Clause 1 - Introduction

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 18 March 2024.

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Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

This Bill is an essential element of our wider strategy to protect our borders, and to stop the boats to prevent the tragic loss of life at sea caused by dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings of the channel. There are 10 Lords amendments. First, I turn to amendment 1. It implies that the legislation is not compliant with the rule of law, but I can confirm that it is. I do not accept that the Bill undermines the rule of law, and the Government take our responsibilities and international obligations incredibly seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister will understand that many of us are deeply concerned that the Bill undermines the Good Friday agreement. He has told us previously that it does not, but he will also know that the Irish Parliament has been considering this matter. Indeed, on 20 February, the Irish Prime Minister admitted that the Irish Government were concerned and were following this debate closely. For the avoidance of doubt, can the Minister tell us when the UK Government consulted the Irish Government about this legislation, and about our obligations under the Good Friday agreement? What was the outcome of that consultation?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I am concerned with this Government and this Parliament. As for our obligations, nothing in the Bill requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations. In fact, this Bill is based on compliance by both Rwanda and the United Kingdom with international law in the form of a treaty that recognises and reflects the international legal obligations of both the United Kingdom and Rwanda.

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

At least the Minister responds to our questions and tries to address the issues. The last time I asked a question on this matter, he tried to answer it, but the fact is that because of Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland, it has special circumstances. We were reassured then about Northern Ireland’s circumstances; Stella Creasy referred to the Good Friday agreement, which is one example, but there is also the matter before us. Can the Minister confirm that the concerns that the Democratic Unionist party put forward in our last debate on this issue have been taken on board? We do not see that from the legislation before us tonight, and if we do not see that, it will be hard for us to support the Government.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I do recall our earlier exchange across the Chamber, and the hon. Gentleman may know of my exchange with his hon. Friend Gavin Robinson and the subsequent correspondence. The Government continue to believe that there is no incompatibility between the Bill and article 2 of the Windsor framework. I know the hon. Gentleman has been concerned about that, but I hope he was reassured by some of the details set out in the letter.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 3:45, 18 March 2024

I must say I am surprised that the Government are not concerned about the clash between the Bill and article 2 of the Windsor framework and the Northern Ireland protocol, given that the High Court in Belfast has ruled that legislation of this nature cannot apply in Northern Ireland because it is incompatible with the obligation in article 2 to accord with European law.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but I repeat that there is no incompatibility between article 2 and the Bill. He is right to cite the judgment, but there is to be an appeal, so it would not be right to debate it further at this stage. The Government’s position on this point is very clear, as set out in previous exchanges and also in the letter that is now in the House of Commons Library.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

Rwanda cannot be deemed a safe country for refugees simply as a result of a unilateral declaration by the Government in the face of the courts and other independent organisations that have proved the contrary to be the case. But let me get this straight: it will cost nearly £600 million for just 300 refugees to be sent on a plane to Rwanda, which amounts to an eye-watering £2 million cost per person to the public purse. Does the Minister agree that that is precisely why this political gimmick of a Rwanda Bill is extortionate, unethical, unworkable and unlawful?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I disagree entirely with all the points that the hon. Gentleman has made; I know that he is patient, and he will hear me respond to each and every one.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Like me, the Minister has always believed that immigration should be dealt with on a UK rather than a Great Britain basis, for obvious reasons. Given the comments that we have just heard, does he agree that there is plenty of precedent within our own law for deeming certain claims for certain citizens inadmissible? That has applied to the EU, and surely it is not a problem to extend it further, because we already have the principle that we can say a claim is inherently unfounded when a country is clearly safe.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who speaks with great experience and authority. He will be aware of other instances in which we have legislated and continue to legislate, and have deemed countries to be safe.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

My right hon. and learned Friend is making a good case for the importance of the Bill and the irrelevance of the amendments offered by the other place to what we are trying to achieve. Does he agree that when people criticise the Bill on the ground of the cost of sending people to Rwanda, they entirely miss the point that this will act as a huge disincentive to people in families and communities, predominantly in the middle east, who fundraise vast sums of money in order for their children to arrive here in the UK and not end up in east Africa? Does he also agree that the accusations based on cost hugely underestimate the actual cost of housing current illegal immigrants in hotels across the country?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

My hon. Friend is entirely right on both counts. I will develop the point about the deterrent effect in a few moments, because it is a point that is missed repeatedly by the Labour Members. He is also right about the cost, and the cost of not acting—not least the human cost of not acting.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I am going to make some progress now.

The Bill is based on the compliance of both Rwanda and the United Kingdom with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of both the UK and Rwanda. Along with other countries with similar constitutional arrangements to ours, we have a dualist approach; international law is treated as separate to domestic law, and international law is incorporated into our law by Parliament, through legislation. This Bill reflects the fact that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if it is Parliament’s judgment, by requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised. That is the central feature of the Bill, and many other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic courts.

The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan Governments have made, consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection. We have made it abundantly clear that we assess Rwanda to be a safe country, and that we are confident in the Government of Rwanda’s commitment to the partnership in order successfully to offer safety and protection to those relocated under the treaty.

I am unable to accept Lords amendment 2 as is it simply not necessary. Rwanda has a long and proud history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees into the region. The Government of Rwanda, the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed an agreement to continue the operations of the emergency transit mechanism centre in Rwanda, which temporarily accommodates some of the most vulnerable refugee populations, who have faced trauma, detentions and violence. Rwanda has showcased its willingness and ability to work collaboratively to provide solutions to refugee situations and to crises.

It is worth reflecting on the policy statement and some of the evidence that has been put forward in relation to this debate and previous debates, because there it is clear that the EU has announced a €22 million support package to the emergency transit mechanism. The ambassador has said that it

“is a crucial life-saving initiative to evacuate people…to safety in Rwanda. It is a significant example of African solidarity and of partnership with the European Union.”

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

The point the Minister has not mentioned is that the European scheme is voluntary. Are the Government intending the same sort of parameters within this scheme?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

On the safety of Rwanda, the ambassador was very clear about his assessment; I am going to continue reading the quote, but there are others. There are more than 135,000 refugees safely in Rwanda and being looked after. The ambassador went on to say:

“We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for hosting these men, women and children until such time, durable solutions can be found.”

There is evidence of the safety of Rwanda.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

The Minister says that he is accepting the word of the Rwandan Foreign Minister that the country is safe, yet our judges in the highest court of our country have decided that Rwanda is not safe—so is our Minister saying that the highest judges in our land are wrong?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

No. Respectfully, I encourage the hon. Lady to listen to the debate, because I read out the words of the EU’s ambassador, not of any representative from Rwanda. That is a powerful independent voice, which is why I cite it here in this Chamber.

The implementation of all measures within the treaty will be expedited. Indeed, since our previous debate on this matter, the legislation required for Rwanda to ratify the treaty has passed through both Houses of the Rwandan Parliament. Once ratified, the treaty will become law in Rwanda. The implementation of these provisions in practice will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee, whose role was enhanced by the treaty and which will ensure compliance with the obligations as agreed.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Does the Minister recall that the Supreme Court judgment hinged on the issue of refoulement and not on whether or not refugees were safe in Rwanda? It might benefit some to have listened to its judgment.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I am grateful indeed to my hon. Friend; I will turn to refoulement and non-refoulement, and that important issue, which is exactly the basis of the Supreme Court judgment, and how we have met it through evidence from subsequent to the time when the Supreme Court was looking at the facts on the ground.

The implementation of these provisions in practice will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee. As is stated clearly in clause 9 of the Bill, the provisions will come into force when the treaty enters into force, and the treaty enters into force once the parties have completed their internal procedures.

The Bill’s purpose is to make it clear that Rwanda is safe generally and that decision makers, as well as courts and tribunals, must conclusively treat it as such. The amendment as drafted would open the door to lengthy legal challenges, which will delay removal. It therefore follows that I cannot support the amendment. We are confident in the Government of Rwanda’s commitment, and I am clear that Rwanda is a safe country.

I turn to Lords amendment 3, which is also unnecessary. The Government will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. As I said, the legislation for Rwanda to ratify the treaty has now passed through both Chambers of the Rwandan Parliament. Once ratified, the treaty will become law in Rwanda. It therefore follows that the Government of Rwanda would be required to give effect to the terms of the treaty in accordance with their domestic law as well as in international law.

In relation to the monitoring committee, it was always intended that the committee be independent to ensure a layer of impartial oversight over the operation of the partnership. Maintaining that committee’s independence is an integral aspect of the policy’s design. The treaty enhances the role of the previously established independent monitoring committee and will ensure that obligations to the treaty are adhered to in practice. The details of the monitoring committee are set out in article 15 of the treaty, and it, in turn, will report to a joint committee made up of both United Kingdom and Rwandan officials.

There will be daily monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months—the enhanced period of time—to ensure rapid identification and response to any shortcomings. The enhanced phase will ensure that there is comprehensive monitoring and reporting and that that takes place in real time. The amendment risks disturbing the independence and impartiality of the monitoring committee and therefore should be resisted.

I turn to Lords amendments 4 and 5, and the issue of Rwanda’s safety. We have already touched on this, but it is clear that the Bill’s purpose is to respond to the Supreme Court’s concern and enable Parliament to confirm the status of Rwanda as a safe third country to enable removal of those who arrive in the United Kingdom illegally. To the point made by my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, it is the treaty, the Bill and the published evidence pack that together demonstrate that Rwanda is safe for relocated individuals and that the Government’s approach is tough but fair and lawful. The Government are clear that we assessed Rwanda to be safe, and we have published evidence to substantiate that point.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

With reference to the point made by the hon. Member for Torbay about the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision, I am sure that, like me, the Minister will have read the decision carefully. Does he agree that paragraphs 75 to 105 make it clear that there were three reasons for the Supreme Court’s decision? It was based on evidence: first, about the general human rights situation in Rwanda; secondly, about the adequacy of Rwanda’s current asylum system; and thirdly, about Rwanda’s failure to meet its obligations in a similar agreement regarding asylum seekers with Israel in 2013. Will he tell me what has happened since the Supreme Court’s decision to improve the general human rights situation in Rwanda? He will be aware that the Home Office published a 137-page document dated January this year detailing concerns about human rights in Rwanda.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

In fact, that document supports the Government’s position, because the evidence put forward is balanced. The accusations from Opposition parties that somehow partisan evidence has been put before the Chamber are completely wrong and are refuted by the hon. and learned Lady’s own point. She, as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has just been to Rwanda to see for herself—we had an exchange on that last week—and I look forward to her Committee’s report. The answer is the treaty, the Bill and the published evidence pack. In the Bill is the conclusive presumption that Rwanda is generally a safe country.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

My question was this: in January this year, the British Government, through the Home Office, published a 137-page document about the human rights situation in Rwanda, detailing serious concerns from such august bodies as the US State Department about the protection of human rights on the ground in Rwanda, so what has changed since the Home Office published that note in January? The Minister has not answered that question. If he cannot answer it, then this House cannot say that Rwanda is a safe country.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 4:00, 18 March 2024

The answer is that the hon. and learned Lady must not cherry-pick her evidence. The evidence must be looked at in the round. As I say, it is the treaty, the Bill and the published evidence together. The hon. and learned Lady may not have confidence in our international partners to abide by their treaties, but this Government do. The Government of Rwanda will abide by their treaty.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I will not give way. There is a conclusive presumption in the Bill that Rwanda is generally a safe country. There is a series of facts reinforced by statute. The courts have not concluded that there is a general risk to the safety of relocated individuals in Rwanda. Rather, as we have repeatedly set out, the treaty responds to the Supreme Court’s findings. The assurances we have had, since negotiated in our legally binding treaty with Rwanda, directly address the findings. They make detailed provision for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, ensuring that they will be offered safety and protection with no risk of refoulement. Respectfully, that responds directly to the points that were raised.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

Is the Minister aware of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ comments? It says:

UNHCR will build on the favourable protection environment through continued advocacy and technical support to” the Government of Rwanda. It goes on to say that it is moving from a humanitarian approach to a developmental approach, so that people will be able to have the chance of a livelihood and a safe environment to build their life for the future. Is this not exactly what Rwanda want to put across to people who find themselves there?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

My hon. Friend proves the point I just made, that it is the evidence in the round that must be considered. I am grateful to him for drawing that to Parliament’s attention.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I have given way twice to the hon. and learned Lady, so I will make progress. We have been clear that the purpose of this legislation is to stop the boats, and to do that we must create a deterrent. That goes to the point of my hon. Friend Richard Graham.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, so I will make progress.

That shows that if you enter the United Kingdom illegally, you will not be able to stay. We cannot allow systematic legal challenges to continue to frustrate and delay removals. Those Opposition Members who support this amendment do not mind if there are continuing legal challenges that frustrate and delay removals, but we on this side are not supporting the amendments. It is right that the scope for individualised claims remains limited.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

On that point about the deterrent, will the Minister give way?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

No, I am going to move on to amendment 6.

Amendment 6 seeks to enable United Kingdom courts and tribunals to grant interim remedies. As I have previously stated, one of the core principles of the Bill is to limit the challenges that can be brought against the general safety of Rwanda. This amendment completely undermines the purpose of the Bill and is not necessary.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

I thank the Minister for giving way. The Rwanda plan will not work as the deterrent that Ministers claim it will, not least because it will only account for less than 1% of all those seeking to cross the channel irregularly. Where is the plan for the other 99%? Will the Minister concede that instead of fixing their broken asylum system, the Conservatives have spent an eye-watering £5.4 billion on this, including over £4 billion on asylum hotels and accommodation? That is what is at the crux of the matter, and that is what they need to resolve.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

On deterrence, which I think was the thrust of the question, the Albania scheme brought into effect by the Prime Minister back in December 2022 proves the deterrent effect. Crossings on small boats by those from Albania were down 90% as a result of that agreement. That shows the deterrent effect.

Lords amendment 6 completely undermines the purpose of the Bill. It is unnecessary because the Bill already contains appropriate safeguards to allow decision makers and the courts to consider claims of an individual person in particular circumstances, if there is compelling evidence.

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

The House will know that I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. The people who go through the system and go to Rwanda need to have their religious beliefs protected, whether they be Christians, or belong to other religions or no religion. My concern is that when they get to Rwanda, that protection may not be as strong as that which they have here. Can the Minister give some assurance that people’s religious beliefs will have the same protections?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I know how seriously the hon. Gentleman takes this important issue. There is a policy of non-discrimination in the Rwandan constitution, which will provide some reassurance. The monitoring committee is also there on a daily basis. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We have made it clear that we cannot continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges on general safety.

On amendment 7, we need a strong deterrent to stop people putting their lives at risk by crossing the channel. While creating that deterrent, it is important that the Government take decisive action also to deter adults from claiming to be children.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

My right hon. and learned Friend is right that it is essential that protections are in place to ensure that adults do not masquerade as children, to safeguard all those concerned. However, he will be aware, as was raised in the Lords, that the age assessment criteria were to be introduced in 2022—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend Priti Patel and my hon. Friend Kevin Foster agree. The criteria still have not come into effect at the border in Dover and Manston. Will the Minister assist the House by explaining how there can be confidence about age assessment and how it can be gamed if the amendment is agreed?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I noted some vigorous nodding from my right hon. Friend Priti Patel and my hon. Friend Kevin Foster. My hon. Friend is right that we need to introduce scientific age assessments. Our European and international friends and allies do so, and we must get that scheme up and running. There is nothing in amendment 7 that directly affects that or the 2022 policy, so I encourage her to be reassured on that point. I will take away her encouragement to expedite that and I am grateful for her intervention, because she is right.

My hon. Friend anticipated my point that assessing age is inherently difficult and there are obvious safeguarding risks if adults purporting to be children are placed in the care system. It is important that we take clear steps to deter adults from claiming to be children and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age-assessment decisions to prevent the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. However, the amendment would result in treating differently those who are to be removed to Rwanda from those removed to another country. We consider the provisions in place entirely necessary to safeguard genuine children and to guard against adults who seek to game the system by purporting to be children.

On Lords amendment 8, the House will be aware that the Home Office regularly publishes statistics on migration levels in the United Kingdom. It is not necessary to report the number of removals to Parliament in the manner proposed. We do not consider an obligation to report to Parliament on operational matters to be appropriate.

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

Reverting to the previous amendment on the facts that Parliament should be given, can the Minister confirm the reports in the paper that the Home Office is now seeking to pay people to go to Rwanda in order to fill the flights? Can he also confirm that if people take up that Home Office proposal, they will be subject to exactly the same very substantial payments to the Rwandan Government? Will they also be covered by the capacity questions in the treaty?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

Respectfully, that is not directly relevant to amendment 8. The answer to the question on voluntary removals is yes, this will happen in exactly the same way. There have been voluntary removals—including 19,000 last year—all the way back to the dawn of time or possibly before. There is nothing new. The novel part is that there will be voluntary removals to Rwanda; that is absolutely right. Specifically in relation to amendment 8, it is not necessary to report the number of removals to Parliament and we do not consider obligations to report to Parliament to be appropriate.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

I am going to continue.

Amendment 9 would act to impede provisions already recently passed in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023. The amendment is unnecessary. It is important to be clear that the Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence. Furthermore, under article 13 of the treaty, Rwanda must have regard to information provided about relocated individuals relating to any specific needs that might arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and must take all necessary steps to ensure that those needs are accommodated.

In relation to amendment 10, the Government greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our armed forces overseas. That is why there are legal routes for them to come to the United Kingdom. It remains the Government’s priority to deter people from making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the United Kingdom. Anyone who arrives here illegally should not be able to make the United Kingdom their home and eventually settle here. A person who chooses to come here illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

The Minister seemed to try to brush over some of the costs involved. Is he aware that Virgin Galactic can send six people into space for less than this Government want to spend sending one person to Rwanda? Is it not time to rethink this absurd policy and its extortionate costs?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

We had a debate on Thursday on the costs of the scheme and not a single Labour Back Bencher was there. There was only Dame Diana Johnson, who proposed the debate, and the shadow Minister. Of course, I do not treat the right hon. Lady as an ordinary Back Bencher, because she is the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It was her debate, and not a single other Labour Back Bencher was there. That shows the lack of priority that Labour Members give to this matter.

In relation to amendment 10, section 4 of the Illegal Migration Act, passed last year, enables the Secretary of State, by regulations, to specify categories of persons to whom the duty to remove is not to apply, whether temporarily or permanently. For those who are not in scope of the IMA, the Home Secretary has discretion to consider cases on a case-by-case basis where circumstances demand it. I want to reassure Parliament that once the UK special forces and Afghan relocations and assistance policy review has concluded, the Government will consider and revisit how the IMA and removal under existing immigration legislation will apply to those who are determined to be eligible as a result of the review, ensuring that those people receive the attention that they deserve. The Government recognise the commitment and the responsibility that come with combat veterans, whether our own or those who showed courage by serving alongside us, and we will not let them down.

The Bill and the legally binding treaty will make it clear that Rwanda is a safe country to which we can swiftly remove those who enter the United Kingdom illegally. It addresses the factual concerns identified by the Supreme Court. It provides for clear, detailed and binding obligations in international law on both parties. It will prevent systematic legal challenges about the safety of Rwanda from frustrating and delaying removals. As my hon. Friend Richard Graham set out, it provides a strong deterrent and a clear message to illegal migrants and criminal gangs that if people come to this country by unlawful means, they will not be able to stay.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 4:15, 18 March 2024

I rise to speak in favour of all 10 of the Lords amendments that are before us today. They each serve to make this shambolic mess of a Bill marginally less absurd and, as I will come to in a second, they would serve only to put in statute what Ministers have promised from the Dispatch Box. Not one of the amendments is designed to prevent the departure of flights to Rwanda, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly and wrongly implied.

