Clause 1 - Introduction

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17 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:

Lords amendment 3E, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 6D, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 10D, and Government motion to disagree.

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

Madam Deputy Speaker, here we are again—you were in the Chair the last time we considered this Bill. This House has now voted several times, including in our strong endorsement of the Bill on Second and Third Readings. We need to bring this process to a conclusion to get the Bill on to the statute book and to get the flights off the ground as soon as possible.

Lords amendment 1D says we should have “due regard for” the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but why stop there? Why not the Equality Act 2010, the Data Protection Act 2018 or any other Act? Why not list the whole statute book? The answer is because it is not necessary. Together, the treaty, the Bill and the evidence demonstrate that Rwanda is safe for relocated individuals and that the Government’s approach is tough but fair, is lawful, has justification and seeks to uphold our international obligations.

As I set out in our earlier debates, the Government respect the Supreme Court’s decision, and it was precisely to address the Supreme Court’s concerns that we brought forward the treaty with the Republic of Rwanda. We have also prepared an evidence pack on what has changed and how those concerns are being addressed.

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

I am struck by how reasonable Lord Hope’s amendment seems in setting up an independent body to assert that Rwanda is a safe place, as the Minister says. What could possibly be wrong with that?

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

I will address that amendment in a few minutes, but there already is an independent body: the monitoring committee is part of the treaty. I am not speaking to that amendment at the moment, but I hope to allay some of the hon. Lady’s concerns in a few minutes’ time and then to see her in the voting Lobby.

Having considered the lengthy and extensive exchanges throughout the Bill’s passage, the Government now invite Parliament to agree with our assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have indeed been properly addressed and to enact the Bill accordingly.

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

My party will support the Government, with the exception of one amendment. I have previously asked the Minister about freedom of religion or belief. We have that freedom in the United Kingdom, but some disquiet has been expressed to me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, about that freedom in Rwanda. People have repeatedly asked me this question, which I sincerely and graciously ask the Minister to answer. Is there the same freedom of religion or belief in Rwanda as we have in the United Kingdom?

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

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that any two countries’ systems are the same. As I have previously said, those freedoms are in Rwanda’s constitution. He has previously asked me that question, and I have read out the precise wording. I endeavour to do so again before the end of this debate.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Many people share the Government’s ambition to stop the boats. Would these Lords amendments not muddle the legislation in a way that, once again, would leave us open to an unnecessary court challenge? Can he reassure us that, unamended, the Bill will do the job?

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

I know my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the Bill since the outset, and he is right. The amendments fall into two categories: those that are simply unnecessary and those that are worse than unnecessary. The second group are wrecking amendments deliberately designed to prevent the very things that the Bill was designed to do—namely, stopping the boats and getting the planes off the ground.

My hon. Friend Sir William Cash has previously accused me of repeating myself from time to time—heaven forfend—but he is right, because our approach is justified as a matter of parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional propriety. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland has even said that it is not unprecedented, and he is right. It also meets our international obligations.

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

I reciprocate the Minister’s comment because, in so far as I may have rather infelicitously suggested that he has repeated himself, I have to confess that I, too, have repeated myself. [Hon. Members: “No!] Yes, and I have done so for extremely good reasons.

My amendment, which I will not go into now, received huge support in this House but was not accepted by the Government. It still presents a serious question that has to be answered. Going back to what my right hon. Friend John Redwood said, there will come a time when this Bill is passed, hopefully in the immediate future, after which it will receive Royal Assent. At that very moment, as sure as anything, a claim will be made straightaway by Matrix Chambers, or by one of the other doughty chambers or whoever. The question will then be what the Supreme Court is going to do about it. That is the subject to which I keep returning.

As the Minister knows only too well, when we said that we were concerned that the Bill will not work, it was not because we did not want it to work; it was the exact opposite. We want it to work, but given that the Opposition are still going on about international law, we need to be sure that the wording is clear and unambiguous so that the Court rules in the Government’s favour. If not, it is all over.

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

Once again, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has a tendency to repeat himself from time to time, as he admits, but he is right to do so. He has previously mentioned paragraph 144 of the Supreme Court’s judgment, which I can cite in full:

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

It has been our joint endeavour to ensure that this legislation is clear and unambiguous.

On the treaty’s implementation, I reiterate that clause 9 clearly sets out that the Bill’s provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force, and that the treaty enters into force when the parties have completed their internal procedures. We will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all the necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty.

