Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Reasons – in the House of Lords am 7:15 pm ar 22 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Lord Anderson of Ipswich:

Moved by Lord Anderson of Ipswich

At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 3J in lieu—

3J: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—“(7) The Republic of Rwanda may be treated as a safe country for the purposes of this Act only once the Secretary of State, having consulted the Monitoring Committee formed under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty, has made a statement to Parliament to that effect.(8) The Republic of Rwanda must cease to be treated as a safe country for the purposes of this Act once the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament to that effect.””

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I beg to move Motion A1 as an amendment to Motion A. I do so in the unavoidable absence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who tabled the previous versions of Amendment 3 and has been good enough to approve this one.

We are in the endgame now. We will, this week, have a law that provides for the offshore processing and settlement of asylum seekers in Rwanda. Its benefits remain to be seen. Its costs will be measured not only in money but in principles debased—disregard for our international commitments, avoiding statutory protections for the vulnerable, and the removal of judicial scrutiny over the core issue of the safety of Rwanda. That is now a fact, and there is nothing more we can do about it.

But there is a further principle, as precious as any of those, to which we can still hold fast. One might call it the principle of honesty in lawmaking. I presume on your Lordships’ patience this evening because we have it in our power to reinstate that principle without damaging the purpose of this Bill or delaying its passage any further. We are concerned with the safety of Rwanda, both in the present and in the future. This Bill is honest about neither.

The present position is governed by Clause 1(2) of the Bill, which

“gives effect to the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”, yet there has been no statement even by the Government that Rwanda is currently a safe country, as defined in Clause 1(5). The Minister said just now—I noted his words; they are the same words he used last Wednesday—that

“we 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

This has not yet happened. Against the background of what the Supreme Court described on the evidence before it as

“the past and continuing practice of refoulement”, those obligations include, by Article 10(3) of the treaty, the agreement of an “effective system” to ensure that refoulement no longer occurs. The Minister has repeatedly declined the invitations of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to confirm that this system—a precondition for the safety of Rwanda—is fully set up and ready to go. Neither have we heard anything from the monitoring committee. While the Minister’s confidence is comforting up to a point, we are simply not in a position to make the judgment this Bill imputes to us.

The Bill’s treatment of the future is still further from reality. Parliament is asked to declare that Rwanda will always be a safe country, even if the progress made since the genocide of the 1990s—and one can only commend Rwanda on that—should ever falter or go into reverse. Decision-makers, immigration officials, courts and even the Secretary of State are bound by Clause 2 to treat Rwanda conclusively as safe in perpetuity.

Bluntly, we are asked to be complicit in a present-day untruth and a future fantasy, by making a factual judgment not backed by evidence, then by declaring that this judgment must stand for all time, irrespective of the true facts—this in the context not of some technical deeming provision in the tax code but of a factual determination on a matter of huge controversy on which the safety of human beings will depend. This is a post-truth Bill. To adapt a phrase we have often heard from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, it takes the culture of justification, which is a trademark of this House, and replaces it with a culture of assertion. It takes hopes and rebadges them as facts. It uses the sovereign status of this Parliament as a shield from scrutiny, and it makes a mockery of this Bill.

My amendment addresses first the present and then the future. The first part, proposed new subsection (7), requires the Secretary of State to tell us when, in his judgment, Rwanda is safe. It is this statement, not the judgment we are supposed to be reaching tonight, that will determine when the flights may lawfully begin. He has the detailed evidence on this. Despite our best efforts, we have had only scraps.

In previous versions of the amendment, this ministerial statement on the safety of Rwanda has been conditional on a favourable opinion from the Government’s own monitoring committee, established under the treaty, which we are told is already operational and which is ideally placed to assess the evidence. It has been objected, on previous occasions, that the monitoring committee should have no more than an advisory role. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and I have listened and have revised this amendment, which now provides only for the monitoring committee to be consulted. The statement on safety would be purely for the Secretary of State.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, asked the Minister last Tuesday to confirm that

“before the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is a safe country, they will seek the views of the monitoring committee

No such assurance was forthcoming. I cannot say why not; perhaps we will get an assurance this evening. Failing that, this amendment would write one into law.

The second part of my amendment, proposed new subsection (8), deals with the future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out the problem in these terms:

“no provision is made anywhere in the Bill for what should happen if the facts change and everyone can see that Rwanda is no longer safe

Sir Jeremy Wright, Sir Bob Neill, and Sir Robert Buckland—none of them lefty lawyers, the last time I checked—have made the same point in the Commons debates. The Minister indicated last week that if the Government thought Rwanda had become unsafe, there might be some unspecified “parliamentary occasion” to mark that development, but of course no such occasion, other than the passage of a full Act of Parliament, could do the trick. I think that was effectively acknowledged by the Minister in the Commons this afternoon.

