Clause 1 - Introduction

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 22 April 2024.

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Votes in this debate

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

It appears that I was indeed optimistic last week when I foresaw the end of ping-pong and looked forward to the time when we were not debating this particular piece of legislation. It is disappointing that we are back here again. Of course the other place should undertake its role as a revising Chamber, and of course it is entitled to ask the Government to think again, but we did think again, with the House now voting for the third time as part of ping-pong and strongly endorsing this Bill. We need to bring the process to a conclusion.

The Labour party has voted against our measures to tackle illegal migration 134 times. One hundred and thirty-four times it has told the British people that it opposes our tougher immigration legislation. Enough is enough. The Opposition have delayed this Bill for too long, and we must get on with it.

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

I am sure that, like me, the Minister will have read the Law Society of England and Wales’s briefing on these amendments. Has he seen the polling it has reported, which shows that the majority of voters think the Government should either accept some amendments to the Rwanda policy or scrap it altogether? Only a quarter of the public think the Government should try to get the Bill through in its current form, and all the Lords amendments are supported by the majority of the public. Has he seen that polling, and will he stop trying to turn this matter into a political football and address the gravamen of the amendments?

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

I certainly will. I am very grateful indeed to the hon. and learned Lady, because she gets to the point of the amendments. She is absolutely right to say that we should address them in detail, and I will do just that.

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

I say this with all humility and with respect for the Minister, who I know is an honourable person: does he agree that there is a simple way out of this deadlock? It is to accept those who can demonstrate that they assisted the British forces in Afghanistan. Does the Minister further agree that this back and forth is an example not of democratic exercise, but of democratic embarrassment? A way forward must be found before we bring this place and our procedures into disrepute.

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

I am very grateful indeed to the hon. Gentleman. As always, he engages with the substance of the matter. He and Sammy Wilson have raised this point. I will turn to that specific amendment, and I hope to persuade him, through my words, that steps have been taken and reassurances have been made. I hope to reassure him personally that he will be able to support the Government in the Aye Lobby later today.

I turn to the Lords amendment tabled by the noble Lord Hope of Craighead. I want to reiterate some salient points. First, as the House knows, we will only ratify the treaty once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. Secondly, the implementation of these provisions will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee. Thirdly, clause 9 makes it clear that the Bill’s provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I know that there is a problem in detaining illegal migrants at the moment under habeas corpus, but when the Bill comes into force, will it be the legal position that we can then detain people before offshoring them, because that is the only real deterrent?

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

My right hon. Friend might have heard a few words from the Prime Minister in that regard this morning, and that is exactly right. Specifically in relation to the amendment, however, I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord Hope. There is no obligation, whether in legislation or in the treaty, to send anyone to Rwanda, as my noble Friend Lord Sharpe has said. Article 4 of the treaty sets out clearly that it is for the United Kingdom to

“determine the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under this Agreement and the number of requests for relocation to be made”.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

Before my right hon. and learned Friend moves away from the treaty, could he help with some clarity on the relationship, as the Government see it, between the Rwanda treaty and this Bill? Specifically, is an assessment of Rwanda’s safety for the purposes of this Bill the same thing as compliance with the Rwanda treaty on the part of the state of Rwanda? If not, what is the difference? Does the concept of safety extend beyond compliance with the treaty, or is it solely limited to the question of compliance with the treaty?

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

As ever, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his engagement, both inside and outside the Chamber. He has been a regular attender at these ping-pong sessions. The treaty is the operating legal instrument between the two international bodies, the United Kingdom and Rwanda. That is the status of that treaty. This Bill brings it into effect in law in this country. He knows about dealing with the system of dualism. In fact, he has appeared in the Supreme Court arguing these very points, so he knows in detail the differences between a treaty and an Act of Parliament. As I set out, there is no obligation within the treaty. It is plainly written in article 4(1) that the

“United Kingdom shall not be obliged to make any request for relocation under this Agreement.”

That means that the Government would not be obliged to relocate individuals under the terms of the treaty if, for example, there had been unexpected changes of circumstances. I know that that is something my right hon. and learned Friend has been concerned about.

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

Would my right hon. and learned Friend also care to note that Lord Hoffman, in the case of R v. Lyons—in relation to a European Court of Human Rights case—was unequivocal when he said that a treaty was not the same as a statute, and that it is the statute that prevails? When a statute is made and the words are clear and unambiguous, it follows that the courts will obey what the Act sets out, which is exactly the position in this case.

