to help coalition forces in their war against the Taliban. He worked in the Office of the National Security Council, the ONSC, a department initially funded by the UK for intelligence sharing, providing the Afghan President and the British and NATO forces with information to plan missions against terror threats. The analyst feared for his life after our withdrawal, and the imminence of the threat from the Taliban meant that he could not wait for help through official routes. After no response to his ARAP application made more than two years previously, he made the journey to the UK by a small boat and has since been threatened with deportation to Rwanda twice, in August and November 2023.

When we ask others to ally themselves with us in future, what lessons do we imagine that they will draw from these cases? That we are steadfast in our support for those who have lent their support to us? That we can be trusted to meet our commitments? No, we will be seen as utterly transactional—a power that asks others to risk their lives and pledge themselves to act in our interests but will not offer sanctuary in return when they need it. These cases expose fundamental flaws in the ARAP process. Errors in handling and possible obstruction by third parties—I will not expand on that, but if noble Lords read last week’s Sunday Times, they will know what I am talking about—led eligible applicants to be rejected. This has led in turn to eligible applicants taking unsafe and illegal routes to flee the Taliban. It is hardly surprising or worthy of condemnation, given that they will have seen former colleagues slaughtered for their service with the British. To then be threatened with deportation to Rwanda—and, as in the analyst’s case, repeatedly—is shameful.

That is why this amendment is needed. In another place on 1 February, James Heappey, the Armed Forces Minister, described the “debt of gratitude” that we owe these people. This amendment would pay part of that debt in legislative form. It would not only protect the Triples and other Afghans who served with us but give future allies an assurance that they and their families would be protected in the event that their lives are imperilled because of service that they undertook at our behest. I welcome the statement from 1 February that the MoD has decided to undertake a reassessment of all eligibility decisions made on ineligible applications with credible links to Afghan specialist units. While that is welcome, this amendment would go further and meet the moral need. While I do not approve of the Bill or its intentions, this amendment should attract support even from those who count themselves among the Bill’s supporters. If they wish the Rwanda scheme to work and be seen to work, this would at least ensure that we do not face the ignominy of seeing those who have risked their lives at our instigation being deported from the country in whose service they have risked exile, serious injury and death.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench 12:15, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I support Amendment 75, to which I have added my name. In order not to try the patience of the Committee, I will not repeat all the excellent arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, with which I entirely agree, save to say that if global Britain is to be effective in the world, it will need to form partnerships with and gain support from people in all sorts of different parts of the world, often very difficult and dangerous parts of the world.

In order to garner such support, it will need to be seen as trustworthy. How trustworthy does anybody think we will be seen as if we have taken those who have already served us so faithfully in such difficult circumstances and sent them to Rwanda? So, for those who are not swayed by a sense of moral obligation, I ask them to consider the future effectiveness and safety of the men and women of our Armed Forces who are sent out to do such difficult and dangerous things in these parts of the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Horam, has said that the Government seek to draw very narrowly the definition of the people who are excluded from the provisions of this Bill. Surely, at the very least, those who have put their safety and indeed their very lives on the line in support of this country deserve to fall into that category.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, no one could disagree with a word of that. I of course support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Browne. It makes me ashamed every time I see stories such as those that he has related. I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend—whatever persona he speaks in—and have added my name to the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment, which is of course about victims of trafficking and modern slavery.

As my noble friend Lady Brinton said, we will come next week to the position of children, which will include the question of age assessment. I hope that somebody in that debate will draw attention to the Government’s references to the young men who are really men, not children, when they come across the channel. I am sure that other noble Lords saw on our television screens the amazing darts player Luke Littler. He looked considerably more than a child—he looked about 35, in fact. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, said that the amendments from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, drive a coach and horses through the Bill. That is an interesting choice of words; they were the words that Theresa May used about the impact of the recent migration, immigration and asylum Bills.

The noble Lord also criticised the word “might”—that people “might” be in this position. Well, that is because we have a process, which is referred to in the amendment: the national referral mechanism. That is our mechanism for assessing claims of having been trafficked or being a victim of modern slavery and so on. It has its problems, particularly in delays, but it is a careful method of assessment that is not replicated in Rwanda. It involves the support of victims of modern slavery and trafficking, which is not available in Rwanda.

I am no less worried than I was when the Rwanda proposal surfaced. Far from tackling these evils, we are expanding the market and opening it up in that country to further trafficking and re-trafficking. It is a country where modern slavery, as has been said, is a good deal more prevalent than it is in the UK. And it is not just a matter of prevalence, it is a matter of culture—something to which the Supreme Court referred. The culture in Rwanda is not to assess whether people are vulnerable in this area. It shows no demonstration of understanding what modern slavery is or how to assess possible victims. If that sounds technical, it is technical in a way, but it is also about what happens to individuals at a human level. We have heard some very powerful speeches supporting that position.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I support Amendment 75, which was moved so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and supported by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup.

While they were speaking, I was struck by one paragraph in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which I referred to briefly in our proceedings on Monday: paragraph 119 on page 33. We referred to Afghanistan, and it was in this context:

“We have observed, however, that other nations may be influenced by the way in which the UK treats its international law obligations. For example, we note that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has already referred to the UK’s Rwanda policy in defence of his country’s decision to expel from Pakistan hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have fled from the Taliban regime”.

In reflecting on that, the committee said at paragraph 120:

The UK has a reputation for respect for human rights and the rule of law, of which we should be proud. Legislation that seeks to disapply or fails to respect international law risks damaging that reputation and encouraging other states who are less respectful of the international legal order”.

