Motion A

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Reason – in the House of Lords am 11:45 pm ar 22 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Sharpe of Epsom:

Moved by Lord Sharpe of Epsom

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3J, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3K.

3K: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary as the Bill comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force and Rwanda’s ongoing adherence to its Treaty obligations will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the Treaty.

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

My Lords, this Bill has now been scrutinised a number of times. The Government have rejected this amendment several times, so we must now accept the will of the elected House, bring the debate on this last amendment to an end and get this Bill on to the statute book. Having now debated this issue on so many occasions, I will not repeat the same arguments but reiterate a few key points. The Bill’s provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force, which is when the parties have completed their internal procedures. 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.

I have set out the steps that have been taken to be ready for the treaty to be ratified, and I will remind noble Lords once again of the most recent step. Last Friday, 19 April, the Rwandan Parliament passed its domestic legislation to implement the new asylum system. Rwanda has a proven track record of working constructively with domestic and international partners, including the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and other non-government organisations to process and support asylum seekers and the refugee population. As I have already set out this evening, the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is safe and has the right mechanisms in place should a situation ever arise that would change that view. The Government will respond as necessary, and this will include a range of options to respond to the circumstances, including any primary legislation if required.

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 issues. This enhanced phase will ensure that comprehensive monitoring and reporting take place in real time. During the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee in accordance with an agreed action plan to include weekly and biweekly reporting, as required. The implementation of these provisions in practice will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee, whose role was enhanced by the treaty, which will ensure compliance. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 3J in my name turned out to be the last one standing. Perhaps I may say just a few words at its funeral. It was not much, perhaps, compared with some of those amendments that had already been defeated. Indeed, it survived so long under the guidance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who I am delighted to see back in his place, precisely because it was so modest and unthreatening to the Government’s policy. But it at least touched on a central disease of this Bill and perhaps of our body politic more generally: the imputation of decisions to Parliament to reduce the possibilities for challenge and the pretence that by asserting something to be true, even in the teeth of the evidence, one can not only make it true but keep it true for ever.

Many people, some of them perhaps still watching even now, will have wished us to keep on fighting, but without the threat of double insistence—which remains part of our constitutional armoury, but which did not command the necessary political support on this occasion—there would have been no point in doing so. The purpose of ping-pong is to persuade the Government, through force of argument, to come to the table and agree a compromise. They have refused pointedly to do so, and after four rounds of ping-pong, their control of the Commons remains as solid as ever.

The time has now come to acknowledge the primacy of the elected House and to withdraw from the fray. We do so secure at least in the knowledge that the so-called judgment of Parliament was not the judgment of this House, and that we tried our hardest to achieve something a little more sensible. We must take comfort from such assurances as the Minister has been able to give and hold the Government to them. This is the Government’s Bill, resolutely free of any outside influence. As a patriot, I can only hope—though I am afraid, without much optimism—that it will bring benefits, in some way, commensurate to its real and painful cost.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise with a heavy heart, given the lack of further amendment, to this dreadful, international law-busting Bill. I note that in the other place, the SNP twice used procedural Motions to delay it by 15 minutes each time. I applaud them for that, and I am not going to take up the same length, but I am going to take a moment to mark this historic occasion.

Your Lordships’ House has put a lot of work into trying to make the Bill comply with international law, with basic moral laws and with the principles of justice and fairness. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, earlier today said:

“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”.

Nothing has changed in the Bill in the last few hours.

I note that Amnesty International this evening warned airline companies that many members of the public take an extremely negative view of the content of the policy. Those were really unnecessary words, because no company of any repute whatsoever is going to take part in implementing this dreadful policy. That is a measure of the Bill and the disgraceful, despicable actions it represents.

I am disappointed to see the almost empty Benches around me. I note that the Liberal Democrat Benches are here, having played their part in trying to stop the Bill at Second Reading, and I commend them for that action that the Green group supported. They are still here to the bitter end.

We heard from the Minister, we will hear tonight, and no doubt will keep hearing in the coming days that “Well, we’re the unelected House”. That does not mean that this House is without moral or legal responsibilities. I have asked the House a number of times: if not now, when? What will it take to make this House say, “Here we take a stand”?

