Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 8:16 pm on 17 January 2024.

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Votes in this debate

Third Reading (Programme Order, 12 December 2023)

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:18, 17 January 2024

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

I of course echo the tributes to Sir Tony.

The Prime Minister, the Government and I have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats, and we have of course been making progress on that pledge, reducing small boat arrivals by over a third last year, but to stop the boats completely and to stop them for good we need to deter people from making these dangerous journeys—from risking their lives and from lining the pockets of evil, criminal people-smuggling gangs.

The new legally binding treaty with the Government of the Republic of Rwanda responds directly to the Supreme Court’s concerns, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments. This Bill sends an unambiguously clear message that if you enter the United Kingdom illegally, you cannot stay. This Bill has been meticulously drafted to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges; people will not be able to use our asylum laws, human rights laws or judicial reviews to block their legitimate removal. And the default will be for claims to be heard outside of this country. Only a very small number of migrants who face a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm will be able to appeal decisions in the UK.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

As things stand, can the Home Secretary confirm that if this Bill receives Royal Assent it will not breach international law; yes or no?

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

My right hon. Friend raises an important point and it gives me an opportunity to be unambiguous and clear. As drafted, as we intend this Bill to progress, it will be in complete compliance with international law. The UK takes international law seriously and the countries we choose to partner with internationally also take international law seriously.

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

The previous intervention was extremely apposite. Will the Foreign Secretary be kind enough to give me the advice as to why he said what he just did about no breaches of international law?

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

My hon. Friend will know that the Government do not make their legal advice public. We have put forward, of course, an explanation of our position but I am absolutely confident that we will maintain our long-standing tradition of being a country that not just abides by international law but champions and defends it.

Under our new legislation migrants will not be able to frustrate the decision to remove them to Rwanda by bringing systemic challenges about the general safety of Rwanda.

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

Can the Home Secretary assure us that if this Bill is passed tonight there will be a system in place that accurately tests its success, month by month and week by week, so that we know that all this anger, all this frustration, all this work is not for nothing?

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

The hon. Gentleman certainly speaks for a number of Members in the House, although maybe not too many on his own Benches, because it sounds as if he wants this to work, whereas plenty of Opposition Members have tried to frustrate our attempts to deal with illegal migration. But we will of course want to assess the success because we want to be proud of the fact that this Government, unlike the Opposition parties, actually care about strengthening our borders and defending ourselves against those evil people smugglers and their evil trade.

To be clear, we will disapply the avenues used by individuals that blocked the first flight to Rwanda, including asylum and human rights claims. Without that very narrow route to individual challenge, we would undermine the treaty that we have just signed with Rwanda and run the very serious risk of collapsing the scheme, and that must not be allowed to happen. But if people attempt to use this route simply as a delaying tactic, they will have their claim dismissed by the Home Office and they will be removed.

The Bill also ensures that it is for Ministers and Ministers alone to decide whether to comply with the ECHR interim measures, because it is for the British people and the British people alone to decide who comes and who stays in this country. The Prime Minister said he would not have included that clause unless we were intending and prepared to use it, and that is very much the case. We will not let foreign courts prevent us from managing our own borders. As reiterated by the Cabinet Office today, it is the established case that civil servants under the civil service code are there to deliver the decisions of Ministers of the Crown.

The Bill is key to stopping the boats once and for all. To reassure some of the people who have approached me with concerns, I remind them that Albanians previously made up around a third of small boat arrivals, but through working intensively and closely with Albania and its Government, more than 5,000 people with no right to be here have been returned. The deterrent was powerful enough to drive down arrivals from Albania by more than 90%. Strasbourg has not intervened, flights from Rwanda have not been stopped and the House should understand that this legislation once passed will go even further and be even stronger than the legislation that underpins the Albania agreement.

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

We obviously support the Albania agreement, but will the Home Secretary confirm that only 5% of Albanians who have arrived in the country over the past few years on small boats have been returned or removed? What has happened to the other 95%?

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

As I have said, it is about deterrence, and the deterrent effect is clear for anyone to see, with a more than 90% reduction in the number of Albanians who have arrived on these shores.

I am glad that the shadow Home Secretary chose this point to intervene, because it reminds me that the Labour party has no credible plans at all to manage our borders. The Opposition have tried to obstruct our plans to tackle illegal migration over and over again—more than 80 times. They even want to cut a deal with the EU that would see us receive 100,000 extra illegal migrants each and every year. [Interruption.] They cheer. The shadow Home Secretary is pleased with the idea that we are going to receive an extra 100,000 every year. They can laugh, but we take this issue seriously, because it is not what our country needs and it is not what our constituents want.

