Clause 1 - Introduction

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 15 April 2024.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following Government motions:

That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendments 3B and 3C.

That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendment 6B.

That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendment 7B.

That this House insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendment 9 but proposes additional Amendment (a) to the Bill in lieu of that amendment.

That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendment 10B.

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

Here we are, back again debating the same issues and amendments that we have already rejected. We are not quite at the point yet of completing each other’s sentences, but we are almost there. The issue before the House is whether the clearly expressed views of this House throughout the entire passage of the Bill should prevail. We simply cannot accept amendments that provide for loopholes that will perpetuate the current cycle of delays and late legal challenges to removal. We have a moral duty to stop the boats. We must bring an end to the dangerous, unnecessary, and illegal methods that are being deployed. We must protect our borders and, most importantly, save lives at sea. Our partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy.

The message is absolutely clear: if a person comes to the United Kingdom illegally, they will not be able to stay. They will be detained and swiftly returned to their home country or to a safe third country—Rwanda.

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

No, I will not give way.

On Lords amendment 1, the use of a section 19(1)(b) statement does not mean that the Bill is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. There is nothing improper or unprecedented with such a statement. It does not mean that the Bill is unlawful or that the Government will necessarily lose any legal challenge. These statements have been made in the past, including in 2003 under the last Labour Government. We have a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international obligations, and we remain committed to that position. Our focus is on passing this legislation, which will deter people from entering the country dangerously and illegally.

Turning to the revised amendments on the implementation of the treaty and the role of the monitoring committee, clause 9 clearly sets out that the Bill provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force, and the treaty enters into force when the parties have completed their internal procedures. Amendment 3B confuses the process for implementing the treaty with what is required for the Bill provisions to come into force. Amendment 3B confuses the process for implementing the treaty with what is required for the Bill provisions to come into force.

As I have said, the treaty enhances the role of the monitoring committee, and the monitoring committee will ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. It was always intended for the monitoring committee to be independent. Maintaining the committee’s independence is an integral aspect of the design of the policy, and Lords amendment 3C risks disturbing that independence and impartiality. The Government will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that the necessary implementation has taken place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. That being the case, there is simply no need for the amendment.

Despite the refinements made, Lords amendment 6B is still a wrecking amendment that seeks to reverse the Bill’s intent. The Bill’s purpose is to invite Parliament to agree with the assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed. The Bill reflects the fact that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit.

The evidence that we have provided, and the commitments made by our Government and the Government of Rwanda through this internationally binding treaty, show that Rwanda is a safe country, and enable the Bill to deem Rwanda a safe country. As I am sure those who support and will vote for this amendment know, it would render the Bill utterly pointless and would not enable us to create the deterrent that we need to stop the boats and get flights off the ground.

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

I will not. Turning to Lords amendment 7B, we know that assessing age is inherently difficult, but it is important that the Government take decisive action to deter adults from knowingly claiming to be children. There are obvious safeguarding risks relating to adults being placed in the care system. It is crucial that we take steps to safeguard children, and avoid lengthy legal challenges that prevent the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. The amendment would result in those who are to be removed to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023 being treated differently from those who are being removed to another country under the same Act. There is simply no justification for that differential treatment.

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

I will not; I will make some progress. Lords amendment 9 undermines provisions in existing legislation and is completely unnecessary. It is vital that the Government take steps to reduce or remove incentives for individuals to enter the country illegally. These illegal practices pose an exceptional threat to public order, risk lives and place unprecedented pressure on public services.

As I have set out, under article 13 of the treaty, the Government of Rwanda will have regard to information provided relating to any special needs that an individual may have as a result of them being a victim of modern slavery. Rwanda will take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated. To that end, the Government have tabled amendment (a) in lieu, which requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report about the operation of the legislation as it relates to modern slavery and human trafficking provisions. With that in mind, I invite the House to reject Lords amendment 9 and agree with the amendment in lieu.

On Lords amendment 10B, as I have set out, the Government recognise our commitment and responsibility to combat veterans, whether our own or those who showed courage by serving alongside us. We will not let them down. Once again, I reassure Parliament that once the UK special forces and Afghan relocations and assistance policy review has concluded, the Government will revisit how the Illegal Migration Act, and provision for removal under existing legislation, will apply to those who are eligible to stay as a result of the review, ensuring that these people receive the attention that they deserve. This is a commitment that both Lord Sharpe and I have made on behalf of His Majesty’s Government.

This, the elected House, has voted to give the Bill a Second and Third Reading, and voted down each of the Lords amendments. I invite all right hon. and hon. Members to stand with the Government in upholding the will of the House of Commons, and to support the Government motions.

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

It is just over two years to the day since the Rwanda scheme was first announced from the Government Dispatch Box, so it would be remiss of us not to take stock of progress to date. Well, hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been sent to the Rwandan Government; civil servants, courts, parliamentarians and journalists have spent countless hours, days and weeks discussing and writing about the scheme; and not one, not two, but three Home Secretaries have flown down to Kigali. But apart from that, there is not a great deal to report. The boats have kept coming, the backlog has kept growing, and the people smugglers are still laughing all the way to the bank. We have had two years of headline-chasing gimmicks; two years of pursuing a policy that is fundamentally unworkable, unaffordable and unlawful; two years of flogging this dead horse.

I am an inveterate optimist, so I truly believe that one day Government Members will come to understand that hard graft and common sense are always more effective than the sugar rush of a tabloid front page, and they will come to accept that they should have adopted Labour’s comprehensive plan to restore order to our border by redirecting the vast amounts of money set aside for the Rwandan Government into a new cross-border police unit, and a new security partnership with Europol to smash the criminal gangs upstream.

Analysis conducted by the National Audit Office has revealed that if the Government manage to send 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda, which is just 0.5% of the 60,000 people earmarked for the scheme, it will cost the British taxpayer a truly staggering £2m per person. It is crystal clear that the scheme is doomed to fail on its own terms because people who are prepared to risk life and limb crossing continents will not be deterred by a 0.5% chance of being sent to Rwanda.

The mind-boggling costs of the scheme are quite difficult to grasp, so I have done a bit of homework—a bit of research into what else we could get for £2 million. My hon. Friend Neil Coyle, who is not in his place, got the ball rolling during our last debate on the Bill by pointing out that £2 million will get someone five trips to outer space on the Virgin Galactic spacecraft—Madam Deputy Speaker, you look impressed, and suitably so. I have calculated that someone could live for three decades on one of the world’s most expensive cruise liners. They could charter, for a year, the Lady M yacht, which is, of course, the yacht that belongs to the “noble” Baroness Mone—it is her vessel of choice, as some Government Members may be aware—or they could even fly the Prime Minister’s favoured helicopter to Australia and back.

Speaking of the Prime Minister, I noticed that during the Easter recess, he found time to offer his services as a financial adviser to small businesses via Zoom. I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have concerns about a guy who is happy to pump billions of pounds into a failing fiasco like this Rwanda scheme offering his services as a financial adviser to unsuspecting members of the public. Let us hope that the Financial Conduct Authority will intervene as a matter of urgency.

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

The hon. Gentleman is proving most entertaining, but as this is consideration of Lords amendments, will he get on to dealing with the amendments? I want him to be in order!

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. If Stephen Kinnock was not in order, I would not have allowed him to speak. He has been drawing some very interesting facts to the attention of the House. I, for one, am likely to explore some of them—but not the yacht.

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

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I always enjoy taking interventions from a fellow Welshman, but I feel that Sir Robert Buckland was well and truly put in his place by your riposte.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Will my hon. Friend take an intervention from a non-fellow Scotsman?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

I am sure that my hon. Friend has, like me, marvelled at the Government’s ability to legislate for Rwanda to be a safe country—Lords amendment 2 addressed that. Will he join me in urging the Government to use their amazing power to legislate to ensure that carbon dioxide emissions no longer cause global warming, and sugar, fat and alcohol no longer damage human health?