We have had the abomination of the Elections Act, the elements of a policing Act that targeted Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people explicitly. We have had multiple indefensible restrictions on the right to protest. Now, we are letting through an attack on some of the most vulnerable, desperate people on this planet. What more will we let through? I suggest to noble Lords as they leave this Chamber tonight to ask themselves that question.

With a desperate, flailing government party bereft of ideas and philosophy and without principles, this House will keep being tested. I ask these empty Benches: you might be waiting for an election, but what kind of a country will it be if you do not stand up now?

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, we recognise the resolution and strength of this House in how it has worked on the Bill. That is not to suggest for one moment that this House has changed its view; it is simply that we have had to recognise that the other House has the elected ability to override whatever we wish. However, the Bill’s outcomes are still to be discussed and debated.

The Minister, at least three times during the last three sessions here, said that the Government will not ratify the UK-Rwanda treaty until

“all necessary implementation is in place for both” the UK and Rwanda

“to comply with the obligations under the treaty

Given the position that this House has taken, it seems to us that it would be very valuable indeed, whenever the Government are prepared to sign the treaty, to have an opportunity to debate it in this House. Will the Minister acknowledge that, and give Parliament and this House an opportunity to discuss these matters when the opportunity comes up? We assume that will happen in the next 10 to 12 weeks, because that is the timetable that the Government have set themselves. Therefore, these matters will be very important to the House, which has grave concerns about the issues that have been debated here many times.

Recognising that we are at the end of this route of the legislation does not mean that we are at the end of the debate that we must have on the manner and objectives that the Government have set for themselves. To put those under more scrutiny, it would be most helpful indeed if the Minister could grant us time for that debate.

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

My Lords, these are the final stages of the passage of the Bill. It is not a Third Reading, but I again thank the Government Front Bench, including the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart—who is not here; I cannot see him anywhere—the Government Chief Whip, the Leader of the House and others, for the way they have conducted the proceedings of the Bill overall. It has been very much appreciated.

Although we fundamentally disagree on the Bill—the Government will now own the Bill and see how it works—I am somewhat reassured by the process that has been undertaken, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. As a result of what we have said—and contrary to what the Prime Minister said at the beginning of the Bill’s passage, which completely dominated our discussions for much of the time—the Government have amended the Bill. It would be extremely helpful to the Government Front Bench here, and others who may be listening, to recognise that the House of Lords has a role to play. It is perfectly appropriate for the Lords to delay legislation and to say that we think the Government should think again—and even think again twice. If it had not been for us demanding that the Government think again three or four times, my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment would not have been passed. Given the importance that everybody in this House attributes to his amendment, I would have thought that was cause for reflection on how well this system works. When I was in the other place, I saw that it irritates the Government. They feel that their elected mandate is being overridden, but actually—except in very exceptional circumstances—that does not happen.

I am sorry to reiterate this point about process, but it is really important. I do not know how many times, but I have said numerous times from the Front Bench that we will not block the Bill, as have my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lady Smith, the leader of our party in this place. Yet we see consistently from the Prime Minister, including today, claims that Labour Peers in this place seek to block the Bill. I hope—I am not sure—that noble Lords opposite will come to this side of the House and that we will go to that side. If that happens, I hope that, when we put forward various pieces of legislation to do with trade union rights, for example, and all the other Bills that we have suggested, noble Lords will remember that the role of the House of Lords in those circumstances will be to challenge the Labour Government who I hope will come into place but not seek to block or undermine the elected will of the people. That is not what we have sought to do.

I hope the serious point that I am making about the way the political system operates in this country will be a cause for us to reflect that, in respect of this Bill, although we fundamentally disagree with it, that system has worked reasonably well, and I look forward to that happening again in the future.

The Government now own the Bill and they will see whether it works. We have arrived at a position where we have made certain demands, and they have been overturned one by one by the Government until we are left with two changes, which I think are important. First, we have mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Browne, with respect to veterans, which the Government Front Bench here also thought was the right thing to do and we helped them persuade their own Prime Minister to do that. Secondly, and not to be forgotten—it is a shame that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is not here, but the noble Lord, Lord Randall, would have been pleased—was the change on modern slavery. It was a modest change but an important one.