We are united in agreement that stopping the boats and getting the Rwanda partnership up and running is of the utmost importance. Having a debate about how to get the policy right is of course what this House is for. That is our collective job, and I respect my good friends and colleagues on the Government Benches for putting forward amendments in good faith to do what they believe will strengthen the Bill. While my party sits only a short physical distance from the parties on the Opposition Benches, the gulf between our aspiration to control our borders and their blasé laissez-faire attitude to border control could not be more stark. Stopping the boats is not just a question of policy; it is a question of morality and of fairness. It is this Government—this Conservative party—who are the only party in this House taking this issue as seriously as we should. I urge this House to stick with our plan and stop the boats.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:28, 17 January 2024

May I first add my tributes to Tony Lloyd? He did such wonderful work in policing, as well as in this place.

What a farce. Today and yesterday have been more days of Tory chaos and carnage. We have a Prime Minister with no grip, while the British taxpayer is continually forced to pay the price. Former Tory Cabinet Ministers and deputy chairs from all sides have been queueing up to tell us it is a bad Bill. They say it will not work, it will not protect our borders, it will not comply with international law and it is fatally flawed. The only thing that the Tories all seem to agree on is that the scheme is failing and the law will not solve it. The Prime Minister is failing, too, and they know it.

We have a failing Rwanda scheme that is costing Britain £400 million, that sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Kigali and that will only apply to less than 1% of those arriving in the UK. This is the third Tory law on channel crossings in two years. It will get through tonight, just like the previous two Bills did—even though they failed. Just like the last two, it is a total con on the British people. This chaos leaves the Prime Minister’s authority in tatters. He is in office but not in power. No one agrees with him on his policy, and the real weakness is that he does not even agree with it himself. The Prime Minister is so weak that he has lost control of the asylum system, lost control of our borders and lost any control of the Tory party.

Sixty Tory MPs have voted against the Government, two deputy chairs were sacked, a Home Secretary and Immigration Minister have formerly been lost, and Cabinet Ministers have been briefing openly that they do not support the Bill. The Home Secretary himself thinks it is “batshit”, the Prime Minister tried to cancel it and yet is so weak that they are still going ahead.

Under the Tories, we have seen border security weakened while criminal gangs take hold, because they have not taken the action that we need. The backlogs soar; the budget bust. Criminal smuggler convictions have dropped by 30%, and returns have halved. That is instead of the practical plans that Labour set out to set up the new returns and enforcement unit to stop the Home Office from just losing thousands of people that it cannot keep track of, to stop the halving of the returns unit, to set up the new security powers to go after the criminal gangs and stop the 30% drop in criminal gang smuggler convictions, and to have the additional cross-border police unit that we could be investing in if we were not spending so much money on this failing Rwanda scheme.

Four hundred million pounds of taxpayers’ money is going to Rwanda, all without a single person being sent. That is all in addition to the Government’s whopping multibillion-pound hotel bill. Of course, if they get flights off, it will probably cost another £10 million to £20 million for every 100 people they actually manage to send. President Kagame made an astonishing intervention this afternoon. He said that he is happy for the scheme to be scrapped and may be offering to refund the money. Think what we could do with £400 million—that is more than a third of the budget of the National Crime Agency.

The Kigali Government have clarified the position this afternoon—and it is even worse. They said:

“Under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid…if no migrants come to Rwanda under the scheme, and the UK government wishes to request a refund of the portion of the funding allocated to support…we will consider this request.

Unbelievable. The Government signed a deal and a whole series of cheques to send hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money to Rwanda for a scheme that they were warned would not work, might be unlawful, would not work as a deterrent, would be unenforceable and would be at high risk of fraud. They signed it because they do not give a damn about taxpayers’ money. Now they want to pass the Bill and spend even more taxpayers’ money on this failing scheme.

The scheme is likely to cover less than 1% of the people who arrived in the country last year. More than 90,000 people applied for asylum, and the Court of Appeal said that Rwanda had capacity for only 100 people. The Immigration Minister admitted that it is just a few hundred, and not any time soon. If the Government ever finally implement the Illegal Migration Act 2023, that will immediately create a list of 35,000 people the Home Secretary is supposed to send immediately to Rwanda. At this rate, it will take the Government 100 years to implement their own failing policy.

To be honest, it is probably even worse than that, because they cannot even find most of the 5,000 people they put on the initial Rwanda list. It is totally unbelievable: in the space of about 18 months, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have literally lost 4,200 people they planned to send to Rwanda. I bet the Prime Minister wishes he could lose a few of those Home Secretaries he managed to send.

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

The Prime Minister did also lose his Immigration Minister as part of the chaos of the last few weeks and months—I give way to the former Immigration Minister.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

If the shadow Home Secretary does not like the Rwanda policy, why did she brief The Times over the Christmas holidays that she was in favour of an offshore processing scheme, which everyone knows is more expensive than a scheme like Rwanda and has far less deterrent effect? It seems that everything she does not like is her plan, except she did not have the guts to put her name to it, so she briefed The Times anonymously.

