Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 12 December 2023.

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Votes in this debate

Second Reading

[Relevant documents: First Report of the Home Affairs Committee of Session 2022-23, Channel crossings, migration and asylum, HC 199, and the Government response, HC 706; oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 29 November 2023, on Work of the Home Office, HC 356; oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 15 November 2023, on Work of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, HC 126; oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 8 June 2022, on Migration and asylum, Session 2022-23, HC 197.]

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:33, 12 December 2023

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I speak to the Bill, let me say that the House may well be aware that, tragically, there has been a death on the Bibby Stockholm barge. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House, like mine, are with those affected. The House will understand that at this stage I am uncomfortable going into any more details, but we will of course investigate fully.

This Government are stopping the boats. Arrivals are down by a third this year, as illegal entries are on the rise elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, small boat arrivals are up by 80% in the Mediterranean, but they are down by a third across the channel. The largest ever small boats deal with France, tackling the supply of boat engines and parts, the arrest and conviction of people smugglers, and a 70% increase in raids on illegal working are having an impact—a positive one. We have signed returns and co-operation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Georgia and Ethiopia. Fifty hotels are being returned to their local communities, and the initial asylum backlog, which stood at 92,000, is now under 20,000. We have sent back 22,000 illegal migrants, and the UK’s arrangement with Albania proves that deterrents work.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will not give way yet, as I have just started.

Last year, a third of all those arriving in small boats to the coast of this country were Albanian. This year, we have returned 5,000 Albanians, and arrivals from Albania are down by 90%. But in recent years, some of the Government’s efforts to tackle illegal migration and deport foreign national offenders have been frustrated by a seemingly endless cycle of legal challenges and rulings from domestic and foreign courts.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way in a moment. Of course, this Government respect court judgments, even when we disagree with them, but Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal immigration and they support the Rwanda plan.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

The Home Secretary points to deterrence. He has often used the Australian model of offshoring detention centres as a gold standard. What are his comments, then, on the fact that Australia has recently shut down its offshore centre because of the high financial and human costs?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady raises the case of Australia. It had 55,000 illegal migrations by boats and that has trended pretty much down to zero—deterrence works.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the British are world champions at queueing. We do not like queue jumpers, which is why illegal immigration grates with us. Will he confirm that the Government will take all steps to ensure that we remain within international law, not just now but going forward? In that case, I will certainly be supporting the Bill tonight. Does he also agree that some colleagues in this place need to be careful what they wish for?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am confident, and indeed the conversations I have had with the Government’s legal advisers reinforce my belief, that the actions we are taking, while novel and very much pushing at the edge of the envelope, are within the framework of international law. That is important because the UK is a country that demonstrates to the whole world the importance of international law. We champion that on the world stage and it is important that we demonstrate it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am going to make further progress. Judges of course play an important role, but they are not policymakers and they should not be policymakers. When the courts find a particular formulation of policy unlawful, it is the job of politicians to listen to their views, respect their views and find a solution.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make further progress. Thanks to the efforts on the part of the UK Government and the Government of Rwanda, that is exactly what we have done in response to the verdict from the Supreme Court. The new treaty that I signed last week with Rwanda and the Bill that accompanies it are game changing. The principle of relocating people to a safe country, to have their asylum claim processed there, is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that point.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

My right hon. Friend was an excellent Foreign Secretary, so he will know the extraordinary tensions that exist between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses Rwanda of sponsoring the M23 terrorist organisation, which is violating Congolese women and killing Congolese soldiers. This week, the Congolese President named the Rwandan President as a Hitler-like figure. What is my right hon. Friend’s response to the concerns of our Congolese friends in that regard?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In my former role, I had extensive conversations with the Governments of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. We do not agree with that assessment of the Government of Rwanda. More importantly, other international organisations also rely heavily on Rwanda, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union. They would not do that if they believed that Rwanda was an unsafe country.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I intend to make further progress—this is Second Reading and there will be plenty of opportunities for colleagues to speak—but I give way to Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Just yesterday, I received correspondence stating:

“EU Council Directive 2005/85/EC is caught by Article 2(1) of the Protocol, therefore can be relied upon in NI (but not GB).”

It added that article 7 of the directive

“confers the right to remain in the territory” while a claim is being processed, which

“creates additional ‘rights’ in NI” that do not apply in GB and

“expressly frustrates the core intent of the Rwanda Bill from applying in NI”.

Has the Home Secretary had the opportunity to look at that?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about differential treatment in different parts of the United Kingdom is one that we are conscious of. As the Bill progresses, he and others will have the opportunity to raise concerns about specific details. We will, of course, listen to his concerns and those of others. When passed, the Bill will address the practical implications. At the moment, the challenge of the number of refugees is not as significant in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the UK, but, as the hon. Gentleman has heard me say before, we are always conscious to make sure that all parts of the UK are, and feel that they are, in the thinking of the Government as we move forward.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make further progress. As I say, the principle of relocating people to a safe country to have their asylum claims processed is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. The High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that, and the Supreme Court did not dispute those findings in own findings three weeks ago.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is clear in international law and in relation to the question of the rule of law that in this country, with our unwritten constitution, a clear and unambiguous use of words, clearly establishing the intention of Parliament in the enactment of a law, takes precedence over international law, in accordance with the judgments of Lord Hoffmann, as well as judgments and statements by Lord Judge, Lord Denning and other very distinguished jurists, including in paragraph 144 of the judgment made last month?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that when the wording of a Bill is clear and unambiguous—where there is a deeming clause—that is the express will of Parliament, that Parliament is sovereign, and that that thinking must be adhered to through the legal process.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am going to make some progress.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, meaning that we cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda. That is because of concerns that it expressed that relocated individuals might be refouled. I am sure the House knows that that means that those individuals might be re-deported to a third country. The Government disagreed with that verdict, but, as I have said, we respect the verdict of their lordships. It is important to understand that the Supreme Court’s judgment was based on the facts as they existed 18 months ago and that the Court said the problem could be remedied. As I told the House last week, we have worked on and found that very remedy. Our asylum partnership with Rwanda sets out, in a legally binding international treaty, the obligations of both the UK and Rwanda within international law.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As he says, international law and domestic law are both important, but they are different. The Bill seeks to give this House the power to deem Rwanda a safe country. Can he confirm for me that what it does not seek to do is suggest that this country, or this House, has the power to deem itself in compliance with international law? My worry stems from clause1(5) of the Bill, which, of course, reflects the Government’s intention to deem Rwanda a safe country, but then goes on to describe the safe country as one

“to which persons may be removed…in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”.

Will he confirm that it is not the Government’s intention to suggest that it falls to any country to deem itself in compliance with international law—he does not need me to explain what the consequences of that might be elsewhere in the world—and that he will look again at the language and whether it needs to be changed to clarify that point?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that that is absolutely not the intention of the Bill. The deeming clause is specifically about the safety of Rwanda, because of our response to their lordships’ position at the Supreme Court hearing. We are not seeking to redefine through domestic legislation international law.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

If the right hon. Gentleman is right and the treaty with Rwanda meets the concerns of the Supreme Court, why is this Bill necessary? If Rwanda is now a safe country as a result of the treaty, why is this highly controversial Bill, which is clearly causing great problems in his own parliamentary party, necessary?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are putting forward legislation that will be clear and unambiguous, so as to support the treaty. The treaty addresses the concerns raised by their lordships.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

With the indulgence of the House, I intend to make some progress. I want to make sure that others have a full chance to speak in this debate.

The Bill sets out to Parliament and to the courts why Rwanda is safe for those relocated there. The treaty that I signed last week puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda. It provides the basis to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have second-guessed the will of Parliament and frustrated this policy, this House, and the desire of the British people.

Rwanda will introduce an even stronger end-to-end asylum system, stronger still than the one that underpins its relationship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It will have a specialist asylum appeals tribunal—

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Since we last spoke in this House, it has been confirmed that the Government have given the Rwandan Government £240 million, with a further £50 million to come in April—all independently of anybody be being sent to Rwanda. Will he now confirm that the Government’s deal also means a further £50 million in 2025 and a further £50 million on top of that in 2026?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady is asking me to confirm figures that we have put in the public domain. Unsurprisingly, I am totally comfortable confirming what I have already said. Rwanda will introduce an even stronger—

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady has the chance to make a speech in just a few moments.

The system of specialist asylum tribunals to consider individual appeals against any refused claim within Rwanda will have one Rwandan and one other Commonwealth co-president and will be made up of judges from a mix of nationalities, selected by the co-president. To the point the right hon. Lady is making about the money spent by the British Government, as is the case with many countries around the world, the Government spend money capacity building with our international partners, and we have been working extensively with Rwanda to build capacity too.

The treaty makes clear that anyone relocated to Rwanda cannot be removed from Rwanda to another country except back to the United Kingdom. It is binding in international law and enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, which will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring. The committee will have unfettered access to monitor the entire relocation process, from initial screening to relocation and settlement in Rwanda. Relocated individuals and legal representatives will be able to launch confidential complaints directly with that committee. It is that treaty and the accompanying evidence pack that enable the Government to conclude with confidence that Rwanda is safe. We will need to be certain that domestic and foreign courts will also respect the treaty, and that is why we have introduced this Bill.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

On that point on foreign courts, clause 5(2) says:

“It is for a Minister of the Crown…to decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure.”

Is the advice from the Attorney General that it will be compatible with international law for a Minister to refuse to comply with such an indication?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend, who is an expert proceduralist in this House, will know that advice from the AG to Government is privileged, and I am not going to share it at the Dispatch Box, but he will also know that the Government’s position is clear and unambiguous that this is in accordance with international law. He can rest assured of that.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as a matter of law, an interim measure under rule 35 is directed not to the courts of the UK, but to the Governments of the member states? Therefore, what the Bill says simply restates what is the position anyway: it is the member state that it applies to, not the courts.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way one more time, and then I will make more progress.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The Home Secretary says he will not reveal to the House the Attorney General’s advice, and that is fine, but on the issue of the money, his permanent secretary was in front of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday and told us that, as well as the payment of £50 million due next year, there are payments planned for years four and five. Is he willing to share with the House how much will be paid to Rwanda in years four and five of the programme?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady will know that we have committed to a reporting schedule that is completely consistent with other Government Departments and with the reporting schedule of the Home Office in other areas. We intend to commit to doing that.

This Bill builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and complements all other measures that this Government are employing to end illegal migration. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and it will prevent the courts from second-guessing the will of this sovereign Parliament.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have to make progress.

The Bill gives effect to the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country, notwithstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law. For the purposes of the Bill, a safe country is one to which people

“may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”—

I hope that will reassure my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright

“that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there.”

It means that someone removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and that anyone who seeks asylum or who has had an asylum determination will have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am going to make progress. I have been generous, but I want others to have the chance to speak.

Anyone removed to Rwanda under the provisions of this treaty will not be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom, in a very small number of limited and exceptional circumstances. Should the UK request the return of any relocated person, Rwanda will return them. Decision makers, including myself or the holder of the post of Home Secretary, an immigration officer and the courts must all treat Rwanda as a safe country. They must do so notwithstanding the relevant UK law or any interpretation of international law by courts or tribunals. That includes the European convention on human rights; the refugee convention; the international covenant on civil and political rights; the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings which opened at Warsaw on 16 May 2005; customary international law; and

“any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The Prime Minister has been crystal clear that he, and the Government he leads, will not let foreign courts destroy this Rwanda plan and curtail our efforts to break the business model of the evil people-smuggling gangs.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend makes the point about foreign courts, but what about domestic courts? Is there not a danger that, in pursuing quite stringent measures in this Bill, we are really testing the principle of comity to breaking point? This House and this Parliament are sovereign, but we also have the independence of the courts and the rule of law to bear in mind, and restraint on both sides—by the judiciary and by this place—is essential if we are to maintain the balance of our constitution.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. and learned Friend knows I have a huge amount of respect for him, not just as a friend and an individual, but for his experience at the Bar at a very high level. He raises an important point, and I want to give him complete reassurance that we have looked very carefully at that balance he speaks about and we respect the importance of that. We genuinely believe this Bill gets the balance right, although, because of the growing nature of this extreme and perverse trade in human misery, we have to take firm action. We are therefore acting in a way that maintains that balance. It is novel. He says it is contentious, and that is true, but we are doing it because we have to break this business model. We have to do this.

When the European Court of Human Rights—this speaks to the point made by my right hon. Friend Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg just a moment ago—indicates an interim measure relating to the intended removal of someone to Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of the Immigration Act, a Minister of the Crown alone, not a court or tribunal, will decide whether the UK will comply with that interim measure.

In order to further prevent individual claims to prevent removal, the Bill disapplies certain relevant provisions from the Human Rights Act 1998 in particular circumstances, including sections 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9. This is lawful, this is fair, this is necessary, because we have now addressed every reason that has been used to prevent removal to Rwanda. We have blocked asylum claims from being admitted with legislation that has already passed through this House: when the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is enforced, modern slavery disqualification provisions will assist with speedy removal.

The only possible blocking of removal is if an individual can demonstrate, with compelling evidence, that there is an immediate risk of serious and irreversible harm to them in particular under their individual circumstances. That sets the bar rightly very high, so that the chances of that happening are rightly extremely small. The only way to deter people from coming here illegally is to convince them that if they do, they will be unable to stay. Instead, they will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe third country, or their home country, if it is safe to do so.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will conclude, as I have been on my feet for a while.

This is how we will save lives at sea. This is how we will deter illegal migration. And this—the House should take note—is how we will break the business model of the most evil and perverse trade that we currently can see: the trade in vulnerable people. The people smugglers are not humanitarians; they are vicious criminals, and we must take action to stop them. This is how we restore confidence in our immigration system and assert full control over our borders.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am nearly done; let me conclude.

This is how we will overcome the intolerable pressure on taxpayers, public services and local communities that illegal immigration creates. That is how we will ensure that the system is fair: fair to those who play by the rules and fair to the British people, who are rightly sick of people arriving here from France in small boats—from France, a safe and wonderful country. Rwanda stands ready to welcome those new arrivals. It stands ready to work with us to find a solution on this global issue, rather than being part of a problem, and for that, I believe, it should have our thanks and admiration. This is an innovative and humane solution to a growing global problem. Other countries are looking at what we are doing and making similar plans of their own. A new treaty and this Bill make it clear in law that Rwanda is a safe country to which to relocate illegal migrants.

I want to extend an offer to the whole House. Colleagues across this House must know how much this matters to our constituents. Our voters, no matter which party they vote for, are warm and welcoming people to those in genuine need. We have seen that in the way in which people across this country have opened their homes to many of the half a million people who have come here via safe and legal routes in the past decade. But the British people rightly expect everyone to play by the rules, and they expect us in this House to do what it takes to stop the boats. That is what voting for this legislation means. Our voters are horrified when they see images of people drowning in the channel. They are horrified when they see people smugglers taking advantage of people. They want an end to illegal migration. This Government have a plan that will provide an alternative home for illegal arrivals to the UK and deter others from coming here illegally. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:05, 12 December 2023

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House, while affirming support for securing the UK’s borders, reforming the broken asylum system and ending dangerous small boat crossings, declines to give a Second Reading to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill because the Bill will not work to tackle people smuggling gangs, end small boat crossings or achieve the core purposes of the Bill, will lead to substantial costs to the UK taxpayer every year whilst applying to less than one per cent of those who claim asylum in the UK, threatens the UK’s compliance with international law, further undermines the potential to establish security and returns agreements with other countries and does not prevent the return of relocated individuals who commit serious crimes in Rwanda back to the UK.”

I join the Home Secretary in expressing our sympathy for the family and friends of the asylum seeker who has apparently died on the Bibby Stockholm. I understand that the Home Secretary cannot say more about that at the moment.

This should be a debate about how we prevent lives being lost, about how we strengthen our border security, about how we stop dangerous boat crossings, and about how we fix the broken asylum system. Instead, we have just got total Tory chaos. What a fine mess this weak Prime Minister has got them all into, and got the country into as well. They are tearing lumps out of each other over a failing policy while letting the country down.

A Home Secretary has been sacked, an Immigration Minister has resigned, and the Tories have spent almost £300 million of taxpayers’ money on Rwanda without sending a single person. The Home Secretary seemed to confirm today that, in fact, it is £400 million without a single person being sent. More Home Secretaries have been sent to Rwanda than asylum seekers—that is about £100 million per trip. The climate Minister, Graham Stuart, has been called back from the Dubai COP for the vote. Well, I guess the Government can say that at least one flight has taken off as a result of the legislation.

We have had the third Tory Home Secretary sent to Rwanda in two years, the third bilateral agreement with Rwanda in two years, and now the third Tory law on asylum and Rwanda in two years. And they are about to write their fourth cheque to Rwanda. It turns out that they set up a direct debit: hundreds of millions of pounds for a failing scheme that is only ever likely to cover a few hundred people—less than 1% of those claiming asylum last year—and has become a proxy for the deep civil wars in the Tory party.

In this carousel of Conservative chaos, we have the European Research Group, the Northern Research Group, the New Conservatives, the old Conservatives, the One Nation group, the implausibly named Conservative Growth Group, and if you thought that was an oxymoron, Mr Speaker, we also have the Conservative Common Sense Group. Seriously, there are so many fighting factions, but they all have one thing in common: they do not believe in the Bill.

The Prime Minister was forced into an emergency breakfast meeting this morning—less a smoked salmon offensive; more buttering up his MPs with bacon butties, and sides of briefing and backstabbing—promising his MPs amendments and then rowing back, telling them that he really wants to break international law but that the Rwandan Government will not let him. He is hiding behind the Kigali Administration because he is too weak to even defend his plan. Weak, weak, weak.

The Prime Minister says that his patience is wearing thin. Well, how do the Tories think the country feels when watching this chaos? He is hoping that his party will calm down over Christmas, but they all know who the Christmas turkey is, and he is sitting in No. 10.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

The Prime Minister has come up with a plan. He is committed to it. We have had assurances from the Dispatch Box that all steps will be taken to stay within international law. What is the official Opposition’s plan?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman hopes that his Prime Minister has a plan, but no Back Bencher on either side of the House seems to agree with it. We are clear that what we should be doing is using the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government are wasting in cheques written to Rwanda for nothing—for a scheme that will send, at best, only a few hundred people—to strengthen our border security, go after the criminal gangs, and make sure that we clear the asylum backlog and save the taxpayer billions of pounds. [Interruption.] Actually, he has not. The Home Secretary likes to claim that he is doing that; he likes to claim that he is bringing down the number of people in hotels, but in fact that number has gone up to a record high of 56,000. Since the Prime Minister said he was going to end asylum hotel use, it has gone up by a further 10,000, because he is failing.

I welcome the new immigration Ministers to their posts, one of whom, Tom Pursglove, has been an immigration Minister before. I think that during the time he was immigration Minister, net migration trebled and the number of boat crossings also trebled, but I am sure nobody will hold that against him. The Government have obviously appointed two immigration Ministers this time in case another one resigns because he thinks their policy is totally failing and too weak. In the words of the ex-immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, this new law will not work, “doesn’t do the job”, and is

“both legally and operationally fundamentally flawed.”

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way to the hon. Member if he can say whether he agrees with the previous immigration Minister or the current one.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for asking me questions; she overestimates my ability. Talking of Christmas turkeys, this morning the Leader of the Opposition gave an interview on Radio 4 that, typically, contained no policy whatsoever. Can she outline how she would reduce immigration and tackle the problems that she is castigating this Government for, given that everything she says she would do, the Government are already doing?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The trouble is that they are not—they are just not. The scale of the Government’s operations to go after the criminal gangs is tiny. The £300 million that the Government have already committed to Rwanda is a third of the budget of the National Crime Agency. They are prepared to put that investment into Rwanda—into this tiny scheme that will affect only a couple hundred people—but are totally failing to invest sufficiently in tackling the criminal gangs, working with Europol and going after the supply chains. There are warehouses of boats across Europe that the European police forces are totally failing to go after, which our party has said we would go after. We would work with Europol and get new security arrangements in place, which again, the Government are failing to do.

Instead, we have the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who signed the last agreement and brought forward the last piece of legislation, saying that the Bill is fatally flawed and will not stop the boats. Yesterday we had Back Benchers saying that the Bill should have been pulled because it is partial and incomplete, and the Home Secretary—who privately called this whole thing “batshit”—is out to bat for it today, even though he knows it will not work.

This is the Tories’ asylum crisis. Five years ago, we did not have a major problem with dangerous boat crossings, but they let criminal gangs take hold along the channel. They failed to work with France at the beginning when they had the chance, and they let smugglers spread their tentacles along the coast, organising dangerous boat crossings that undermine border security and put lives at risk.

At the same time, the Tories let Home Office decision making collapse. They decided to downgrade the skills and experience of caseworkers, then shrugged their shoulders when productivity dropped. They failed to return people—they have let returns collapse, down by 50% compared with the last Labour Government. The next Labour Government, if we are elected, would set up a new major returns unit with, 1,000 additional staff to increase returns. Rather than the total number of returns collapsing and the Government failing to return people who have no right to be here, our party would introduce a new returns unit to make sure we have proper enforcement. [Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Just shouting at the shadow Home Secretary is not a good look. You should be listening to what she has to say.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am extremely grateful. Is this not just a fig leaf for a completely incompetent Home Office? I have a constituent who has exhausted his leave to remain and wants to go back to Fiji. He applied to the voluntary returns service in September and gave his passport to the Home Office in December—that was in 2022. The local church is going to pay for his ticket, yet he still cannot return. If the Home Office cannot deal with cases like that, how can we trust it with anything else?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member is totally right. I have now heard of a series of failed asylum cases in which people want to return to their home countries and have applied to the Home Office to be able to do so, and the Home Office has told them that they will have to wait six months because it is so incapable of getting a grip. In the case that the hon. Member has raised, somebody has been waiting for 12 months to be able to return to their home country. There has been a 50% drop in returns compared with the last Labour Government, because the Tories always go after gimmicks and they never get a grip. There are 40,000 people whose asylum applications have failed and who have not been returned, and 17,000 people the Government have just lost—they do not even know where they are. It was their policy to let the backlog soar and put 56,000 people in hotels. This is the Tories’ asylum crisis, and they are failing to fix it.

The Prime Minister has made this legislation—this policy—the Tories’ flagship. It is extortionately expensive, and it is failing. Ministers have repeatedly tried to hide the cost: just 10 days ago, the Home Secretary was trying to suggest that it was only £140 million. It has already cost twice that for nobody to be sent, under a scheme that Home Office officials have described as unenforceable and at high risk of fraud. Those hundreds of millions of pounds could now be £400 million, and I would like whichever immigration Minister winds up today’s debate to explain whether this is now, in fact, a £400 million plan. That is hundreds of millions of pounds that could have been spent on thousands more police to boost our border security and smash the criminal gangs. It could have been used to clear the backlog entirely, end hotel use and save us a further couple of billion pounds, or train 1,000 doctors or 4,500 nurses.

Of course, if the Government manage to send people to Rwanda, they will have to spend further money, probably around £200,000 per person—perhaps the Minister could also confirm that figure. That is more than twice as much as it costs here in the UK, so can the Government confirm that by the time they have finished, close to half a billion pounds will have been paid to Rwanda for just a few hundred people, around 1% of those arriving in the country? The Court of Appeal has said that there is only capacity in Rwanda for around 100 people;
even the judge who agreed with the Government said that talk of thousands is “political hyperbole”. The asylum system in Rwanda is also limited: it has only processed an average of 100 people a year for the past three years, so at most, it will be a few hundred people. Some 56,000 people are in hotels, 100,000 applied for asylum last year and 160,000 are waiting in the backlog, so potentially less than 0.1% of those people will be covered by the scheme. It is no wonder that the permanent secretary said yesterday:

“We don’t have evidence of a deterrent effect”.

The Government are now on their third new law in two years. The Home Secretary said that the Bill means

“if you enter Britain illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed…to a safe third country, such as Rwanda”—[Official Report, 7 March 2023;
Vol. 729, c. 152.]— except that was not the current Home Secretary, but his predecessor, talking about the last Bill: the Illegal Migration Act 2023, passed four months ago. The main section of that Act has not actually been enacted, because the Government know it will not work. The Home Secretary has also said that the Bill will

“deter illegal entry into the UK”—[Official Report, 24 March 2021;
Vol. 691, c. 922.]

and that anyone who arrives illegally will be sent

“to the country they arrived from or a safe third country”,

but that also was not this Home Secretary or this Bill: it was his predecessor but four, Priti Patel, when she introduced the main provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, passed 18 months ago. The main section of that Act has been revoked because it made things worse. The first Act was largely revoked because it made things worse, and the second one is not yet in force because the Government know it will not work, so forgive us for not believing a single word about the Bill that is before us today. We have heard it all before.

When he responds to the debate, the immigration Minister should explain what is going to happen about clause 2 of the Illegal Migration Act, which requires the Home Secretary to remove everyone to Rwanda or elsewhere if they arrived after July. The Government have put that provision on hold, apparently until after Rwanda gets off the ground, but even if they do manage to do that quickly, more than 15,000 people will have arrived in the country on small boats since then, all of whom the Government have now promised to send to Rwanda. If Rwanda is only going to take a few hundred people a year, it is going to take the Government over 100 years to send those 15,000 people who have arrived since they passed the last law. It will take them 10 years to send everyone who has arrived in the last fortnight alone. In the meantime, while they focus on this gimmick, they are failing to get a grip and they are failing to bring down the backlog. Instead, we have people in asylum hotels at the taxpayers’ expense at the astronomical cost of £8 million a day.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I have listened with interest for almost 15 minutes to hear what the shadow Home Secretary’s solution is to this incredibly difficult problem. She rightly refers to the fact that we have asylum seekers in hotels at considerable cost, and to the considerable difficulty when it comes to their distribution to our local authorities for all of us as constituency MPs, but I have not heard a single word about recognising that the Government are coming up with a solution that, while it may not work completely, may have a deterrent effect and may be a welcome step in a series of steps to help reduce illegal immigration into our country. Does she not recognise that?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Well, £400 million for a failing plan is a hell of a lot of money. What we need to do is clear the backlog, and Labour has set out a proposal for 1,000 new caseworkers to clear the backlog and for a new returns unit to make sure that, instead of this 50% collapse in returns, we actually return people who have no right to be here. Do that—clear the asylum backlog and end the asylum hotels—and that will save the taxpayer £2 billion. Instead of throwing away hundreds of millions of pounds, it will save the taxpayer billions of pounds.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and we did indeed work together on the Home Affairs Committee. I am a Kent Member of Parliament, and we need to make sure that we take firm and decisive action to deal with illegal migration. I am open-minded in looking at this Bill to see whether it delivers that. Does she agree—I tried to intervene on the Home Secretary on this point—that there are a number of people in the UK who have lost their asylum claims, yet are still in the UK? What are we going to do, and what is the Opposition’s plan to ensure that those people are removed, which would be a deterrent? I have not been given the numbers of how many of those who have lost all their claims have been removed in the last year, over the last two years or over the last three years, but if we want a deterrent, we need to look at that as well as at this Bill.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I totally agree with the hon. Member. That is why I hope there will be cross-party support for a plan to have a major new returns unit to turn that around. We have 40,000 people here who have had their claim rejected and should be returned, and they are not being returned. There has been a 50% drop in returns under the Conservatives over the 13 years of the Conservative Government, and a further 17,000 people have just disappeared into the system altogether, where there should be proper enforcement. However, the Government are not taking action on any of those things. There is no grip on the system, so Labour would set up a major new returns unit, with 1,000 staff, to make sure that we have proper enforcement in place. The combination of that and the caseworkers will save the taxpayer £2 billion.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make some progress first.

