Amendment 45

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 8:00 pm ar 6 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Chakrabarti:

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

45: Clause 9, page 6, line 38, leave out subsection (1) and insert—“(1) This Act comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint.(1A) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless— (a) the Secretary of State has laid a statement before each House of Parliament pursuant to section 1(1C), and(b) a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(1B) The Secretary of State may by regulations made in accordance with subsection (1A), provide for the Act to be in force for an initial period not exceeding 2 years (the initial implementation period).(1C) At the expiration of the initial implementation period, the Secretary of State may by regulations made in accordance with subsection (1A), provide for a further period during which the Act will be in force, provided that such an extension is for a period not exceeding 2 years.(1D) At the expiration of the first extension and in respect of any subsequent extension, the Secretary of State, may by regulation, made in accordance with subsection (1A) provide for the Act to be in force for a further period, any such extension must not be for a period exceeding two years.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment replaces commencement of the Bill, currently triggered by the entry into force of the Rwanda Treaty (an executive act), and the Act’s continuation for periods of no more than two years, with a parliamentary trigger requiring both a statement from the Secretary of State and resolution of each House of Parliament.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, there is always an alpha and an omega, and here we are. Earlier, the Minister said that he does not apologise for insisting on accountability—parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary accountability for the crucial decisions that are being discussed here. He said, “We will not ratify until we are satisfied that various provisions of the Rwanda treaty have been fully implemented”. Who is “I” and who is “we”? I think the Government’s argument throughout the Bill’s deliberations has been about parliamentary sovereignty, which is a fair point, but if it is parliamentary sovereignty and not executive domination, my Amendment 45, supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, really challenges the Government to say whether they believe in parliamentary sovereignty, as opposed to executive domination. This amendment is about commencement. It would give Parliament, rather than just the Executive, a role. As I see the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his place, I ask him to explain.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I will make just a one-minute contribution to this debate on Amendment 45. This is the rolling sunset to which I have previously referred. It is a natural phenomenon not previously identified by meteorologists, but the purpose is, as the noble Baroness has said, to ensure that the Secretary of State is accountable. He or she has to come to Parliament to trigger the commencement, and the rolling sunset provides for assessment every two years, in effect. That seems to me highly desirable, and in that spirit of desirability I support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

I am very interested in this amendment. It gets rid of the current commencement provision, Clause 9(1), that says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.

Article 24 of the agreement says:

“This Agreement shall enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by the Parties”— that is, the parties to the agreement—

“that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed”.

There is a statement that the only thing needed in order for the Bill to come into force is the bringing forward of this new legislation, the Bill we are debating now. I assume, on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said when he visited the Rwandan Parliament, that the Rwandan Government have now done all that is necessary to ratify the agreement.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

If it will assist the noble and learned Lord, the Chamber of Deputies of the Rwandan Parliament has approved the treaty. It needs to go to the Senate, and that should happen in the next fortnight or thereabouts, as I understand it.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, for telling me that. Perhaps the Minister could give us details of when the Government of the United Kingdom expect the Government of Rwanda to have done all that is required under Article 24. When do they expect the last notification from the Rwandan Government? Am I right in saying that all that is required for this agreement to be ratified by the UK Government is this Bill becoming an Act, which presumably means when it gets Royal Assent? If that is right, will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, explain to the House when the Act is going to come into force? On the face of it, it looks like it will come into force when the agreement with Rwanda comes into force. On the face of the Rwanda agreement, it looks like that comes into force when the last thing that is required for ratification takes place. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said a moment ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said, the Government will not bring it into force until they are satisfied that the agreement with Rwanda has been properly implemented. Well, that is not what the Act appears to say, so will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, explain what appears to be a contradiction?

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 46 in my name. It has become clear, as we get towards the end of Report, that the Government have got themself into something of a pickle over the last few days of Committee and Report. There is so much information missing and so much information that the Government have promised that, by the last group of amendments on Report, we still have not got. It is important that we have it because, as we should remember, the provisions of the Bill say that this Parliament will determine whether Rwanda is a safe country, yet from the Government Front Bench they still have not been able to convince many noble Lords that the provisions that would make Rwanda safe are actually in place.

Normally, country notes are reviewed by the independent inspector—but, now that they have been sacked, what will happen? The previous independent inspector confirmed to my noble friend Lord Purvis on 17 January of this year that at that point the Home Office had not even asked the independent inspector to review the Rwandan country note to give his independent view on whether, in this case, Rwanda was indeed a safe country. Has the Home Office now asked the opinion of the independent inspector? Has the independent inspector been able to reply, to review the country notes and to give an opinion on whether Rwanda is a safe country or not? If not, how does the Home Office expect normal procedures to continue before this Parliament can form an opinion on whether Rwanda is a safe country—by reading the independent review of the country notes by the chief inspector, as would normally be the case?