With those brief remarks, I will finish by thanking again the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for his courtesy and all the Government Front Bench in the Lords. The Bill will now go forward, and the Prime Minister will no doubt read at great length in the papers tomorrow—he has briefed some of them already—how he got his way with the House of Lords and how he pushed aside those who sought to obstruct the elected will of the people. He will know, as will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and many others here, that that was never the intention of His Majesty’s Opposition, but we will no doubt read in the papers tomorrow that it was. That is not a great reflection on the way Parliament operates, and reflecting on the good way that it is operating should be the headline tomorrow.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 12:00, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, if I might intervene briefly and ask my noble friend for indulgence, I should say that the noble Lord opposite made important remarks. This House has a major and abiding role in asking the elected House to think again. But as he said, we are now four times into this process. This House is at its best, as he again implied, when we have dialogue, understanding and tolerance across the Chamber. We have heard the words “patriotism” and “morality” used—not by the noble Lord opposite. In my experience as Leader of this House, this is a patriotic House, whatever the party and whatever the person. This is a House where people of different political views, with a high political morality of public service, have different ways of seeking to achieve the same end. The party opposite wishes to repeal this Bill; I hope it will, shortly, be passed.

I have said this before on other occasions, and I am sorry; I crave the indulgence of the House at rising at this, but it is an important point. It is important that we have a discussion about what are the limits and what is the place of your Lordships’ House in scrutinising and indeed challenging legislation put forward by any elected Government. However, he embers of the passage of this important Bill, which I understand was controversial in this House, are not the occasion. I do not think this is the place, but this is a matter that we might debate in an open forum and privately, and I hope that we can do that.

I appreciate the gentle way—in the sense of gentlemanly, if that word is allowed to be used in this way—in which the noble Lord has put the point. I appreciate his tribute to my noble friends and others on the Front Bench, and indeed to all the people in this House. There have been spirited and good debates, in the best traditions of the House, but in the weeks and months ahead we must reflect on whether sending something back to the elected House four or five times is the best way to enable the King’s Government to be carried on.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Perhaps the Leader might reflect on the point that my noble friend Lord German made. The Minister, this evening and previously, has said that the Government currently are not in a position to ratify the Rwanda treaty because they are not in a position to state that the conditions that would be required to ratify the treaty are yet in place. That assumes that a process will have to be under way for the Government to ratify that treaty, of which we are currently unaware.

The Leader speaks very sincerely about our ability to scrutinise and to hold the Government to account for decisions that they make, especially when it comes to international agreements. Given what the Minister said—I repeat, that the Government are currently not in a position to ratify the treaty—will the Leader ensure, through the usual channels, that there is open discussion about facilitating time in this Chamber for us to discuss what the Government’s statement would be when they come to the conclusion that those requirements for the treaty are in place? Surely that is simply an open way for us to scrutinise the decision that would be made if the conditions are met.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I hope it is in scope for the Leader of the House to interpose his body, particularly when the noble Lord is active and spirited, as he is at this hour. I will say two things. First, we have had many hours of debate on this legislation. I think the doubts about the Bill, and we believe the beliefs and proprieties about it, are entirely clear. So far as further discussion and the development of events are concerned, we in the usual channels are always open to discussion with other parties about when or in what way further discussion can be made. I apologise to the House for my intervention but these are important things which we need to reflect on. Perhaps this has been a prolonged process, but I would like, in the immortal phrase of the Senate of the United States of America, to yield the floor to my noble friend Lord Sharpe to conclude the proceedings.

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

I thank my noble friend for his intervention. He put his points across extremely eloquently, and I agree with all of them.

I say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Bill does comply with international law. It is profoundly moral and patriotic to defend the integrity of our borders, and it is profoundly moral and patriotic to prevent the needless loss of life in the channel and to put the criminal gangs out of business.

I also ask the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, why the Green group is currently a solo act. Where is her partner?

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I have been asked a direct question. I am sure the House would have been delighted to hear from both of us this evening, but we made a choice to have one representative. If the House would like to hear and see more of us, we would welcome being invited to do that.

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

Speaking personally, I would rather hear a lot less, but there we are.

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. Rwanda has a strong history of providing protection to those who need it and currently hosts over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers, who have found safety and sanctuary there. Binding provisions in the treaty place obligations on the Government of Rwanda to provide for those relocated under the partnership, and this is long overdue. I put on record my thanks to officials in the Government of Rwanda for all their efforts in delivering this partnership. I commend the Motion to the House.

Motion A agreed.

House adjourned at 12.08 am.