On the treaty and the Bill before us, the treaty says that numbers are limited by Rwandan capacity. The number of vulnerable refugees sent here, of course, is not limited. The treaty says Rwanda can terminate the deal at any time and does not have to take anybody. The treaty also says the UK will fund support for asylum seekers and people granted refugee status for five years. That includes accommodation and three meals a day for five years, which is more than here in the UK. It says that people cannot be sent anywhere else, but can be sent back to the UK, and the immigration Minister—or one of them at least—has confirmed that if someone commits a terrible crime in Rwanda, the Rwandan justice system does not have to deal with them, but can just send those criminals back to the UK. You could not make it up: we have trafficking and torture victims and Afghans who helped our armed forces and fled the Taliban sent to Rwanda, but convicted criminals sent back here.

The Bill before us is a total mess, which is why all sides of the Conservative party do not like it, even though most of them will still vote for it because they are in such a mess. Some of them want to stop all court challenges. Actually, I think some of them probably want to stop all courts, because they have long ripped up being the party of law and order or of the rule of law. Some of them want the UK to pull out of the European convention on human rights, no matter the consequences for the Good Friday agreement, the Windsor framework or the prospect of any future security or returns agreements with other countries. Then we have the really astonishing scene of the British Prime Minister claiming that somehow the Rwandan Government’s commitment to the ECHR is the reason why he cannot possibly breach it, and that they are keeping the British Prime Minister on the straight and narrow, even though the Rwandan Government were found by the British Supreme Court to be in breach of international law. This is kind of through the looking glass now.

Do the Rwandan Government suddenly care about the European convention on human rights, or did the Prime Minister ask them to say that they wanted the European convention on human rights to be complied with, because he was too weak to tell his Back Benchers that he actually thinks our great country should abide by the international laws that we helped to write and that we currently urge everyone else to follow?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West

The shadow Home Secretary will understand the passion and anger that many of our constituents feel—in my own constituency, we have four hotels full of people waiting for their asylum determination—and they want this sorted out. The Government have come forward with a plan, and she is eloquently explaining her reservations about that plan and committing to cancel it. She is also explaining what she would do if she were charged with responsibility for this policy in the Home Office. We have 12 months until the country has to face a general election. What timeline would the right hon. Lady put on ending the boats if her policy was enacted, and will she give that date to the British people from the Dispatch Box today?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think the right hon. Member is just highlighting the failure of those on his Front Bench. All of us should want to stop these dangerous boat crossings. They are undermining border security and they are putting lives at risk. We should be seeking to smash the criminal gangs and we should be seeking to strengthen our border security. We should be seeking to return people who have no right to be here, and we should be seeking to fix the chaos in the asylum system. Most people want to see both strong border security and a fair, effective and properly controlled and managed asylum system, which we do not have at the moment. That means clearing the backlog, setting up a new returns unit and seeking to work with France and Albania. We actually agree with the Government on that and support the work the Government have done, but the work with France, Albania and other countries should be going much further so that we have European co-operation in place. All of us should be seeking to do that, instead of having this total chaos on a gimmick that is not about getting a grip.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make some progress, and then I will give way to the right hon. Member.

The problem is that, even as the Bill stands, it risks breaking international law, and that makes it harder to get further returns agreements and to get the further security co-operation that we need with our nearest neighbours. It is also why, if the One Nation group supports it, that puts its members in a pretty impossible position. Clause 1(5) says that a safe country is

“a country to which persons may be removed…in compliance with…international law”.

Clause 2(1) says:

“Every decision-maker must…treat…Rwanda as…safe”,

even if it is not. So even if Rwanda does what it did over the Israel-Rwanda deal and breaches international law and sends people back for refoulement, even if Rwanda introduces new policies to send people abroad, even if there is a coup in Rwanda, even if Rwanda fails to stop organised gangs moving people to the border, even if asylum seekers are shot at in Rwanda—all things that the Supreme Court found had happened in the past—and even if the treaty is designed in good faith, if it fails, the Government are still saying that British courts cannot consider the facts.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way. I did promise to give way to Sir Simon Clarke, and I will come back to him in the moment.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

Is there a fundamental difference between the Government deeming Rwanda safe and the Labour Government, as they did in 2004, deeming a whole list of countries safe in precisely the same way and with precisely the same legislative technique?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that is not the case, because what the Government have done is both to deem and to remove any capacity for the courts to consider the facts.

We can see how absurd even Government figures think this is. The Home Office’s legal guidance, published yesterday, quotes legal judgments. One says that

“the court should not shrink from applying the fiction created by the deeming provision”.

Another states:

“The statute says that you must imagine a certain state of affairs;
it does not say that having done so, you must cause or permit your imagination to boggle when it comes to the inevitable corollaries”.

The mind does indeed boggle. The problem for the Home Secretary and the One Nation group is that, even as it stands, the Government are effectively admitting that they are creating legal fictions. They are saying that rather than following the facts, the courts will have to follow those fictions instead, for the sake of a tiny scheme that costs not just £300 million, but possibly £400 million. It also sets a precedent.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, as I said I would come back to him, and then I will come back to Sir Geoffrey Cox.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

There are two points to correct in the right hon. Lady’s narrative about what Labour would do that the Government are not doing. The first is that the Government are already doing much of what she lists, and I can attest to that, having funded it in various different capacities. She also misses the point that my hon. Friend Richard Graham made a moment ago. We are dealing in this instance with the consequences of large numbers of people coming to this country, not with the cause. Rwanda seeks to address the incentives driving this evil trade. It is only by getting Rwanda to work that we change the calculus not only for the people making the crossing, but for the people expediting it, who are the criminal gangs. Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that that is why this scheme is so important?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I call the right hon. Lady, I stress that when people make interventions, not only should they be fairly short, but having done so, it is important to stay for the rest of the speech. Some people have been wandering out, having made an intervention. Anyone who is thinking of making an intervention, please bear in mind that you then have to stay for the entirety of the speech.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The problem for the right hon. Member is that he has a scheme that is likely now to cost £400 million and that is only likely to cover less than 1%, and perhaps less than 0.1%, of the people arriving in this country. That is why the permanent secretary has said that there is no evidence of a deterrent. We need the practical measures to take action to go after the criminal gangs and to work with our neighbours. He says that the Government are doing that already, so how come there has been a drop of 30% in the number of people convicted for people smuggling? If they are really going after the criminal gangs when we know that people smuggling across the channel has rocketed, how come convictions for people smuggling have plummeted by 30%? That is the evidence that the Government are failing to do the basics to tackle those practical things.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The right hon. Lady is making a powerful case that seeking to legislate by assertion that Rwanda is safe is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. Does she agree that those who claim that this is about parliamentary sovereignty, and that that is why this sinister attack is justified, are wrong, because Parliament can be meaningfully sovereign only within a functioning legal and constitutional system, which this Bill totally undermines? Without the courts being able to interpret law, the legal system does not work, and it undermines this place, too.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have constitutional roles for Parliament and the courts. It is right for Parliament to respond to court judgments, to adapt and to change policy, but this Bill instead puts at risk the compliance with international law that we need to be able to make further agreements.

I do not think that, in the end, all of this is about Rwanda; it is about the deep divides in the Conservative party. It is about their chaos. It is about the Prime Minister’s inability to show leadership. It is about the fact that they just want to tear lumps out of each other. They are creating chaos while letting the country down.

The former Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Newark, has said that the Government are now aiming for just

“one or two symbolic flights off before the next election with a handful of illegal migrants on them”.

That is not the same as stopping the boats, strengthening border security or fixing the asylum chaos.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will give way, because I know that the right hon. Member likes to think of himself as the leader of the Common Sense Group of Conservatives.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

The right hon. Lady is right; I am the very personification of common sense, as she has just acknowledged. The real divide is between those people, very largely on the Opposition Benches, who believe that international law trumps the supremacy of this place, and those who believe that the reason this place is supreme is that our legitimacy is derived from the people. For that reason, only a polity can make law. International treaties matter, but they do not matter as much when it comes to this kind of legislation and the people expressing their will through those they elect to speak for them.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are discussing this legislation not because of a European court, but because of a decision by a British court: the Supreme Court. It made a decision based on British laws. I know that there are Members on the Government Back Benches who want to make everything about the European courts, and that is the heart of their dilemma. They want to get rid of the European convention on human rights. The Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have all said that they do not and they will not. That is at the heart of the Conservatives’ divides and chaos. That is what their row is all about. It is not about having a workable solution to the serious problem of our border security being undermined, of dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk and of criminal gangs whose profits have soared as a result of effectively being allowed to let rip along the channel, because the UK and France have failed to work together sufficiently to stop them.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will, and then I will have to conclude my remarks.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

I will quote article 21 of the ECHR, which clearly the right hon. Lady likes to support in so many ways:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

I do not understand how the will of the British people is being expressed within the European convention on human rights and through European courts—perhaps she can explain.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member’s problem is with those on his Front Bench. His problem is with his own Home Secretary, his own Foreign Secretary and his own Prime Minister. He wants to make all of this about Europe, rather than about our having a proper border security plan, a proper plan to clear the backlog and a proper plan to fix the asylum chaos that the Tories have created.

Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money, instead of these performative rituals and instead of all the deeming, boggling and scheming, we should be trying to build cross-party consensus on what needs to be done. [Laughter.] The Tories cannot even build consensus within their own party, so I accept that that is particularly hard for them at the moment. We should be trying to build a cross-party consensus on what needs to be done to stop the boat crossings that are undermining border security and putting lives at risk.

We should be strengthening border security, smashing the criminal gangs that have spread their tentacles and going after the supply chains, instead of ignoring these warehouses and these lorryloads of boats crossing Europe unchallenged. We should be getting real-time security information, instead of carrying on with the ludicrous situation where we do not even know when suspected smuggler operatives are flying into our country. We should be getting prosecutions and convictions for the smuggler gangs and their vile trade. We should be clearing the backlog, not making it bigger, and ending asylum hotel use. We should be doing more of the things we support, such as the co-operation with France, the deal with Albania and getting more workable deals in place. We should be working together across this country and with other countries to stop dangerous boats, to smash the gangs, to strengthen our border security and, ultimately, to save lives. It is time to end all this chaos, time to ditch the gimmicks, and time for the Government to get a grip.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It is obvious that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I therefore ask that, to start with, Members speak for a maximum of eight minutes. I will not put on a time limit, but I am relying on colleagues to stick to that.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 1:40, 12 December 2023

The decision to leave office is always a difficult one. The decision to disagree with the Prime Minister—someone I want to support in good times and bad—is always a difficult one, but politicians are sent here to make difficult decisions. No one is forced to be a Minister. With high office comes responsibility, and no responsibility is greater than protecting our borders and securing us from untold damage as a result of mass illegal migration.

We have made huge progress as a country over the last year as a result of the work that the former Home Secretary—my right hon. and learned Friend Suella Braverman—the Prime Minister and I have done, and I wish my right hon. Friend the new Home Secretary and his Ministers all the best in taking that work forward. Our record stands among the best of any European country. We have, as my right hon. Friend said, reduced the number of small boat arrivals to our country by one third. That compares with a one-third increase across Europe, and an almost 100% increase on Europe’s southern border in Italy, so the plan that the Prime Minister set out a year ago is working. It is the most comprehensive plan of any European country.

We have just heard from the Opposition that they have no plan at all. They said that even if the Rwanda scheme was working and having the deterrent effect we all want, they would still scrap it, because ultimately they do not believe in border security and they cannot be trusted to protect our borders. But this problem is not going away. It is going to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. There are millions of people on the move—some are fleeing climate change and persecution, while others are economic migrants understandably in search of a better life. It is a great compliment to our country that so many want to come here, but it is not sustainable.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment.

We have to secure our borders, which means that all the good work that we have done over the course of the last year—the Albania deal, the asylum backlog work, and the deals with Bulgaria, France, Italy and others—is not enough. We are not going to stop the boats purely through that work. We have to interject the strongest possible deterrent, and the best deterrent—the only deterrent—that we can use in the course of the next 12 months is the Rwanda deal. That is why it is so critical that we get it up and running.

I genuinely believe, having immersed myself in this issue for 14 months, that this is a good policy, that it can work and that it will help our country to fight back against this great scourge. In my job, I have seen the consequences of that every day. I have gone with my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke to meet her constituents whose homes have been broken into and whose lives have been ruined by illegal migrants. I have spent time with my right hon. Friend Sir Conor Burns and read about his constituent who was murdered by an asylum seeker, who posed as a child and then killed somebody on the streets of Bournemouth. I have worked with almost every Member of this House on their determination to close asylum hotels. Even the greatest advocates for open borders change their minds when there is an asylum hotel in their constituency. Hypocrisy is all over this issue.

That is why we have to fix this problem. When I said “whatever it takes”, I meant it, and I honestly believe that that view is shared by all of us on this side of the House and many good colleagues on the other side as well. To do that, we have to make sure that this policy works. This is a good-faith disagreement—there are good people on both sides of the House, and certainly within my party, who have disagreements about how we can make the policy work—but my point of view is this: untold damage is being done to our country and this issue will be with us for years, if not decades, to come. If we do not operationalise this policy correctly, we will see the numbers rise for many years to come. If, God forbid, there was a Labour Government, there would be a decade of small boat arrivals. I want to stop that.

To my mind, there are two big flaws with this Bill. First, as I have said to many who have asked me, including on the media, it does not address the question of individual claims. If I have learnt anything in this job, it is that those seeking to frustrate their removal from our country will stop at nothing. The small-boat-chasing law firms and legal representatives will help them to fight, each and every way. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. Even the best-meant things the country has done in recent years, such as our world-leading modern slavery laws, are abused. Some 70% of the people we are seeking to remove put in a modern slavery claim at the eleventh hour.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I will not give way at the moment.

This is proven to be correct every time, so why would we not put into the Bill a provision that says that those people cannot bring forward individual claims?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I will give way in a moment.

First, such a provision would bring legal certainty; secondly, there are operational reasons for it. I have met no one who really understands the operationalisation of the policy who does not believe such a provision is crucial. Those advisers have told me time and again that the scheme will be seriously impeded. People will put in claims and go to court. The upper tier tribunal, which is already under pressure, will be overwhelmed. Our detention capacity—just a few thousand spaces—will be full. In a single week in August, 2,000 beds in our detention facilities could be filled. Those arrivals will go on to our streets. They will abscond, as they always do, never to be seen again, and the scheme will be brought into quick disrepute. I do not want to see that happen. I will give way to the right hon. Lady.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The right hon. Gentleman casts aspersions on Labour’s approach to this issue. He is in the presence of two former Immigration Ministers: myself and my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne. At the end of the last Labour Government, there was one person being returned every eight minutes. I know from my own caseload that people who have reached the end of the line are still dribbling around the system, even though, as others have raised, they want to leave the country. What was the right hon. Gentleman’s record after 14 months as an Immigration Minister?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

There has been a tenfold increase in the pace of asylum decision making, so we have absolutely transformed the decision-making system. We have massively increased the number of returns—the hon. Lady is on rocky ground on this one, I am afraid—as 22,000 people have been returned. The difference between our side of the House and hers is that we have the guts and the determination to fix this problem once and for all, which means interjecting the strongest possible deterrent. Were there a Labour Government, I would worry for this country, because we would see a massive increase in the number of small boat arrivals, and the people smugglers would be celebrating. That is why it is so important to Conservative Members that we—

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

With all due respect, I will not give way, because I only have a few minutes left.

We need to use the time that we have left in government before the general election. Of course, I hope we win the next general election, but the public are watching us. They expect us to fix this problem, so why would we not put into the Bill all the strongest protections at our disposal?

On the second important thing that needs to change in the Bill, it is inevitable, in the light of the Supreme Court’s judgment, that the Strasbourg Court will impose further rule 39 interim measures. That is, after all, what bedevilled the flight arranged by my right hon. Friend Priti Patel a year or so ago. We have to stop that. It is a matter of sovereignty for our country that Ministers, acting on the instructions of Parliament, do not allow the flights to be delayed.

The provision in the Bill is sophistry. It is the express policy of the Government that rule 39 injunctions are binding and that to ignore them would be a breach of international law. We are being asked to vote for a provision that it would be illegal to use. I do not want to be in the position that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, whose determination I do not doubt, was in. I do not want my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my successors as Immigration Minister to be in that position. We as a House are giving them a hard deal and doing them a disservice if we allow the Bill to continue in that way. They must have the full power of Parliament to ignore those rule 39 injunctions and get those flights in the air.

There are things that others will contribute, not least my hon. Friend Sir William Cash on his work drawing out some of the other challenges with the Bill, so I will close with this. This is not a bad Bill, but it is not the best Bill. I want the Bill to work. The test of this policy is not, “Is it the strongest Bill that we have done?”, or, “Is it a good compromise?” It is: “Will it work?” That is all the public care about. They do not care about Rwanda as a scheme; they care about stopping the boats, and we are sent here to do that for them. I will never elevate contested notions of international law over the interests of my constituents or vital national interests such as national security and border security. The Bill could be so much better. Let us make it better. Let us make it work.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:51, 12 December 2023

I wish to speak to the reasoned amendment that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends.

Before I do so, I want to remark on the tragic news that has emerged that an asylum seeker aboard the Bibby Stockholm was found dead this morning. We do not know yet what the cause was, and we sympathise for that person and everybody who loved them, but what I do know is that our words and our policies in this place have consequences. We should all reflect on that in the debate.

The UK’s approach to migration, both legal and illegal, has been nothing short of chaotic, with poisonous rhetoric swirling around the plight of the world’s most vulnerable at the channel on a stormy night. Let me take a moment to reflect on how the Tories have brought us to this parlous state. A former Home Secretary, Mrs May, doubled down on Labour’s hostile environment policy in a speech 11 long years ago. She promised to make life really difficult for those who came to our shores, deporting first and hearing appeals later. The Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 fostered a toxic culture of suspicion and disbelief in the Home Office, turning health staff, employers and landlords into border guards. That led to the Windrush scandal, the test of English for international communication scandal, and lives fractured and still not put back together. It led to “Go home” vans and the highly skilled migrants paragraph 322(5) scandal. It led to people being forcibly removed despite having done nothing wrong. It led directly to the dehumanisation found by the Brook House inquiry and to the rampant spread of covid and scabies in Napier barracks.

The Tories tightened up on the lorries, and then we had small boats. The talk got ever tougher. The cry of “Stop the boats” went out, and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came and went. The boats kept coming. The Illegal Migration Act 2023 was passed and, oddly enough, did not prove to be much of a deterrent, either. Today, we have the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill before us, which the Tories claim will be the one to do it. Well, they think that the third time is the charm, so maybe it will or maybe it will not. I am not terribly convinced, but the permanent secretary told a Committee yesterday that there is no evidence that it will be a deterrent, either.

This is policy in a death spiral, tougher and tougher, turning the screw and threatening people with rendition flights to Rwanda. It will not work, because nothing the Government have done before has worked. Why? Because it does not deal with the reason why people are coming here.

People will continue to put themselves in small boats because they feel there is no alternative. They come to reunite with family because of historical ties and because of the English language. It is all too easy to dehumanise, to speak of scourges, swarms and hordes, to speak of those who try to come here with no papers as somehow wanting to cheat the system and skip the queue. As the MP with the highest immigration caseload in Scotland, I see many of those people referred to by Ministers at my surgeries week in, week out. I have to look them in the eye, as I know so many Tory Members do not have to. I have 138 outstanding immigration cases—would the Home Secretary care to look at his inbox once in a while?

I will speak instead briefly about some of my constituents. I will call the first constituent Mohammed, to protect his anonymity. He came here from Sudan and got refugee status. He applied for his wife to come and, after nine months of waiting for that application, he came to my surgery in March. In April, conflict broke out in Sudan. His wife’s family fled to Egypt, but, because her paperwork was in the closed visa application centre, she could not go. In May, I was told that the case was allocated to a decision maker but that the visa application centre in Khartoum was still closed. By October, the case was still with a decision maker, but there was no timescale for a decision, I was told.

On Friday, Mohammed came to my advice surgery to show me pictures of a gunshot wound to his wife’s leg and video footage of those who had been killed in the same incident. I ask Tory Members what they would do if it was their wife. There is no safe and legal route from Sudan, and the family reunion route is demonstrably not working in the face of an ongoing conflict. Would they advise her to sit tight and wait for a year and a half for the appropriate paperwork, or should she try to cross international borders, by whatever means, to get to her husband and to safety in Glasgow? She is not wanting to skip the queue; she just wants the paperwork done by the Home Office.

How about the constituents who I will call Mr and Mrs R? They were unlucky enough to be visiting family in Afghanistan with their five children when it fell. With significant difficulty and scant assistance from UK officials, they were eventually able to return to Glasgow several months later, yet they contact me regularly about the family members they had had to leave behind. Despite the much-touted Afghan schemes, there is no route for them. Their relatives fled to Pakistan and had to leave everything behind, including their paperwork. The Government of Pakistan are now sending people back to Afghanistan—into the hands of the very Taliban they fled from. I ask Tory Members again: what would they advise Mr and Mrs R’s family to do? Should they ask the Taliban for a passport, wait for the Taliban to come to their door, wait for the Pakistani Government to arrest them, or should they try another route?

It is no accident that Afghans make up the greatest number of people in small boats. As Safe Passage has pointed out, in the first nine months of this year, just 279 Afghans came through official routes. For every person arriving through the Afghan schemes, 17 Afghans are crossing the channel in a small boat. This week, we have heard about how the Afghan relocations and assistance policy is leaving those who served with our armed forces at risk of execution.

I recently travelled with the Home Affairs Committee to hear more about what is happening in France and Belgium and their response to small boat crossings. The French Red Cross said that it works with the young unaccompanied asylum seekers it finds who are trying to cross the channel to reach family members in the UK. It tries to convince them of the merits of a family reunion application, but the backlog is so long and the casework so slow that they will inevitably wait for many months. Members in this place tend to forget that the channel is not the beginning of somebody’s journey but the end; it is the last leg. The channel holds little fear, given the dangerous journeys that some have already made to be here. It could not be more tempting to know that they are so nearly to safety.

If a humanitarian travel document existed, those same young people could avoid the perilous journey in a leaky rubber dinghy. They could get the same train or ferry that many millions of travellers do every year. They would not need to pay people smugglers at all—that would kill the business model at a stroke. It is the denial of that logical option that is placing people in danger. What are the Government offering instead? They are saying, “If you make that long and dangerous journey to our shores, your case will not be heard at all and you may be sent to Rwanda.”

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

The hon. Member is making an excellent speech and bringing real humanity to the debate. Is she aware that the people in Calais who are trying to cross the channel are homeless, poor, desperate, and often victims of war and human rights abuses, and that walking away from international law and international conventions will not offer protection to them or to any other desperate people in the world and will send a terrible message to the rest of the world that this country is turning its back on the international law that it established in 1948?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Through the Bill, this country is turning its back on its international obligations. It is a pathetic excuse for policy—a foghorn signalling to the far right. It is too weak for some of the Home Secretary’s colleagues, but too harsh for a few exceptional others. For all the talk of full fat versus semi-skimmed, it is more akin to milk that has gone stagnant and sour—utterly repellent to decent people and best binned altogether, for everyone’s safety. For the SNP, the Bill is an abhorrence that undermines the UK’s international obligations and the principles of human rights. It costs a fortune and it is highly unlikely to achieve even its tawdry aims. We shall be tabling a prayer against the Rwanda treaty.

The legal experts I have heard from are appalled by the implications of proceeding with a Bill that, by the Home Secretary’s own frontispiece to it, cannot be declared compliant with the ECHR. The Home Secretary claims that he respects the Supreme Court’s decisions, but he comes here today with the sole purpose of overturning them and preventing the Court from ruling on anything ever again. For a Government to disapply human rights when it suits them, and instruct courts and public bodies to do likewise, is deeply troubling.

Liberty has stated that the Bill will

“tie the hands of every court in the UK while also abandoning the UK’s international commitments”.

Far be it from me to be concerned about the UK’s constitution or standing in the world, but I note that the Law Society of Scotland has questioned the UK’s rationale in disapplying a range of human rights agreements dating back 70 years, and the global implications of that departure from the international rights order. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Justice and Freedom from Torture say that the Bill

“sends a devastating signal to the world about the UK’s reliability as an international partner”.

The Bill also begs the question whether breaking international law is something that the Rwandan Government would accept. Minister Vincent Biruta reportedly said:

“Without lawful behaviour by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

It is beneath contempt for the UK Government on the one hand to say, “We are presenting a treaty with Rwanda—marvel at how solid and unbreakable it is,” while, on the other, to tell us that they want to breach the human rights convention, the refugee convention, the 1966 international covenant on civil and political rights, the 1984 United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings agreed at Warsaw on 16 May 2005, as well as customary international law and any other laws that might get in their way, including from the European Court of Human Rights.

International law is binding: no welching, no backsies, no keys up. The Government are supposed to adhere to it; that is why they signed up to it in the first place. This is abject nonsense. The Law Society of England and Wales goes further, stating clearly that

“domestic legislation cannot immunise the Government from the enforcement of international law. To claim it can is disingenuous”.

It also states that refusing to comply with an interim measure would be a

“clear and serious breach of international law.”

It accuses the UK Government of using law to manufacture a reality. It is the time of year that we all indulge in some Christmas magic and imagine reindeers on the roof, but this UK Tory Government have asked the entire United Kingdom legal system to engage in a far more dangerous pretence.

The UK Supreme Court sought out the facts for itself and, upon clear and substantial evidence, found Rwanda to be unsafe. That seems most likely why the Government want to ban courts from doing that again, via this legislation. The Court spoke of the risk of refoulement and of sending people back into harm’s way. Indeed, if Rwanda were safe, why would it be able to send asylum seekers to the UK as part of the deal? The Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was sentenced to 15 years in jail for speaking out against the Rwandan Government. Despite being released in 2018, to this day she still cannot exercise her political rights. She had to criticise the deal in the international media, because she says that the local media dare not give her a platform.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the right hon. Member can explain how Rwanda is safe, I will certainly give way.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

The key thing about this whole debate is the tension that the hon. Lady has described. Is she familiar with the rulings of Lord Denning, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Bingham and, more recently, Lord Reed, all of which directly contradict what she said about the balance between international law and laws passed by this Parliament? Does she acknowledge the truth that all those very distinguished jurists say the opposite of what she said?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I acknowledge that different lawyers will have different opinions. In its briefing, the Law Society of England and Wales says that the Government are being disingenuous in what they are claiming, and I will take their word for it.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

Sir John Hayes cites various judges, but the most supreme court in the United Kingdom is the UK Supreme Court, and it was very clear in the first Miller case that, although parliamentary sovereignty might mean that the law can be changed internally, this Parliament cannot legislate its way out of its international obligations. Does my hon. Friend agree that, no matter what various judges may have said at various times, it is a recent massive constitutional case of the UK Supreme Court that we should look to on this issue?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct, and has knowledge of many of these issues. It is important to reflect on those cases and what they actually mean, rather than what Government Members wish they meant.

The Bill declares Rwanda safe in all circumstances. In so doing, it undermines the rule of law and the separation of powers, preventing the courts from establishing their own facts and driving a sleigh and a squad of reindeer through the principle of restraint. My tortured metaphor ends here because, far from being Santa, the Home Secretary makes the Grinch look generous; he truly does have a heart that is two sizes too small.

The treaty creates new rules for Rwanda but, in reality, nothing has changed in the weeks since the judgment. Lords Reed and Lloyd-Jones said that

“intentions and aspirations do not necessarily correspond to reality: the question is whether they are achievable in practice.”

The Supreme Court found that Rwanda has thus failed to meet international obligations and is unlikely to meet additional ones. There is no evidence that the long-term culture shift required is likely to happen quickly. Rwanda processed only 228 decisions on asylum claims in 2020, and rejected claims from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Eritrea.

I do not want to get dragged into the merits or otherwise of Rwanda as a nation, as there is a far broader principle in play. If we start to offload our international responsibilities to a third country—any third country—we are effectively surrendering our influence over what happens next. This Government themselves have become the people traffickers, sending human beings offshore against their will as if they were some kind of waste to be processed rather than human beings alike in dignity. There are real concerns about the impact that this flagrant disregard for international co-operation could have on trade policy, the Good Friday agreement and the Windsor framework. The implications of what is happening here today could be far-reaching and long-lasting across many aspects of all our lives.