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

I am sure that those on the Government Benches would be delighted to oblige. Perhaps we could also legislate to say that the sky is green and the grass is blue, or that the Welsh rugby team actually won the last Six Nations—I would love to pass a law to secure that objective.

Let us be clear: not one of the amendments before us prevents flights to Rwanda taking off. On the contrary, they simply seek to put in the Bill what Ministers have previously promised—namely, they would ensure that the Bill was lawful, that the Government would protect the most vulnerable, and that we would stand by those brave Afghans who supported military efforts.

Let me address each amendment directly. I will focus first on Lords amendment 10B, in the name of the noble Lord Browne. We have spoken a lot about the unworkability and unaffordability of this policy, but we should also talk about the unethical and frankly un-British nature of deporting halfway across the world to Rwanda those Afghans who have supported Britain’s defence and diplomatic efforts. That is not Operation Warm Welcome; it is operation cold shoulder. We should have seen it coming, given that for an entire year the Prime Minister halted flights from neighbouring Pakistan for Afghans who had been granted resettlement rights in the UK under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, and restarted them only when the Pakistani Government threatened to send those Afghans back across the border to meet their fate at the hands of the Taliban. We owe a debt of honour to the Afghans who were loyal to Britain and put their life on the line, and of course, our moral duty is most strongly felt by British armed forces personnel who worked alongside them.

In fact, this weekend, 13 senior military figures signed a letter to The Sunday Telegraph warning that

“‘any brave men and women who have fought alongside our armed forces or served the UK Government overseas’ must be exempt from removal to Rwanda.”

The signatories included former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, a former Secretary-General of NATO and a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. They warn that if this exemption is not granted, it will do

“grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations”, and explain that they have

“seen first-hand the enormous courage and dedication shown by those who have fought alongside our Armed Forces and served British interests abroad, often at huge personal risk, and we take personally Britain’s obligation to honour the debt we owe to that cohort.”

Those are powerful words indeed. I urge Government Members to join us in supporting Lords amendment 10B, which seeks to prevent that travesty.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

As the shadow Minister and I know, the key issue is not that ARAP people are coming via small boats, but the unbunging of the resettlement scheme. How many spaces does he envisage we will need to ensure are available for resettlement under that scheme?

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

A number of people who served the British defence, development and diplomatic effort have been identified for resettlement, so they should be resettled in the United Kingdom. Let us get that bit of the scheme unblocked before we get into speculation about the quantum. The key point is that they have already been accepted into the resettlement programmes, but are being left high and dry in Pakistan.

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

My hon. Friend was accused of levity earlier. This House has so many things to discuss. There are good, sensible and workable policies to deal with in relation to migration, as he and I know, but this one—the Rwanda scheme—reminds me of the Monty Python dead parrot sketch, which he is probably too young to remember. The scheme is a dead parrot; the sooner the Government wake up to the fact that it is dead, the better.

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

My hon. Friend is right that so many practical, pragmatic and sensible measures could be taken to deal with the crisis in the channel—the Tory small boats chaos—but instead of focusing on those sensible and pragmatic measures, we are dealing with this white elephant of a programme that will never get anywhere and is costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and absorbing huge amounts of our time. I absolutely agree with him on that.

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 the individual’s process under the national referral mechanism is complete. It should go without saying that modern slavery victims should not be sent to Rwanda, and we are disappointed that the Government’s amendment (a) in lieu is a profoundly unserious attempt to reassure the House—not least because we have been here before and know that such promised reports are rarely worth the paper they are written on.

We on the Labour Benches are also deeply concerned about unaccompanied children being inadvertently sent to Rwanda. We therefore support the noble Baroness Lister’s amendment 7B, which recognises the Government’s reasoning for rejecting her previous amendment by this time proposing that an age-disputed person who is appealing their decision can be removed to Rwanda only if a local authority has agreed and stated that that person is not a child.

The other Lords amendments all relate to the rule of law, and we support them. They simply articulate principles that Ministers have said they agree with from the Dispatch Box. The simple question is this: if Ministers believe that Rwanda is a safe country, why are the Government refusing to support those amendments? They say that the Bill abides by international law, so why not make that clear on the face of it? They say that Rwanda is capable of meeting its obligations under international law, so let us see the evidence and agree a trust-but-verify mechanism, as set out in the amendments.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 7:15, 15 April 2024

Does my hon. Friend agree that although the Bill is inhumane, costly and unworkable—despite the best efforts to amend it—the Tories seem resolved to pursue it rather than getting to grips with our broken asylum system? It is just another indication to the country that this Government are unfit to govern.

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

There is a clear choice between the common sense, hard graft and positive international co-operation set out in Labour’s plan to deal with this issue, and the headline-chasing gimmicks and empty gestures that are symbolised by the Rwanda policy. Politics is about choices; the Government have taken their choice and we have taken ours.

In that spirit, Lords amendment 1B is a Labour Front-Bench amendment that places a responsibility on the Government to have due regard for its current obligations under domestic and international law. Lords amendments 3B and 3C, in the name of the noble Lord Hope, together 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 unanimous ruling, so there is absolutely no reason for Ministers to refuse to accept Lord Hope’s amendments.

Finally, Lords amendment 6B, in the name of the noble Baroness Chakrabarti, allows 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 this amendment.

I hope that colleagues from across the House will join Labour in voting for all the amendments. Of course, the amendment are no more than an exercise in damage limitation; the fundamental problem is that this hare-brained Rwanda policy is breaking all records for being the most unworkable and worst value for money policy in the history of the Home Office. But there is an alternative. In addition to our policy to go after the criminal smuggler gangs, we will deliver our backlog clearance plan to get asylum seekers out of expensive asylum hotels by surging decision makers and caseworkers to the Home Office, and by creating a new returns and enforcement unit with 1,000 dedicated staff focused on the faster removal of those with no right to be here, including failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals.

The Government are failing on all fronts. Despite their misleading boasts about progress, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove, admitted today that there are still almost 300 asylum hotels in operation. They are returning 44% fewer failed asylum seekers compared with 2010, when the last Labour Government left office, and 27% fewer foreign criminals. The number of small boat crossings has gone up again year on year—January to March figures—and the Government have no plan for the 99% who cannot be sent to Rwanda. We need Labour’s plans to smash the criminal smuggler gangs, save lives in the channel and strengthen our border security. We need Labour’s plans for faster processing, the end of hotel use and the removal of people who have no right to stay in the UK, and we need a Labour Government to deliver a firm, fair and well-managed asylum system that works for Britain.

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

I do not really feel that there is anything terribly useful I can say at this stage—I have heard all this before. Stephen Kinnock, who speaks for the Opposition, is simply repeating what he has said before. Not only that; it is perfectly apparent that these amendments are just wrecking amendments, and the hon. Gentleman has not even addressed the arguments about international law. He knows perfectly well—because he cannot answer my questions on this issue—that we have a dualist system, and if we decide to legislate in our own Parliament, the courts themselves will implement that legislation.

The real point is this: let us get this Bill done, and let us get the House of Lords to calm down a bit. At the same time, let us wait for what is inevitably going to be another claim and then see the judgment of the Supreme Court on the wording of this Bill, provided that it is clear and unambiguous. That is all I need to say. I may come back again, however, if the Lords insist again on these ridiculous amendments.