We all want to end the Tory small boats chaos, and I am proud that the Labour party has consistently put forward a smart, pragmatic and sensible plan to do so, starting by going after the criminal smuggler gangs at source through a new cross-border police unit and a new security partnership with Europol. However, this Bill and the treaty that accompanies it will not contribute in any way to achieving that aim.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

Since 2020, we have seen 82 gangs disrupted and more than 400 people arrested because of the actions of this Government. I am keen to understand Labour’s idea about smashing the gangs. How much more would that cost, and what would it look like as a total percentage of numbers?

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

We will eradicate the activity of the criminal smuggler gangs by having a proper security partnership with our European partners and allies. I remind the hon. Gentleman that his party has spent the last eight years trashing and destroying our relationships with our European partners and allies. What we would have with a Labour Government is a basis of trust to get the results that we need to see for the British people—that is what sovereignty is all about.

The entire Rwanda debacle has absorbed a vast amount of time, energy and money that should instead have been focused on taking back control of our border security from the criminal gangs who trade in human misery. Let us not forget that more than 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed in small boats since 2020, with 40,000 arriving on this Prime Minister’s watch alone. The chaos must end, and this Government are clearly unable to restore order at the border, so it is time for them to get out of the way so that Labour can get the job done.

Before I get into the substance of the amendments, I would like to pay tribute to the noble Members of the other place, who tabled them. In so doing, they were fulfilling their constitutional, democratic and patriotic duty by scrutinising and seeking to amend the Bill, just as they would with any other piece of legislation that comes before them. They have not been intimidated or sidetracked by the Prime Minister’s mistaken assertion that the Bill should have some kind of special status or treatment, which would somehow allow Ministers to railroad it through Parliament and to drive a coach and horses through Britain’s long-standing democratic conventions. Indeed, this profoundly dismissive attitude has manifested itself in the way in which the Government have point blank refused to engage with the Lords amendments. They have rejected every one of them, rather than seeking to use them and see them as a basis for negotiation and compromise.

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

On amendment 1, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords, which has a significant number of Members of the other place, has explicitly stated that it is clear and unambiguous in the words used in the statute that international law gives way to the supremacy and sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament? The Committee said that in paragraph 58 of its report, which was published only last year.

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

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Supreme Court—the highest court of our land —has ruled unanimously and in no uncertain terms that Rwanda is not a safe country to which to send asylum seekers. I know that he is very taken with parliamentary sovereignty, and that is very important, but parliamentary sovereignty must be based on having due regard to the findings of our judiciary. It is to be exercised with caution and moderation, which is why it is so important that our colleagues in the other place have played their role.

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

I am extremely grateful, because this question goes right to the heart of the matter. Paragraph 144 of the Rwanda judgment itself is unequivocal: the President of the Supreme Court ruled to dismiss one of the cases— that of ASM, an Iraqi—on very specific grounds. He said that the consequence of the sovereignty of Parliament with respect to the legislation—the immigration Acts and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023—was that the Court had to dismiss his claim. The supremacy of Parliament prevailed in that judgment for the very reason I have just given, as set out in paragraph 144 under the principle of legality.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but at the end of the day, we cannot legislate to turn dogs into cats. We cannot legislate for the sky to be green and the grass to be blue. That is a basic tenet of the respect with which our institutions should be treated, and putting this kind of absurd legislation before us is frankly turning our institutions into a laughing stock. I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman keeps that in mind.

Let us be clear: the only special or unique status that can be found in the Rwanda Bill and the treaty that accompanies it is in its extortionate implementation costs, its unlawful nature and its glaring unworkability. Indeed, as I turn to address the details of the amendments, it is important to point out that since the Bill was last debated in this place, even more evidence of the astonishing unaffordability of the scheme has come to light. This failing scheme was already costing the British taxpayer almost £400 million, even though not a single asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda, but every new detail is more astounding than the last. We recently learned that the first 300 asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda would cost the British taxpayer an extra £200 million, earning an invoice of £570 million from the Rwandan Government for just 1% of the 30,000 asylum seekers who crossed in small boats last year. That is almost £2 million per asylum seeker. Let that sink in for a moment—£2 million to send just one asylum seeker from the UK to Rwanda, and then another £182,000 per person on top of that. In comparison, processing an asylum seeker in the UK costs just £21,000.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

My hon. Friend will be aware of the thousands of asylum seekers who are being dispersed up and down the country, with very little support given to local services. While the Government are obsessing over gimmicks, they are not dealing with the real problems in local communities and supporting those communities to host the people they are dispersing up and down the country. This crisis continues, and the Government need to get a grip on it.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the smoke and mirrors that have been used about clearing the backlog—lots of administrative withdrawals and other ways of just getting people out of the backlog—are being combined with shortening the eviction period, which is leading to a staggering increase in homelessness among those who have been granted asylum. What is happening is frankly a stain on the conscience of our country. A total lack of co-ordination between the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and our colleagues in local authorities is leaving those local authorities high and dry.

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

Although the hon. Gentleman and I might not share many views on this Bill, does he share my surprise that the Government have refused to accept Lords amendment 8, which would require them to report on this Bill’s success? As the Government do not want the number of removals to be reported to Parliament, does he suspect that they know this Bill will not be as effective as they think?

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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his excellent question. Sometimes the mask slips in the Government’s response to amendments. Perhaps they have decided, very disrespectfully, to refuse to engage on any of the Lords amendments because, exactly as he says, they worry that lifting the lid on this box might show a total failure inside.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

The shadow Minister is making an excellent speech. Let us not forget the history: the Tories’ Rwanda Bill is the third new law on channel crossings in just three years. The first law has been partly suspended, because it had so many problems and actually made things worse, and the second Bill has still not been fully enacted. This third Bill is another gimmick costing the public purse £2 million a person. Does my hon. Friend agree that, rather than constantly chasing gimmicks and trying to dupe the British public, the Government finally need to get a grip on the situation?

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

I agree with every word my hon. Friend says.

Just imagine if the amount of time, money, resource, energy and political capital burned on this hare-brained Rwanda scheme had been used to do things that might actually deliver, and just imagine if the Government had listened to Labour’s plan for delivering the change we need to see. We might have made some progress and seen things working. By the way, we supported what the Government have done with Albania. Why do we not see more of that, rather than this utterly ridiculous government by gimmick? What a waste of time and money.

The level of waste and this Government’s cavalier attitude to taxpayers’ money are utterly staggering. Where, oh where, is the plan for the remaining 99% of cases that the Government say will be inadmissible? Tens of thousands of people who are now ineligible to be processed and ineligible to claim asylum cannot be sent to Rwanda either. That backlog, the so-called perma-backlog, currently stands at 56,000 people, with most of them living in one of more than 300 taxpayer-funded hotels across the country, costing millions of pounds every single day.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful argument against this Government’s wasteful policy. Is he aware that the £2 million cost of sending each person to Rwanda would cover 67 new police officers or 72 new nurses in my constituency to fix the horrendous backlog created by this shambolic Government?

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

My hon. Friend has done his maths on the £2 million. I particularly enjoyed his analogy with the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, which shows that the Rwanda plan is a galactically wasteful policy. He is right that so much of this is about choices and priorities, and the Government’s choices and priorities are simply wrong in wasting valuable taxpayers’ money that would be much better focused elsewhere.

That is why we support Lords amendment 8, a Labour Front-Bench amendment in the name of my noble Friend Lord Coaker. The amendment would require the Government to report on the timetable for removing inadmissible asylum seekers under the Illegal Migration Act 2023. We need to see accountability on the inadmissibility provisions that have created the perma-backlog of 56,000 small boat asylum seekers who are stuck in limbo and are unable to be processed.

If 99% of the people crossing in small boats are not likely to be sent to Rwanda, perhaps the Minister can tell us what will happen to them. Will he admit that, despite all his bluff and bluster, they will simply be let into our asylum system after all? No? The premise of inadmissibility was always that it is a one-way street to limbo and shambles, as my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, and I have continually warned Ministers in this Chamber over the past two years.

Of course, there is an alternative. I hope that Conservative Members have been listening because, for the past 18 months, my right hon. Friend and I have been absolutely clear from this Dispatch Box how Labour will prevent the dangerous and life-threatening channel crossings, and how we will fix our broken asylum system. I have already mentioned how we would redirect the money set aside for the Rwandan Government into a cross-border police unit, an intelligence-sharing security partnership with Europol, in order to smash the criminal smuggling gangs upstream.

As part of our plan, we would also ensure that people who have no right to be here are removed to a safe third country. Since 2010, under the Tories, removals have collapsed: the returns of foreign national offenders have fallen by 27%, and the returns of failed asylum seekers have fallen by 44%. Under Labour’s plan, a new returns and enforcement unit would include 1,000 additional officials to expedite removals, with £35 million set aside to create new Nightingale courts to fast-track appeals and pursue tougher action on employers who employ migrants illegally.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 4:30, 18 March 2024

I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. He says he wants removals to a safe third country. Which one?

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

I am very sorry, but would the hon. Member mind repeating that?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

It is always good to listen to an intervention, but I will repeat it for him. He said that one part of his plan was to remove people to a safe third country. Simply question: if not Rwanda, which one?

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

I apologise; I should have said “home country.” I would like to correct the record. It was “home country”. Apologies; I mis-spoke.

Labour’s common-sense, pragmatic plan will smash the business model of the criminal gangs, deter dangerous journeys and tackle the backlog.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will now run through the remaining nine amendments from the other place. We support each of them for the reasons I will now set out.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

How much would Labour’s plan cost?

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

As I have already said—I do not know if the hon. Member was listening—this is about repurposing the vast quantities of taxpayers’ money that are being squandered on the hare-brained Rwanda plan. The re-channelling of that money will fund the clearance of the backlog, sort out returns and smash the criminal gangs.

I would first like to focus on Lords amendment 10, tabled by the noble Lord Browne, which seeks to exempt individuals who have worked in support of the UK Government or armed forces from removal to Rwanda under the provisions of the Bill. The amendment is driven by a moral imperative: we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have supported our defence, diplomacy and development abroad, not least in Afghanistan. It beggars belief that the Government would even consider sending this cohort of heroes, who are fleeing the Taliban, to Rwanda. Britain’s commitment towards these loyal-to-Britain Afghans is, of course, felt most strongly by our own armed forces, but the Government have continually shirked their responsibilities towards Afghans, including by leaving thousands who have a right to be in the UK stranded in Pakistan for more than a year. It is little wonder that they have resorted to making desperate journeys across the channel. Operation Warm Welcome has become “Operation Cold Shoulder.”

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The hon. Gentleman says that he wants more Afghan people to come from Pakistan to the UK. How many more immigrants does he want to come to the UK from Afghanistan?

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

The amendment is about stopping them being sent to Rwanda, but let us be absolutely clear: there are many, many Afghans, identified by the Government under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, who are languishing in Pakistan. We remember the Prime Minister’s memo to Whitehall saying, “By the way everybody, let’s slow peddle on these Afghans who are in Pakistan and have been identified for resettlement under the ACRS and ARAP.” If the hon. Member wants to know the number, I recommend that he goes to his own Government and asks how many have been identified under ARAP and ACRS.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

In my constituency I have met one family in a similar situation. The constituent’s husband had been killed in Afghanistan, but the family were still in limbo because of the delay in decision making. Is my hon. Friend aware that Pakistan is now forcing Afghan asylum seekers back to Afghanistan? There are tens of thousands of people in that situation, some of whom worked to support our forces during the war in Afghanistan.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scope of Lords amendment 10 is specifically for those who served shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces and in our diplomatic and development efforts in Afghanistan. These are people to whom the United Kingdom owes a debt of honour and a debt of gratitude. I am not sure whether honour is a word that we can apply very easily to those on the Conservative Benches, but that is what this is about.

Lords amendment 9, in the name of the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss, is also based on a moral imperative, as it would prevent the removal of potential victims of modern slavery to Rwanda until they receive a decision from the Government on whether there is credible evidence that the person is a modern slavery victim. It really should go without saying that modern slavery victims should not be sent to Rwanda but, sadly, with this Government, basic moral decency is a scarce commodity.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Let me speak to Lords amendments 9 and 10. Those of us who have dealt with trafficked victims and those who served us in Afghanistan feel that there is some loss of moral compass somewhere. Those who served us in Afghanistan, in a whole range of different functions, have only just survived getting out of the country. They have been chased by the Taliban and their families have been harassed. Some of them got to Pakistan and were then threatened with force back over the border again. They have got to us traumatised, and we are going to traumatise them again by sending them to Rwanda. That cannot be right. I cannot believe that any hon. Member who has dealt with such cases could not support these amendments, because it is human suffering in the extreme, and for those who have served us, it is human suffering brought about by their loyalty to us.

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

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He makes the case with passion and conviction. I know that he has a number of asylum seekers and refugees in his constituency and he does a huge amount of work on their behalf. He is absolutely right: there are some issues that should really transcend the day-to-day political considerations that we have in this place, because they are issues that are based on moral imperatives. It is deeply disappointing that, in Lords amendments 9 and 10, the Government have refused even to use them as the basis for negotiation or some kind of compromise. We find that deeply disappointing.

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

With regard to the earlier question of how many, does the hon. Member not agree that the simple answer is, “All those who served and who risked their lives to help us in a war that required the support of the local population”? We have records of the help and support they gave. Surely we cannot turn our back on those people if they are in danger.

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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. What a contrast there is between his intervention and that of Alexander Stafford from the Conservative Benches. I genuinely believe that when the hon. Member for Rother Valley reflects, he will regret making his intervention and perhaps reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman has just said.

We on the Opposition Benches are profoundly concerned about unaccompanied children being inadvertently sent to Rwanda. For this reason, we support Lords amendment 7, in the name of the noble Baroness Lister, which reverses changes to age assessment procedures established by the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation specifically to removals to Rwanda. It restores the ability of domestic courts and tribunals to fully consider suspensive judicial review claims regarding removal decisions taken on the basis of age assessment of unaccompanied children.

Lords amendments 1 to 6 all relate to the rule of law. We support all of those amendments, and they are all principles with which Government Ministers have said they agree. Indeed, the simple question that should be asked in relation to each one of these amendments is this: if Ministers believe that Rwanda is a safe country, then why are the Government refusing to support these amendments? They say that the Bill abides by international law, so why not make that clear in the Bill? They say that Rwanda is a safe country and is meeting its obligations, so let us see the evidence and agree a “trust but verify” mechanism. In that spirit, Lords amendment 1 is a Labour Front-Bench amendment that places a responsibility on the Government to comply in full with their current obligations under domestic and international law.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that amendment 1 is entirely otiose? In terms of compliance with domestic law, the Bill when enacted will be an element of domestic law. In terms of compliance with international law, is it not the case that the Bill is predicated on international law—that is to say, the Rwanda treaty?

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

If that is the case, why will Ministers not accept the amendment? Those in the other place, who have a great deal more constitutional expertise than I have, are simply seeking reassurance that our democratic conventions and obligations in relation to alignment with the rule of law will be respected. If that is the case, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, surely the amendments should be perfectly acceptable to the Government.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Perhaps I can help to shed light on this. The Minister has just shown that the Government are not abiding by their international obligations. The Good Friday agreement explicitly commits us to working together—those words are in it—with the Irish Government when it comes to the rights of individuals in Northern Ireland. The Bill will deny rights to individuals in Northern Ireland, yet the Minister admitted that the Government have not even consulted the Irish Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that our word is our bond as a country, and if we show that we cannot be trusted to stand up for international law, it is right that this place demands that the Government put it in the Bill?

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

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a very clear case. A lot of rhetoric has accompanied the Bill around the European convention on human rights and the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law. The implications of that for the Good Friday agreement are truly chilling. The way in which Government Members are prepared to sabre-rattle, and to use rhetoric in a way that undermines our reliability as a partner that can be trusted to respect our international legal obligations, is frankly shameful and deeply concerning, not least in the case of the Good Friday agreement.

Lords amendments 2 and 3, in the name of the noble Lord Hope, state that Rwanda may be considered a safe country only if and when the measures set out

“in the Rwanda treaty have been fully implemented” and the monitoring committee has established that that is the case. The Government claim that the measures in the treaty address concerns in the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, so there is absolutely no reason why Ministers should refuse to accept Lord Hope’s amendments.

Lords amendments 4 and 5, in the name of the noble Lord Anderson, state that Rwanda can be considered a safe country unless there is

“credible evidence to the contrary”, as determined by a court or tribunal. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Government themselves accepted that the situation in Rwanda is not static but evolving, as it is in every country on the face of the Earth. If the Government accept that Rwanda could one day become safer for asylum seekers who are sent there from the UK, they must by definition accept that it could one day deteriorate. Lord Anderson’s amendments simply provide a basis for assessing the situation on the ground in Rwanda and acting accordingly.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

A joint statement signed by over 260 civil society organisations has branded the Bill

“a constitutionally extraordinary and deeply harmful piece of legislation. It threatens the universality of human rights and is likely in breach of international law, striking a serious blow to the UK’s commitment to the rule of law.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill represents an unethical gimmick that will potentially put very vulnerable people at risk and harm the UK’s reputation on the world stage?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the amount of time and energy that has been wasted on this madcap Bill, which is also a constitutional outrage, unaffordable, unlawful and unworkable, had been put into addressing some of the challenges that we face in a pragmatic way, just think where we could have got to by today.

Finally, Lords amendment 6, in the name of the noble Baroness Chakrabarti, allows Government Ministers, officials and courts to consider whether Rwanda is safe on a case-by-case basis. Given that the Government have accepted that some appeals will be allowed, we see no reason for them to reject that amendment.

After 14 years of incompetent and negligent governance, our asylum system is in a mess. The Conservatives have presided over a backlog of 130,000 asylum seekers, despite Ministers’ attempts to pull the wool over the public’s eyes through administrative withdrawals and various other ruses. There are still 46,000 asylum seekers in taxpayer-funded hotels, contributing to an asylum system that now costs 10 times what it did under Labour, at an eyewatering £5.4 billion. Only last week, we discovered that there were major problems with a broken immigration IT system, which has mixed up details of applicants, affecting a staggering 76,000 people.

However, this con of a Bill is not the way to fix the problems that the Conservative Government have created. The highest Court in our land has ruled unanimously that Rwanda is not a safe country, and no amount of ludicrous legislation such as this Bill can change that fact. The Government may well wish to say that the sky is green and the grass is blue, but introducing an Act of Parliament will never make it so. Even Conservative Members recognise that the Bill is on a hiding to nothing. Indeed, a former Home Secretary has stated that it is highly unlikely to work, and the former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, has described the Government’s aim as being to get a few

“symbolic half-filled flights taking off this spring” rather than a plan that is a genuine attempt to tackle the dangerous channel crossings.

It is probably no surprise, then, that Ministers are finally turning to plan B: paying people a reported £3,000 per head to go to Rwanda instead. Can that really be true, and if so, will the Minister take the opportunity to enlighten the House on some of the details? Would that £3,000 per head come on top of the £570 million costs that we already know about? Will there be another treaty between the UK and Rwanda to implement it, and if so will he publish it? Has the National Audit Office done an assessment of those additional costs? Will the House be able to vote on the new plan that has been briefed? I await the Minister’s responses with interest.