So here we have a sort of double paradox. First, we are being cited by a Government such as that of Pakistan as a justification for expelling Hazara, who will face persecution as a minority in Afghanistan when they return there; sending back women, who will be treated appallingly by the Taliban and denied all their basic rights, particularly education; and people who have served the Crown, who worked with the British forces in Afghanistan—some of whom, by the way, fall into those other categories as well, including women and Hazara. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who will reply to this debate, takes a real interest in this. I have raised specific cases with him and he has always been diligent in replying; I am grateful to him for that. There are people who served with our Armed Forces who are now in Edinburgh; I heard from one of them only last week who, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, was able to come to this country.

I also know that the Minister cares deeply about the debt we owe to people who have served this country. My noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley tabled amendments, which I supported, about the position of ex-servicemen in Hong Kong who had not been covered by the BNO scheme and who, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, were ultimately included—and we now know that some of them will be able to take up their rights to settle here. If anyone is going to be in the target sights of the Chinese Communist Party, it will be people who have served the Crown, and, similarly, people who served in Afghanistan alongside our forces will be in the target sights of the Taliban. So we do have a debt of honour to them. If anyone can do anything about it, I am sure it will be the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say when he comes to reply.

However, I wanted to intervene in this debate to support my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his powerful remarks about the position of people who have been trafficked. I support the amendments in this group and do so because they counter the attempt at legal fiction written right into the Bill that we can confidently state that the destination of those we intend to deport is a safe place.

Specifically, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, when he moved the lead amendment in this group, referred to victims of modern slavery and the 2015 legislation, which I supported in your Lordships’ House and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, was supported right across the spectrum. All sides of this House supported the right honourable Theresa May when she introduced that legislation as Home Secretary in another place. I have joined forces with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others in trying to defend that legislation when it has been under attack, not just now but in previous instances as well.

We need to uphold that landmark legislation, which is regarded in many other parts of the world as what they should be doing, too. These amendments therefore seek to provide some degree of compatibility with our obligations under the Human Rights Act, international law and the 2015 Act. Of course, as the Government say repeatedly, the aim of this Bill is to break the model of trafficking gangs. Paradoxically, however, as things stand, it takes away the rights of the very people who are the victims of those gangs—so we need to deal with that.

I gently suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, whom I have known in various capacities over the years that we have overlapped, that he think really carefully about these groups. We will come to discuss vulnerable children next week, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, told us, some of whom have told their stories to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It was truly shocking to hear the things that had already happened to them. The thought that we might put people in that position and send them to Rwanda is extraordinary.

Anyone who has travelled to Rwanda—I have—and to neighbouring countries knows how volatile the region can be and how circumstances can change very dramatically. Look at the disastrous and calamitous upheaval in Sudan, for instance, where 9 million people are displaced. Within the last month alone, a further half a million have been displaced in Darfur and sent to Chad. These are in the same region. Think of the endless violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The BBC reported just last month that Burundi, Rwanda’s direct neighbour, has closed its borders with Rwanda after accusing its neighbour of funding rebel attacks. Last December, RED-Tabara, a Burundian rebel group, killed 20 people near the border with the DRC.

I do not want to go off on a tangent, but there are 110 million displaced people in the world today. We had a full Cross-Bench debate on this issue three years ago, urging the House, the Government and the international community to tackle the root causes of the reasons why people are displaced, because until we do that, on everything from persecution and conflict to climate change, people will carry on coming in one way or another. It is an illusion—a fiction—to pretend that this Bill will put any of that right.

If Amendments 23 and 27 were accepted, Rwanda would not be treated as a safe country if the person is a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking. That is not a lot to ask. The amendments would create additional criteria to take into account that a person is a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking when making a decision based on individual circumstances.

Amendments 70, 73, and 85 would prevent the removal of victims of modern slavery to Rwanda until they have a conclusive grounds decision. Again, that is wholly reasonable. The amendments would require the Government to commission an independent report—something my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich has been so insistent about. We need to have an independent view of these things. He and my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew are very good examples of how we can have an independent assessment of things such as our terrorism laws at one step removed from government. Why can we not do that with this too? We should ensure that the Act cannot come into effect until the aforementioned independent report has been laid before Parliament and we have the additional criteria points that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead made to your Lordships on Monday.

To sum up, the rationale for supporting these amendments is that the UK has international obligations to victims that do not appear to be compatible with the proposals in the Bill and the treaty. There is uncertainty about the identification of victims under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which flows into this Bill, and the Home Office has not adequately demonstrated that Rwanda can provide the necessary support for victims of modern slavery, despite the treaty obligations. For all those reasons, I support these amendments. I hope that the Government will give them proper consideration and certainly make exceptions in the cases of these ex-servicemen and people who have been shown to have been trafficked.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur 12:30, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with his decades of human rights advocacy, often at personal risk from some of the rather terrifying regimes around the world that he has criticised. It has also been a privilege to sit in this Committee and listen to the contributions, to remind the Committee, from a former Chief of the Defence Staff, a leading jurist, a former chair of the Conservative Party, and, of course, my noble friend, a former Defence Secretary.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, with whom it is always a pleasure to engage, on his coach and horses concern that, on one level, he is quite right. The testimony and stories we have heard in relation to all these exemption amendments—I support them all—do indeed highlight the overall illogicality and cruelty of the Bill. There is no doubt about that, but I do not want to rehearse that.

We established last time that Rwanda is not yet safe for any asylum seeker or refugee. We have already argued, and will argue in subsequent groups, that discretion should not be totally squeezed from the Secretary of State’s hands, that the judiciary should not be ousted, that safety should only be a rebuttable presumption and so on. Their testimony bears witness to all the structural problems of the Bill that need to be tackled.

However, I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, in the light of what we have heard about, for example, children, people who have been enslaved and trafficked against their will or those who have put themselves in harm’s way at the service of the British state, that even if Rwanda becomes safe and one agrees with the noble Lord—I do not, but I am on this journey—that it is acceptable to transport human beings for asylum processing, these groups should never be so transported for the reasons that have so compellingly been given.