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

Here we are again, debating this outrageous and unworkable Bill. We are no further forward, and the Government will fail to get any further forward, because the Bill is a complete waste of time and money. It is a ruse to get tabloid headlines, and at this stage I am not even sure whether the Government have any intention that this plan will work at all, given the incompetence they have shown so far. They are scrabbling around this week, trying to find airlines, because not one single responsible air carrier wants to be associated with the Government’s state-sponsored people trafficking plans. They have been trying to find other countries that they can try to send people to; Armenia, the Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and Botswana might be interested, but far more countries rather sensibly told the Government to go and get raffled.

I am not convinced that even Rwanda believes this plan will work or that people will be sent, because it has gone and sold off the housing that it built—that the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, so admired. If the Government do send people, there will not even be the facilities to put them in, unless they intend to stack them high as they often do in hotels in this country, treating people as human cargo that they can so easily dispose of. It is absolutely despicable.

So far, the Government have sent Home Secretaries and civil servants. Even the Joint Committee on Human Rights has gone to Rwanda, along with some hand-picked journalists, but no asylum seekers—nor is there much prospect of them going. While all this has been going on, dozens of Rwandans have submitted asylum claims here in the UK, and there is still concern about Rwanda’s sponsoring of the M23 rebels, who are engaged in conflict with their neighbours, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, last month wounding UN peacekeepers in the DRC; the group controls roads and mining sites in that country, and has displaced 1.7 million people. In The Guardian last week, Vava Tampa questioned international support for the Kagame regime, saying:

“The UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty are clear that without Rwanda’s backing, the M23 couldn’t have killed, raped, tortured and displaced as many as it has.”

I ask the Government why they want to pursue deals with such a regime—it is quite worrying.

I turn to the Lords amendments, which I will go through in turn. Lords amendment 1 asks that the Government have due regard for “domestic and international law”—that should be a basic element of any legislation that this House wishes to pass. The amendment slightly waters down the Lords’ previous amendment about

“maintaining full compliance with domestic and international law”, but clearly, even having due regard for domestic and international law is too much for this Government. That includes obligations like the European convention on human rights, which is tied up with the Good Friday agreement and the devolution settlements in this country, and international laws such as the refugee convention, the UN convention against torture and the UN covenant on civil and political rights. Why would the Government not want to abide by those international agreements?

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

On that point, if the UK Government think they can just ignore all the international commitments to which they are already signed up—including ones that they helped to found, such as the ECHR—how on earth can they then turn around to other countries that might be breaching their obligations under international law and say that they should comply with those treaties?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hypocrisy goes even further than that: this Government expect Rwanda to uphold all of its agreements and laws internationally and domestically, while specifically setting out to breach their own laws and obligations through this legislation. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Lords amendments 3B and 3C state that Rwanda

“will be a safe country when the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda Treaty have been fully implemented and for so long as they continue to be so.”

That question of how long those arrangements continue to be implemented is just as critical as whether Rwanda implements the measures we have just discussed, because through this legislation, the Government are stating that Rwanda is safe forever—in perpetuity. Nobody can say that of any country in the world at any point, so it is really quite bizarre to legislate specifically that Rwanda, uniquely, is safe forever and ever.

It is quite reasonable of the Lords to say,

“The Rwanda Treaty will cease to be treated as fully implemented if Parliament decides, on the advice of the Monitoring Committee, that the provisions of the treaty are no longer being adhered to in practice.”

There should be a check on that. The Government should not fear that; if they truly and deeply believe that the agreement will be adhered to, there is surely no harm in scrutinising it. The House of Lords International Agreements Committee has said that the treaty is

“unlikely to result in fundamental change in the short term”, and the UK Supreme Court pointed out in paragraph 87 of its judgment that Rwanda refouled at least six people while the treaty was under negotiation. If that does not raise alarm bells with the Government about Rwanda’s ability to adhere to the treaty, I do not think anything will.

Lords amendment 6B deals with domestic law. It is not about international courts, foreign courts and foreign judges—as if that were a bad thing, and as if we do not send people to sit on those courts ourselves—but the integrity of our own courts and tribunals, of the UK-based judges and decision makers who the Home Office employs to do their job and who this legislation undermines. The amendment says that

Section 2 does not prevent…the Secretary of State or an immigration officer from deciding…whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which that person belongs”.

That is quite reasonable: we should look at the evidence before coming to decisions. The amendment asks that the courts and tribunals be able to do their job, not to ignore the evidence or, as others have described, to engage in a legal fantasy where they cannot look at the evidence—cannot see it, cannot hear it, and cannot speak out about what they know to be true—because that is quite unreasonable.

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

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that our own domestic judges should not be allowed to make decisions on these issues, I would be very interested to hear his point.

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

I was going to point out that section 57 of the Immigration Act 2023, to which the hon. Lady refers, makes the perfectly reasonable point that the courts must take account of the facts. That is the key question, and I did not hear her say that; it is something that is indisputable and, in my opinion, unassailable. If there were a question of fact regarding age or any other matter that falls within the framework of this amendment, the courts should surely be entitled to deal with those facts, but not to deal with the questions to which the hon. Lady has just referred.

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

This legislation inhibits the ability to look at facts, and I think that is quite a dangerous road to go down. I do not think that that is really what the Government ought to be doing in any circumstance. No matter how much they may wish their will upon the courts, they should not be doing this in legislation. It is completely wrong.

Lords amendment 7B, on the age assessment of unaccompanied children, again asks quite reasonably that a relevant authority—a local authority—should have an expert carry out an age assessment on people whom they consider to be children. The Children’s Society has repeatedly said that it sees unaccompanied children being incorrectly assessed by immigration officials to be adults on arrival in the UK, so I think calling for a proper assessment is perfectly reasonable, rather than sending children off to Rwanda and then trying to retrieve them later. The harm that that could cause is really quite significant.

On the Government’s own figures, 485 children were wrongly assessed to be adults in the first six months of 2023. The Home Office gets this wrong quite regularly. The Helen Bamber Foundation has found that, over an 18-month period, 1,300 children were wrongly assessed to be adults, the majority being incorrectly assessed. So the Government really need to admit that they do get this wrong, and that they should not be sending children to Rwanda and then trying to retrieve them at some later stage, if—oops—somehow they got it wrong. Do it properly, and do the assessment at the beginning, rather than causing young people who have already suffered a huge amount of trauma yet more pain.

Moving to the insistence by the Lords that its amendment 9, on the removal of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, be considered again, this is again hugely significant. This goes against our obligations on human trafficking, and we should not have a Government sending away people who have been trafficked with a significant risk that they may be re-trafficked and go through yet further trauma, with the impact that this will have on their physical and mental health and on their safety. That is something the Government really ought to be considering. Why would they not want to consider the risks of people who have been trafficked?

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, has done significant work on this, and I would ask the House to consider its evidence about the breach of our obligations that the Government are embarking on. I think it is absolutely wrong that they should seek to do this to people who have already been through so much.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 7:30, 15 April 2024

Those are good points because vulnerable people are already being targeted by the Government, if on a voluntary basis. I recently had a young man in my constituency, with severe health problems, whom the Home Office has tried to persuade to go voluntarily to Rwanda, and it was severely traumatising for him. For somebody who has suffered previously in coming to the UK and in the experience they have had in their home country, to then have that degree of what they perceive as pressure—and possibly bribery as well, in a sense—is extremely traumatising. If this is the way the Government are going, these amendments are essential.

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

Having met many constituents and other people who have been victims, as the hon. Member sets out, I know this is devastating for them, when it is already difficult enough to escape from their traffickers, and it is already difficult enough to speak out about this and have their case believed by anybody.

Article 13 of the Rwanda treaty, which will allow the UK to never conclusively determine whether a potential victim of modern slavery is even a victim, would put the UK in breach of its obligations, under article 4 of the ECHR and article 10 of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, to identify and assist potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Tying this up with the immigration system in the way the Government have done again undermines people’s rights and undermines our obligations as the UK. I absolutely pay tribute to the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre for the evidence it has sent to Members. If it is in their inbox, they should please read it before they vote on this Bill, particularly on this amendment.