The monitoring committee, as I told Debbie Abrahams, will undertake daily monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months to ensure rapid identification and response to any issues. This enhanced phase will ensure that comprehensive monitoring and reporting takes place in real time.

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

Will the Minister ensure that the report is laid before Parliament so that we can review it?

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

The monitoring committee’s work is independent. Commitments have already been made that there will be an update in Parliament, which is one of the amendments in lieu that we agreed to last time. Today, the right thing to do is to push back on all these amendments, which are either unnecessary or wrecking.

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

I appreciate the tone and manner in which the Minister is approaching this difficult issue, but can he help on one matter? I understand his point that some amendments might have the effect of delaying the Bill, or might give rise to challenges and delay the policy objective, but I am troubled about why that should be thought to apply to Lords amendment 3E, proposed by Lord Hope of Craighead, who is a distinguished jurist and whose amendment is proposed in moderate and unpartisan terms. The rub of what will happen going forward is whether or not Rwanda is safe. Parliament can legislate, as a matter of sovereignty, to say that it is safe, but for the legislation to be effective we have to deal with the fact that we have chosen to make ourselves judges of fact, but facts may change. Given that we have put in place the mechanism, with the monitoring committee and enhanced arrangements, which are all to the Government’s credit, I struggle to see what is in the Hope amendment that undermines the operationality of the Bill, rather than helping it. If facts did change, would it not be helpful to have such a mechanism to enable us to review that, on an informed basis?

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

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his engagement in the Chamber during previous debates and outside the Chamber. I hope over the next few minutes to persuade him as to why this specific amendment is in fact unnecessary. I share his respect for the noble Lord Hope, as should we all, but I respectfully disagree with him that this amendment is necessary. Let me explain why.

The implementation of these provisions will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee that we have been discussing. That role was enhanced by the treaty from that originally envisaged. The commitment from our friends and allies in Rwanda is evident given the progress that has already been made. Let me set out two or three concrete pieces of evidence to help my hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Neill.

On Thursday 21 March, the Rwandan Senate passed legislation ratifying the treaty. The domestic legislation to implement the new asylum system has been approved by the Cabinet and is now with Parliament for consideration. The complaints process has been set up. This, plus the wider assurances on the training process, which will ensure the quality of decision making and build capability in Rwanda’s asylum system, all reaffirm the fact that we have confidence in Rwanda’s commitment to delivering this partnership and in its status as a safe country.

As is evident from our numerous debates, Rwanda has a strong track record of welcoming asylum seekers and looking after refugees, and it has also been internationally recognised as generally safe and stable. A further piece of evidence is that Rwanda’s overall score in the World Justice Project’s rule of law index has increased consistently. It is the first in sub-Saharan Africa and 41st globally. In fact, it is higher than both Georgia and India, which this Parliament has in the recent past confirmed are safe countries. Those relocated to Rwanda will be given safety and extensive support, as detailed and set out in the treaty. I am grateful to all the officials in the Government of Rwanda who have been working so hard on this.

Lords amendment 6D, which I characterise as a wrecking amendment, would simply encourage illegal migrants to continue to frustrate the system through lengthy legal challenges in order to prevent their removal, running contrary to the core purpose of the Bill. The Bill strikes the appropriate balance of limiting unnecessary challenges that frustrate removal, while maintaining the principle of access to the courts. Taken as a whole, the limited availability of domestic remedies maintains the right constitutional balance—the balance that we have all been seeking in this Chamber—between Parliament being able to legislate as it deems necessary, and the powers of our courts to hold the Government to account.

Turning to the final Lords amendment, amendment 10D, I acknowledge, as I acknowledged during our previous exchanges, that this Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage by serving alongside us. I repeat: we will not let them down. Section 4 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 enables the Secretary of State to specify categories of persons to whom the duty to remove will not apply. Once the United Kingdom’s special forces Afghan relocations and assistance policy review, announced on 19 February, has concluded, the Government will consider how to revisit our immigration legislation and how it will apply to those who will be eligible as a result of the review.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 2:45, 17 April 2024

It is one thing to hear the Minister give the assurances he has given today, but the fact remains that we have been out of Afghanistan for some time now. There is considerable evidence that those who helped us, and put themselves in danger as a result, have not been able to get easy access to the United Kingdom and get immigration status. The Government have not dealt with the issue in the past, despite the fact that the difficulty that these people are facing has been made quite clear, so why should we believe their assurances that they will deal with it in the future? Therefore, this amendment is necessary.