Let me move to cost. Quite typical of the way that this Tory Government run their business, there has been secrecy over the cost. Yesterday, the permanent secretary was finally forced to reveal the additional £100 million payment to Rwanda, after the figures showed up in some International Monetary Fund paperwork. That is on top of £140 million the previous year and £50 million to come next year, for a scheme that thus far has seen more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers flown to Rwanda. It will cost £169,000 per asylum seeker—significantly more than if they were processed in the UK and allowed to rebuild their lives here and contribute to society, as so many dearly wish to do.

We all know that the capacity of the deal makes it practically impossible. The estimated capacity of around 200 would mean that the probability of being renditioned to Rwanda is one in 230. If the UK Government were to remove everyone who crossed in a small boat last year, it would cost £7.7 billion. That would be an obscene use of public funds at any time, but particularly so in a cost of living crisis. Then there is the ongoing problem, which the Government are failing to address, of those people who have arrived and will not be removed. They are forever stuck in immigration limbo, with their cases deemed inadmissible. At what cost? Where will they stay? What will they do for the rest of their lives?

A further danger of the Bill is that it will force people into even riskier behaviour. The Refugee Council has stated that almost everyone who arrives in the UK does so after being intercepted by the UK coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or Border Force, and many actively contact those agencies asking to be rescued. The Bill makes it far less likely that they will do so. They will take more dangerous routes and they will not seek assistance, and the inevitable result is that many more will die in the channel or in the back of refrigerated lorries. The Bill will also leave people at the mercy of exploitative people traffickers. The Home Affairs Committee has already found that

“the fight against human trafficking is, in practice, no longer a priority for the UK Government”.

The Bill, and the Illegal Migration Act 2023 that came before it, make that worse.

The treaty also states that there is nothing to stop people leaving Rwanda once they are removed there, regardless of anything Ministers may claim. The BBC, on its visit to the Gashora refugee camp in Rwanda, found that those who had been moved there under other schemes did not wish to stay:

“Of the almost 2,000 people who have been relocated to the transit camp in Gashora since it was set up in 2019, none opted to stay in Rwanda when given the option, preferring instead to move to another country.”

So what do we have? We have endless failed policies. We have the ramping up of tensions through rhetoric. We have ineffective legislation. We have the overruling of judges. We have the abolition altogether of the asylum system. We have the undermining of human rights. It is like the TV series “Years and Years” on steroids.

It does not have to be this way. Together with Refugees published this week a clear alternative to fixing the broken system and keeping people safe. Ministers could not be less interested. The response from the right wing? To pillory Gary Lineker for having the temerity to speak his mind. The Scottish Government recently published a paper setting out an alternative in Scotland to this ineffective and failing system, ending the hostile environment and ensuring that humane, fair and compassionate refugee and asylum policies are a priority.

We should never forget the traumas and unimaginable suffering that lead people to flee their homes. They are people, just like us. Were it happening to us, we would all hope to be treated far better than those on the Government Benches would have it, and to find safety and sanctuary when we needed it most. It was on that principle that the refugee convention was created. We should stand up for that principle today and reject this cruel, unworkable and illegal Bill.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Just to clarify, since Alison Thewliss referred to it, the reasoned amendment that has been selected is the one in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

If I am to have any chance of getting everybody in, I will need to introduce a time limit, which I will do now. It will be eight minutes for the moment, but I am sure it will go down. I have been able to notify the next speaker of that limit.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:11, 12 December 2023

The recent Rwanda case is the most recent case on matters relating to parliamentary intentions, the supremacy of law and the rule of law, and the proper application of the rule of law. One claimant—and it requires only one claimant—had his claim dismissed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that parliamentary sovereignty had already undermined his case. The case was about retained EU law, but it actually undermined the case of that claimant. That was a clear indication that the Court was going to take the sovereignty of Parliament first, and that is the key issue in this debate.

It has been said by the courts that sovereignty trumps international law. It is absolutely clear that that is the case. Only this year, the House of Lords Constitution Committee, in paragraph 58 of its report on the rule of law, stated:

“Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can legislate contrary to the UK’s obligations under international law.”

That was a reinforcement of the judgments I mentioned in an intervention, including those of Lord Hoffmann, Lord Bingham and Lord Denning. Our greatest jurists have all come to exactly the same conclusion. The President of the current Supreme Court, which dealt with the Rwanda case, said the same thing in paragraph 144 of its judgment in that case:

“the principle of legality does not permit a court to disregard an unambiguous expression of Parliament’s intention such as that with which we are concerned”.

So, the position is completely clear and those cases—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Before the hon. and learned Lady seeks to intervene, I want to get this quite clear. The Miller case was on a different set of circumstances. Not only that, but it has been overtaken by subsequent constitutional judgments by the Supreme Court itself. I want to quote now from Lord—

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

It is refreshing to know that my article 10 rights have not been withdrawn yet. The point is this. The hon. Gentleman may be right, as a matter of domestic law of England that the sovereignty of the English Parliament allows England to change its domestic law internally. [Interruption.] He may be right; it is in dispute as we know. What he is definitely not right about is that this Parliament cannot domestically legislate to take us out of our international legal obligations without doing so clearly. The Supreme Court has been crystal clear about that. There are two separate matters here: domestic law and international law. If the Government want to breach their international legal obligations, am I not right, based on Supreme Court authority, that they will actually have to withdraw from the treaties to which they are committed?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Absolutely. I am glad that the hon. and learned Lady mentioned the fact that an unambiguous statement—an explicit statement, as Lord Sumption puts it—on the position in interpreting the intentions of Parliament carries enormous weight and, in fact, overrides international law obligations.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

No, I will not give way.

I am going to quote directly from Lord Hoffman himself in relation to an ECHR case. [Interruption.] This is the case of R. v. Lyons 2003. He states:

“the Convention is an international treaty and the ECtHR is an international court with jurisdiction under international law to interpret and apply it. But the question…is a matter of English law. And it is firmly established that international treaties do not form part of English law and that English courts have no jurisdiction to interpret or apply them…Parliament may pass a law which mirrors the terms of the treaty and in that sense incorporates the treaty into English law. But even then the metaphor of incorporation may be misleading. It is not the treaty but the statute which forms part of English law. And English courts will not (unless the statute expressly so provides) be bound to give effect to interpretations of the treaty by an international court, even though the United Kingdom is bound by international law to do so. Of course there is a strong presumption in favour of interpreting English law…in a way which does not place the United Kingdom in breach of an international obligation”— but, and this is absolutely crucial—

“The sovereign legislator in the United Kingdom is Parliament. If Parliament has plainly laid down the law, it is the duty of the courts to apply it, whether that would involve the Crown in breach of an international treaty or not.”

That is what the law is. That is a straightforward interpretation and statement.

There is an issue that I want to come to. I praise my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick for his courage and for a brilliant speech, and endorse every word he said, but I would also like to say this: we want the Government to succeed in their legislation, but it has to be legislation that works. As I have explained, in relation to the Supreme Court, the whole question turns on the intention of Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament. It is a question of justiciability as well. I put to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Illegal Migration that, when it comes to it, we can make changes to the Bill. It is possible to extend the scope of the Bill, and I hope he will have discussions with the Clerk of Public Bills, with whom I have had discussions already.

It is absolutely clear that the scope of the Bill will determine the amendments, whether from the Government or Back Benchers. It matters that we are entitled to have a proper debate on this fundamental question about international law and its relationship to sovereignty. The Bill, if enacted after Royal Assent, could be scuppered by one claimant and by the courts if the words of the Act are not clearly expressed and explicit in ruling out any such claim, for example under clause 4 or any other heading, such as rule 39 and all the other things we will no doubt trot out in Committee if we get there. We therefore have to address the question of the scope of the Bill, because that is the way that Parliament functions. That is the way Mr Speaker must decide on the selection of amendments, so it is crucial.

There is much more that I could say, but I let me end by drawing attention to the global issue. The fact is that throughout the European Union there is a real problem. They are tearing their hair out, because on the one hand they have the charter of fundamental rights, and on the other they are bound by qualified majority voting to comply with the situation, which is actually not the same for us. We have a unique opportunity, in our parliamentary system and with the sovereignty of Parliament, to be able to make amendments and provide domestic law that will satisfy the voters of this country.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 2:20, 12 December 2023

May I start by expressing my condolences following the news of the death of an asylum seeker on the Bibby Stockholm barge this morning?

It is now almost one year since the Prime Minister pledged to “stop the boats”. No one here is arguing against that goal—we all want to see an end to people risking their lives by getting into small boats and crossing the channel—but, as we in the Home Affairs Committee stated clearly in our report last year on channel crossings, there is no silver bullet to end small boat crossings. We said that it would take the adoption of a variety of policies, including safe legal routes and additional cross-border policing to go after criminal gangs. We made many other recommendations; we even suggested the innovative idea of piloting the processing of asylum claims in reception centres in France, a system that would be similar to the juxtaposed border controls arrangement that we already have with France.

In April last year the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the Rwanda scheme, and since then an extraordinary amount of financial and political capital has been poured into this policy. While we accept that progress has been made on some of our recommendations, including clearing the legacy backlog and developing work with France and Belgium, the eyes of the Government have been locked on the Rwanda policy and its implementation. The underlying assumption of the policy is that the prospect of being sent to Rwanda will act as a deterrent for those thinking of crossing the channel.

Let us not forget, however, that the Rwanda policy required a ministerial direction to the Home Office permanent secretary to get the scheme under way. Why? It was because the permanent secretary was not convinced that the scheme constituted value for money. There was—and there remains—no clear evidence that the deterrent effect would work, which cast doubt on the scheme’s value for money. Likewise, the Home Affairs Committee felt that although the policy was good at generating headlines, it lacked a clear evidence base and full costings. The Committee has been attempting to scrutinise the policy ever since, but we have been struck by how difficult it has been to obtain facts and information from the Home Office on the details of the scheme. That has undermined our ability to perform our scrutiny function.

We knew that an additional £120 million had been paid at the start of the agreement, and that there would be an additional payment for each person sent to Rwanda to process their claim and to enable successful claimants to receive up to five years of support from the United Kingdom. We subsequently learnt that a further £20 million had been provided as a down-payment on the initial costs for processing asylum seekers, so we knew that a total of £140 million had been paid. We repeatedly sought information, but were met with claims of commercial confidentiality whenever we asked questions about additional funding.

It was with some surprise, therefore, that my hon. Friend Dame Meg Hillier and I received a letter from the permanent secretary last Thursday evening informing us that an additional £100 million had been paid to the Rwanda Government in April 2023, and that a further £50 million would be sent in 2024. However, on 29 November the Committee was unable to establish from the permanent secretary the cost of sending each person to Rwanda. The impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 had estimated £169,000 per person, but Home Office officials could not confirm that in November.

Given that we are being asked to support the Bill today, it is essential that we know the costings, whether the Bill policy represents value for money, and whether it will work. Parliament is being asked to assess whether the Bill will deliver a scheme that constitutes an appropriate use of public money, without the Government’s telling us how much public money is due to be spent. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm exactly how much money has been spent, pledged and budgeted for in respect of each year of the UK- Rwanda memorandum, and now the treaty, and that he will commit himself to giving quarterly financial updates to Parliament.

Let me now deal with the specific provisions in the Bill. As we all know, the aim is to ensure that irregular migrants arriving in the UK are quickly sent to Rwanda, with very few legal opportunities to appeal and with clause 3 expressly disapplying several parts of the Human Rights Act. The Committee noted in our report last year that

“The Government risks undermining its own ambitions and the UK’s international standing if it cannot demonstrate that proposed policies…such as the Rwanda partnership now being legally challenged, are compatible with international law and conventions.”

As we know, clause 2 would require all decision makers to accept Rwanda as a safe country for removals, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court. As a very distinguished former Solicitor General, Sir Edward Garnier KC, has said,

“It’s rather like a bill that has decided that all dogs are cats.”

Indeed, the Bill does not resolve any of the issues raised by the Supreme Court, whose decision was based on evidence that Rwanda had previously violated international human rights treaties. The Bill is not a magic wand that will suddenly make that evidence disappear. I also question the need to legislate that Rwanda is a safe country. If the treaty says that it is safe, should not the Government be confident that the courts will now reach a different view and also conclude that it is safe?

The Bill will prevent the courts from carrying out independent and rigorous scrutiny of any claim that there are substantial grounds for fearing a real risk of refoulement or treatment contrary to article 3 of the European convention on human rights. I understand that that would be incompatible with the UK’s international obligations under the refugee convention and the ECHR. Is the Minister concerned about the Bill’s impact on the UK’s international standing, particularly given the absence of an evidence base for its deterrent approach, and is he concerned about the possibility that by effectively reversing through statute a Supreme Court judgment on the facts, the Bill could undermine the constitutional role of the judiciary?

Let me now turn to some practical questions. According to the treaty, seconded independent experts will be supporting asylum decision making for the first six months, and asylum appeals will be made to a new appeal body. It also refers to free legal advice and representation from legal professional members of the Rwanda Bar Association. All these things will take time to develop and will need investment, so I wonder whether there is an additional cost that the Minister might like to tell us about. I have no doubt that the Rwandan Government have entered into this treaty in good faith, but the question of whether it has been entered into in good faith by both parties is beside the point. What matters is whether Rwandan officials will recognise and comply with their obligations, and whether there are sufficient resources and adequate capacity in the group to enable this to happen. Neither of those can be guaranteed by the treaty or by the Bill, so I hope that the Minister will provide evidence today that capacity building and attitude change have taken place, thus addressing the Supreme Court’s concerns.

The challenge of stopping dangerous boat crossings is real, but so is the challenge of clearing the backlog, ending the use of expensive hotels, and delivering an asylum system that works. All that warrants serious, evidence-based solutions, with full costings.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 2:28, 12 December 2023

In defending the Bill, which I will attempt, one has to reckon with those who think that it goes too far, or may go too far, and with those who think it goes not far enough. Let me first address those who think that it goes too far, of whom Dame Diana Johnson is an example.

The Bill is criticised on the basis that it deems Rwanda to be safe. It is said that that is an illegitimate legal technique. It is said that it perpetuates, or perpetrates, a fiction in law. That is precisely the same fiction that the Labour Government adopted in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

Yes, it is. It was changed two or three years later, but in the Nasseri case before the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, their lordships upheld, as a matter of law, the deeming of countries to be safe and within the law. Indeed, they went on to say—Lord Hoffmann being one of them, I think—that while Parliament deemed it such, there were plainly risks if the Home Office did not keep an eye on the state and conditions in the countries that were thus deemed, but otherwise it complied with the law and the courts would respect Parliament’s decision.

What is being said in this case is that a Supreme Court decision has already held Rwanda not to be a safe country for the purposes of the guarantee against refoulement. It is said that for this House to overrule the decision of the Supreme Court in such an individual case is constitutionally undesirable and contrary to fundamental constitutional principle. I do not agree with that analysis. First, it is open to this Parliament at any point to take steps to reverse the effect of a judicial ruling—that is the consequence of parliamentary supremacy. It is clear that Parliament should be restrained in doing so in cases, for example, where individual rights in a case to reverse a determination made in favour of an individual would plainly be contrary to fundamental constitutional principle, but that is not what we are doing here. We are seeking to do precisely what the Labour Government did in 2004. We are saying that Parliament, legitimately weighing the evidence, has concluded that Rwanda will not engage in the refoulement of those sent to it. That is something the courts have already accepted. It is something that it is open to this House to do, and it is something that, in my judgment, it is perfectly legitimate for Parliament to undertake. It would be different if it were to reverse a decision against an individual.

But even if I am wrong about that, and even if as a matter of constitutional convention it were undesirable for this House to reverse the effect on a question of principle—namely, whether Rwanda is safe for the purposes of refoulement—the facts have changed. There is now a binding treaty, and it is binding not only in international law but in domestic Rwandan law. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash has rightly analysed the situation of international law. In this country we have a dualist jurisdiction where treaties are not self-executing, but in Rwanda the treaty is self-executing, so it will be binding on the Rwandan Government not only as a matter of international law, but as a matter of their own law.

That treaty contains a range of important safeguards, including, as a longstop, the fact that no individual removed to Rwanda from this country can be removed to a third country without the consent of the United Kingdom. If that longstop is in place, if the treaty is binding in Rwandan law and if it is binding, as it is, in international law, then I would suggest that there is simply no credible risk of refoulement if treaties and legal rules mean anything in the United Kingdom and in Rwanda. If the risk of refoulement has been removed, then there is nothing inappropriate in this House determining, as the Labour Government did in 2004, that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of refoulement. So I say to the House that this is appropriate, and it is a judgment that we can make as a House to take the step that we are now taking.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

I cannot give way; I do not have time.

Let me move to the third and most important question, which relates to the exclusion of access to courts. This Bill carefully preserves the right of individuals to come to court in extreme cases of individual justice. I listened, impressed, to my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, and I submit to those who think the Bill goes far enough that we cannot sacrifice the principle of access to a court. If we eliminated it entirely, not only would the Bill collapse because it would be interminably impeded in the House of Lords, but it would probably lead to the Rwandan Government withdrawing; and it is conceivable that the courts could entertain, for the first time, a complex challenge about the right of this Parliament to do away with fundamental constitutional principles such as access to a court. The supremacy of this House does not necessarily mean that it does not operate within a complex system of constitutional institutions, each of which has its own place as a component part in that system.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

No, I cannot give way; I simply do not have time.

Constitutional principles compete in creative tension. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important of them, but there are others that are fundamental and one of them is access to a court in extreme cases. That is what this Bill preserves. I say to my right hon. Friends that I understand their frustration and their deep, intense dissatisfaction with the current situation; I share it. I think that there is tightening that we could do, particularly on rule 39. But on the preservation of the right to go to court in an extreme case, I say that is part of the British constitution that our fathers and our party have supported, and for which they have fought, for generations, and it would be wrong of us to compromise on that—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he is fully aware that we have to stick to the time limit. After Sir George Howarth, whom I shall call next, I am afraid that, given the number of hon. Members who wish to participate, I shall have to reduce the time limit to six minutes.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 2:37, 12 December 2023

The Government’s failure to arrive at a workable solution to the problem of asylum seekers relates not only to how they have tried to deal with refugees, but to their failure to create the capacity in our country to maintain reliable services, and to such an extent that many British people find themselves unable to access the basic needs and services to which they are entitled. This is also about the Government’s stewardship of the economy. Additionally, it is rooted in their careless conduct of our relationships with other countries, particularly in Europe.

Therefore, in dealing with this sensitive issue, it is crucially important that we are clear about the principles upon which any approach should be based. The problem, however, is that the Government too often confuse slogans with policy, and in so doing they fail to take account of the principles upon which a realistic policy should be based. Their cynical obsession with creating dividing lines is a barrier to building the sort of consensus to which my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper referred.

For the purpose of clarity, let me say at the outset that our country’s capacity to admit migrants is finite. It therefore follows that we need a much more structured method of determining how many people can be accommodated; one that takes into account the capacity of our public services and our economy. I will later say a few words about the space that exists in our economy to fill the gaps in various industries and sectors. One of the principles would be to match would-be immigrants with sectors in which there are insufficient people to plug those gaps. Many of those people have those skills.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would make eminent sense to ensure that people who claim asylum in the United Kingdom have the right to work while they await a decision, not least because it would allow them to be better integrated into our community when they get their decision? Allowing people to support themselves while they are here would also reduce the cost to the taxpayer.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I will address that point later in my speech, if I have enough time.

In England, the NHS waiting list for hospital treatment rose to a record of nearly 7.8 million in September, up from approximately 2.3 million. Ambulance response times have also risen, going up to one hour and 30 minutes in December 2022, against a target of 18 minutes.

The UK is experiencing an acute housing crisis, with house building consistently failing to keep pace with demand. The National Housing Federation says that 8.5 million people in England are in housing need, with 4.2 million of them in need of a social rented home. In England, in 2022, people had to spend more than eight times their annual salary to purchase a home. In 2020-21, 17% of primary schools and 23% of secondary schools were over capacity. We did not get to this position by accident; it is the result of 13 years of careless neglect and the obsessive pursuit of shrinking the state.

I will now turn to the capacity of our economy and the ongoing skills shortages. GDP is at zero growth, and low GDP growth is forecast to continue into 2024 and possibly beyond. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest economic and fiscal outlook stated that, in 2024-25, living standards are forecast to be 3.5% lower than pre-pandemic levels, which is the largest reduction in real living standards since records began in the 1950s.

The skills shortages not only affect our overall economic performance; they are also having a negative effect on our provision of public services such as health and housing, as well as affecting the important food supply, care and hospitality sectors. Many refugees already have those skills and, with a constructive approach from the Government, would be able to plug the gaps in those sectors and, consequently, help to grow the economy.

Our poor relationship with Europe and the wider world makes it more difficult for us to co-operate with other countries, whether bilaterally or through collective international efforts, to deal with the deeply damaging consequences of war and conflict, part of which is the growing displacement of people from their homelands, which results in mass migration. Bluntly, we are not trusted to be a reliable and constructive partner, and our international influence has diminished to the extent that other countries simply do not take us seriously.

As I said at the outset, the Government have tried to turn a slogan, “Stop the boats,” into a policy. Consequently, they have failed to offer a solution to the problem. Many Conservative Members know this to be the case, but they have splintered into factions, either wanting to go further, regardless of our international obligations, or are aware that another, more effective approach is needed. Sadly, this Bill and their conduct illustrate that the Conservative party is not a competent or coherent party that is fit to govern; rather, it is one riven by warring factions. Frankly, it is now time for the Conservatives to make way for national leadership from a party that will calmly and competently deal with our mounting problems.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 2:45, 12 December 2023

After a good deal of hesitation, I shall support the Bill tonight. My hesitation is real because, for me, the Bill goes as close to the wind constitutionally as one can go. I listened with great care to the eloquent speech of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox. I agree entirely with his very careful analysis of the Bill.

The Bill takes a novel and unusual approach. We are dealing with an unusual and pressing situation, and therefore straining the sinews of what is acceptable can just be justified. Equally, the idea that legislation is the sole or even the principal solution to this situation is, I think, wrong. Ultimately, an operational solution is required. It is surprising that some previous occupants of the Home Office did not think about that rather more, although others did and it is a pity that their ideas were not acted upon. Ultimately, it will be operational measures that make the real difference. If this Bill can make a difference, and provided that the safeguards that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned remain, I can, with hesitation, live with it.

I am indebted to the analysis provided by the Society of Conservative Lawyers, and I declare my interest as chair of its executive committee. The paper was written by Lord Sandhurst KC and Harry Gillow, who are both experienced in international law. If we want opinions on such things, it is best to go to people with experience in the field of international law, rather than in other fields. They conclude, as I do, that although there are areas that need to be examined with care, the Bill falls on the right side of the line. Deeming provisions are not unprecedented, as has been set out.

I share the concern set out by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright about how deeming provisions interact with international law obligations, and I hope the Minister will take that on board and explore it. We can deem in domestic law, but we cannot legislate to oust our international law obligations.

The useful analysis of the Society of Conservative Lawyers pamphlet states that in reality, if the UK were to breach international law conventions, not only would that be constitutionally wrong; it would collapse the scheme, because Rwanda has made it clear that it would not be party to such a scheme. I do not buy for one second the rather patronising attitude that says the Rwandans have been put up to saying that. I think they are utterly genuine in their belief.

It is important to remember that other countries that are subject to the European convention on human rights are reported to be exploring potential arrangements with Rwanda. If Rwanda were to be party to a scheme in which the United Kingdom is breaking international law, Rwanda would inevitably forfeit any opportunity to engage with other ECHR countries, so it would certainly withdraw. People have to be careful what they wish for. If they go too far, they will drive the Rwandans out of the scheme and the whole policy would collapse.

It is critical that individual rights of challenge are preserved, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon said. I am a Conservative because I am a constitutionalist, and I am a constitutionalist because I believe in checks and balances. Frankly, the day the Conservative party thinks that the ends justify the means and ignores the principle of comity, and the day it thinks that any single policy objective overrides the importance of our constitutional checks and balances, is the day it ceases to be the Conservative party as most people would recognise it. Maintaining that balance is essential, and Ministers have, with great endeavour, just managed to do that, but that does not mean that I do not dislike much of the Bill’s wording.

I say that looking at parts of clause 1, in particular subsection (4), which states:

“It is recognised that…the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and…the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law.”

That is a GCSE law statement of the blindingly obvious, if I might respectfully say so; it might best be described as “otiose and nugatory” as it adds nothing to the Bill. It is performative—[Interruption.] Well, it can be whichever way round one likes. Pointless might be another way of putting it. I wonder what it adds.

Clause 5(2) is another such passage. It relates to the approach to interim measures under the Strasbourg Court’s rule 35 and states that this is for Ministers “to decide”. Again, that states exactly what the position in law is in any case. We have only to look at the textbook to say, as I did in my intervention, that it is for the Government to decide on rule 35 issues, because they are directed to the Government, not to the courts. It is a bit patronising to tell the courts what is well within their competence to know and decide upon.

With those reservations, I will support the Bill tonight, but I just say that if it were to change and any of the safeguards that have been left in were to be removed, my support would go. Some people would then have pushed the Bill over the line into the unacceptable and, in my judgment, the un-Conservative, and I would not support it. I do not believe that that is the Government’s intention and so I will help them to get the Bill through tonight, but they must be wary of some who do not have the best of objectives for the Government’s policy and might take it in the wrong direction—let’s not get there.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital) 2:51, 12 December 2023

It is a delight to follow Sir Robert Neill, who made one of the best speeches so far today against the Bill. Unfortunately, he does not follow through on his logic, but I am sure that by the end of this process he will do, because he knows perfectly well that the Bill is not really acceptable. I am sure that in his heart of hearts he would like to vote against it tonight.

There are five reasons to vote against the Bill. The first is that it will not work; the idea that someone who is not deterred by a dangerous journey in a dinghy across the most crowded sea lane in the world will be deterred by this flimsy piece of nonsense is just laughable. Secondly, the Bill will lead to protracted and expensive chaos, because, as the hon. Gentleman says, it sails so close to the wind legally that it will inevitably lead to legal challenges. Ironically, since the ouster clauses mean that challenges cannot be adjudicated in the British courts, they will go to the European Court of Human Rights. So the Government are actually replacing a UK court with a European court here, and simultaneously declaring in the Bill that they are not satisfied that the Bill will withstand a legal challenge based on compatibility with the European convention on human rights. That is a recipe for chaos and for expense.

Thirdly, the Bill seeks to reverse by statute law a finding of fact by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, and it therefore creates a legal fiction. Its title, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, gives the game away. According to the Bill, “Rwanda is safe, even if it isn’t safe, simply because the Government, through the Bill, say it’s safe.” Declaring that somewhere is safe does not make it, of itself, safe. We can no more change reality by law or legal diktat than we can by mere imagination. As Bolingbroke says in Richard II, we cannot

“cloy the hungry edge of appetite

By bare imagination of a feast”.

We cannot make Rwanda safe just by saying it, so the declaration in clause 2 that

“Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country” is utterly fatuous. If Rwanda is, either now or in the future, in fact safe, the provision deeming it safe is, or will at that point be, otiose or redundant. But if Rwanda is not now or in the future safe, that provision is self-evidently wrong in fact and therefore wrong in principle. So clause 2 is either unnecessary or wrong—or both, simultaneously.

Fourthly, the Bill establishes in UK law a completely new doctrine of the separation of powers, as the ouster clauses, which prevent judges and tribunals from supervising the conduct of Ministers in operating the policy they have laid out in statute, put Ministers above the law. It is not the sovereignty of Parliament that the Bill asserts, but the sovereignty of Ministers. Fundamental to the rule of law is the idea that the Crown—or its modern proxy, the Executive—cannot act arbitrarily, even if it uses its majority in Parliament to declare that it can. That would be the worst form of Henry VIII Act, equivalent to his Proclamation by the Crown Act 1539, which deemed that all the King’s proclamations, even though they were not approved by Parliament, shall be observed

“as though they were made by Act of Parliament.”

