Amendment 31

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:00 pm ar 14 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 5:00, 14 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I support Amendment 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, to which I am a signatory. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the amendment and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the role of Parliament if a higher court were to declare this legislation to be incompatible with the convention right, or indeed a number of rights.

We should not forget that the Government have been unable to make a statement in the Bill that it is compatible with convention rights. As the Government nevertheless wish Parliament to proceed with the Bill, it seems prudent to probe what the role of Parliament would be in determining how any potential incompatibility should be addressed. In fact, the Attorney-General has said in the Government’s own legal position paper that it should be for Parliament to address any determination of incompatibility by the courts. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, has eloquently set out the motivation for this amendment, and I agree that what it does is simply to expound what parliamentary sovereignty would look like in this context.

I appreciate that the Government believe that there is no basis for a declaration of incompatibility, and that therefore Section 4 of the Human Rights Act has not been disapplied. However, if Parliament proceeds to pass the Bill on the basis of this view, but the domestic courts declare otherwise, can the Minister say what objection there can be for giving Parliament a clear opportunity to revisit this issue? Surely the Government and Members across all Benches agree that parliamentary sovereignty includes the legislative function’s ability to oversee the executive function. As the legal position paper reads:

“The principle that Parliament should be able to address any determination by the courts of incompatibility, rather than primary legislation being quashed by the courts, is part of the fundamental basis of Parliamentary sovereignty”.

The Human Rights Act does not compel the Government or Parliament to remedy an incompatibility, but Parliament must be able to take steps to do so. It is not unreasonable to expect Ministers to explain—and to explain without delay—why they may not be bringing forward a remedial order. If the Minister disagrees with this supposition, can I ask him to please make clear the Government’s position?

Your Lordships will know that we have spoken with one voice on these Benches, as we believe that the Rwandan partnership agreement is an abdication of both our legal and our moral responsibility to refugees seeking sanctuary here in the UK. It is highly disturbing that this Bill implies that human rights are somewhat discretionary, somehow no longer universal, and that they can be disapplied for those reasons outlined in domestic law.

The fundamental truth that I believe in is that every person is equally deserving of rights, as every person is equally made in the image of God. However, this is not just a theological statement but also an indisputable legal principle that underpins our international human rights framework: that all are equal before the law. Noble Lords will know that I am not a lawyer, but this point was very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. She made it powerfully, better than I could do. Removing asylum seekers from certain protections enshrined by the Human Rights Act severely undermines the universality of human rights and our collective access to justice. As the refugee convention states, protection is not a simple concession made to the refugee; he is not an object of assistance but rather a subject of rights and duties.

Human rights are not an opt-in or opt-out concept, and Section 4 of the Human Rights Act gives the courts the opportunity to remind us of that. This is surely central to the UK’s commitment to the rule of law. Parliament has the right to create law, but our authority cannot extend to creating injustices. Parliament therefore may need to ask whether we should maintain parliamentary consent if the Bill is found to not afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights, and Amendment 33 facilitates this. It is a perilous time for the protection of human rights across the globe, and the UK’s contribution should not be to diminish their value or put them further out of reach for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. I hope and pray, therefore, that we have the chance to revisit the proposals in the Bill.