Amendment 40

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:15 pm ar 6 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

40: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Number of individuals relocated to RwandaWithin 60 days of this Act receiving Royal Assent the Secretary of State must provide a written report to Parliament setting out—(a) the number of individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty,(b) the current location and immigration status of any individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires the Secretary to report to Parliament on the operation of the Rwanda Treaty.

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

My Lords, I feel a bit of an impostor with this set of amendments, because I think your Lordships might find it a bit down to earth to deal with some facts. I have been very interested in my approach as a pupil barrister, trying to overcome and understand everything that was going on—I have done my best. I apologise to everyone because my Amendments 40 and 41 are trying to get some facts from the Government about how the Rwanda treaty will operate or not. In Committee the Minister failed to give us many of the various statistics, so I wonder whether we are now in a position where we can get some of the facts around this. The deliberations we have had have been so important for months during which, it seems to me, the Government have become obsessed with Rwanda. Clearly, with respect to various comments that have been made and the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, we will have to see, once the Commons has considered the Bill, what we may wish to consider again in your Lordships’ House.

I point out that in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the Home Secretary wrote that he would consider amendments from your Lordships’ House, so I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, because they got a massive concession from the Home Secretary. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out, that is not really sufficient but it is a change from when the Home Secretary was making a blanket statement that under no circumstances would he consider anything that your Lordships were considering. At least we have gone from a blanket refusal to consider anything to a statement in the Daily Telegraph—I presume it was well sourced since it was a quote; that is not always the case but often is—that the Home Secretary would consider it.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, said that this is not about killing the Bill and, although we may disagree over the extent to which we push this, I think the constitutional proprieties of this place needs restating again. As much as we accept that, as His Majesty’s Opposition, we will not block the Bill, the constitutional quid pro quo is that the Government in the House of Commons, through their elected mandate, accept that we have a right to demand that they think again and revise legislation in view of what is said here. We are not just a talking shop or a Chamber that says what we think for the fun of it: we make serious points about serious legislation that impacts on millions of people in this country and hundreds of millions across the word. A Government should respect that and listen to what has been said, even if, in the end, they reject much of it.

Every Government I have ever been part of or known, whether Conservative, Labour or coalition, have always considered what the House of Lords has said. At times they have said that although we cannot agree with that particular amendment, we will come forward with one of our own that seeks to at least address some of the problems that the Opposition and others have brought forward. That is no doubt the frustration that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was articulating to me, and what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was doing in quite rightly challenging me. We are seeking to challenge the Government to respect the constitutional position of this House. They play with the constitution at their peril; without a written constitution, those unwritten rules and conventions are crucial. I am sorry to spend a couple of minutes repeating that argument from the Dispatch Box—I hope the Prime Minister and others will hear it—but it is of fundamental importance. Without that, people ask what the point is and say that maybe we should take things further than we should.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

Before the noble Lord leaves that point, will he also underline, yet again, the importance, within our constitutional proprieties and parliamentary process, of the place of Select Committees? Neither the Constitution Committee nor the Joint Committee on Human Rights has had a response on this Bill. How on earth can we consider legislation to any serious degree if, when committees established by Parliament look in detail at legislation, the Government then rush the legislation through pell-mell without any consideration to what those committees have found?

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

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, makes the point for himself, and I absolutely support what he has just said.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Ceidwadwyr

The noble Lord is of course quite right that if there is a conflict between the two Houses of Parliament, the elected House must prevail. But there is a power, rarely invoked, for the Lords to block a Bill in a single Parliament and a process under the Parliament Act whereby the elected Government can repeat their legislation, whereupon, quite rightly, we have to concede. I share the suspicion of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that the Labour Party—like every other party contemplating power, and no doubt my own in the past—is hesitant to see the influence of the House of Lords grow at this stage, in case it starts exercising its influence on the successor Government.

If it is announced that we are not going to use our full powers, and if the Government know that they are not remotely going to be expected to rely on the Parliament Act, they are going to listen less to amendments to a Bill of this kind that is regarded as being of electoral importance for some sections of the population by both political parties. Given that we have just been discussing the rules-based international order, our obligations under international law and parliamentary sovereignty being used to sweep away what used to be regarded as our approach to international law, do the Opposition rule out altogether the idea of using the full powers of this House if the Government simply fail to listen at all, and actually blocking the Bill?

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

We have said quite clearly all along that we will not block the Bill. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, that there have been occasions in the past—he probably remembers better than I do—when the Parliament Act has been used. But with respect to this piece of legislation, we have said we will not block the Bill. I say to the Government that the constitutional quid pro quo for that is that they do not turn around, carte blanche, and say they will simply ignore what the House of Lords says.