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

The answer is that this Prime Minister has placed around his Cabinet table the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend Johnny Mercer—a veterans’ Minister sitting at the highest level. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has served our country, as have many right hon. and hon. Members across the House. We will not let veterans down. That is the reassurance that has been given from this Dispatch Box and in the other place by the noble Lord Sharpe.

Stephen Kinnock expressed optimism on Monday. I confess that I too am an optimist. May I take this opportunity, perhaps in the optimistic hope that this might be my last opportunity during the passage of the Bill, to thank all the Bill team in the Home Office for their extraordinary work? It is a team effort, but may I praise one who has gone above and beyond, whose voice, I hope, recovers? She knows who I am talking about. I thank the parliamentary Clerks for their advice and assistance, not least in our marathon Reasons Committee sessions. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for always ensuring that I have been in order.

To conclude, we have made it abundantly clear that our priority is to stop the boats. We simply cannot stand by and allow people smugglers to control who enters our country and to see more lives being lost at sea. We have an obligation to the public and to those who are being exploited by criminal gangs to stop this vile trade and protect our borders. Letting this Bill pass now will send a clear signal that if people come to the United Kingdom illegally they will not be able to stay. I commend the motion to the House.

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

I thank the noble Lords in the other place for all the hard work they have done in trying to amend the Bill, which is quite frankly a sham and a con. I would like to highlight the restraint that they have exercised. Despite the deeply damaging nature of this legislation, in terms of its impact on our constitutional conventions and our adherence as a country to the rule of law, none of the amendments before us today seeks to wreck the Bill or the unworkable, unaffordable and unlawful scheme the Bill seeks to enact. Not one of them would prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off or stop the Government flogging this dead horse of a policy. Instead, the amendments seek only to commit the Government to the promises they have already made about who will be sent to Rwanda, and to clarify the mechanisms that will underpin that process.

Ministers claim that there is tremendous and pressing urgency, but if that is the case why did the Government forgo the opportunity to use Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 March for debates and divisions on the Bill? Could it be because they needed extra time to scramble high and low for an airline that wanted to be associated with this unworkable, unaffordable and unlawful scheme? Or could it be because the Home Secretary is unable to decide who should be exempted from deportation to Rwanda? Indeed, it has been reported that, because of his dithering, the entire hare-brained scheme has been given a “red risk” rating in the Home Office.

That brings me to the permanent secretary’s comments at the Public Accounts Committee on Monday—namely that 40,000 asylum seekers are currently stuck in the truly Kafkaesque perma-backlog of inadmissible cases whose claims for asylum the Government are refusing to process. Forty thousand requires an awful lot of flights, given that the Government have not managed to get one flight off the ground and given what we know about the Rwandan Government’s capacity to process just a few hundred cases a year.

Therefore, given that a maximum of around 1% of the asylum seekers who are in the perma-backlog can be sent to Rwanda, what is the Minister’s plan for the remaining 99% who are stuck in this indefinite limbo of his Government’s own making? Is the plan to keep them in taxpayer-funded hotels, of which hundreds are still in operation, according to what the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border said on Monday, despite the Government’s boasts? Or, perhaps they will have an amnesty, which Craig Mackinlay warned about last year, and which Tim Loughton warned about at that very Committee.

Well, we know what we would do: we would deliver our backlog clearance plan, surging the number of decision-makers to process claims quickly, and set up our new returns and enforcement unit with 1,000 new staff to remove those who have no right to be here.

It is quite frankly shocking that the number of foreign criminals removed has dropped by a staggering 27 % under the Conservatives, and also profoundly worrying that the number of failed asylum seekers being returned has plummeted by 44 % in that time, with just 2%—2%!—of small boat crossers removed since 2018. What a sorry state of affairs.

Our new returns unit, together with our cross-border police units to go after the criminal smuggler gangs operating in the channel upstream—funded, of course, through redirecting the money that has been squandered on Rwanda—gives us a compelling and realistic plan. It is a plan that is based on hard graft, common sense and effective international co-operation, in stark contrast with the headline-chasing gimmicks, empty gestures and blank cheques that have come to define the way in which successive Conservative Governments have broken our asylum system and lost control of our borders.

The Government’s refusal to engage constructively with the other place on this Bill is deeply disappointing, given that their lordships have simply been fulfilling their constitutional duty to revise and improve the draft legislation that we convey to them. The noble Baroness Butler-Sloss received a tiny concession for her commendable attempts to stop the Government sending victims of modern slavery to Rwanda, but let us be clear: that concession was barely worth the paper that it was written on.