Fifthly, now is not the time to undermine human rights and the rules-based order. The UK relies on foreign courts and tribunals being effective. We watch events in Ukraine and declare that the butchery in Bucha or in Mariupol is a war crime. Who do we want to adjudicate that? We want an international court to do so. We rightly lecture China about human rights abuses in Xinjiang province and about abiding by the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. We invoke Magnitsky sanctions against human rights abusers around the world. How can we expect others to abide by the rule of law, and their human rights and other treaty obligations, if we abandon those things?

Sir Geoffrey Cox was right about one thing—incidentally, he was wrong about 2004, because what we did not do at that time was put in an ouster clause meaning that Ministers were free to do what they wanted. Those who think the Bill should go further will get no help from anyone on this side of the House, in any of the parties, in Committee or on Report. As we have heard, if the demands of Sir William Cash were to be met in amendments in Committee or on Report, Rwanda would withdraw, and the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst would withdraw his support for the Bill.

I do not know why anyone would vote for this Bill, but voting for it, despite knowing that it is legally offensive or believing it is fatally flawed, in the desperate hope that the Government will help you amend it, is just delaying the inevitable. I say that because the most extraordinary irony of all is that the Prime Minister has had to rely on the Rwandan Government to tell him and his MPs that Rwanda will not accept any law that breaches international law. Rwanda is theoretically and nominally democratic, but it is, in effect and in actuality, an authoritarian one-party state. That is who is keeping us on the straight and narrow legally. Just think about that before you vote for this nonsense.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 2:56, 12 December 2023

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Chris Bryant, and I was pleased to hear his strong invocation of the fallacy that we live in a separation of powers constitution. We do not; we live in a constitution of checks and balances. We are proud to have an independent judiciary and an independent legal profession underpinning the rule of law, which we are all equal under and subject to. We also have a Parliament that is supreme—the “Crown in Parliament” is the phrase. That is why, like my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, I take issue with some of the wording in clause 1, but that is by the bye.

The principle of comity is one that we can ill afford to overlook. What do I mean by that? I am talking about the mutual respect that has to exist between the different arms of the constitution. This place is sovereign—we derive our sovereignty from the people—but we also have a responsibility to use that in the responsible way. This is not a new challenge; previous generations have faced similar dilemmas.

I am not going to stand here and minimise the emergency that we face from illegal migration or the challenge that the entire west faces from the mass migration of people who might seek a better life and who are either fleeing war-torn countries or coming for economic reasons. This is an unprecedented challenge for all western democracies. However, such challenges have been faced in the past. When we were at war, we had to make very difficult decisions in this Parliament to make sure that we struck the right constitutional balance in defending these islands against dictatorship, but not in a way that defended us and protected us out of our very freedoms. Our very liberty itself is at stake, and the way in which we legislate has to be responsible and in line with that respect for our fundamental freedoms.

As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox said, there is a fundamental truth here that we cannot avoid: if this Bill is amended to create an utter and complete ouster from any individual-based challenge, that goes beyond the parameters of reasonableness and into the sort of legislation that inevitably sets up a fistfight, not with international courts, but with our very own courts.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

My right hon. and learned Friend is more than aware of the Privacy International case. He knows, as well as I do, that there was a dissenting judgment in that case by both Jonathan Sumption and Lord Reed, which sums up the situation. It is very finely balanced on the facts of that particular case.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Contrary to mythology within the Conservative party, my hon. Friend and I agree on many of these key issues. He and I would have legislated over the Evans decision about the Prince of Wales’s letters, because we felt that their lordships went too far. That is an example of this House and this Parliament potentially legislating to correct a legal decision by the courts. Of course we are entitled to do that and we should do it where the will of Parliament dictates.

However, there is a difference between a scenario like that and the one that we face at the moment. Without more evidence and work by the Government, to blithely create a deeming provision in the face of a very strong Supreme Court decision against the Government would have been to invite disaster. That is why not only the treaty that has been signed between Rwanda and Britain is crucial, but also the policy statement that has been published by the Home Secretary today and laid in the House, which I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to read. There is no doubt that the facts are evolving and changing. We should remind ourselves that when the Supreme Court made its decision it looked at the law and the facts as of the summer of last year—some 18 months ago—and we have moved on considerably.

The new provisions are not constitutionally unprecedented. They are unusual, which is why the Government must be restrained. Without clause 4 in the Bill, I am afraid that the Government will set up a massive glass jaw to be smashed by a court in the future, and to invite the sort of constitutional conflict that any good Conservative would not want to see. We do not want our courts being drawn into politics. I have spent my career in this place and my political life arguing against the politicisation of the judiciary, and I have been the first to bring forward legislation to oust the court’s jurisdiction. We did so in the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022, on the Cart judicial review—my hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson finished the job on that.

I am more than happy to be robust about the position of this place and the importance of not having undue and capricious interference with the will of Parliament. I am the first person to assert the authority of this place, but I will not be party to legislation that, in effect, invites the courts to “Come on up, if you’re hard enough”. That is not the approach that we, as responsible Conservatives, should take. To echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, if this Bill is to be amended in any way that crosses that line, I cannot and will not support that.

If anything, the Government should be thinking carefully about ensuring that the Bill is engineered to provide as perfect a balance as possible between their obvious right, as a Government, to get their policy object through, to reflect the huge concerns of our constituents, but, at the same time, to work within the parameters of our unwritten constitution. Today we have a Conservative Government, but what if a Government of another colour was doing something that we, as Conservatives, found mortally offensive? What would we have to rely upon in the defence of the balance of this constitution? What would be left for us to defend against an over-mighty socialist Government? Not a lot. Yes, it is about principle, but at the end we must not lose sight of the fact that as Conservatives it is our constitutional duty to maintain that balance. Remember comity, Mr Deputy Speaker, and we will not go wrong.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 3:04, 12 December 2023

I say sincerely that it is a genuine pleasure to follow Sir Robert Buckland. He gave a characteristically thoughtful speech for Second Reading and, more interestingly, laid down several markers for future stages, should we get to that point. This is a most interesting and unusual Second Reading debate; we are seeing played out in front of us a tripartite discussion between one side of the Government, another side of the Government and the Treasury Bench. It is a remarkable spectacle to observe, albeit not a particularly seemly one.

I was struck by the reliance that Sir Robert Neill placed on the references made by Sir Geoffrey Cox to proceedings in relation to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc. ) Act 2004. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman observed, that was where the concept of safe countries was introduced. The list of safe countries included all the EU countries except Croatia, plus Norway, Iceland and later Switzerland. It was another piece of legislation that restricted the access of rights to appeal for those whose asylum claims had been unsuccessful. There are perhaps lessons to be learned for us all in how that line of legislation has developed ever since.

The enduring lesson I take is not that that Act was introduced by a Labour Government—a Government that had David Blunkett as Home Secretary—but that the Bill was opposed, with some controversy at the time, by the then Conservative Opposition. They described it as “clumsy and draconian”. They were absolutely right about that and, many years later, we can see exactly where that sort of legislation has taken us. What is it about the Conservative party of 2023 that now finds that sort of legislation so attractive?

Let us not forget that we are dealing with the consequence of the refusal of this Government to prosecute the case for safe and legal routes. Why do we not find people from Ukraine or Hong Kong trying to cross the channel in small boats? It is because we offer them safe and legal routes. The Rwanda scheme is unworkable—we know that because it has never been made to work—and the barriers are well rehearsed, but every time they are thwarted, the response of this Government is to throw a foot-stamping tantrum. Anyone who ever had any doubt about the depth and scale of Tory self-entitlement can see it laid bare here today. The Bill is not about making the system work or providing an effective deterrent; it is simply about trying to bring together a disparate range of forces within their own party.

How many will Rwanda take over the five years of the agreement? The only reliable information about that comes from the Rwandans themselves: it will be a few hundred. What sort of deterrent effect will that have? Everything that we know about the Bill and the cost of the scheme comes not from the Home Office, but from the Rwandan Government. It is because of the information that they put into the public domain that we learned about the extra £100 million that the Government have submitted; they were never going to tell us.

The problems facing this policy are manifest and they are not going to be wished away. We should not forget, however, that even with those issues wiped away at a stroke, the Bill and the scheme would still represent a moral vacuum where our asylum system should be. It is wrong in the practicalities, but it is also wrong on the principle. It is a liberal value to take personal responsibility and to live up to one’s obligations. Passing on our asylum responsibilities to another country is the opposite of that value. It is a step back from the world and a move towards isolationism. It suggests that we have no responsibilities to the wider world.

Much like this Bill’s rewriting of reality to impose a judgment of safety to Rwanda, these plans would reverse decades of the UK’s leading the way on the international rule of law and rules-based order, of which we should be so proud. Many across the House, having boasted about global Britain, must now ask themselves whether they really want to turn us into fortress Britain. The Bill suggests a grim and illiberal mentality that is a far cry from the confidence that our country used to project, and that, Mr Deputy Speaker, is why we should reject it this evening.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 3:10, 12 December 2023

Having been the Home Secretary who negotiated the original migration and economic development partnership, I find it quite odd to hear some of the comments in this debate, and particularly those appalling ones that run down the country of Rwanda. The partnership with Rwanda was established as a world-leading and innovative way to tackle the challenges caused by the mass migration and displacement of people. It was carefully designed with our friends in the Rwandan Government to do one thing that no one in this House has mentioned today: to raise the international bar on the treatment of asylum seekers and to do so with compassion and support when it comes to their resettlement. Astonishingly, while Members, particularly those on the Opposition Benches, have been talking down the Government of Rwanda for the past 20 months, the country has in fact already supported and resettled 130,000 refugees through schemes established with the UNHCR and through international conventions.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, there is no time for me to give way.

Effectively, such resettlement schemes involving third countries are the type that we need to deal with the awful, abusive and illegal trade in people smuggling. The awful comments that I have heard thus far about Rwanda and this scheme leave a stain on this House. We have a moral imperative to raise the bar and, effectively, to look at how we can be better as a Government at addressing these issues. When I negotiated and agreed the partnership in April 2022, we all knew that it would face criticisms and legal challenges, and the Government of the day were prepared for that. I said it at the time and in fact we gave some clear statements in the House as to the steps that we would take forward.

A year ago, the High Court found the plans to be lawful. The Court of Appeal ruled against the policy, citing concerns over the issue of refoulement, which are well known. Importantly, as the Supreme Court has since emphasised, the principles of the policy as well as the commitment given by the Rwandan Government to make the partnership work, are all fine and sound, but some operational measures need to go further. The Government have since outlined them both in this Bill and through statements they have made in this House, which would help to make the scheme viable.

It is fair to say that we all bear the scars of this debate, and we heard my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick speak about that. I do not envy those on the Front Bench right now. We have had a constant merry-go-round of legal challenges—whether through our own domestic courts, or through interference from elsewhere, by which I am referring to rule 39. I have experience of dealing with rule 39! There are organisations, campaigners and lawyers who will do everything possible to frustrate the will of this House and the will of the democratically elected Government, because, at the end of the day, that is what we are. We have to rise against these dogmatic beliefs because, quite frankly, there are too many organisations and individuals who are getting in the way and effectively letting more claims go to the courts.

There are measures, including some from the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which have not been implemented, including the one-stop shop. They would save the courts a lot of time and effort by bringing forward the single claims that this House voted through, just last year, which meant that repeat claims would not keep on going back to the courts. I say to those on the Front Bench that it is really important that we press on the Government to go backwards in order to go forwards. We need to bring in these measures that have already been passed through Acts of Parliament—dare I say it, there may be more in legislation that has come in since.

I ask the Minister, in responding to the debate, to tell us how the Government will act and prepare for any future challenges that may come through this legislation. How will they stand up to the unmeritorious claims that keep coming through the courts—for example, those based on modern-day slavery, which we have heard about far too much? We put measures in the Nationality and Borders Act to deal with that.

We have seen the summary of the legal advice that the Government have received and read much of the other expert opinion. I seek assurances from the Minister that he and his colleagues are aware of the risk of challenges. How that is mitigated as the Bill passes through the House, in the conventional way, will be crucial. We cannot have more cases bogged down in the courts. Too many of us have worked through that.

We have a major problem with detention in this country, which includes a lack of detention capability. There were plans in the “New Plan for Immigration” to introduce Greek-style reception centres. I press the Minister and the Home Office to work with the Prime Minister and the Treasury to bring forward those sites; otherwise, we will see more Bibby Stockholms and more Wethersfield sites, which frankly are not the answer. Those Greek-style reception centres will help with the fast-tracking of processing claims and the fast-tracking of the removal of individuals who have no right to be in this country. I also press the Minister and the Home Secretary to adopt an integrated approach, so that we can deal with this national issue. The public voted for change and we want to deliver that change for them.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:16, 12 December 2023

Speaking as a lawyer—[Interruption.] Yes, there are still one or two of us left. I must say that I felt quite queasy reading the Bill. It is not the kind of thing that I would expect this Parliament to be considering. I detected the same queasiness among some of the lawyers who have spoken from the Government Benches, including the former Justice Secretary and the current Chair of the Justice Committee. Apparently, they too found reading the Bill a queasy experience.

I agreed with the former Tory Law Officer, Lord Garnier, who used to be in this House, when he called this Bill political and legal nonsense. It designates Rwanda as a safe country, but by doing so it seeks to reverse a conclusion of the Supreme Court on the facts. It is perfectly reasonable to legislate if the Supreme Court strikes down a policy, but one normally legislates to change a policy, not to purport to change the facts, or to say that the facts, which have not changed, are other than what the Court found them to be. That is the first thing that made me feel queasy.

The Bill goes on to try to prohibit any legal challenges that may argue that Rwanda, having been deemed safe in this way, is in fact unsafe. It says that every decision maker

“must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”,

notwithstanding any evidence that may come forward to the contrary. Given that the evidence that has already come forward, which the Supreme Court dealt with in its judgment, led the Court to say unanimously that it was not a safe country, it is worrying that we seem to think we can simply legislate to change the facts.

The Bill allows a very narrow range of claims, and this comes to the heart of the argument between those on the Government Benches who wish to beef it up even further to exclude any kind of legal challenge, and those, perhaps on the one-nation side of the Conservative party, who are trying to put a line in the sand to say that they will not accept any further amendments. The narrow range of claims allowed are those based on

“compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances”,

and even those sorts of claims are excluded in some circumstances relating to refoulement.

Excluding courts, by Act of Parliament, from considering relevant evidence; excluding them from taking account of judgments and laws, including domestic legislation; fettering their judgment as the Bill seeks to do; and giving Ministers power to ignore injunctions—taken together, that is tantamount to undermining the rule of law. It is certainly not respecting the rule of law, as I would expect parliamentarians in this place to do—and certainly as I would expect the Government of the day to seek to do, if they wished to uphold our international reputation.

It beggars belief that the Government’s response to the loss of their policy in the Supreme Court is to ask this House to legislate just to declare, “It’s all fine anyway; let’s carry on.” As others have pointed out, even if we were to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as a result of this Bill’s passing into law, the policy is designed for a few hundred people at the most, or less than 1% of people arriving in the UK. The permanent secretary at the Home Office was very clear when he said there was no evidence that it would work as a deterrent, whereas most of what we hear from Conservative Members is that that is the very purpose of the legislation—it is supposed to be a deterrent.

So there we have it: the policy is a Tory shibboleth, which has become an article of faith for some elements of the Tory party—the “five families”, as I think they have called themselves, somewhat menacingly. We see the Tory psychodrama unfolding yet again to decide the fate of the latest unelected Tory Prime Minister to be threatened with defenestration by some of the more right-wing elements of those five families. The country deserves better.

As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper set out in her excellent speech, time and again the Government go for gimmicks and infighting over basic competence and good administration. It is four years since the Tories promised to end boat crossings in six months. Almost a year after the current Prime Minister promised again to stop the boats, 30,000 more people have arrived. Hotel usage is going up, and not down as the Home Secretary claimed; it is at 56,000 at the moment, 10,000 more than when the Prime Minister promised to end hotel use. Criminal gangs are not being deterred. Convictions for people smugglers have dropped by 36% since 2010 and the criminal gangs are making more money than ever. The backlog of undetermined cases remains at 165,000, despite the PM’s promise to abolish the backlog of initial asylum claims by the end of this year.

It is folly to continue with this farcical failed joke of a policy when what is really needed is competent, good administration. Why not put the money being wasted on this policy into dealing with the actual problem? If the Tory party and the Government tried to do that rather more successfully than they have managed in 13 years, they might get some credit from the Opposition and from the nation, but there is precious little evidence that there is going to be any of that.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West 3:22, 12 December 2023

We all know that our constituents want action on illegal migration. If we conduct surveys and read our emails, we know that it is one of the most important issues facing our constituents. But it is not new that the political parties are debating and making promises on it. Maria Eagle concluded her speech by bemoaning the lack of action and change in a year and in four years. When she delved seriously back, she went back 14 years. Let us go back a bit further.

In 1997, such was the issue of asylum and migration that it merited a mere two paragraphs in the Conservative party general election manifesto, and the same in the Labour party manifesto. In 2001, with Labour newly in office, the Conservative manifesto stated:

“The problem here is worse than anywhere else in Europe because of Labour’s mismanagement. The Government has presided over massive delays in processing applications and admits that thousands of those whose cases are rejected simply disappear and never leave.”

That was us, in 2001. We said:

“We will ensure that those whose claims are rejected are quickly deported by a new Removals Agency. Conservatives will restore common sense to Britain’s asylum procedures.

By 2005, Labour were promising to establish a points-based system, stating:

“We will ensure that only skilled workers are allowed to settle long-term in the UK, with English language tests for everyone who wants to stay permanently and an end to chain migration.”

In 2010, Labour said:

“People need to know that immigration is controlled, that the rules are firm and fair,” and sought a mandate for a promised “Australian-style points-based system”. By 2010, we were promising—we might, if we listen carefully, hear the echoes from down the corridor in the other place—that we would

“take steps to take net migration back to the levels of the 1990s—tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands.”

By 2015, Labour were talking about how “broken promises erode trust” and said—there were echoes of this in what the shadow Home Secretary said—that they would recruit 1,000 new border staff and speed up the process.

Both political parties have made promises to the British people at election times, and both have then told the British public that it is the other party’s fault that the problem has not been addressed. When we look back, between 1964 and 1997 the UK’s net migration figures were never lower than minus 87,000 or higher than plus 58,000. Now, it would be regarded as a modest year—a low figure—if net migration were in the several hundreds of thousands. All the while, according to the ONS, more than 8 million people in this country are economically inactive.

I will support the Government today, because I think that they deserve credit for trying to deliver on their promises to the British people on the boats. We in this House should unite for once, to seek to deliver on the successive promises that we have all made to the British people. When we look at countries where those promises have been broken, we see that unsavoury, dangerous people have stepped into the void. I fear that, if we do not once and for all say what we will do and deliver it for the British people, we could see such a fate in this country.

In my Bournemouth West constituency, we have four hotels occupied by people waiting for their asylum application to be determined. I am clear that it is grossly unfair on them to be trapped in that limbo, and yes, we should do everything we can to accelerate the process, but if they have no right to be in this country, it is equally fair on the British people and British taxpayers that those people get that determination and are returned to their country of origin to get on with their lives.

We are seeing far too many people come here without the necessary checks and then do things in this country that are deeply unwelcome. I cite the example of Tom Roberts, a poor young man who was brutally murdered in my constituency. His murderer said when he came here that he was 14, so he was put into a secondary school. It turned out that he was 18 and that he had murdered two other people in the country that he was in before he came here.

We owe it to the British people to be clear and direct. I will support the Government, and I will support the Opposition if they become the Government, to finally keep faith with the British people and with those who come here with the right to be here, in order to fulfil our ancient pledge to offer sanctuary and freedom to those who are persecuted. But we have to be straight with the British people. If we say that we will do something, we have to do it, and we must use every means at our disposal to deliver directly for the British people.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment 3:28, 12 December 2023

I am glad that the debate has provided an opportunity for former immigration Ministers to come together for some therapy and to share a little experience about the principles at the heart of the Bill. I served as immigration Minister for nearly two and a half years—in fact, I think that I am the longest-serving former immigration Minister still in the House—so I know a little about what it takes to deliver an immigration system, and I have sympathy with some, albeit not many, of the comments that I have heard from the Government Benches this afternoon.

I will say three quick things about deterrence, international agreements and staying true to our values in these debates. I was the Minister who introduced the UK Border Agency. I brought UKvisas from the Foreign Office and customs from the Treasury into the Home Office to create a £2 billion agency with a simple principle at its core: that border security in the 21st century cannot simply be about defending the border at the shores of our country. In this day and age, one has to operate a triple border. We have to export the border as far away from these shores as possible; we need to have a strong border at those shores; and then we need to have strong in-country enforcement. The only way in which we can get that system to work, and to work effectively, is to fund it.

Global migration pressures are growing sharply. As Sir Conor Burns rightly flagged, 184 million people globally now live outside the borders of their birth, and there are 37 million refugees. Those migration pressures have been growing exponentially since the fall of the Berlin wall, and will continue to grow exponentially in the years to come, not least as the ravages of extreme weather drive more and more people in fragile, conflict and violent countries into poverty. People will always go that extra mile to seek a new life abroad. If we are to have strong borders for this country, yes we must have deterrence, but the deterrence is the speed of justice. It is not the prospect of overriding domestic laws and shipping people off to some remote deportation centre. That is why Home Office officials are right to say that the Bill and its objectives provide very little deterrence, because the Bill does not accelerate the process of rendering a decision on a person’s case and, if they have no basis to be in this country, removing them very rapidly.

Under the administration that I ran, we knew that we had to transform the speed of deportation, which is why we moved heaven and earth to ensure that one person who had no right to be here was removed every eight minutes. That was the kind of pace that was needed to send the very clear message that, if a person is found to have no right to be here, they will be removed very quickly. That is the most effective form of deterrence. The House has to confront the reality. Given a choice on how to spend £400 million of taxpayers’ money, do we spend it on building a remote processing centre in a far-away place, which our own officials tell us is will have no deterrent effect whatsoever, or do we invest it in creating a system that takes decisions quickly and removes people quickly if they have no right to be here?

The first thing one learns as an immigration Minister is that we cannot remove people unless we have agreements with other countries to take them. This is not a country that just drops people out of the back of aeroplanes if they have no right to be here: we have to get them new travel documents, and to have other countries that agree to take them. Frankly, the most important countries with which we need those kinds of agreements are our closest neighbours in Europe, so if we are about to destroy—wipe out and consign to history—decades’ worth of human rights agreements with our closest neighbours, how easy do we really think it will be to get return agreements of any type with those European countries? It is going to get harder and harder, because we will be seen not as good partners, but bad partners. That will not help us to get in place the kinds of returns agreements we are going to need if we are to keep our border and immigration system working well in the 21st century.

My final point is about the Human Rights Act. It is a terrible sight to see the party of Churchill depart so quickly from one of Churchill’s proudest legacies. The European convention on human rights and the Council of Europe were not ideas that were dreamed up out of thin air. They were ideas led, promulgated and delivered by Winston Churchill. That vision—his vision—of a great charter to bring peace to a war-divided continent was based on our experience of protection against torture and against unfair imprisonment and protection of life. Those are ideas that we in this country pioneered, from Magna Carta through the Bill of Rights to the European convention on human rights. The idea that the Conservative party will now lead us in departing from that tradition is a very sorry state of affairs. We in this country are the pioneers of human rights—we celebrated that anniversary with the United Nations at the weekend. It is something we should hold dear.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West 3:34, 12 December 2023

Oh, thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sorry; I could not hear you with all the excitement.

Unusually, the aim of this Bill is set out in clause 1, which is

“to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes”.

That is an aim with which I am sure not a single hon. Member could disagree. Illegal migration is possibly one of the greatest scourges of our age. It is evil, it is internationally organised and it is socially and economically damaging to this country. The Rwanda scheme is an inventive and innovative plan. It establishes, or aims to establish, an effective deterrent to illegal migrants—to make them think twice about making that perilous crossing across the channel. Unfortunately, it foundered on the rocks of the Supreme Court last month, when the Court held that Rwanda could not be considered a safe country, because there were substantial grounds to believe that migrants would face the risk of refoulement, or of being transferred to their country of origin or a third country. The treaty that the Government have concluded does provide reassurance in that regard. It addresses the problem identified by the Court by making specific provision that no relocated individual may be removed from Rwanda other than to the United Kingdom.

Given the dualist nature of our constitution, the treaty needs to be complemented by domestic legislation, and this Bill is that legislation. It is critical that the Bill should function as the Government intend, which is to facilitate the removal of illegal migrants to Rwanda without legal impediment. The question is: does it do so effectively? The Bill has been described as

“the toughest piece of…migration legislation ever put forward by a UK Government”,

and there is no doubt that it does toughen the current regime. However, it is debatable whether it is sufficiently watertight to amount to a significant deterrent to the boats by facilitating the flights to Rwanda.

The Bill has been considered by the legal panel of the European Research Group, and I commend its report to hon. Members. It notes that significant amendments to the Bill are required to improve it, but it expresses concern that those amendments may well be outside the scope of the Bill. One of the most significant problems is that the Bill contains no restrictions on legal challenges against removal to Rwanda on any grounds other than that Rwanda is not a safe country, and that clearly reflects the fact that the Bill is a direct response to the judgment of the Supreme Court last month. If the Bill does successfully block challenges based on arguments that Rwanda is not safe—the treaty certainly helps in that regard—it is likely that those advising illegal migrants will focus more on pursuing challenges of another kind.

We should consider clause 4, which specifically provides that legal challenges to removal may be made if arguments are put forward that Rwanda is not a safe country for individual migrants based on compelling evidence relating to their personal circumstances. The opportunities for the abuse of that provision are obvious. Migrants may well be advised by people smugglers or by unscrupulous lawyers, because there are some, that they should oppose removal to Rwanda on spurious grounds such as a non-existent mental health condition, a fear of flying or whatever. Given that as many as 500 illegal migrants, at the height of the summer, arrive on these shores every day—

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

I stand corrected by someone who knows about it. In that case, it is not difficult to envisage a situation in which tribunals and courts may be overwhelmed. I believe that this Bill requires amendment, and I am inviting my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to say, when he winds up this evening, that the Government are open to amendments. I hear what my hon. Friend Sir William Cash has to say about scope, but I want the Minister to engage with colleagues to see if this Bill may be made better.

At the moment, numerous deficiencies have been identified in the report of the so-called star chamber which I believe will render this Bill inoperable and ineffective. The last thing we want to do as a House is expend a lot of time and a lot of agony to put in place a Bill that does not result in the flights to Rwanda and the deterrence that we need to illegal migrants. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will respond positively to the suggestion when he winds up. I know that a lot of colleagues will listen carefully to what he has to say, and I think they will welcome what may well be regarded as a change of tone on the part of the Government.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 3:40, 12 December 2023

This Bill might be called the safety of Rwanda Bill, but it is really the safety of the future of the Tory party Bill. It is basically Schrodinger’s legislation—all things to all Tories. Ministers might say that it does not breach international law in order to make it a dead cat of a Bill for some, but need to say that it will breach international law to make it work for a dead cat of a Tory party, scrambling to find a reason to provide for such a policy.

I will be voting against this legislation, to stand up for Britain’s proud tradition of human rights and to urge this place to learn from the mess created by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which replicated similar challenges. It is extraordinary that the Government are presenting us with a piece of legislation that says on its first page that the Secretary of State cannot confirm whether it is compliant with the rule of law and our convention obligations that we all signed up to support.

Many Members on the Government Benches have been listening to Oscar Wilde when he said:

“The study of law is sublime, and its practice vulgar.”

Legislation is not vulgar—it is imperative to democracy. They should listen more to Winston Churchill, who said that the idea of a charter of human rights was for it to be

“guarded by freedom and sustained by law”.

This Bill will not sustain those laws, but diminish them.