I challenge the Government. They have challenged me and my party, our Leader in the Lords and our Chief Whip, constantly in the papers. We have been told that the Labour Lords, even though we do not have a majority, are going to block the Bill—that is the accusation—even though we have been clear time after time. Even on Monday, when we debated the Rwanda Bill in this Chamber, we had an article from the Home Secretary saying that those who sought to block the Bill were encouraging right-wing extremists. How is that the action of a responsible Government? How is that the action of a Government respecting the constitutional conventions of our country?

This is not just challenging His Majesty’s Opposition in the House of Lords; it is challenging His Majesty’s Government to respect the conventions and constitution of this country. That is what I object to. Why are we arguing about what His Majesty’s Opposition are doing all the time? Why are we not demanding that the Government, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary respect and obey the constitutional proprieties and conventions of the country? It is they who are driving a coach and horses through it. It is they who are challenging us all the time—the unelected Lords, the people who have no right to say to the elected Parliament, “You’ve got this wrong; you need to think again”—and just dismissing us as a set of trendy, left-wing, out-of-touch lawyers defying the will of the people, when I think every noble Lord in this House is trying to stand up for this House of Lords and say that even though there are differences in this House, there is a majority who think this is wrong.

Where is the challenge to the Government to respect the constitution of this country? Where is the challenge to the Prime Minister, so that instead of decrying this House, he might argue his case and say, “There may be a point here; there may be something that should be revised; there may be something that should be changed; there may be something that should be added to this”? Where is the demand on the Prime Minister to respect the constitution of this country? I am sorry to go on about it, but we play with the constitutional conventions of our country at our peril.

I take what the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, says about the Parliament Act. We have said that we will not block the Bill. I understand the point the noble Lord is making —he is basically saying that because the Government know that we are not going to block the Bill they will just do what they want. Of course, that is the danger—perhaps, the reality—but I am saying that we have said we will not block the Bill, but we demand of His Majesty’s Government that they respect the proper role of this House of Lords, and that they respect our right to say that we believe that certain things in the Bill are wrong. It may be the rule of law, or the compliance with international law, or other things being moved—but, if the Government simply turn around and say that, it will prove not only what I think party political-wise—that the Government are at the fag end of their existence—but will show that they are morally bankrupt as well. I ask the Minister to convey that view to the Government.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

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

I feel like just moving Amendments 40 and 41 and sitting down. I probably should.

These amendments ask the Government to provide some facts with respect to the Bill. We believe that the Bill—as well as the various debates we have had about the rule of law, compliance with international law and so on—is unworkable. We do not think it will work. We think that, in the end, the real number the Government want is one; one plane. The symbolism of one plane taking off is what they want.

Let us just try some facts—how many thousands of people are waiting, under the auspices of the Illegal Migration Act, to be deported somewhere? How many people are the Government going to send to Rwanda? If it is over 300 by the way, it costs an extra £120 million. Where are all these people? We read that the Government have lost a lot of them; they do not know where they are. Can the Government explain why they overspent by £4.5 billion and why the Home Secretary had to ask for an emergency £2.6 billion? Can the Government explain why they believe there is a deterrent, when the Permanent Secretary had to receive a ministerial direction to carry on because he did not believe there was any evidence that there was a deterrent? Yet the Government continued to say that. Instead of a Safety of Rwanda Bill overturning a finding of fact by the Supreme Court, perhaps we could have a government amendment which says, “You have to believe that it is a deterrent”.

Number after number is not provided by the Government. Amendment 40 would require a report on how the Rwanda treaty will operate, and Amendment 41 makes a series of asks of the Government. I will press Amendment 41 to a Division, because I want to know how many asylum seekers there are with respect to the Illegal Migration Act? Where are they? How many are the Government sending to Rwanda? What is the timeline for that? Where is their evidence about deterrence? Why should we believe, without any figures, the Government simply asserting that this will act as a deterrent, and that it will work?

I go back to the point I made at the beginning, which was the brunt of all my remarks. Whatever amendments are passed, be it Amendment 41 or some of those which came earlier or will come later—for example, Amendments 42 and 44—they deserve to be properly considered by the Government, and this place given its due respect.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

Before the noble Lord sits down—and I hesitate to interrupt what has been a wonderfully entertaining and accurate speech—would he like to remind the Minister that, according to the figures issued by the National Audit Office just two days ago, the total cost of sending 300 people to Rwanda would be £569,262,200, and the average cost per person would be £1.9 million? Does he agree that one of the responsibilities of this House is to make the Government literally accountable for the proper and proportionate spending of public money?

