Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

– in the House of Lords am 3:54 pm ar 19 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee

Debate on Amendment 35 resumed.

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

My Lords, the independent monitoring committee was established on 2 September 2022 under the terms of the initial memorandum of understanding. Its role 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 monitoring committee’s role is to provide an independent assessment of delivery against the assurances set out in the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked last week about how many members of the committee have been appointed, whether the committee has yet agreed the terms of reference that it is supposed to have agreed, and whether they have been published.

The monitoring committee is made up of eight independent experts, whose full details can be found on GOV.UK. Prior to the signing of the treaty between the UK and Rwanda by the Home Secretary and its subsequent laying in Parliament, the monitoring committee met on 4 December 2023 to formally agree the enhanced monitoring provisions the treaty sets out. These build on the terms of reference and monitoring plan that the monitoring committee had produced following the Court of Appeal judgment, the primary purpose being to address the Supreme Court’s concerns about real-time monitoring and thus ensure that mechanisms were in place to prevent the risk of harm to relocated individuals before it could occur. The monitoring committee discussed and approved forward-looking changes to the terms of reference and monitoring plan to enhance the monitoring regime in line with the provisions proposed in the treaty.

To make it clear, the terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan are available publicly on GOV.UK. However, to summarise, it sets out the following details of the committee’s remit: monitoring compliance with the assurances given in the treaty and associated notes verbales; reporting to the joint committee on its findings as to, for example, His Majesty’s Government’s and the Government of Rwanda’s implementation of the obligations in the treaty, reception conditions, accommodation, processing of asylum claims, and treatment and support of relocated individuals at all times while they remain in Rwanda; it may publish its reports following notification to the joint committee; it is expected to report any significant issues to the joint committee straightaway; it may provide advice or recommendations to the joint committee on actions which should be taken to address identified issues; monitoring complaints handling by His Majesty’s Government and the Government of Rwanda; and developing its own complaints system to allow relocated individuals and their legal advisers to make confidential complaints regarding any alleged failure to comply with the obligations in the treaty—including as to treatment of a relocated individual—or any element of the processing of their asylum claim in accordance with the treaty.

As I set out in earlier debates in response to similar amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Article 15 of the treaty provides that the UK and Rwanda must establish and maintain a monitoring committee for the duration of the term of the agreement. This means that both parties are obliged to ensure that the monitoring committee continues in operation for the life of the agreement, and this obligation is binding in international law.

Noble Lords last week also asked about safeguarding arrangements for relocated individuals. Article 13 of the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided about a relocated individual relating to any special needs that may arise and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that those needs are accommodated. The treaty makes it clear that the agreed monitoring mechanisms must be in place by the time the partnership is operationalised. It specifically provides that there will be an enhanced initial monitoring period for a minimum of three months—from the date removal decisions commence in the United Kingdom—where monitoring shall take place daily, to ensure rapid identification and response to any shortcomings.

Under the treaty, the monitoring committee will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring, have unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports, and have the ability to publish those reports as it sees fit. The committee will monitor the entire relocation process from the beginning—including initial screening—to relocation and ongoing settlement and integration in Rwanda.

The monitoring committee will have the ability to make unannounced visits to accommodation, asylum processing centres and any other locations where documents or information relating to relocated individuals, or their claims and appeals, are held. It will also be able to sit in on interviews by the first instance body with the express consent of the individual being interviewed and to observe hearings before the appeal body.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur 4:00, 19 Chwefror 2024

I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but are we right to understand that he is saying that there will be no deportations to Rwanda until the monitoring committee is up and running?

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

As far as I understand it, that is the case.

On a point that we will debate further in relation to Amendment 76A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, during the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee in accordance with an agreed action plan to include weekly and bi-weekly reporting as required. It will otherwise produce a formal written report for the joint committee on a quarterly basis over the first two years of the partnership, setting out its findings and making any recommendations.

The monitoring committee will be supported in all its work by a new support team—

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

Will the Minister say whether the reports from the monitoring committee to the joint committee will be made available to the House?