Some of them, the children and the trafficked people, had little or no say in their arrival in the UK in the first place. Certainly, deterrence can never speak to them and their situation. Then there is the group that my noble friend Lord Browne so ably addressed; we should not dream of deterring them. We made a promise to them and they have paid for it, many of them in courage and blood. How dare we! I am actually rather ashamed that my noble friend had to table an amendment of that kind at all. The people to whom we made that promise will be spared, only because, when he questioned Ministers on 5 February for a relatively lengthy period, they were not able to explain the position once the Secretary of State’s hands are tied and he is under a statutory duty to send people to Rwanda because they came by an irregular route.

So I say to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, whatever our disagreements about the policy as a whole, the Bill in general and all the amendments that I hope will make it a little better, that he must take a different position over the exemptions in this group.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

It has indeed been a remarkable debate, as the noble Baroness says. Her own contribution maintained the high standard that has been set; I shall now lower it. I have two small points to make.

First, I strongly support Amendment 75, so ably addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. It extends the exemption not just to the Armed Forces but to any agent, ally or employee of the Crown abroad. That brings in the British Council and the British high commissions and embassies. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has frequently drawn attention to the endangered staff of the British Council in Afghanistan. I strongly support this amendment.

It is also relevant to note, in the context of Amendment 75, that Rwanda has never granted asylum to any Afghan, whereas our acceptance rate of asylum claims from those arriving by small boats is 99%. That proves that people who have turned up here from Afghanistan asking for asylum have a very real reason to have fled. Our processes have checked that their cases are valid; they are fleeing a risk of persecution. Rwanda’s track record suggests that their reception might not be as unbiased there as it here, even if the changes introduced by the treaty come into effect in Rwanda. So I strongly support Amendment 75 and I hope we all do.

My second point is a question to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I support Amendments 23 and 47, and I am sure it is right that we should exempt from transportation to Africa unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking and victims of modern slavery, but I wonder whether a fourth category should not also be there: what about citizens of Rwanda? My question to the Minister is: am I correct in thinking that, under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, any Rwandan who arrives in this country by irregular means is automatically inadmissible for asylum and that, when the Bill we are debating becomes an Act, they will be liable for transportation to Rwanda? In that situation, when a Rwandan is sent by us to Rwanda, whatever we have achieved in improving the Rwandan asylum system through our treaty is irrelevant. If one is old enough, one remembers the tragic case of Chief Enahoro in Nigeria. I am not sure that anybody else in this Chamber is old enough to remember the case, so they should look it up. It is a very sad case. If we find ourselves with a law on our statute book which means that we send Rwandans who sought asylum here back to Rwanda, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop 12:45, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to all those supporting Amendment 75 and for the speeches on it. I am further grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—they are all helping us to delve deeper into the legal and moral issues in these amendments. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who has set out her Amendments 70, 73 and 85, to which I have subscribed my name.

This issue is close to my heart, as I speak on behalf of the Church of England on human trafficking and modern slavery issues. I do so from the city of Bristol, with its history of slavery and its current commitment to prevent human trafficking and slavery, including domestically—we train our lay officers to spot the signs of those hiding in plain sight—and to provide refuge for those on their journey through the NRM. I was also particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Deben: I think that I will miss church downstairs, so I am grateful that he has brought church upstairs in his Ash Wednesday words to us about the deep moral issues in our debate today.

I am concerned by the response from the noble Lord, Lord Horam, about drawing the terms of the Bill very tightly. It seems to me that the terms include those who are already victims of crime through human trafficking. This is the nub of my argument: surely it is right to prevent and minimise further risks to people who have already been victims of a crime, as we are obliged to do under national and international law; hence Amendment 70, which would mean that nobody who is thought to be a victim of modern slavery could, as we have heard, be removed to Rwanda, at least before a conclusive decision is made on their case or without assessing what it means for their safety. Such consideration for victims is the least that we can do.

Since the start of 2022, more than 4,000 people who arrived on small boats have entered the national referral mechanism for modern slavery. Under the current proposals, they are both suspected victims of crime and eligible for removal to Rwanda. They may well have been trafficked here against their will, as we have heard, and they are now facing further jeopardy. We need to ensure that this jeopardy is removed, as far as we possibly can. The UK has had until now a world-leading referral system for victims of modern slavery. It is something of which we can be rightly proud. I am concerned, as are others, that the Bill, compounding other recent legislation, puts that world-leading status at risk. Not only are survivors of modern slavery victims of a terrible and traumatic crime but they will now be removed to another country altogether, re-transported to a country which will not, in all probability, treat them well—because the legislation and the treaty do not address concerns that we have heard about today or the concerns of the Global Slavery Index; namely, that the Rwanda Government’s approach to this issue will put those transported there at risk.

Amendments 70, 73 and 85 ensure greater transparency as this legislation is implemented. The amendments mean that we would have a better understanding of the picture of modern slavery as the Bill and treaty are put into effect. As currently drafted, the Bill will have a potentially devastating impact on survivors of modern slavery and our nation’s ability to tackle this crime. Ensuring that the implications of the Bill for victims of modern slavery are subject to ongoing monitoring is the least that we can do. The UK has a strong national referral mechanism but without proper monitoring and transparency worked into the Bill we risk entrenching vulnerabilities and pushing victims back into their original abusers’ hands.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are terrible crimes which represent a traumatic experience. If we are committed to tackling them, monitoring the implications of the Bill for the victims will be fundamental to an ongoing response.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not being present at Second Reading. I am afraid that my health has not been great, and I was a bit worried about my blood pressure—which might have been accentuated by listening to the debate. I declare an interest as the chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation.