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

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for reminding me that I have a copy of that National Audit Office report. He is right—the cost is astronomical, and that is before anybody has been sent. The cost will go up if anybody is sent. The Government have not come forward with those figures; the National Audit Office had to find them out. We have no idea about the number of asylum seekers that the Illegal Migration Act applies to, and we have no idea what the Government will do or how many they expect to send to Rwanda.

It is almost unbelievable that we have spent months debating a Bill that not only brings into question all sorts of constitutional principles that we have debated—and no doubt will come back to—but is unworkable. That is the whole point of my Amendment 41. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Ceidwadwyr

I too enjoyed the vintage, bravura performance from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, but let me move from the high constitutional principle to the practical implication of what he is suggesting in these two amendments. Will they do much good? Not really. Will they do much harm? Not really. They are almost certainly duplicative of other statistics being collected elsewhere.

Where amendments add to a Bill without achieving any value, that is a mistake. We want to keep our legislation—our Acts of Parliament—short, pointed and uncluttered. We do not want to put more baubles on the Christmas tree, and these are two particular baubles.

I say with respect to the noble Lord that he has forgotten about the real world. When this Bill becomes an Act, it will be watched like a hawk by every single Member of your Lordships’ House and the other place. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is not in her place, but she will be putting down a Parliamentary Question about it every day. The idea that, somehow, the Government will slide things through, and that we require these two amendments to make the Government honest is fanciful.

Everybody is going to be watching what happens. Is it going to work? Some Members of your Lordships’ House think it will not, and some think it will, but we do not need the Bill extended with more clauses when all the information that the noble Lord is seeking by these amendments will be available anyway, and certainly will be discovered by Parliamentary Questions, Statements, and all other methods of inquiry.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, if there is no other willing speaker, I say to the House that, set alongside breaching international obligations, outing the jurisdiction of the courts, breaching human rights, and being morally unsupportable, these amendments also show the Bill as unworkable and extremely costly to the taxpayer.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that if we need to know how many, what the consequence will be and how much it will cost, now is the time that we need to know. There is no point finding out after the Bill. It has been extremely difficult to get hold of accurate information on the costs, and I am grateful to the NAO, because it has at least given the published figures some context—but the numbers are tricky.

The trouble with the information we have, of course, is that the Illegal Migration Act itself has created a huge number of people—thousands—who are now in limbo and whose cases have been left because of the way that that Act was constructed. They are unable to have their asylum cases considered, unable to get on with their lives, and unable to work and use their skills and talents, and instead have to live in substandard conditions with no clarity on their fate.

As at December 2023, there are two sets of figures derived from the published figures: there are either 100,000 people awaiting an initial asylum decision, or 128,000 if you include dependants. Some 56% of those made their applications on or after 7 March 2023, when the Illegal Migration Bill was introduced to Parliament. A significant number of these claims will therefore have been deemed inadmissible under that Act, which means their applications are making no progress. Could the Minister tell us how many people are in that limbo at the moment? Given that we understand that the estimates for numbers that can be removed to Rwanda range from 100 to 150 to a couple of hundred, we need a proper policy explanation from the Government as to how they will deal with these asylum seekers. If you divide the number that is possible into the total number of people waiting, this could go on for years and years, and we will still have these people in the country. The Government cannot bury their heads in the sand. These are vulnerable individuals, and we have a responsibility to treat them well. It is just not acceptable to hold all these people in limbo.

On costs, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because I have the figures that the National Audit Office has produced. In detail, there is money to be paid going on, and there is money already being paid, but the essential conclusion of the National Audit Office—I do not think it has a political interest in this, though it certainly has a financial interest—is that the cost will be between £1.9 million and £2 million per person. Add that to the list: we have people in limbo, extraordinary costs, and something in the Bill that is basically inhumane. I therefore support these amendments, because they take us some direction to finding out the real truth.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in his comments. The issues we should be concerned about are the ones that we have just been talking about. They are the real issues—the ones that really matter. We can all make party-political and cross-party references to the amount of money, and I must say that this is not the way I would spend £1.9 million on an individual. I am not known for total support for the Government on everything, but I do not think we really need to go into this. We know a great deal about it. The Government will not improve or lessen the effect of this Bill by telling us these figures. This is something I am perfectly prepared not to support, because I do not think it is important enough, and I do not want this House to be led astray from the key issues.