This amendment is not about the rights and wrongs of the inspector’s dismissal, but it is about the reality of having a chief inspector in post so that independent monitoring can be done. It is quite interesting that the 13 reports published on 29 February, some of which had been held back since the previous April, show some deeply concerning findings. The findings in these ICIBI reports of Home Office failings demonstrate that it is critical that the Home Office is held to account by an independent body. This situation creates a vacuum of independent oversight and accountability, just as the department is talking about placing people within the Rwanda scheme and sending them there. It is closing down access to the UK asylum system, by implementing provisions of the Illegal Migration Act, for people to be able to claim asylum here in the UK.

I understand that the Government wish to hurry the operation of this Act without proper safeguards being in place and that it is a political priority for them to do that, but let me be clear that this House and this Parliament should not be ridden over roughshod and should have proper procedures and safeguards in place and be able to see what the independent inspector would think.

On the small boats inspections at Western Jet Foil and Tug Haven, the previous inspector said that the Home Office had “actively suppressed”—his words, not mine—the report for approximately six months. Importantly, when the report was published, the Home Office finally accepted the findings that exposed some of the risks that had been identified. In October 2022, having been to Manston, the previous inspector exposed, in his words, “the wretched conditions” that were experienced there and which prompted the Home Office to bring about immediate and active changes.

This is a tried-and-tested system of effective and independent monitoring which gets the Home Office to act. It is important that this Parliament has before it that review before we can decide whether Rwanda is a safe country. I know that the Minister may respond from the Dispatch Box that there is an independent monitoring committee in the treaty, but it is not fully independent, because Article 16(5) makes it clear that the co-chairs of the joint committee can add to the terms of reference of the monitoring committee. It is a very strange position that an independent monitoring committee can have its terms of reference added to by the very body that it is meant to be reporting to about whether something is safe and acting appropriately.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

Article 16(5) of the treaty confirms that any alteration to the terms of reference of the monitoring committee must not be,

“contrary to those provided in Article 15” of the treaty. Article 15 sets out pretty comprehensively what the independent monitoring committee should be doing.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

The very fact that extra terms of reference can be given by the co-chairs of the joint committee shows that it is not truly independent; that is the point I make.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on what I have just said, because it is clear that tried-and-tested experience, backed up with 30 civil servants, would show whether the promised obligations in Act and the treaty indeed were in place and had been implemented to a standard that gives people dignity, safety and future security, so that if this terrible Bill is enacted, no one is offshored to a place that clearly at present has not met the test set down by the Supreme Court and so cannot be considered a safe place.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, Amendment 45 touches on an issue on which we have already voted on Report; namely, Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, which would create a mechanism for ensuring that the safety of Rwanda as an ongoing condition of the scheme. We regard it as an excellent addition to the Bill and I hope our colleagues in the other place will give it serious consideration. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, referred to it as a rolling sunset, but nevertheless the point remains.

Amendment 46 was introduced comprehensively by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. He pointed to the 13 damning reports that were released on the same day that demonstrate the dangerous place our border security and immigration system is now in. I have a few questions for the Minister. Does he agree with David Neal that the protection of the border is neither effective nor efficient? When will the Minister announce the replacement for David Neal? Will there be somebody on an interim basis? What are the Government going to do to respond to the serious issues raised by the report? I look forward to his answers.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:15, 6 Mawrth 2024

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this relatively brief debate. Amendment 45 relates to the commencement of the Act. The Government have already set out their assessment that Rwanda is a safe country and can comply with its treaty obligations. In reaching this assessment, we have closely and carefully scrutinised all the circumstances of the country and information from appropriate sources, all of which are set out in the policy statement which is available on GOV.UK.

In response to questions raised in Committee, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, with regard to the process for making amendments and whether the treaty will follow the CRaG process, which I committed to look into further, I think it is worth stepping back quickly to remind noble Lords of the process and where we stand today. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act lays out how treaties are to be introduced and the necessary steps before we can proceed to ratification. The normal CRaG process has been followed and will continue to be followed. The treaty was laid before both Houses for 21 sitting days as required; the Commons did not resolve to ratify the treaty; we acknowledged the Motion in this House not to ratify, and the Government are considering next steps.

The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan Governments have made, consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection. It also commits both Governments to deliver against key legal assurances in response to the UK Supreme Court’s conclusions. As has been said before from this Dispatch Box, the Government will ratify the treaty in the UK only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty.

In answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, I am afraid I cannot comment on exactly when that will happen in Rwanda. As my noble friend Lord Murray pointed out, it still needs to go through the upper house.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

Will the Minister identify what “internal procedures”—I am using the phrase from Article 24—are left for the UK to go through before the treaty is ratified?

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

I am afraid I cannot clarify that but, as I have said, the Government will ratify in the UK only once we agree with Rwanda all those necessary steps and the implementation is in place.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

Will the Minister undertake to write to those of us in the House who are interested in this before Third Reading?