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

I cannot say that at the moment, but, as I have said, they will be published on a regular basis.

The monitoring committee will be supported in all its work by a new support team, as set out in Article 15.(8) of the treaty. The new support team will consist of individuals who do not work for either the UK Government or the Government of Rwanda. The monitoring committee has already met three times since its inception and has agreed to the publication of its terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan, which are both available online as part of the supporting evidence document that the Government have published. Therefore, we consider that Amendment 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is unnecessary.

Amendments 81 and 82 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and my noble friend Lord Hailsham seek to ensure that the Act does not come into force upon ratification of the treaty but instead requires secondary legislation to be laid before commencement requiring a JCHR report on the safety of Rwanda and agreement on this point from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Amendment 71 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, would introduce a new clause whereby the Secretary of State must lay a statutory instrument before Parliament every six months stating that their assessment is that Rwanda is a safe country. This Bill reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty to people transferred to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty. The treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, already enables Parliament to reach the conclusion that Rwanda is a safe country. There is therefore no requirement for any further legislation or additional reporting prior to commencement.

The UK-Rwanda partnership is a long-term policy and forms part of a wider set of measures to tackle illegal migration. A review of the policy every six months or two years would be an inefficient use of both government and parliamentary time. Furthermore, as I have set out, this is not needed, as the functions of the independent monitoring committee have been enhanced to ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. These arrangements, which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law, will ensure continued compliance with all the terms of the treaty.

It is also worth noting that Article 4.(1) of the treaty sets out clearly that it is for the UK to determine the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under the terms of the agreement and the number of such requests made. The treaty does not place on the UK an obligation to make any such request. This means that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty if there had been, for example, an unexpected change to the in-country situation in Rwanda that required further consideration. As is the case in many scenarios, the Government would be able to respond and adapt as necessary.

I turn to Amendments 69 and 87 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. This legislation does not impact the financial agreement with Rwanda which was reached in 2022 through the memorandum of understanding for the migration and economic development partnership. Noble Lords will be aware that we have provided Rwanda with £220 million as part of the economic transformation fund and £20 million as an advance credit to pay for operational costs in advance of flights commencing. The spend on the MEDP with Rwanda so far is £240 million. In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the £100 million is not a credit line, as he indicated last week.

There was an initial investment of £120 million in 2022 as part of a new economic transformation and integration fund, ETIF, created as part of the MEDP. The ETIF is for the economic growth and development of Rwanda. Investment has been focused in areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and job creation. A further payment of £100 million was made in 2023 through the ETIF as part of the partnership. We anticipate providing another £50 million in the next financial year. This is not new but follows the same arrangement from 2022. We also made a separate payment of £20 million to the Government of Rwanda in 2022 in advance of flights to support initial set-up costs of the asylum and processing arrangements under the MEDP.

With regard to the question of whether there will be another tranche of funding for the Hope hostel in the next financial year, procurement of accommodation is for the Government of Rwanda. Accommodation costs are covered by the funding stream for operationalisation, and it is then up to the Government of Rwanda as to which accommodation they procure. This legislation also does not impact the process for removals to a safe third country, so the appraisal set out in the illegal migration impact assessment remains unaffected. The published economic note on this legislation explained that the exact cost will depend on the details of the implementation and the level of deterrence. The Government are already committed to disclosing further payments made as part of the economic transformation fund and the per-person relocation costs as part of the department’s annual accounts in the normal way.

Your Lordships will also be aware that the National Audit Office will be producing a factual report on the costs of this partnership. Officials have been working closely with the National Audit Office to ensure that they have the relevant information required for this. I cannot give any opinion on the date of publication, but it will likely be in the near future.

Finally, with the—

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, I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the elements of the ETIF and the MEDP, but could he place in the Library a more detailed breakdown? The £20 million credit line for operational does seem to be one part of a credit line. The Minister says that I was incorrect in stating that there was a total of £100 million. I will happily take him at his word if that is the case, but a more detailed breakdown of how much of the expenditure of the Rwandan Government will be UK taxpayers’ money would be helpful. Also, can he confirm whether this is being scored as overseas official development assistance or not?