We should be proud of the fact that we were the first nation to ratify the convention that set up the European Court of Human Rights, at a time when thousands of people were fleeing persecution and in recognition that the world did not always get things right. We remember the children on the Kindertransport who came to this country, but never their parents who we left behind. It is unimaginable in our own world to manage these issues on our own. That is exactly why we signed up to international treaties—to share the burden, to make the refugee system manageable and to deal with the fact that 60% of people on those boats are being granted asylum because they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Shipping a few of them off to Rwanda—just 5%—is at best an expensive distraction and at worst a deception.

The only thing that this piece of legislation will do is make a bad situation worse. Clause 5(3) provides that the Court cannot take an interim measure into account, even if a Minister has not blocked it. The Bill also breaks our commitment to observe rule 39 interim measures. In doing that, we breach our obligations under article 13 of the ECHR, which requires member states to provide effective remedies for the infringement of rights in domestic law. In layman’s terms, Parliament is being asked to commit the UK to a process that breaches our obligations to protect people from torture. No other country has ever tried to challenge rule 39 jurisdictions. They may not have complied with them, but we are leading on a completely new departure. That will do untold damage to our status around the world. It will also damage other treaties that we have signed up to.

The trade and co-operation agreement states explicitly that if we end judicial co-operation, we undermine the agreement. The Good Friday agreement states explicitly that denying access to domestic courts for individuals on the basis of the ECHR contradicts its own commitments. I am sure that our colleagues from Northern Ireland have recognised that we cannot override legislation in this way. That means there will be countless legal challenges. We have already heard about the millions of pounds we have spent on a scheme where not a single refugee has been sent to Rwanda for processing. We have already spent £2 million on legal fees fighting this process, and that is on top of the extra £150 million we have already pledged to spend on it. No wonder a ministerial direction has been required to uphold this policy.

Parliament can pass any law it likes stating that things should happen. We could pass laws saying that there should not be smoking on the streets of Paris, but it does not mean it will happen, and that is the legal fallacy at the heart of this Bill, along with the Home Office permanent secretary saying there is no deterrent effect. I could pass legislation to say I can sing, but if Members came to karaoke with me, they would quickly realise the truth. The cold, hard reality of the law is that the Bill does not change the facts that the Supreme Court identified, and only the people who think it is a deterrent think that they can somehow keep saying to the courts, “No, no, no—Rwanda is safe,” like some kind of Vicky Pollard approach to making legislation.

It is time the British public woke up to what this Government are doing. We cannot amend ourselves out of this challenge without, on the one side, Tweedledum and, on the other, Tweedledee arguing anymore. This is a mess. It ruins our international standing, it is more money being wasted and it is more time in this place being wasted, when we could go after the traffickers and those exploiting vulnerable people fleeing persecution. We should speak up for the values that, post war, we stood for in the world, including supporting people who are at risk of persecution.

This legislation will not stop the boats, it will not stop the rot and it will not stop the Tory party tearing itself apart. Britain deserves better. With this side of the House, it will get it.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 3:45, 12 December 2023

Let me start by saying how much I support the objectives of the Bill. I pay tribute to the Government for the very significant improvements on the status quo that the Bill represents. There are, of course, some practical issues with its operation, which have been well rehearsed on this side of the House.

As my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick said so well earlier, what really matters is whether the Bill will work, and what working looks like is being able to detain and remove sufficient numbers of illegal migrants quickly enough that they decide that the journey across the channel is not worth it. That means ensuring that we have the capacity in the system. I recognise the progress that the Government have made to improve capacity but, as my right hon. Friend says, we have significant concerns about the system getting gummed up with legal claims that are still allowable under the Bill. We are also concerned about the potential continued operation of rule 39 orders from the Strasbourg Court.

The practical problems with the Bill, which are real and need to be addressed in its further stages, derive from a fundamental point of principle. I really do welcome the noises made in the Bill that would gladden the heart of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash—it is rather like playing Bill Cash bingo: there is “notwithstanding” this, “supremacy” that, and “sovereignty” the other, which is all extremely welcome. Nevertheless, these words do not apply in the crucial places. The Bill still rests the right of individual claims on international law, the case law of the European Court and the operations of the ECHR in our own country.

Let me say quickly that I am not, at this stage, arguing that we should depart from the ECHR, although I think we could do that. Liam Byrne spoke as if our leaving the ECHR would mean departing from the honourable and ancient British tradition of liberty, but as he implied in his speech, we would be returning to it if we were to leave the ECHR and rest our liberties on the statutes of Parliament and the common law of our courts. Nevertheless, if the European Court were to disagree with the actions of the Government and issue a substantive ruling to that effect, we would begin a conversation with it about that and decide how exactly we might comply or, if we had to, depart.

Let me turn to the Supreme Court judgment from last month, because it is very important that we try to analyse the implications of that ruling. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said, that the Supreme Court ruling explicitly acknowledges that UK law is supreme over international law. In one of the cases it considered, it made that point in principle, but, except in that one case, it does not make it in practice. The Court ruled against the Government on grounds that derive from European and international law, as well as other domestic laws.

The Court suggested that, in practice, international law trumps domestic law. Having done that, it then inserted itself into foreign policy—it presumed its right to judge a foreign Government. It said it would decide for itself whether the Rwandan Government’s undertakings could be relied upon. The Court essentially gave itself special investigatory powers to make judgments about another country. It described, rather patronisingly, the inadequacy of the Rwandan system—as if that is any business of a British court. While it totally disregarded the UK Government—it said

“the executive enjoys no constitutional prerogative” in that regard—it gave what it called “particular importance” to the opinion of a United Nations agency. So it inserts itself into foreign policy and draws down the authority of international law and global agencies, but where in its understanding is the role of the UK Government? Where is its understanding of the role of this place, Parliament, which sets our laws?

I want on reflect briefly on what “the rule of law” means, because the phrase is invoked constantly by critics of the Bill and of our Rwanda policy as if international law trumps domestic law. It is not the case that the rule of law implies some hierarchy of law ascending from parish council and local byelaws up to the global law. The rule of law means the supremacy of Parliament and the operation of the common law—case law made by our courts. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone cited all the distinguished jurists: Hoffmann, Bingham and Denning. He did not mention Hale, but he did mention Reed, the President of the Supreme Court. International law is of course important, and I totally recognise its enormous value in keeping the peace in the world and enabling us to deal with other countries, but it applies to the international plane.

Let me touch briefly on human rights law, which has been mentioned. There is an assumption that the Human Rights Act has some kind of superior status in our law. That is often seen to be the case, but that is problematic. The rights and liberties of individuals—citizens and foreign nationals, whether here legally or illegally—are properly protected by statute and case law.

I regret that we have an unsatisfactory Bill before us. I cannot undertake to support it tonight. I hope that the Government will agree to pull the Bill and allow us to work with them and colleagues across the House to produce a better Bill; one that respects parliamentary sovereignty and satisfies the legitimate concerns of colleagues about vulnerable individuals. For instance, we can do better on safe and legal routes. We should be working together with other countries to design a system that respects the sovereignty of Parliament and the legitimate rule of independent nations.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 3:51, 12 December 2023

This year is the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. What an irony, and what a shameful indictment of Ministers, that our Government are marking it by putting in front of Parliament a Bill to wave aside our human rights obligations and the judgment of the highest domestic court in the land.

This insulting and dangerous legislation attacks both human rights and our democratic structures. In doing so, it both demeans and disrespects the role that the UK has played in helping to shape the international rules-based order, including its contribution to the drafting and early ratification of the European convention on human rights in the aftermath of the horrors of world war two. It is stated on this shameful Bill’s very cover that the Government cannot say that it complies with the UK’s obligations under the ECHR—a terrible admission of this Government’s willingness to violate the principle that human rights are universal and belong to all of us by virtue of our humanity.

As others have noted, the Bill overturns an authoritative, unanimous Supreme Court judgment based on extensive evidence and made just three weeks ago. Our highest domestic court ruled that by sending refugees to Rwanda, the UK could breach its obligations under the ECHR and other international laws such as the refugee convention, the UN convention against torture and the UN international covenant on civil and political rights, as well as domestic law.

In seeking to oust the jurisdiction of our domestic courts by forbidding them from making assessments of fact and disapplying the Human Rights Act, the Bill is constitutionally exceptional and provocative. It explicitly disapplies multiple sections of that landmark Act, including basic minimum standards that protect us all, leaving barely any room for judicial scrutiny. Courts would be barred from considering whether removing an individual to Rwanda could result in removal to a country where they would face torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. What kind of Government would want the courts to ignore that and undermine the separation of powers that is fundamental to UK democracy?

This ugly Bill also attacks interim measures: a vital human rights tool under international law issued on an exceptional basis in extreme circumstances where individuals face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm. It both enables UK Ministers to decide unilaterally whether the UK should comply with interim measures and prohibits UK courts from having regard to them when considering any case relating to a removal decision to Rwanda.

To try to justify this cynical and sinister attack on the highest court in the UK, the Prime Minister has started to say that “Parliament is sovereign.” Obviously, Parliament can pass whatever laws it wants, but we have courts so that everyone, including this Government, acts with respect for the laws that Parliament has passed.

As others have said, this Bill simply will not work. Its so-called deterrent is not a deterrent to someone fleeing torture or persecution, who has already put their life at risk by taking to one of the busiest shipping lanes in dangerous, inflatable boats. The Bill has nothing to do with that, in any case; it is a performative piece of cruelty by a dying Administration and a grotesque waste of money that is neither practical nor strategic.

Most important of all, the outsourcing of our human rights obligations to a third country is downright immoral. To immorality we can add absurdity. Seeking to legislate by assertion that Rwanda is safe is as ridiculous as it is dangerous. The Government cannot sign a quick treaty one week and legislate the next to make a country safe, when the highest court in the land has said just the opposite. The facts on the ground are what matter. It feels bizarre to have to say it, but apparently necessary: legislation to say that Parliament believes something to be true does not make it so. Fixing the facts on which the law is to be applied is the kind of thinking that dangerous conspiracies are based on.

As Tom Hickman KC said in a paper for Institute for Government:

“If the Government considers that the treaty has eliminated the real risk of refoulement then it should seek to persuade the courts of that, not parliament.”

It should not need saying that when the UK Government sign a treaty, they should stick to it. They now have the embarrassment of being schooled by the Rwandan Government, who, despite their poor human rights record, are sending out warning shots that even they will pull out of this shoddy deal if the UK Government breach international law to implement it.

I will vote against Second Reading tonight, because there is no tweak or amendment that can improve something that is rotten to its core. The Bill is a doomed and draconian attempt to reassert the Prime Minister’s fragile claim to a non-existent authority, but it has serious consequences and sets an extremely dangerous precedent. These are deeply dangerous times in this country, and they are made more dangerous by this Government. We have already seen the suppression of the right to strike and to protest, and other democratic principles and standards seriously eroded. Now we have this flagrant attack on human rights, on our courts and on the separation of powers in this country. I call upon this Government to abandon their cruel, immoral and unworkable Rwanda plan, and to re-establish the UK’s good standing as a member of the ECHR and international community.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness 3:57, 12 December 2023

I will start by saying simply that I am not a massive fan of this policy. I suspect that will not come as a great surprise to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, or the former Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick. None the less, it is crucial. We need a deterrence policy. Whether or not it is workable is what sits at the heart of this debate.

As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I have heard the message time and again—whether from law enforcement, officials on the frontline, Ministers or our friends and neighbours in Europe—that deterrence has to work hand in hand with a fair asylum system. The idea that the solution is simply to open up more safe and legal routes is for the birds. We need them, but we also need hard deterrence to prevent abuse of our asylum system. When the policy was first announced, French officials told the Committee that there was a spike in asylum claims in France, because people feared what would happen to them if they made that irregular boat journey from France and ended up in another country. When the planes failed to take off, the spike in claims levelled off.

We have been to the beaches in Calais and spoken to asylum seekers in camps near the coast. We have spoken to our compatriots in Europe. It is clear that countries across Europe, and around the globe, are casting around for a solution to the challenge that we all face. Millions of people are on the move due to the effects of climate change and war. We are not on our own here. I gently suggest to friends and colleagues across the Chamber who think that the Government are tilting at a particularly British windmill that we are not. Versions of the scheme are being worked up across Europe and around the world.

While we should be proud of the schemes for Hong Kong residents and people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria, we need a rational asylum system that extends to others who need genuine help. We need to erode our asylum backlog and I give full credit to my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick for the work he put in to do just that. We need to put more work into inculcating citizenship for those who come here. We need a sensible discussion on legal migration and to be proud of the people who want to come, live and work here and set up their families here. Numbers should taper off only once we have geared the system enough to grow our own, not least to support agriculture, tourism, fisheries and social care, to avoid cliff edges.

But I go back to my main point. We also need a deterrent, one that stands up and says to the criminal gangs and the people traffickers that their trade will not work, and that they can try to put people on boats across the channel, but that those boats will be intercepted and their journey will not end in Britain. Doing that will break the trade and make the boats unviable, and that is a goal that we share across the Chamber.

The key issue the Supreme Court raised was whether Rwanda was considered to be a safe country in which to process asylum claims, and whether individuals sent there were at risk of refoulement. The Court argued that they were at risk. The measures in the new treaty, including independent monitoring and the new appeals body with a Commonwealth co-president should put those concerns to bed. The belt-and-braces approach the Government are taking is proportionate.

“It is consistent with the rule of law, going as far as it can, but no further, within the bounds of our international treaty obligations.”

Those are not my words, but those of Lord Wolfson.

I may dislike this policy and indeed the reality of where we find ourselves, but voting for this measure is the best route to stopping the boats, saving lives and crushing the business model of the criminal gangs who are exploiting some of the most vulnerable people in the world. I will support the Bill tonight.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:01, 12 December 2023

I have been in this House on many occasions when we have discussed migration and it saddens me that invariably the narrative from Conservative Members is negative and pejorative. Immigration is always couched as a problem to be dealt with, rather than an opportunity to be embraced. I long for the day when we can have a positive discussion about the history of people moving from one country to another, which, almost everywhere, has been to the benefit of the country they go to. We can also have a positive discussion about fulfilling our international and humanitarian obligations to people seeking sanctuary, particularly as with our 200 years of imperial history we have a great responsibility for that.

Robert Jenrick is not in his place, but some of his remarks saddened me; I think he will come to regret talking of immigration as “this great scourge” and suggesting that any alternative to his proposal will result in a tenfold increase in boats coming across the channel. As an attempt to weaponise and politicise a very sensitive subject for political gain, it was very distressing. If there is a problem with migration policy in this country, it is a problem made by this Conservative Government. Let me give three examples of that.

First, the backlog has risen to a shocking level of almost 100,000 people waiting to have their applications determined. That was a simple management failure by the Government of not deploying enough resources to do the job in front of them. That statement is incontrovertible, because the evidence is there that when they did employ more people and more caseworkers, the numbers turned and began to come down. Today, they have 2,500 caseworkers processing claims. The money they have already spent on this expensive Rwanda gimmick would pay for three times the number of caseworkers. Imagine what could be done with that capacity to deal with the problem.

Secondly, everybody agrees that it is completely unsatisfactory that people who claim asylum in this country and want to make their case should be locked away for months on end in hotel accommodation that is not fit for their needs. It is a problem for the communities in which those hotels are located, and it is also a problem for the people who are forced to remain in that substandard and inadequate accommodation while their claims are processed. However, it is a choice made by the Government to treat those people as guilty until proven innocent, and to detain them in this way.

An alternative system would be to look at a claim, and in the event of a determination that it could not be assessed within a number of days, to grant a temporary permit allowing the applicant to remain in the country and to work while he or she was here. What would happen if that were the arrangement? Well, first of all the hotel bill would disappear, but, more important, people would seek the support of their families, friends and communities already in this country and that of funded voluntary organisations, at a much lesser cost to the taxpayer than is currently the case, and—even more important—they would start doing work and paying tax in this country. It has been suggested to me that if we did that, all the people would fall through the system because it would be impossible to control them. I put it to the Home Office that it has already lost 90,000 records, and I rather fear that if people were allowed to work here, the HMRC system might be rather better at enabling us to know where they were than the current regime.

Thirdly, there is the question of the boats. There is talk about disrupting the traffickers’ business plan, but it was gifted to them by the Government, who closed down the legal routes to this country, thereby opening up these business opportunities. The best way to get rid of the traffickers would be to ensure that there is a system in place whereby anyone who wishes to apply for asylum in this country can do so and their application is determined if, efficaciously and swiftly, a judgment is made and the application is either rejected or accepted. We talk as though everyone coming here in these boats were illegal and undeserving. Even according to the latest figures, three quarters of those applicants have been granted asylum because they have a legitimate claim.

On the Rwanda policy itself, I referred to it earlier as a gimmick, but let me deal briefly with the point about deterrence. We know that the Rwanda scheme will make an infinitesimal contribution, with perhaps 100 or 200 places for people being deported to Rwanda. In recent years, 300 people have died making the journey across the channel. Will someone please tell me why, if people are prepared to make that very dangerous journey in spite of the risk of death, they would stop making it because of the much lesser risk of being deported to Rwanda? The truth is that these people have a right and a need to come here and apply to be here, and if we were humanitarian at all, we would respect that.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 4:07, 12 December 2023

The small boats are of particular concern to me, as the Member representing Dover and Deal, because it is in my constituency that they arrive. Dover is, in a very real sense, on the frontline of this crisis, and it is on the shores of the English channel that I have stood too often in sadness for the many lives that have been lost, and lost unnecessarily, because each and every person was safe already in France. If we stop the boats, we save lives—and we do not just save lives; we cut crime, and we put a stop to the criminal gangs who smuggle people.

That brings me to the key question that is before the House today. Will the Bill stop the boats? What we know is that it is clear from the recent Supreme Court judgment that the Court does not think Rwanda is acceptable, and I fear that in its current form the Bill will not change that position, not least because the tone of the Court’s decision was so emphatic. It certainly will not do so in the next few months, as my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick explained so clearly and passionately. We have made substantial progress this year in reducing the number of small boat arrivals, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he and the Government have done in that regard.

It is a fact that diplomacy can sometimes succeed where all else fails, and that was the experience when it came to stopping the lorry smuggling. Under Lord Cameron, extraordinary arrangements were made with France to take joint action to stop the lorries, just as we need to stop the boats now. Then, it was said that no deal could be done, yet it was. That is why, following the Supreme Court judgment, we must turn to diplomacy once again, with a cross-channel agreement to return people to France rather than Rwanda. Indeed, Italy has done a deal with Albania and there is nothing to prevent the UK and France from doing a similar deal. We must look at all options that can work, because it is only when migrants and people smugglers alike know that they cannot succeed through this cross-channel route that this small boats crisis will finally come to an end.

We should not stop there, because we need to modernise asylum as well. Asylum and the refugee convention were created in a very different time, and it must be recognised that the movement of very large numbers of people now involves journeys that are all too often incredibly dangerous. That needs to be addressed not just by the UK but by the west as a whole. A reformed international law would seek to keep people displaced by conflict close to their homes so that they can return and rebuild when the conflict ends. These changes would help control migration, prevent dangerous journeys, save lives and keep safe those vulnerable people who are impacted by wars and other circumstances in their homelands.

I have been making the case for a long time that the Government should start international discussions about a new global migration settlement, because the whole House knows that this is a concern not just for our country but across Europe as a whole. It is vital that we stop these dangerous journeys and that globally the UK should build on our incredible record of providing places of safety close to conflict zones. That is the way to protect people, to save lives and to help them rebuild their homelands when conflict ends. It would also cut crime by tackling the global illegal people-smuggling criminal networks and ruthless criminal gangs that, according to the National Crime Agency, fuel other serious and organised crime from their vast profits.

I have stood on the white cliffs of Dover with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and with the current Prime Minister. I want to stop the boats, but I am gravely concerned that the Bill in its current form will not do what the Government want. The House might want to reflect that when the immediate former Home Secretary, the former Immigration Minister and the Member for the constituency most directly affected by this crisis—among many others—all say that this Bill may not work and may not deliver what the Government are saying it will, those concerns ought to be heeded. I sincerely hope that whatever happens in the voting today, the Government will consider both operational and diplomatic ways forward, for which I and others have been making the case, which could deliver much more quickly the results that we all wish to see in the coming months.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 4:12, 12 December 2023

This is a new low even for this Tory Government. This Bill is spawned by overpromising on immigration over many years by the Conservatives. They are constantly seeking to hoodwink people into believing that they are competent enough to deal with this situation. On the balance of evidence, the courts have decided that Rwanda is not a safe country for them to send people who are seeking asylum to, so the Government have stamped their feet and brought legislation here so that they can legislate to say that something that is wrong is right. That is a new low that I have not experienced in all my years in this place.

It is a slippery slope when a Government take that sort of power to themselves. Where will it stop? Some of the speeches made on the Government Benches have raised that question. I understand that there are at least five different families, as I think they are called, over there on the Conservative Benches, who all disagree with one another. I think there might be seven. They have their own private version of “Gangs of New York” going on. We will have to have a general election soon because they are going to run out of backs into which to put their respective knives. This is the third such piece of legislation that we have had in just two years, and each time the Conservatives have told us, “This is going to stop the boats.” We had the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which we were told would stop the boats, and now we have the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

I am impressed by the stand the Rwandans have taken. Without taking a single refugee or asylum seeker, they have upped the ante threefold. They were given £140 million just to go to the table and talk about it. Now we are told the figure is up to £400 million and still growing, and Rwanda has not taken a single asylum seeker, which is an incredible feat.

Not only that, but Rwanda will offer only 100 or possibly 200 places a year. This is going to cost £2 million per person on the current figures, which is an incredible achievement by the Rwandan Government. I cannot understand why Conservative Members are not arguing about why the numbers are so low. They are arguing about people being able to take their individual cases to court, but they do not seem to be concerned that the number of places is so small. The policy is hardly likely to be much of a deterrent when so few people will be sent to Rwanda in any one year.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman is waxing eloquent on Rwanda’s excellent negotiation with the Government. Does he agree that the Rwandan authorities seem to have hoodwinked the UN as well?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I will not go down that rabbit hole, if the hon. Member will forgive me. I think Rwanda has done an incredible job. Furthermore, it has reined in the Conservatives by saying, “We also have international agreements. We have treaties and agreements with other countries that require us to abide by international laws and conventions. If you, the UK Government, don’t want to abide by them, we certainly do.” Rwanda has almost saved the Conservatives from themselves, from going too far in breaching international laws and conventions.

I have listened with interest to the speeches from Conservative Members, and the Gangway has never seemed so wide. It seems to be the equivalent of the Berlin wall for the left and right of the Conservative party. Listening to their speeches, they seem to be completely irreconcilable. There are those who want to defend the rule of law and the right of individuals to seek to uphold their rights in court, and those who want to take away that power. Members have made it quite clear that they are not going to vote for legislation if it does not satisfy their requirements, but the two requirements are complete opposites—they are totally and utterly irreconcilable.

I do not see how the Prime Minister is going to resolve this conundrum. From the expression on his face earlier, he has clearly managed to cobble together a coalition to get the Bill through today. He is confident of that.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s reflections on the Conservative party, but what are his reflections on the Labour party’s policy or absence thereof?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I hear it all the time from the Conservatives that Labour does not have a policy. It would be nice if one of the policies implemented by this Government over the past few years actually worked. That would have been a revelation.

I commend—[Interruption.] Can we have a bit of silence over there? I commend the Government for the arrangement they have made with Albania, which is the sort of route we should be taking. Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box today and said, “We have brought the small boat crossings down by a third.” That is largely due to the agreement with Albania, which is an indisputable fact. By being practical in dealing with things at source, we could resolve this problem. Investing in dealing with the gangs—[Interruption.] They are all laughing over there, but the fact is that convictions for trafficking people across the channel are down by 30%.

Perhaps Conservative Members should take a look at themselves and understand why this problem exists. It is because of the sheer incompetence of the Government. Some 160,000 people were included in the net immigration figures because the Government failed to deal with their asylum cases within a year and the Office for National Statistics included them in the figures. That is just sheer incompetence from this Conservative Government. They are incompetent in dealing with people’s claims, and in dealing with the boats and the illegal operations running them.

This is the fault of the Conservative Government from beginning to end, and this Rwanda scheme is doomed to fail. With its rhetoric, the Conservative party has overpromised and brought us to the point where we are having to legislate that black is white and that the Tories can have their own facts.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 4:20, 12 December 2023

The Rwanda policy is just one tool in a suite of tools designed to stop the boats and, more importantly, break the criminal gangs that profit from the hope of people who just want to have a better life. Last week, Essex police secured the conviction of an 11th person following the smuggling of the 39 Vietnamese who were found perished in my constituency. If we add the 18 people convicted in France for being part of the same smuggling operation, 29 people have been convicted of trafficking as a result of that investigation, which proves that we can break those criminal gangs if we target our resources on them. They are the real villains of this piece, and they are the people we should be focusing on.

I am happy to support the Bill tonight. I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of the Rwanda policy, but I recognise that we need a suite of tools with which to stop this trade and, obviously, anything that would provide a deterrent is welcome. However, we need to be realistic; if someone is prepared to get into a rickety inflatable boat to get across the channel, they are going to take considerable risk, and the Bill will only ever be a small part of this. The returns agreements are by far the most important ingredient we have, and I am glad the Government are still putting those front and centre of all their efforts.

I question how we have got to the ridiculous place this week where Conservative Members are all falling out with each other over a small element of a bigger policy. That is completely stupid, and the only people who benefit are those on the Opposition Benches. For those who are prepared to give them a victory tonight, I say, “Good luck to you. That’s great. But some of us are more intent on delivering the outcome, which is stopping the boats and breaking the criminal gangs who profit from other people’s misery.”

I hope that everybody reflects on what they are going to do tonight. We should never let the best be the enemy of the good. Politics is the art of the possible. If we pass this Bill tonight, we will be that bit closer to really tackling this problem. If we do not, we will look like a laughing stock, because we will have marched everyone up to the top of the hill only to back down again. So I implore my colleagues: you may not feel when you walk into the Lobby that the Bill totally matches your ideology, but it goes one step closer to delivering the outcome that we want, which is to save people’s lives and make sure that fewer people die crossing the channel.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 4:23, 12 December 2023

First, let me say that the Bill’s objective is supported by our party, as it should be by all reasonable people across the UK. The impact that illegal immigration has had on communities across the UK, be it in terms of the pressure it puts on schools, the health service, housing and other public services, or in terms of crime and the rewards it gives to criminal gangs, means that there is a duty on this Government to address this issue. The question is: does the Bill actually do that?

We have heard many speeches today, with some talking about the Bill’s inadequacies, others saying how important it is and others saying that it is only a political ploy in any case. Although similar Bills have been brought to this House and Rwanda has been talked about, we have sent Ministers and money there, but no migrants. That is because we have not learned from the flaws in the previous Bills.

Those flaws still exist in this Bill, because the Government are trying to get to a balance that includes the views of the lawyers who sit in the corner of the Conservative Benches and lecture us all about comity, responsibility and using powers responsibly. If they were using powers responsibly, the first thing they would do is live up to their manifesto commitment to deal with the problem and pay heed to the people who are negatively impacted by illegal immigration.

It is fine to talk in grand terms about the legal procedures and to give us lectures on comity, the balance between Parliament and the courts, and everything else. That does not rank too much with people who cannot get their youngsters into a school or the support from the health service that they require, or who find that wages locally are being driven down or rents are being pushed up. It is for that reason that I think the Government have introduced a Bill that, while it has a fine aim, does not reach the objectives that they have set out.

The one thing that has been missing from the debate today is the impact that the Bill is likely to have on Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is different. This House voted to leave Northern Ireland under the control of the European Union, through the Windsor framework and the Northern Ireland protocol, and we are under the remit of the European Court of Human Rights as a result of the Belfast agreement, which the Government are happy to change when it suits them but say they cannot change when it does not suit them. The fact of the matter is that the Bill does not deal with the issues that need to be dealt with if we are to attack the legal arguments that illegal immigrants use to stay in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that in 2016, on the BBC’s “Spotlight” programme, a constituent said to him that they were seeking to “get the ethnics out” and he appeared to say, “You’re dead right”? Is that why he is so supportive of the Bill?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

First of all, that is inaccurate—I did not say that. Secondly, this is all about the United Kingdom safeguarding its own borders and dealing with the kinds of issues that need to be dealt with, including in Belfast. Despite what people may think and what the Secretary of State said from the Dispatch Box, Northern Ireland is greatly impacted by the issue. Belfast is the second city of the United Kingdom when it comes to the number of immigrants being housed per head of population, and that is causing all kinds of problems. If the hon. Lady wishes to ignore the concerns of her constituents, that is fine, but I want to address them.