This assumption of perpetual parliamentary infallibility is an embarrassment and a nonsense. Fortunately, there is an alternative, which presents not the slightest threat to what the Government are seeking to achieve. Proposed new subsection 8 would give the Secretary of State an untrammelled power to decide in the future that Rwanda is no longer a safe country. Such a decision would release all decision-makers, including himself, from a legal fiction that makes the law look like an ass and those who make it asses.

So there is a speedy and effective way to reinstate the principle of honesty in lawmaking. To quote the parting words of Sir Robert Buckland, who rebelled this afternoon, alongside Sir Jeremy Wright, “Sort this out now”. I persist in the hope that reason may yet break out in the Minister’s response. If it does not, I propose to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur 7:30, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I will speak to Motion B1 and Amendment 10H in lieu. I have given a great deal of thought, in recent times, to the question of what courage and strength look like. I ask myself today whether it a desperate and unpopular Prime Minister threatening to keep some of us septuagenarians up all night if we do not bow to his will, or putting yourself and your family in mortal peril by fighting totalitarianism alongside British forces with no idea of how that struggle will end. I know which I consider to be brave and strong, and I believe that the overwhelming majority of your Lordships, like others up and down the United Kingdom, of whatever age or political persuasion, agree. For weeks, Ministers have toured the TV and radio studios, saying that to repay our debt of honour to those who have served the Crown, in Afghanistan in particular, would open the floodgates of applications. If the concession I seek would open such floodgates, creating oceans of imposters, this would be only as a result of the Government’s own incompetence and lack of preparation. It is incompetence, as well as dishonour, that has brought us here this evening.

In the summer of 2021, the former Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, told us in a statement to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, that the Government were developing a plan for the evacuation of our exposed allies and agents from Afghanistan. If your Lordships will allow me a moment, I will read my exact words when reporting this to the House:

“Dominic Raab told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that, back in July, the Government were planning for the possibility of an evacuation of British citizens and those who were quite rightly entitled to think that we had a moral obligation to secure their lives

I remember, post Operation Pitting, asking if someone would share that plan with me, to see whether it included the reality that those who were sent to help people evacuate left before those who needed to be evacuated could be.

In a Statement repeated in your Lordships’ House and set out in full in Hansard on 7 September, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told your Lordships that the Taliban must ensure safe passage and that the Government would keep ongoing evacuation plans under review in respect of such people. He said this:

“Let me say to anyone to whom we have made commitments and who is currently in Afghanistan: we are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and, as soon as routes are available, we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/21; col. 21.]

Those are the words of the Prime Minister, repeated here. After the Statement was repeated in your Lordships’ House, we were told that this plan had been in existence for most of that year and that it had been reviewed in January, and was repeatedly reviewed, so that the chaos that we saw at Kabul airport would not happen—but it did.

You would have thought that, with all of that planning and information behind it, and having recruited and trained the Triples and paid them out of the embassy in Kabul, the 2,000 people who made them up—who were most at risk, and who had been working for us, in harm’s way—would have been known about, recorded and evacuated, and that it would have been the simplest thing in the world to triage anybody who claimed to be of that group out of the ARAP process. That is not how it turned out. Instead, a great many were left behind, and so the disastrous evacuation plan of 2021 continues.

The Government created this problem, which has caused at least nine of those who fought for us to be executed by the Taliban because the promised safe passage never appeared. His Majesty’s Government told us, even last week, that there would be no concession in respect of those people who had come here because they were frightened for their lives, and were entitled to be frightened for their lives and to find a way of getting here if there was no safe passage.

Why no concession for so long? I am asked this question every day—every day, since we started debating this issue, I am asked by many people, including many Conservative politicians, why there has been no concession: “Why have they not been able to work something out with you? Why the delay?”, they ask me. Either the Government have no confidence in their ability to implement this plan and are seeking in some way to delay it—considering it to be not their responsibility—or they just want the theatre of delay to their flagship Bill, so as to blame Labour, the Lords, the courts and so on. Today, the Government finally bring a concession: having offered and then withdrawn it last week, they refused to put it in the Bill.

I break away now to ask the Minister to re-read the passage of his speech that I call a concession—I know he does not—and to read it a bit more slowly, so that we can understand its implications. If not, if he has a printed a copy, I will read it slowly. I invite him to read it again, please. Will the Minister do that now, as it is important to the rest of my speech?