I have added my name to Amendment 70, tabled by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I do not need to say much because the speeches have been wonderful, except to make a plea to my noble friend the Minister regarding Amendment 75. I have always been proud of this country. However, many have put their lives at risk, and many have suffered the ultimate sacrifice. If we reject looking after them, if we do not allow them this, I am afraid that I will not be so proud of this country or of the party that I am in.

I make a further plea to the Minister and my noble friends. I understand entirely the concern regarding migration. It is happening all over the world—illegal crossings, the small boats and so forth. I understand that but let us not just be so dogmatic that we have not an inch of humanity.

I said that I was the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which I am delighted to be. I started off in the other place, listening to my old colleague Anthony Steen, who was passionate about this; listening to him, I realised what the victims go through. Subsequently, I have been lucky, or unlucky, enough to meet many of these victims. It is not a hypothetical thing. Yes, there are some abuses, but how many of those are really abuses? We must not think —I speak particularly to our own Benches—that everybody who claims that they are a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking is trying to get an easy ticket into this country. It is heartbreaking to see those people and listen to their stories.

I tried this with my noble friend who previously held the position; I pestered him about trying to meet some victims. He was lucky enough to return to the Back Benches before I could implement that request. But I say to my noble friend the Minister, and we have heard it from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that he has a great deal of humanity. We cannot not make exceptions. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said with regard to people who have served the Crown, there is another thing with regards to victims of modern slavery, which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, touched on—that is, prosecutions. If we deport somebody to Rwanda while we are trying to have criminal cases, unless my noble friend assures me otherwise, we are not going to get the evidence to put those modern slavers away. I urge my colleagues, my noble friends, not to be so dogmatic about this. There must be some exceptions. We must show humanity if we can call ourselves British.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak briefly about Amendment 75, which the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, introduced so movingly. My noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup added some extremely powerful arguments. I have been raising this issue about those who either fought for us or served us in Afghanistan.

If we were to combine Amendment 75 with a fast-track treatment of the reconsideration which the noble Earl, Lord Minto, told the House a short time ago was now being undertaken for one category of these people—I am seeking confirmation from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that those who serve the British Council are also included—there would be absolutely no incentive for people in that category to try to cross the channel in boats. Could the Government get on with those two bits of a solution to one part of this problem —one in which, frankly, our honour is at stake?

I want secondly to raise those parts of these amendments — we will come to other ones later in the grouping—that relate to children. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out that we would be acting in contravention of our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—I sat beside Lady Thatcher when she signed it. We need to take that seriously. Is it not the case that the committee set up by the United Nations to watch over the implementation by all member states of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child has told us—and we are represented on that committee—that we are acting in contravention of it? Could the Minister perhaps answer that question?

If that is so, I hope that it will inform the response that the Government make to the various amendments, in this group and in other groups, that are designed to meet our obligations under the convention. I hope that we do not go off again into a rather sterile discussion about whether this sovereign Parliament has the right to rip up the obligations it signed itself not all that long ago. I do not think that is the point; the point is about the human beings whose lives are at stake.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Ceidwadwyr 1:00, 14 Chwefror 2024

I want to pick up on three quick points before the Minister replies. First, on Amendment 75, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we had a very powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, reinforced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. I want to ask the Minister this question: if it is not possible to put it in the Bill, is it possible for the Secretary of State to make a firm pledge and commitment? I have had the privilege of doing two stints at the Foreign Office and have seen the extraordinary commitment of staff locally engaged by the British Council. In fact, in many of those countries, staff directly employed by the Foreign Office would be outnumbered, probably by 10 to one, by locally engaged staff, who are incredibly loyal to the Crown and this country, never more so than in Afghanistan, where we had not only a larger cohort of locally engaged staff than in most countries but the defence angle as well, with British-trained Afghan defence force members and special forces whom we trained. I urge the Minister to look at this seriously.

One point that occurred to me is that many illegal refugees who arrive in this country, asylum seekers, tear up their documents. Many of them deny all knowledge of where they have come from, and we have no idea who they are but, presumably, there should be documentary evidence of anyone who served the Crown in Afghanistan, or for that matter in any other country, or who we trained. We would have their names and details, so surely this problem could be solved easily.

I want to pick up on two other points. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, I know Rwanda and I imagine a few people have been there—I think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, is going there shortly. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I have made common cause on many issues around Africa for a long time. In a region of volatility, Rwanda is a beacon of stability. Would I have chosen Rwanda myself? Not necessarily. There has been a lot of criticism of Rwanda in this Chamber, but since His Excellency Paul Kagame, whom I know very well, took over as president, progress has been made around financial services, tourism and health. Human Rights Watch recently praised Rwanda for the abolition of the death penalty and the use of torture. Transparency International marked Rwanda five out of 47 in terms of corruption indicators. That country has joined the Commonwealth. If you visit Rwanda, you will see the extraordinary progress that it has made. It has signed a treaty that President Kagame has committed himself personally to uphold.

Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Crossbench

The noble Lord referred to Human Rights Watch. I assume that he has read its report on 2022, which stated of Rwanda:

“Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in unofficial detention facilities were common”.

That may not fit with financial services thriving, but it does not point to a safe country.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Ceidwadwyr

I share the noble Baroness’s concerns about Rwanda because there are many areas about which we can be highly critical, but if we listened to some of the criticism of Rwanda as a country not only in this Chamber but in the media and elsewhere, we would conclude that it was incredibly backward and dangerous, which it manifestly is not.

On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made about Rwandan refugees specifically, Clause 4(1) states—the Minister can probably cover this:

“Section 2 does not prevent … the Secretary of State or an immigration officer from deciding … whether … Rwanda is a safe country”.

I humbly suggest that if there were a Rwandan asylum seeker here claiming asylum, they would be covered by that part of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to those three points.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I would not want the noble Lord to proceed on the basis of believing that the JCHR, for instance, which I have been privileged to serve on, was critical of Rwanda. It is very much my view, too, that there has been progress made in Rwanda. What I was talking about before was the volatility within the region and how that can impact. Things changed dramatically in Rwanda, of course, leading to 800,000 people dying in the genocide there.