This Bill is a con. The treaty is a con. The whole Rwanda plan is a con. It is quite simply a headline-chasing gimmick, as unworkable as it is unaffordable. The country knows it, this House knows it, the Home Secretary knows it and the Minister knows it: at £2 million per head, the Rwanda scheme is the worst value-for-money policy in history. However, the amendments that I have spoken to today will not stop flights taking off. We expect those flights to happen this spring, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised the country. The amendments would simply insert into the Bill what Ministers have promised, so I encourage Members on both sides of the House to join me in the Division Lobby later to support them.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Order. The Government and Opposition Front Benchers have, perhaps understandably, taken a certain amount of leeway in a broad-brush approach to the debate. Before we proceed, I remind Back Benchers that we are now debating Lords amendments; this is not a Second Reading debate. I call Sir Jeremy Wright.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I begin with an apology to you and others for the fact that I will not be in the Chamber for some part of the debate because of other parliamentary business that I have to attend?

I start my remarks by recalling that the fundamental purpose of the Bill is to locate with Parliament—rather than with decision makers in individual cases or with courts reviewing those cases—the decision on whether Rwanda is a safe country to send people to. A number of the amendments before us would undermine that fundamental purpose by transferring decisions on that question away from Parliament and back to the caseworkers and courts, so they are, I am afraid, wrecking amendments. They are incredibly elegant wrecking amendments, and they come from an honourable and fundamental opposition to the purpose of the Bill—an opposition that I entirely understand.

I confess that I did not find voting for this legislation a comfortable choice. It comes very close to the line on rule-of-law acceptability, but in my view stays just the right side of it. Crucially, it asserts parliamentary sovereignty on an issue of huge political significance, where that issue is central to the delivery of a key Government policy. That significant and central issue is whether the Government of the day are entitled to pursue a policy on illegal immigration that contains an element of effective deterrence, and I think the Government must be able to do that. For a deterrent to be effective, it must be clear. To economic migrants seeking to reach the UK under cover of our asylum system, the deterrent is that they might end up in a different country—in this case, Rwanda. For that deterrent to be meaningful, the prospect of transfer to Rwanda must be a real one that it is not easy to evade, which means that the headline judgment on Rwanda’s safety must be clear to all, subject of course, as it should be, only to persuasive individual circumstances.

I think that approach is worthy of support for two reasons. First, illegal migration is a huge problem, and the Government must be able to pursue innovative solutions to it, especially in the absence of credible alternatives.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

My right hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent point about how we must be innovative. Is that not the reason why other countries are looking at what the UK is doing? The likes of Austria, Germany and Italy have all talked about using third nations because there needs to be a solution to the problem, as he is so eloquently setting out.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am conscious, Mr Deputy Speaker, not to transgress into Second Reading territory, but I think my hon. Friend is right about that. as our right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has pointed out, other international agencies also make use of Rwanda for these purposes.

Secondly, Parliament is as able as any other body to make judgments about the safety of Rwanda. I am grateful for the information with which we have been provided, including the country information note that was referred to earlier in the debate, which in my view supports the conclusion that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of the Bill. But Parliament’s decision making on the safety of Rwanda must have integrity not just for now, but for the future. I am, I have to say, troubled by what I might describe as the absolutist, if not the eternalist nature of the wording of the Bill, which says that Rwanda is safe and must be taken as such for a variety of purposes, and Parliament’s judgment on that will stand, as far as I can see, until new legislation is passed.

That is why the noble Lord Hope’s amendments—Lords amendments 2 and 3—are interesting, although I cannot support them as they essentially transfer authority to the treaty’s monitoring committee to determine whether Rwanda remains a safe country, based on compliance or otherwise with the treaty. That cannot be right, as the Bill is intended specifically to give Parliament that authority, and Parliament should, in theory at least, retain the option to consider breaches of the treaty and nevertheless conclude that Rwanda remains a safe country for the purposes of the Bill.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very powerful point, with which I have much sympathy. Between now and future stages of the Bill, could the Government not think about how they can reconcile that with the legitimate concerns expressed in Lord Hope’s amendments, which I think are fair and honest? Facts change, and if Parliament sets itself up as an arbiter and decider on fact, it must have a means of changing its decision if the facts change, just as anything else would. I say to the Minister that Keynes comes to mind. Can we find a way forward?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

My hon. and learned Friend anticipates my conclusion, and I agree with him entirely. In fact, he agrees with me entirely, in advance.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

In light of what my right hon. and learned Friend says, how does he see Parliament’s role in assessing any future breaches of the treaty?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

Essentially, Lords amendments 2 and 3—flawed as they are—raise the valid issue of what happens if Rwanda at any point falls below the standards expected of it to justify its safe country status. The Bill would establish in legislation the largely unchallengeable conclusion that Rwanda is a safe country for the purposes of the Bill because Parliament says so, without any mechanism for Parliament to say differently if the facts change—save, presumably, for fresh primary legislation.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

I see two contradictions, almost, in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. He talks about the sovereignty of Parliament and whether Rwanda being designated as safe can be changed, but our Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, said after reading all the evidence that Rwanda was not safe. Yes, Parliament is sovereign but it has become almost a dictatorship because this is a bit like saying “Person A was found guilty in a criminal court but because we in Parliament do not like that, that person must be returned to court and be sentenced.” That uses parliamentary sovereignty in a most nonsensical way.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am afraid I do not accept what the hon. Lady says. First, as the Minister made clear, the Government have not ignored the conclusions of the Supreme Court, which we must remind ourselves were made in 2022: they have responded to those concerns and new information is now available for Parliament to consider. My point is that this is, on the Government’s invitation, for Parliament to decide. It is for Parliament to determine whether we consider that Rwanda is, on the evidence available to us, a safe country. We may all reach different conclusions about that but the premise of this legislation is that, taking into account the concerns the Supreme Court has expressed, it is none the less for Parliament to determine whether Rwanda is a safe country for the purposes of the legislation. But it is simply not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently, save through primary legislation, if the facts were to change. We all hope, perhaps expect, that Rwanda will remain a safe place for migrants to go, but if we could guarantee that indefinitely we would not need the treaty the Government worked so hard to secure or the monitoring committee designed to scrutinise compliance with it.

Although the Government are entitled to reject the amendments, they should give some thought to the situation of the Bill, because it breaks new ground by giving Parliament specific authority over a judgment that will bind many but that Parliament cannot easily revise even if it comes to believe that revision is necessary. The treaty and the monitoring of its terms provide a mechanism for Parliament to be alerted to significant changes in compliance, and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister and his colleagues in the other place to consider how Parliament might be given further scope to engage with that judgment if the need arises. I do appreciate that the Government retain means by which they can revise their judgment of the safety of Rwanda, but the Bill clearly and deliberately transfers the judgment on safety to Parliament. If it is a judgment in Parliament’s name, it must be right for Parliament to retain the capacity to reconsider and if necessary revise it.

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

It remains the position of the Scottish National party that this is an irredeemably awful Bill. We do not support the Rwanda plan; we think it is both an offence to humanity and an egregious waste of public money, particularly at a time when many of our constituents are struggling to feed themselves. I thank the Lords for their work on the Bill and for at least trying to make it in some way better, and we would support all the Lords amendments and what they attempt to do with the Bill.

Lord Coaker’s Lords amendment 1 would add a measure to comply with domestic and international law. That should be basic; any legislation in this place should abide by domestic and international law. It seems ludicrous that we have a Bill before us that does not abide by international and domestic law. It is a bit of a cheek for the Minister to talk about Rwanda abiding by treaties and its loyalties while at the same time the Tories go about the business of undermining the UK’s own international commitments in international agreements that we helped to draft. The European convention on human rights, the refugee convention, the international covenant on civil and political rights and the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, as well as customary international law and domestic laws, are all things we have created here that the Government have set about undermining. It is absolutely ludicrous. It brings into question the Government’s commitment to international agreements, and particularly the European convention on human rights, which underpins so much. We have heard from Members about the significance of some of the legislation to the Good Friday agreement and Scotland’s devolution settlement. The Government see fit to undermine all that through their actions.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee) 5:00, 18 March 2024

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have read the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill. We noted that other nations may be influenced by how the UK treats its international treaty obligations. In particular, we noticed that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has referred to the UK’s Rwanda policy in defence of his country’s decision to expel from Pakistan hundreds of Afghans who had fled from the Taliban regime. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most regrettable that he can refer to the UK’s cavalier attitude towards international law in support of his own cavalier attitude?

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

I absolutely agree. Other countries around the world have looked to the UK as an upholder of rights—as a beacon of democracy and human rights— but following this tawdry Bill, we can see other countries looking at the UK’s dissent from international norms that we set up.

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

I will make a little progress, because I am mindful of what Mr Deputy Speaker said about time. I want to touch on the misinformation that the Minister put forward about Rwanda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The transit agreements are not the same at all as people being permanently relocated to Rwanda. The UNHCR has mentioned that Norway, Sweden, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and the USA have taken people from the transit camps. People have come from 10 countries, including Sudan and Cameroon, to Libya and to the transit camps in Rwanda, and then are being moved on elsewhere. They are not staying in Rwanda permanently. Indeed, reports from the transit camp have highlighted that people have no desire to stay in Rwanda in transit camps, because of the conditions in which they are living, so the Government are not at all talking about the same thing there. They should be absolutely clear on that and not mislead the House with points that suit their arguments.

Lords amendment 2 in the name of Lord Hope of Craighead would ensure that Rwanda could be designated as safe only if the treaty was adhered to. It states that Rwanda

“will be a safe country when, and so long as, the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda Treaty have been fully implemented and are being adhered to in practice.”

Among the Supreme Court’s concerns about the matter was the fact that Rwanda is not yet in a place where it can adhere to all those arrangements in practice. Perhaps it will in future, but it is not safe now. To declare it completely safe in all circumstances right now is a false argument.

Lords amendment 3 would create an obligation on the Government to report to Parliament on the terms of the treaty and how those are being monitored. That is perfectly reasonable. What are the Government afraid of? After all, if they think Rwanda is safe and fine, why do they not want scrutiny of the situation? It needs monitoring. There are continued reports of what the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels are doing on Rwanda’s borders. This legislation is a poor way of gauging safety. It is not flexible or reasonable, and cannot take account of changing circumstances. Circumstances can change rapidly and unexpectedly, but we are legislating to say that Rwanda is safe in all circumstances in perpetuity. That is clearly ludicrous and giving a hostage to fortune; the Government should be aware of that.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. Lady makes the point that things change with time. Does she accept that many measures have been put in place by the UK Government and the Rwandan Government since the judgment of the UK Supreme Court last year?

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

It is difficult to tell, because scrutiny mechanisms are not in place that would allow Committees of this House to ascertain whether that is entirely the case. The Committee that my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry is on has been to visit Rwanda, and she has information about that visit that she hopes to share with the House. I understand that Dr Johnson was on that trip, too, but that is not good enough. There needs to be further, continued scrutiny, and it is important that Parliament has the opportunity for that.

I know from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson, that even information on the deal has been difficult to come by. Last week, in the Chamber, we discussed the obfuscation and secrecy surrounding the costs of the plan. If this is how the Government are beginning this journey, we can have no confidence—on this side of the House, certainly—that they can be trusted, which is why Lords amendment 3 is so important. The House needs a scrutiny mechanism.

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

I am conscious of what you said about time, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I should like to make some progress.

In Lords amendment 4, Lord Anderson of Ipswich proposes to add to the words

“Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country” the words

“unless presented with credible evidence to the contrary”.

I agree that evidence is important. If judges and other decision makers are not allowed to make decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than relying on a bit of legislation drawn up in a short period, the Government have zero credibility. They are asking people to blindfold themselves to any other circumstances, and not to heed any evidence or proof. There must be an opportunity for every decision maker to treat the evidence with the due diligence that we would all expect.

Lords amendment 5 would remove the parts of the Bill that state that Rwanda should automatically be considered a safe country; it provides a rebuttal mechanism for the assertion of safety in Rwanda. Liberty says that the amendment corrects

“a deficiency in the Bill whereby Parliament is asked to state that Rwanda is and will continue to be safe, and there is no mechanism by which this can be revisited. This is a moderate safeguard”.

If the Government thought about this fully, they would surely conclude that the amendment would enhance the Bill; but they are, of course, rejecting all amendments, regardless of their source.

Lords amendment 6 effectively restores the power of the courts to make a factual judgment on the safety of Rwanda in an individual case, or for a group of people who share characteristics, such as LGBTQ people. I think it telling that the Minister said that it completely undermined the purpose of the Bill. “Well, good,” is all I can say in response. We should be trying to undermine the purpose of the Bill if its aim is, for example, to ship LGBTQ people off to a country that may not welcome them in all circumstances, without allowing them to check the position first. I think it perfectly reasonable to provide the ability to make judgments of this kind. I recall that at the back of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 was a list of countries with exemptions for particular groups of people—in some cases specifying men or women—but the Bill does not even do that. I think it entirely reasonable for there to be some way of questioning this power in the Bill.

Lords amendment 7, tabled by Baroness Lister, concerns issues related to the age of unaccompanied children, which I consider to be of the utmost importance. The treaty makes provision for what happens if a child somehow mysteriously ends up in Rwanda by mistake, but that only happens if the Home Office has made an error of some kind in sending the child there in the first place. We know from medical professionals that some of the age assessments are effectively pseudo-science. We know that when children have come here, having crossed seas, continents and war zones in very difficult circumstances, it may be more difficult to assess their age, because they have had a much tougher paper round than my son, for example. We also know that not all children look exactly the same or present themselves in exactly the same way, although they may be the same age. We can all remember that when we were at school, there was always some great big guy with a beard and a hairy chest when the others were knee-high to a buttercup.

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

That is another question, I suppose. The point is that everyone is different. We cannot reliably look at someone and tell their age. The Bill should contain more protections to ensure that children who have already gone through incredibly traumatic experiences are not sent to Rwanda.

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

As I have said, I am conscious of what we have been told about time. I am sure that if the hon. Lady wants to make a speech on this subject later, we will all listen to it.

Lords amendment 8 adds a mechanism for a report to Parliament. Under the heading

“Removals to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023”, it states:

“Within 60 days of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement”.

Again, that is an important scrutiny mechanism. We in this Parliament should know who is being sent to Rwanda and the timetable for those removals, as this Lords amendment suggests.

Most importantly, proposed new paragraph (c) in amendment 8 deals with the arrangements in place for people not sent to Rwanda. We know that only the tiniest percentage of people who end up here will be sent to Rwanda; it is entirely unrealistic to suggest that more than a few hundred people will ever get sent there, so we need to know what happens to the people who end up in immigration limbo—those who are inadmissible. Where are they? Who looks after them? Where do they live? How do they survive? What do they eat? We need to know what happens to the people this Government are committing to immigration limbo; it is important, and the Government should update Parliament on it. The Minister talked about publishing immigration statistics, but I think we need more than that; this House needs to hold the Government accountable for the people they send to Rwanda, and the people they do not send there.

The point about the timetable of removals is also important, because I am aware of people in Dungavel who are keen to leave the UK, yet the UK Government are taking an age to arrange the mechanisms for them to do so. Even when people want and have reason to go somewhere else, the Government are not facilitating that. Worryingly, the Minister said it was not necessary to report on that to Parliament. I disagree; it is entirely important and necessary to report on that to Parliament, so that we can hold the Government accountable. Again, if they think that this will go so well, surely they will want to tell us how many people they have sent away, rather than about those they have not.

Lords amendment 9 is about victims of modern slavery and human trafficking being removed without their consent. That is a deep concern for many organisations who support people who have been trafficked and have been through absolute hell. It is important that those people are not removed to Rwanda without their consent. Redress has provided a briefing about torture in Rwanda, and it highlights that there have been cases of it. Human Rights Watch’s reports on Rwanda, published in 2023, 2022 and 2021, all include examples of torture. There is list in the Redress briefing that I urge all Members to have a look at, although I will not detain the House with it now.

The briefing highlights that in the Supreme Court case, it was pointed out that

“evidence of human rights violations ‘raises serious questions as to its compliance with [Rwanda’s] international obligations’, since this has occurred despite the country having ratified many international human rights agreements”.

Furthermore, the British Medical Association’s briefing raised concerns about the ability of Rwanda to support those who have been victims of torture. Rwanda is on the list of countries experiencing a healthcare worker crisis; it is on the list of countries that the UK is not supposed to recruit from. Again, that calls into question whether people can be supported when they go to Rwanda. The BMA briefing states:

“Medical reviews of 36 people under threat of removal to Rwanda revealed that 26 displayed medical indicators of having been tortured, with 15 having symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD and 11 having experienced suicidal thoughts while in detention.”

We are talking about an incredibly vulnerable group, and they deserve specific support. It is important that we recognise that Lords amendment 9 should stay in the Bill

I come to Lords amendment 10, in which Lord Browne of Ladyton proposes a change to protect supporters of the UK armed forces and their families from removal to Rwanda. That is a significant amendment, particularly in the context of Afghanistan. I have talked many times in this House about Afghans, such as the Triples, who supported the UK’s endeavours in Afghanistan and have been despicably left behind. I continue to get regular emails from a woman who was trained by UK forces and worked alongside them in Afghanistan. She is increasingly frustrated and terrified, but most of all she is despondent that the UK has let her down and has not kept the promises that she felt she had been made.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

On the hon. Lady’s point about the UK letting down people who were working for us and with us, that is all because of this gimmicky legislation, which is designed to appeal to a certain percentage of voters, from a Government who are bankrupt of any real ideas for tackling the real issues of concern in our country. This legislation is just a gimmick.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:15, 18 March 2024

The hon. Lady is correct: it is a gimmick. It has no basis in fact and there a lot of doubt about whether it will even work, but it appeals to a certain section that the Government think need to be appealed to. It is not so much a dog whistle as a foghorn, but it is definitely there.

To continue with the point about Afghans, the Migration Observatory at Oxford University has pointed out that more Afghans have come by small boats than in any of the UK’s schemes. In fact, between 1 January and 30 June last year, nine times as many Afghans arrived by small boats as under the routes that the Government specifically set up. The ARAP and ACRS are failing to deal with this issue; they are supposed to be safe and legal routes that prevent and dissuade people from getting in small boats, but they do not work. They take too long, they are inefficient, and they do not provide the security that people require to come here, so people take things into their own hands. Who can blame them in the circumstances?

I have seen far too many cases in my constituency. When Afghanistan fell, we had about 80 people in touch who had relatives in Afghanistan, but I know of only a handful who managed to get their family over here. That is despicable. I worry about those people all the time. I do not know where they are, and I do not know whether even their families know where they are. It is telling that so many people will come by small boats because they cannot rely on UK Government schemes to get them here safely.

The Bill is full of contradictions: it is a deterrent, but Rwanda is also safe; it undermines our own obligations internationally and our domestic courts while telling Rwanda that it must keep to its obligations; it is not tough enough for the far-right of the Tory party but too harsh for the more reasonable wing. It is a circus. It is a deflection from a broken Home Office that cannot even get the basics right—that is beset by delays, under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office and wasting money hand over fist.

The Rwanda Bill is not Scotland’s values. In Scotland, we see the humanity in people. An alternative is set out clearly in the Scottish Government’s papers on the issue. We cannot trust the failed Westminster parties to dismantle the hostile environment that they created. Scotland must have these powers urgently. We must have independence to play our part in the world.