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

My hon. Friend has also been a consistent member of these ping-pong sessions and he has consistently cited paragraph 144 of the Supreme Court judgment. He knows that I agree with him on this point, and that I firmly believe that this legislation, as drafted, is clear and unambiguous. I hope that that reassures him.

Turning back to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright, there are procedures already in place under the terms of the treaty to monitor the safety of Rwanda for those who are relocated there. I can reassure him and the House that we have already established the right mechanisms so that, should the situation ever arise, the Government will respond as necessary. This would include a range of options to respond, including, as he knows, primary legislation if required.

Implementation continues and I can now confirm that last Friday the Rwandan Parliament passed its domestic legislation to implement its new asylum system. The partnership is one important component of a much broader bilateral relationship, as my right hon. Friend Priti Patel has recently reminded us. This is a migration and economic development partnership, and I would like to put on record my thanks to all officials, including those in the Government of Rwanda, for their hard work in implementing the treaty and delivering this crucial partnership.

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

I note what the Minister said about last Friday but, if Rwanda is truly safe, why are Rwandans excluded from being returned under this legislation? Can he give us the reasons why he and the Prime Minister refuse to accept the need to prove the safety of Rwanda as a requirement?

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

The proof of the safety is in the binding international treaty between two international partners, namely the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda. The treaty addresses the concerns set out by the Supreme Court, namely the concerns in and around refoulement, and I invite this House to accept that reassurance. That is why I say the amendments are unnecessary.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

The obvious reason why Rwandans are not covered by the Bill is because returning a Rwandan to Rwanda would take them to their home country, not a third country.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been closely following these proceedings not just throughout ping-pong but throughout his time in this role. He knows deeply the interplay and the interrelationship between the two countries.

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

I will make some progress, as I have given way too much. I have taken criticism for the number of times I give way.

On Lords amendment 10F, as my noble Friend Lord Sharpe and I have said previously, this Government greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our armed forces overseas, which is why there are legal routes for them to come to the United Kingdom. There is already existing legislation, including but not limited to the Illegal Migration Act 2023, under which the Secretary of State has a range of powers to consider cases and specific categories of persons. I have already made a clear commitment on behalf of His Majesty’s Government that we will consider how removal would apply under existing immigration legislation, which means that, once the review of Afghan relocations and assistance policy decisions for those with credible links to Afghan specialist units is concluded, the Government will not remove to Rwanda those who receive a positive eligibility decision as a result of the review, where they are already in the United Kingdom as of today. This is an important point, and it is a point that I emphasise to the House today.

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

The Minister may have read about my constituent in The Guardian today: a man who was originally an Afghan, has British citizenship and served with our armed forces for 15 years. He and his family were called forward to the Baron hotel but could not get there because of an explosion, and they have been in hell ever since. His young children and wife are unable to join him here in the UK. He is not eligible for ARAP because he is a British citizen.

The Government have written to me suggesting that his children might apply to ARAP, but I believe that under-10s will probably not qualify. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is in tatters and will not accept them, as the Government are now trying to say that they were invited, rather than instructed, to go to the Baron hotel. If the Minister took five minutes to read the story of my constituent, who gave so much of his life to support our forces in Afghanistan, he would understand why it is not sustainable for him to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there are safe, legal routes for those who are eminently eligible, and why amendment 10F matters.

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

This amendment is unnecessary. As I have told the hon. Lady and tried to explain to the House, there is already existing legislation, including but not limited to the Illegal Migration Act. I have confirmed that the Government will not remove to Rwanda those who receive a positive eligibility decision as a result of the review. This Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that come with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage in serving alongside us. We will not let them down.

Criminal gangs are determining who comes to the United Kingdom, as vulnerable people are lured into risking their lives in unseaworthy boats. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being spent on illegal migration, and our resources and services are reaching their limits. We must put an end to it. We must pass this legislation and stop the boats.

I urge the House once again to send an unambiguous message to the other place that the time has come for the Labour Lords to respect the views of this House and to let this Bill now pass.

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

There is not a huge amount more to be said about this sham, this con of a Bill, that has not already been said. The plan is as unworkable as it is unaffordable. That is why Labour would instead repurpose the money that is being squandered and set aside for the scheme into a cross-border police unit and security partnership, which would go after the criminal gangs upstream and restore order to our border.