I draw the noble Lord’s attention to what the committee said on page 13. Talking about the Supreme Court, it said:

“Significantly, the Court did not hold that this was due to a lack of good faith on the part of Rwanda but rather ‘its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required’”.

Does the noble Lord agree?

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Ceidwadwyr

I respect enormously what the noble Lord says. I would just push back slightly. The RPF and Kagame have a huge amount of support. They are running a very strong Government and when that Government sign treaties such as this one, I am confident that they will do their best to uphold their terms. I look forward to carrying on and making concords with the noble Lord, and to what the Minister will say in a moment.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

My Lords, the power of this debate has been absolutely extraordinary. I think the House very much admires the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom—the Minister—who looks to me like a man alone today. I very much hope that he will be able to produce something.

I support all the amendments. Listening to the debate, I was struck by one exchange which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, started and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, followed up. I have wondered why the Government had drafted the Bill in the way that they have. By that, I have in mind its extraordinary beginning, which says:

“The purpose of this Act is to … deter unlawful migration”.

The next subsection begins “To advance that purpose—”, and then the Bill sets out the fact that this agreement has been entered into. This is obviously not there for political reasons only. It must be there to send a message to the courts that have to construe it. I am assuming—I very much hope that the Minister will confirm this—that it is in there not for political but for legal purposes. It is to send the message to the courts as to what the purpose and framework of the Bill is.

If that is right, I assume that what the courts are supposed to do is to construe this very unusual Bill in the context of its purpose. The courts are being asked, very unusually, to exclude the courts from determining whether Rwanda is a safe country. They are being asked to do that to deter illegal immigration. The exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Deben, underlined completely that there are certain categories of people where deterrence never comes into it—for example, the person who is being trafficked or the modern slave.

Presumably, having put all this material into the Bill, the Government intend that the courts should construe it in accordance with its purpose, giving an appropriately targeted meaning to these exclusions of court intervention. If it is absolutely apparent for an individual that deterrence could not possibly be given effect to by the Bill or its terms, obviously its unusual terms do not apply. Can the Minister confirm that the purpose of all these strange provisions—I have in mind Clause 1—is so that the courts have a very clear steer as to what the purpose is, and that they will construe the Bill in accordance with that purpose?

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

My Lords, Mary is 19; she is in Gezira, in Sudan, just by the Ethiopian border. She has been offered employment as domestic staff in Dubai and her passport is taken away for the journey. The employment agency that recruited her from the refugee camp—because she is displaced, like many hundreds of thousands in Gezira—have also taken a record of her family and where they are from, including her grandparents, who are in Darfur. En route to Dubai, she is told that she will no longer work in domestic staff with a named family; she is now going to be in hospitality, and she is quite excited about this. However, on the way, she is rerouted to Europe because her agency said that the hospitality company and the family are no longer able to accommodate her, so she has an alternative job. She will now be going to Birmingham in the UK. This is an extremely long journey for her; she has no choice, of course, because she does not have any papers or a passport. Now that she is in a situation where she is really concerned about how she is getting to Birmingham and for her own safety, she is reminded that those who arranged the travel—originally to Dubai, remember—know where her family are. When she arrives, it is not hospitality in Birmingham—it is prostitution.

This Bill, and the Illegal Migration Act, will mean that she is detained in the UK, not referred to any support, and will be sent to a different country. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, thinks that the Bill will deter her from believing the company who recruited her to Dubai, and she will be deterred from coming to Birmingham. The nonsensity of it is quite hard to credit. We have the national referral mechanism for a purpose, which is to ensure that Mary does not become a double victim, but that is no longer an option for Mary. She is just an example, but it is not a theoretical one, and if noble Lords do not believe me, they should believe the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the excellent work he does, and I hope the Minister was listening careful to his contribution.

According to the latest Home Office data on the arrival on small boats, between 1 January 2018 and 30 June 2023 some 9% were in this category; that is 7,923 people who were referred to the NRM. They are not all Marys; there are many other circumstances, but they follow a very similar trajectory of being lied to, trafficked and blackmailed. The Illegal Migration Act adds an extra sinister element to this blackmail, because Mary would be able to stay in the UK only if she is actively part of the prosecution of the gang in Gezira on the Ethiopian border, which is an impossibility.

The legislation put forward by the Government in the Illegal Migration Act will also no longer be able to be open to Mary. I asked the Minister at Second Reading how the Illegal Migration Act will continue to protect the victims of trafficking—an assertion he made—and he said he would write to me; I have not yet received that letter, so I hope he will be very clear today as to how these people will be protected. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in his powerful contribution, according to Home Office information,

“the majority (78%) of reasonable grounds decisions for small boat arrivals since 2018 have been positive. Of the 780 conclusive grounds decisions issued, 78% were positive”.

These are not people who are gaming a system or, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam said, illegal asylum seekers: they are victims of a heinous crime, many of whom had no idea they would end up as part of a prostitution racket in England.

On Monday, I pressed the Advocate-General on the Government’s official position on whether Rwanda currently has the safeguards in place for those who would be relocated. I remind the Committee that I asked:

“If the Rwandan Government are ‘working towards’ putting safeguards in place, that means they are not currently in place. Is that correct?”

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, replied, “It must do”. So the Government have said that Rwanda is not safe yet and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, that this is not us saying that Rwanda is not safe yet—the Minister said that it is

“working towards having the safeguards in place”.—[Official Report, 12/2/24; cols. 64-65.]