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

I signed the Government’s motion to reject Lords amendment 1 and am happy to support them in it. The fact is that the Lords amendment would add to clause 1(1) the words:

“full compliance with domestic and international law.”

The problem is that that would make the clause one of the most serious and dangerous clauses I have seen in recent statutory history. It would contradict one of the most fundamental principles of our constitutional law.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration said, we have a dualist system—I have referred to it several times in the past—and it is fundamental. That is unlike Germany, as article 26 of its constitution states that international law is the most fundamental part of its constitutional arrangements; articles 65 and 66 of the Dutch constitution contain a similar provision. We have a dualist system, and the sovereignty of our Parliament is imperative. Over many generations—in fact, going back centuries—all the court cases, whether in the House of Lords or in the Supreme Court, make it absolutely clear that where words used in statute are clear and unambiguous, and where Parliament’s explicit intention is clear, parliamentary sovereignty means that the supremacy of Parliament can override international law and should do so. The “should do so” is equally important. Indeed, I would go further and say that in our courts, sovereignty—with those clear and unambiguous words—trumps international law.

As I mentioned in an intervention on the Labour spokesman, Stephen Kinnock, the House of Lords Constitution Committee, including the likes of the noble Lord Falconer, Lord Robertson and various others, clearly stated in paragraph 58 of its report last year on the rule of law:

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

That fundamentally disagrees with what is contained in Lords amendment 1, so what—if I may say—the heck is going on? The Lords had a very important decision to take, and paragraphs 54 to 60 of that report contain the very carefully detailed reasoning that led the Committee to the conclusion I have just read out.

I have mentioned in a previous debate the judgment of Lord Hoffmann in a case called R v. Lyons. I want to quote from it, because he clearly says that international law is trumped by the supremacy of the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament has to be the key determinant. What he says is so important—I would not bother making my point in this way if it were not for this amendment. I am not sure whether the Leader of the Opposition really intends to achieve the objectives set out in clause 1; it worries me very much indeed if he is complicit in this operation. This was a Labour amendment and had a majority of 102 in the House of Lords, so we are going to have to take it seriously, which means we also have to deal with it seriously.

Lord Hoffmann said,

“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.”

He went on to say,

“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.”

Nothing could be more explicit. Nothing could be clearer.

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

No. Amendment 1, put forward by the House of Lords, completely contradicts that principle, because in its wording it makes both domestic law and international law combined a matter of full compliance. I would go so far as to say that it is impossible in many circumstances to actually arrive at a point where there could be full compliance with domestic and international law according to our constitutional principles.

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

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for again making a powerful argument about the sovereignty of Parliament, and he will understand why the sovereignty of Parliament is so fundamental. In democratic polity, Parliament speaks for the people and is given legitimacy by the people, and lawmakers here are answerable to the people. International obligations and treaties matter, but they do not matter more than the people’s will.

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

I am bound to say, with no disrespect to the noble Lords, who passed this amendment with a majority of 102, that they do not have that legitimacy because constitutionally they are unelected; that is a fundamental point that needs to be taken into account. They have a function to perform, but it is our intention and the Government’s clear, stated objective, to overturn the amendment. The issue goes much further and deeper, in my opinion, than just the question of the Rwanda Bill, but it is in the Bill. In my 40 years in this place, or in my constitutional legal practice beforehand, I have never seen any statute that purports to include words that are so all-embracing as the words in the amendment. I do not know who devised the amendment but, with a majority of 102, we had better look to our merits and make quite sure that we turn it down.

The people who are behind amendment 1 are internationalists. That worries me, too. There is a cohort of internationalists in various Government Departments: the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in particular. Being a mere Back Bencher, I am more than happy to castigate those who want to internationalise the sovereignty of our country. I had a bit of trouble—a local difficulty, as one might say—over our leaving the European Union. These internationalists wanted us to be part and parcel of this great European Union, and I have never been happier in my life than on 23 June 2016, when we decided to reject the proposals, as I had been arguing for—shall we say, for a year or two?

The European Union itself is in a terrible bind over the global problem of illegal migration. I have not yet discovered what Germany will do about its own constitution in this respect. It is not just the European Union but the United States of America—day in, day out we see the problems they face on the Texas border. It is beyond imagination. What that country is trying to do about the numbers of people flowing in raises all the same kind of questions on the international refugee convention. This issue affects not just the United Kingdom, but we are taking a stand. I say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that by rejecting the amendment we will enhance our international reputation—by using our unwritten constitution to make it clear that what the people want and what the principles of common sense demand is that we just cannot allow illegal migration to overtake our entire national interest.

I have been to Madrid for a summit of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of the Parliaments of the European Union, as the British representative and Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and I hope to go back again in a few weeks’ time. There was sheer consternation at the last conference, which is comprised of the chairmen of the European affairs or scrutiny committees of the 27 member states; they were appalled by the proposal by a majority vote to accept quotas and compulsory fines if they were to have any sensible arrangement in the European Union, which they cannot have because it is inconsistent with their constitutional arrangements. It is inconsistent with the charter of fundamental rights. That is why we need to focus on the European convention on human rights in this particular context. I am not going to make a speech about that, because that would be outside the terms of this debate.

I wrote to the Prime Minister many months ago and sent him a paper of seven pages of breaches of international law by countries from all over the world, including in the European Union—France, Denmark, there were so many of them. It was not seven pages of arguments; it was seven pages, each line of which contained breaches of international law by the legion, so what are we worrying about? Get on with it! We must make sure that we reject this amendment and do not allow the Lords, if they come back again on ping-pong, to think that they are going to get away with it. We want to be very firm about this. We have a dualist system. We have sovereignty of Parliament, and we have an elected Parliament. We have our voters’ wishes to take into account and we should stick by them and do nothing else.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 5:30, 18 March 2024

It is almost two years since the Rwanda scheme was first announced by the then Home Secretary in April 2022. This is now the third piece of legislation connected with that scheme. When this Bill had its Second Reading in the Commons at the end of last year, I noted that the challenge of stopping dangerous boat crossings was real and, despite what the Minister says, I think it is one that every Member of this House wishes to address.

The Home Affairs Committee’s report on channel crossings was clear:

“There is no magical single solution to dealing with irregular migration.”

Instead, our report recommended:

“Detailed, evidence-driven, fully costed and fully tested policy initiatives…to achieve…incremental change”.

It also recommended:

“Close co-operation with international partners”.

Those remarks are still relevant, and it is interesting to note the new tone of the Home Secretary in saying that this policy on Rwanda is now only a part of the solution to small boat crossings. As we know, however, it is very expensive and uses up a huge amount of time in this place and a great deal of political capital.

In the absence of any pre-existing evidence that the UK-Rwanda partnership will deliver on its primary objective to deter small boat crossings, the need for careful, considered and responsible planning and lawmaking is even more acute, and that is what the amendments under consideration today seek to address. I remind the House that the Lords as a revising Chamber have an important job to do in scrutinising legislation and improving it where necessary, and I think it is helpful for this House to see what improvements the other place is suggesting to legislation from this place.

Amendment 1 adds a requirement to maintain

“full compliance with domestic and international law.”

I note that the Minister today and the Minister in the other place have argued that the Bill is already compliant with the rule of law and that it is predicated on compliance with international law in the form of the treaty. The Government commented:

“The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan governments have made consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection.”

This is the same treaty that the House of Lords agreed a motion not to ratify on 22 January. It is the same treaty for which the Government refused to allow time for Members of this House to debate and reach a view on, despite a request from the Home Affairs Committee.

The time period for objections is over and the Government can ratify the treaty as long as they lay a statement setting out why they are doing so despite the decision of the Lords. If the Government want us to accept their assurances that the treaty is itself evidence of compliance with international law, they should really have given this House the opportunity to debate that treaty. In the absence of such an opportunity, amendment 1 would provide the reassurance of compliance with domestic and international law. As the Government insist that the treaty and Bill already satisfy the criteria, it stands to reason that there should not really be any issue with the amendment.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am going to carry on. The hon. Gentleman spoke at length, and I want to get through a number of amendments.

I turn to amendments 2 and 3, which also relate to the treaty. In the other place, Lord Hope argued that Rwanda being declared a safe country should be dependent on the arrangements provided for in the treaty being “fully implemented” and “adhered to in practice”, with amendment 3 setting out what that would actually look like and giving the independent monitoring committee a significant role in reporting on this. In response, the Minister in the Lords set out that the Government would ratify the treaty only

“once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 March 2024;
Vol. 836, c. 1358.]

As we know, the Bill will come into force only once the treaty has been ratified. Again, it would have been helpful and beneficial for this House to have had the opportunity to debate the treaty, yet scrutiny of its provisions did not happen in the Commons, just as financial details of the UK-Rwanda partnership had been held back from Parliament until very recently. As highlighted in last week’s estimates day debate on asylum and migration, the Home Office repeatedly refused the Home Affairs Committee’s requests for basic financial information about the scheme, and disclosed some of the costs only after our Committee joined forces with the Public Accounts Committee to request a National Audit Office investigation.

We now know that the core costs are very expensive: £370 million for the economic transformation and integration fund, an additional £20,000 per individual relocated, a further £120 million once 300 people have been relocated and, on top of all that, £150,874 for each individual relocated to Rwanda. There is a direct cost to the Home Office of £28 million by the end of 2023-24, with £1 million per year in staff costs and £11,000 for the flight cost of each individual relocated, and I still do not know whether the Home Office has been able to enter into a contract with an airline to deliver the removals to Rwanda. Crucially, though, we still have not been told the costs for implementing the provisions in the treaty, such as a new asylum appeals body. Is there money available, and has it been allocated to pay for that?

We already know that the Home Office budget is under acute pressure. On 1 February this year, the Home Secretary requested an emergency drawdown of £2.6 billion from the reserves, because the Department had run out of money before the supplementary estimates had been approved. With serious questions still to answer about how the Government will fund the implementation of the treaty, and about its practical implementation, I believe that the amendments help to provide some necessary assurances that the Government have hitherto failed to provide to Parliament.

Amendments 4 and 5 would make it possible to argue that Rwanda is not a safe country on the presentation of “credible evidence to the contrary” and would allow appeals to be brought on that basis. Responding on behalf of the Government, the Minister in the Lords said:

“We have been clear that the purpose of this legislation is to stop the boats, and to do that we must create a deterrent that shows that, if you enter the UK illegally, you will not be able to stay.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 March 2024;
Vol. 836, c. 1378.]

The Home Affairs Committee has repeatedly asked both Ministers and senior officials what evidence there is for the deterrent effect of the Rwanda scheme. The permanent secretary, Sir Matthew Rycroft, required a ministerial direction for the scheme, because there was no evidence that it would provide value for money. When he gave evidence before the Committee last year, he said that this was because

“the value-for-money judgment depends on the amount of deterrence that the policy will produce.”

He noted that although the number of people crossing the channel is falling, it

“is very hard to tell how much of that is the possibility of being relocated to Rwanda, particularly, as you suggest, before the first flights to Rwanda have taken off.”

The truth is that we actually do not have any idea whether the policy that this Bill facilitates will have the deterrent effect that the Minister cites. As I highlighted in Committee of the whole House, it does not seem sensible for the Government to propose that the status of Rwanda as a safe country should be fixed for ever more, which would, by extension, make Rwanda the only country on Earth in which nothing ever happens or changes. Amendments enabling the presentation of evidence relating to those changes and their implications for safety in Rwanda therefore seem eminently reasonable and, indeed, necessary.

Amendment 6 deletes clause 4 and introduces into the Bill a new clause that allows much wider grounds for legal challenge. The Home Affairs Select Committee has always recognised that appropriate legal challenge is a necessary part of any functioning asylum system. Amendment 7 disapplies section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, meaning that people claiming to be children could appeal against a decision that they are over 18. The noble Baroness Lister, who tabled that amendment, explained that it was intended to

“minimise the risk of any unaccompanied child being sent to Rwanda”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 March 2024;
Vol. 836, c. 1577.]

During the Home Affairs Committee’s channel crossings inquiry, we heard multiple examples of safeguarding processes failing across various parts of the asylum system, including cases of children being mistaken for adults. Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act refers to the process of age assessment in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. The Committee’s channel crossings report noted that that Act contains a number of provisions relating to age assessment, including a new national age assessment board and powers for the Home Secretary to make regulations specifying scientific methods for age assessments. Our report notes:

“The provisions are controversial because there is broad consensus that age assessment should not rely exclusively, or for some stakeholders, at all, on analyses of the skeleton or the teeth.”

I am concerned that without the amendment tabled by Baroness Lister, the Bill could produce a situation where a child is wrongly assessed as being an adult and sent to Rwanda.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am going to carry on, because I want other Members to be able to speak.

Amendment 8 relates to the timetable for removals under the Illegal Migration Act. It would require the Home Secretary to lay before Parliament a statement setting out all the individuals whose asylum claims have been deemed inadmissible since that Act received Royal Assent. The statement would have to include the number of individuals due to be removed to Rwanda and the timetable for those removals, as well as the arrangements for those individuals not being removed to Rwanda.

Again, that is information that the Home Affairs Committee has already tried to glean from the Home Office. Indeed, when the Home Secretary appeared before the Committee in January, I asked him how many individuals whose asylum claims had been deemed inadmissible since the Illegal Migration Act received Royal Assent would be sent to Rwanda. He replied:

“That will depend on which other countries we have returns agreements with.”

Despite pressing him several times on that point, our attempts to ascertain any further information were unsuccessful. As the noble Lord Coaker said when moving his amendment, this is a subject on which it would be good to have some facts. That is why his amendment has significant merit.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

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

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The hon. Lady is trying to get in, so I will give way, but I am keen to finish.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

I am grateful to her for giving way, because I was hoping to intervene on the SNP spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, on a similar point.

When it comes to facts, I am concerned that those being presented are slightly selective, particularly in relation to age assessment. In the House of Lords, the evidence that was brought before their lordships was that—as the right hon. Lady knows—the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee, the expert committee that is independent and has been set up independently, has proposed that the accuracy of age assessment will be improved in multiple ways: not just using one biological method, but a range of methods alongside the existing one. I am concerned that partial evidence about age assessment is being presented in today’s debate, and I would be very grateful for the right hon. Lady’s confirmation that she supports the inclusion of those important methods of age assessment that the committee has recommended, in order to support accurate age assessment for safeguarding children.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Very briefly, I am reporting what the cross-party Home Affairs Committee decided and put in our report on cross-channel small boat crossings. We produced that report nearly two years ago—this matter has been going on for some time. I am reporting our concerns, which are widely shared among all members of the Committee, about the problems that exist. It is very difficult to assess the correct age of a person who claims to be a child, so it is worth reflecting that this is not easy, and the Home Affairs Committee is mindful and concerned about it.

It would be very helpful if the Minister were able to give a little more information on the widely circulating stories about the number of individuals who might be sent to Rwanda after Royal Assent. The story now seems to be that 150 people will travel to Rwanda, but that there will be a pause and that it will be a staggered process. It would be helpful to understand that and how it fits with the context of the thousands who have already been deemed to be inadmissible to the asylum system. It would also be helpful to hear about the scheme’s voluntary nature. Again, it has been widely reported in the press that people will be offered £3,000 to travel to Rwanda. All of this is widely circulating in the press, but Ministers have not given the House this information—the Home Affairs Committee certainly has not received any information.

As I said on Thursday, it is regrettable that we cannot have access to financial and practical information about how schemes will work, and that we repeatedly have to ask for basic information to allow us to come to a view on the Government’s proposals. The Home Office says it is very keen on scrutiny but, as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I have to say that has certainly not been my experience over the past few years. The Home Office does not want scrutiny, and any attempt to obtain information is rebuffed.

Lords amendment 9 was tabled by the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss, a formidable character who has fought modern slavery for years. When she tables amendments, we would do well to consider them carefully. Her amendment would create an exception relating to the removal of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking:

“A person with a positive reasonable grounds decision from the National Referral Mechanism…must not be removed from the United Kingdom on the basis of the Rwanda Treaty until a conclusive grounds decision has been made.

A person with a positive conclusive grounds decision…must not be removed…without a decision-maker considering whether such removal would negatively affect the physical health, mental health or safety of that person”.

The Home Affairs Committee recently produced its report on human trafficking, in which we expressed our concern that

“the Government is prioritising irregular migration issues at the expense of tackling human trafficking.”

Human trafficking is not an immigration offence but an exploitation offence, and the two things must not be conflated. People should not have to choose between continuing to be exploited or risking deportation to Rwanda—a point made to us very forcefully by the former Prime Minister, Mrs May. That is why I believe that Lords amendment 9 has merit.

Lords amendment 10, tabled by the noble Lord Browne, would provide an exemption for people who have supported the armed forces overseas or who have otherwise been agents or allies of the UK overseas. When I look at the composition of those travelling in small boats, the top group is from Afghanistan—20%—and it is worth considering why they are travelling in small boats when we have set up schemes to facilitate people to travel from Afghanistan.

These Lords amendments go some way towards addressing concerns that the Home Affairs Committee has identified in relation to the Rwanda scheme, and I think the Government should give them serious consideration. I am disappointed that the Minister has been so dismissive of the genuine reasons for tabling these amendments.

I do not think the parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and its associated treaty has been very satisfactory. A debate on the treaty was denied, and the provision of crucial information has been rejected for months on end. To stop the small boats, and to make the asylum system fit for purpose, we need an evidence-based approach that is informed and strengthened by parliamentary scrutiny, which has sadly been limited during the passage of the Bill.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I in no way wish to seem churlish, but Dame Diana Johnson refused to accept an intervention from me on the grounds that I had talked for too long. She has just managed to exceed the length of my speech by five minutes—

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

Order. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that is not even a nice try. I call Alexander Stafford.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

It is a pleasure to speak in this very important debate, which is about defeating these awful amendments from the House of Lords and then getting the Bill through Parliament, the flights off to Rwanda and the wheels down in Kigali. Stephen Kinnock claimed that Labour supported the Lords amendments not in order to wreck the Bill, but to help it along and make it better. Yet we also heard from Alison Thewliss, speaking from the SNP Front Bench, that they want to upset the Bill. These are clearly wrecking amendments—there are no ifs or buts about it.

My hon. Friend Sir William Cash, in his rejection of Lords amendment 1, made clear the dangerous precedent it would set—not just for this Bill but for all Bills—for the supremacy and primacy of this House, and that is the first thing we need to reflect on properly. This Parliament is sovereign. The House of Commons is sovereign. By taking that sovereignty away from us, we upset everything. Lords amendment 1 talks about compliance with the rule of law. How can it be against the rule of law when the democratically elected body of this House wants something, and the free and independent sovereign country of Rwanda wants something? By rejecting the amendment, we will enhance our sovereignty and the Bill.

It is clear that the Bill is needed, but why is it so needed and why is it essential that we stop these wrecking amendments? For far too long we have had far too many illegal immigrants coming into our country. Those illegal immigrants, who are jumping the queue by going outside the rules and regulations on how they should come into our country, are making it harder and harder for people in this country. The Bill is necessary, needed and proportionate. Illegal immigrants are putting a huge strain on public services. They are putting a huge strain on the things that everyday people use: doctors, GP services, schools. The human cost of people being killed as they travel across the channel needs to stop. The financial cost to residents in Rother Valley and across our areas needs to be curtailed. The amendments try to wreck the Bill, and that is why we need to double down.

