Amendment 9

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:09 pm ar 4 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Lord Anderson of Ipswich:

Moved by Lord Anderson of Ipswich

9: Clause 2, page 2, line 34, at end insert “unless presented with credible evidence to the contrary”Member's explanatory statementThe amendments to Clause 2 in the name of Lord Anderson of Ipswich would allow the presumption that Rwanda is a safe country to be rebutted by credible evidence presented to decision-makers, including courts and tribunals.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 9 and address Amendment 12 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Carlile, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham. I will be brief, because the equivalent amendments were discussed in detail in Committee. I am also very grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead for how he has dealt with pre-emption, which, your Lordships willing, may allow both groups of amendments to stay alive.

Amendment 9 would allow Ministers, officials and courts to depart from the presumption that Rwanda is safe when presented with credible evidence that it is not. Amendment 12 would remove various detailed barriers to that course. Their combined effect is to reverse two of the most revolutionary—I do not use that word in a positive sense— aspects of the Bill. They are the requirement for decision-makers, including courts, to stop their ears to any evidence that does not agree with the Government’s position and the requirement that they should do so for an indefinite period, even if things in Rwanda—as we all hope that they do not—take a turn for the worse.

If noble Lords are in any doubt about how truly remarkable Clause 2 is, I invite them to look at subsection (4). It does not matter how compelling your evidence is of what could happen to you and people like you when you get to Rwanda, it must not even be considered if it questions the proposition that Rwanda is safe.

Subsection (5) sets out the legal principles that have to be ignored to make this clause work—not just the Human Rights Act and international law but

“any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law)”— an insight into the sheer range of legal protections, ancient and modern, that may have to be disregarded in the interests of avoiding the impartial scrutiny of the courts.

If Rwanda is safe, as the Government would have us declare, it has nothing to fear from such scrutiny, yet we are invited to adopt a fiction, to wrap it in the cloak of parliamentary sovereignty and to grant it permanent immunity from challenge—to tell an untruth and call it truth. Why would we go along with that? Clause 2 takes us for fools. Subject to anything that the Minister may say, when these amendments are called, I fully expect to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Llafur

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I am glad that this evening I have started to understand the processes of the House of Lords, having been here only eight years. Therefore, I will not speak to Amendment 6, which had to be withdrawn in order to vote on Amendment 7, even though Amendment 6 was in group three, but there we go.

I can be even briefer than I intended to be, by just saying that when something is a nonsense, it remains a nonsense at whatever stage we happen to be voting on it. Crucially, in terms of what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has rightly said, when circumstances change, most people change their minds. If minds are not allowed to be changed when circumstances change, then we are all extremely foolish.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Howard, on the radio this morning explaining in great detail why Parliament had primacy over the courts. In many respects, as with the doctrines of Lord Jonathan Sumption, I agree. However, when the Government step outside the norms of international conventions which Parliament has ratified and signed up to, then the courts obviously continue to have a substantial role, because those are the checks and balances we have built in.

This evening, we are trying to make sense of a nonsensical piece of legislation. No doubt the House of Commons will just nod through the Government’s rejection of these amendments, but in times to come, when historians look back, I think they will ask: “Where were you and what did you do?” If you cannot answer that in a way that makes you comfortable about your grandchildren seeing it, then do not do it.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur 6:15, 4 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I apologise to your Lordships for my mistakes earlier on, with standing up at the wrong time.

I have Amendment 19 in this group, with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. However, I commend all other amendments, in particular the simple and clear amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. While we suggested a rebuttable presumption, his formulation—that a finding of safety may be displaced by “credible evidence to the contrary”—is clearer and even more attractive. Therefore, I urge him, as he has indicated, to press his amendment to a vote.

In concluding, I merely flag, as a sort of advert for Wednesday, that it is very important that as many noble Lords as possible can be here early on Wednesday to support Amendment 33, which introduces a new Clause 4. That will be debated and pressed then, because without that amendment, which restores the general jurisdiction of the courts, other amendments, even these ones, could well be illusory. The purpose, as I say, is to restore the jurisdiction of courts and tribunals to decide what the facts are, based on the evidence before them, including to invoke this rebuttable presumption. That is what our courts are for, despite all the dancing we heard before about novel interpretations of the rule of law. Our courts are admired for that jurisdiction all over the world. That is what we mean by the rule of law.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I rise briefly to support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has said, as well as, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti; I signed her Amendment 19. This House should try to insist that, if the facts change, a mechanism is provided to the courts to reassess the situation. Anything else is profoundly unjust. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, moves his amendment, I will support him.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

My Lords, as well as supporting the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I rise to speak to Amendment 16, which seeks to minimise the risk of torture arising from the Bill and to safeguard torture survivors. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and my noble friend Lord Cashman for their support. They will speak to the first part of the amendment, while I will focus on the second. We brought it back because of our dissatisfaction with the response from the Minister in Committee. We hope that we might do better now, given the existential importance of torture, which represents one of the most serious of human rights violations.