So what safeguards need to be in place for victims of trafficking? I declare an interest in that I have supported charities which have done work on anti-trafficking in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf. The Government, the Home Office and many others use the US Trafficking in Persons report as the gold standard, which I referred to at Second Reading. The most recent TIP report for Rwanda highlights—the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, is right; the Supreme Court also said this—that there is a desire for improvement. Neither I nor anyone else is questioning that; I have been there and met officials, and I do not question that desire for improvement. The question is whether that improvement is in place and sufficient to meet our standards for a place to which we would relocate someone.

The 2023 US TIP report said of Rwanda:

“The government continued to lack specialized standard operating procedures to adequately screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations and did not refer any victims to services. The government provided support to and coordinated with the March 23 Movement … armed group, which forcibly recruited and used children”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, this is not an academic or historical reference. If you go to BBC news, you will see the situation in Goma at the moment. The US State Department is calling on the Rwandan Government to stop supporting this paramilitary group in its aggression and recruiting of refugees to work for paramilitary groups. On 30 November in this House, I raised the Rwandan Government and the M23 group with the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, from the Foreign Office. He acknowledged the significant concern and said that he had raised it with Rwanda, but added:

“We judge doing this privately to have more impact”.—[Official Report, 30/11/23; col. 1174.]

That is not good enough. We are being asked to judge whether it is safe at the moment while Ministers are raising private concerns with Rwandan Ministers.

Other aspects of the anti-trafficking laws in Rwanda have been referred to. The TIP report said:

“The anti-trafficking law stated trafficking victims should not be penalized for their involvement in any unlawful activity that was a direct consequence of being trafficked. However, due to inconsistent use of identification procedures, authorities may have arrested or detained some unidentified trafficking victims, especially among underserved communities such as individuals in commercial sex, adults and children experiencing homelessness, and children in forced begging”.

So, even with the treaty agreements, the country does not have the protections in place and we come back to whether we believe that a treaty will bring about the wholesale improvements we expect. We hope so, but they are not there yet.

The US State Department, which the Home Office cites, has said, and the Minister said on Monday, that those protections are not there yet. Although they are not there yet, some Members feel it is appropriate to detain Mary on arrival and relocate her to a country that does not operate under the minimum standards, because the migration Act and this Bill together mean that there is no protection for her and the many thousands who are in a similar situation. I do not think we should pass this measure. I hope very much—and he does listen—that the Government might find some means by which trafficking victims are even more victimised, because I do not wish to be party to victimising people arriving in this country whom we should be supporting, not deporting.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:15, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, in this Bill we are discussing many of the same issues we discussed during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill. Given the importance of the issues that were raised and the strength of the arguments, it is unfortunate that we are here, not even a year later, asking the Government to ensure protections for vulnerable people, children, those trafficked or sold into slavery and those who have proven themselves friends and allies of our country in Afghanistan in the face of great personal danger. It is disappointing that the Government did not listen on that previous occasion and I hope the Minister has listened to the arguments put forward by noble Lords in Committee today and will respond fully to those concerns.

As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, this has essentially been a debate about exceptions. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, introduced her amendments about exceptions for those who may be victims under the Modern Slavery Act and, as she pointed out, there is a process to go through to make those sorts of assessments. She talked about, first, the referral, then the reasonable grounds submission and the final positive grounds submission. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, the whole purpose of that Act, an Act which the whole of Parliament is proud of, introduced in 2017, is to stop double victims, and that is one category of people who, we argue, through the amendments, should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Browne, in his Amendment 75, gave particular focus to this when he gave those open-source examples of three Afghans who arrived irregularly here on UK shores and who face deportation to Rwanda. His amendments seek to make an exception for those cases as well. I have to say that I think my noble friend’s amendment should be very difficult for the Back Benches of the party opposite to resist. I thought the contribution from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, was particularly supportive when he said that the number one objective is to be seen as a trustworthy country.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Horam, because he was the noble Lord who most clearly articulated the purpose of the Bill as drafted. He said that there needs to be a sharpness and narrowness of definition to achieve the ends and facilitate the removals of people to Rwanda. That was a very clear statement of what is indeed the object of the Bill, but we are talking here about exceptions, about people who may be victims of modern slavery or may have served our country in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The power of the debate is where the moral authority lies. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, made an interesting point. Of course, he is a loyal member of his own party, but he urged the Minister to look for alternative ways to achieve the same ends, and I will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say to that challenge.

I conclude by saying that this has been an extraordinary debate. It goes to the very heart of what our country stands for. It is about integrity, about moral authority and about the rule of law and how our rule of law is viewed by other countries, which are probably watching our debate as we are having it right now. It is in that spirit that I will listen very carefully to the answer of the Minister.

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 taken part in this very thoughtful debate. I reassure noble Lords that my noble and learned friend and I have paid very close attention to all the points that have been made.

As we have heard, these amendments relate to the position of potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery, and exempting people from being relocated to Rwanda, including those who have supported His Majesty’s Armed Forces or the UK Government overseas in certain circumstances.

Of course, we greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas, and we have accepted our moral obligation. That is why there are legal routes for them to come to the UK. For example, all those who enlist and serve in His Majesty’s Armed Forces are exempt from immigration control until they are discharged from regular service. After that, non-UK HM Armed Forces personnel can apply for settlement under the Immigration Rules on discharge, when their exemption from immigration control ends. There are also provisions for family members of HM Armed Forces personnel to come to the UK legally. Anyone eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and Afghan citizens resettlement scheme should apply to come to the UK legally under those routes. As regards the specific case of British Council personnel, they are qualified under the third pathway of the ACRS and places are offered to them. To correct the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, these are not Home Office-run programmes, they are run by the MoD and the Foreign Office.