Labour would create a new returns and enforcement unit to remove people from the country who have no right to be here, given that we have seen the return of failed asylum seekers collapsing by 44% under the Conservatives and the removal of foreign criminals decreasing by 27%. Our plan will end the Tory boats chaos, fix our broken asylum system and restore our border security. The Government’s plan is, as the former Immigration Minister described it and as a civil servant insider has admitted, to get a few symbolic flights off the ground ahead of a general election, regardless of the wider impact. It really is tokenism and posturing of the worst sort.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:30, 22 April 2024

Given that a permanent secretary has said that there is no evidence the plan will work as a deterrent, as it will account for just 1% of those crossing the channel, does my hon. agree that it is just a gimmick?

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

My hon. Friend is right: the test of such a policy is whether it will work as a deterrent. When we are dealing with people who have risked life and limb to cross continents, they are not going to be put off by a 1% chance of being sent to Rwanda. The policy fails on its own terms, and the permanent secretary was absolutely right to put that red flag on it two years ago. It is extraordinary that we are where we are today.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the tokenism of the worst sort that he spoke about was carried on by the Prime Minister’s announcement that 25 courtrooms and 150 judges will be available to deal with legal challenges from asylum seekers? Given that our courts are struggling with backlogs, partly due to not having enough barristers and courts, does he agree that it would be interesting to know how the Government would achieve that?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, although I had forgotten chapter 562 in this never-ending story. My recollection is that the Prime Minister was then slapped down by the judiciary, who said, “We have a huge backlog to get through and this is not a priority.” We should thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of yet another disastrous chapter in this story.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

In the unlikely event that we have a Labour Government, would the shadow Minister be happy if future Opposition parties, which necessarily and usually dominate the House of Lords, frustrated them? Will he advise his friends up there to respect the will of the elected House?

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

I will advise the other place to do what it is doing, as a revising Chamber: standing up for its constitutional obligations to look at every piece of legislation that we send to it from this place and take the measures that it feels strongly about. This set of amendments in no way prevents this policy from being enacted or flights from taking off; what we are seeing is simply those Members in the other place doing their constitutional duty.

The plan is not only completely unworkable, but shockingly unaffordable. It is likely to cost an astonishing £2 million per deportee. To add insult to injury, it puts the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who are deemed inadmissible and yet cannot be sent to Rwanda, because of the lack of capacity there, into limbo, in expensive hotels, stuck in a perma-backlog at a staggering cost to the taxpayer. This is a dreadful policy and it is shameful politics.

When the Bill was first introduced, the Prime Minister described it as “emergency legislation”, yet the Government’s management of the parliamentary timetable would suggest that the opposite is the case. Ministers had ample opportunity to schedule debates and votes on 25 and 26 March, before the Easter recess, but they chose not to do so. Indeed, there was plenty of scope to accelerate the process last week. People could be forgiven for concluding that the truth of the matter is that Ministers have been deliberately stringing this out for two reasons: first, because they thought they could make some grubby political capital from the delay; and, secondly, because they have been scrambling to organise a flight and all the other logistics that are not in place. The Prime Minister, in his somewhat whinging and buck-passing press conference this morning, admitted that the first flight to Rwanda will not take off until—checks notes—July.

Today is 22 April. We were initially told that this was “emergency legislation”, yet we are now being told that there will be a 10 to 12-week delay in getting the first flight off the ground. I do not know what your definition of an emergency is, Madam Deputy Speaker, but a 10 to 12-week response time seems a bit of a stretch. Given that none of the amendments to the Bill could be seen as wrecking amendments by any stretch of the imagination, it is difficult to see why those on the Government Benches could not just accept the amendments and get on with it. The fundamental point is that not one of the amendments that have been coming to us from the other place would prevent planes from getting into the air.

Turning first to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord Hope, this amendment simply reflects what the Government have already said: that court judgments are taken at a moment in time and that a country may well be safe at a given point, but not at another. If the Bill passes unamended, this House will, in essence, be asserting that Rwanda will be a safe country for ever more. Surely the indisputable lesson of recent times is that we live in a dangerous and turbulent world, where authoritarians are on the march and the rules-based order is under threat. Who knows what might happen in Rwanda in the future, or in any other country for that matter?

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

The Minister made the point that we have entered into a treaty and been told that Rwanda is safe. Does my hon. Friend agree that sets a very serious and dangerous precedent for the future, because that may not always be the case? How will we be able to work our way out of any unsafe country where we have such a treaty in place?

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

I agree with my hon. Friend. One reason we are seeing such a strong pushback from the other place is precisely that its Members are deeply uncomfortable with trying to make something true that is not true. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Rwanda is not a safe country, yet we are being asked to legislate to say that it is. We can legislate to say that the sky is green and the grass is blue, but that does not make it so, and that is why we have such an important point of principle in the Bill.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

On that point, will my hon. Friend give way?