For some reason, we have had a lot of debate about how many people will go to Rwanda. That is clearly out of the scope of the Bill, but many Opposition Members mentioned it. We have heard estimates of 150 or a handful. I sincerely hope that the number will be in the thousands and tens of thousands, to get rid of the backlog and stop the illegal immigrants coming here. Fundamentally, the point of the Bill is to stop illegal immigrants coming here. Any attempt to wreck it is an open-door policy to let human traffickers traffic people illegally into our country and upset our local communities. Ultimately, more people will die if the Bill does not pass, because of the loss of life in the channel.

No one has really talked about the Bill’s deterrent factor. A similar process worked in Australia, where illegal immigration rapidly decreased due to the deterrent effect, and it is important that we reflect on that. If we stop people coming here in the first place, we will save lives and save money, so it is so important that we get the Bill through.

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

My hon. Friend refers to the Australian system, which was known as Operation Sovereign Borders. It is true that the offshore processing that Australia enjoyed was only part of the solution, and the Government have always acknowledged that. Rwanda is not a be-all and end-all, but it is a critical part of our policy, as it was in Australia. I wonder whether he might comment on this: it seems to me that the House of Lords is either careless about the threat of our borders being breached with impunity, or clueless because it does not know it is happening. Which does he think it is: careless or clueless?

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I would not wish to comment on what is going on in their lordships’ minds, but clearly they do not care about the concerns of the average person in Rother Valley about the high levels of illegal immigration, which I hear about when I knock on doors. Their lordships clearly do not care about the people dying while trying to cross the channel. They clearly do not care about the cost to the public purse of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants coming over here. They clearly do not care about the everyday person in the street. Their lordships, ultimately, are not democratically elected and answerable to the people. We are, and that is the crucial point: we are the voice of the people, we are answerable to the electorate, we are answerable to our constituents, and we need to get this stopped.

There is so much more in the Lords amendments that will upset and disrupt the Bill, so I will touch on a few more of them. First, I want to talk about Lords amendments 4 and 5, which talk about whether Rwanda is a safe country. I would be very careful about some of the words used by Opposition Members to describe Rwanda. Fundamentally, Rwanda is a safe country. Not only are we in this House declaring it to be safe, but it is patently true. To say that Rwanda is not safe is a fundamentally colonialist attitude to other parts of the world. We are saying to another country, “Your country is not safe; your country is not good enough.” We on the Government Benches are saying that Rwanda is safe. The 1.4 million tourists who went to Rwanda last year—

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

If Rwanda is such a wonderful place to be deported to, why would the prospect of being deported there be a deterrent?

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

That is an interesting point. I am under no illusion that Rwanda is a great country, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman a country that is even better than Rwanda: the United Kingdom. So of course they want to come to Britain, because we are a better country. That does not mean that Rwanda is not safe, or that it should not be safe.

On Lords amendments 4 and 5, the Government have already completed a detailed assessment that Rwanda is a safe country. We need to accept the facts of that assessment and start to take even more action while the boat crossings are low. And they are low: they were down 36% last year. As my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes mentioned, that is because of the other stuff we are doing such as the Albanian deal, which is working, and stopping the boats physically getting to the sources.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that another safe country is France?

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I thank my hon. Friend, who does so much work on this issue in her constituency. Indeed, France is a very safe country—as are Spain, Italy, Germany and so many countries crossed by illegal immigrants. They should claim asylum in the first safe country. They have no duty or right to come over this way, but we do have a right and duty to protect our country, protect our borders, protect our sovereignty and protect our people. That is why we need to have a clear idea of who is coming here and ensure that we can deport the people we do not want or do not need, and process them elsewhere.

Turning back to Lords amendments 4 and 5, we cannot allow individuals to challenge their removal grounds on the basis that Rwanda is not a safe country. The UK Government have made the assessment and we cannot let the amendment allow for individuals to challenge their removal grounds. New international treaties mean that our decision cannot be second-guessed, and that is vital in moving forward with this legislation.

I disagree with Lords amendments 6 and 9, as Rwanda has its own safeguarding system to ensure the safety of individuals who will be relocated to Rwanda. If we start questioning each claim and whether to send them to Rwanda, we are adhering to the idea that Rwanda is not a safe country, which contradicts the safeguarding processes that Rwanda has already introduced. We have already identified that Rwanda is a safe country, so it should not be up for interpretation based on an individual’s claim that they cannot be sent there.

I also disagree with Lords amendment 7, as it can incorrectly favour individuals who want to abuse our immigration system. We need robust measures to be implemented to ensure that the Rwanda plan is executed with efficiency to prevent those who want to play the system. We need to ensure that this is the toughest legislation ever. We need to do everything we can to prevent individuals from impersonating children to bypass the Rwanda scheme. We have already discussed checks on whether people are children. To protect children, we need to make sure who is a child and who is not. There are safe and independent ways of verifying a person’s age. That goes on in other countries. I believe German and maybe France use similar processes, and I do not think any of us is claiming that France or Germany are not safe countries. If it is good for them, it is good for us. We heard how the legislation in Germany and France is different from ours, but if they can have such checks, then so should we. They will safeguard the British people but also genuine child refugees, to make sure they are not put in an awful situation.

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

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on two occasions. He will remember that when we were debating an earlier piece of legislation with the then Minister, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, this issue of age verification was raised. My hon. Friend is right to say that other countries use it. On that occasion, my right hon. Friend explained why it is so important; it is because the oldest so-called asylum seeker found to be here claiming to be a child turned out to be 42 years of age.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 6:00, 18 March 2024

I thank my right hon. Friend for that apposite intervention. That is the concern. Having a situation where some people can claim they are children when they are 42 years old is not good for anyone. We have been debating the Rwanda scheme in one shape or form for two years, and, at every step of the way, Opposition Members have been wrecking it. These amendments are just the latest of their objections to it.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the SNP objected to the regulations on age verification, while the Labour party did not even vote on the regulations, which had to be carried by Conservative votes?

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. That is shocking, and it just shows where the care and safeguarding of children lies in their priorities. As a local Member of Parliament, I know what Labour thinks about safeguarding our girls in Rotherham. We should be able to look after everyone. This Bill will ensure that we look after the people in Britain, that we give sovereignty to our people and that we control our borders. We have had two years of dither and delay, of wrecking amendments, of planes not taking off, of people being pulled off planes, and of Opposition Members trying everything possible to stop this well-needed, well-liked and well-supported policy going forward. Anybody trying to support the amendments is no better than those who want to wreck the Bill and have an open-door policy. I say to all Members of this House that we must reject the Lords amendments, we must stand up for Britain, we must stand up for our sovereignty and we must get wheels down in Kigali as soon as possible.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I rise to support the Lords amendments. Lords amendments 9 and 10 because they are basic humanitarian amendments designed to exempt from the process of being sent to Rwanda the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as our agents—our allies—who have supported His Majesty’s armed forces overseas and persons who have been employed or indirectly contracted to provide services to the UK. It would be shameful if this House did not support those amendments.

I will direct most of my remarks to Lords amendments 1 to 6. Lords amendment 1 relates to whether the Bill is fully compliant with the rule of law, and Lords amendments 2 to 6 broadly deal with the issue of the safety of Rwanda. As has been adverted to earlier in the debate, I visited Rwanda last month as part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights delegation. We will be reporting in due course on our findings as part of our inquiry into the human rights of asylum seekers. Therefore, although I am Chair of the Committee, any comments that I make today are in a personal capacity, because the Committee has not yet deliberated.

I am firmly of the view that Rwanda cannot be described as a safe country for the United Kingdom to send asylum seekers to. That is based on what I observed there, but also based on objective evidence about such arrangements as presently exist in Rwanda for asylum seekers—not refugees on their borders, but asylum seekers—the degree of expertise among its immigration officers, lawyers and judiciary, and, crucially, evidence that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has received about the state of human rights in Rwanda, and perhaps, most importantly, information, collated by the Home Office, which I referred to earlier, about the state of human rights in Rwanda. I will come on to that in a moment.

When we were in Rwanda, we met many Government officials and organisations, most of whom meet with Government approval, and naturally they had a good story to tell us. Like the Supreme Court, I believe that they are in good faith, but we need to weigh that against the evidence of what we have heard from others, the evidence collated by the Home Office about human rights abuses in Rwanda and also a recognition of how long it will take Rwanda to put in place the arrangements required by the fresh treaty, and for them to bed down. In connection with that, I remind Members of this House what the House of Lords International Agreements Committee said when it undertook its scrutiny of the new treaty in January. It said:

“While the Treaty might in time provide the basis for such an assessment”— of Rwanda as a safe country—

“if it is rigorously implemented, as things stand the arrangements it provides for are incomplete. A significant number of further legal and practical steps are required under the treaty which will take time”.

The International Agreements Committee listed those. It went on to say that

“the arrangements put in place by the Treaty need time to bed in to demonstrate that they operate in practice. The Home Office has been unable to offer any clear timeline for implementation, but we”— the House of Lords International Agreements Committee—

“agree with the evidence we received that the Treaty is unlikely to change the position in Rwanda in the short to medium term.”

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

Let me just develop this point, and then I will take some interventions. I agree with the House of Lords on that. It fits with what I observed on the ground in Rwanda, which I will come on to in a moment. Importantly, Dr Evans, who is no longer in his place, earlier referred to what he described as the views of the UNHCR. When I met UNHCR officials on the ground in Rwanda, they said that they did not believe that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers. They said that it will take systemic and structural change to happen first and then that change will need to cascade through the system. That will take time. I also believe that a greater commitment to meaningful human rights protection is required.

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

The hon. and learned Lady is making, as she usually does, a considered argument based on her visit to Rwanda. I have not been there. I wonder whether, in making that argument, she is mindful that previously both the United Nations and the EU have designated Rwanda as a suitable place to accept refugees. What does she make of that?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

The Rwandans host more than 100,000 refugees on their border who have come over from neighbouring countries such as Burundi and the Congo because of conflict in those countries. They are people from neighbouring countries who have the ambition to go back to their own country as soon as they can, and they live in refugee camps on the border. They are a completely different category from asylum seekers who have sought to come to the UK and who are going to be sent to Rwanda. That is not just my view; that was the view of the UNHCR.

Photo of Jill Mortimer Jill Mortimer Conservative, Hartlepool

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I was also in that meeting with the UNHCR. Is it not also true that when we questioned the officials about their motivation for why they felt that we should not be sending our asylum seekers there for processing, they were very clear that it was because they felt that we were shirking our responsibility, that we should be taking all those asylum seekers, and that we had the capacity to. Is it not also true that, in that meeting, they agreed that they based their emergency transit base there, that they sponsor scholarships in Rwandan universities for refugees. It is a very safe place. Let me quote from my own notes. I said, “So, it's nothing to do with safety. It was because you feel that we should be doing this ourselves.” And they said, “Yes.”

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I, too, have detailed notes of our meeting with the people from UNHCR. The hon. Lady is right to say that the UNHCR said quite clearly that it thinks that the United kingdom is shirking its responsibilities, and actually so do I. That is my personal belief. I base that on the number of refugees there are in the world: there are more than 100 million displaced people and more than 36 million refugees in the world. Really quite a small number of them make their way to the shores of the United Kingdom. There will be a hell of a lot more in the years to come because of climate change, and my very firm belief is that the United Kingdom needs to shoulder its responsibilities as one of the richer countries in the world, rather than shuffling these people off on to a country such as Rwanda which, as we saw, has made great strides, but it cannot be compared with the United Kingdom in wealth.

A little more about why I do not believe that Rwanda can yet be described as a safe country: I mentioned in an intervention that it is important to read the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court judgment in its entirety, particularly paragraphs 75 to 105. The decision was based on a number of things: evidence about the general human rights situation in Rwanda, the adequacy of Rwanda’s current asylum system, and Rwanda’s failure to meet its obligations under a similar agreement regarding asylum seekers with Israel in 2013. There was a lot to the judgment. It is very rich in detail. The Court considered a lot of evidence over a long period. It is really not an adequate acknowledgment of the exercise in which the Supreme Court was engaged to simply say that a few months later an Act of Parliament can change the reality on the ground and solve all the legitimate concerns that the Supreme Court had about the situation in Rwanda.

Yes, the United Kingdom Government have entered into a new agreement, but the trouble is that none of the new measures to which Rwanda and the UK have agreed are yet properly in place. The UK Government’s insistence that, since the Supreme Court’s considered judgment last year, Rwanda has miraculously become a safe country for asylum seekers can only be described as a legal fiction. Nothing I saw on the ground in Kigali led me to doubt that. When we were there, the relevant legislation was still going through the Parliament. The legal reforms and new systems agreed had yet to be put in place, and although training had commenced it was still very much in its infancy.

The Supreme Court found that the Rwandans were acting in good faith, but that

“intentions and aspirations do not necessarily correspond to reality”.

Having spent some time in Rwanda, and met with Rwandan Government officials, healthcare workers, Ministers, lawyers, those who will deliver the legal training, its national commission for human rights and non-governmental organisations, I think that the Supreme Court got it right: the Rwandans are acting in good faith, but intentions and aspirations do not correspond to reality.

We heard a very interesting fact: owing to their recent history, 80% of Rwandans have themselves been refugees. As I said, on their borders they accommodate well over 100,000 refugees and displaced persons from neighbouring countries. Many of the Rwandans I met were at pains to emphasise to me that they see refugees as their friends, their brothers and their sisters. I was very struck by how their attitude contrasts with the UK Government’s hostility towards asylum seekers and desire to offload both their legal and, I believe, their moral responsibilities to asylum seekers on to others.

When the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the UK Government’s original agreement with Rwanda and the Illegal Migration Act 2023, we expressed concern that the policy

“could be seen as an outsourcing of the UK’s own obligations under the Refugee Convention to another country.”

I know that not everyone will agree with that, but given the number of displaced persons and refugees in the world compared with the tiny fraction we take, I think that we are not living up to our moral obligations. Clearly, there is a legal argument that we are not doing so. The Joint Committee on Human Rights also said, back when we considered the original agreement with Rwanda and the 2023 Act:

“Removing asylum seekers to a state where they face a real risk of serious human rights abuses, or of being sent on to a dangerous third country as a result of an inadequate asylum system, is inconsistent with the UK’s human rights obligations”.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. and learned Lady says that the UK is taking a tiny number of refugees and asylum seekers. I am not sure that that is true, but I would be interested to know what she considers to be a reasonable number—or whether she believes that there is not one.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I do not have time to get into redesigning the system, but—[Interruption.] Well, during our inquiry, as the hon. Lady will recall, the Committee heard very detailed evidence about what might be a reasonable number, and how the number we take compares with the number of refugees in the world. We heard very detailed evidence from the chief executive officer of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, about what might be a compassionate but reasonable way for the United Kingdom to approach its moral and legal obligations.

Let me focus on why I support the amendments that relate to the lack of a safe situation in Rwanda. Many of those I met in Rwanda were very keen to emphasise that their written constitution contains good human rights protections, which it does, but few of them were able to point to any case law showing people in Rwanda taking advantage of those protections, as we are—at least for the time being—able to in this country. I also found out when I was in Rwanda that in 2016, the Rwandan Government withdrew the right of individual petition to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights because they were unhappy with the way in which it handled claims brought by Rwandan dissidents. I could not help but see an echo in that of the UK Government’s attitude towards the European Court of Human Rights when it makes decisions that they do not like.

As I said in an intervention, the Home Office has compiled a 137-page country information note on human rights in Rwanda, collating information from sources ranging from the US State Department to Human Rights Watch, and setting out serious shortcomings in the protection of human rights in Rwanda. I asked the Minister about that, and he seemed very reluctant to engage with that point. I hope that he will come back to it. How does he reconcile his, and his colleagues’, repeated insistence that Rwanda is a safe country with the 137-page document issued by his own Government and updated in January this year? It sets out how it collates the evidence, and says that it tries to take things only from reliable sources. One of the biggest sources in the document is the US State Department—the State Department of one of our major allies.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 6:15, 18 March 2024

Would there not be some sense in allowing Home Office decision makers to take account of the Home Office evidence that has been gathered together in the way that the hon. and learned Lady describes?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

The document was withdrawn for a while and updated in January, so I only saw it and read it in detail just before my trip to Rwanda. I was really quite appalled that Government Ministers could continue to state that Rwanda is a safe country from a human rights perspective in the face of the evidence that they themselves collated. I really want to hear a colourable answer to that point.

Before the Joint Committee on Human Rights left the UK, we took steps to find out about the human rights situation in Rwanda. The evidence that we heard gave me great cause for concern about the curtailment of freedom of expression in Rwanda for those who wish to criticise the Government. The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported evidence of unlawful or arbitrary killings, disappearances and torture. One area of particular concern for asylum seekers sent from the UK is the protection of same-sex-attracted and transgender people. The Foreign Office travel advice for Rwanda warns British gay people and British trans people that individuals

“can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT+ individuals”.

When I put that to Government officials and others with whom we met, I was reassured that the Rwandan constitution contains a general protection against discrimination, which it does, but sexuality and gender identity are not listed there. Crucially, nobody was able to show me any evidence that a gay or transgender person has ever availed themselves of the anti-discrimination protections in the constitution. People were at great pains to tell me that homosexuality and transgenderism are not criminal offences in Rwanda. Sorry to be light-hearted, but whoop-de-doo. As a lesbian, I can tell the House that the mere fact that one is not criminalised is only the start of the story.

I think Rwanda is where the UK was on LGBT rights about 50 years ago. Yes, it is ahead of many other African countries because it is not illegal to be gay or trans in Rwanda, but there are no positive rights and no equal rights protections. We need to acknowledge that, because there are people who come to the United Kingdom because they are gay, transexual or transgender, and they know that we in the United Kingdom have great, world-class equal rights for gay and transgender people. If they are coming here for those protections, they are perfectly entitled to be concerned about being sent to a country such as Rwanda, where no such protections exist.

Many others come to this country because they were dissidents in their country—they have criticised their Government. They come to the United Kingdom, because —so far at least; touch wood—we still have freedom of expression. I am not sure that Rwanda can be described as having the same freedom of expression protections that we enjoy in the UK.

Asylum seekers also come to this country who have been human rights defenders in their country and have been persecuted for it. Again, touch wood, we in this country still have full human rights protections. That, based on the evidence of the Home Office itself, is not the position in Rwanda.

Photo of Jill Mortimer Jill Mortimer Conservative, Hartlepool

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for giving way again. The anti-discrimination law in the Rwandan constitution is not something that just ethereally hangs there. In fact, is it not true that, because of their recent history of genocide, it is a deeply ingrained feeling among Rwandans that everybody is equal and there is no discrimination? The law does not even allow asking someone whether they are Tutsi or Hutu. They are very, very sensitive to anybody discriminating about anything. Is it not also true that the heads of two non-governmental LGBT organisations we spoke to were very clear? We had a very good dig into this. My hon. Friend Dr Johnson asked them whether it would be okay for gay people to hold hands walking down the street in Rwanda, and their answer was, “Yes, of course.” The hon. and learned Lady then asked if there might be—

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

Order. That is a speech, not an intervention. I am terribly sorry, but I must ask the hon. Lady to resume her seat.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

My answer to the hon. Lady is that, as I said at the outset of my speech, in assessing whether Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers, particularly LGBT asylum seekers, we need to consider what we heard from people when we were there, as well as the objective evidence. She will recall that I questioned several people on this subject. No one was able to give me an example of any gay or transgender person ever availing themselves of the law to protect their rights. There is a difference between that and the position in the United Kingdom, where anyone who is same-sex attracted or transgender is protected by the Equality Act 2010 and by the European convention on human rights; if they lose their job or are refused housing, for example, they can go to court.