I have no doubt that, with regard to Amendment 75, the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, would agree with me that we need to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK. A person who arrives in the UK illegally should not be able to make the UK their home and eventually settle here. Regardless of the contribution they have previously made, a person who chooses to come to the UK illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country. Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, know that service- men are a subject of considerable personal importance to me. If they have any particular instances of personnel struggling to access one of those safe and legal routes, I ask them to raise them with me directly.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur

I feel I have to point out to the Minister facts which I took for granted, because they had instructed the Government’s apparent U-turn on the ARAP scheme to review those who had been told they were ineligible for it. That implies that the Government accept the overwhelming evidence that these decisions were made in error on our relationship to people who were otherwise members of the Afghan forces and not our forces, and therefore not able to avail themselves of the provisions that the Minister has described—unnecessarily, I think—to the Committee. It is not those people we are talking about.

We have a group of people who were refused because errors were made. They may also have been refused, in some cases, because there was a deliberate, venal reason by other forces to block them from that arrangement. I do not want to debate that issue; I do not know the facts of it, it is subject to an investigation, and we should not trouble ourselves with it. However, that may be the case.

It comes to this: many of these people applied for the status that would allow them a legal way to come. They were refused—in error, deliberately, or maliciously. The review will tell us that. They were then faced with the choice to stay in Afghanistan and face certain death or to get here somehow. They chose to get here somehow; they had no alternative. There was no legal route open to them. That is the dilemma. It is not that they chose not to “hop on” a British Airways flight and come here, showing their status to allow them to do it. It was taken from them wrongly and they were left in this situation. They had the choice of waiting for their death or getting here. These are not people doing something because they want to—they have no alternative.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:30, 14 Chwefror 2024

I take the noble Lord’s point, and I deeply regret any errors that were made in regard to these personnel. I certainly hope that the investigations are rigorous, and if there is any suggestion of any malicious refusal, the full force of the law should be brought to bear. Those errors have been identified, partly because of the noble Lord’s campaigning, and I am assured that they have been corrected now. Therefore, the point stands: there are safe and legal routes to this country for personnel in these positions.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I will reinforce the point that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has made and I am grateful to the Minister for his patience. The individual cases that I have referred to the Minister have failed to qualify under the ARAP scheme, and yet he, through his own interventions and those of other Ministers, has been able to rectify those issues; there will doubtless be similar cases in the future as well. Should we not at least have a review of how the schemes are running—an open and transparent process—and a review of some of the cases that have already been referred to the Minister, and to the MoD and the Foreign Office, so that we can see how many we are talking about and what is going wrong inside the system that those cases were turned down in the first place?

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I am not sure whether I picked up in the Minister’s response that he included the cohort listed in paragraph (b) of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne; that is, not people who have supported our Armed Forces overseas but

“persons who have been employed by or indirectly contracted to provide services to the United Kingdom Government”.

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

Regarding the applications to the ARAP scheme, clearly, I am not qualified to comment on individual circumstances as described by the noble Lord. I am afraid I do not know the precise details of who is qualified to apply under the ARAP scheme, so I will find that out and come back to the noble Baroness in due course. I cannot give any further comment at this point.

I have heard what has been said, and I will now turn to Amendments 70, 73 and 85, proposed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Amendments 18, 23, and 47, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German. The UK has a proactive duty to identify victims of modern slavery, and we remain committed to ensuring that where indicators that someone is a victim of modern slavery are identified by first responders, they continue to be referred into the national referral mechanism for consideration by the competent authorities. Steps will be taken in all cases to identify whether a person may be a victim of modern slavery, and if a person is referred into the national referral mechanism, a reasonable grounds decision will be made.

Amendment 70 would act to impede the provisions already passed in the Nationality and Borders Act and the Illegal Migration Act that introduced the means to disqualify certain individuals from the national referral mechanism on grounds of public order before a conclusive grounds decision is considered. The amendment is also unnecessary—it is important to be clear on this point—as the Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence.

Regarding victims of modern slavery, Article 5(2)(d) of the treaty obliges the UK to provide Rwanda with

“the outcome of any decision in the United Kingdom as to whether the Relocated Individual is a victim of trafficking”,

and this includes positive reasonable grounds decisions, as well as positive conclusive grounds decisions. Article 13 of the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided by the UK

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

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

This is the point I made at Second Reading. Section 22 of the Illegal Migration Act disapplies all of what the Minister just said when someone arrives by an irregular route. It disapplies the process of someone claiming that they are a victim of trafficking; it disapplies their ability to be referred to the NRM; and it disapplies the Home Office or the receiving officer taking this information. How are they interacting?

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

My Lords, I will repeat the point: the first responders will be expected to refer individuals into the NRM where there are indicators of modern slavery. One of those indicators is whether they claim to be victims of modern slavery.

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

I am still waiting on the letter. Section 22 of the Illegal Migration Act, on modern slavery, disapplies that. It is not possible for that to happen under the Illegal Migration Act.

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

I repeat the points that I have made. I will write the letter to the noble Lord. I have the information, but it is incredibly lengthy and I do not want to repeat it all now. I will make sure it is put down in a letter to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

The Minister cannot get away with this. This is a clear issue of an amendment that has been put specifically regarding these people. Section 22(2) disapplies the prohibition of removing that person. Basically, the Illegal Migration Act does exactly what my noble friend says: these people will not be referred. The answer that the Minister has given from the Dispatch Box does not apply to people who have arrived by an illegal route. What route will they have to be assured that any protection that he has just said will be offered to them in Rwanda will in fact be offered there? There will be no data, no evidence and no protection for them.

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

My Lords, I will go into the detail that I have on what happens when someone arrives illegally and claims to be a victim of modern slavery, both under the Illegal Migration Act and pre-IMA. First responders will be expected to refer individuals into the national referral mechanism where there are indicators of modern slavery, whether IMA or pre-IMA.

Under the IMA, when somebody has arrived in the UK illegally and is therefore subject to the Section 2 duty to make removal arrangements, and has received a positive modern slavery reasonable grounds decision from the competent authorities in the NRM, they will be disqualified from the protections that typically flow from a positive RG decision unless the exceptions in Section 22 of the IMA apply.