We know from the work of organisations such as Freedom from Torture and Redress, whose help I am grateful for, that a good number of the asylum seekers in line to be sent to Rwanda will have survived torture. We also know, including from a recent report from the Mental Health Foundation, of the high incidence of mental health difficulties among asylum seekers, the risk of which is increased by traumatic experiences such as torture. These difficulties can only be exacerbated by removal to Rwanda.

In Committee, the Minister pointed out that an individual could challenge removal on the grounds of their “individual circumstances”. But Freedom from Torture warns that providing, in the time available, the necessary “compelling evidence” to meet the exceptionally high bar set by the test means that this does not offer torture survivors an effective safeguard. Indeed, the Minister himself admitted that successful claims on this basis are expected to be “rare”. That might have implications for some other amendments.

In response to my questioning about what mental health support will be available to torture survivors in Rwanda, the Minister referred me to Article 13 of the treaty, but that refers only to the special needs of victims of modern slavery or human trafficking. I can find no reference to the needs of torture survivors.

My noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws interjected that the mental health situation in Rwanda is very poor, with high levels of mental illness but very few suitably trained medical professionals. Since then, I have been referred to WHO’s 2020 mental health profile for Rwanda. This confirms the low level of provision and seems to show that there are no out-patient mental health facilities. If this continues to be the case, would traumatised torture survivors have to be admitted to a mental health unit to obtain any support? As was noted in Committee, civil society remains weak and therefore is unlikely to be able to step in.

More recently, last October, a press release from Interpeace, while commending the efforts that the Rwandan Government have made in this area, warns that

“the country still faces challenges such as the scale of mental health needs that outstrips the capacity of available professionals, low awareness and knowledge of mental health issues” and “poor mental health infrastructure”.

From the Minister’s responses, it would appear that the Government simply do not know what support will be available and have made no attempt to find out, yet they are happy to condemn this highly vulnerable group to a life in a country that, with the best will in the world, is ill placed to provide that support. Of course, ideally, I would want the Government to accept the case for not sending torture survivors to Rwanda. At the very minimum, I ask the Minister to take this issue back to the Home Office—although I am not quite sure which Minister will respond—and give an undertaking that he will ask his colleagues to talk to the Rwandan Government about support for torture survivors and, if necessary, provide the necessary resources to ensure that support is available, perhaps earmarking part of the enormous sum to be paid to Rwanda identified by the NAO.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, what needs to be said about the risk of torture and inhumane treatment has already been set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I simply emphasise the credibility of the reports of ongoing torture of even mild political dissenters, which continues to this day in Rwanda. Nor do freedom of expression and association exist there, however narrowly the terms are defined. However, the genocide ideology law is broadly defined and now carries criminal sanctions. The criminal code has recently been expanded to include