It is utterly shameful that Ministers are still refusing to accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord Browne. We owe a debt of honour and gratitude to the Afghans who so bravely fought alongside British troops, and the idea that we might send them to Rwanda is simply unconscionable. Lord Browne’s amendment is not only driven by a moral imperative; it is underpinned by our national interest and by military logic, for the simple and obvious reason that the ability of our armed forces to recruit local allies will be severely constrained if this Bill passes unamended.

Let me turn now to the other amendments before us today. It cannot be repeated often enough that adherence to the rule of law must remain at the heart of our constitutional conventions, and as a cornerstone of our liberal democratic values. It is therefore profoundly concerning that Ministers continue to refuse to recognise how important it is for Britain to abide by these principles, and to have this commitment in the Bill.

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

I simply want to put it to the hon. Gentleman that, as the rule of law includes the basis of sovereignty, it is quite clear—from one great jurist to another right the way down through the generations—that, where an Act of Parliament is clear and unambiguous in its wording, it is the duty of the courts, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has just said with regard to Lord Reed’s judgment, to give effect to those words. That is the rule of law, not this confection that the hon. Gentleman is producing time and again. If I may say so, he has flogged this dead horse not just once, but many times, because he keeps on saying it. He has repeated himself now three times. I have never seen a dead horse flogged so badly as that by the hon. Gentleman.

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

Lectures about flogging dead horses in the context of a debate about Rwanda really is quite extraordinary, because if we wanted a definition of a dead horse, it is this policy. The hon. Gentleman and I have had many exchanges on this point and I have enjoyed them. As I have repeatedly said to him, yes Parliament is sovereign, but Parliament must act with due care and attention and caution with regard to the opinions that come from our most eminent court, the Supreme Court, and in this case the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Rwanda is not a safe country. It is a travesty that Parliament is seeking to undermine the rule of our judiciary in that way and it raises deeply troubling questions about this issue of the rule of law.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Where would the proposed returns unit send illegals to, and what if the countries concerned did not want to receive them?

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

I am pleased the right hon. Gentleman has asked me that question, as we often get this point about returns from Conservative Members. What I find fascinating is that, when we look at, for example, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are clearly safe countries in principle, we see that 80% of the applicants from those countries whose asylum claims fail are not being removed by this Government. For instance, the Home Office rejected asylum applications from 1,750 Pakistanis in 2023, yet Home Office data shows that just 620 people were removed to Pakistan in 2023. A clear proportion of those would have been asylum seekers—some may well have been foreign national offenders. The key point is that there are many, many countries to which it is more than possible to return people, yet the Government are simply failing to do so.

My hon. Friend Jessica Morden asked an extraordinary question in Home Office orals on Monday about a foreign national offender in her constituency who has been convicted of a sexual offence and has asked to be returned to his country of origin, but the Home Office has not facilitated that or allowed it to happen. Clearly, there is something going seriously wrong with returns. As I have mentioned, we have seen the number of returned failed asylum seekers plummet by 44% since 2010. We should be focusing on those countries with low grant rates, because that is where we can clear some of this backlog and return people to their country of origin when they have no right to be here.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. I find it interesting that he has suggested that all we need to do is ask India for emergency travel documents and it will immediately issue them. Has he made any attempt to find out what the issues might be there?

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

The key point is that, under the last Labour Government, returns were working. A part of that, I suspect, is based on proper, adult, grown-ups in the room having proper, adult, grown-up diplomatic conversations with the Governments with whom we mean to engage. What we have seen with this Government over the past few years is a consistent commitment to burning diplomatic relationships with a whole range of countries, and when we burn those bridges it makes it much more difficult to achieve what we need to achieve in our own national interest.

The Government have promised a whole range of things from that Dispatch Box, and the Lords amendments on these rule of law issues are simply seeking to put in the Bill what Ministers have promised. Why else are they rejecting the amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Coaker, which simply asks the Government to commit to promises that they have made? Likewise, why not support the Lords amendment in the name of the noble Baroness Chakrabarti, which allows Ministers, officials and courts to consider whether Rwanda is safe for individuals on a case-by-case basis, if the Government support the principle of appeals, as Ministers claim that they do?

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

Given that the noble Lord Coaker has brought this forward in one shape or another several times, and given that it is central to the debate, in the light of what I said in my earlier intervention, would I be right in thinking that the Leader of the Opposition supports the amendment? If so, why?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 3:00, 17 April 2024

It is for the simple reason that we want to put in the Bill an articulation of what has already been said by Ministers from the Dispatch Box. We feel that it is extremely important to underline this country’s commitment to the rule of law. The hon. Gentleman mentions the Leader of the Opposition; as an eminent lawyer himself, there are few who are more committed to the rule of law than he.