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

Yes, I can certainly undertake to do that.

Furthermore, I can confirm that under Article 20 of the treaty the agreement may be amended at any time by mutual agreement between the parties. Agreed amendments shall enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by the parties that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed. To be clear, any amendments made to the Rwanda treaty would need to comply with CRaG.

On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, as noble Lords will know, the department carefully considers each report’s findings and these are often complex matters. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration monitors and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of the immigration, asylum, nationality and customs functions carried out.

I appreciate that the noble Lord said this is not about getting into the rights and wrongs, but I am afraid that is not the case; it is about getting into the rights and wrongs of why the contract with Mr Neal was terminated. I will repeat what I said earlier in a Question. He released sensitive and misleading information from unpublished reports well within the time commitment for publication, so the Home Office did not have time to fact-check and redact inappropriate material. That is germane to this debate.

On the number of reports that were released last week, yes, there were 13 and they were released at speed, as Parliament requested and demanded. In those 13 reports, there were 27 recommendations; 18 have been accepted, eight were partially accepted and one was not accepted. I rehearsed earlier today the arguments about the accuracy of some of those reports, and I therefore think that that is a high number in the circumstances. On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the Home Secretary has committed to look into appointing an interim chief inspector, and I cannot improve on his words at the moment.

However, going back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made, the MEDP with Rwanda has its own independent monitoring regime in the form of the monitoring committee. This committee will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring and have unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessment and reports—we have discussed that at some length.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth; he is completely right about his reference to Article 15. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, pointed out, Article 16(5) says:

“The co-chairs may set terms of reference for the Monitoring Committee in addition to but not contrary to those provided in Article 15 of this Agreement”.

I will not read out all 10 paragraphs of Article 15, but they are very comprehensive indeed.

The need for a statement on the impact of this Act, before it comes into force, is simply not necessary. As we set out at length in earlier debates, the monitoring committee has been appointed; it will provide real-time comprehensive monitoring—with an initial period of enhanced monitoring—of the end-to-end relocation and claims process, to ensure compliance with the standards agreed in the standard operating procedures and the treaty obligations. The monitoring committee will undertake daily monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months, to ensure rapid identification of and response to any shortcomings. This enhanced phase will ensure that the comprehensive monitoring and reporting takes place in real time, and the monitoring committee will ensure that there is a daily presence of the support team on the ground through this enhanced phase.

On that basis, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Before the Minister sits down, let me say that I asked four very specific questions about the chief inspector’s view on the country notes. Has the Home Office asked the chief inspector’s office? Has a view come back? If not, what would happen if that normal procedure has not taken place, particularly in light of the fact that Parliament is being asked to say that Rwanda is a safe place, for which that kind of information would be normally available from the chief inspector? Would the Minister please answer those questions, which he clearly overlooked at the Dispatch Box?

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

My Lords, I did not entirely overlook them; I thought they were redundant, on the basis that there is no chief inspector—he has been sacked—so, no, we have not asked the chief inspector to look at the matter. As and when an interim is appointed, I am sure that will be part of his remit.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, as always, I am grateful to all noble Lords, not only those who have spoken in this group, which is supposed to be about commencement of the Act, but also to those who participated in this important Report stage where 10 very important amendments—all of which improve rather than wreck the Bill—have been passed.

However, there is an alpha and an omega, and I remind noble Lords and Ministers opposite that, right at the beginning of the Bill, we are told in Clause 1(2)(b) that

“this Act gives effect to the judgement of Parliament”— not the judgment of the Government or the Prime Minister, or the Home Secretary of the day, but the judgment of Parliament—

“that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.

Amendment 45 is about giving Parliament a role in commencement of the Bill, because ratification of the Rwanda treaty is obviously an Executive act, not a parliamentary one, in the current terms. That is all; that is not wrecking—it is improvement. Many noble Lords have made that point.

In earlier debates, noble Lords, including noble and learned Lords, and Ministers have spoken about decrees. But this is Britain in the first quarter of the 21st century and we do not rule by decree; we govern by consent, democracy and accountability built on the rule of law. Commencement of this very controversial legislation should be by parliamentary judgment, as the Bill provides in Clause 1, and not by Executive decree, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, mentioned earlier, and certainly not by just simple treaty ratification, which is an Executive act.

I am not going to press this amendment, but before this Bill returns, much amended, to the other place, I ask the noble Lords and Ministers to consider—because their whole argument is based on accountability and parliamentary sovereignty—whether Parliament, rather than Ministers or the Executive alone, should have a role in determining whether Rwanda is actually safe and continually safe, and whether this Bill, which may become an Act, should be brought into force. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.

Amendments 46 and 47 not moved.

Amendment 48 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

House adjourned at 8.25 pm.