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

With the leave of the House, I will read it very slowly:

“That means that once this review of ARAP decisions for those with credible links to Afghan specialist units has concluded, the Government will not remove to Rwanda those who have received a positive eligibility decision as a result of this review, where they are already in the UK as of today”.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Llafur

You cannot be removed and deported to Rwanda unless you are here by what the Government call illegal means and what I call irregular means. Those words are important for this reason. The Minister does not believe this to be a concession; it is to him a restatement of what he has been telling us for some time, but in a different form. In my view it is quite clearly a concession, although I guarantee that the media out there are being briefed that it is not, because there can be no concessions on this Bill.

Let me tell noble Lords why it is a concession. At Report on this Bill in your Lordships’ House, on 4 March, as recorded at col. 1420 in Hansard, I asked this question of the Minister:

“Will the Minister answer the question I asked in February when this review was announced”— meaning the Triples review of eligibility for ARAP—

“will anyone who is eligible but was told they were ineligible—and acted in a way in which a small number of them did in extremis to protect themselves from possible death—be disqualified from being allowed to become eligible on review? Will they be excluded from the requirement of the Illegal Migration Act and this Bill if it becomes law that they must be deported to Rwanda?”

The Minister answered—it was the first time he was in a position to do so:

“As I understand it, they will be deported to Rwanda”.—[Official Report, 4/3/24; cols. 1420-1421.]

Now they will not be. That is a concession in anybody’s language.

It is an extremely important concession, because these are the small number of people who I have said, in every speech I have made in support of my amendment, are the target of my ambition that they will not be deported. Today, the Government finally bring a concession, having offered then withdrawn it, so should I trust them at their word? They left these people behind; they messed up any subsequent evacuation plan. This is a third opportunity competently to do the right thing. Why should I trust them now?

I will tell your Lordships why I am minded to consider doing so, although I have not yet made up my mind. It is because we are now part of a grand coalition, including noble and gallant Lords, many very senior politicians and officials, who have secured this country for years and put their names to this, veterans, campaigners and many voters of all persuasions and traditions across our nations—and we will not be silent until today’s promise is honoured by this Government or the next one.

Finally, what does this ignominious history tell us about the Rwanda policy as a whole? There were no safe routes for those heroes to whom we owe a debt of honour, still less are there safe routes for any other genuine refugees worthy of the promise of the refugee convention—also paid for in courage and strength in an earlier war, so many years ago. While I may not press my Motion this evening, I look forward to the day when a Labour Government repeal this immoral and unlawful excuse for legislation in total.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. His persistence, his clarity and his determination have, in my view, led to a meaningful concession—and it is a concession—by the Government on a very important issue. To those who say that your Lordships’ House has not behaved legitimately and constitutionally in relation to this Bill, we can at the very least point to the concession that has been made to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as justification for still being here debating the Bill tonight.

I stand principally to speak in total support of the admirable speech given by my noble friend Lord Anderson in favour of Motion A1. I will return briefly to Motion A1 in a few moments but, before I do, I wish to place on the record something which concerns me very much about the fact that we are debating this matter at all today. I do so with appreciation for the characteristically gracious and considerate words spoken by the Government Chief Whip earlier this afternoon. I was not in the House, because I did not know she was going to say it, but I have been able to watch it on that splendid organ, parliamentlive.tv.

I speak as a religiously confused person, born with 100% Jewish blood but brought up in the Church of England by convert parents. I note that there may well be some Jewish Peers in the House today. Others, I know, are absent on the grounds of conviction and conscience, for today is the first day of the Passover festival—of Pessach, one of the Jewish religion’s most sacred holidays. It is a day when Jewish families gather, sometimes with their friends—I should have been at one such event tonight—around a dinner table to pray, to eat, to sing and to retell the story of the exodus, with the help of a narrative liturgy called the Haggadah. For those who have been to such a Seder, it is a joyful experience and it brings home to one the importance of the first day of Passover. I am told that strong representations were made, not least by the Labour Party, through the usual channels, to avoid the final stages of the safety of Rwanda Bill being heard today. The Jewish community, although it places great importance on the first and second days of Pessach, would have been willing to be here tomorrow or any other day this week. Unfortunately, that was refused.

I have tried hard to think of a legitimate reason for that refusal. If this debate had taken place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, or next week, it would not have made any material difference to the Government’s position. Nothing that was said by the Prime Minister, who on 11 November displayed, properly and rightly, his devotion to his own religion in public, has justified choosing today for this debate. I take it as an offence to our ambitions for diversity in this country— sermon over.