As it stands, article 2(1) of the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union applies in Northern Ireland, and the High Court has recently judged that that is grounds for people who wish to remain in the United Kingdom, having entered illegally, to bring a case. Certain aspects of European law are removed by the Bill, but not that one. Without a change to the charter of fundamental rights, Northern Ireland will be a gateway, because all the arguments that the Government are hoping to disapply will apply in Northern Ireland.

Of course, the European Court of Human Rights is embedded in the Belfast agreement. The Bill does not deal with that, so all the arguments used under the European Court of Human Rights will apply in Northern Ireland, and the European Court of Justice will be able to make a judgment as to whether the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights and the charter of fundamental rights are being applied when people make their case. What will be the impact of that? First, it will make Northern Ireland a magnet for people who might find that the route to staying in the United Kingdom is blocked, but in Northern Ireland it will not be, because we will still be under EU immigration rules, and the European Court of Justice can make the judgment. Secondly, if those people decide that they do not want to remain in Northern Ireland, with the free movement from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, with the common travel area, they could move into the rest of the United Kingdom. If that becomes a large number of people, will we then have people barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? These are issues that have either not been considered by the Minister or have been wilfully neglected, and for that reason, we cannot support this Bill.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 4:30, 12 December 2023

As usual, Sammy Wilson talks a lot of good sense.

I am uniquely badly affected in my constituency. As a result of our inability to control illegal migration, the Government want to put 2,000 illegal migrants into RAF Scampton, which our local social services simply cannot cope with, and would probably atrophy £300 million-worth of investments. My constituents are not focused on whether we have Rwanda or not Rwanda; they just want the boats to be stopped, or at least severely mitigated. We have heard many criticisms and good knockabout stuff from the Opposition, but the only solutions that anybody in the world has come up with to stop illegal migration are either with pushback, which is uniquely difficult in the channel, or with offshoring, and nothing works. Therefore we have to do something.

The world is in such a parlous state that there is no end to the misery and the number of people who want to come here. I hear that we should speed up asylum applications. That is all very well, but the more we speed them up, the more people will come. I hear that we should do more on the beaches of France. I understand that—I do not understand why the French cannot do more—but that will not stop them. The only thing that will work is what the Government are trying to do.

It is all so unfair. This morning, I mentioned the case of Maira Shahbaz, who was raped and abducted in Pakistan, and who is still waiting to get here. She is a genuine asylum seeker. So many genuine asylum seekers cannot get here, because illegal migrants are abusing the system. There is nothing wrong with them individually; they are all nice young men who just want a job. However, if somebody breaks into your house and decides to steal your stuff, the police turn up, remove them and arrest them. We are in an absurd situation where people are entering this country illegally. Run by criminal gangs, they are jumping the queue, putting their lives at risk, and we are doing nothing about it. The public are just appalled. They cannot understand what is going on. They do not understand why we are putting people up in comfortable hotels, or in comfortable former airmen’s rooms. They do not know what is going on. They are paying for all of this and they want it to stop.

I hear all these different groups in the Conservative party. A House divided is a House that will be destroyed. We must work together; there is no other solution. I hear all the different voices that are going on, so I will just say that the Society of Conservative Lawyers and the Policy Exchange—not left-wing groups—think that this Bill will work. The Government think that it will work. The ERG has some doubts, but we have to work together to try to get this Bill through. Let us get it through Parliament as quickly as possible, get it through the Lords and try to stop the boats.

We can legislate all we want to ignore the ECHR, including rule 39 interim measures, but even if we did so, we would very soon face a final judgment from the Strasbourg Court, by which everyone agrees we would be bound. That is the legal situation. The only way that we can remove the Strasbourg Court is by leaving the ECHR. That may well happen, but the Government do not have a mandate to do so at the moment. They cannot get it through Parliament; it is a matter, I suspect, for the next manifesto. Meanwhile, this Bill probably goes just about as far as we can go. I am sorry, but we must be realistic: this is all we can get through Parliament.

As both the Society of Conservative Lawyers and Policy Exchange have said, a Bill would not be workable if it did not allow for narrow claims for individual circumstances. Even the report of the ERG’s star chamber seems to accept that there should be some possibility of claims in cases of bad faith. The key question is whether our system can process and dismiss those spurious claims quickly enough. Under the arrangements we have for removal to Albania, illegal migrants have even wider avenues for claims, but they have still led to a 90% fall in small boats arrivals from Albania.

The Bill is roughly in the right ballpark, but I hope that before the Committee stage the Government will consider whether clause 4 can be tightened further and whether they can share further evidence of the ability to process and deal with spurious claims. It is a question of will. In 1939, when we were facing a world war and a crisis, overnight we exported—

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Solicitor General

What does the hon. Gentleman think of the reciprocal arrangement for the Rwandan Government to send asylum seekers to this country?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Of course none of us like any of that, but we have to get the Bill past the courts. We have to get it through Parliament. We have to be realistic. The Supreme Court has opined that there is a risk—I would say a vanishingly small one—that failed asylum seekers might be sent back to Iraq or Syria. Therefore, in order to get the Bill through Parliament and past the Supreme Court, the Government have had to make that concession. We do not like it, but that is the real world.

Politics is about reality. Therefore, this Bill must go through and be dealt with as quickly as possible. The onus on the Government now is to ensure that we can speed up the removal cases. It would be ludicrous if many hundreds of migrants, having come here illegally, were allowed to delay matters for up to a year by going to a tribunal, the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. The whole scheme will be bogged down and we will look completely ridiculous as a Government.

In order to survive and have a hope of winning the general election, the Government must also sort out the problem of legal migration. We cannot have a situation where 700,000 people are pouring into this country every year. We must pay care staff a proper salary so that we can get more of our own people working in that sector. We must deal with illegal migration, deal with legal migration and, by the way, build some more houses for our own people.

If we start working together as a party, if we stop making personal attacks on each other, if we stop questioning one another’s good faith, the Conservative party has a chance—because what has Labour got to offer? No solutions at all. If Labour gets into power it will never sort out this problem. The only hope is this Government and this Conservative party.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:37, 12 December 2023

There was a time not long ago when the unique selling point of the Conservative party was showing predictable and consistent support for the rule of law, being in favour of international treaties and organisations, and showing competency in the conduct of government. Alas, that has all changed. As we hear the rhetoric from those on the Government Benches today, we see a party that is increasingly going down a number of populist rabbit holes, fuelled by Robert Jenrick, whose scaremongering and irresponsible rhetoric is clearly designed for his leadership bid after the election rather than being any statement of fact.

The Conservative party now sees the courts and judges, not only in this country but abroad, as the enemy. They see lawyers as the pub bore does: as the enemy of the people, lefty lawyers and do-gooders. Where have we got to when the Conservative party goes down that route? The only person on the Conservative Benches I have heard defending the rights of the courts—an important part of our constitution—has been Sir Robert Neill.

Clause 2, as outlined by my right hon. Friend Maria Eagle and my hon. Friend Sir Chris Bryant, is not about changing policy; it is about changing facts. It is about saying, “Rwanda will be a safe country, and as long as we accept that and get it through this House with a parliamentary majority, that is a fact.” That is a little like saying, “The black cat is white,” as long as it gets through Parliament, irrespective of what the evidence tells us, which is that the cat is actually black. That is dangerous, because it leads to dictatorial parliamentary democracy. It is not only that the façade of democracy damages our reputation. I agree with Sir Robert Buckland, who said that it is all very well for the Government of the day to argue for this, but what happens if the boot is on the other foot, and another Government put things forward that the Conservatives do not like?

The international treaties that we pride ourselves on were born of the destruction and ashes of the second world war. Today, they are being defended on the battlefields of Ukraine. It saddens me to hear Sir Edward Leigh and others wishing just to throw away those conventions, or the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) wishing to pick and mix which bits of international treaties we should abide by. It is a little ironic, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said, that Rwanda is giving a nation such as Great Britain a lesson in international law.

My right hon. Friend Sir George Howarth said that the Government are governing in slogans. He is right, but those slogans come with a cost: £300 million of taxpayers’ money has already been wasted, with possibly another £100 million to go, on a system that the Department’s permanent secretary has said will not work, with money that has to be signed off by ministerial order rather than by the civil servants. This is not the first try, as my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra said; it is the Government’s third bite of the cherry in trying to solve the problem.

Sir Conor Burns said that we have to “keep faith” and “be straight with” the public. Well, we do need to be straight with the public: not only will the Bill not work, but it will damage this country’s international reputation. The Bill will raise expectations are waste taxpayers’ money, and it needs to be ditched. That is why I will vote against it.

I look with interest, as we all do, at the spectacle of the Conservative party tearing itself apart, but although I may disagree politically with the coalition that is the Conservative party, I have respect for some of the individuals in it. What is happening now is not good for our democracy. Sadly, the tired old nag that is this Government will be put out of its misery only when we have a general election.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 4:42, 12 December 2023

Our country finds itself in a difficult situation. The Government rightly made a commitment to the public that we would both stem illegal immigration and protect our borders while upholding our moral and legal duty to offer refuge to those fleeing violence or persecution.

Our efforts to stop people dying in the channel, to stop the criminal gangs and to stop the boats have been opposed at every turn—opposed by the Labour party, opposed through the legal system, and, of course, opposed by the criminal gangs profiting from the dangerous and illegal routes. It is claimed that this is a problem for the UK alone—that it is our Government’s problem alone—but it is, in fact, shared with our neighbours and allies across Europe, who face their own, often greater, challenges with illegal immigration.

Those challenges are not going away. Instead, as a consequence of climate change and global instability, they are likely only to get worse. Our approach to asylum needs to be fair both to the asylum seekers themselves and to our communities. Our communities have opened their hearts and homes to those seeking refuge, but that must happen through safe and legal routes. We cannot cede control of our borders to criminal gangs; we must tackle illegal immigration.

The European convention on human rights is often cited as the barrier that is preventing control of our borders. I am proud of the UK’s leading role in promoting human rights across the globe, and I want us to continue that and to support the ECHR, but the judgments of the Court appear to have moved away from simply guaranteeing the basic and fundamental rights enshrined in the treaty. Judgments have begun to infringe upon democratic decision making, and there appears to be no obvious way of holding the courts to account. That has been called judicial activism, but whatever we call it, the answer is not to withdraw from the ECHR or to break international law; the answer is to come together again, as we did in 1949, to find the answers to the challenges of the present day. That will take time, of course, and right now the Government must take steps that are within their power to control illegal immigration.

Colleagues may remember my unease about a previous Bill that threatened to break international law. I was unable to support that Bill unamended, and had the same issues arisen with this Bill, my sentiment would be the same. However, the difference is that I have been assured that the Bill, as it stands, does not break international law. It is by no means perfect—we could spend a lot of time seeking perfection, but the challenges we face are real and impacting on lives now. I will therefore give my caveated support to the Bill tonight as a near-term measure to tackle illegal immigration, but at the same time, I give my unwavering support to the Government to engage with our international partners and work towards a long-term, sustainable solution.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham 4:45, 12 December 2023

Public services are on the verge of collapse, the gap between rich and poor has widened, and we are slipping back into the Victorian era. Food bank use is at an all-time high, and workers have not had a decent pay rise in 15 years. But we are not here today to talk about those things—in fact, we are barely ever here to talk about them in any meaningful way. We are here to legislate on the dog-whistle, fantasist policies of the Conservative party, who are electioneering when they should be governing, not offering any real solutions to problems and attempting to divert attention from their own failings as a Government. They are wasting the time of this House and squandering the good will of the people of this country.

We keep going round and round on this matter. Our Supreme Court has ruled on it: it found Rwanda to be unsafe, a ruling that was based on evidence. Legislating the opposite is not going to rid us of the facts. This is not an exercise in parliamentary sovereignty, but an abuse of this Parliament’s functions. It undermines the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers. Yes, we are lawmakers and we can make and change the law, but the law cannot be used to change the facts.

Another fact is that the treaty with Rwanda, coupled with the Bill, breaches many of our obligations under international law. If that were in doubt in any way, the Government have helpfully outlined that fact throughout the entire Bill. Clause 3, for example, disapplies key sections of the Human Rights Act. It directly prevents the courts from applying the Bill in a way that is compatible with convention rights, it prevents any consideration of previous rulings of the European Court of Human Rights that have found Rwanda to be unsafe, and it removes human rights obligations from public bodies, including courts. The Bill would place an obligation on every single decision maker who has found Rwanda unsafe to simply rule it as safe. It restricts the courts’ ability to protect people who are at risk of harm, and it restricts individual legal protections. Do the Government fully understand what that means? Do they see how far they have sunk? Are they so fanatical about this flawed policy that they would bar courts from considering the very reasons why Rwanda might be unsafe, stripping people of individual legal protections?

From the very outset, this Bill has been ridiculous. Conservative Members would do well to note that there is no more empire. International law is not whatever we say it is; it is comprised of agreements and treaties adopted by Members of this House, and to dismiss them as the rules of foreign courts is as irresponsible as it is untrue. We signed up to those solemn and binding rules, so the Bill risks our international reputation and makes us hypocrites. How dare we condemn other countries that do not uphold international law, and how dare we preach to them, when we would undermine the rule of law ourselves? This Government do not really care about that, though. They care more about the squabbles of the Conservative party than our standing as a country.

If this Government were serious about resolving the issues surrounding small boats, they would do more to target people traffickers, and they would provide safe and legal routes. People do not take those perilous journeys for fun: they are often fleeing some of the worst persecution. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, not the Conservative party’s scapegoats. As has already been said, those who seek asylum from countries such as Ukraine and Hong Kong do not have to come by unconventional means because the Government have given them the ability to come by other means. The Government need to stop misleading the public with their use of the word “illegal”, because seeking asylum in this country is not illegal; it is not against any of our laws, domestic or international.

It is the Government who have exacerbated the problems in the asylum system, not the vulnerable people who are seeking asylum. We know this because the vast majority of claims are justified. After lengthy delays, three quarters of applications are accepted. The longer these processes drag on, the longer refugees and asylum seekers are prevented from rebuilding their lives in this country, and from working and contributing to our economy.

This Government have already spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a policy that is as crap as it is unworkable. [Interruption.] There is nothing more telling than the fact that the Secretary of State has been unable to make a section 19 statement. He could not say that this Bill was compatible with the European convention on human rights. The Home Secretary means to take us all for fools. For the second time this year, he cannot say that his plans for removing asylum seekers to Rwanda will not break international law. The Rwandan Government have been very clear. They have said that they will not continue with this deal if it does not meet the highest standards of international law. This Bill does not do that. This Government are wasting our time. This is not going to work, and I am not even sure it was meant to.

I am sick and tired of being dragged to this House to approve legislation that does nothing to improve the lives of my constituents or uphold the values of our society. This Bill should simply not be allowed to go any further.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 4:51, 12 December 2023

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The starting point for this debate has been the good work of a series of Conservative Immigration Ministers in working closely with their French counterparts. In particular, it is worth recalling the contribution of our late colleague James Brokenshire, whose work with the French authorities to increase security at the ferry terminals, lorry parks and around the channel tunnel in northern France, while enormously successful in reducing the numbers putting their lives at risk when being smuggled to the UK by that route, has been instrumental in driving those gangs to use small boats across the channel as the means of carrying on their trade.

I started out as something of a Rwanda sceptic, and having spent many years in local government and seen the cost challenges that face many of our local authorities in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, it did seem to me a very expensive policy per capita. However, having had the opportunity to reflect both on the visits I made to the jungle in Calais in 2016, before the security measures were put in place, and on what I have heard from agencies, including French and UK agencies operating against the gangs in France, as well as directly from some of the migrants waiting to cross the channel, it seems very clear to me that this policy has, as part of a wider range of measures, great utility in acting as a deterrent.

The policy will not by any means apply to everybody, and we know that people will continue to come to the UK, including, as they have done, to the local authority on which I served through the routes to Heathrow airport. However, a measure that helps address the unique circumstances we face in the English channel is absolutely essential. It seems to me that this Rwanda policy and the Bill today have enormous utility in addressing the risks that people are putting themselves to and the profits that the criminal gangs continue to make.

A great deal of the debate has focused on the detail of the legalities of this Bill. It certainly seems to me an enormous improvement on where we were previously. It reflects the judgment of the Supreme Court in saying that the key concern that needs to be satisfied is that anybody who is sent to Rwanda as a result of this policy needs to have sufficient safeguards on human rights that we can be confident, in particular, that they would not be moved to another country where those human rights would be abused. That replicates the agreements we have for deportations to many other countries, and it upholds the standards that we see from the United Nations, the European Union and countries, such as Austria and Germany, that are already exploring with Rwanda and others similar arrangements to address their likely concerns about the impact of high levels of uncontrolled migration across Europe and elsewhere.

I reflect on the fact that I am receiving a great deal of lobbying from leading figures in my local authorities, who are enormously concerned that the cumulative cost of accommodating large numbers of people who have arrived in a fairly short space of time means that we are struggling to ensure that access to housing, access to education and access to other important public services is maintained to the standard we would wish. In that context, dealing with those who, as a number of Members have highlighted, have effectively jumped the queue—rather than those who have played fairly, followed the correct process and come here because of their connections to the UK—represents an unfair loss of public money for that purpose.

Although this Bill is not perfect, it should be set alongside the work being done by a number of Ministers to improve decision making in the Home Office and the arrangements that have been made, working with local authorities, through things such as the national resettlement scheme for refugee children, which has led to the fairly seamless accommodation of more than double the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK. We have also seen additional local authority areas volunteering to become dispersal areas for asylum seekers and to take part in resettlement schemes compared with where we have been before, and we have the contribution that foreign students, 600,000 of whom we committed to bring to this country in our election manifesto of 2019, continue to make to our economy, which now represents a foreign currency earner larger than our oil and gas industry. That demonstrates a migration and immigration policy that in the round continues to serve the interests of the British people.

I will finish on this question. We have heard a great deal of criticism of the policy and challenges back to those who aspire to form a Government about what their policy would be. A key issue that I have not yet heard addressed in the points made about a new returns unit with perhaps a thousand staff is this: if a negotiated agreement of this nature and with this legal basis with Rwanda is not sufficient, it is incumbent on the Opposition to answer on which other countries they are seeking to negotiate those agreements with. To what extent have those agreements been reached? If returns agreements are the key policy that the Labour party wishes to have as a point of difference, it is clear at the moment that that emperor has no clothes.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 4:57, 12 December 2023

Let us not beat abound the bush: this Bill is in retaliation and is a crass payback for the Supreme Court’s decision on 15 November that the Government’s Rwanda asylum plan was unlawful. It sets a dangerous precedent. It undermines the democratic contracts of the state while also undermining what constitutes the truth. Declaring something to be true does not make it fact. Evidently, this Bill also undermines the UK’s international treaties and conventions, including the European convention on human rights, with which the Home Secretary has stated that this Bill might not comply. Sections 2, 3 and 6 to 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 are also disapplied.

The UK Government are acting hypocritically by requiring the Rwandan Government to abide by the standards of international law while disapplying them for themselves. This Bill does reputational damage to the UK at home and abroad. The Government may say that others have set a precedent for this Bill, but that argument is flimsy. The UN Committee against Torture has expressed concerns about Denmark’s intentions to move refugees elsewhere. Israel abandoned its agreement to send Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda, having been halted temporarily after legality challenges.

This legislation faces a series of hurdles, each likely to bring it down, and it comes at an unforgivable price—it has reportedly cost £240 million so far, with another £50 million agreed. Then we heard from the Secretary of State that there will be another £50 million and then yet another £50 million on top. It is in no way possible to justify this, given the cost of living crisis that we face.

No matter what the UK Government believe, Rwanda has been proven not to be a safe country for people seeking asylum. The Bill fails to address key issues raised by the Supreme Court, including human rights issues. Refugees have historically been ill treated after expressing criticism of the Government, with new provisions, such as the appeal body, untested. Fifteen Rwandan nationals have been granted protection since 2020, and this Bill excludes Rwandan nationals from its scope. How is that compatible with any definition of a safe country?

Under this Bill, anyone who arrives in the UK without a legitimate visa and has travelled via a “safe country” would be subject to removal, but what about people fleeing conflict zones who are unable to access documents such as passports and visas as embassies close down? What about the many Afghan men and women who were a crucial resource to the UK Government, and who have been left stranded and in peril? Where are the safe and legal routes?

This Bill is an affront to Plaid Cymru’s values and Wales’s aim of being a true nation of sanctuary. We are proud to be on the side of equality and want every person to have the same opportunities and the same access to justice, resources and services. We want to end recourse to public funds conditions, and allow all migrants and people seeking asylum access to the public services they require. How that is found to be contentious by the UK Government is beyond belief. Instead of engaging in electioneering and distraction policies, the Government should be expanding safe routes to ensure that fewer people decide to take the tortuous journey across the channel and at the mercy of smugglers.

To close, I refer to a model that Professor Emyr Lewis of Aberystwyth University uses when he is teaching public law. It illustrates the legislative supremacy of the UK Parliament through an imaginary potential Act: the Location of Aberystwyth (On the Moon) Bill. If an MP were to promote such a Bill and the Government were to support it, it would become law and no court in England or Wales could overturn it, but the reality of the location of Aberystwyth would remain utterly unchanged. When we are talking about the potential of the Bill to change the reality, I think we would do well to learn the lesson of Professor Emyr Lewis.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness 5:02, 12 December 2023

This Bill tackles an issue that is vital to many of our constituents. We all know how important legal and illegal migration numbers are. I know from my own constituency, which is generous and kind, that there are real tensions when five hotels are used for illegal migrants in a town such as Skegness. There is no justification for that, and residents are rightly angry. When we get such issues wrong, we strain the social fabric of our country, and the Government have a duty not just to try to tackle illegal migration, but to strain every sinew to try to tackle it.

Perhaps surprisingly—even to me—I welcome how far this Bill goes. I welcome the fact that it is doing something novel, but I am uncomfortable in that position, because the Bill goes up to the line of international law. International law is important not because of some sentimental approach about what it means or even the fact that Britain was involved in writing some of it. It is important because it is the foundation on which we can do the deals with other countries—Albania, France and Italy, for instance—that allow us to tackle illegal migration. Rwanda cannot be the only thing that we do. If Rwanda is to happen, it must be a part of a meaningful package of measures, and if we go so far in one direction to try to ensure that flights to Rwanda take off, we will knock out other important parts of the deal that we need to do.

We need to be careful about walking a tightrope. While I am uncomfortable on that tightrope, others are uncomfortable for a very different reason, but that is what successful compromise on all sides looks like. If we try to go further, we risk undermining not just our ability to tackle the issue with a multipronged approach but Britain’s standing in the world. We will have a policy that will not work and a country that is less than where we started. No one in this House wants that. To use the phrase that has been around so much recently, there is the risk that we make the perfect the enemy of the good. People who convened a star chamber recently have declared the Bill a “partial solution”—perhaps we should not forget that the very first star chamber started the civil war in England, so maybe we have had enough of star chambers—but we should be alive to the danger in saying that something is a partial solution and is therefore no good. For me, a partial solution is better than no solution.

Tonight, we must grasp the nettle that says, “Yes, much of this is uncomfortable for many across the Conservative party, but we should be united in our desire to tackle an issue that matters to all our constituents.” We should have no shame in saying, “This is a plan that we can get behind, and it contrasts so sharply with the total lack of a plan from the other side of the House.”

If people want to criticise the Conservative approach—I gather that people do—it is incumbent on them to come up with their ideas. They cannot simply say, “We will employ more people to do it”, because the Government have already employed more people to do it. They cannot simply say, “We will try harder.” The BBC accused the Labour party of replacing a Bill simply with hope—I thought that was generous.

There has to be an alternative. A responsible Opposition —a responsible aspiring Government—surely have to come up with those plans, yet we hear nothing. The twofold reason to get behind the Bill is that it is an idea that will work in making a difference to this critical problem, and it is also the only idea in town. We have found ourselves in this excruciatingly difficult position because it is an intractable problem. In the absence of better ideas, people need to be careful what they wish for.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

The hon. Member says that there are no credible options, but we have heard multiple speakers, organisations and lawyers say that there are. The Government should create safe routes and stop making people illegal, because no one is illegal. People are human beings, and they are coming here for very good reasons. They are coming from countries that we have happily bombed and interfered in, yet now we are not willing to take them in their hour of need.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

I do not understand the line that we are not willing to take people in their hour of need. When we look at the Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, we see huge evidence of this country—dare I say it, England more than Scotland—housing those people in their hour of need. I agree with the hon. Member in so far as safe routes being a crucial part of the problem, but that should not be a stick to beat people with in pretending that we have not played a huge part. We should be immensely proud of the UK’s role.

I shall vote for Second Reading without huge enthusiasm except for the concept of our having a moral duty to address the problem. The view from a constituency such as mine, with a long and complex relationship with migration, is that when politicians make promises that they do not keep, it fractures not just the social fabric but that vital democratic thread that gives us legitimacy when we come here. We have a duty to tackle the issue in a way that makes a meaningful difference. We also have a duty to unite behind a plan that will make a real difference, even if we do not think it is perfect.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:10, 12 December 2023

I attended my six-year-old son’s nativity play this morning—he was an angel. I was thinking of the story of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The young children were playing the knocking noise as they tried to find a room, but there was no room and they were turned away. I thought, what has happened to our basic decency as a country? What has happened to our compassion? People are fleeing, and we want to close the door on them!

Like our public services, the last 13 years of this Government have left us with a dysfunctional asylum system. At the end of September, more than 160,000 people were waiting for an initial decision. We should remember that 75% of asylum claims are granted on the initial decision. Half of appeals against initial decisions are allowed—double the number in 2010. We are talking about people fleeing war and persecution. They go through so much stress, which no one in this House would ever want to experience. These people just want to start a new life after leaving their country of origin in horrific circumstances. For the vast majority, the welcome they get in the UK is a wait of more than six months, running into a year. After that, if they are lucky, they are given just 28 days to navigate the housing system and to find a job, after a break in activity.

I am proud to represent Vauxhall, a place where diversity is celebrated and welcomed. People from all over the country are welcomed. Other communities make our community in Vauxhall stronger. The current situation facing many people fleeing persecution is unacceptable and inhumane, and it gets worse. During their time waiting for a decision, their lives are on hold. They are often stuck in unsuitable accommodation, including a hotel in my constituency.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

The last time I went to the Council of Europe, I got off the train at the Gare du Nord in Paris, walked out and saw a row of north African men asleep in sleeping bags outside. When was the last time the hon. Lady saw that at a London station? Never.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am not sure what relevance that has. The hon. Lady tells us what is happening in Paris, but our Government think that people sleeping in tents should not be housed. They want to demonise communities. I hope we never get to that situation, but the reality is that a number of people live in worse conditions: in hotel accommodation with four family members and no cooking facilities, eating bad, processed food. That is not how people should live. Her Government have failed to deal with that.

The Government have created a mess over the last 13 years. We all need to agree that we need urgent action to stop the exploitive gangs that put so many vulnerable people into terrifying and perilous boats. But, sadly, what we have from the Government is another broken plan, and no clue of how to solve the problem. There are two reasons why I cannot support the Bill. The first goes back to the simple waste of taxpayers’ money on achieving the Government’s goal. Under the scheme, £300 million of public money has been spent without a single asylum seeker being sent to Rwanda. It has achieved nothing. It could have been spent on our schools, hospitals or on properly cracking down at source on the criminal smuggler gangs that facilitate dangerous crossing. Instead, we have a failing scheme that risks breaking our international obligations and diminishing our standing in the world. That is why Members should think hard about supporting the Bill. They should think about how much that money could do in all our constituencies.