“creating a hostile … opinion of Rwanda” by criticising the Government. These irrefutable reports indicate that Rwanda does not comply with the international obligations under various UN conventions, including the convention against torture. This can only add to the evidence that, at present, Rwanda cannot be regarded as a safe country.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for sponsoring Amendments 9 and 12, to which I have added my name. They take up matters that I and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised in Committee. This evening, Rwanda might be the safest country in Africa for all I know, but over the last few years we have seen a number of military coups and takeovers across African countries. To enshrine in legislation the notion that Rwanda will remain safe whatever seems to beggar belief. Who knows in what state that country might be in six to 12 months’ time? Who knows how safe it will be then? The courts need the ability to take new facts into consideration, to recognise that Rwanda may not be the same in a certain number of weeks, months or years as it was on this evening at the beginning of March 2024. We must have that flexibility. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, will press these amendments to a Division. I will support him in the Lobby if he does.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, as a member of the JCHR delegation, I had the benefit of visiting the very hospital in Kigali that will provide mental health support to relocated individuals. It was an impressive experience. That hospital has very capable psychiatric and psychological care. This is perhaps unsurprising given the context in which Rwanda finds itself. This is a country that, 30 years ago, was caused mass trauma as a consequence of the genocide against the Tutsi, which cost 800,000 lives in Rwanda. You can imagine the impact that has on relatives and those who knew those 800,000 people. Mental health is a widely understood and widely acknowledged issue in Rwanda. The community schemes to work on mental health are abundant. This is a country that understands mental health. The points raised against Rwanda on the basis of mental health are, in my view, unfounded. I do not accept the contentions advanced by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady D’Souza.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murray, and his trying to portray mental health provision within Rwanda. To use his words, the understanding of the illness may be there, and he says that the provision is significant. I point out that there are 13,170 psychiatrists in the UK, which equates to one for every 5,200 citizens. What the noble Lord, Lord Murray, did not tell the House is that there are only 15 psychiatrists in the whole of Rwanda, which equates to one for every 953,000 people. Clearly, the provision is not on the ground. The number of clinical psychologists is not known, but the latest evidence is that it probably runs to fewer than 200. The people who are vulnerable and critically scarred mentally will need the use of psychologists and psychiatrists. The fact is that they are not there. When the noble Lord, Lord Murray, presents his views of what he has seen, they are important, but they must be put into context of exactly what provision there is in Rwanda. Even though the Government may wish to see mental health provision as important, it is not on the ground to treat people already in Rwanda, never mind people who will be going because of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, as I said earlier when talking to a group of amendments, I spent a great deal of time in Rwanda. As anyone who visits knows, the first thing you do is go to the genocide museum to look at the faces of those lost and the skulls, there to remind us that it should not be forgotten. Indeed, the genocide strikes at the very psyche of Rwanda and laws within the country. It is because of our deep concerns, and for the progress that Rwanda has made, that we put forward these amendments based on the safety of those whom we believe are among the most vulnerable in the world.

My name has been added to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister. I believe that she and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, have set out adequately the reasoning for this amendment, so I will not go into further detail. But I will say this: there is evidence of ongoing torture in Rwanda. That was made plain to us during Committee by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. It has been made plain to us in the briefings that we have received from Redress, among others. I make these criticisms with deep regret, because the UK Government cannot be easily forgiven for the harsh spotlight they have put on a country that has striven to improve since that genocide and continues to improve. That is why I say with the greatest respect that our concerns are for the most vulnerable. Those who will go there will pull up the resources there already for those in need.

Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, puts his amendments to the test, I hope your Lordships will support them. As I have said before—I am repeating myself, like a cheap curry—they are so sensible. That is probably why the Government will encourage us to reject them.

Finally, as I said, these amendments are about supporting the most vulnerable and those most in need. If we cannot offer support and consideration to those most in need, then I must ask: what kind of country have we become and what principles do we serve—except perhaps naked self-interest?

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee) 6:30, 4 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 23 and 27, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. They deal with Clause 4(1)(a) and (b), and relate very simply to “compelling evidence”. The threshold is quite simply too high for someone to be found to require “particular individual circumstances” to be considered. The point of these amendments is to take away “compelling”.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I am concerned about Amendment 9 from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, which on the face of it seems extremely reasonable. If new, clear evidence and facts emerge, they should obviously be presented and tackled appropriately, but I wonder whether we are mixing up what the law can do with operational issues. After all, as was explained at some length from the Front Bench in the last debate, we have a monitoring committee with all sorts of bells and whistles, which should be able to pick up anything that is going wrong on the ground floor; it is the ground floor that matters. It is that issue—operational versus the law—that concerns me.

I quote to the House the remarks of Sir Robert Neill, who is a lawyer and chairman of the House of Commons Justice Committee, at Second Reading in the other place:

“Equally, the idea that legislation is the sole or even the principal solution to this situation is, I think, wrong. Ultimately, an operational solution is required … Ultimately, it will be operational measures that make the real difference”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/23; col. 783.]

This is the point: there is a danger of mixing up operational issues, which may be dealt with by the Rwandan Government, the British Government, and the instruments put in place by the treaty, and getting the courts involved at too early or inappropriate a stage. That is the risk with the commendable idea that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop

Noble Lords would expect the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich to support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which I will do, but I want to say a few words about Amendment 39, which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, tabled and to which is added my name and that of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol. It simply asks that the right be given to those who have gone to Rwanda and been granted refugee status to be able to return in some circumstances, because it may well be that Rwanda is not a country where they should remain. Noble Lords can imagine issues around language, the possibility of destitution, risks to victims of modern slavery—various circumstances. Not allowing those granted refugee status to return to the UK seems a failure in the Bill.