Throughout this debate, I have said that the thing I am interested in, because of my concern around climate change, is that I want us to clearly support international law. We have no hope of saving the planet, let alone anything else, unless we support international law. Therefore, if this is put to a vote, I shall support the Government, because this is an unnecessary addition, and I want the Government to concentrate on the key issue—that they are undermining our international reputation in a way that is unacceptable, damaging and dangerous. The fact that the Government are also spending a lot of money which does not look as if it will be useful is so much more minor than that, but I will support it.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for introducing these amendments in such fine style. I thank him for acknowledging the Home Secretary’s remarks, but I am sure he would acknowledge that I, my noble and learned friend, and my noble friends on the Front Bench agree with him about respecting the constitutional importance of your Lordships’ House. In answer to the question about the responses to those reports, they are imminent—I promise to fire up the much-vaunted carrier pigeon on that one.

As my noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Deben have noted, it is not necessary to report the number of removals to Parliament in the manner proposed. That is not to say that we do not intend to be completely transparent about the numbers, but rather that we do not consider an obligation to report to Parliament on operational matters to be the appropriate means of achieving this. Once the partnership is operationalised and flights commence, as soon as practicable following Royal Assent removal data will be published online in the usual manner as part of the quarterly immigration statistics. This is standard practice.

We have always been clear that the scheme is uncapped. Resources are being provided under the partnership to develop the capacity of the Rwandan asylum system—we have already provided £20 million upfront to support set-up costs, for example. We anticipate the numbers being relocated ramping up quickly once the partnership starts to operate, in line with Rwanda’s growing capacity.

On the second aspect of the noble Lord’s amendment, it would be wholly inappropriate to share personal data pertaining to the locations of relocated individuals publicly in this manner. The treaty provides that no one relocated will be removed from Rwanda, except in very limited circumstances, to the UK. The UK and Rwanda will co-operate to ensure removal contrary to this obligation does not occur, which may include systems for locating and monitoring the locations of relocated individuals. However, this would be with their express consent only and would not be for wider sharing.

This is in addition to the robust monitoring mechanisms already in place via the monitoring committee to ensure the operation, the findings of which will be reported in line with the agreed procedures set out in the monitoring committee’s terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan, which I set out in some detail earlier in the week and which are published online.

The Government have always been clear that relocated individuals will not be detained. While those in genuine need of safety and protection will be provided with it in Rwanda, should anyone relocated wish to leave Rwanda voluntarily, they are free to do so.

I turn to Amendment 41, which seeks to secure a commitment from the Government to set out the process for how we will remove to Rwanda those who meet the four conditions of Section 2 of the Illegal Migration Act and who have arrived in the UK since 20 July 2023. The Government are considering plans for delivery of the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act in the light of the Supreme Court judgment. The amendment seeks information normally used only for internal government planning purposes; this is not something that is normally shared, nor is it appropriate to legislate for such a commitment. The Government’s primary objective is ensuring flights can relocate people to Rwanda. Once commenced, provisions in the Illegal Migration Act will support this objective.

Furthermore, I can confirm that, where asylum claims are declared inadmissible for those who are subject to the duty to remove, the Government will provide support and accommodation in line with Section 9 of the Illegal Migration Act. I should also make it clear that asylum claims not admitted to the UK asylum system are not considered to be awaiting a substantive asylum decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked for numbers, and I have some that I can share, including the number of asylum applications made since 20 July and before December 2023, which is known as the IMA flow. I should state that these are cases and do not necessarily equal people, because there are cases where multiple people are represented and cases where individuals have lodged multiple cases. The number of cases in that particular cohort is approximately 33,000. For asylum applications made on 7 March 2023 and before 21 July 2023, it is a similar number, at about 22,000. That is the most precise I can be.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the overspend at the Home Office. As has been discussed many times before, that is the cost of bearing the current asylum system, which, as noble Lords will be aware, is costing us £8 million a day. As for asking for evidence of deterrence, deterrence is on the face of the Bill. When the deterrent effect works, this will represent good value, because that £8 million a day will cease to be such a factor.

We recognise the importance of having clear and coherent datasets. I hope I have been able to provide some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and that he does not feel the need to press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 6:45, 6 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I do not feel the need to press Amendment 40, but I will test the opinion of the House on Amendment 41. The only reason why we have any figures at all is that amendment. This Parliament deserves to know the figures under which the Government are operating. As for deterrence, that is just an assertion by the Minister against the advice of his Permanent Secretary. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 40 withdrawn.