We need to look at what we heard in Rwanda. We heard very positive things from two Government-approved LGBT rights non-governmental organisations, but there is also evidence—again, particularly in the Home Office note—suggesting that the situation is rather different. [Interruption.] Jill Mortimer may scoff, but that note was prepared by her Government.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. and learned Lady is making a case about the importance of evidence. Does she agree that there is evidence right in front of us in the fact that the UK Government accepted asylum claims from a number of people from Rwanda at the back end of last year? If it really is the paradise that we have just been hearing about, and if we can guarantee that into the future, it is quite surprising that people from that country are claiming asylum in the UK.

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

Order. Before Joanna Cherry resumes her speech, I remind her that we are beginning to go very wide again. I would be grateful if she could come back directly to the amendments, although I understand the context in which she is trying to make her remarks. While I am on my feet, may I say that, although I appreciate that she is being very careful, we are getting on to fairly thin ice when we start talking about a JCHR report that has not been published yet? We need to be a little careful.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I was crystal clear at the start of my speech that I am speaking in a personal capacity, just as anything that I have written about my trip to Rwanda was written in a personal capacity. The reports that I referred to were historical reports of the Committee. I have gone out of my way to make it clear that I am speaking in a personal capacity. I explained in some detail that the Committee will deliberate, and will report on its trip to Rwanda in future. These are my personal reflections, but they are evidence-based, and I stand by them. I think that they are an important contribution to this debate—[Interruption.] And I do not intend to be shouted down by Sir Michael Ellis, or anyone else who does not want to hear a lawyerly, evidence-based contribution. [Interruption.] I am terribly sorry if I am boring him, but he will be pleased to hear that I am coming to the end of my speech very soon.

To sum up, based on the evidence that I have read and that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has heard so far, and based on what I heard and saw on the ground in Kigali, I remain of the view that Rwanda is still not a safe country for asylum seekers, which is why I support Lords amendments 2 to 6. I am fortified in doing so by knowing that the House of Lords International Agreements Committee was of the same opinion when it undertook its scrutiny of the treaty, as was the UNHCR on the ground, which told me that systemic and structural change needs to happen in Rwanda, and then needs to cascade. I believe that that will take time, and that a greater commitment to meaningful human rights protections is required.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Order. I said that we were skating on fairly thin ice because other, equally impressive legal advice suggests that there are three members of the Joint Committee in the Chamber who have come fairly close to quoting reports that have not yet been published. I hope that Joanna Cherry will accept the admonition in the terms in which it was offered. I call Dr Caroline Johnson.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I rise to support the Government in rejecting the Lords amendments. I will focus particularly on amendments 6 and 7.

Amendment 6 states that

“the Secretary of State or an immigration officer” could decide

“if Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question”.

It is clearly a wrecking amendment. I wonder whether those immigration officers will go to Rwanda, as I and other members of the Joint Committee did last month, because if they do, their position on Rwanda may change.

During our visit to Rwanda, I saw in Kigali a beautiful city, and we met many very welcoming people. As Joanna Cherry said, many people in the Rwandan population are refugees, and as such, they are keen to support refugees and give them the best future. We saw the housing and education provision that the Government of Rwanda have made, jointly with the UK Government, to support refugees on arrival, and the level of detail with which they had considered what people may need when they arrive.

We saw a country that has welcomed people from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and transit camps in Libya, and accommodated an entire medical school from South Sudan, a girls’ school from Afghanistan and a large number of LGBT individuals from across African nations, because of its relative safety for them. We also saw a country, scarred by the genocide 30 years ago, that is keen and ambitious to work together for a cohesive and successful future.

As for what we heard on our visit, in the words of Her late Majesty the Queen, “Recollections may vary.” I think it would be helpful, as we have heard contrasting opinions, to give a little information about LGBT protections. Under proposed subsection (1)(b) in Lords amendment 6, a court or tribunal would be able to say that

“Rwanda is not a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which that person belongs”.

I was very keen to see what LGBT rights there were in Rwanda, and to learn whether it was indeed a safe country. While we were out there, we learned from a Supreme Court judge, the President of the Rwanda Bar Association and the chief executive of the Legal Aid Forum in Rwanda that Rwanda has an anti-discrimination law in its constitution, which can be litigated on, if need be.

We visited Kepler, a higher education college, where we spoke to students and staff, including the chief executive, who has moved to Rwanda from Canada, and the diversity officer for the institution. We heard from all those people—the students, staff, chief executive and diversity officer—that it was a safe place for LGBT individuals to live. They did say that there were some who were what they called “quietly disapproving”, among some of the older populations in Rwanda. I note that, while we have been talking, there has been a debate in Westminster Hill about LGBT content in the curriculum, which suggests, sadly, that the same may be true in this country.

We also met LGBT activist groups, and I was not aware until the hon. and learned Lady said so that they were Government-approved, or that any of the people we met were necessarily Government-approved in that respect. They described themselves as LGBT activists—they were from two different organisations—and they, like others, told us that gay people can walk hand in hand with each other and are able to campaign openly without fear.

Another issue I want to raise is about subsection (1)(c), in Lords amendment 6, on

“a decision-maker considering whether there is a real risk that…Rwanda will remove or send the person…to another State in contravention of…its international obligations.”

This is the business of refoulement, which was brought up by our Supreme Court. How can someone prove they will not do something until they have not done it? That is quite difficult to prove. I note that other hon. Members have mentioned that somebody may have been subject to refoulement more than 11 years ago, and that may be true, but the question is whether it will be true now.

Rwanda, which has the world watching it, has entered into a legally binding treaty. It is very ambitious for its future, and its population and Government are very genuinely caring for those who seek refuge. Why would they breach the treaty? What damage would it do to the Rwandan Government’s reputation to breach such a regulation by the refoulement of people? It would do huge damage, and I therefore think we can trust them. Having met members of the Government and members of the public there, I think we can trust them not to do that.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 6:30, 18 March 2024

My hon. Friend, as I and many other Members of this House did, sought to strengthen this Bill, including clause 4, knowing that people’s individual circumstances as they game the asylum system can be acquired, altered or amended, and frequently are. However, Lords amendment 6 to which she refers not only does not strengthen the Bill; it weakens it. It makes clause 4 even weaker, and the interim orders that would be issued as a result of that amendment would delay, obfuscate and make a nonsense of the intentions of the Bill. She knows that—she has articulated it very well, as she always does—and the Lords knows it too. This is a wrecking amendment: nothing more and nothing less.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is, as he says, one of many wrecking amendments that the Lords have passed. We understand that those in the other place wish to do so, but as a democratically elected Chamber, we need to send the Bill back to the Lords with a very clear message that this is what the people of the United Kingdom want to see.

I want to clear up an issue relating to our meeting with the UNHCR, based on the contemporaneous notes that I made in Rwanda and have with me in the Chamber today. The UNHCR representative in Rwanda was asked why there is an apparent contradiction between its desire to bring refugees to Rwanda from other nations, but specifically not from the UK—what is it about a person having come from the UK that makes them less safe in Rwanda than a person who has come from Afghanistan directly, which does not seem to make sense to me?

The lady said very clearly that Rwanda is a welcoming country. She said this had “nothing to do with the safety of Rwanda”, and she felt that the UK should keep its own asylum claimants and was concerned about Rwanda’s capacity. She also said that she thought the UK had a more experienced system, and she felt that, because most of the current refugees Rwanda is accommodating—95% of them—are from Congo or Burundi, there is a similar culture, and a similar ethnic and religious population. She thought there would therefore be greater inclusion more quickly, and that people would integrate more quickly. I asked her to expand on whether the UN would be more supportive of the scheme if all the individuals relocated were of such origin, but she was not willing to answer that question.

I want to touch on Lords amendment 7. There has been much talk this afternoon about the safety of children in Rwanda. The Government clearly have a duty to protect all children, but one of the challenges is that we know that there are people who will pretend to be a child when they are not; my right hon. Friend gave the example of a gentleman who did that at the age of 42. The Government have to protect children by preventing them from being deported to places they should not be deported to, but they also have a duty to protect children in the United Kingdom from being accommodated or educated with people who are not children, and who may therefore cause them harm. In my view, the Government have a duty to make their best efforts. These systems are not perfect, but they are the best we have, so it is right that the Government make their best efforts to ensure that they do assess the age of children using the most important medical interventions we have at the moment. I am pleased to say that I will be supporting the Government this evening.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. We are introducing an eight-minute limit straightaway. I am hoping to get the Minister on his feet to respond no later than 7.50 pm. Clearly, if we finish before then, the Minister may have more time.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East

This Government remain in disarray for all the wrong reasons over this horrendous Bill. I applaud the noble Lords in the name of decency and humanity for bringing forward these amendments. The decision to force those seeking refuge here on to a cramped barge, the Bibby Stockholm docked at Portland port, was rightly condemned by human rights groups as inhumane and dangerous, and it has already seen at least one suicide. Yet this Government want to outdo themselves in their contempt for human rights and life by sending vulnerable asylum seekers, who have already been through a living and torturous nightmare to get here, to a country that our Supreme Court has ruled cannot be considered safe.

The Government are now resisting amendments from the other place that are clearly designed to prevent injustice and to stop the Government exploiting the Illegal Migration Act 2023 to truncate the process of forcing refugees to a country that does not become safe simply because it is called safe. That is how profound the Conservatives’ contempt for justice and the rule of law is. The idea that Rwanda becomes safe simply by declaring it so is self-evidently nonsense. It is nothing more than a manoeuvre to scrape for votes by pandering to racism. If the Government declared tomorrow that Gaza is safe—a safe destination—would that mean no more bombs, bullets or starvation there? It seems that the Government think they can make juggling knives safe simply by declaring it safe; presumably any fingers chopped off would be someone else’s fault—anyone else’s—as long as our Government get their way.

As the Lords amendments make clear, the Bill remains clearly at odds with human rights law and our commitments under international conventions. Thus, the Lords amendments are an attempt to mitigate some of the worst harms of a manoeuvre that shames our nation. It is one that in effect tries to opt the UK out of international human rights law by saying that the courts cannot take it into account, all while the Prime Minister tries to save face by saying that the UK will not actually be leaving those international agreements. Amnesty International has rightly condemned this assault on human rights as

“callous, immoral and an attack on the basic protections that keep us all safe.”

It is also a hugely expensive one. This wicked scheme has already cost the UK £240 million in payments to Rwanda, with at least another £130 million to come. The Bill fails to understand that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, and that safe and legal routes are needed to better protect all asylum seekers.

This Bill is ridiculous and toxic, racist and cruel, and it shows contempt for our legal system. The Government would have us believe that such attitudes reflect British values, but surely the people of this country stand for something better than stoking fear and hate towards desperate refugees alongside disdain for our legal system. I believe this whole Bill should be rejected, but I support all the amendments sent from the other place, as they go at least some way towards reducing its poison.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

All Members who have sat through debates on these matters in recent years must be feeling a strong sense of déjà vu today. It is almost two years ago today that we were considering Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill, some of which fitted closely in with this debate and the amendments that have come back from their lordships. They touched on processing asylum claims for third parties, issues around the safeguarding of children, and, obviously, the safety of asylum seekers. This debate and these Lords amendments should be focusing on the provisions in this Bill, and ensuring that the migration and economic development partnership—that is what it is called—with Rwanda can be operationalised and delivered as planned.

The House of Lords has a vital role to play in providing challenge and scrutiny. I—like, I hope, all Members—have read the contributions from the debates in the other place. Lord Baker of Dorking, who understands these issues, having been Home Secretary in the 1990s, made some insightful comments on dealing with migration and the challenges and on the wider issues around asylum seekers, criminality and all those points that encapsulate the challenge confronting the Government. Today’s debate about the amendments should be a balancing act, recognising that there are political choices that have to be made.

We have to recognise that some of the international conventions and agreements on human rights that have been mentioned were designed in a different era. The UNHCR has been mentioned and I have had many direct conversations with its director. It subscribes to the EU’s position of burden sharing across countries around the world, but that is not a position we subscribe to and we should continue to uphold that and stand up for our own positions. The Government, through their proposals, are trying to put forward solutions.

I noted that the Lord Bishop of Durham spoke in measured and thoughtful terms about the developments and commitments from Rwanda, but he raised concerns over the opportunities that would exist for those transferred to Rwanda. That is why we negotiated this partnership. It is an economic and migration partnership. It is an innovative approach, as I was the first to say when I launched it from the Dispatch Box. It is novel and it is innovative but, importantly, we put security and scrutiny measures in place. The monitoring committee, which has not been discussed enough today but is mentioned in the Lords amendments, basically does what this House has asked for, as their lordships themselves will know. I am very concerned that some of the amendments are intended to derail the Bill and what is a pragmatic and innovative—I should stick with that word—approach to tackling these issues.

I want to touch on a few of the amendments, but many have been debated already so I will not cover them all. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash touched on amendment 1 and I am in complete agreement with him. Lords amendment 7, tabled by Baroness Lister, on children has been subject to debate. We must recognise that it was the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 that put forward amendments and changes around safeguarding children in our education system and local government system. That is vital. The Lords tabling this amendment offers us a moment to reflect on implementing these measures and proposals; that is absolutely vital, as these were important provisions.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that measures to assess the age of children are necessary as there are adults who will pretend to be children?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I was Home Secretary, the case was brought to me of a 42-year-old who was masquerading as a child, and that became a national story. Through that, we looked at the age assessment measures and worked with scientists, and we looked at EU countries and what they were doing. I urge the Government to get on and implement the provisions. Time has lagged too long now; almost two years have passed, and these safeguards and protections are absolutely critical.

It is important to remind the House, especially those tempted to back the Lords amendments, of the reasons why we have this Bill and the partnership. Again, it is because of the global challenges that we face on migration. This is not about a disregard for human life. That is what the people traffickers have, and that is what we are having to tackle: lives lost at sea in the channel, and horrific and brutal acts. I have heard about them and I have seen them and I know, sadly, too much about criminal gangs benefiting and profiteering from these barbaric acts.

The partnership itself is evolving; it is starting to look somewhat different from the original economic and migration partnership, and that links to the concept of voluntary removals raised by the shadow Front-Bench spokesperson Stephen Kinnock. We touched on it last Thursday in the estimates debate as well. In the light of the recent announcement, I am sure the Minister will address it and that their Lordships and all Members will want to press on it as well. There are benefits to voluntary returns—the principle has been in place for a number of years and it does work and we should encourage it—but there is the whole issue about re-entry bans. Section 40 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 amended section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 to deal with re-entries. We have to be honest about this: they do take place even though voluntary removals happen. Whatever happens in terms of the operationalisation of this Bill, it is important now that loopholes are shut down effectively. The voluntary removals scheme is strong, but we must make it work.

My final point is that that there are so many aspects to these amendments, even Lord Browne’s amendment. It is tragic that we are debating Afghans who should have been resettled in the right way in our country for various reasons. It pained me to listen to the Lords debating this. We have a proud record in this area and all of our constituencies have been host to so many people from Afghanistan. I remember Operation Pitting as if it was yesterday; it was a moment of crisis and Border Force staff were put into Afghanistan and into Kabul to do the right thing—to do the airlifts and to work with the Ministry of Defence. It was a harrowing time, but the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and everything that followed was done in good faith, and we must uphold those principles.

To conclude, this is a pivotal moment for the Safety of Rwanda Bill and the Government’s overall approach. I will be voting against the Lords amendments but, whatever direction the House chooses to take on this overall policy, we must recognise that we are sending out a very strong message to the British people, who are exasperated because they see a Government whose hands are constantly tied. There is a carousel now—a revolving door with setback after setback—and the Government must now be given not just the benefit of the doubt, but the tools and the ability to get on and operationalise this policy. We are at a pivotal stage.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:45, 18 March 2024

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Afghan scheme. I understand that the debate is about the safety of Rwanda, but I have a concern about this, and I have dealt with Afghani refugees as the right hon. Lady knows. Many of them are on the edge of real mental health issues as a result of the trials they have experienced, and I think the experience of them coming here and being put at risk of being deported again to another state will push many of them over the edge. That must be taken into account as a factor, and that is why the amendment from the Lords is so significant.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I absolutely and fully understand the right hon. Gentleman’s position on this, but this is a moment of reflection for the Government, too, particularly around those who served our country and worked alongside us in Afghanistan. The Government need to clarify how they have aided and continue to aid those people, some of whom are on the border of Pakistan, which has a range of migration and governance problems right now.

To conclude, we are at a pivotal moment with this legislation. We are also at a crucial moment in our relationship with the Government of Rwanda, who have been a solid and respected partner, diligently working with us. Obviously I speak with full experience, as the original architect of the migration and economic development partnership. We have to go back to the basics of that partnership. As I said last week in the House, things have moved beyond some of the core principles of the original partnership. I urge the Government to do what they need to do in this House today and to settle some of the issues, but really they need just to knuckle down and work on the operational delivery of the scheme.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Lady, particularly given the context she gave to this debate, which is important and worth reflecting on for a second or two. She reminds us that this is in fact the third Bill in this area in this Parliament. Indeed, as the shadow Minister, Stephen Kinnock, pointed out towards the end of his remarks, we now have another innovation: people are to be offered a cash payment to take the opportunity of going to Rwanda.

What do three Bills and a still evolving political situation and portfolio of arrangements tell us? They tell us that this Government have no strategic purpose in how they are tackling this problem, and that has become apparent from a number of the interventions today.

We have spoken an awful lot about the rule of law. To be honest, this Bill and this debate are not about the rule of law; they are an entirely political exercise. I am pretty certain that the Government will win the votes tonight, that they will face down their lordships, and that they will get their way. I would be astonished if any of the legislation makes any significant difference at the end of the day, because this is not about the law or even about a meaningful approach to the problem of boats in the channel; it is all about politics in the run-up to the election.

One of the most telling interventions came from Sir Jeremy Wright and his point about permanence, which was absolutely on point. It is not without significance that nobody has chosen to pick it up, because I do not think there is an answer—or, at least, no good answer. On the question of permanence, let us not ignore the context of where Rwanda is and where Rwanda has been politically and in relation to its neighbours. In January, the US State Department was saying to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that they had to walk back from the brink in the conflict between them. If either or both of them choose not to, where will that leave the safety and stability of Rwanda as a destination for us to send people? The determination, as the shadow Minister said, to legislate to say that somehow or another the sky can be green and the grass can be blue takes no account of those real challenges that are coming down the track.

The Government should look at the authors of the amendments that they will knock back today. One is Lord Hope of Craighead. I remember when he was first appointed as Lord President in Scotland, and I have watched his progression through to being head of the Supreme Court. This is not a man given to making grand political gestures. This is no wide-eyed radical. When he comes up with an amendment to say that the purposes of the Bill should be done in accordance with domestic and international law, that makes perfect sense.

It is not to be forgotten that the roots of this legislation are to be found in a Supreme Court judgment. That caused enormous frustration in Government circles, and we do not forget that, but obeying the law is not an optional extra for any Government. Even if what we are trying to do here is to circumvent the scrutiny of the courts, to resist an amendment that says that decision-makers should treat Rwanda as safe

“unless presented with credible evidence to the contrary” simply defies any sense of logic.

Joanna Cherry made extensive reference to the Home Office guidance on human rights in Rwanda. Her point was good, but it is a nonsense, surely, that in the Home Office, people are beavering away, working out the human rights position in Rwanda, while in another office in the same building, people are drafting clauses saying that the people who will then make the decisions should not allowed to take any account of it. That makes no sense.