This is not unprecedented. Indeed, the arrangements currently being made between Albania and Italy mean that those processed in Albania can, if they choose to do so, return to Italy. I urge that this amendment be considered as a way of making that option available.

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

My Lords, we very much support Amendments 9 and 12, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has led on. They would allow the presumption that Rwanda is a safe country to be rebutted by credible evidence presented to decision-makers, including courts and tribunals. If he were to test the opinion of the House, we would support him.

I will refer to my Amendment 29, which I hope gives some evidence of the need for the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Amendment 29 would take out Clause 4(2). I tabled it because Clause 4(2) says that

“subsection (1) does not permit a decision-maker”— however that is defined, whether it is the Secretary of State, a court or a tribunal—

“to consider any matter, claim or complaint to the extent that it relates to the issue of whether the Republic of Rwanda will or may remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of any of its … obligations”.

In other words, an individual cannot put before the court or a tribunal not that they “may” be refouled but, using the Government’s own words in Clause 4(2), that they “will” be refouled. I could just about understand it if it had “may”, but if an individual cannot even argue that they “will” be then I would find that quite astonishing. Therefore, I suggest that my Amendment 29 highlights why Amendments 9 and 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, are needed.

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

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will turn first to Amendment 39, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. As I set out in Committee, we do not consider it necessary to make this amendment.

Clause 1 sets out the obligations that the Government of Rwanda have committed to under the new treaty. The addition the noble Lord proposes does not reflect the arrangements under the treaty. Enabling persons whose claims are successful in Rwanda to return to the UK would be entirely inconsistent with the terms and objectives of the treaty. Those relocated to Rwanda are not intended to be returned to the UK, except in limited circumstances. Article 9 of the treaty clearly sets out that Rwanda shall process claims for asylum in accordance with the refugee convention and this agreement.

Since the partnership was announced, UK officials have worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that individuals relocated under the agreement will be safe and that their rights will be protected. Human rights have been a key consideration throughout this work, including the treaty, to confirm the principles for the treatment of all relocated individuals in an internationally binding agreement and strengthened monitoring mechanisms to ensure practical delivery against the obligations. For example, individuals, once relocated, will have freedom of movement. They will not be at any risk of destitution, as they will be accommodated and supported for five years. They will have access to a generous integration package so that they can study, undertake training and work, and access healthcare.

For those who are not registered as refugees, Rwanda shall consider whether the relocated individual has another humanitarian protection need. Where such a humanitarian protection need exists, Rwanda shall provide treatment consistent with that offered to those recognised as refugees and permission to remain in Rwanda. Such persons shall be afforded equivalent rights and treatment to those recognised as refugees and shall be treated in accordance with international and Rwandan laws. For those relocated individuals not recognised as refugees or granted protection, Article 10 of the treaty provides that Rwanda shall regularise their status in the form of a permanent residence permit and provide equivalent treatment as set out in Part 2 of Annex A.

It is the Government of Rwanda, and not the UK Government, who will consider asylum or protection claims and who will grant refugee or protection status to those relocated to Rwanda under the treaty that will underpin the migration and economic development partnership. As is made clear in the agreed terms of the treaty, those relocated will not be returned to the UK except in limited specified circumstances. Obtaining refugee status in Rwanda does not grant that person any rights within the UK, as would be the case for any other person granted refugee status in Rwanda who had not been relocated from the UK. Anyone seeking entry to the UK in the future would have to apply through legal routes, such as the work or family route, with no guarantee of acceptance.

Amendments 9 and 12 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and Amendment 19 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seek to qualify the requirement for decision-makers, including courts and tribunals, to conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country, thus allowing individuals to challenge removal decisions on the grounds that Rwanda is not a generally safe country.

The treaty, the Bill and the evidence together demonstrate that Rwanda is safe for relocated individuals and that the Government’s approach is tough but fair and lawful. The Government are clear that we assess Rwanda to be a safe country, and we have published detailed evidence that substantiates this assessment. This is a central feature of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic courts. The conclusive presumption in the Bill that Rwanda is generally a safe country is not, as the noble Lord suggested, a “legal fiction”.

The courts have not concluded that there is a general risk to the safety of relocated individuals in Rwanda. Rather, the Supreme Court’s findings were limited to perceived deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system and the resulting risk of refoulement should any lack of capacity or expertise lead to cases being wrongly decided. As we have repeatedly set out, the treaty responds to those key findings. The assurances we have since negotiated in our legally binding treaty with Rwanda directly address these findings by making detailed provision for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, ensuring that they will be offered safety and protection, with no risk of refoulement.