If there is a parallel universe in which the Rwandan Government are able to process asylum claims in a safe and competent manner, surely it makes sense to verify that point and the measures that are set out in the Rwanda treaty, and to verify that they have been fully implemented, and for the Government’s hand-picked monitoring committee to establish that that is the case. That is not an unreasonable request from the noble Lord Hope, and the Government should therefore support his amendment, precisely as the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, who is no longer in his place, pointed out.

The British people are looking on at this Government’s attempts to continue flogging this dead horse of a Bill—that seems to have become the metaphor of the day—with a growing sense of bemusement and anger. Blowing half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on sending 300 people to Rwanda is utterly mind-boggling. It is equally staggering that £2 million will be spent per asylum seeker to send them to Rwanda. We could surely spend £2 million more effectively on sending the Prime Minister and his four predecessors on a one-way trip to outer space with Virgin Galactic.

Perhaps the right thing to do would be for the Government to drop this entire failing fiasco and instead adopt Labour’s detailed plan to repurpose the Rwanda money into smashing the criminal smuggler gangs and ending the Tory small boats chaos. We know what the Bill is really about; the former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, admitted it in December. It is all about the Prime Minister getting “a few symbolic flights” off the ground before the general election. This weekend, a civil servant confirmed to Lizzie Dearden in the i newspaper that efforts are geared towards a single flight as “proof of concept”, calling it an “election vanity scam”.

That really tells us everything that we need to know. None of this is about dealing with the chaos that the Government have created; they have focused on getting a couple of symbolic flights off the ground. It lets the cat well and truly out of the bag. Everyone can see the Rwanda scheme for what it really is, everyone can see the legislation for what it really is, and everybody can see this Government for what they are. I think we need a new one, and so too do the British people.

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

Bearing in mind the short time, I will do my best to speak briefly. We have four amendments from the Lords. I can deal with them in short order. Amendment 1D has no merit. I have not voted on that particular issue before, but today I will vote against it, because we cannot perfect that mess of a clause—clause 1. I will not repeat the arguments that I have made on that, and I really do not think that the amendment improves the clause with the addition of various statutes, as the Minister said. I think that we should reject the amendment.

I agree that amendment 6D is a wrecking amendment. We know that the delineation of clause 4 specifically with individual cases was a proper and right addition to the Bill from the outset, which I think makes it compliant with the rule of law. Therefore the amendment should be rejected. I will not repeat my arguments on amendment 10D. I still think that there is a class of people who served this country, and bravely exposed themselves to danger, who have not yet been dealt with. Many of them are in Pakistan. It would perhaps have been helpful to see an amendment in lieu to deal with that point, as the Minister did with regard to modern-day slavery, for which I thank him.

I was pleased to hear the detailed reference that the Minister made to the progress being made by the Government of Rwanda to implement the provisions under the treaty. That is clearly the issue at the heart of amendment 3E and clause 2. He knows my concern about deeming provisions and the desirability of their meeting the reality of the situation, which is why I welcome his statement, and the statement of the noble Lord, the Advocate-General in the other place, that the Bill will not come into force until the treaty has been implemented.

I think the Minister conceded that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord Hope is not a wrecking amendment; it is designed to ensure that there is a mechanism through which this place can deal with the fact that Rwanda is a safe country, and to ensure that if, God forbid, the situation ever deteriorated such that it was no longer a safe country, we would not need primary legislation to correct the situation. At the moment we would. The second proposed new subsection in amendment 3E would allow this place to be involved in a situation where Rwanda might no longer be a safe country, on the advice of the independent monitoring committee, which of course is a creature of the treaty itself, set up under the treaty, as the Minister described. It is not part of the Hope amendment to set up a new body. That is not the intention.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I share my right hon. and learned Friend’s reservations about the inability of this House to reconsider the matter of the safety of Rwanda under the current legislation, but is the problem with the noble Lord Hope’s amendment not that the mechanism that he describes gives to the monitoring committee the final say on the safety of Rwanda? It does not give this House the opportunity to say, “We’ve heard the advice of the monitoring committee, but we none the less believe that Rwanda remains a safe country for the purposes of the legislation.” My right hon. and learned Friend and I might think that that is a wholly unlikely scenario, but as a matter of parliamentary sovereignty, does he agree that it must remain possible?