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

Nice try with total nonsense from the former Immigration Minister, who has a history of making things up. It is not clear that there is anything on the planet more expensive per person than the Government’s Rwanda scheme: £400 million to send nobody to Rwanda and to totally fail. I give the former Immigration Minister credit for exposing the Government and the Prime Minister’s real plan—in his words, to try and get a few “symbolic flights” off before a general election, with a small number of people on them.

Not to worry about handing over a small fortune to another country, or the fact that all this focus on one small, failing scheme means that the Government are failing to go after the gangs. They have lost thousands of people the Home Office should be tracking. Not to worry that this new law is so badly drawn up that, frankly, the Government may be ordered by the courts to bring people back, at further huge cost to the British taxpayer, turning the whole thing into an even bigger farce.

This is not a workable policy; it is a massive, costly con. The Government are trying to con voters and con their own party, but everyone can see through it. A £400 million Rwanda scheme for a few hundred people is like the emperor’s new clothes. The Prime Minister and his Immigration Ministers have been desperately spinning the invisible thread, but we can all see through it. The Home Secretary is wandering naked around this Chamber, waving a little treaty as a fig leaf to hide his modesty behind. I admit, he does not have much modesty to hide.

There are things that the Home Secretary and I agree on. We agree on working with France. We agree on the deal with Albania. We agree on the importance of stopping dangerous boat crossings that are undermining border security and putting lives at risk. I think he probably agrees with us about the failings of the policy he is trying to defend today. We need stronger border security and a properly controlled and managed asylum system so that the UK does its bit to help those fleeing persecution and conflict, and those who have no right to be here are returned. We need Labour’s plan for the new security powers, the new cross-border police, the new security agreement, the new returns and enforcement unit, the clearing of the backlog, the ending of hotel use, and keeping track of the thousands of people the Home Secretary has lost.

The Government will get their law through tonight—the third new law in two years; the third Home Secretary to visit Rwanda with a cheque book; the third bilateral agreement with Rwanda. Tory Back Benchers have been saying that it should be three strikes and you’re out. We are now on three, six, nine strikes, and they have not even got to first base, because every time they bring forward a new law, it makes things worse. The first new law failed because its main provisions are now suspended. The second new law failed with the main provisions not even implemented.

Forgive us for not believing a word the Government say, and for voting against a third failing Bill today. The only difference now is that none of their Back Benchers believes them, either. Broken promises on clearing the backlog, on ending hotel use, on stopping the boats and on returning people who come. It is chaos—failing on smuggler gangs, failing on returns and failing to get a grip. Britain deserves better than this Tory asylum chaos.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 8:38, 17 January 2024

I will simply reply to the Labour party. If I vote against Third Reading this evening, I certainly have no intention of doing a single thing to support the propositions of Labour’s Front-Bench spokesman. Let me get that completely clear. Labour is not doing anything. It has no plan. I want the Bill to succeed, and if I vote against Third Reading it will be because I do not believe, to use the Home Secretary’s own words, that this is the “toughest immigration legislation” that we could produce, nor do I think we have done “whatever it takes”. I can only say that in this context, but it is about the law.

My main concern is that there will be another claim as a result of this. I do not think anybody expects anything else. When it happens it will go to the Supreme Court and the question in front of the Supreme Court will be very simple. I put that point in my speech yesterday, and I do not retract a single word. I am extremely grateful to those very senior people some members of the Government, who said to me privately that they agreed with every word I said.

I say that for this reason. If the Act of Parliament was sufficiently comprehensive, using the “notwithstanding” formula, and the words used were clear and unambiguous, then there is no doubt at all that we would win that case in the Supreme Court. Sadly, I just do not think that that is going to happen. I explained why yesterday, so there is no need or reason for me to go into it now. I have said what I have said. All I can say is that I wish the Government well, but I cannot in all conscience support the Bill, because I have set out my case and, on principle, I am not going to retract it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:40, 17 January 2024

The front page of this tawdry, pathetic piece of unworkable legislation says, in the name of the Home Secretary:

“I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.”

It is another illegal Bill that will not work and will not fix the problem. It is a Bill for which the Government have no mandate. The 2019 Conservative manifesto said:

“We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.”

Nothing about flights to Rwanda, nothing about extradition, nothing about ripping up people’s fundamental human rights. Since then, there have been two unelected Prime Ministers, four Home Secretaries and no mandate for this Bill.

The UNHCR’s assessment of the Bill states:

“It maintains its position that the arrangement, as now articulated and the UK-Rwanda Partnership Treaty and accompanying legislative scheme, does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law.”