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

I am happy to commit to providing as much detail as I can in the letter that the noble Lord requests. I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the foreign development aid question, so I will have to look into that and come back to him.

With regard to Amendments 35 and 90 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, it is right that this Bill should apply to anyone arriving after the Rwanda treaty enters into force. It is the treaty, working together with the provisions in this Bill, that underpins the safety of Rwanda. As such, once the treaty is in force the basis for removal under this Bill is established. Clause 9(1) ensures that the Bill and the treaty come into force on the same day. This legislation builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and other immigration Acts. To the extent that those Acts have retrospective effect, this Bill does nothing to change that.

Accommodating migrants in hotels is costing us £8 million each day. That is billions per year, which is clearly not sustainable. If people know that there is no way for them to stay in the UK, they will not leave safe countries such as France to risk their lives and pay criminals thousands of pounds to arrive here illegally. It is therefore only right that we stop the boats and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people. The Government consider this partnership to be a vital investment and therefore I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, indicated in an earlier amendment that the Government would say how Parliament was going to keep its judgment that Rwanda was a safe country under review because circumstances could change. He was going to tell us, but then said that it was going to come in a later amendment. I indicated, at the beginning of this group, which was adjourned from Wednesday, that we were assuming that it would be the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, on this amendment, who was going to tell us how Parliament was going to keep its judgment under review. If it will be in a later amendment, by all means say, but if it is intended to be under this amendment, can the Minister tell us how Parliament is to keep the judgment that it is said we are about to make under review going forward in the future?

Separately from that question, the Minister dealt very shortly with retrospectivity. Does he agree that this Act applies to people who arrived in this country and made a claim for asylum before the Act came into force—and therefore applies retrospectively to them? If it does, what is the Government’s justification for retrospective legislation?

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

Well, my Lords, I recollect the discussion last week between the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend Lord Wolfson. I think my noble friend pointed out that the right to asylum is not a vested legal right—that there is a right to asylum, but not necessarily in the UK. The Government have consistently won in the courts on the point that you can send somebody to another country for asylum—so this is not, in effect, retrospective legislation. As the noble and learned Lord will be aware, I am not a lawyer, but it seemed to me to make some sense when my noble friend was making the argument, so I suggest we go back to that in this case.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

Do I take it, then, that the Government’s position reflects the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson?

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

No, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, summed up the Government’s position rather well, and probably better than I can. I am afraid that we will have to return to the first question asked by the noble and learned Lord in a later group.

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

Before the Minister sits down, I have a practical question. He says that this will apply retrospectively—what is the Government’s assessment of the numbers of people that this applies to?

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

I appreciate that the noble Lord asked me about this in the debate last week as well. I will not give him a precise answer at this moment, but will come back to him.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this group of amendments. It has been an interesting group and I think we have teased out quite a bit of the Government’s intentions. It is clear that thousands of people will have these rules applied to them even though they arrived on the shores of this country when it was admissible for them to stay in the UK. There is no desire in the Government for this Parliament to have effective monitoring of both the treaty and the operational arrangements of what will happen.

It is very clear from this group, from the Minister’s answers and from what noble Lords have teased out, that there is no trigger to determine exactly, on the ground, that Rwanda is safe—it is only a sentiment in this Act of Parliament—and that the treaty arrangements do not have to be in place for Rwanda to be deemed a safe country by the Government. The treaty only has to be signed, rather than the operational arrangements be in place.

It is also clear that the costings and budgets for this are so diffuse that there will be no real public scrutiny or transparency of the costs of this scheme—it will take many years to get to the bottom of that. Even though the monitoring committee will be in place, the important point is that it has no powers of remedy over anything that it sees as wrong.

So this has been a useful part of Committee. There have been very good questions that have teased out some of the issues. I, like many noble Lords, am not convinced that the Government have answered some serious issues regarding the suite of amendments, and I am sure we will come back to some of them on Report. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Disapplication of the Human Rights Act 1998

Amendment 36 not moved.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4: Decisions based on particular individual circumstances

Amendment 37 not moved.