I now turn to the Government’s inexplicable refusal to accept my noble and learned friend Lord Hope’s amendments and what are now my noble friend Lord Anderson’s amendments. All they would require was for a very small piece of verification to take place in Parliament—a verification that either Rwanda is a safe country or that it is not. Surely it is right that if there is to be the kind of fiction spoken of eloquently by my noble friend, there should be that verification in Parliament. At the moment, even if the Secretary of State became aware that Rwanda was non-compliant, the Bill as it stands would mean it would still be deemed compliant. Is there anybody in this House who does not honestly think that is nonsense?

Then we have the rhetoric that has been behind this. Even this morning, the Prime Minister talked about stopping the boats and claimed that the worldwide publicity this Bill has received has resulted in stopping them. Well, he has not been reading the same newspapers and watching the same websites as me, I am afraid. In the last two and a half months, the number of people on those boats has increased over the previous year. He chose to give the figures for an earlier period in his extraordinary press conference this morning. That adage—stop the boats—has become just an idle boast. I say to the Government: it is time to stop the boasts, because this is not stopping the boats.

Then we have discovered this in recent days. Do your Lordships remember that picture of then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman sitting and looking admiringly on some quite nice-looking houses which had been built in Rwanda for the refugees to come from the United Kingdom? Now we learn that a lot of them have been sold. If you tried to book a holiday and the travel agent said to you, “It’s a beautiful island, but there is no property for you to stay in and we are not sure you can get there”, you would think that travel agent was mad. Yet that is a fair metaphor for the Government’s behaviour on this Bill.

Then there is the question of the aircraft. We heard this morning from the Prime Minister that, apparently, there is a contract with a carrier. I hope the Minister, who has treated this House with enormous care and respect on the Bill—I really admire the way that he has dealt with it—will continue to do so by telling the House some detail as to whether there really is a contract. I am afraid, given the fictions that there are around the basis and at the root of the Bill, that I am not sure I believe there is a contract. What sort of company is it with and are there pilots who have declared that they are willing to fly the planes carrying those refugees? I am far from sure that that is the case.

Would the Minister take the trouble to get someone to explain to the Prime Minister that it is deeply insulting to the jurisdiction that brings so much foreign money into the United Kingdom to describe the European Court of Human Rights as a foreign court? It is not a foreign court; it is an international court. I am sure that, somehow or other, the Government might be persuaded to get that into their heads. It is causing enormous difficulty for those of us who try to defend our jurisdiction to hear Ministers tell that untruth.

Perhaps the Minister would care to tell us how many times the United Kingdom Government have relied on the European Convention on Human Rights in international cases and in cases in this country? When I was a part-time judge I sat in the Administrative Court, which was a great privilege for any part-time judge. I am absolutely certain that the number of times the European convention was relied on by government lawyers appearing for their client, the Government, is beyond normal counting.

Finally, I ask noble Lords to reflect for a moment on the cost of this whole Bill. We have now had some accurate numbers from the relevant government accounting organisation. We were told in this very Chamber that a maximum of 300 people were going to Rwanda at a cost which, at that time a couple of weeks ago, was estimated at between £550 million and £600 million. I commented at the time that we could send them to the Ritz hotel in Paris for a couple of years and still have some change. I have been corrected; I am not sure how much change there would have been. But it is an enormous sum of money to deal with a very small number of people.

The Government have suddenly decided to do something they should have done years ago: to appoint more judges to deal with asylum and immigration cases, to have more civil servants who are specialised in dealing with these cases, and to deal with the problem they have brought on themselves. I am very disappointed that, by the end of tonight, this Bill will pass. It is an awful Bill. It is the worst Bill I have seen in my 38 years in one or the other House of Parliament. I will certainly vote in favour of Motion A1.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Ceidwadwyr 7:45, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I want to say a few words after the bravura performances from the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Carlile of Berriew.

I take a slightly different view. Before we get into the detail, we need to remember the purpose behind the Bill as seen across the country. First, the Bill is designed to stop the boats. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pointed out that in fact the number of people crossing on the boats is increasing. That is probably because they realise that, if this is stopped, then they had better get here before that. Secondly, we need to remember that, in doing that, we are seeking to stop people drowning and dying in the channel. Thirdly, we are trying to break the economic model of the people smugglers. Fourthly, and most importantly, we are trying to ensure that people do not jump the queue, either because they are coming from countries which are safe or because they are economic migrants and are not in any way asylum seekers or refugees.

Whether the Bill will meet its objectives, of course I do not know. It may well be that “I told you so” will be a very frequent refrain a year from now. But I do know two things. First, it cannot make the situation worse. People will not go down to the beaches in Calais to come here because we pass this Bill. Secondly, at present it is the only game in town.

I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Of course, he has very persuasive arguments; honeyed words which we have heard. I have heard them many times on Radio 4 and at other times, and congratulated him on them. He says that this will be a small amendment that does not really make any difference. I entirely accept what he says.