Rwanda has been clear that it does not want to sign up to an agreement that breaches international law. The Bill breaches international law. That is very clear. It is very dangerous that the Government are going down this road. We cannot make a country safe simply by legislating that it is so. This Government are engaged in a fantasy. More dangerous than that, they ask the courts, public servants and all of us to engage in that same fantasy. It becomes upside down and topsy-turvy—right is wrong and wrong is right. All those things make no sense. We cannot make a country safe simply by legislating it so.

We know that the Bill is no deterrent, because the supposedly harsh Bills that came before it have not been a deterrent either. It has been 181 days since the last tough, harsh and difficult piece of deterrent legislation was passed, and measures are not yet even in force from the Government’s previous tough, difficult harsh Bill that was supposed to be a deterrent, so we cannot believe them now.

We also find that the tiniest number of people will sent to Rwanda anyway. Less than 1% of those crossing this year will be sent to Rwanda. What happens to the rest of the people left in immigration limbo to wander the streets of these islands? The Government cannot say, they do not know and they have no idea what they will do when people have no rights and are out looking for assistance.

The Bill amounts to nothing more and nothing less than state-sponsored people trafficking. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like to hear it, but it is the truth. I will explain to them exactly why. They should listen to my description and see what they think. Far from dismantling criminal gangs, this Government have become a criminal gang, breaking international law and moving vulnerable people across the world without legal process—no right of appeal and no concern for the safety or human rights of asylum seekers—to a country they do not know, involving money and involving profit. It involves people this Government will never meet and never look in the eye. They will never sit across the table and watch them in tears because they cannot be safe.

Robert Burns, that great humanitarian of Scotland, said:

“Man’s inhumanity to man

Makes countless thousands mourn!”

I mourn what this Government are doing to human rights, and the undermining of international law and international principles, and I give this assurance: when Scotland gets its independence we will take our place in the world, we will take our responsibilities seriously, and we will play our full part in the world as an independent nation.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 8:45, 17 January 2024

Let me begin by adding my tributes to Tony Lloyd, one of the most charming and civilised politicians in this House, a model that would do well to be replicated more widely than it sometimes is.

It is clear from the debates that have taken place in the last couple of days that it is this side, and this side only, that understands the concept of deterrence when it comes to the importance of dealing with illegal immigration. [Interruption.] Alison Thewliss has had her hysterical say, and I will have mine. That understanding is in stark contrast to the intellectual vacuum that passes for today’s Labour party. On this side the debate has been entirely about the workability of the Bill, and we have heard some exceptional speeches over the last couple of days. If I may, I will single out that of my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick.

I do not believe we should be demonising, at any point, those who want to secure a better future for themselves by seeking asylum in, or migration to, the United Kingdom, which is a fine, fair, tolerant society that anyone would want to join. However, the principle of territorial asylum—the right to access the national asylum system on setting foot on land—has already had a coach and horses driven through it by the fact that many of these people are not coming by boat from a dangerous country, but are coming from France. That cannot be tolerated if we are to have control over our borders.

Even more important—this point has been made frequently by my right hon. and hon. Friends—is the need to curb the evil of people smuggling and destroy the economic model of those who traffic in that most disgusting trade. I have to say that political infringements of the ECHR are nothing compared with the duty to stop people suffocating in lorries or drowning while crossing the channel, especially given that when it comes to deportation, France is the country that is perfectly willing to ditch the judgments of the ECHR when it suits it. Our deterrent will be even greater if we pass this legislation and can persuade other countries to do the same in a synergistic way.

The Bill may not be everything that everybody wants, but it is much better than what we have today. If I had voted only for legislation with which I agreed 100%, my voting record in the past years 32 might have been different from what it is today. I hear those on my own side saying that we can replace this Bill with something else, but we cannot. As you well know, Mr Speaker, “Erskine May” says:

“When a Bill has been rejected, or lost through disagreement, it should not, according to the practice of Parliament, be reintroduced in the same Session.”

This is the one chance that we have to pass this legislation. What we do will be judged by our voters according to their priorities. If we leave tonight with nothing, that judgment will be harsh—or, worse, it will leave us to the cringing mediocrities that make up His Majesty’s Opposition.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 8:48, 17 January 2024

I, too, pay tribute to Tony Lloyd, with whom I sat in Westminster Hall during his last speech. It was about human rights, the very issue that we are discussing now. He spoke with such wisdom, and we will all miss him.

I was shocked to hear a Member call another Member—a female Member—“hysterical”. It is a classic use of a misogynistic term, and I was shocked to hear it.