If we were serious about finding a solution to the problem and breaking the business model of the people traffickers, the Government would be taking in the Opposition, the Scottish nationalists, ourselves and all parties to try to find a common way forward. In fact, they are doing the opposite. They are seeking to manage the issue politically in such a way as to increase division and not to build consensus. In the time remaining to them in government, they will be able to win votes like this, but they will not do anything to stop the traffic. Ultimately, they will have to be replaced by those who will.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I rise to reject and oppose all 10 of the Lords amendments. In the other place last week, peer after peer spoke of this Bill as an outrageous affront to the law or “international law”. With great respect, there seemed to be a collective amnesia that it is Parliament that is sovereign and that Parliament secured sovereign authority over generations from what had previously been an absolute monarchy. It probably stems from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Parliament for centuries now has had sovereign authority to pass any law whatever.

No law that Parliament passes can be “outside the law”. In our system, it is Parliament that is supreme. Despite the misnomer of the court that Tony Blair invented, it is Parliament that is supreme, not lawyers or judges. That is unlike the United States, for example, where judges can strike down a law passed by Congress as unconstitutional. In fact, the UK legislature could do the opposite of that, and strike the Supreme Court down out of existence, if such were Parliament’s will. That is, after all, what Tony Blair himself did when he abolished the 150-year-old principle of the Law Lords and the House of Lords as our highest court and created the Supreme Court just a few years ago. Many think that was an act of constitutional vandalism, and I happen to agree, but whether or not one does, it is axiomatic that what Blair did, one of his successors can at least in theory undo. That is the nature of our system.

As my hon. Friend Sir William Cash said earlier, Parliament derives its authority from the people, and that is why parliamentary sovereignty is so important. It is not an aggrandisement. The law is a living, fluid concept. People change and people’s views change, which is why it is right that the people’s elected representatives in Parliament can have sovereignty over decisions that are made. Two hundred years ago, drawing graffiti on Westminster Bridge was an offence punishable by death; now people can block ambulances on Westminster Bridge and receive no more than a small fine. The law has changed in 200 years, and it is imperative that we bear in mind that it is a fluid concept. It has to keep up with the wishes and will of the people.

The point is that society changes and the law changes with it, and that is a major advantage of the English common law system. Today, the British people have elected leaders—such as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of this country—who advocate a policy of increased vigilance on immigration, and the elected politicians must be able to enact laws in accordance with the wishes of the people, even if lawyers and Members of the other place do not like it. That is the very essence of democracy. I have worked in the law all my life—it is 30 years since I was called to the Bar—and I know that the law is not the master of the people, but a servant of the people, as is this House. It must serve the wishes of the British electorate and, if necessary, adapt accordingly. The British people’s current wishes on immigration are clear, and the Prime Minister is right to enact them.

This is not just a constitutional position. Nine people have died trying to cross the English Channel in small boats this year alone. The latest victim of the smuggling gangs was a seven-year-old girl, whose overloaded boat capsized in a French canal. For this reason, stopping the boats is not just a political imperative; it is a moral necessity. Only when those coming to the UK illegally know that they cannot stay will they stop risking their lives and the lives of others. I am sorry to say, however, that to Labour and Crossbench peers in the House of Lords last week, it seemed to be an outrage to try to stop this trade in human misery by establishing what would be an effective deterrent through the Rwanda partnership.

Notwithstanding the contributions of some Members in the other place who were opposing this process, it is clear to anyone who reads the Supreme Court’s judgment of last year that the Bill is the constitutionally appropriate response to it. The judgment related to the conditions in Rwanda at the time of the original challenge in June 2022, and Lord Reed, the senior judge in the Supreme Court, was explicit about the fact that the issues identified could be addressed in future. In other words, the Supreme Court explicitly invited Ministers of the Crown to remedy the problems that they had identified in their judgment, and that is precisely what His Majesty’s Government has now done, with a treaty that is binding under the international law frameworks that Labour and Crossbench peers so admire.

Nor does the Bill oust the jurisdiction of the courts. That is another misapprehension. Judges will be able to consider human rights claims and judicial reviews; they will just do so after people have been sent to Rwanda—unless, of course, claimants can prove that they will face a real risk of serious harm in Rwanda, in which case they can stay in the UK while the appeal is heard.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

That arrangement is entirely reasonable—and, as I said at the beginning, the amendments are relevant to this whole concept. If one comes to this country illegally, one should not have the ability to repeatedly prevent one’s removal, at vast expense to the taxpayer. However, because of Labour votes that were no doubt whipped by the Leader of the Opposition, the House of Lords defeated the Government 10 times on amendments, seeking to neuter the Bill and ensure that no one was ever sent to Rwanda. They did not vote down the Bill, and did not vote for these 10 amendments, because they want it to work; they did so because they do not want it to work.

What none of those peers on the Opposition Benches did was provide an actual alternative to the Rwanda partnership. None of them could say how they would deter people from getting into overloaded dinghies on the beaches of northern France, or prevent the deaths that will surely follow. In voting against the Bill, the Lords were therefore constitutionally, legally and morally wrong, and I urge the House to overturn their amendments.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate.

This Bill is an affront to the principle that human rights are universal and belong to all of us by virtue of our humanity. The amendments from the other place are an attempt to stop the Government violating that principle and, I would argue, undermining not just Parliament but the courts and the rule of law in the process. Despite unacceptable and unparliamentary pressure from the Prime Minister, who urged peers to rush their scrutiny and simply go along with his dangerous, authoritarian Bill, they have rightly inflicted 10 defeats on the Government. They have done so by large majorities, signalling profound opposition to the Prime Minister’s deeply illiberal, deeply inhumane Rwanda legislation. The Home Secretary’s motions to disagree are consistent with this Government’s track record of cruelty towards people seeking asylum. We saw another example of that very recently in the Home Office’s jaw-dropping admission that it does not routinely inform family members when asylum seekers die in Home Office care.

Lords amendment 1, tabled by Lord Coaker, simply adds maintaining full compliance with domestic and international law to the purpose of the Bill. One might have imagined that that would not be up for debate, and it is a measure of how low this Government have sunk that they are opposing an amendment which simply says that their Bill should comply with the rule of law, something I had thought Conservative Members were meant to believe in. In particular, the amendment is needed to stop the disapplication of the landmark Human Rights Act, something I believe we should be proudly defending. It is also needed to protect interim measures—a vital human rights tool under international law, issued on an exceptional basis in extreme circumstances when individuals face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm.

The Bill states that

“the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign” and that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”, and we have heard a great deal more of that from Conservative Members this afternoon. I think that Ministers should stop misusing the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, which is not embodied by riding roughshod over the courts. Let me draw their attention to a point made very clearly by Professor Mark Elliot, chair of the faculty of law at the University of Cambridge. As he explains,

“Parliament can be meaningfully sovereign only within a functional legal and constitutional system—and such a system can only exist if its other component elements are permitted to play their proper part.”

I suggest that that is exactly the principle that the Government are seeking to trample over with the Bill, which brings me to the way in which the Government are attacking parliamentary sovereignty by undermining the jurisdiction of the courts.

Lords amendment 6, in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti, is vital. It would allow our courts to play their proper part: to hear evidence and scrutinise the legality of Government decisions, allowing our system to protect individuals from risk to life or inhuman or degrading treatment. Likewise, Lords amendments 4 and 5 at least allow for the presumption in the Bill that Rwanda is safe to be rebutted. Without these amendments, the Bill directs courts to ignore the facts that are in front of them. The amendments are a modest reprieve for facts and evidence in what remains a thoroughly vile Bill.

It is extraordinary that the Government can be so fearful of evidence. Why would they not want to look at the evidence before them? Let me refer them to the recently published World Report 2024, which deals with human rights in Rwanda and makes pretty grim reading. It states:

“Commentators, journalists, opposition activists, and others speaking out on current affairs and criticizing public policies in Rwanda continued to face abusive prosecutions, enforced disappearances, and have at times died under unexplained circumstances.”

I also urge Members to consider how constitutionally and legally astonishing the Bill is. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has been explicit about how extraordinary it is, stating that

“Requiring the courts to conclude that Rwanda is safe, even though the evidence has been assessed by the UK’s highest court to establish that it is not, is a remarkable thing for a piece of legislation to do.”

That brings me to Lords amendments 2 and 3, which stand in the name of Lord Hope of Craighead, the former Deputy President of the Supreme Court. There has been much discussion about them, but they require monitoring of the safety of Rwanda, while accepting the assertion that the treaty makes Rwanda safe. Let us suppose for a moment that we suspend our disbelief and our notice of all the evidence now that suggests Rwanda is not safe. Even if it were safe, how on earth can we be legislating that it will be into the future, for any degree of indefinite time? Much in this Bill is an affront to common sense, but that seems to be in a league of its own. Facts change and when they do, we need to change our view of those facts—to do anything less is moving towards a moment of madness.

I want to be clear that although I will vote to uphold these Lords amendments, because they are an improvement on this dreadful Bill, I maintain my view that seeking to legislate by assertion that Rwanda is safe is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. 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 and these amendments say that the facts should be monitored. What kind of Government would oppose that?

To conclude, I will vote to uphold Lords amendments 1 to 10 because they make this Bill slightly less constitutionally transgressive and inhumane. The Home Secretary’s motions to disagree with the Lords are laughable, coming just days after he has been exploiting the desperation of vulnerable people by offering them £3,000 to go to Rwanda voluntarily. Amended or not, the Bill remains a grotesque waste of money that is neither practical nor strategic; it is no less than a piece of performative cruelty from a dying Administration.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Leaving aside the decision of the Court, on Lords amendment 9 we are in danger of reversing the work that this House has put in to ensure the protection of victims of modern slavery and trafficking; removing the amendment makes them vulnerable again, particularly to re-trafficking. I cannot for the life of me understand why there is not support from the Government for Lords amendment 9, which merely asserts the decision maker’s opportunity to assess the impact on the physical and mental health of the individual and their potential to be re-trafficked.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and he is absolutely right in what he says. It is ironic that by refusing these amendments, the Government are, in a sense, going back on pledges and commitments they have made on trying to uphold issues relating to human trafficking; this Bill is hugely damaging on so many levels. Others have spoken about amendments to provide at least some possible protection for unaccompanied children or for victims of modern slavery and those at the highest risk of harm if removed to Rwanda. We must consider what voting against those amendments means, just as we must do in respect of Lords amendment 10, which relates to the people in Afghanistan who have done so much for us, putting their own lives at risk for our Government and our country. On the idea that we would simply send them off to Rwanda, the right hon. Gentleman has already made a powerful intervention about what that would do for people who are already so vulnerable.

I sum up with a message that I hope that peers in the other place will consider. It is, of course, right and fundamental that the House of Lords should act in accordance with its subordinate position in relation to this elected House of Commons—that is the usual way in which we proceed. For the other place to override the Commons, the bar must be an extraordinary and profound attack on the very fabric and operation of our constitutional democracy. I regret to conclude that this Bill is just that and so the other place would be well within its rights—indeed, this is its responsibility—to uphold the amendments it has already put in place. This Bill is demeaning and degrades both Houses by ignoring the rule of laws that we have passed.

Furthermore, the Bill seeks to legislate facts and prevent courts from considering them. Fixing the facts on which the law is to be applied is the kind of thinking that dangerous conspiracies are based on. That way lies authoritarianism. I urge those in the other place to put a stop to this Bill, and I urge everyone in this House to vote in favour of the amendments tonight.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 7:15, 18 March 2024

I note your strong exhortation to address the amendments, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will address them in turn. It is tempting to get into a debate about whether the Bill offends the rule of law. “The rule of law” is used as an absolute term, but it is in fact a political term; it is an important principle that underlies much of our constitution, but it is sometimes misused and elevated in a way that does not do it or the debate justice. Inevitably, we have had wider discussions about the safety of Rwanda as a country, and about the geopolitics, but that misses the point. The point is whether we can be satisfied that the Rwandan Government are meeting the obligations they agreed to in the treaty of late 2022. That treaty was underpinned by a Government Command Paper and is, in effect, the basis of the Government’s answer to the exam question put to them by their lordships in the Supreme Court.

In the other place, Lord Howard of Lympne spoke powerfully about the need for the arms of the constitution to respect each other, and I entirely agree with him on that. I have said the same here in debates on this issue. We are perhaps not in the place that constitutionalists like me want to be in, but none the less, we are dealing with a judgment of the Supreme Court, based on the merits of the case and the test that it is allowed to apply: was there was a risk of a breach of the European convention of human rights—or, in this case, more a risk of refoulement as set out under the refugee convention? The Supreme Court decided that there was a risk, and the Government have rightly tried to take action to fill that gap.

I simply ask the Minister: is he satisfied that the helpful steps outlined by their lordships’ International Agreements Committee in its report of 17 January are being undertaken? I refer to those nine points that Ministers in the other place were pressed on repeatedly by, among others, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who made the point powerfully. I will not recite the nine steps, but they relate to making sure that Rwanda’s process for dealing with claims is fair, transparent and in accordance with the treaty that it entered into. It is important that the Government and the Minister address that point.

Lords amendment 1 just adds more potential justiciability and legal argument to a clause that, as I have said on other occasions, I despise, because it is full of declaratory law at best, and it creates a lot of legal opportunities for my colleagues in the profession; I declare an interest, of course. I do not think that we can perfect the clause by adding Lords amendment 1. However, Lords amendments 2 and 3 seem to have force, because if we are to go down this road of using deeming provisions, it is vital that we do not end up in a position where the law goes so far ahead of reality—say, through Rwanda’s failure to carry out its treaty obligations, or its slowness to do so—that we create that legal fiction that a lot of us are rightly worried about. I am therefore minded to support Lords amendments 2 and 3.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for allowing me to intervene before he moves off Lords amendments 2 and 3. As he knows, I share his concern about the artificial finality that the Bill’s drafting presents. When it comes to the treaty, does he agree that the problem with amendments 2 and 3 is that they give all the authority to the monitoring committee? They allow it to determine that there has not been adequate compliance with the treaty, and under the amendments, that automatically feeds through to a statement that Rwanda is no longer a safe country. Under the rubric of the rest of the Bill, that decision should remain with the House of Commons and the House of Lords, not with the monitoring committee.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point. The amendment is capable of perfection. The suggestion that I think I made on Report was that the Bill should not to come into force until a Minister of the Crown was satisfied that Rwanda had met its treaty obligations both internationally and domestically. I take his point—more can be done—but there is force in their lordships pursuing that point, so that we marry up the reality with what we want to achieve legally. Unless that is done, I am minded to support Lords amendments 4 and 5, because I am yet to be satisfied that we are in a position where a deeming clause, although not unprecedented—they have been used on a number of occasions—or unconstitutional, is reflective of the reality.

The Lords amendments relating to clause 4 complicate the position. That clause is clearly drafted to deal with individual cases, and I do not think that we should upset that. Lords amendments 7 and 8 do not take matters significantly further. However, Lords amendments 9 and 10 have some force. Exemptions relating to modern slavery should be clear. We have led the world in our modern slavery legislation, and have a proud record on it. That work was led by my right hon. Friend Mrs May and others in their lordships’ House. It would be unfortunate, to say the least, to end up with the Bill riding a coach and horses through our important provisions on modern slavery; I am sure that is not the intention of my colleagues on the Front Bench.

Finally, on the Afghan provision, both my right hon. Friend Priti Patel and I were in the trenches, working on that issue, back in the summer of 2021. I was helping to get judges out of Afghanistan, while she was working day and night to ensure that we saved people who had risked their lives for our way of life. I take her point and, in fact, would go further: although I expect the Government to be sensible and sensitive to the position of any future Afghan refugees and not put them into this scheme, it seems to me that we would lose nothing by accepting amendment 10.

For the reasons that I have given, the Lords amendments are a curate’s egg, as all Lords amendments will be, but there are times when it is important that a point is made. I am afraid that this is one of those occasions when I will make that point.

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

The Democratic Unionist party supports the Bill, wishes it to come to fruition, and hopes that it achieves its objectives. I will not rehearse all the reasons why, which have been given plenty of times in other debates, but we must tackle the criminal gangs. We cannot go on with the pressures and costs that mass illegal immigration puts on society, the Government and the taxpayer. For that reason, we will oppose most of the Lords amendments. As the Minister and other speakers have pointed out, many of the amendments are designed to weaken the Bill, undermine it, and ensure that it does not work, so that we remain with the old, flawed system that we have been trying to put aside.

The Minister said that the Government oppose the Lords amendments because they do not want the Bill weakened, and he is right, but the Bill is already weakened in respect of one part of the United Kingdom. I seek assurances from him; how does he come to the conclusion that pushing the Bill through will safeguard all parts of the United Kingdom against illegal immigration that is being channelled through different parts of it? The Government promised in “Safeguarding the Union” that the Bill will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, but that was written in full knowledge that following a court judgment in Northern Ireland, the Bill could not apply there because of section 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and article 2 of the Windsor framework. Two more court judgments since then have made it quite clear that because of article 2, the Bill cannot apply to Northern Ireland, where the full weight of EU law and the full protections of the European convention on human rights and the European charter of fundamental rights apply. That means that many parts of the Bill will be disapplied in Northern Ireland. There are three court rulings on this.

The Government know what is in the Windsor framework, the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal Act, yet they continue with the argument that, despite all that, the Bill applies to Northern Ireland. I would like to hear from the Minister where that assurance comes from, given that he knows the terms of the legislation and the Windsor framework, and about the three court judgments—from October, February and the end of February.

If Northern Ireland becomes the weak spot, the policy becomes meaningless. People think, “The boats aren’t going to come from France across the sea to southern Ireland on a 24-hour journey, and people will not come up through to Northern Ireland,” but it must be remembered that of 77 cities in the United Kingdom, Belfast already has second-highest number of illegal immigrants per 10,000 of population. There is already a channel through the Republic into Northern Ireland and then, of course, into England. That needs to be addressed, because a promise has been made in a Government deal, and because of how that could undermine the whole immigration policy. Of course, if Northern Ireland does become that channel, the real danger is that we finish up not just with a border for goods, but with passport controls for people moving from Northern Ireland.

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

Yes, I am doing so, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I was making was that we will support the Government in rejecting Lords amendments 1 to 6 because they weaken the Bill, but the Government must recognise that their own inaction is also weakening the Bill.

I am surprised at the attitude that the Government have adopted to Lords amendment 8. Since the policy is designed to assure people that the Government have got on top of illegal immigration, I would have thought they would have welcomed the opportunity to publish daily the number of people who have been removed from the United Kingdom. In fact, I would have thought they might have done a Ken Livingstone: put a banner on the building across the river and published daily, “This is how many people we have removed.” Is the reality that the Government know that the Bill will not have the wanted effect, and that the publication of such information would be an embarrassment? We support that amendment, because we believe that there should be a very public way of judging the success of the policy.

I really cannot understand the Government’s attitude to Lords amendment 10, either. We have a duty to those who served with the Army in Afghanistan at difficult times, putting their life in danger, and who are now in danger of losing their life under the brutal Taliban regime, which wants to take revenge. It is not that people could use such a provision to sneak their way into the United Kingdom; we have good records on those who served the Army. They and their families are at risk, and surely we have a duty to them.