However, anybody who is going to vote for this tonight needs to think in their heart whether they are really seeking to improve the Bill or to impede it but not wreck it. They are engaged in what I might describe as a game of dragon’s teeth. The House will recall the mythological tale of Cadmus and the foundation of Thebes. He killed the dragon and planted the teeth on the ground. They had the fortunate aspect of springing up into fully fledged warriors. Each time they were struck down, more warriors came up in their place. Sometimes, when I hear speeches from around your Lordships’ House, behind all the obvious belief that comes with them, I think, “Hang on. Behind this is a wish not to let this Bill through at all. People are thinking, ‘We do not like the Bill, but we do not want to be put in the position where we are going to kill it’”.

It has particularly revolved around the issue of the judgment of the Supreme Court on whether Rwanda is a safe country. “Safe” is a big word and particularly a big word with the weight placed on it in this regard. It is entirely true that in very few cases are we entirely safe. I find myself wondering whether “judgment” is the right word or whether what the Supreme Court undertook was a risk assessment, which is a different approach.

Members of your Lordships’ House will probably be aware of the concept of assessor bias—that we are much more ready to put low risks on to problems with which we are familiar compared with those with which we are unfamiliar. In that sense maybe because we are familiar with the Government and the legal systems of, for example, France and Germany and western Europe and not with an African country, some additional risk may be placed and we need to consider that very carefully.

Let me make it clear that I am not in any way impugning the good faith of the Supreme Court. What I am saying is that the court’s risk assessment needs to be weighed and balanced against the other assessments and the undertakings given by my noble friend on the Front Bench—for which, by the way, the Government will be held responsible by Parliament. There are also third-party assessments, such as the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which rates Rwanda 12th out of 54 African countries. I have said in past speeches that other third-party risk assessments give confidence to my support for this Bill.

My last question is for His Majesty’s loyal Opposition. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that he is looking forward to some commitments from them, if they are to form the next Government. I have said to some noble Lords that, when I am sitting here in a long, perhaps rather tedious, Committee, I think, “What great stars of stage and screen would be best portrayed by the great men and women who cover our Front Benches?” The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is, for me, Harrison Ford, slashing his way through the parliamentary undergrowth—and very effectively too. But it cannot disguise the lacuna at the centre of the Opposition’s position. Of course, now, with the polling, they will clearly be expecting—

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

I am so grateful to the noble Lord for momentarily giving way. I think Isb speak for most of us on this side when I say that we understand that his comments are sincere and in no way a filibuster, but would he consider whether casting everyone in their Hollywood guises is an appropriate use of the House’s time this evening? Might he just focus on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, which very briefly and very simply requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report from a treaty and a monitoring committee of his own making? That is the amendment that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is addressing. Does addressing that really require the honeyed words and Technicolor that we are currently listening to?

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Ceidwadwyr 8:00, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am sorry if I was not clear. I think I have spent some time discussing the issue of risk assessment and the way the risk is being weighed by various parties, various people and various bodies. This is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has arrived at: it is his assessment of where we are on the risk profile. I have said that I fully accept his position as being entirely genuine.

On the last point, we are now standing on the edge of a period of possible political change. I am sure that Members of the party opposite are hoping that they will be here next year and we will be over there. It is not unfair, in those circumstances, for us to ask the Opposition tonight, as we come to this very critical point—the point everyone agrees is critical—and for the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to tell us, if this Bill works, and they form the next Government, whether they intend to continue to use this Bill or if they would scrap it. If they would scrap it, the country is entitled to know. If they would continue to use it, then let us stop the dragon’s teeth, let us stop playing games, and let us get on, pass this Bill into law and make sure that what happens happens.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I will dwell on the amendments before us. While I would love to stray into almost Second Reading speeches, like we have heard, on the state of the Bill as a whole, the issue before us are the very specific amendments that have been put down.

I want to say something about what the House of Commons has been doing. Other people have been calling this House the body that is responsible for delay. The delay is not caused by this House. We could have been dealing with this on other days earlier than this. It is at the choosing of the Government, in the other House, how this Bill plays through this House. Therefore, we cannot be accused of not doing our job properly, because that is what we are doing. It is the Government who have been slowing down the business of the Commons, for whatever reasons they feel are acceptable to them. This House is doing the proper job; certainly, we are with these amendments before us today, because the reasons we are debating and pressing these very important safeguards on this House and on this Parliament are so important.

We are asked to declare, in the Bill we are debating, that Rwanda is safe for refugees and asylum seekers. Yet, when asked when the policy on refoulement—the most principal policy that was pointed out by the Supreme Court—is to be put in place, the Government could not give any answer at all. I ask the Government tonight: what assurances can they give that the policy on refoulement, and the appropriate training and systems to support it, will be in place in the next 10 to 12 weeks? That 10 to 12 weeks is important, given the statement by the Prime Minister this morning.