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

Up to a point, Lord Copper. I think the second proposed new subsection in the amendment—proposed new subsection (8) of clause 1 —will provide leeway for the Government to disagree with the advisory committee, which might advise that Rwanda is no longer a safe country when in the opinion of the Secretary of State it is. Then it would be a matter for Parliament to determine, and the trigger would not come into place. On the first proposed new subsection in the amendment—proposed new subsection (7) of clause 1—my right hon. and learned Friend is on stronger ground, in the sense that it relates to a statement from the independent monitoring committee. However, I have no problem with an independent monitoring committee that has been set up by a treaty that has been agreed to by this Government and by the Government of Rwanda, and which has come into force in our law through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provisions. Slightly inelegant though it is, it is difficult to see another way to do this that could be conclusive, and which could give certainty to all those involved in the operation of the scheme.

The Minister knows that I seek to remove and reduce the possibility of legal challenge. I do not want to see the legislation becoming the subject of angst, sturm und drang in either the High Court, the Court of Appeal or, God forbid, the Supreme Court. We saw the effects of what happened when the situation as of 2022 was determined on the evidence by the Supreme Court. The Minister knows my views about that. Whatever concerns I have about the Supreme Court in effect conducting a test on evidence, which frankly is not what it should be doing—the Supreme Court should deal with and interpret the law of this country—that is the reality in which we operate. I want to ensure that the Bill does not lead to the same problem. That is why the noble Lord Hope’s amendment has strong merit. It clears up any doubt that there is not a mechanism either for the Executive or this place to apply the provisions of the Bill, or to disapply them when the facts change.

Let us ensure that the reality keeps pace with the law, and that deeming provisions, however attractive they might be, are not used as a device to cut corners and to run ahead of ourselves in a way that will only cause problems, not just for the judicial system but for the operation of the policy itself, which the Minister knows I have consistently supported, and will continue to support, as an innovative and proper response to the unprecedented challenge of mass migration that the west is facing now. This is serious stuff. I want the Government to get it right.

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

I will start in order with Lords amendment 1D in the name of Lord Coaker. The Minister asked why the Government ought to have due regard for those particular pieces of legislation—why would we want to have due regard for international law and various Acts, including the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Modern Slavery Act 2015? Well, the reason is found on the face of the Bill, which states, in the name of the Home Secretary:

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

The Government are setting out to undermine our international obligations, so it is quite right for the Lords to insist that we abide by them. That is the very least the Government should be doing. There are implications for children, for people who have been victims of slavery and trafficking, and for people whose human rights will be abused. The Government should be paying far more attention to that.

On Lords amendment 3E in the name of Lord Hope, there is significance in ensuring that the monitoring committee can do its job properly. It is not clear in what circumstances Rwanda can be declared not safe. The monitoring committee is supposed to produce an annual report that then goes up the chain to the Joint Committee, but there is no mechanism for the committee to blow the whistle should something happen. There is no mechanism for it to say, “Suddenly, something has happened and Rwanda is no longer safe.” What happens in that circumstance to those recommendations? How are they acted on, and what then happens to the people the UK wants to send to Rwanda?

There no such mechanism in this legislation—or, as far as I can see, in the treaty, which involves a three-month delay, and the agreement of both parties, before anything can be annulled. What happens should something untoward occur in Rwanda? I referred to the action of the M23 rebels in my remarks earlier this week, but the Minister did not respond to it in his summing up. What happens if something goes awry? We do not know; we are beholden to the Government’s assertion that Rwanda is safe in perpetuity. There is no mechanism to remove the perpetuity of Rwanda’s designation as “safe.”

I highlight the experience of the Irish author and journalist Sally Hayden, who wrote “My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World's Deadliest Migration Route”. She has raised concerns about the mechanisms of scrutiny in Rwanda itself, and about the treatment of refugees in Rwanda. She has visited the country on several occasions, but was denied entry last month as she went to cover the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. She has tried to resolve that with the Rwandan authorities, but believes that she was refused entry precisely because she has criticised them and their treatment of refugees. Should that not alarm us all when it comes to the scrutiny of the Bill both here and in Rwanda? She said:

“Proper scrutiny of the consequences of this policy are not possible because it’s not a country with freedom of media and freedom of speech”.

We should be deeply concerned about that. Without that independence and scrutiny, we cannot be certain that what is happening in Rwanda is what the UK Government intend or what the Rwandan Government are telling us. Press freedom is crucial for that level of scrutiny, beyond the supposedly independent monitoring committee. I support amendment 3E.