This is the Third Reading of the third Bill in two years to try to stop the channel crossings. The first, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, has been partially suspended because it was making things worse. The second, the Illegal Migration Act 2023, has mainly not been implemented because the Home Office believes it is unworkable. So here we are for the third time. This is the “fail again and fail harder” version: unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful. It weakens our national borders and undermines international courts—those courts that protect and on which we rely as British citizens. I have been very concerned about the attacks on the European Court of Human Rights during debates on the Bill. The costs are spiralling, at £400 million plus the £2.1 million that was already spent on legal bills alone by November 2023.

This latest gimmick—not a plan—lets down people fleeing persecution and will not deliver on fixing the immigration system. It will leave nearly 100,000 cases in the backlog, 56,000 people in hotels and, as we have now heard, more than 4,000 people missing from the system. It will not fix the system that the Conservatives have broken. It will not be that deterrent; it is too small and unworkable. It does not respond to the international situation of increasing climate change impact and conflict around the world that is driving people to seek safety. It feels like the Conservatives cannot cope with international reality and have stuck their fingers in their ears and are chanting something about Rwanda instead of facing up to reality. This lets our country down.

What will stop the boats and the dreadful deaths in the cold seas is Labour’s plan.

We will clear the backlog with a new fast-track system and 1,000 officers. We will end hotel use, saving the taxpayer over £2 billion, and improve enforcement with a new returns and enforcement unit to reverse the collapse in returns for those who have no right to be here. The Conservatives started this work by employing some temporary new officers and it started to work, so why not invest in the things that work instead of this gimmick? They have started clearing the backlog. The Tories have also started smashing the gangs through the work that they are doing in France. Again, it is beginning to work, so why not invest in those things that work, rather than in the Rwanda plan? It is nonsense to start something but not finish it and leave a half-baked plan in place.

What works is smashing the gangs and working with France. We would smash the supply chains with new powers and a new cross-border police unit, which would prevent the boats from reaching the French coast in the first place. We would work in partnership internationally to address some of the humanitarian crises that are leading people to flee from their homes. We believe in strong border security and a properly controlled, managed and fair asylum system, so that the UK can do our bit to help those fleeing persecution and conflict but return those with no right to be here. We also believe in stopping the gangs, who are the only winners from this Bill. Under the Tories we just have costly chaos.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 8:52, 17 January 2024

It is important to speak in this debate. I have to say, I was somewhat astonished by the speech of the shadow Home Secretary, who cannot even get the name of the country right, talking about the Kigali Government when we are talking about Rwanda—a respected country that has recently been president of the Commonwealth.

I want to associate myself with the comments about the sad loss of Sir Tony Lloyd. As a Member of Parliament in both Manchester and Rochdale, he was assiduous for his constituents and assiduous when he was in government, and he will be much missed in this House.

The reason why I stand today is that I am keen to make sure that this Bill gets through its Third Reading with the largest majority possible, so that we can say to the other House that the elected House has had its say. We are doing this Bill solely because, having had the excellent Illegal Migration Act taken through by my right hon. and learned Friend Suella Braverman and my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick—which, we should all remember, the Labour party opposed religiously, blocking everything that we tried to do—the Supreme Court, after disagreeing with the High Court, pointed to the issue of Rwanda specifically. It is important that Parliament stands up and addresses that specific point so that we can get through this stage and then commence the relevant sections of the Illegal Migration Act, particularly regarding having a safe third country.

I am conscious that temperatures are pretty high, but there is a genuine passion on this side of the House to respect the will of our constituents, who want to see a fair legal migration system and not the vague plan—which really is not a plan—from the Labour party. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends: support this Bill tonight so that we have the biggest majority possible. I appreciate what other Members have said, but clause 2 is very specific that when decision makers are making decisions, Parliament has given its full confidence that when people go to Rwanda they will be treated fairly and that the conventions will be applied. Then we will have not only the effective process but the effective deterrent, which I think the whole House seeks.

Let us be clear and let us talk with one voice. I wish the Opposition would join us, but I know from their track record of opposing the Illegal Migration Act that they might talk the talk, but they are full of bluster. They do not really mean it and they do not really care. I know that this Conservative Government care, and I know that every Conservative MP cares. We need to make sure that the Lords listen to the elected House.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 8:55, 17 January 2024

I am gutted by the loss of Sir Tony Lloyd. He was a decent, kind, wise man and an excellent Member of Parliament. We will all seriously miss him.

They say that the smaller the stakes, the more ferociously they are fought over. The small stakes are that if this Bill works, 1% of the asylum seekers who come to this country might just end up being sent to Rwanda, at a cost of £240 million and counting. We know it will not be a deterrent, as we know that people have travelled from the horn of Africa, through Libya, over the Mediterranean and through Europe. As if the 1% chance that they may go to Rwanda will put off the tiny fraction of people who try to cross the English channel, having taken all the risks they have taken to get as far as France.