The UK Government’s own guidance on Rwanda states:

“LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities.”

We must be aware of the number of refugees who flee their country of origin because of persecution on the grounds of political repression and sexuality. My Vauxhall constituency is a proud LGBT-friendly place, and I will always stand up to protect communities globally from the persecution they face.

Earlier this year, at UK Black Pride, I met people from African Rainbow Family, a charity that helps and supports LGBTQI people from African and black and minority ethnic backgrounds. They spoke about the difficulties they and their members have had navigating the Home Office system. They spoke about people’s long waits for their asylum claims. They spoke about the fact that they feel they are continuously being persecuted and that that is coming from the top of this Government. We should be worried about a Bill that wishes for us not to respect our international treaties and obligations. Demonising and othering people should not be happening in 2023.

There are no signs that the Bill will be effective in its main aim of deterring channel crossings. The Bill pleases no one and does nothing to help solve the problems in our asylum system. Instead, we should be looking at how we can work with our international partners and our community to address some of the humanitarian crises that are the key cause of people fleeing their homes in the first instance. We should look at how we can work with communities so that people do not need to flee their homes in the first instance. We should look at how we can spend money on a serious plan to crack down on the criminal gangs and clear the massive backlog in our asylum system.

We have all sat in surgeries for MPs, raising cases. I see Kevin Foster in his place. He was very helpful when he was the immigration Minister. I raise cases that began before I was elected, four years ago, of people who are still waiting for an answer from the Home Office. That is what we should be addressing. I urge the Government to withdraw the Bill and look at other ways to help people.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 5:16, 12 December 2023

I have said it before and I will say it again: Doncaster is full. [Interruption.] I often get challenged, as I just was from the Opposition Benches, when I say as a Christian that Doncaster is full, but I do not think it is very Christian to put people in boats who will, sadly, sometimes fall. I do not think it is Christian to promise people a life in this country when we do not have the services for them. I do not think it is Christian to take the best people from developing countries because we do not train our own in this country. I do not think it is Christian when my constituents have to put up with immigration at the level it is at.

We have heard the lawyers in this House speak so eloquently, as they often do. We hear the left-wing lawyers do the same, but at least the lawyers in this place are probably trying to help—at least those on the Government side of the House. Unfortunately, outside, we have left-wing lawyers making six-figure salaries calling me and people like me awful. We have TV pundits on seven-figure salaries, paid by my constituents through TV licences, again calling me awful. Well, I ask the people on those huge salaries to sell everything they have and give it all away, and come and get a job in Doncaster, probably on £25,000 or £30,000 a year. I ask them to find themselves a partner and then go and buy their dream house.

Those people buy that dream house—a three-bedroom semi or mid-terrace—and they make the garden nice so their kids can play in the garden. There is a couple next door who have kids themselves, and everything is rosy. Then all of a sudden the neighbour decides to move on—he gets a different job or moves somewhere else—and that house is turned into a house in multiple occupation. Then we have nine people who do not speak English bedhopping—[Interruption.] That is what is happening. It is no good saying it is not happening; it is happening. [Interruption.] If anyone wants to come and have a look, then please come and have a look, because I am sorry, but you are burying your head in the sand trying to make yourselves look good in front of people to get votes. This is happening. It is happening in Doncaster and in places throughout the country. We are turning parts of our community into a ghetto. This is what is happening.

All of a sudden, you are living next door to an HMO and there are comings and goings at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, with people outside smoking. The grass does not get cut any more, the windows do not get cleaned any more and, unfortunately, you feel too scared to let your child play out in the garden any more. There are no gated communities here to make people feel safe, because, remember, you are not on a seven-figure salary now; you are earning £30,000 a year. The only protection is a lock on the door. The council might introduce a public spaces protection order, but would probably not enforce it. This is what is happening.

You cannot sell your house, or if you can, you have to sell it at a discount. Your little child falls over in the street and you have to go to A&E, and there is a 12-hour waiting list. The reason the waiting lists are so long is that people do not speak English in these places any more. [Interruption.] This is what is happening! In the schools, the classes are all oversized—[Interruption.] This is what is happening. Members can shout me down. They can say what they want—I really do not care—but this is what is happening.

We have to tackle immigration, including illegal immigration, because it is not fair. The couple I am talking about are paying their taxes week in, week out. They expect to live in a nice street, and to benefit from the services that they pay for week in, week out. They do not expect to be called racist or xenophobic for saying, “We liked it as it was.” If we are going to have immigration, which I do not completely believe is a bad thing, it needs to be controlled, and that is what I was sent down here to do.

I am only here because of Brexit. The people of Doncaster have had enough. They wanted control of their borders, and I say to Ministers that unless we get control of our borders, I will not be coming back down here again. [Hon. Members: “Hurray!”] Members may cheer, but the people of Doncaster are not cheering. This is the first time they have had a Conservative MP to hold to account one of the socialist Labour councils that have been left to get away with murder for the last 60 years. It is absolutely atrocious.

I will back the Bill today, but I have friends on this side of the House who want it to be stronger, and I am going to work with them, and hopefully with Ministers, because we must make this work. We have to stop the boats: that is what the Prime Minister has said, and I will back him until we do. We must stop the boats.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs) 5:22, 12 December 2023

I feel as if I have been sucked back in time to listen to Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech again. I represent a multicultural constituency containing many immigrants, many asylum seekers and many refugees, and I can tell the House that my constituents do not support the Bill. At the weekend, all sorts of people stopped me in the street to tell me that they hoped I would speak against it because they found it repugnant. Perhaps Nick Fletcher needs to inform his constituents that the reason they live in the conditions he described, and the reason they have such low wages, is not immigration, but more than 10 years of Tory government.

What I intend to focus on is the law, not as a lefty lawyer but as someone who tries to do what lawyers are bound to do—look dispassionately at the law. Those who listen to the public debate about the Bill, in the media at any rate, could be forgiven for thinking that the debate about its legality was confined to the competing tribes within the Conservative party, but fortunately it is not. There are sources of advice independent of the Government and independent of their querulous Back Benchers, and it is on them that I want to focus.

This morning, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a briefing based on the independent legal advice that has been given to the Committee. That independent legal advice is for the benefit of all Members of Parliament and peers, which is why it has been published. I have also had occasion to consider the briefing published by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. They are both important, because the Government are trying to position themselves as having stopped short of breaching international law, but those independent briefings make it clear that they have not. The Bill undermines the principles of the rule of law and the separation of powers, which are supposedly central to the British constitution, as well as undermining various of our international obligations.

I commend to hon. Members a reading of the independent legal advice that has been given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will take a few highlights from it. Requiring the courts to conclude that Rwanda is safe, even though the evidence has been assessed by the UK’s highest courts to establish that it is not, is a remarkable thing for a piece of legislation to do. If the Government were so confident that Rwanda has suddenly become safe in the last month, as I said earlier, why pass this Bill at all?

Another point made in the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ legal analysis is that disapplying the Human Rights Act is very significant. If human rights protections are disapplied when they cause problems for a policy goal, they lose the fundamental and universal quality that characterises them, and that is arguably particularly the case when they are disapplied in respect of a particular group—in this case, migrants who have come to the UK without prior permission. In my own aside, I will just remind the House that history shows that when a country withdraws human rights from a particular group, it is on a particularly slippery slope.

The independent legal advice to the Joint Committee also makes it clear that, crucially, no matter what the legislation says, it can affect only domestic law. That was the point of my intervention on Sir William Cash earlier. As the Supreme Court explained only a month ago, the United Kingdom is prohibited from allowing refoulement under the refugee convention and the ECHR, as well as under the UN convention against torture and the international covenant on civil and political rights. Passing this Bill will not change the fact that we are signed up to those obligations in international law, and it will not change the fact that we are breaching our international legal obligations, so the Conservative Members—particularly the lawyers—who have convinced themselves that it is okay to go through the Lobby and vote for the Second Reading of this Bill tonight are simply wrong. If they look at the independent legal advice from the JCHR and the Bingham Centre on the Rule of Law, they will see that that is the case.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

Is it not a fundamental problem with the Bill that so many people see it as punishing the exploited and not the exploiter? If the Government were serious about this issue, that is exactly what they would focus on.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

Indeed. It has been suggested by a number of speakers this afternoon that no alternatives to the Bill have been suggested, but alternatives have been suggested, including a serious attempt to break the model of the people smugglers and proper international co-operation. Unfortunately, because of Brexit and the Government’s attitude towards international law, the United Kingdom’s opportunities for international co-operation are becoming few and far between. People no longer trust us and we do not have the same avenues for international co-operation as we used to have. Creating safe and legal routes is the way to do it. That is what we used to have. People who are seeking asylum are not seeking asylum illegally; they come across the channel because they have no other way to seek asylum except by coming to this country, so we should create legal routes.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

I will in a moment.

I want to say something about how this Bill impinges on Scotland. Conservative Members talk about their mandate and about their constituents wanting this Bill. I want to make it clear that people in Scotland do not want it. This is not the approach that we want in Scotland. It is therefore particularly egregious that the Bill seeks to oust the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts in relation to such fundamental matters as human rights and the basic tenets of our constitution. Scotland’s system of civil justice is a devolved matter under the Scotland Act and therefore the preserve of the Scottish Parliament, yet I do not see any legislative consent motion being sought, despite the fact that the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is being ousted. Perhaps even more importantly—and this is rather important to us Scots lawyers—the authority and privileges of the Court of Session, including its inherent supervisory jurisdiction, are protected by article XIX of the Treaty of Union, which includes the nobile officium of the Court of Session, a power that exists to give remedies where otherwise there would be none. That is arguably also threatened by this Bill.

I know the Government are not terribly interested in Scotland, but I wonder whether they have applied their mind to whether there should have been a legislative consent motion, and to whether this legislation is in breach of the Treaty of Union by ousting the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts. I see the Minister looking at his notes, and I would be particularly interested to hear him answer those points in his summing up.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 5:30, 12 December 2023

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, having been a solicitor for nearly 20 years. Every lawyer I met during those 20 years of my working life disagreed with every other lawyer on the issue in front of them. I can guarantee that a lawyer’s advice tends to be somewhat in line with their client’s instruction and the ends that their client wants, so Members may want to ponder the source of some of the legal advice that has been mentioned.

I have sat on the Justice Committee for four years, and I also sit on the Home Affairs Committee. I went on a trip to Calais with my hon. Friend Simon Fell, who is no longer in his place, and Dame Diana Johnson, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. We spoke to people on the beaches, and we saw what some may call France’s functioning asylum and immigration system, but that is not what I witnessed in the slightest.

Calais is effectively a waiting room with no resources, where people are directed to wait for a boat to come to the United Kingdom. We saw that immigrants are housed in tents, and they are treated in the most appalling manner. When the French authorities get fed up with them, they burn down their tents, physically attack them and throw them into the next area or field. The idea that we are an outlier in how we treat immigrants is for the birds.

Too often in this Chamber, as a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends have rightly said, we ignore the concerns of our constituents in order to pontificate about our moral and liberal conscience.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

Does my hon. Friend agree that France is supposed to be a safe country and that people have an option when they arrive in France, or in any other EU country, to claim asylum in that first safe country? When they make a decision to come over the channel, they make a decision to be illegal and to be involved with criminal gangs. Nobody is forcing them to do that.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have heard some blanket statements about immigration, but one of the curious things I found when speaking to people on the beaches was that the people seeking immigration to this country were all males, all single and all of a certain age. There were virtually no females in any of the places we were taken.

We are escaping both from what our constituents want and from the reality that motivates people. When I was in those camps, people told me, “We are told that the United Kingdom’s streets are paved with gold. When we go there, we are going to be provided with a lot of financial support through benefits and other things.” That is what is motivating the vast majority of these people to come to this country. Listening to Opposition Members, we would think that nobody in the world has that motivation to come here; that everyone is fleeing some type of persecution. That is utter nonsense.

Our constituents expect us, as a Government and as a Parliament, to put in place a suite of measures to address the problem happening in the channel. This Bill, as many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have said, is one of a number of measures being taken by this Government, on which they should be congratulated.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, although nobody seemed to pick up the point, the French authorities told us that a deterrent effect and policy—the Rwanda policy—is absolutely necessary. We saw, as did the French authorities, that when the policy was first announced, even though people were potentially coming over the channel, there was a drop in cases. The spike came only when it became clear that, through various legal means, the policy would not be taken forward.

Not only do the French authorities think we need a deterrent, and not only are countries such as Germany, the United States, Italy and Austria all saying that they need some type of policy and they need to follow the UK’s lead, but it is what our constituents want. We cannot have a situation where we cannot house people, where people cannot get a doctor’s appointment and where people cannot afford a house. That may be acceptable to Opposition Members, but we cannot have a situation where we have 10,000 foreign national offenders in our prison system. We have to take measures that reflect the will of the people, not the will of middle-class, liberal consciences. I sometimes feel it is more important for some to moralise than actually be concerned about what motivates their constituents and what we should be doing in this place.

I have heard two objections to the Bill, one of which relates to rule 39 injunctions. I wish to ask the Minister about that, because I agree completely with what my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox said. May I ask the Minister to comment on the Government’s legal advice? I say that because, technically, the Government can ignore rule 39 injunctions; that is what the Bill states, although he may be able to tell me something different. I think that is an important part of the Bill and I would be grateful if he would comment on it.

I respect every contribution made by a Conservative Member, but I cannot believe that anyone thinks—I have certainly not read any legal advice that thinks this—that we should exclude the right of appeal or, in extreme circumstances, the right to challenge whether someone should be taken to a foreign country. There must be such circumstances. Even the star chamber advice says that there must be at least form of allowance in respect of that. The legal test that the Government have put in place, whereby somebody must show “compelling evidence” that they would suffer “serious and irreversible harm”, is a strong one. It will address, both legally and practically, everything that our constituents want us to do.

This is a good policy—one that the Government have worked hard to refine. It is within the bounds of international law and of what this Government have undertaken to the country, which is to tackle illegal migration and stop the boats crossing the channel.

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland) 5:37, 12 December 2023

I am grateful to a priest in my constituency for recently bringing to my attention the film “A Man for all Seasons”, which I confess I had never seen. A quote from it is very relevant today:

“Some men think the earth is round, others think it flat. It is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”

The proposition before us today asks us to accept that Government can simply define “facts” as facts, even if they are not so. The attempt to bend our entire legal system to fit the will of Government is a high price to pay for some meagre political cover for a party that promised to deal with this genuine issue—Members from across the House would agree that it is that—and has singly failed to do so. We see, as we have seen in the past five and a half hours, the Prime Minister appeasing his right flank with promises of amendments later in order to bring some people on side, while others are debating how those very amendments would pull them away from supporting the Bill. A complete mess is playing out before us.

What a distance this Tory party has come. Its former leader, now brought back from the wilderness as Lord Cameron, said only a decade ago:

“I believe that immigration has brought significant benefits to Britain...this is our island story: open, diverse and welcoming, and I am immensely proud of it-”

From that, we get to the repugnant rhetoric of Nick Fletcher, in one of the most appalling speeches I have ever heard—he is not in his place, but his was a shameful speech; to the spectacle of the Immigration Minister resigning from his post, not in protest at the Government’s novel policy, but because it does not go far enough; and to speech after speech by Government Members criticising the Bill, but then saying they are going to support it.

Perhaps more important than any of the legal challenges is the moral case for why the Bill must be blocked. I take issue with the idea that we should not think about the morality of these issues. We talk about planes, boats, targets and backlogs, and forget the human beings who are seeking shelter and a better life. The Home Office’s own statistics show that at least six out of 10 of those who made the dangerous channel crossing will be recognised as refugees through the asylum process. Given that many are fleeing extreme situations to embark on one of the most dangerous routes possible, how can the Bill possibly stand as any kind of deterrent?

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who support refugees in our country deserve our respect and should be commended by the House for their excellent work in local communities up and down this land?

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Over decades, immigrants have contributed so much to the country that we enjoy today, not least to our public services, and we should give them immense thanks.

Instead of thinking of other solutions to deal with the criminal gangs that are causing such misery and death as they smuggle people across the channel, the Government have decided to hold firm to a course of action that has already cost us hundreds of millions of pounds and, as we have heard throughout the debate, will cost us even more. Instead of challenging the criminal gangs at source and building better co-operation with our European neighbours to tackle them, we have a Government fixated on a plan that the Home Secretary himself does not seem to be particularly convinced by. And for what? For a law that is unlikely to succeed in even the aims it has put forward.

The assumption made in the Bill is not that Rwanda is a safe country but that all decision makers must treat it as such. In other words, they have to put aside any reality they may know and accept that Rwanda is a safe country for the purposes of decision making. There will be neither recourse to appeal on the basis that someone removed to Rwanda may be sent to another country, even if it could be demonstrated that that was a genuine possibility, nor recourse to appeal on the basis that a person may not receive fair consideration of their asylum claim, because the Government have decided that these things are all safe.

The provisions mean that only in exceptional personal circumstances would an individual have a means of legally challenging the decision. It is a deeply unsettling proposition that the Government are removing one of the key components of constitutional democracy—the right of any citizen to test any law in an independent court. Never could that be more important than on an issue of human rights.

The question of parliamentary sovereignty has already been clarified. Lord Hope stated:

“Parliamentary sovereignty is no longer, if it ever was, absolute. It is no longer right to say that its freedom to legislate admits of no qualification whatever.”

The Bill leaves open the possibility of individual challenge to the ECHR and, as we heard from a number of Members, we might be back here, a few months from now, discussing that very issue as the Government seek to withdraw us from the ECHR.

Until a few months ago, I was in the classroom teaching pupils how to identify truth from sources of information, among other things. We told young people that there is such a thing as objective truth, and yet here I am, in the so-called mother of Parliaments, faced with a morally reprehensible and legally questionable farce—a charade that even most of those who will, I suspect, eventually be persuaded to walk through the Aye Lobby do not actually endorse. At the heart of the issue is the idea that a Government can simply state what is true, even if the evidence points the other way. It is for this House to challenge the Government’s shoddy attempt to do that and to do the right thing by voting down the Bill.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland 5:43, 12 December 2023

I will start by looking at the foundation and principles of the Bill. It is worth remembering that it tries to do what our constituents want us to do. That is not a bad start for any Bill on Second Reading. I knock on doors week in, week out, and I have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents over the past few years. Without question, the single most common issue raised in those conversations is illegal migration, so we in this place owe them an absolute duty to do our very best to deliver on their wishes to produce an effective control on migration and illegal migration. That is what this Bill intends to do: to provide an effective deterrent that breaks the business model and that will lead to stopping the boats. However, it will not do so by itself. This is not an isolated policy; it is part of a whole suite of policies that this Government, to their enormous credit, have introduced over the past years and that are already bearing fruit. We have seen this year crossings by small boats down by a third—I think it is slightly over a third—at a time when they are going up by a third in Europe as a whole and up by 80% in the Mediterranean countries.

Therefore, the schemes that the Government have already implemented are working. They include bilateral agreements with countries such as Albania, a dedication of a safe country status, which is not novel to this Bill. That has had an immediate deterrent effect. It is not that everyone who comes to this country has then been immediately deported to Albania—that has not been the deterrent effect. It is the fact that people know that they will be deported that they have stopped coming in the first place. Crossings by Albanians have dropped by more than 90%. That is why Rwanda is so important. It is not that the capacity of Rwanda has to accept every single migrant who currently comes across the channel; it is the deterrent effect to stop them coming in the first place. We have seen it work, so why not follow the evidence?

We also have the upstream destruction of equipment. As I understand it, just last week there was a Bulgarian seizure of boats, engines and engine parts, preventing the ability of people to cross the channel. There is also increased co-operation with France, which I wholeheartedly welcome, as it has led to increased patrols and increased interdiction of attempts to cross the channel—although not all of them. There has been a 70% increase of raids on illegal employment in this country, and an enormous increase, which I very much welcome, in the number of claims handlers to speed up the process of assessment, bringing down the backlog from 90,000 to below 20,000 now.

The Rwanda Bill is important, but it is just one tool of many. Let us be clear about what the real dispute is in this Chamber today. It is not about the intentions of those on the Government Benches, as we are united in wanting an effective policy for Rwanda. Where the real dispute is—[Interruption.] Yes, every single Member on the Government Benches are entirely united in that objective; it is how we get there that we are debating.

While we want an effective deterrent, those on the Opposition Benches do not. Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not want an effective deterrent. They want to scrap it. Even if the Rwanda policy is demonstrated to be working, they have committed to replacing it. We want flights to take off to Rwanda, as do our constituents. Opposition Members want to prevent them. We want to restore control over our asylum processes, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats say that the only policy is to hire more staff—“Hire another 100,000; have safe and legal routes.” That is important, I accept, but it does not answer the question of how many people come over in the safe and legal routes.

We can have a process that welcomes everyone, but the UN tells us that there are 108 million people in the world at the moment who have been displaced by violence from their own country. Safe and legal routes is a great cliché, a great strap line, but it does not solve the problem of control of our borders.

This Bill responds to the Supreme Court judgment. It does not say that black is white. It does not say that the risk of refoulement then was a false decision by the Lords. The Bill solves the problem by an international treaty, preventing refoulement, and that, in the rare occasions where Rwanda may wish to export people to a third country, they come back to the UK. That is sensible. That is not going against the Supreme Court; it is respecting its judgment and solving the problems that the Supreme Court judges raised in their judgment, and I wholeheartedly support this Second Reading.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 5:48, 12 December 2023

There have been some absurd and ridiculous Bills presented to this Parliament in the course of the past few centuries that it has been in existence, but it would be hard to find a Bill that is more absurd and ridiculous than this one. It is a Bill that wills something to be just because it wants it to be, and asks us to ignore reality and experience because it decrees it. That is just about as absurd and ridiculous as you can get. It takes some imagination to concoct something as comedically callous as this Bill. It would take a particularly warped mind to think that this type of rendition is a solution to anything, far less a sensitive and complex immigration problem.

It has been totally dispiriting to listen to some of the contributions from hon. Gentlemen and Ladies on the Conservative Benches—the dehumanising language, the talk of invasions and culture wars, treating people as commodities to be dealt with, and as scourges to be legalled away. I will single out two speeches that I think were utterly appalling: the disgraceful speech from Nick Fletcher; followed closely by the speech from the former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick.

But have the Rwandans not played an absolute blinder? They must have seen this Government coming from thousands of miles away. They have solicited hundreds of millions of pounds from them, and apparently they will get another £100 million more. They have done all that without taking one single deportee. I say, “Go Rwanda! You have made utter mugs of this chaotic Government.”

Nobody has won from this Bill other than Rwanda—certainly not the wretched people who will be subject to this ongoing problem and will be getting on the boats, at the mercy of all the dreadful people who smuggle them across the channel. This Bill will do nothing to disincentivise them. If they are prepared to risk their life to come across the channel, why would they concern themselves with the infinitesimal chance that they might be rendered to Rwanda? It just does not make sense.

This Bill certainly has not helped the Government, has it? I do not know whether they will win this vote tonight—apparently it is still in the balance, if that is news for colleagues on the Conservative Benches. I think the Government might just about have got it, but apparently it is still in the balance. Look at the list of all the different groups we have. We have the One Nation Conservatives, the European Research Group, the New Conservatives, the Common Sense Group—I would love to go to one of their meetings—the Northern Research Group, the No Turning Back group and the Conservative Growth Group. That is a group of factions that would make the People’s Front of Judea look like a model of unity and political consensus. This might be the very Bill that brings down this Conservative Government, and what a hill to die on—an obsession with immigration and with stopping the small boats. By God, they deserve to be brought down, if this is the Bill that will determine that.

Here is a novel idea: why do we not start to consider immigration as some sort of opportunity, a potential boost to our society and communities? Why do we not design safe and secure means to harness international talent as they seek to flee conflict and carnage in their own countries? We live in a world where the movement of people has never been so far-reaching and profound. One thing the right hon. Member for Newark got right is that that is going to be an ongoing feature of the international community. It will be something that we will have to deal with not just this decade, but for the rest of the century. Can we not be imaginative about solutions? Can we not look to see whether there are benefits to having people who were the cream of their countries coming to this nation? Instead, we are all about closing borders, stopping people coming here and making life as miserable as possible for the poor souls who manage to end up on our shores.

I am just pleased that this Bill is not in my name. It is not in the name of the people of Scotland. If we ever were in control of our immigration policy, everything that the Conservatives are proposing and presenting is the exact opposite of what we would do. Scotland rejects this Bill. My constituents want nothing to do with it. I will proudly and defiantly be voting against it this evening in the name of the people I represent, and I know that I will be joined by my colleagues. What a disgraceful Bill. What an appalling piece of legislation. It deserves to be shoved right in the furthest bin in the furthest corner of this country.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I advise colleagues that the winding-up speeches will begin at 6.30 pm.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 5:54, 12 December 2023

It is somewhat comical to get a lecture on unity and financial probity from the Scottish National party, to say the least—[Interruption.] Well, if we really want something comical.

I particularly welcome this Bill because it was me, my right hon. Friend Priti Patel and the current Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, who were the original architects of the Rwanda plan.

A lot of that is because we in this country face challenges that other countries in Europe face—namely that, even if we turn down someone’s asylum claim, there are countries that we would struggle to return them to. There are countries around the world with Governments that we would not wish to deal with, for example, or countries that refuse point-blank, as a matter of policy, to accept enforced immigration returns. In fact, we even struggle to deport criminals back to some countries not necessarily because of concerns about those countries, but because of the domestic policies that they adopt. As was touched on by Liam Byrne, we cannot just drop people off; we need to get permission to do so.

Similarly, if we cannot get a returns agreement with the safe and democratic third country that someone has just left, we need to look for alternatives. That is where looking to Rwanda came in. Rwanda is a specialist in refugee resettlement. Someone listening to comments from the Opposition would never know that there are 130,000 refugees in Rwanda and that the UNHCR relocates people there. That shows that Rwanda is a specialist in that area, and it is one of the reasons we worked with it.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling was based not on the idea that Rwanda was inherently unsafe, or that if someone went to Rwanda they would actually be in danger there, but on the potential for refoulement elsewhere. I expect that many of the people who cite the Supreme Court judgment did not bother to listen to it. It is important to consider what the Bill is based on and what has changed since the judgment to allow Parliament to take a different view from that of the Supreme Court justices. Not only is Parliament entitled to do that, as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox rightly pointed out, but we do so on the basis that there is now a treaty that directly addresses those points.

The Bill ratifies that treaty and makes it part of international law. It guarantees against a person being transferred on further when they have been transferred from this country to Rwanda, in order to meet their protection needs. That is the absolute core of what has changed since the Supreme Court judgment. It is why Parliament is now entitled to take the opinion—based on assurances that will be upgraded into international law by our treaty, and on the clear assurances against refoulement to a third country where someone may face persecution—that Rwanda is safe for the people transferred there.

That is why the Bill needs to pass its Second Reading. There are clearly points of detail that we can explore in Committee. The Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery and the Minister for Illegal Migration, my hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson, for whom I have huge respect, will know my thoughts. Where will the evidence threshold be for the clause 4 provisions? Given my right hon. and learned Friend’s former role as Solicitor General and his direct experience before the courts, it would be particularly interesting to hear where he believes the courts may draw the line for interim relief. One reason interim relief is always important is that, in many cases, although a lot of the challenges thrown up at the last minute usually fail in the end, they are used to frustrate the flights. When I used to deal with the Jamaica flights, for example, we could only have so many a year, so people knew that if they could get themselves off that flight, it would be some time before there was another, if even their claim ultimately failed.