We have been clear that the purpose of this legislation is to stop the boats, and to do that we must create a deterrent that shows that, if you enter the UK illegally, you will not be able to stay. We cannot allow systematic legal challenges to continue to frustrate and delay removals. It is therefore right that the scope for individualised claims remains limited, to prevent the merry-go-round of legal challenges and enable us to remove from the UK individuals who have entered illegally. We cannot allow illegal entrants to be able to thwart their removal when there is a clear process for the consideration of a claim based on a risk of serious and irreversible harm. We cannot allow the kinds of spurious legal challenges we have been seeing for far too long to continue.

It is for this reason that I cannot accept Amendments 23 and 27 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which seek to lower the threshold for a claim or appeal brought on the grounds that Rwanda is unsafe to succeed. These amendments undermine the core principle of the Bill, which is to limit challenges brought against the safety of Rwanda. The Bill makes it clear that Rwanda is generally safe and that decision-makers, as well as courts and tribunals, must treat it conclusively as such. This reflects the Government’s confidence in the assurances of the treaty and in Rwanda’s commitment and capability to deliver against these obligations. As I have set out, the UK Government and the Government of Rwanda have agreed and begun to implement assurances and commitments to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system.

Following on from my previous point with regard to relocated individuals in Rwanda being offered safety and protection with no risk of refoulement, I now turn to Amendments 11, 14, 15 and 29 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I consider these amendments to be unnecessary. As I have just stated, yes, the Supreme Court did find deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system that meant there was a risk that those relocated under the terms of the previous memorandum of understanding with Rwanda could be refouled. However, the UK and Rwanda have since worked closely together to address the court’s conclusions.

As noble Lords are aware, the Supreme Court could consider evidence only up to summer 2022, which was not reflective of the current evidential position. Not only could the court not consider additional work undertaken with the Government of Rwanda to build capacity in the Rwandan asylum system, but it had not had the opportunity to consider the terms agreed under our new legally binding treaty with Rwanda. The treaty makes very clear that no one relocated to Rwanda will be returned to another country, except, in very limited circumstances, back to the UK. This expressly addresses the court’s conclusions by eliminating the risk of refoulement.

As I have said previously, and as I stated in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, following the debate on this matter in Committee, the treaty contains, among other provisions, a definitive undertaking from the Government of Rwanda that they will not remove any person relocated under the MEDP, except to the UK, in accordance with Article 11(1).

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

Can the Minister confirm that the arrangement described in Article 10(3) of the treaty has been devised: that is, the arrangement to ensure that refoulement does not in practice occur? The treaty imposes an obligation on both parties to agree a process. Has it been agreed, and can we see it?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:45, 4 Mawrth 2024

I am afraid I do not know the answer to that question. I will find out and come back to the noble Lord on whether it has been agreed and where we are.

We therefore believe that there is no need for this to be considered when making individualised assessments as to the safety of Rwanda.

The treaty also enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, which we discussed on the previous group. The monitoring committee will provide real-time, comprehensive monitoring of the end-to-end relocation and asylum process, ensuring delivery against the terms of the agreement and in line with both countries’ international obligations. This will prevent the risk of any harm to relocated individuals, including potential refoulement, before it has a chance to occur.

Rwanda is one step closer to ratifying the treaty, as discussed, which has passed through its lower house in Parliament. Once ratified, the treaty will become law in Rwanda. It follows that the Government of Rwanda would be required to give effect to the terms of the treaty in accordance with its domestic law, as well as international law. Those in genuine need of safety and security will be provided with it in Rwanda.

Turning to Amendment 16 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, we do not accept that individuals relocated to Rwanda would be at risk of torture or any other form of inhumane or degrading treatment. The Government’s assessment is that Rwanda is a safe country that respects the rule of law. Rwanda is a signatory to the United Nations convention against torture, the convention on refugees and other core UN human rights conventions. It has also signed the treaty with us which guarantees the welfare of all those relocated under the partnership. The enhanced monitoring committee will be in place to robustly monitor adherence to these obligations. Should somebody with a particular vulnerability be relocated to Rwanda, there will be the necessary treatment and specialist support available, with safeguarding processes in place.

Furthermore, Clause 4 preserves the ability of individuals to challenge removal due to their particular individual circumstances if there is compelling evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country for them. That is the appropriate mechanism to ensure that an individual’s circumstances have been considered.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

I am sorry to interrupt. What investigations have the Government made of whether that support is available in Rwanda? This is not a criticism of Rwanda but an acceptance of the fact that it is a country that has poor provision, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and others. On being able to say that it is not safe for an individual, as the Minister’s colleague said in Committee, the Government expect this to be successful very rarely, so that is no safeguard, really.