Of course people travel from France. They are not going to bloomin’ sail directly from Libya, are they? For pity’s sake. People will come from France. The French Government could say to Spain and Italy, “No, these people should stay in your safe countries.” The House will see where I am going. If we do not work co-operatively, the whole thing falls down.

The real issue is the backlog of 165,000 asylum cases that this incompetent Government have failed to clear. I have covered the issue of deterrence, but the people smugglers may well decide to bring people into this country under the radar, without claiming asylum at all. We would not reduce the number coming here, but we would massively increase the number of people who end up in the black market as victims of trafficking and sexual slavery, and so on.

Only a quarter of those few people who are denied asylum, having gone through the system, are removed by this Government. We have a Government who talk tough and act weak. If they actually wanted a deterrent, they would make sure that there is a system to deal with those 165,000 people, and they would remove the ones who are not genuine asylum seekers. Even the Government’s own figures show that 75% of the people who come here to claim asylum are legitimate and genuine refugees. If the Government want to deter people, they should assess them and return the ones who are not genuine refugees.

The weakest thing about this Bill is that it is predicated on the Government’s desire to demonise the world’s most vulnerable people because they think the electorate like it. They have misunderstood and massively underestimated the British people, and certainly my constituents, who are better than they think they are.

I can tell the Government about my community. In 1945, half the children who survived the death camps in Nazi-occupied Europe came to our shores. In fact, they came to the shores of Lake Windermere. They were the Windermere boys, the Windermere children, and we are proud of that legacy because it speaks to the kind of people we are in the lakes and in Britain.

I have visited some of the refugee camps in Europe, and when I speak to the people who seek to come to the United Kingdom—by the way, it is important to remember that 19 European Union countries take more refugees per head than the United Kingdom—the thing that drives them to come here is not benefits or the NHS but a belief in Britain. They believe that Britain is the kind of place where they can raise a family in peace, where they can earn a living and where they can have religious freedom and other liberties. That reputation is built on hundreds of years of proud experience of what it is to be British. Our forefathers and foremothers built that reputation, and it will take more than this tawdry Government and this shabby legislation to undermine that reputation overseas.

The Government want to make Britain unattractive, and they will fail. The Bill will fail. It is a costly, expensive failure, and it deserves to be rejected by this House.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 8:59, 17 January 2024

I will be quick, Mr Speaker. This has been a useful debate already, because we have heard from the Opposition parties where they stand. We have heard from the Scottish National party that it wants Scotland to take its place among the nations of the world. What we did not hear was whether the SNP wants Scotland to take its fair share of the refugees of the world, because as yet it does not do so. It was good to hear from Labour that it does have a plan to stop the boats—it is our plan. It is everything we are doing already, just without the Rwanda bit, which is the one essential piece of the jigsaw that will act as an effective deterrent and stop the boats. Tim Farron made a passionate speech, but I think he was saying that we should just be more like Europe on refugees and asylum, and I am not sure that that is what the public want.

I wish briefly to pay tribute to a few people. First, I pay tribute to the Government Whips, who have done a brilliant job today. I congratulate them and honour them for their efforts; they have been more successful than I have today, but I am glad that we are all more or less united again as a party. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, who has worked with colleagues across our party and across the House to address the concerns we had. I am pleased to say that some commitments have been given today and in the past few days, although I do not think they go far enough. I want to acknowledge the important work that my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick have done in Committee, because their amendments, which so many of us have supported in the past two days, would have made significant improvements to the operation of this Bill. We are all in the same place, as many colleagues have said; all Conservative Members want to do the same thing, which is establish an effective deterrent that would ensure that people who cross the channel are immediately detained and removed.

I do not think that this Bill, as drafted, is going to work. We will see legal challenges that will clog up the process and ensure that the deterrent is not enforced. I regret that we are not honouring the pledge we have made to the people to control our borders effectively, which is what they voted for in 2016 and in 2019 so decisively, what all the opinion polls and our constituents tell us, and what all common sense tells us is such an important part of our commitment and responsibilities in government. I regret that although the Bill pays tribute, ostentatiously, to the essential concept and principle of parliamentary sovereignty, it does not in fact ensure that that is what we will have. We believe that statutes passed in this place have supremacy over judge-made law and certainly over the jurisdiction of the European Court. I am afraid to say that much as the Government agree with the principle I have just established, the Bill, as it stands, still allows lawyers to use foreign, international law commitments and protocols to override the supremacy of Parliament, and I deeply regret that. We could have got a better Bill through Parliament in this Session; we could have developed it, and I understand that it would have been possible to bring forward a Bill of different scope that would have achieved the same ends. I regret that we are not doing that, but I understand that this is where we are.