I also support amendment 6D, in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti, because it stands up for the right of our own authorities to make proper decisions. It empowers our decision makers and our courts, as they should be empowered, to look at the evidence before them and make proper decisions. The Government are asking the judiciary, immigration officers, tribunals and everybody in the system to engage in a legal fantasy—that they should ignore all the evidence before them and believe the Government when they say that Rwanda is safe in perpetuity. With reference to proposed new subsection 1(c), which deals with refoulement, I remind the House that Rwanda engaged in the refoulement of several persons during the negotiation of the treaty, never mind at any time. We should be worried about that.

Lords amendment 10D proposes the new clause, “Exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK Overseas”. We had an urgent question earlier today about the people from Afghanistan who are being yeeted out of Pakistan. The Pakistani Government are apparently pleading by using Rwanda as some kind of justification for that behaviour. That really indicates the ripple effect of what the Government are doing: other countries are praying in aid this legislation when they look to do things that we also have concerns about.

In that UQ, I raised the point that we have been waiting three years for the UK Government to get their act together on the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. People should not still be waiting in uncertainty and fear, with the prospect of being executed by the Taliban should they be removed back to Afghanistan. It is absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable that the Government have done so little in three years to protect Afghans who served alongside our forces in Afghanistan.

The very least the Government could do is approve the proposed new clause in Lords amendment 10D, to acknowledge that the people who served with us deserve protection—that the people who are coming on small boats because the Government schemes have failed to protect them should be exempt from being sent to Rwanda. The Government are refusing to accept that, and I think that is absolutely despicable.

With the best will in the world, those amendments are not enough. Even if we passed them, the Rwanda Bill is a turd that cannot be polished—it is absolutely disgusting and objectionable in every sense. Will the Labour party repeal it? The Bill will pass, but will Labour Members repeal it as one of their first actions in government, or keep it in statute? I would like to have an answer on the record.

I reiterate my deep concerns that this is state-sponsored people trafficking. Whichever way we cut it, it means moving people to another country against their will and without their consent. That is people trafficking. The Government cannot find a commercial airline to take people, but even more concerning is that they are engaging a Royal Air Force contractor, AirTanker, to remove people to Rwanda against their will.

The position of the Scottish National party remains that we oppose the Bill in every single sense. I will vote against it at every given opportunity—even in the Reasons Room behind your Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker—because it is despicable and does not stand in Scotland’s name.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

I will be brief and focus entirely on Lord Coaker’s amendment 1D, which I have already mentioned in interventions. The problem with the wording that he put forward in debate is one of disingenuously mixing apples and pears. I want to know whether the Leader of the Opposition is also behind the amendment, because it is much more substantial than its predecessor. It is actually a change in Labour policy as well. The noble Lord Irvine, Tony Blair as Prime Minister and Jack Straw all agreed that the sovereignty of Parliament, where words are clear and unambiguous, prevails.

The bottom line is that that is exactly what we are dealing with here. I applaud the idea of maintaining international law—I have never taken a different view—but in his speech Lord Coaker compared what is going on in the middle east to the illegal war in Ukraine and the Houthis in the Red sea. He fails to appreciate that those situations are separate to this issue, and I am raising this as a matter of principle and constitutional propriety. Those are exclusively matters of prerogative, whereas in this instance we are dealing with an issue of sovereignty and the clear and unambiguous words that appear in statute, as Lord Hoffmann made clear when he distinguished between treaties and statutes in relation to the case of Regina v. Lyons, which I have referred to previously.

The position is basically and simply this: I stand by what I have said on this subject in the past. I sincerely trust that the Court will agree that these words are clear and unambiguous.

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

The Government’s motion to disagree with Lords amendment 1D is a motion to disagree with the Government’s obligation in relation to the Bill to have due regard for international law and the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015. If the Government are confident that the Rwanda scheme will be fully compliant with international law and the aforementioned domestic law, I do not understand why they are rejecting this amendment again.

The motion to disagree with Lords amendment 3E would scrap the requirement inserted by the Lords that Rwanda be treated as a safe country only if and when protections contained in the treaty are judged by the independent monitoring committee to have been implemented and to remain implemented. Surely Lords amendment 3E is an entirely proper and legal amendment if the Government deem that the measure in their own treaty is necessary? Given that Members had no opportunity to debate that treaty prior to ratification, the amendment would at least provide some reassurance that the protections it contains will be put into practice.