There is a wider debate to have about the refugee system. There is a debate to have about how the current law and international practice work. We have had examples of people who have lived lawfully in the European Union for a number of years with a visa, and then come to the UK and claim a protection need. Well, if they had been living in a safe and democratic European country, what was their real protection need to leave that country, particularly if they had the lawful right to be there? Those are not debates that we can settle today. What we have before us is a Bill that allows us to take forward part of our plan to tackle the issue of illegal migration. That is why we need to ensure that it passes Second Reading.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 5:58, 12 December 2023

We have heard the sounds of optimism over truth coming from the Conservatives. The idea that the measure is a deterrent has not yet been proven, yet it has been cited as if it is actively deterring people from arriving in boats. We all know that the boats are a challenge. They are a real problem; people are dying in the channel. But let us be clear: the Government were the architects of this policy, and it is the second time they have legislated on it. Its architects have stood up, including Kevin Foster just now, and said how proud they are that they drew up the policy. But they drew it up so badly that they are having to revisit the legislation. I think they should be a bit less proud. Even though I do not agree with the policy, proper policy making means ensuring a policy works before announcing it. There are so many flaws in this scheme that the Government are struggling along, believing that a headline and a pledge that it will deter people is enough. That is not good policy making.

We on the Labour Benches have often been challenged on what we would do differently. My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne and I were on the frontline dealing with immigration matters during the last Labour Government, and my right hon. Friend was the architect of a system that meant that one person was being returned every eight minutes. I have people in my constituency who have reached the end of the line, and they know it. They come to me and we talk about voluntary return, but it is difficult to do that when the Home Office does not return those people’s documents and they have all these problems. These are people who actively want to leave because they know that is their only option, but they cannot do so.

This Government must look much more closely at the existing system and how it is working. It has been 13 years of downgrading the asylum system and the immigration system generally, and now all these extra people have gone into dealing with the backlog of asylum cases—there are 20,000 legacy cases still left. Was 13 December the day on which the Prime Minister said that number would reach zero? He has missed that target, and 160,000 people have been backing up in the asylum system. People in my constituency, including a top surgeon, those coming in on work permits and those on student visas, are all behind in the queue because all the Home Office’s effort is going into the Prime Minister’s pledge to deal with the backlog, which is just creating more chaos in the entire system. That approach is not working.

My right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson touched on the question of money, and of course, we on the Public Accounts Committee have been trying to look at the money on this issue. I will not go through the figures, because my right hon. Friend has already set them out, but this is a five-year plan, and we have no figures for how much money will go to Rwanda in years four and five. My right hon. Friend and I, along with the other members of the Public Accounts Committee, asked the permanent secretary that question yesterday, but he was not forthcoming on that figure. He only released a figure to us when it was leaked to the International Monetary Fund—an investigation is happening into why that was. That is a ridiculous way of releasing figures. It is not normal parliamentary protocol to release information about major projects in the annual report and accounts, especially when we are voting on them in this House.

For the benefit of colleagues who may not follow the annual accounts of Departments with the same enthusiasm as members of the Public Accounts Committee, the accounts for the financial year we are in will be published to Parliament in July next year, 15 months after the £100 million was allocated this year. That is not scrutiny. In other areas and for other projects—I look to the Minister to answer on this point, or take it back to the Home Secretary—we get updates to the House every six months, or even more frequently, through Committees or laid before the House. That is not uncommon, yet the Minister’s permanent secretary was saying that it is normal to provide updates just through the accounts. We need more scrutiny of this issue: if it is a flagship Government policy, there is nothing to hide, so let us see those figures. The Public Accounts Committee and the Home Affairs Committee will work together on that issue—it is really important that we do that.

We need to tackle the backlog and we need transparency on the numbers, and I would be also be grateful if the Minister clarified whether any conditions are attached to the money going to Rwanda. We got a useful breakdown from the permanent secretary in Committee yesterday—I will not repeat it, but it is on the record from yesterday’s Committee meeting—but is there anything that it would be out of order for the Rwandans to spend that money on? It has been spent on reasonable things such as education, health and so on, but is there anything on which the Rwandans cannot spend the money that is given to them by the UK? It would be very helpful to know that.

There was also an expression of interest for a contract for Manston and Western Jet Foil. That is a £700 million contract for the first six years, which could extend to be worth £1.16 billion over 10 years. The money is intended to improve those reception centres, which definitely need improving, but according to that pre-tender document, the facilities are expected to be active between 2030 and 2034. I am a bit puzzled: £700 million is being invested in Manston and Western Jet Foil, and although that may be necessary, we have been told all afternoon—I have been here for five and a half hours—that the Rwanda policy is already deterring people. If it is working so well, why do we need to invest that much money in those facilities? They need the investment, but it seems to me that the Government are trying to have it both ways. I would welcome clarity from the Minister.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 6:03, 12 December 2023

I will support the Bill this evening, because it is a fundamental right that a country must be able to protect its borders. As a basic requirement, it should know who is entering the country, even more so if they are trying to do so illegally. I support the Bill because we simply cannot rest on our laurels with the current action we have taken, as positive as that already is.

As we have heard this afternoon, across Europe major countries have seen illegal migration rising, with Mediterranean crossings 80% up, yet thanks to the steps we have taken in this country, our numbers are down by a third. People cite the figure of a third over and over again, but what does it mean? The number is approximately 17,000 people down on where it was last year, and that is way down on the forecasts that were expecting it potentially to be double the number last year. However, reducing the figure and being happy with 29,000 people this year is not stopping the problem.

Stopping people being put on boats and trying to enter the country illegally requires a multifaceted approach. Return agreements have worked, putting our Border Force into French control rooms has worked and trying to dry up the supply of rubber boats has worked, but there must be a deterrent as well. It is simply another piece of the jigsaw, and it comes on top of all the other measures we are using. Those who seem not to be able to understand why we need that deterrent should look at the situation not through the lens of the tens of thousands we have seen this year but at migration around the world and where it is going. If we do not tackle it with a strong working deterrent, we will see not tens of thousands of people trying to cross into the country, but hundreds of thousands, and that is the forecast we are being shown year after year.

The Government’s official release yesterday was the most startling statistic I have read yet. It estimates that if illegal immigration goes unaddressed, the costs of asylum accommodation alone could increase to £32 million per day by 2026, which is equivalent to £11 billion a year. Imagine how that £11 billion a year could be used on our public services. The Government are absolutely right to use every power they have at their disposal to prevent and deter unlawful migration. To the people who say that we have spent an unbelievable amount of money already—£250 million—in trying to get the scheme up and running, I reply that that figure pales into insignificance when we put it in the context of that £11 billion a year. Our NHS, our housing provision and our welfare state—indeed, all our public services—simply cannot take unsustainable levels of illegal migration.

I am not a lawyer, and there are all manner of opinions on whether the scheme will work, but my answer is that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As has been said, it may not stop every legal challenge—that is fair enough, because some of those will be valid—and it does not have to do so. What it needs to be is a deterrent to help to slow down and stop the numbers that are coming. Despite the commentary on the Bill, it contains plenty to counter the spurious reasons given for not sending people seeking asylum to Rwanda. The UN and the EU have been sending refugees to Rwanda since 2019, so I find it extremely difficult to understand why people have accused Rwanda of not being a safe country. To have an optimal Bill, and one that is fair and that international partners will stand alongside, we must tread a fine line.

Plenty of times I have been told in this House that things will not happen and things will not work. We were told we would not get the numbers of boat crossings down, and we have reduced them by a third. Everybody said we would enter a recession; we did not enter a recession. Everybody said we would not halve inflation; we have halved inflation. This Government have done many things in the last year that we were told were simply unachievable, and we have achieved them, and that is why I will back this Bill tonight.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 6:09, 12 December 2023

Last week, my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss compared the Home Secretary with Humpty Dumpty in “Alice in Wonderland”, who uses words to mean just what he chooses them to mean. I wonder if the Prime Minister could be compared with the Red Queen, who believed six impossible things before breakfast: that Brexit has been a success; that Britain is a soft-power superpower; that the Scottish Parliament is the most powerful wee devolved Assembly in the entire world; that we can reach net zero while abandoning net zero policies; that this Bill is actually going to stop irregular arrivals in the United Kingdom; and that his party is actually going to win the next election. Even for those on the Government Benches, that is too unbelievable. They do not think this Bill will work, and they do not think they will win the next election.

The Bill will not work, because it fails under the crushing weight of its own internal contradictions. Rwanda is deemed to be a safe country—desirable even, as a place for asylum seekers to be processed and to remain. The former Home Secretary, Priti Patel did not take my intervention earlier, but I wanted to ask her this: if Rwanda is such a desirable place to be deported to, why on earth should deportation there be a deterrent? How will that have a deterrent effect, if the Government are saying, “This is a wonderful, safe and secure place for you to go”? Perhaps more people will come to the United Kingdom in the hope of being sent to Rwanda.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that Rwanda has successfully resettled more than 130,000 people, and that is through international institutions and norms.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep within the five minutes, although he has taken an intervention.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

I will, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think I just heard the former Home Secretary encouraging more people to come to the United Kingdom so that they can be settled in Rwanda.

The UK Government say that the republic of Rwanda is to be trusted to fulfil its obligations under the Rwanda treaty because the treaty is binding under customary international law, but the same Bill grants the UK Government derogations from that corpus of international law and instruct the courts to ignore it. The Bill is supposed to slash costs to the taxpayer from housing asylum seekers in UK hotels, but the Government have already paid Rwanda hundreds of millions of pounds without a single flight taking off.

The price for this performative, weak Bill is a weakening of the courts and judicial system, a weakening of the UK’s standing in the world and a weakening of the entire system of international law, because if it is okay for the UK Government to derogate from its international obligations and commitments when it suits, how can the UK object to other countries—Russia, China or anywhere else for that matter—when they flout the rule of international law?

The Bill is supposed to be an assertion of parliamentary sovereignty, as if Parliament simply asserting particular statements makes them true. To pick up on the theme from Michael Shanks, perhaps the Prime Minister should have simply brought forward a Flat Earth Bill to assert that the Earth is flat and the Home Office is empowered to simply push people and unwanted asylum seekers off the edge of it and into the cold vastness of space. It might come as a surprise and perhaps even a disappointment to some elements on the Conservative Back Benches, but the Earth is not flat. The Earth is round, and if they keep pushing people in one direction, eventually they will come back to them.

It is important in all of this to be clear that despite our debating the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, little of this debate is actually about the safety of Rwanda. In 2018, I had the privilege of visiting Rwanda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It is a beautiful country with huge potential, and the people there have had to live through horrors and overcome unimaginable difficulties. For wealthy tourists and those who fly in to go on safari and stay in nice hotels, Rwanda is indeed a safe and welcoming country. However, citizens who speak up too loudly with questions about the regime, or who perhaps ask why international observers have been unable to report that presidential elections have been free or fair, or who perhaps belong to the LGBT+ community in that country—or, indeed, Rwandan citizens living in London under the protection of the Metropolitan police because they are being stalked by their own country’s intelligence services—might not find it as safe and welcoming. Whatever the Bill might say, the UK Supreme Court has made a finding of fact that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda are at risk of refoulement. Simply saying that they are not does not change that fact.

The question of the safety of Rwanda is a distraction. The very principle or idea of forcing people to move to any other country against their will should be enough to oppose the Government’s policies. People seeking asylum have chosen to come here to the United Kingdom for good reason—perhaps because they have friends or family or perhaps simply because they speak the language. If someone has chosen to seek asylum here, they should be assessed here, and if their claim is valid, they should be allowed to remain. If their claim is not valid then by definition it ought to be safe to return them to their country of origin.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that this time last week, this Bill did not even exist. In less than seven days, the Prime Minister has brought himself, and possibly his Government and party, to a crisis point entirely of their own making. It is a Bill that nobody wants and nobody likes. It is another creaking internal Conservative contradiction. It is too extreme for the mainstream of the party, and not extreme enough for the red wallers, the ERG and the Maastricht rebels, who simply cannot get enough of the sweet dopamine hit that comes with rebelling against the party and getting invited on to all kinds of podcasts. Some of them have been at it since the 1990s, and they just have to keep getting more extreme in their rebellions to achieve the same hit.

Scotland wants none of it, as I hear from my constituents in Glasgow North and the constituents who are refugees, who want to play a full and active part in our society and economy. If the Government want Bills that will change the reality of the situation, they can devolve the power over immigration to the Scottish Parliament, or they can give us the chance to choose a better, fairer future that respects human rights and global citizenship by becoming an independent country in a referendum.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 6:14, 12 December 2023

I would say it is a pleasure to follow Patrick Grady, who served with me on the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, but he rehashed quite a lot of what has been said from the Opposition Benches, with various misunderstandings and inaccuracies. He had his moment of fun trying to describe different groups of colleagues on the Government Benches, but let me pull him back to something that he will recognise, as I think all colleagues in the House will.

I recently had a conversation with a distinguished recently retired UN senior official who was previously the British ambassador in several countries in Africa. He not only painted for me, but described for me factually the statistical possibilities of what is going on in that great continent at the moment. He described vividly the combination of civil wars, mismanagement, instability, insecurity, climate change challenges and food shortages that are affecting millions of people in Africa. Of course, we know that has added to the incredible level of insecurity in the middle east and, indeed, further east from there.

All of this amounts to one of the great challenges for democracy in our time. We are dealing with a huge issue that will get bigger, and we are all going to be stretched in our answers to those challenges. It is not just us in the United Kingdom; as we know, there are issues in the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, France, Denmark—you name it, all our European neighbours are wrestling with similar challenges. Therefore, it is simply not enough for Opposition Members to point at various things that they do not like about this Bill without really considering what a constructive alternative might look like.

Tommy Sheppard said earlier that immigration should be looked at as an opportunity to be seized, not a problem to be managed. He is partly right, but he would be more convincing if county after county in Scotland were taking more asylum seekers and putting up their hands to the Government of the United Kingdom in order to take more, because the truth is that it is a challenge to be managed.

We need a practical response, because we do not outsource immigration to people smugglers. The point of stopping the boats, and the point of the Bill, is to play a trailblazing role, not just for us but for other countries. On balance, I believe that we will see more such agreements, and that this will not be the only one. While I have always taken the view that none of us can be sure that the Rwanda scheme will work in terms of the number of asylum seekers who will transfer to Kigali, we should keep an open mind and not assume, to quote Labour’s amendment, that the Bill

“will not work to tackle people smuggling gangs, end small boat crossings or achieve the core purposes of the Bill…whilst applying to less than one per cent of those who claim asylum”.

That is fundamentally wrong, and we can show so in a number of different ways.

First, will the Bill actually act as a deterrent? Migration Watch says it will be a powerful deterrent if illegal migrants are swiftly and continually sent to Rwanda. How many would we be able to send? The Rwandan spokesperson said himself only a few days ago that the country is

“ready, and willing, to take in as many people as the UK is able to send”.

All those Opposition Members talked about 100 or 200 people going there, but that is not at all the potential of the scheme. As other people have mentioned, Rwanda is already hosting 130,000 asylum seekers and the UNHCR has 1,700 Libyans there, so clearly the numbers are not the fundamental issue with the proposal.

We have had a lot of red-herring soundbites—“can’t work”, “won’t work”, “unprecedented”—but there are precedents. In fact, the Labour party knows that better than anyone, because in 2001 the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, was in a very similar position in not being able to confirm to the ECHR that the Government were necessarily compliant in a proposal that she was putting forward. We know that the Blair Government talked to Tanzania about something similar; in fact, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 built on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. So there are precedents and reasons to believe that the Bill might work. It will be awkward, and it is an issue that we and many other Governments will have to tackle, but the most important thing is that we get behind the Bill and see it through safely.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 6:20, 12 December 2023

Rwanda is not a safe country. This country is using the Bill as a distraction from the Government’s failure to sort out the immigration backlog. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are being spent on hotels every day. Hundreds of millions have been spent on this fantasy Rwanda policy without a single person being sent there. That money would be better spent sorting out the backlog and getting people processed.

Immigration policies are already in place, but they are not being enforced. The Home Office is working too slowly, as it has previously with passports. Processing claims quicker is the best way to free up hotels. In the past decade, the backlog of asylum claims has risen four times faster than the number claiming asylum. This is ultimately a crisis of the Government’s own making, and it has been years in the making. The system is failing and it needs fixing.

This country needs a solution to the crisis, not a distraction. The Bill claims that Rwanda is a safe country, because the Bill says that is so. That is not the type of country that Britain is. We are not like that. We believe in the rule of law and obligations under international laws and treaties. The Rwandan Government have been involved in many questionable events across Africa, including the kidnapping and beating of dissidents abroad. The Rwanda policy is an attempt by the Government to look tough and to distract the country from the sorry state they have got us into. Even on the off-chance that flights to Rwanda take off, they will deal with less than 1% of asylum claims. It is a Tory vanity project. It will not solve any problem. As a country, we are better than this.

Labour’s plan to tackle the criminal gangs directly with a cross-border police unit and to clear the backlog is the only way to stop the small boats. Vanity projects for headlines are not befitting of such a serious issue. The Government should go back to the drawing board—I bet we will be here in a few months or a year.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

There are sometimes advantages to being the last speaker. Because the previous speech was a little shorter, I shall lift the time limit, as long as Claire Hanna sits down at 6.30 pm.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South 6:23, 12 December 2023

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has been a long day and a long debate. Perhaps the Government could legislate for a few extra hours for us all. That would not be out of place with this mind-bending Bill from a Government who continue to prioritise prejudice over objective reality.

Sammy Wilson purported to speak for my constituency of South Belfast, which does indeed have a relatively large proportion—I think it is the largest population per head—of the UK’s asylum seekers. Our schools, churches and community groups are trying valiantly to support people whom the Home Office has left in hotels for many months at a time.

Like me, those constituents have moral and practical objections to the Bill. Their moral objections are to the language used to frame and justify it and to the demonisation of those who seek international protection in the UK, who have little or no opportunity to secure that before they travel. Equally, they have practical objections to the Bill, because they know that it will not work. They know that there is no evidence that the deterrent works—a fact that was confirmed by the permanent secretary—and they know that it relies on a simplification by this Government that applies only if people have never met or spoken to an asylum seeker. The cost of this gimmick is running into the hundreds of millions of pounds—money that should have been used to end the chaos of processing in the Home Office or to go after the people traffickers instead of bettering their market by closing off safe routes.

No one is saying that the UK can or should take everyone who requires sanctuary for reasons of conflict, prejudice or climate. Everyone in the Chamber knows, no matter what they say in their tweets, that only a fraction of people try to get here. No one is saying that the UK should not take legal steps to deter erroneous claims. The Minister has spoken about fruitful engagement with Albania, and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches have set out numerous constructive proposals, including swifter processing and justice and, crucially, modern and mature engagement with neighbouring countries.

It is impossible to view the Bill outside two core dynamics. The first is the UK’s recent disregard of international law—a rules-based order that it proudly shaped. The second is the overall irrational opposition to migration, including regular migration. People often say, “You can’t even talk about immigration.” We absolutely can, but we must be prepared to be honest about it and to trade in more than just Twitter memes. We must be prepared to talk about how the national health service and social care would collapse without it. We must be honest about the net positive impact on GDP, and about the poor political decisions about how we spend those gains that have left public services in the mess that they are. We must be honest about our higher education model and the higher fees that students from these areas and countries would face if we did not have overseas students. We must be honest about how it is anti-family to tell UK citizens that they cannot fall in love with someone from another country and marry them unless they are among the top 25% of earners.

Of course we can talk about immigration. I am happy to talk about it, and I am happy to tell the House that Northern Ireland has an immigration problem. Young people are leaving our region to make their lives elsewhere because they feel stifled and limited by the politics of our region, by intolerance, by prejudice and by refusal to accept difference. Britain risks losing its vibrancy and talent if it goes further down this path—a path that I am glad to say the mainstream of British politics has honourably resisted, mostly, until now. Ireland, north or south, is not immune to these currents, as the street disorder in Dublin a few weeks ago showed, but we are a nation of people who have been the source of immigration for many centuries: you do not get to be Irish and racist. I am proud of the political leadership from across the spectrum against far-right agitation in Dublin in recent weeks.

I want briefly to address the applicability of the Bill in Northern Ireland. Human rights exist precisely to protect people from the type of politics that are behind the Bill. Human rights frameworks exist to stop politicians degrading shared values for their narrow political interest. The protection of rights for everyone from all communities in Northern Ireland, under article 2 of the Windsor framework, has been welcomed across civil society. Even the UK Government have called article 2 uncontroversial.

Not for the first time, I say thank goodness for the Good Friday agreement, which has been a lifeboat for our region given some of the terrible, damaging politics of recent years. That is a large part of why so many people—including in this Chamber—desperately tried to undermine the agreement through Brexit. Thanks to the agreement, which the international community prevented this Government from trashing under their previous two Prime Ministers, we continue to enjoy—in theory—rights and protections that this Government are so determined to burn for people in England, Scotland and Wales.

The existence of those rights has enraged the far right in Northern Ireland—a few voices who angrily prowl the internet, seeking to suffocate anything positive or humanitarian that happens in our region. They seem so desperate to strip legal rights away from everybody else; they would like to legally review themselves everything they cannot run away. They protest that this miserable Bill might not apply in Northern Ireland due to the Windsor framework. I regret to say that, in practice, immigration law has already been applied in Northern Ireland without differentiation, as will be heard in an upcoming challenge to the Illegal Migration Act.

We will oppose this Bill, and we will oppose other attempts to unite and balance the Conservative party on the backs of the most vulnerable. The Illegal Migration Act failed to do that, as did the Nationality and Borders Act. This is just red meat for a common-sense group with no common sense, a research group that does no research and a star chamber that has no stars. This Bill is for them and for no one else.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 6:29, 12 December 2023

I rise to join the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, in supporting the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

I start by sending my condolences to the friends and family of the asylum seeker who tragically died while on the Bibby Stockholm this morning.

I thank all those across the House who have sent their condolences to me and my family over the past 10 days. We have been overwhelmed by the flood of tributes and messages, which have made us prouder than ever of what my mum was and all she achieved. It is very tempting to respond by taking a more conciliatory approach to this debate, but given the state of the legislation before us, and given everything that my mother stood for, I think she would be absolutely appalled that such a thought might ever cross my mind. So, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First, I thank the House for an excellent debate. I express gratitude in particular to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, who spoke with such passion, logic and conviction. I also of course welcome the latest immigration Minister to his post, the Minister for Illegal Migration. I note that the performance of his predecessor led the Prime Minister to conclude that the job was too big for one Conservative Member alone, so they cut the position in two. Well, the more the merrier, I say. Welcome one and all!

When I began in this post two years ago, my first opposite number was fronting the Nationality and Borders Bill, which effectively handed each asylum seeker who crossed the channel a badge saying, “I am inadmissible for asylum” while making no provision for what practically could be done with those unprocessed claimants. They duly ended up in taxpayer-funded emergency hotels at the cost of £8 million a day. Next up was my second opposite number, with the Illegal Migration Bill. It was rushed through Parliament, yet not a single one of its core measures on detention and removal have been enacted. The Act is on the shelf, gathering dust. Now we have my third opposite number, who has well and truly taken one for the team by agreeing to introduce this utterly absurd piece of legislation, a Bill that his predecessor described as

“a further betrayal of Tory voters”.

The deckchairs have been rearranged, but the Titanic is still steaming towards the iceberg.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Rwanda scheme is the story of its origin. Cast your mind back to April 2022, Madam Deputy Speaker. Boris Johnson was Prime Minister, and he was in the eye of the partygate storm, so he cooked up a cunning plan to rescue his premiership, which I believe became known as Operation Save Big Dog. And lo, the Rwanda scheme was born. Like every other scheme Mr Johnson has ever been associated with, it was extortionately expensive and doomed to fail. Yet here we are 18 months, two Prime Ministers, two Home Secretaries and three immigration Ministers later, and those on the Conservative Benches are still shackled to a policy that was only ever designed to be a diversion from a scandal. True to form, the Rwanda scheme is still being deployed as a skin-saving operation, the only difference being that it is the current Prime Minister who is desperately trying to cling to power by burnishing his Faragiste credentials to keep the circling vultures at bay. It really is déjà vu all over again.

I turn now to this new “Please, Please, Please Make Rwanda Safe Bill”, which is without doubt the most absurd piece of legislation I have ever seen. It does nothing at all to make Rwanda safe; it just asserts that Rwanda is safe and that our courts are not allowed to say otherwise. It argues that black is white and white is black; that the grass is blue and the sky is green. In the spirit of this legislation, I might try to introduce a Bill that deems that Wales actually won the rugby world cup recently.

Further still, the Rwandan Government are calling the shots. Having extracted £300 million from the British Government—today we think we heard £400 million—Mr Kagame is now instructing the Prime Minister not to do anything that might break international law. It really is quite extraordinary. How ironic that some on the Government Benches rail against our international legal obligations, yet seemed content to allow Kigali to dictate the terms of our asylum policies. So much for taking back control!

The upshot of this fiasco is that the Prime Minister has gone for a fudge. The Supreme Court judgment was his opportunity to stop flogging the dead horse that the Rwanda scheme has clearly become, but he has chosen not to take it. He is also not prepared to go with the full-fat option that some on the Government Benches are urging him to adopt. So, inevitably, his semi-skimmed formula satisfies no one, because, as everyone—from this side of the House to even the former Home Secretary —has said, it is destined to fail, both legally and in operational terms.

The fundamental contradictions at the heart of the Bill are also quite astonishing. First, the Home Secretary told us from the Dispatch Box last week that it complied with international law, but the very first page confirms that he is actually not sure that it does. Secondly, the Bill says that Rwanda is safe for refugees, but then also states that the Government might need to offer refuge to asylum seekers from—checks notes—Rwanda. Thirdly, the Bill is meant to be about preventing what the Government call “illegal migrants” from seeking sanctuary in the UK, but if one of those asylum seekers commits a crime in Rwanda, that person can be sent back to—checks notes again—the UK. Never mind Operation Save Big Dog. This Bill is Operation Dog’s Breakfast.

The Rwanda scheme is not only unlawful; it is also unaffordable and unworkable. First, let us give credit where credit is due. The Rwandan Government have played a blinder on this one, and they are laughing all the way to the bank. They really did see this Prime Minister coming. After all, £400 million with absolutely nothing in return, no questions asked, really is a sweet deal—although never let it be said that the Government have failed to get any flights off to Rwanda, because they absolutely have. They have proudly flown not one, not two, but three Home Secretaries to Kigali. I suppose we could say that so far it is £130 million per Home Secretary, which I am sure the British people will see as an excellent use of their taxes.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

As my hon. Friend will know, I worked for his father and my daughter worked for his mother. Does he think that all this is a façade for a form of international development? The Government do not like international development, so is this a way of targeting one country and giving it £140 million, or £200 million?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He is right to suggest that the vast majority of people fleeing war and persecution end up in neighbouring countries in the region in which their plight is generated, and of course we need an overseas development programme that is focused and seeks, through enlightened self-interest, to ensure that we support those countries.

We are constantly told by Conservative Members that the Rwanda scheme will act as a deterrent, but that claim simply does not stand up to scrutiny, because Rwanda can take fewer than 1% of the asylum seekers who cross the channel in small boats. It is inconceivable that people who have already risked life and limb to get as far as northern France will be deterred by a 1% risk of anything. The Labour party has therefore been steadfast in our opposition to this madness from the very outset. We are absolutely committed to stopping the Tory boats chaos, but we will never vote for a madcap gimmick that is unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful.

We have constantly said that the Government need to redirect the money that is being squandered on this nonsense to a cross-border police unit, a new returns unit, and a security partnership with Europol that can stop the Tory boats chaos at source. We have also consistently called for the Government to speed up decision making and remove swiftly and safely the 30% of asylum seekers who fail to secure leave to remain. A small upfront investment in Labour’s plan would save the taxpayer an enormous £2 billion. Our reasoned amendment sets out why this Bill is a sham and what the Government should be doing instead, and I urge all Members across the House to get behind it. I trust that, in his concluding remarks, the Minister will confirm whether the Government will be accepting any significant amendments in Committee, because the House really deserves that clarity.

The Conservative party is no longer a serious party at all. It is a rabble, an alphabet soup of factions and cabals. The former Home Secretary is constantly on manoeuvres and the former