Many of my colleagues have decided to vote with the Government tonight, because they do not want to cause the political disruption that would ensue from a Government defeat, and I honour them for their decision, I respect that greatly and think it is a very honourable position. My view is, as I said at the outset, that the Bill needed these improvements. I do not think it will work and we could have done better. Nevertheless, the fundamental fact is that Conservative Members are united in our commitment to stopping the boats through this policy. The real division is not the Gangway on the Government Benches, but the Aisle between us and the Opposition Benches. The great value of the debates we have been having is that it exposes the position of the Opposition parties. They do not believe in stopping the boats and we all do.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley 9:03, 17 January 2024

The tribute I received about Tony Lloyd today came from the ex-chief constable of West Midlands police, who used to be the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester police. He said that Tony was one of the best people he had ever worked with, so I stand here to say that.

I want everybody in here to know that they are about to vote for a Bill when they have absolutely no idea how much it is going to cost. We have not been given that information. I was here during the debate in Committee earlier, when the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, said that there was a view that each person sent to Rwanda would cost £169,000. That piqued my anger so greatly, because I had just come from an event with the Home Secretary to do with it being a year on from the independent child sexual abuse inquiry, where we were considering what progress we have made since then. I was holding in my hand a piece of paper that said that in 2022 some 100,000 children were sexually abused and came forward to say that, and then I looked up how much money the Home Office allocated to its sexual abuse against children fund in 2022. It was £4.5 million, which I worked out was £42 for every child who had been raped in that year, and I thought about the political capital of walking round and round the Lobby for the third Bill trying to do something that won’t work.

The Prime Minister could find 150 judges yesterday—I don’t know where; under the sofa?—when rape victims in my constituency are waiting seven years for their cases to get in front of a judge. Frankly, people who think that it is worth the amount of time spent wasting taxpayers’ money on something that has not worked the last two times we tried it and will not work this time should be ashamed of themselves for voting for something when they have no idea how much it will cost the people in their constituencies. I hope that those who turned up today feel shame for the amount of airtime they have taken up when they did not do so for the victims of child abuse—[Interruption.] Excuse me? Would someone like to intervene? No.

I was in a British court last week—not a “foreign court”, but a British court—with a victim of human trafficking. She had been trafficked twice. We had deported her once already, as a trafficking victim, but she was re-trafficked back to this country and I went to the upper tribunal with her last week. She has two children born of the repeated rapes that she has suffered as a victim of human trafficking and the Home Office was trying to deport her again. The judge scolded the Home Office lawyers for daring to bring the case in front of them and because I was sat in the courtroom, the Home Office lawyers were not so keen to give their evidence in front of me, so they did not really give any—[Interruption.] Yes, I wonder why they did not want to talk about how it was fine for a woman who had been ritually raped repeatedly to have to go back to where that had happened before she had been trafficked here.

I have heard nothing in any of the debates today about what happens to the victims of human trafficking when we scoop up all these people without any appeal. What happens to them? Currently, I have sat in courtrooms where this Government are abusing them. I would never vote for the Bill and neither should anybody else.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 9:07, 17 January 2024

I was first elected to this House on the same day as Tony Lloyd in 1983. He was a brilliant friend and comrade who voted against the Iraq war, student tuition fees and the renewal of Trident, and he was a brilliant shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. He will be much missed by many good people all over this country.

This Bill is an appalling piece of legislation. It fails to take any account of the human suffering of people who are forced, through lack of any other alternative, to try to make a very dangerous crossing of the channel. I have met people in Calais who are desperate, poor and confused, and have travelled from Afghanistan and other places. They are victims of war, human rights abuse, poverty and so much else. The Government are now claiming that the only way to deal with the issue is to attack what they euphemistically call “a foreign court”, when in reality that court is the European Court of Human Rights, which is part of our judicial system. They are trying to offshore their obligations under international law and treaties.

On the global stage, it is the wealthy countries, such as Australia and Britain, that want to offshore issues surrounding asylum and the rights of people to seek asylum, and pretend that somehow or other they are doing the world a favour. We have to work with other countries to deal with the issue of the desperation of so many refugees in Europe, and far more in other parts of the world.

The Bill blames those people for being victims and plays into the narrative of the most backward, horrible remarks made in our national media and newspapers about asylum seekers, without ever recognising that those people who have sought asylum legally in this country—it is always legal to seek asylum; that is there in treaty—will eventually be our doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers of tomorrow, as they are all over Europe. The Bill plays into this racist trope against refugees all over the world, and attacks refugees because of where they come from.