A second protection, in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is for the future, since as the Bill stands it binds a Secretary of State in perpetuity.

I now turn, very briefly, to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne. I listened very carefully for repetition, which he asked us to do. It seemed to me that there was one very specific group of people who will not be subject to the concession called for by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. It will not work for people who have a justifiable claim and are, at this moment, outside the United Kingdom. That is a very specific group of people. Some of them in Pakistan are being threatened with being sent back to Afghanistan, based upon the experience of a Bill of a similar sort to the one we are debating tonight.

My belief—and, I hope, the belief of this House and, certainly, the belief of these Benches—is that, for those people who were allies, there must be a record somewhere. There must be a record, if they were an ally of ours. Somewhere they were employed by the British forces, or somewhere they were being paid for out of British funds. Somewhere they will be on a company record for supplying services to the United Kingdom’s forces. So it is the Government who will know who these people are, and they will know when an application comes before them, whether there is the prospect of success for them. What I did not hear tonight, and this House did not hear tonight, was a copper-bottomed guarantee that those people, seeking applications to come here from outside the United Kingdom, will not be sent to Rwanda either. That guarantee was not given, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, will reflect on that matter, when he comes to discuss this at the conclusion of this debate.

In conclusion, it seems to us on these Benches that, despite what we feel about this Bill—and I echo many, in fact all, of the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because we have made them, and we made them a right at the beginning of the Bill at the appropriate time—now is the time for seeking amendments that actually safeguard critical groups of people and, most importantly, the critical role this Parliament plays. We are being asked to make a judgment. The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, helps this Parliament make some brave and right choices—to be able to tell the truth about matters, rather than leaving it to fiction.

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

My Lords, I start by saying straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, since he asked me what we would do, if—and I emphasise “if”—we win the next election: we will repeal the Bill. We have been quite clear about that, but that is not what we are debating this evening. We are debating the Bill that we have before us and, in particular, the two Motions A1 and B1.

I think it is important that we dispel some of the myths around the debate that has taken place today, started by the Prime Minister this morning in his press conference. He seemed to imply that the debate in this Chamber is between those who want to stop the boats and those who do not, whereas I have made the case continually, as every Member across this Chamber has done, that we all agree that we need to stop the boats; the dispute in this place is about exactly the right way to go about that and to do that. That is the important distinction that lies between us.

We believe that the Bill as it stands is inconsistent with the principles and traditions of our country and, as such, that is why we oppose it and the various arguments that have been made. Never have I stood at this Dispatch Box and at any time said to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the Government Chief Whip or the Leader of the House that we will block the Bill. That has never been the policy of His Majesty’s Opposition, and never been something we have said from this Dispatch Box; indeed, we voted against a Motion that was put before us some weeks ago to do that. But we have also said that we would stand up for the proper position of this House. The proper role of this Chamber is to argue, to debate, to revise, to suggest amendments and to put forward that case. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, I hope he is in a position, in a few months’ time, where he is stood here doing exactly the same as I am, and being as a frustrating and challenging as I am trying to be to him, because that is the proper role of the House of Lords. Therefore, it is important that we do that.

I cannot remember which noble Lord said this, but if the Government were as worried about the delay as they say they are, why on earth did they not sort all this out before Easter? All their own side were whipped to be here on a Monday after we debated on the Wednesday, only to have a further email go out to say they would no longer be required. That is how much of an emergency the legislation was. The Government could have cleared this before Easter, and yet they did not, presumably because the Prime Minister could not guarantee that everything was in order for the Bill to work. Let us not talk about the House of Lords delaying the legislation; let us look at the Government’s timetabling of their own business and their inability to get that right. Even today, the Government in a press conference to the lobby, as I understand it, could not give any detail of the numbers that they expect to be subject to the provisions of this treaty—the numbers of flights they expect or, indeed, the exact date when it will take place.

This has never been an argument about the integrity of this Chamber. I do not believe that there is a single Member of this Parliament, in the other place or this Chamber, or any of the journalists who report our proceedings, who does not have proper integrity. I would not have gone on the radio, as a Government Minister did this morning, and accused this House of bordering on racism in the way in which it debated the Rwanda treaty. That is a shocking and appalling comment to make. I do not believe that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, thinks, and I do not think that anyone in here has been bordering on racism in anything that they have said. I have heard detailed arguments and positions espoused by many, but nobody in here—or in the other place, or anybody who reports on these proceedings—has been anywhere near racist or racism. There is a legitimate difference of view, but we should not resort to those sorts of things being said.