The motion to disagree with Lords amendment 6D is a motion to deny individual grounds for legal challenge that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons, or that there is a real risk that Rwanda will remove or send those persons to another state. The Home Affairs Committee has always been clear that there has to be the opportunity for appropriate legal challenge as a necessary part of our fair asylum system.

I listened very carefully to the Minister’s assurances about the specified category that could be used in the future, but amendment 10D sets out very clearly why such provisions should be included on the face of the Bill and our obligations to those who have helped us and our armed forces overseas. That amendment would be the right thing to add to the Bill.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

As I was watching Aston Villa smash Arsenal on Sunday, my thoughts turned to today’s debate because, as Aston Villa fans will know, the Emirates stadium is of course sponsored by the Visit Rwanda scheme, and Arsenal play with those words emblazoned on their shirts.

I strongly support the Government’s position as set out by the reasons articulated by my right hon. and learned Friend the excellent Minister for Countering Illegal Migration. More than that, though, behind all these amendments, this ping-pong, the Reasons Room, and this process, which is quite baffling to my constituents, lies a simple question: is this Parliament sovereign or not? I believe I was sent to this Parliament to make laws in the interests of my constituents in Redditch. They are a generous people—we have accepted refugees from around the world and given them a warm Redditch welcome—but in the interests of stability and security, and protecting those British values and the culture that we all care about, they also ask that we enact measures to enable our country to control our borders. This whole debate is really summed up by the question of whether or not we in the west are able to control our borders, because we all know that this is going to get much worse. Some 100 million people are on the move.

The Opposition spokesman, Stephen Kinnock, talked about having more grown-ups in the room and talking more nicely. Perhaps the people smugglers will listen to that and stop putting people in small boats, but somehow I doubt it—it is complete and utter nonsense. We are sent to this place to make hard choices, not emote and do things that make us feel good in the moment. We have to stand on one side, with the sovereignty of this Parliament and the people of Redditch, and this Bill is the way to do so. Let us get Rwanda done. We will stop these boats and make our country safer.

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

We are at that stage in the legislative process where Government obstinacy sometimes overcomes rationality. There is no way that these can be described as wrecking amendments—I wish they were, but they are not. Lords amendment 3E simply uses the Government’s own mechanism to ensure, as Conservative Members have said, that Parliament has the opportunity to change its judgment when the facts change. Anyone who has any experience of the history of this region of Africa realises that there is built-in instability, and therefore we may well need to come back to this matter, although I hope we do not.

My Northern Ireland colleague Sammy Wilson asked about Lords amendment 10D, and the ministerial response was that we should not worry because the fact that a number of veterans sit in Cabinet means that the system will work for those who served in Afghanistan. I am sorry, but so far, the veterans sitting around the Cabinet table have not ensured that. Many of us have dealt with individual cases, and all Lords amendment 10D would do is ensure that we live up to our commitment that those who served alongside us, putting their lives and those of their families at risk, will be secure. The existing scheme has not worked in that way, but Lords amendment 10D would ensure that it did in the future.

My final point is that I came to this place on the basis that Parliament was all about protecting its citizens and ensuring that they have safety but also access to law. Baroness Chakrabarti’s amendment 6D simply ensures that Parliament fulfils that role—it certainly is not a wrecking amendment.

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

I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. With the leave of the House, I would like to make a few remarks; I fear that I do not have time to respond to each and every point that has been made, but I thank right hon. and hon. Members right across the House for the contributions they have made.

I want to pick up on one contribution, which is the intervention that my right hon. Friend John Redwood made on the shadow Minister, Stephen Kinnock. The shadow Minister cannot actually say what Labour would do: he says that he has a plan, but all Labour can say it would do is exactly what the Government are already doing. It has said that it would scrap the Rwanda scheme even when it is up and running, but it has not found a deterrent. Worse than that, as my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster) have also said previously, it is incumbent on anyone who disagrees with this policy to come up with their own solution to the problem of how we deal with people who enter the country with no legitimate, credible case for claiming asylum and who cannot be returned to their home country. As ever, answer came there none from the Labour party.

Letting this Bill now pass will enable us to send a clear signal: “If you enter this country illegally, you will not be able to stay. You will be detained and swiftly returned to your home country or to a safe third country, namely Rwanda.” I urge this House to once again send a strong message back to the other place that these amendments are not necessary.

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

Division number 124 Safety of Rwanda Bill: motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 1D

Aye: 304 MPs

No: 239 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 240.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 1D disagreed to.

More than one hour 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).

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3E.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Division number 125 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 3E

Aye: 299 MPs

No: 238 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 240.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 3E disagreed to.