Lastly, on the exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas, it remains the case that many Afghans have come here on small boats because the UK Government schemes have failed. They have failed to protect people, and they have failed to bring in people who served alongside British forces in Afghanistan. They are people who put their trust in the UK to protect them and their families. They put their trust in the UK-US project in Afghanistan, and that trust has been thoroughly breached.

I regularly get emails from people who feel as though they have been deeply let down by the UK Government. That trust has gone, but putting this exemption in the Bill would at least give some prospect of there being some degree of trust in the future. If I was in some country that the UK became involved in, the last thing I would want to do is to get involved with UK forces, because as soon as the UK ships out, it is, “You’re on your own—too bad, tough.” It is a death sentence for the people who put themselves forward to help and support UK objectives overseas, and the way in which this Government have treated those people and their families is disgraceful.

As I have said many times before in this place, during the fall of Afghanistan I had many families living in my constituency who had relatives there, and very few of them ever got out. I do not know what happened to them. I do not know if they are dead or alive, and some of their families may not even know that either, but they have been let down by this UK Government. The schemes the Minister talked about have failed because they are not bringing people to safety. They have failed on the terms that were promised. I seriously doubt at this stage whether they will ever meet the number of people who were supposed to come over and get safety here. At the very least, the Government could have such a recognition in this Bill. At the very least, they could accept an amendment such as this one because they must know that, because Afghans are coming in small boats, their schemes and their supposedly safe and legal routes have failed.

I am not convinced that this Bill will be any kind of deterrent. Almost 3,500 people have crossed in small boats this year so far, and it has not deterred a single solitary one of them. However, what this has done is to make it incredibly difficult for the people who are now considered inadmissible to the system. I ask the Minister: what is going to happen to them? We know that the very small—the tiniest—proportion of people sent to Rwanda, if the Government even end up sending any, will be the tip of a massive iceberg of people who are now just swimming around in the system with no rights.

I have constituents coming to my surgeries who say that they are waiting. They cannot be dealt with and have their asylum claim processed, because this Government have deemed that they are inadmissible. What happens to them? Where do they live, and how do they continue to exist in this country if the Government will not process their applications and will not listen to their claims? That may have been through human trafficking or modern slavery, they may be people who have been victims of torture or—

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

I am coming to the end of my remarks.

The Government will not even listen to these people’s stories, so what will happen to them and where will they live? This Government seem to have no consideration for the trauma people have gone through, and now they are leaving them in immigration limbo forever in this ridiculous, expensive and unworkable system. The asylum system is broken, and we know who broke it. We know that an independent Scotland would treat people far more humanely than this Government ever will.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I am very grateful to the Minister for setting out in detail the changes and amendments the Government have made, both on the amendment paper and in their approach, in response to the concerns raised and points made by many in the earlier stages of this legislation. I will address the points made about Lords amendments 1B and 7B, and briefly touch on a couple of other points that have arisen in the debate and that, certainly from my experience in the world of local government, continue to have a relevance and will need to be addressed in due course if this is going to take effect in the way that we wish it to.

I am a great enthusiast for the European convention on human rights, and I think it is important to acknowledge in the context of this debate that, since this House previously considered and debated this particular piece of legislation, there has been a further development in respect of rule 39 interim orders. In fact, the various bodies concerned with the operation of that convention, including the Court, have recognised the concerns caused to the UK Government and other member states of the ECHR by the way in which those judgments had been handed down. I have confirmed that they will be updating their procedures to ensure operation of such orders will be different in a way that reflects the concerns expressed by many in this House. I see that as evidence that the ECHR remains a living document and also that the concerns the UK Government have expressed are being taken seriously.

Many Members will have been slightly alarmed by the recent judgment handed down in respect of environmental legislation, and I note that British judge Tim Eicke, whose dissenting commentary on that judgment has been publicised widely, set out in detail why many of the issues raised by Members of this House in respect of this particular piece of legislation were also relevant in that context—the risk of perceived overreach of developing a living document to the point where it went beyond the level of consent which the original contracting parties had in mind and that that remained something that the court needed to be alive to. I am very conscious that, because of the way the convention operates in practice, it should be an accountable process—accountable to the Parliamentary Assembly, to the Congress, to the Council of Ministers, and ultimately to the member states.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman think it is helpful for the Prime Minister and the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and various others on his Benches to continually refer to the European Court of Human Rights as a foreign court?

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I know the Prime Minister has made the point that, given that the court is based in Strasbourg, certainly in a technical sense it can be described as that, but from my perspective, having served on the Congress, I am very much aware that it is a court of which the UK, partly through its role in the creation of the treaty of London which set up the convention in the first place, has always been an enormous supporter. We need to continue to play a part in ensuring it develops in a way in which we would wish to see it develop, through the input that Members of this House among others have through the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Ministers and that other parts of the British political family have through bodies such as the Congress.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I am not aware that I am a foreigner, but it has many difficulties and we are missing the essential point. For what it is worth, I support this Bill, but I am concerned that, in the absence of these people who land here being detained, if they are threatened with being deported to Rwanda at some stage in the future, they are simply going to bugger off into the community.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I was using rather colourful phraseology just to make my point, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I take my ticking off.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting that in a way that I am sure many of our constituents would choose to highlight it as well.

To finish the point around the convention itself and amendment 1B, as the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, when we cannot be certain of a future potential legal challenge it is appropriate that the statement is made as it has been made in respect of this. However, it remains my view, and I think the view of many others, that we have many channels of influence, both diplomatic and political, and that this is a living convention. We know that it is embedded in many different parts of our constitution—not just the Good Friday agreement, but our withdrawal agreement from the European Union—and therefore our adherence to it remains incredibly important. But because it is a living document it is able to flex and evolve, to recognise that the world we see today—the world of asylum and the international context—is different from the world when the treaty of London was first very strongly championed by Winston Churchill in the 1950s. Therefore, I am very much persuaded that the Minister is correct in the way he seeks to reject these amendments while also acknowledging the spirit and tone behind them.

I would like to address some of the issues that arise in amendment 7B. I am again persuaded by what the Minister has said about this, but there is a long-standing issue with the way unaccompanied children are treated. The Children Act 1989, which set up the legal framework, sets out in some detail that a child who is not accompanied by a person who has parental responsibility for them by operation of law becomes the responsibility of a local authority. Whether or not that local authority goes through any process at all to bring that child into the care system formally, for example by seeking a care order, it remains the responsibility of the local authority where that child arises to take care of them. If they return later on in early adulthood and are able to make a case that they had been present in that local authority area as a child, they are also entitled to care-leaving responsibilities from that local authority under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

That is significant because it sets up a potential conflict between the impact of immigration legislation and the impact of Department for Education and Children Act legislation. We know this has been an issue; there is at least one other Member who represents the same local authority, the London Borough of Hillingdon, which sits in a substantial part of my constituency, and where Heathrow airport means that it has had very large numbers of unaccompanied children coming in over the years and has been responsible for carrying out age assessments, which have often been challenged by those young people and their advocates in a way that can result both in judicial reviews going one way or another, with significant cost implications to the public purse, and safeguarding risks both to children and others they might be with where those may arise.

I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that when pressing the point that the Home Office remains the decision maker as to whether a person is a child or not, and that as far as the law is concerned it is a Merton-compliant age assessment that is the gold standard for determining whether a young person is an adult. While it has been widely suggested that we could use scientific methods such as X-rays, the fact remains that those provide a very wide age range for a young person, which for the purposes of determining whether they were just under or just over 18—the relevant issue for the Children Act responsibilities—is useless. That is why the Merton-compliant age assessment process is so important.