I object also to what the Prime Minister did this morning, when he suggested that those of us who opposed the Rwanda Bill before us lacked compassion—that somehow there was anybody who was not opposed to the drownings or some of the appalling things that we see. Of course, we are all opposed to that—there is not a single individual in this Chamber, in the press or in the other place who does not abhor some of that which takes place. But that is the context in which we have been debating this issue.

We are quite right to turn to around and say that we should look at what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is saying, and what my noble friend Lord Browne is saying. But it is not just about Labour Peers. Again, the Prime Minister and other people have gone on saying, “Labour is blocking this—Labour Peers are blocking this”. We do not have a majority in here to block anything; we have to have the support of Cross-Benchers, Tory Peers abstaining or disappearing, as well as the Liberal Democrats voting with us and everybody else.

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

Sorry, I missed out the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. It is like being at a wedding—you know that you are going to miss somebody out. You go through all the aunts and uncles and all the other relatives and you see the glower of Aunt Mabel from the back—not that that is you, Lady Jones! But seriously, that includes the Greens, of course. It is about all of us who believe that the Bill is wrong standing together. That is why it is important.

If the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, chooses to put his Motion A1 to the vote, of course we will support it and will be pleased to support it. It is a sensible amendment—it does not block the Bill; it simply says to the Government that they should let the monitoring committee that they themselves have set up talk to the Secretary of State, who can then make a Statement to Parliament saying that Rwanda is safe. That also gives the Government a get-out clause by saying that in future the Secretary of State, presumably on the advice of the monitoring committee, can say that Rwanda is not safe—whereas under the Bill at the moment, whatever happens, they are compelled to believe that it is safe. It is a perfectly sensible amendment.

I come to my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment. It is a meaningful concession on the part of the Government, and that is a really important statement to make. Let me say to all those who are listening that when people question why it is important sometimes that the Lords stands firm and challenges the Government of the day, whatever Government that is, and why it sometimes says to the Government, “You’ve got this wrong and you need to think again”—in this case, thanks to tenacious noble Lords and the brilliance of my noble friend Lord Browne in what he has done—the reason why it is important is because sometimes the Government give way. That is what has happened. If we had not pushed this last week, this concession would not have happened. If we had given way two months ago, it would not have happened.

So far from this being about the Lords blocking anything or delaying anything, it is the Lords performing its proper constitutional function and bringing about change from the Government. That is what it is about—and it has been done in a way that actually gets the Government themselves out of a bind. We know that many on the Government’s Back Benches and Front Benches, including many in this Chamber, thought that what the Prime Minister, one presumes, was saying was wrong, and they needed the Prime Minister to change his position. So the strength of what was proposed in this Chamber by my noble friend Lord Browne forced the Prime Minister—and we presume that he supports all this—to change his mind and come forward with that concession.

The concession that the Minister read out is significant and important, and it is something that my noble friend Lord Browne can be proud of. It may not be everything that everybody would want, but sometimes in politics you have to do what you can and achieve what you can. In the face of what my noble friend was facing—an absolute refusal by the Government to make any concession at all, with the Prime Minister standing in Downing Street and saying that he would not change a single word of the Bill—that has now been proved to be false, in the sense that my noble friend Lord Browne and your Lordships have changed the mind of the Government.

I finish with this: the importance of this cannot be understated. What your Lordships have done in forcing the Government to rethink—to be fair, with the support of the Front Bench—means that people who fought with our country and stood shoulder to shoulder with our Armed Forces, who would have been subject to deportation to Rwanda, will now be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. That is a significant change in what the Government were saying. It will mean that some people who might have had their rights ignored, or those who would be coming to this country in due course through the ARAP scheme who, frankly, would have died, will be able to survive. That is the significance of what my noble friend Lord Browne has achieved, with the support of your Lordships.

It is your Lordships’ House at its finest: the Government being forced to concede in a way that they should have done before. But we should not underestimate that the Government have made an important concession and, as such, we welcome it.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:15, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, as ever, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this relatively short debate. I will deal with the points in the order in which they were made, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, with whom I am afraid I am going to have to respectfully disagree. I do not believe that we have debased our principles; I believe that we have upheld them. We have upheld the principle of the integrity of our sovereign borders; the principle of not ceding our immigration policies to criminal gangs; the principle to safeguard lives and deter, of course, dangerous and illegal channel crossings. That is and always has been the point of the Bill and it deserves to be restated.