Under pre-IMA, when someone has arrived in the UK illegally and they have received a positive modern slavery reasonable grounds decision in the NRM, they are eligible for the protections and support of the recovery period. However, if a public order disqualification, as set out in Section 63 of NABA, is made for an individual, that eligibility for support will not apply and they may be eligible for removal.

The other point is that, as I have said before from the Dispatch Box, the treaty specifically provides that we share information with Rwanda and that extra measures will be provided with regards to the specific vulnerabilities of the types that we are discussing. I hope that goes some way to clarify the picture. I appreciate that it is quite complex to keep up with, and I will write a letter.

Amendments 23 and 47 overlap with later amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be content if I deal with the substance of that amendment when we reach that debate. In summary, Article 3 of the UK-Rwanda treaty makes specific reference to unaccompanied children not being included in the treaty and that the UK Government will not seek to relocate unaccompanied children under the age of 18 to Rwanda.

Amendment 85 looks to put a block on commencement and seeks to ensure that there are detailed assessments of the impact of the Bill on victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. The independent monitoring committee, established on 2 September 2022 under the terms of the initial MoU, has subsequently been enhanced by the treaty between the UK and Rwanda to ensure that the obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. The treaty already makes clear that the agreed monitoring mechanisms must be in place by the time the partnership is operationalised.

As noble Lords also know, the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner started her role on 11 December 2023. The Government will work collaboratively with the commissioner to ensure that modern slavery is effectively tackled in the UK, and will work with international partners to promote best practice.

As set out in the earlier debate, the Government’s assessment in the published policy statement, drawing on wider evidence documents, is that Rwanda is a safe country with respect for the rule of law. The treaty that the UK has agreed with Rwanda makes express provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, demonstrating the commitment of both parties to upholding fundamental human rights and freedoms without discrimination and in line with both our domestic and our international obligations.

Rwanda is a country that cares deeply about refugees, and I thank my noble friend Lord Bellingham for his perspective on this. That is demonstrated by its work with the UNHCR to temporarily accommodate some of the most vulnerable populations who have faced trauma, detention and violence. We are confident that those relocated under our partnership would be safe, as per the assurances negotiated in our legally binding treaty.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Clause 7(2) of the Bill says:

“In this Act, references to a person do not include a person who is a national of the Republic of Rwanda or who has obtained a passport or other document of identity in the Republic of Rwanda”.

All relocated individuals, including potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery, will receive appropriate protections and assistance according to their needs, including referral to specialist services, as appropriate, to protect their welfare.

Morality was mentioned by a number of speakers. I would like to put on the record a slightly different perspective on morality. I think it is immoral not to try to stop vulnerable people being exposed to dangerous and involuntary channel crossings. It is immoral to facilitate the activity of criminal gangs, most of whom, by definition, are also human traffickers. It is our moral imperative to stop these modern-day slavers and smash these criminal gangs that are exploiting people and putting others’ lives at risk. If any victims are identified, as I have repeatedly said, there are safeguards within the treaty to make provision for their vulnerabilities.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Ceidwadwyr

On that point, those of us who raised the question about morality agree with all the Minister said about it but, at this moment, we are clearly uncertain about whether people who have been trafficked are able to get support in this country, from a system that was laid down by a Conservative Prime Minister, before there is any question of them being exported to Rwanda. If the Minister can show that to us in the letter, which I hope he copies to me and to others, we will be prepared to accept that we are being moral, at least in that category. At the moment, it looks to us as if we are not dealing with the issue of people who could not be deterred from coming here because they are being brought here compulsorily.

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

I thank my noble friend for that and will of course make sure that he is copied in to the letter. I heard very clearly what he said, and I speak on behalf of my noble and learned friend. Clearly, we would not wish to argue for a lack of morality in the safeguards that we are putting in place for vulnerable people.

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

I have a specific question to ask. I do not doubt the Minister’s motives or morality; I think that doing this is just wrong. On 12 July—I checked the record—the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, told the House when we were voting on the trafficking amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill that only British nationals could be referred to the NRM. The Minister needs to be very clear in confirming that any national who arrives on a small boat can now be referred to the NRM. That is the clarification that I am seeking from the Minister; it is a very simple question.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:45, 14 Chwefror 2024

Based on the information that I have available to me here, the answer to that is yes. However, I reserve the right to correct that in the letter if I am wrong, for which obviously I will issue the appropriate apologies.

If, despite all those safeguards, an individual considers that Rwanda would not be safe for them, Clause 4 means that decision-makers may consider a claim on such grounds other than in relation to alleged onward refoulement if such a claim is based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances rather than on the ground that Rwanda is not a safe country in general.

I hope that I have been able to provide some reassurance to noble Lords and that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what has been a very powerful and at times deeply moving debate. It reminds us that we are talking not about a group with a label but about fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. In this group we have been talking about some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable: those who have been trafficked, who have not arrived on our shores of free will but who are here because, as my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed said, they have been trafficked, have been brought here against their will and are being held in slavery against their will.

This debate has shown that when reality hits rhetoric, rhetoric never wins. I have not been convinced by the Minister’s responses, and in a way I feel sorry for him, because I am sure that, in his heart of hearts, he does not believe in the majority of the nonsense that comes out of his official briefs on this. It is so incredible that it could be read in a parallel universe, because it is not based in the reality which I think most sensible people in this country would understand.

It is amazing that we as a House of the British Parliament, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, now have to plead in order to try to put in a league table the right of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable for some basic protections that we would want to give every single human being. I do not think that the Minister has convinced me or the majority of the House that the answers he has given do that.

However, despite that, I am sure that on Report we will come back to these important issues of protecting mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. I beg to withdraw Amendment 18.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.