Therefore, although I support the Minister’s view that we need to reject that amendment, we do need to ensure that the process we have in place does not put local authorities in an impossible position, where they are judicially reviewed for their failure to provide services that they are obliged to provide under the Children Act or the leaving care Act to an individual who has been removed or subject to other immigration control by a decision of the Home Office, because we could certainly open up the prospect of what are, in effect, proxy judicial reviews to challenge the Government’s immigration position by using the Children Act or the leaving care Act.

I want to address two other points that arise, one in respect directly of the amendments and the other in response to a point made by Alison Thewliss about what in practice happens to people. It is very welcome that the Government have brought forward what they have to say about the treatment of victims of modern slavery. Many of us will have had individuals in our constituencies who have been affected by that and will know of the impact it has on our local public services, our police forces and our local and housing authorities in identifying people and providing appropriate support, but we are also keen to ensure that, given the progress we have made in this House on that issue, we do not fall back through the impact of other legislation. We will be looking closely to ensure that the report that is proposed as an alternative to the Lords amendment on that will work in practice as well as the Minister has set out.

Finally, a number of Members have raised the point about what happens in practice. Many of us will be conscious that this has a very significant impact on local authorities, and this goes back to the National Assistance Act 1948, which states that a local authority must provide support to someone within its area who is destitute, regardless of any other considerations about their status. In practice, that is the reason why local authorities will be required to step in and provide emergency temporary accommodation to families with children, in particular where their asylum claim has been refused but they remain here in the United Kingdom.

While the local authority will never be housing those people in social housing, because those individuals have no entitlement to it, they will be accommodated in hotels, hostels and other types of accommodation, which in turn creates additional housing pressure locally. It is incredibly important that we make sure, as the Government have set out, that this system not just works well at making decisions early on, but ensures there are effective processes so that those who should not be in the United Kingdom are removed, in order that that accommodation and those other services are available for those entitled to be here.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. It will be obvious to the House that we have just over an hour left for the remainder of this debate. I hope that we do not have to have a time limit, but if speeches are about seven minutes or so, everyone will have an opportunity to make their points. Speeches so far have not been too long—they have been perfectly reasonable—but I would like to keep to around seven minutes each, please.

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

We are now on the final stages of the legislative journey of the Rwanda scheme announced two years ago, as my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock said from the Front Bench. What we do know is that £370 million is already committed to the Rwanda scheme, no individuals have yet been sent to Rwanda, and the Rwandan Government reportedly want to pause the scheme after the first tranche of removals. The question of how this policy will meet the Government’s objective of deterring small boat crossings remains pertinent, especially because, as we have heard, a record number of individuals have made the dangerous channel crossing in the first three months of this year.

I will turn to each of the Lords amendments, but I also say to Sir William Cash, who is not in his place, that when I went along to the other place to hear the debate on the Bill, I was impressed by the debate and the points being raised. To say that the House of Lords needs to calm down a bit and that these are ridiculous amendments is doing a huge disservice to what the revising Chamber can provide for this part of Parliament. When the House of Lords thinks we have made mistakes and that things need to be looked at again, it gives us the opportunity to do that.

Lords amendment 1B is a modified version of the original Lords amendment 1. The original would have added a requirement to maintain full compliance with domestic and international law. Lords amendment 1B, which the other place has proposed in lieu, sets out a requirement to have

“due regard for domestic and international law.”

In moving Lords amendment 1B on 20 March, Lord Coaker said:

“We have put this forward because the Bill that your Lordships are discussing now explicitly disapplies aspects of domestic law and disapplies aspects of international law.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2024;
Vol. 837, c. 213.]

As I made plain in the previous debate on Lords amendments, if the Government are so confident that the Rwanda scheme will be fully compliant with domestic and international law, they should have no objection to this amendment.

Lords amendments 3B and 3C, which relate to treaty implementation and monitoring committees, are modified versions of the original Lords amendments 2 and 3 respectively. Lords amendment 3B, like the original Lords amendment 2, 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 for so long as they continue to be so.”

The wording has changed slightly. There is no longer a reference to the arrangements in the treaty being “adhered to in practice”, but the effect is the same. Lords amendment 3C, like the original Lords amendment 3, sets out what full implementation should look like and would give the independent monitoring committee a significant role. Unlike the original Lords amendment, there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to consult the monitoring committee every three months. Instead, Lords amendment 3C states that the treaty

“will cease to be treated as fully implemented if Parliament decides, on the advice of the Monitoring Committee, that the provisions of the treaty are no longer being adhered to in practice.”

In moving Lords amendment 3C, Lord Hope of Craighead said that it was an attempt to respond to a point made by Sir Jeremy Wright in the Commons debate on 18 March. He said that

“my Amendment 3C in lieu does my best to make it clear that the authority lies with Parliament and not with the committee.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2024;
Vol. 837, c. 227.]

The Home Affairs Committee has argued that the House of Commons should be given an opportunity to debate the treaty prior to ratification, in the light of how critical its implementation is to the Rwanda policy. Given that this opportunity to scrutinise the treaty was denied, Lords amendment 3B would at least provide some reassurance to Members that its provisions will be implemented and applicable to anyone relocated to Rwanda. Lords amendment 3C would enable Parliament to review the treaty’s implementation and respond to facts on the ground if they change.

These Lords amendments speak to the practicalities of implementing the Rwanda policy and how, sadly, too often the Government have sought to skate over them. Take the airline issue. In order for this policy to function, the Government must be able to transport people to Rwanda, yet Ministers have still not confirmed that they have secured an airline, with Rwanda’s state-owned airline reportedly declining a request to use its planes. Then there is the issue of where migrants will live if they are sent to Rwanda. Recent reports suggest that the majority of homes on a new Rwandan housing estate initially earmarked for migrants relocated from the UK have been sold to local buyers. Those are not moot points; they are the kinds of practical details that will determine whether the scheme works, and works safely. In the absence of prior scrutiny of the treaty, the House of Commons must be allowed to assess its implementation and act on the findings.

Lords amendment 6B relates to legal challenge. It is a modified version of the original Lords amendment 6 and, like the original, it would delete clause 4 of the Bill, allowing much wider grounds for legal challenge. Like the original amendment, it states that a court or tribunal may prevent or delay the removal of a person to Rwanda, but unlike the original, it adds

“providing such prevention or delay is for no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case.”

The Home Affairs Committee has always recognised that the opportunity for appropriate legal challenge is a necessary part of an effective and fair asylum system. That is why the amendment has significant merit.

Lords amendment 7B is a modified version of the original Lords amendment 7. The original amendment would have disapplied section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in its entirety, meaning that people claiming to be children could appeal against a decision that they are over 18. Lords amendment 7B instead would insert a new subsection into section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act. In moving Lords amendment 7B, Baroness Lister explained:

“This amendment in lieu is much more modest and in effect meets the Commons’ formal objection to the original amendment. It would permit an age-disputed child to be removed to Rwanda with a pending challenge on a limited basis, but only if a proper age assessment has first been carried out by a local authority.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2024;
Vol. 837, c. 252.]

During its channel crossings inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee heard examples of safeguarding processes failing across various parts of the asylum system, including cases of children being mistaken for adults. That is why I believe the Government must look again at this amendment.

Lords amendment 9 on modern slavery would add a new clause to the Bill to create an exception relating to the removal of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. The new clause states:

“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.”

It also states:

“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 Government have proposed amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 9. It requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report about the operation of the Act

“as it relates to the modern slavery and human trafficking provisions in Article 13 of the Rwanda Treaty”.