Going back to my opening remarks, things have progressed since we were last discussing these matters, and I shall repeat them for the record. On 19 April, the Rwandan Parliament passed its domestic legislation to implement its new asylum system. The new Rwandan asylum law will strengthen and streamline key aspects of the end-to-end asylum system—in particular, decision-making processes and associated appeals processes. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for reminding us of Rwanda’s high standing in international league tables. Things could not be clearer: there has been significant progress towards many of the things that the noble Lord was asking for. That includes, of course, the monitoring committee, and I will repeat this too. If the monitoring committee were to raise or escalate any issues to the joint committee where standing members of the joint committee are senior officials of the Government of the UK and the Government of Rwanda with responsibility for areas relating to the partnership or areas with a strong interest and relevance in this activity, the Government will of course listen. I remind noble Lords that it is up to the independent monitoring committee to raise issues at every point.

The future is not fantasy, as has been alleged. As is well known, the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is safe. We have acknowledged that we cannot predict what will happen in the future but, as I also set out, we can assure the House that we have already established the right mechanisms so, should a situation ever arise, the Government will respond as necessary. I repeat: this would include a range of options to respond to the circumstances, including any primary legislation as required. We do not regard this, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asserted, as inexplicable. We regard this amendment as unnecessary.

Turning to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I am not going to get into the semantics of what this is or is not. What it actually is is the right thing to do. I say to the noble Lord, Lord German, that his remarks seem to have missed the entire point of the Bill. The simple answer to his question is: “Do not come here illegally”. There will be no possible pull factors. There is a safe and legal route available to those in Afghanistan who have served and can prove their eligibility under ARAP, and over 15,000 people have already availed themselves of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised the issue of Passover, and I heard what he said. The start of Passover was considered and very much understood and we completely understand the noble Lord’s concerns, but, ultimately, scheduling decisions are made with a variety of different factors in mind. However, I hear what he said.

I will also go back to the fact that stopping the boats is not an idle boast; it is actually in the introduction to this very Bill. I repeat for the record:

“The purpose of this Act is to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes, by enabling the removal of persons to the Republic of Rwanda under provision made by or under the Immigration Acts”.

The purpose is not an idle boast; it is on the face of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord German, referred to refoulement. This is from Article 10(3) of the treaty:

“No Relocated Individual (even if they do not make an application for asylum or humanitarian protection or whatever the outcome of their applications) shall be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11(1)”.

The treaty needs to be ratified before the Bill comes into effect, so I say to the noble Lord that that is when we will see the provisions being acted upon.

As I said earlier, the Commons have considered and rejected these amendments four times now and, for the reasons I have set out, they are not necessary. We will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all the necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with their obligations under the treaty, including refoulement. We will not relocate people to Rwanda if circumstances which impact upon the safety of the country change. We will not turn our backs on those who supported our Armed Forces and the UK Government.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who I am going to struggle not to think of as Lord Indiana Jones from now on, that I obviously hope I am not in his place in a few months’ time, but of course I respect his right, which he frequently deploys, to make my life difficult—and he does. Seriously, illegal migration is costing billions of pounds and innocent lives are being lost. Bold, novel solutions are required and our partnership with Rwanda offers just that. Rwanda is a safe country that has proven, time and again, its ability to offer asylum seekers a safe haven and a chance to build a new life. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he deal with one piece of nitty-gritty? Will he tell us a little more about the contract that apparently was reached with an airline?

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

No, I will not. That is an operational matter; we are discussing the amendments in ping-pong.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to my Motion A1. Perhaps I may make two short points in response. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who knows how much I appreciate the work he does in this House and its committees, that a vote for this amendment is not a vote for delay. It simply gives the Secretary of State a power to declare Rwanda safe, having consulted his monitoring committee. He could do that tomorrow if he had the evidence for it. If he does not have the evidence for it, how can he expect us to do it tonight?

Secondly, I thank the Minister for his measured response, not to mention the best laugh of the evening, and for the additional scrap of information concerning the Rwandan law, I assume the asylum law, that he says was passed on Friday. I am afraid that it is the first I have heard of that. I do not know how many of us in the House have had an opportunity to study that law. He knows that these scraps fall far short of the comprehensive picture that we would need if we were seriously to make our own judgement that Rwanda is safe and that the concerns identified by the Supreme Court and our own International Agreements Committee in great detail, only in January, have been satisfied.

In a less frenetic political environment, this common-sense amendment or something like it could, I am sure, have been hammered out between sensible people around a table. Sadly, that does not appear to be the world that we are in. I am afraid that I see no alternative to pressing Motion A1 and testing the opinion of the House.

Ayes 240, Noes 211.

Rhif adran 1 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Reasons — Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Ie: 238 Members of the House of Lords

Na: 209 Members of the House of Lords

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Rhifwyr

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Rhifwyr

Motion A1 agreed.