I remember speaking to people from Northern Ireland who served in Afghanistan. They spoke glowingly of the folks who interpreted for them, and the folks who gave them background knowledge, supplied them with information, went out with them on patrol daily and so on. We have a duty to those people. I cannot understand why the Government would resist Lords amendment 10. We will certainly be supporting it, because we believe we have that obligation. I would like to hear from the Minister how the promise made in paragraph 46 of the “Safeguarding the Union” deal will be delivered in Northern Ireland, given that courts have judged and ruled that the Bill cannot apply in Northern Ireland. If it cannot apply in Northern Ireland, are the Government aware of the consequences for Northern Ireland of being further isolated from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 7:30, 18 March 2024

It is always a pleasure to follow Sammy Wilson. I agree with much of what he said, but I will differ from him on the one or two amendments he plans to support.

It is worth remembering the purpose of the Bill. It is about dealing with one of the knottiest problems in illegal migration policy, which is what we do about those who leave a safe and democratic country to come to the UK, as a choice, who we then cannot return to their home country—either because of the domestic policy of the country, which the Minister will know about, or because it is a country we are realistically not going to be able to engage with on immigration removal. Then they seek to take advantage of our asylum system. In many cases, that is the core of the people traffickers’ business model. These people can include those who have had lawful residence in another safe, democratic country but then come to this country and apply for refugee status. For me, the Bill has to be about delivering a process that breaks the people smugglers’ business model.

My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright—I am pleased to see him in his place—really summed it up: these amendments are not about making the Bill work better or getting this process in a better place. They are about creating routes to challenge, delay and block up. I listened to the points he made, such as on permanence. Of course, Parliament is always free to take a different view on legislation presented. No Parliament can bind another constitutionally, so a future Parliament could take a view that Rwanda is no longer safe, but for now we are quite entitled to take a view as to whether it is. Particularly with the treaty obligations and the work being done, we can say that Rwanda is safe for a refugee to be transferred to.

The core of the Bill is about working with another country that is an expert in resettlement, and being able to provide for people with a genuine safety need or who are seeking safety. It is not about allowing the continuation of the idea that if someone pays a trafficker, they can choose where that safety need is met—that is, here in the United Kingdom. Lords amendment 6 allows a range of challenges to the idea that Rwanda is not safe. Again, I look at the fact that Rwanda is working with the UNHCR on refugee resettlement. If it were inherently dangerous to take someone to Rwanda or there were a massive danger of refoulement on to a country where they would face persecution, that system could not exist.

It is perfectly reasonable that we can come to our own agreement with Rwanda that will be effective and respected, and that we can rely on in defining the country as safe. I sadly do not have time to go into all the elements touched on in the debate, such as the issues we had with our age assessment system, but it is similarly perfectly reasonable to say that with new processes coming in, we can take a view. A lot of challenges are raised up not because they will ultimately succeed but because they delay removal.

I am going to disagree a little bit with what the right hon. Member for East Antrim and others said about amendment 8. First, it says “referring to all individuals”. In a strict interpretation of that, we would list everyone’s name and address, which would clearly not be appropriate at all, neither would it be appropriate to list the timetable for the removal of individuals from this country. That would involve going into a publication of data that the Government would not normally go into, for fairly obvious reasons. The idea that we will not get reports and constant commentary on how the process is going without amending the Bill does not stand up.

Like my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, I worked on Op Pitting, and I saw the work we did to get people out of Afghanistan. Yes, we do need to look at how we can unblock some of the ARAP process, but a lot of that is to do with finding places to settle here in the UK. It is one of the biggest issues with many of our resettlement schemes. One of the great successes of the Ukrainian scheme was people coming forward, but with the Afghan one we were reliant in many cases on local councils to offer spaces, which—unsurprisingly, given the well-known housing pressures—not many rushed to do. There is a debate to be had there, but it is not resolved by amending this Bill and providing another route to challenge or make a claim, when there is a likelihood that that route will be used by those who perhaps never had anything to do with our forces but see it as a way to not be transferred to Rwanda.

I do find interesting some of the counterintuitive arguments we have heard from the Opposition Benches that this is all a bit of a gimmick and is not going to work. If that was the case, why waste time amending the Bill? Why not let it go through, let the Government get their legislation and then spend the rest of the year saying, “Look, it didn’t work”? We know what the real fear is: it is that if the Bill goes through, this plan will work. The Bill can be perfectly credible and go forward. Some of the objections we have heard sit with me and go against the fact that the UNHCR itself is taking people to Rwanda in very large numbers, as has already been mentioned.

Without the Bill, and without it being an effective Bill—that is, a Bill without these amendments—what is the plan B? What is on offer to try to break this fundamental part of the people smugglers’ business model? We are told about cracking down on gangs, but my hon. Friend Dr Evans rightly pointed out that there have been a lot of prosecutions, arrests and convictions already, and he asked how many more the Opposition are proposing. There was no real answer. The answer is that their opposition is just a soundbite, nothing else. It is like the claim that all we need to do is walk in the door and we will get a great deal out of France. Well, good luck with that. I know from my own dealings with authorities on the continent that it is not just a case of walking in the door, making a demand and suddenly getting everything we want.

As was said earlier, the amendments may be very elegant and well worded, but at the end of the day they are nothing but wrecking amendments, intended to obfuscate the process, bung it up, delay it, and reopen routes to challenge that the Bill is specifically looking to shut down. The Bill looks to transfer people to a perfectly safe country that is an expert in resettlement, works with other groups on resettlement and is perfectly able to work with the United Kingdom. Parliament is perfectly able and right to take the view that it is safe to do so.

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

We have all heard the admonitions about speaking to the amendments, but it is worth reflecting on the absence of any amendments in lieu on the amendment paper. During earlier stages of the Bill there were star chambers, the five families, propositions to strengthen the Bill and all kinds of dark mutterings about what might happen if it was not strengthened sufficiently, but the Bill cleared this House without any amendment. Now consensus appears to have broken out on the Conservative Back Benches that the Bill does not in fact need any further changes and should remain unamended—so it does not need strengthening after all. Perhaps that is because this is a Bill that nobody really wanted. All it has done is create problems for the Government and the Prime Minister that did not have to exist in the first place.

The Bill creates significant new precedents, undermines established principles and conventions, and moves the UK away from a framework and structure of international law that has protected our freedom and human rights for nearly 80 years since the end of the second world war. It is not really the Safety of Rwanda Bill; it is the safety of the Prime Minister Bill. It has all been designed to try to keep certain elements of his Back Benches happy, and on that test it seems to have failed, just as it has failed in practically every other criterion it could be assessed against. The evidence of that is before us in the 10 amendments that have been made on a cross-party basis by Members of the House of Lords. As we have heard in all the Opposition speeches today, many of these are completely reasonable, sensible tests and requirements. If the Government were genuinely confident about the effectiveness of their policy and the safety of Rwanda as a place for the deportation of asylum seekers, they should be able to accept the Lords amendments without difficulty.

The amendments to clause 1, proposed by Lord Coaker and Lord Hope of Craighead, simply lay out the criteria by which Rwanda should be judged safe, and on the Government’s own terms based on the treaty that they have signed. I agree with the points made by Mr Carmichael about the significance of Lord Hope adding his name to the amendments—I declare an interest because, many years ago, he conferred an undergraduate degree on me when he was chancellor of the University of Strathclyde.

The amendments to clause 4 in some way get to the heart of the debate and the issues at stake in the Bill. The debate is not really about whether Rwanda is safe in general terms. As I said on Second Reading, I visited Rwanda, as have a number of Members who have spoken, in 2018 with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It is a beautiful country with huge potential. Its people have had to live through incredibly difficult circumstances. For wealthy tourists who fly in, go on safari and stay in nice hotels—or those who go on Select Committee or CPA visits—Rwanda is a safe and welcoming country. However, citizens who speak up too loudly with questions about the regime, who ask why international observers have been unable to report that presidential elections have been free or fair, or who belong to the LGBT community in that country, or Rwandan citizens living in London under the protection of the Metropolitan police because they are being stalked by their country’s intelligence services, might not find Rwanda quite as safe and welcoming.

The question is not whether Rwanda is generally safe, which is how the FCDO official travel guidance describes the country—it will be interesting whether it will update that guidance on the basis of the Bill. The issue is whether it is safe for asylum seekers and, even then, not for asylum seekers generally as some amorphous mass but every individual asylum seeker who might be sent there. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different; everyone’s story is unique. As the Refuweegee charity says, “We’re all fae somewhere.” Lords amendment 6 recognises that and provides for consideration and review of individual claims and cases. Those kinds of checks and balances ought to be expected in any kind of decision- making system, especially ones that make fundamental choices about the lives of the individuals concerned, but Ministers do not like to individualise the issue. They have lost sight of—or perhaps they have never really cared about—the wellbeing of the human beings at the centre of this debate.

Last week the Minister kindly accepted an invitation to visit Glasgow—something none of his predecessors has been prepared to do. I hope that when he comes, he will meet and listen to some of my constituents who are supported by the Maryhill Integration Network, Refuweegee, Glasgow Afghan United and other organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers to make them welcome in the city. He will see how people who have come here on small boats, on the backs of lorries or through other irregular means have not done so for purely economic reasons. They have come fleeing war, climate change, persecution and many other situations barely imaginable to many of us who live in relative comfort and safety in Scotland and in the UK. All they want is to be safe and to be able to contribute to their new community and society.

There is nothing good about the Bill. It should be scrapped in its entirety. It is unnecessary, unworkable and unloved by all sides of the Conservative party and the House. The Lords amendments provide something in the way of mitigation, and the House should support each of them tonight. I hope that it has the chance to divide on each of them, too. The Government, their Back Benchers and everyone else who supports the Bill ought to be made to work for it. If they think walking around the Lobby for two hours is tough, they should try getting on a small boat or on the back of a lorry and see how they feel about that.

If the Government use their majority to send the amendments back, the Lords ought to think carefully about how their amendments in lieu might achieve similar aims, and not simply cave at the end of the first round of ping-pong. The Bill was not in the Government’s manifesto or even in the King’s Speech, so there is no convention, principle or anything else stopping the Lords from continuing to insist on versions of their amendments. We on the SNP Benches are not supporters of an unelected second Chamber, but if Members on the Government Benches—and, more pertinently, on the official Opposition’s Benches—think that an unelected House of Lords is a good idea and has a role to play in the UK constitution, they ought not be prepared to see the Lords simply cave in on this kind of legislation; Opposition Members should ensure that their colleagues in the House of Lords continue to hold the Government to account in the way that they think the UK constitution ought to work.

In reality, all this is getting us further away from the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland with an open and welcoming asylum and immigration system—and the more that the Government and the official Opposition continue to push that divergence, the closer that independent Scotland will come.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. I intend to call the Minister to wind up at no later than 7.50 pm. I expect 10 votes, starting at 8 pm or before. Those who have participated in the debate should make their way to the Chamber now. Mr Shannon, I am not putting the clock on you, but I ask you to resume your seat by 7.50 pm.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 7:45, 18 March 2024

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their comments. This is no doubt a contentious issue on which we all have opinions, but ensuring safety for all is everyone’s main priority. My right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson set out the position of the Democratic Unionist party.

I want to make three points in the next five minutes. The first relates to Lords amendment 10 and those who helped us in Afghanistan. In February 2022 I met an Afghan national who served alongside one of my constituents in an Army role. I do not want to go into any more detail about that, other than to say that that man and his four children are under threat in Pakistan. I have done everything in my power as an MP, along with other MPs, to try to get him home. We have got him a house and job. Kevin Foster said that all they are getting is a place, but we have got him a house and a job in a company in Newtownards. We will get his children integrated into school, because we have done that already with Syrian refugees. We took them in, and they are established and do not want to leave. My first question to the Minister about ensuring that we can do that.

Secondly, I refer back to my earlier intervention about the Northern Ireland court ruling. A legal decision has been taken in Belfast, and the Minister clearly responded that it will be challenged. I wish the Minister well on that challenge, and I hope that the ruling can be overturned. If it is, Northern Ireland will be the same as every other part of the United Kingdom. If not, we are clearly different. I hope the Minister will come back to me on that.

Thirdly, I said earlier that I am the chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief, which is an important issue for me and for many MPs in this House, and some Members of the House of Lords. We have 174 members—MPs and peers—which indicates the importance of the issue. Ensuring that religion is respected is so important to me and others. I am going to speak to some of the Lords amendments, as everyone has done in their own way. Clause 2 would require decision makers conclusively to treat Rwanda as a safe country. If that presumption is made, it is crucial that the same presumption applies to how members of certain communities will be treated once there. We can have all the freedom of religious belief in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but if they do not have it in Rwanda, the whole object of the exercise has been defeated. I seek that assurance.

Lords amendment 6 would further allow decision-makers to determine whether Rwanda can be deemed a safe country for certain individuals or groups of similar persons. I am pleased that this protection has been addressed, because it could protect certain groups of people of a particular religion, to ensure their safety. The only concern is that if there is more scope for granting injunctions that delay removals, we could see ourselves in a similar position of a long list of delayed Home Office decisions that could take months to be concluded.

I am pleased that protections are being considered for victims of slavery or human trafficking. Given that victims are brought to the UK involuntarily, their circumstances should be assessed differently to ensure their safety. Under-18s may not have a parent with them, so special provisions must be in place. In the short time that the Minister has, I ask him to ensure that protection is given to them so that they are not taken advantage of—that is critical.

It is always important to debates these issues thoroughly, as they have been by Members on all sides of the Chamber, with slightly different opinions. Other people’s lives are in our hands, and these issues are paramount. There is no doubt that we have a problem with illegal migration in this country, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim said. No one in the Chamber, from whatever party, can ignore that issue, but there are exceptional circumstances for some people, and consideration must be given to them. No matter where they are being deported to, it must be a safe place for those with specific religious beliefs. They must be protected. If we can protect them and their freedoms, human rights and religious beliefs wherever they may be, that will be a step in the right direction for me, as the chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief. More importantly, it will be a step in the right direction for those people who are making the choice to go to another country.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

May I start by thanking every single right hon. and hon. Member who has contributed during the course of this debate? It has been detailed, thorough and constructive, and I am grateful to each and every one who has contributed. I shall start in reverse order with Jim Shannon, who is so often left until the end. It was delightful to see him without a time limit on the clock at least. I will come back to his point on amendment 10 at the end, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned it. On the question of under-18s, article 3.4 of the agreement does not cover unaccompanied children. I know that he will be partially reassured by that.

On his important comments on religion and faith, I point him to articles 11 and 16 of the constitution of Rwanda. I know that he will look at them, and I hope he will find reassurance there.

Turning to the penultimate speaker, Patrick Grady, to whom I always listen carefully, he has renewed his invitation and I accept once again. I confirm that I look forward to my visit with him to Glasgow.

Going back to the beginning of the debate, perhaps one of the most instructive parts was the exchange between the shadow Minister, Stephen Kinnock, and my hon. Friend Kevin Foster. It contained the foreshadowing of a comment made time and again by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who is in his place and who repeatedly makes the point that it is incumbent upon anyone who disagrees with this policy to come up with their own solution to the problem of how we should deal with people who enter the country with no legitimate, credible case for claiming asylum and being granted safe haven but who cannot be returned to their home country. That point was made powerfully today by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, but once again, answer came there none.

I agree with the opening remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright and with hopefully more than just the first half of his speech, but certainly the first half of it. He characterised this debate, this Bill and this issue incredibly well and I encourage Members to turn to his speech. I agree with his assessment of amendments 2 and 3. He is right to say that they would transfer authority on to the monitoring committee rather than on to Parliament, which is the right place for it to be. He tempted me to delve further into issues that he rightly acknowledged are not strictly part of this debate—at least not today—but I will consider them carefully, as he knows. I am grateful to him for his contributions.

On the last occasion that Alison Thewliss and I exchanged views on this Bill, I undermined her credentials by not disagreeing with each and every one of her submissions. I will start to make amends today and pick her up on two issues. On the emergency transit mechanism, it is a treaty—it is an agreement that has been signed by the African Union, the UNHCR and the Government of Rwanda. It is important. It is supported and backed by the EU to the tune of €22 million and has been warmly welcomed by the EU ambassador with words that I do not have time to repeat now, but I read them out at the outset of the debate. I agree with the hon. Lady when she said that the amendments were designed to undermine the purpose of the Bill. She was very plain and open about that, in stark contrast to those on the Labour Benches.

My hon. Friend Alexander Stafford also made that point powerfully, as did Caroline Lucas. They confirmed that these are wrecking amendments. If anyone wants to put a stop to the Bill, they should support these amendments. My hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Rother Valley talked about sovereignty of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone talked about clear and unambiguous language and cited the famous paragraph 144 of the Supreme Court judgment. He also cited Lord Hoffmann. I agree with him when he speaks about the strengths of our unwritten constitution.

Can I gently push back on something that the Chair of the Select Committee, Dame Diana Johnson, said? My hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Rother Valley tackled the deterrent effect powerfully at the outset. The deterrent effect is there. Albania has already shown that: numbers have dropped by over 90%. Can I also gently push back with her on scrutiny and respectfully point out once again that both myself and the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, were in front of her Committee within hours of being appointed? Indeed, so much did my hon. Friend enjoy that experience that he was back in front of her Committee again last week. Having read the transcripts and seen the reports of it, I know that it was a constructive and instructive exchange between the Committee and the Minister, and rightly so. We had the debate last week and we have had the debate again today: scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny—something I very much welcome and that I know my hon. Friend the Member for Corby welcomes, having appeared twice before the Committee in quick succession.

Joanna Cherry spoke about her visit to Rwanda. May I gently say that I disagree fundamentally with her assessment? I suggest that the evidence needs to be looked at in the round. It is a powerful thing that evidence has been put forward that represents the spectrum of views, but it needs to be looked at in the round. In relation to Rwanda, I disagree with her because we on this side are confident in the Government of Rwanda’s commitment to implement this partnership. We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country.

There were some instructive and powerful interventions on this from my hon. Friend Jill Mortimer. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Dr Johnson for her speech, having just been to Rwanda, and for giving her powerful assessment of where we are.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, who talked about the monitoring committee. What she said was absolutely right, and not just because one member of that committee is a former Solicitor General. It is an important institution. Paragraph 101 of the policy statement sets out more detail on that. My right hon. Friend is the author and architect of this and therefore speaks with great authority. I am grateful to her for reminding the House about this. I also have time to mention the economic partnership, which she mentioned last Thursday as well. That is something we should not forget, and it was mentioned on Second Reading.

I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis for his intervention. He spoke about the essence of democracy: the law is our servant. I heard a “Hear, hear” from another former Solicitor General at the back of the Chamber at that point, and he was right to say so. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, this Bill is the constitutionally appropriate response to the Supreme Court judgment—respectful, listening and responding to the concerns contained therein.

The monitoring committee is the one thing that I would mention to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland. I would gently point out to him, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham did, that the right checks and balances are in place. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon spoke about amendments 2 and 3, saying that they would transfer authority from Parliament to the monitoring committee, and he is right.

In response to Sammy Wilson, I only have time to repeat that the Bill applies across the entirety of the United Kingdom, but I am grateful to him for his intervention.

On amendment 10, I repeat that the Government recognise the commitment and the responsibility that come with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage by serving alongside us. We will not let them down.

These amendments either seek to undermine the primary purpose of the Bill or are simply unnecessary, as they do not support the purpose of the legislation.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

Division number 98 Safety of Rwanda Bill Lords Amendment 1 motion to disagree

Aye: 326 MPs

No: 251 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 328, Noes 250.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 2.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Division number 99 Safety of Rwanda Bill Lords Amendment 2 motion to disagree

Aye: 321 MPs

No: 252 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name