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

I was about to answer the noble Baroness’s questions, because safeguarding arrangements are set out in detail in the standard operating procedure on identifying and safeguarding vulnerability, which states that, at any stage in the refugee’s status determination and integration process, officials may encounter and should have due regard to the physical and psychological signs that can indicate that a person is vulnerable. The SOP sets out the process for identifying vulnerable persons and, where appropriate, making safeguarding referrals to the relevant protection team.

Screening interviews to identify vulnerability will be conducted by protection officers who have received the relevant training and are equipped to competently handle safeguarding referrals. The protection team may trigger follow-up assessments and/or treatment as appropriate. In addition, protection officers may support an individual to engage in the asylum process and advise relevant officials of any support needs or adjustments to enable the individual to engage with the process. Where appropriate, the protection team may refer vulnerable individuals for external support, which may include medical and/or psycho-social support or support with their accommodation. Where possible, this should be with the informed consent of the individual.

As regards capacity, of course it will be in place. The policy statement sets out at paragraph 135:

“In line with our obligations under the Refugee Convention and to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, each Relocated Individual will have access to quality preventative and curative primary and secondary healthcare services that are at least of the standard available to Rwandan nationals. This is provided through a comprehensive agreement between the Government of Rwanda and medical insurance companies for the duration of 5 years and through MoUs with hospitals in Kigali”.

I also say at this point that it would be in the best mental health interests of those seeking asylum who are victims to seek asylum in the first safe country that they come to. Why would they risk their health and mental health crossing the channel in much more grave circumstances than they need to?

Noble Lords will know that over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers have already successfully found safety in Rwanda. International organisations including the UNHCR chose Rwanda to host these individuals. We are committed to delivering this partnership. With the treaty and published evidence pack, we are satisfied that Rwanda can be deemed a safe country through this legislation. I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this fast-paced debate, and for the generous and constructive contributions that we have heard from all corners of this House. I shall not dwell on them individually, but I will single out the contributions that we heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, on the subject of torture. Although my amendments are broader than theirs, theirs serve as a reminder that even evidence of widespread torture would be off limits if Clause 2 were not amended as they and I wish.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Murray, that I am delighted by what he says he has seen in Rwanda. However, with great respect to him, the points that he makes in no way remove the desirability of ensuring that, should protections not prove to be adequate—including, for example, protections against the risk of refoulement contrary to the terms of an agreement, as we saw when the Rwanda/Israel agreement was in force—the decision-makers and courts should be able to take those matters into account. That is all that these amendments contend for.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Horam, that it is operational measures that will make the difference; he must be right about that. Those are the sorts of measures that were identified by the International Agreements Committee in its list of nine or 10, and in Article 10(3) of the treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, these will be unfinished business even when the treaty is ratified. The purpose of the courts is simply to check that those measures meet the minimum thresholds laid down by law.

The Minister made the point that the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court were limited to specific issues regarding refoulement and suggested that, had they not been resolved already, those issues would be easily resolved in the near future. The Minister asks us to take a good deal on trust. I understand that a letter has been circulated this afternoon; it certainly did not reach me. Whether that includes, for example, full details relating to the Rwanda asylum Bill, which nobody seemed to have seen when we debated this in Committee, and whether it contains full details of the arrangements to ensure non-refoulement, which are referred to in Article 10(3) of the treaty, I cannot say.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Speaking for myself, I would just say in answer to the noble Lord’s questions that the answer is no.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I am grateful. I should say in fairness to the Minister that I did have a letter about Northern Ireland. It did not touch on those issues.

I acknowledge the confidence with which the Minister defended the position on the ground in Rwanda. This is all the more reason to accept these amendments. The more confident the Government are in the safety of Rwanda, the less they have to fear. For these reasons, I am minded to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.

Ayes 258, Noes 171.

Rhif adran 4 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 9

Ie: 256 Members of the House of Lords

Na: 169 Members of the House of Lords

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Amendment 9 agreed.

Amendment 9 agreed.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:06, 4 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I cannot call Amendments 10 and 11 due to pre-emption. I remind the House that Peers should not cross the Floor between the Woolsack and the clerks during voting. If Amendment 12 is agreed, I cannot call Amendments 13 to 16 due to pre-emption.

Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.