The Home Affairs Committee’s recent report on human trafficking expresses our concern that the Government are prioritising irregular migration issues at the expense of tackling human trafficking. Human trafficking is not an immigration offence; it is an exploitation offence, and the two must not be conflated. Lords amendment 9 would provide a vital safeguard for victims of human trafficking, and I hope the Government will look at that.

Finally, Lords amendment 10B is a modified version of Lords amendment 10. Like the original amendment, it would provide an exemption for people who supported our armed forces overseas or who have otherwise been agents or allies of the UK overseas. Lords amendment 10B includes a new subsection, which states:

“A person seeking to rely upon the exemption…must give the Secretary of State notice as soon as reasonably practicable to allow prompt verification of available records”.

In moving Lords amendment 10B, Lord Browne of Ladyton said:

“we are told that men who braved death, courted injury and are forced into exile as a result of assisting our Armed Forces in fighting the Taliban are to be punished for arriving here by irregular routes—even where, owing to wrongful refusals on our part or possible malfeasance on the part of the Special Forces, they have been compelled to take these routes in the first place.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2024;
Vol. 837, c. 254.]

We know that families from Afghanistan who helped our armed forces and subsequently fled to Pakistan are at imminent risk of deportation back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. That is despite ministerial reassurances that a route for eligible separated Afghan families to come to the UK would be established.

It seems to me—and to many others—that the UK has a moral duty to offer sanctuary to those brave Afghans who put their life on the line to support our troops and now face persecution as a consequence. The idea that we would attempt to outsource this duty is shameful. The Lords amendments before us would go some way to providing safeguards and assurances that the UK will uphold its moral and legal obligations in the implementation of the Rwanda policy.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 8:00, 15 April 2024

I will try to beat the extraordinary record of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, who spoke for a princely two minutes. I am grateful to him for setting that new record—his personal best, I think. I will deal with the amendments in turn, but first return to the theme of clause 1, which I have previously warmed to, and which I think is an abomination. It is exactly the worst sort of legislative drafting, and we should be discouraging it. At best, it is declaratory legislation, which is never helpful, and at worst it sets up all sorts of potential legal arguments. The attempt by the Lords to amend it probably makes the situation even worse, which is why I will not support Lords amendment 1.

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

I returned to the Chamber especially to hear my right hon. and learned Friend, and I was delighted to hear what he just said. At last, he has seen the light.

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

I have always walked in sunlight; it is others who have perhaps walked through a veil of shadows. We will draw a veil over that. In the spirit of my hon. Friend’s helpful intervention, I have mentioned to him that I thought that clause 5 was unnecessary. It is even more unnecessary now, because the reforms that I referred to in a previous speech on the Bill about rule 39 have now been clarified by practice direction. The threshold that the European Court will apply will be, again, a much higher one. I therefore think that the occasions where we could see it invoked in the Rwanda case would be vanishingly small—in fact, non-existent. It seems to me that any harm that might be judged to have been caused is clearly revocable in the form of a return of those individuals from Rwanda. That, frankly, should have been the position the last time round; the reforms of the European Court make that even clearer.

That makes a powerful general point, which supports the excellent arguments made by my hon. Friend David Simmonds about the direction of travel of the Court. I strongly agree with him about the recent climate change decision, which was a wrong turn. We should be very much going back to fundamental human rights, and not talking about socioeconomic rights or trying to make everything into some form of right. Surely it is better to legislate for statutory duties and obligations by public bodies, rather than creating nebulous rights that then become the province of the courts. Herein lies the difficulty that we still encounter in the second batch of amendments—Lords amendments 3B and 3C—which I am still minded to support.

Whether we like it or not, the Supreme Court assessed evidence and substituted its own view for that of the decision makers. The noble Lord Howard of Lympne made a powerful speech in the other place about the wisdom or otherwise of going down that road. I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord said. I do not like it when I see courts of higher record in effect relitigating matters of evidence, which is what the Supreme Court did, but that is the situation that we have. That is why the Bill has come forward, and my abiding concern about deeming provisions, which I accept are not unprecedented, is that they should match reality.

That is why I press my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister to answer some of the points made in the other place about the progress being made by the Government of Rwanda, not only in legislating for its treaty obligations—it has a monist system, so the treaty is already in force—but in carrying out the obligations it agreed to in the treaty, namely the reform of its appeal system and the use of trained advisers. Those are all measures that would go a huge way to reassuring not just me but any court that might be seized of this matter in the near future that all is proceeding well. The Scottish Lord Advocate seemed to concede in the other place that there needed to be full treaty implementation before the treaty was ratified. If that is the case, we are arguing over little. That is why I still commend those amendments.

I will now deal with the next questions, which relate to the arguments again trenchantly put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner. I agree with him about the danger of proxy judicial reviews based on the Children Act 1989 and care legislation. We need to take great care about that. Like him, I am not persuaded that there is merit in supporting the Lords amendments on that issue.

I am also encouraged—though still concerned—about the modern-day slavery position. I am encouraged that here alone in the Government’s response to the Lords amendments, they have come up with an amendment in lieu: amendment (a) to Lords amendment 9. I am prepared to support that, bearing in mind the sensitive and important nature of this legislation and the need to avoid us riding a coach and horses through the progress we have made, in terms of this country’s leadership on modern-day slavery. I am prepared to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt and support the amendment in lieu.

My abiding concern remains for a class of people who served our country, who endured great danger in Afghanistan, who still find themselves in danger in a third country—namely Pakistan—and who may well fall foul of an entirely unintended consequence as a result of this legislation, however well intentioned it may be. That is why I am still not persuaded on Lords amendment 10B. The Government have moved on that—we are in an iterative process with the Lords messages—and I agree with Dame Diana Johnson, who reminded us of the invaluable role that the deliberative Chamber has in making sure that legislation is tested and up to the level of events.

We should not ignore what was said in the Lords about the evidential situation in Rwanda. That is the reality, and that is why when we pass legislation here, we should do everything we can to avoid legislative fiction. It is not good law. It creates a glass jaw, which can be broken by litigation and by judicial challenge, and we find the courts once again back in a position where I do not think any of us, least of all Conservative constitutionalists, want to see them. Let us legislate with care on this matter, and let us get it right.

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. I remind the House that due to the pressure on time, the debate on hospices will not take place tonight. I know that there is a lot of interest in that, so we hope that it will be reprogrammed as soon as possible. I also remind everybody that we are trying not to impose a time limit, but Madam Deputy Speaker did encourage seven-minute contributions and no more, so please tailor your speeches accordingly.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I rise in support of the Lords amendments, which I will vote to retain this evening. I will keep my comments brief. I want to express the need for the House to support Lords amendment 6B. It has already been said that under the Government’s preferred wording for clause 4, a court still cannot consider the risk of refoulement by Rwanda in contravention of any of its international obligations, even though that was the very risk highlighted by the UK Supreme Court. The amendment would reinstate the protection that the Government wish to remove. It would omit clause 4 and replace it with a clause that seeks to restore the ability of decision makers to consider whether Rwanda is a safe country. It would restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts and tribunals to grant interim relief—a temporary injunction preventing a removal.

During the most recent Lords consideration, the previous version of amendment 6B, which was rejected by this House, was changed. It now adds the stipulation that any interim relief be for

“no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case.”

The Member who tabled the amendment in the other House, Baroness Chakrabarti, said that it is a “significant concession” and a “genuine legislative olive branch” to the Executive. The Executive should accept that it is an improvement to the Bill and that, rather than neutering the powers of decision makers or the courts, it would allow for better decision making in the asylum process.