I hope that the House tonight rejects this Bill. I hope that, in future, we do not come back to this kind of debate, but instead start to look at the issues of human rights abuse, victims of war, victims of environmental disaster and the needs of those people to be cared for on this planet as fellow human beings, rather than making them out to be the enemies that they certainly are not. Desperate people are looking for a place of safety. Surely it is our obligation—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary is getting very excited, but it is his obligation to try to make sure that they do have a place of safety in which to survive for the rest of their lives.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital) 9:10, 17 January 2024

I, too, pay tribute to Tony Lloyd. I think that we would all admit that he was a far, far better man than most of us in this House. Those of us who have survived thus far advanced cancer often feel a particular poignancy—I know the Home Secretary will agree with this point—when a friend is lost to cancer, so my condolences go to Tony’s family. I hope that we will have proper time to commemorate him, as you have said, Mr Speaker.

I want the boats to stop, not because I do not value the lives of those who have paid thousands of pounds to risk their lives on the high seas in unseaworthy vessels, but because I do value their lives. I despise the people traffickers and I do not want the generosity of the British people to be tested to breaking point. I am voting against Third Reading today for four reasons. First, I agree with Robert Jenrick and the hon. Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Devizes (Danny Kruger), who are not all here now, that this Bill will not work. It is a false promise and I am sick of false promises. It is a waste of money and I am sick of the Government wasting our money. And I am very sceptical that it will actually act as a deterrent. After all, if the freezing waters of the channel that can take a life in a matter of minutes are not a deterrent, how will a 1% chance of being transported to Rwanda act as a deterrent?

Secondly, this Bill is based on a heady mixture of gross exaggeration, preposterous wishful thinking and miserably misconceived machismo. Let us look at the exaggerations. The right hon. Member for Newark said yesterday:

“Millions of people in the world want to make that journey”—[Official Report, 16 January 2024;
Vol. 743, c. 713.]

in a small boat. Where on earth is his evidence for that? Suella Braverman said that there are many instances of asylum seekers purporting to be homosexual to receive preferential treatment in asylum applications. Where on earth is her evidence for that? Many have claimed that the vast majority of those arriving in small boats are economic migrants, but the evidence is that when the Home Office has investigated, it has granted 65% of them refugee status.

Thirdly, the right hon. Member for Newark said yesterday:

“The law is our servant, not our master.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2024;
Vol. 743, c. 717.]

But it is wrong that, even without amendment, this Bill places Ministers above the law. It means that even if a dog is factually a dog and a court, having interpreted the law, has adjudged it to be a dog, the Government can declare it none the less to be a cat. The former Attorney General said earlier, quite rightly, that we rely in the UK on international law; it is the basis of how we protect ourselves and our interests. How then can we argue that China, Russia and the Houthis should not renege on international human rights law when we ditch it when it is inconvenient for us? And how many of us condemned Russia, quite rightly, when it declared by statute law that Luhansk and Donetsk were part of Russia when they are patently part of Ukraine, as laid down in international treaty?

Fourthly and finally, the right hon. Member for Newark said yesterday that

“we are not a parish council.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2024;
Vol. 743, c. 717.]

I agree, so let us stop behaving like Handforth Parish Council. Let us behave like the House of Commons: protect ancient liberties, including the right to appeal; respect the rule of law; and honour our international commitments, like honourable Members.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 9:14, 17 January 2024

The Committee of the whole House has gone through the Bill and not made any of the varying and contradictory amendments from the varying and contradictory factions of the Tory party. We are left with a Bill that, in reality, nobody actually wants. The hardliners on the Tory party right do not like it—something to do with foreign courts. The Tory left do not particularly like it because they realise how close it sails to breaching our international human rights obligations. The official Opposition do not like it because, I think, it is too expensive. The SNP is opposed to the Bill and the entire hostile environment policy in principle, because this is just completely the wrong way to deal with some of the poorest and most vulnerable people who come to these shores seeking refuge and safety.

We want to welcome refugees and encourage them to contribute to our economy and society, but it seems that even the Republic of Rwanda is getting cold feet—and no wonder. Notwithstanding the fact that the United Kingdom continues to grant asylum to asylum seekers from Rwanda, why should a country that aspires to be a prosperous, stable African democracy allow itself to become a political football for wannabe Leaders of the Opposition that currently inhabit the Tory Benches?

According to the Prime Minister today, the best—or, perhaps, worst—thing about Rwanda is that it is not the UK, and the very fact of its not being the UK is a deterrent to people coming here because they might be deported to it. By the same logic, if the Government threaten to deport people to Disneyland, that would also be a deterrent because Disneyland is not in the UK. Of course, Disneyland is a place where dreams are supposed to come true, but I think the dreams of the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and, indeed, the former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, of flights taking off to Rwanda will not come true, and neither will their dreams of becoming the next Leader of the Opposition after the election. The SNP’s dream of an independent Scotland—the dream that will never die—that has its own independent, humane asylum system that recognises human rights and wants to welcome refugees will come true, and sooner rather than later.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Division number 60 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Committee: Third reading

Aye: 320 MPs

No: 279 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 276.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.