It remains my firm view that the Bill is an affront to international law, human rights and the rule of law more widely. It sets a dangerous precedent to other nations who wish to ignore the law, cause harm and demonise and exploit vulnerable people who are in desperate need.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

My hon. Friend will be aware that many people all over Europe, particularly in the Council of Europe, have expressed grave concern about this piece of legislation, which outsources our international obligations under all aspects of humanitarian law. If we pass this legislation, many others will follow, and Europe will turn its back on refugee problems that, often, it has helped to create.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I fully agree that the Bill sets a dangerous precedent. I am pleased to say that the disgracefulness of this legislation is recognised by the Welsh Government, who have withheld legislative consent on similar draconian pieces of legislation and describe this Bill as cruel, inhumane, unworkable and unethical. It sets a horrific precedent for other countries to follow. I am so proud that we are looking to establish Wales as a nation of sanctuary, where we welcome, understand and celebrate the unique contribution that asylum seekers fleeing horrific situations can make to our country of Cymru.

The Bill is an assault on our checks and balances, and our scrutiny of powers. Quite frankly, it is unamendable and should be thrown out wholesale, but given that that is unlikely to happen, in a true attempt to make a bad Bill less bad, I will support amendment 6B and the other amendments before the House this evening.

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

I rise to support the amendments from the other place that the Government are seeking to overturn this evening. The mass migration of people—refugees, or those fleeing from the consequences of climate change, seeking a better life for themselves or fleeing from war and persecution—is a huge and serious global problem, and this Bill is a deeply unserious response to it. The Bill has become a byword for Conservative incompetence, waste of public money and, at times, deep and unpleasant cruelty.

The Minister did not take any interventions, as is his entire right, basically because he suggested that he had heard all this before. Sir William Cash said more explicitly that this debate is all about repetition. Too right it is all about repetition: if the Government keep coming back here with ridiculous legislation, we will keep opposing it. The Lords are well within their rights. I passionately believe in the democratisation of the House of Lords; nevertheless, this legislation was not in the Government’s manifesto at the last general election, and the House of Lords has every right to seek to amend and to scrutinise it.

The amendments are hardly deeply radical and shocking. Lords amendment 1B asks that the Government and this legislation have

“due regard for domestic and international law.”

Is that colossally revolutionary? No, it is not. The fact that the Government have a problem with having due regard for international or domestic law is deeply problematic to me, as it should be to most people who would consider themselves to be Conservative.

There are a variety of amendments on safety—amendments 3B, 3C and 6B allude to that and are all important, and I support them all. As has been said by others, it is a nonsense for this Government or any Government to seek to try to make something so just by saying that it is. We have heard many colourful examples of other things we could just will to be the case: I declare Blackburn Rovers back in the premier league, and Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer both back in their 20s. That is not how the world works. If the Government now believe that they have evidence to suggest that Rwanda is a safe place, fair enough; they should present the evidence to the court. That is how a normal constitutional Conservative or democrat of any other kind should behave.

Lords amendment 9 talks about protecting victims and potential victims of modern slavery. The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, is rightly proud of the modern slavery legislation, and this Government should retain some pride in that. The amendment would not prevent the Rwanda programme from taking place; it would just prevent those people who are potentially at risk of modern slavery from being part of that deportation. There is no reasonable justification for any reasonable Government to object to amendments 9 and 10B.

Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I have spoken to people who escaped Afghanistan—people who helped the police and UK armed forces against the Taliban, but were left behind. The only way they could seek safety was via irregular routes and, eventually, by crossing the channel and ending up in the United Kingdom. Amendment 10B would allow the individual I am thinking of, who I met in Barrow a few months ago—he has been well served by my neighbour, Simon Fell—the right to be here and not to be removed. This is about Britain doing the right thing and maintaining its obligations to people who put their lives on the line to protect us and our forces.

I said that this as a deeply unserious Bill to deal with a massively serious problem. The least serious thing that the Minister said today was that the Bill constitutes any form of deterrence. The simple fact is that if the Government get their own way and everything goes absolutely perfectly, one in every 200 asylum seekers here might just get sent to Rwanda. What nonsense! If someone fled the murderous tyrant Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea because they would be conscripted to murder their own people, and crossed the hellhole that is Libya, went across the Mediterranean—for pity’s sake—and the rest of Europe, they would then be faced with crossing a relatively small body of water to get to the United Kingdom and a 0.5% chance of being sent to Rwanda. The idea that that deters anyone—who is the Minister trying to kid? This is a ridiculous waste of money. The money spent on Rwanda so far could have done many things, including employing more than 6,000 caseworkers to help remove those people who are not genuine asylum seekers. That would actually be a deterrent. Instead, we have this nonsense.

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

I had better not, because I am taking up more time, although I am sure I would have agreed with whatever the hon. Gentleman would have said!

I will simply finish with this. This is a Bill riddled with pretence: the pretence above all that it would be a deterrence to anybody. It is a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money and deeply cruel. If Rwanda is a safe place, it will deter no one from coming here and then being sent there. If it is an unsafe place, no decent Government would ever propose to send anyone to it. They cannot have it both ways; they have it neither.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

The Bill casts a shadow over the reputation of this place and over our country as one where the rule of law is valued and respected. It is a matter of grave concern that the Government seem determined to ignore the many legal experts and human rights organisations that have voiced serious and fundamental concerns about the Bill. As Lord McDonald of Salford, a Cross-Bench peer and former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, set out clearly in the press over the weekend, the Bill declares as fact that Rwanda is safe enough to provide shelter for vulnerable people fleeing persecution in their home countries and that not only must British courts accept that Rwanda is safe; they cannot question that assertion even in the light of new evidence that Rwanda may no longer be safe. Surely all of us in this place know how quickly political change can arise in any state. It is nonsensical for the Government to make such a declaration about the safety of Rwanda, but to do so when the impact on vulnerable people has the potential to be so severe and affect their fundamental human rights and their safety is irresponsible and reckless.

Amnesty International UK is among those urging the Government to drop this divisive and dangerous piece of legislation. It has called the Bill an affront to international law, human rights and the rule of law more widely. It warned that, if passed, it will: leave the UK in serious conflict with its international human rights obligations; send a dangerous signal that other nations are free to show similar disdain for their obligations under international law; and harm people who are powerless, vulnerable to demonisation, and readily and cruelly exploited.

The Law Society described the Bill as “flawed” and said that it undermines important British values such as the rule of law and protection for victims, damages the UK’s constitutional balance, and will ultimately prove unworkable, while costing the UK taxpayer a great deal of money. It also highlighted research which suggests that 61% of people think the Government should either accept some amendments to the Rwanda policy or scrap it all together. Liberty described the Bill as

“a constitutionally extraordinary piece of legislation", adding that “In several places” its

“provisions advance…into some potentially dangerous positions.”

For a Government to get to the point of trying to put through legislation that human rights experts describe as “potentially dangerous” is truly shocking. Why is it that the Government think they can ride roughshod over international law and human rights? The amendments we are considering today would, among other things: require the Government to give due regard to domestic and international law, a most important principle that no one could dispute; allow Ministers, officials and courts to consider whether Rwanda is safe on a case-by-case basis; and remove the risk of unaccompanied children being inadvertently sent to Rwanda. Lords amendment 6B, for example, would allow the court or tribunal to grant

“an interim remedy that prevents or delays, or that has the effect of preventing or delaying, the removal of the person to the Republic of Rwanda, providing such prevention or delay is for no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case.”

Surely any reasonable Government would want to ensure it had the power to do that?

There is still time for the Government to drop this horrendous Bill. I urge them to do so. I also urge all Members across the House who care about the rule of law, our international reputation, and the seriousness with which we should address our international responsibilities, to support the amendments from the other place and vote against the Government’s motions tonight.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East

The dangers to any nation whose

Government seek to put themselves above the law and the courts are clear. The late Tony Benn put it well when he said that how Governments treat refugees is an indication of how they would treat their own citizens if they thought they could get away with it. The Government’s contempt for the people of the UK is revealed by the assault on the rule of law that the Bill represents. It is also self-evident that a country does not become a safe destination just because a Government declare it so. Human Rights Watch’s latest analysis of Rwanda is clear that

“repression of free speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture” remain widespread.

The noble Baroness Chakrabarti’s amendment is an attempt to remove one of the most damaging aspects of the Bill, and restore the primacy of law above the whims and ambitions of politicians with regard to asylum applications, and to prevent the Government from simply declaring, blanket-fashion, that Rwanda is safe because they wish it to be and want to deport those fleeing terrible dangers who reach our shores—including, let us not forget, children. By denying access to a court to challenge the safety of Rwanda, the Bill is not compatible with the UK’s international obligations. It shames our country.

As I have said before, the only real solution to this malignant and discriminatory Bill is to scrap it all together. At the very least, its worst aspects must be mitigated. That includes the need to restore the jurisdiction of the domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda, the power to grant interim injunctions, and at the very least the ability to look at matters on a case-by-case basis. I therefore support Lords amendment 6B and all other amendments from the other place. I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to do the same.

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

I only want to make four brief points, which are based on my experience in my own constituency. At the height of the number of asylum seekers being placed in hotels, I think I had the largest number—I think I still have. I had 2,500 asylum seekers in my constituency. I welcomed that; I welcomed them into our community. Our community in Hayes and Harlington has always risen to support people in need, and I was proud of the local community. There are four points I want to raise from the lessons of dealing with those asylum seekers, touring around the hotels and dealing with casework. In fact, one of the hotels is next to my constituency office.

One point is the point made by Tim Farron: these are desperate people—desperate people—and they will not be deterred from coming here, having experienced what they have experienced back in their home country and the way in which they have travelled here. Given the desperate circumstances they are in, in both instances, they will not be deterred by this legislation. They know, as we do, that this is a political stunt rather than anything else.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on that point. It has been my privilege to visit Calais on a number of occasions over the past few years and I have had many conversations with people there. They are desperate; they are poor; they are hungry; they are homeless; they are victims of war and human rights abuses; and they are being treated as though they are enemies of the whole community here. They are not. They are people trying to survive in a very difficult world, and our message seems to be the opposite of all the humanitarian law that has been passed into common parlance over the past 70 years.

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

The other lesson I have learnt from meeting a wide range of asylum seekers—and this, in a sense, follows on from what my right hon. Friend has said—relates to the skills they can bring to our country, and how desperate they are to make a contribution. All they want is for their cases to be processed, because the vast majority, even those detained in the two detention centres in my constituency, will win their cases and be received into the community. Their problem is that the processing situation means they cannot travel here through the normal processing arrangements, and when they do get here they are having to wait for up to two years just to have their cases heard. I do not think that the provisions in the Bill will deter desperate people from coming here in this way.

My second point concerns the amendment relating to the assessment of children. David Simmonds, who is not present now, mentioned me because we both represent the London Borough of Hillingdon, which has accepted more unaccompanied children than any other borough because of its proximity to Heathrow. We have had a problem with age assessments, but it is not the problem that the media home in on, which is elderly people being assessed as children; it is the other way round. Children are being forced through a process that can be very demeaning and can have an impact on their mental health, and then are eventually found to be children, as all the statistics demonstrate. It is a brutal system. All that the amendment would do is ensure that assessments are carried out by those who are experienced in the process, namely local authorities.

My third point is connected with my experience of asylum seekers in my constituency. It relates to Afghans who have come here after working alongside our own military personnel in Afghanistan and being let down dramatically by our Government. They have been left in Afghanistan with their families in a desperate plight, often having to go from house to house to hide and, in doing so, recognising that they are putting a family at risk. Some have been advised to get to the nearest border, but, whether it is the border with Iran or the border with Pakistan, they will be sent back. However, if they can break through that system and get here, they are treated almost like criminals, although many have put their lives at risk in supporting this country.

The Minister said today that a review of the scheme is under way, and that that will be taken into account. The review appears to be the solution, and it needs to be undertaken immediately, but while it is going on, may I urge the Government to exempt the people who have served us in Afghanistan from this process? Otherwise, we will be sending to Rwanda people to whom I think we owe some loyalty, and who have experienced traumatic dangers to their lives while serving us.

That brings me to my final point. This morning I heard a Conservative MP on the radio justifying the overriding of domestic law and the courts themselves as if it were some rebalancing between the Executive and the courts. It is not a rebalancing; it is riding roughshod over the system of law that we have in this country, which involves respect for the decisions of the courts. Let me issue a warning to the Government and to Conservative Members: this sets a precedent in placing an awful lot of power in the hands of the Executive. Just think what a Government with a huge majority could do in using that precedent in the future! The unbalancing that is happening at the moment places the ultimate choice between reality and unreality in the Government’s hands, and people will live to regret setting that precedent if we are not very, very careful.

This is a rubbish Bill, and it should be thrown out. I congratulate those in the other place on doing their best to bring some sense to it, but regrettably we will not be able to throw it out. The best we can do is vote for the amendments tonight and send a message back to the Lords: they should keep fighting, because at least they have some sense of the reality of what people seeking asylum in this country are experiencing.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 8:30, 15 April 2024

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I opened the debate by saying that we were not quite at the point of completing each other’s sentences, but perhaps we are there now. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash hinted that I might be in danger of repeating myself, so I will ensure that I keep my remarks to the point.

I thank all Members for their contributions. As always, I thank Stephen Kinnock for the way in which he conducted himself; he reminded us that he is an inveterate optimist, as perhaps those sitting on the Labour Benches have to be. It is fair to say that this has been a good-natured debate, despite some uncharacteristic heckling from the shadow Secretary of State, Yvette Cooper. I was gently chided by Tim Farron for not giving way, but I was pleased that I did not give way to Barry Gardiner, not least because he said that his intervention related to Lords amendment 2, which does not appear on the amendment paper—it is not on the list—and is not being debated.

As always, I thank Alison Thewliss for her contribution. She will be pleased to know that we disagree again, which will reassure her, but I am sure that her campaign will continue.

My hon. Friend David Simmonds made some serious points, as always. On his point about the two local authorities—this is also relevant to the point made by John McDonnell—I recently met the leader of Hillingdon Council, Councillor Ian Edwards, and we discussed some of the issues and pressures. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner for his contribution. He tempted me to go down a certain path, which is unnecessary in relation to the ECHR’s recent judgment. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland also tempted me to go down that path, but I will resist the temptation for the time being.

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson, mentioned a desire to debate the treaty. May I gently suggest to her that we have had ample opportunity to debate the treaty, not least as part of the proceedings for this Bill?

May I respond to the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon? He mentioned his liking for Lords amendments 3B and 3C, and he asked me what progress has been made. I can reassure him that progress has been made and that the Government will only ratify the treaty once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with their obligations under it. He also rightly asked, as did other right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, about Lords amendment 10B. I merely repeat the point that the Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether they are our own or those who showed courage by serving alongside us. We will not let them down.

I invite all right hon. and hon. Members to join us in the Aye Lobby. It will allow us to get flights off the ground to disrupt the business model of people smugglers, who are exploiting vulnerable people.

Division number 117 Rwanda Bill: Motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 1B

Aye: 314 MPs

No: 250 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 250.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House disagrees with the Lords in their Amendment 1B.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 3B and 3C.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Division number 118 Rwanda Bill: Motion to disagree with Lords Amendments 3B and 3C

Aye: 315 MPs

No: 251 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 317, Noes 246.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments 3B and 3C disagreed to.

More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 18 March).

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