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. Before the hon. Lady makes another intervention, I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that we have only until 5.15 pm to debate this matter. Eight Back Benchers wish to speak and, at the moment, their speeches will be limited to three minutes, so it might not be entirely fair for the hon. Lady to keep making interventions.

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

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord Hope simply requires the Home Secretary to lay a statement before Parliament confirming that the Rwanda treaty has been implemented and that the country is safe. Prior to issuing his statement, the Home Secretary would presumably take account of advice provided by the Government’s hand-picked monitoring committee, as specified in the treaty.

Lord Hope’s amendment also allows the Home Secretary to lay a statement making clear that Rwanda is no longer safe, should the situation on the ground in Rwanda change. This “trust but verify” approach is embedded in countless pieces of legislation that have made their way on to the statute book over the centuries. It is a perfectly fair, measured, reasonable and non-controversial proposal, and it is simply bizarre and incomprehensible that the Government are refusing to accept it.

Let me turn now to the noble Lord Browne’s amendment. Frankly, I just do not know where to start with this one, Madam Deputy Speaker. It beggars belief that the Government are still insisting on being able to deport to Rwanda Afghans who have bravely fought alongside British forces against the Taliban. It really is shameful that we are still debating what should be a given. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Afghans who stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops, yet this Government are seeking to trash our reputation as a country that honours its debts. What a disgrace. Ministers should hang their heads in shame.

Over the course of the past few weeks, Ministers have deployed a variety of spurious and mealy-mouthed arguments to defend their position, but the one that they have most frequently used is that there are already safe and legal routes in place in the shape of the ARAP and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, but that is simply not the case. Operation Warm Welcome became operation cold shoulder when the Prime Minister torpedoed both schemes and left these Afghans stranded—shocking but true.

Court documents show that, in November 2022, the Prime Minister issued instructions to halt flights from neighbouring Pakistan for an entire year for Afghans who had already been granted resettlement rights in the UK, and only restarted them when the Pakistani Government threatened to send these heroic individuals back across the border to meet their fate at the hands of the Taliban. Let the content of those court documents sink in: the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom explicitly instructed the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to stop assisting Afghans who had put their lives on the line for our country. What a disgrace. What a betrayal of British values. What a hammer blow to our moral standing in the world, but the noble Lord Browne’s amendment is driven not only by a basic moral imperative, but by our national interest and military logic for the simple and obvious reason that the ability of our armed forces to recruit local allies to support us in the future will be severely constrained if this Bill passes unamended. It should therefore not come as a surprise to anyone that our armed forces are outraged and repelled by the Government’s refusal to accept Lord Browne’s amendment.

Indeed, just last weekend, 13 senior military figures signed a letter to the Sunday Telegraph stating robustly 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. I urge Members across the House to join me in supporting the two amendments that are in front of us today. This whole process has been a farce, but if we just pass these amendments we can at least send the message that we are not a country that chooses to deport its military allies to a country on the other side of the world and that we are a country that cares about whether we are sending some of the most vulnerable people on the planet to a place that is safe for them. At the very least, we owe that basic level of respect and decency to ourselves as a nation and to the people whom this policy will affect. Unfortunately, respect and decency for anyone, whether in relation to our nation, to asylum seekers or to the British taxpayer, is not something that this Prime Minister and his Government hold in any regard whatever. That is why their time is up. They are not fit to govern. I fear that tonight, yet again, they will demonstrate that point in spades.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

In view of the time, I wish to focus what I say on the second part of amendment 3G(8). It is clear that Lord Hope has drawn attention to a flaw in the Bill’s logic. We all understand that it is about parliamentary sovereignty, but if declaring Rwanda safe in the first instance is a matter for Parliament then why is determining whether it remains safe not also a matter for Parliament? Yet the Bill covers only the first determination of safety and provides no mechanism for Parliament to change its mind if circumstances change, save for primary legislation, which we need Government to introduce.

My quarrel with the noble Lord Hope’s amendments has been that, whereas the theme of this Bill is parliamentary authority, the earlier forms of his amendments give effective authority on the safety of Rwanda to the monitoring committee, because its conclusion on treaty compliance will be determinative of the question of safety. The later versions of Lord Hope’s amendments, however, would transfer authority to Ministers to determine —presumably on the advice of the monitoring committee —that Rwanda is no longer safe, and to make a statement to that effect. I do not think that is perfect either. I still think that for the Bill to have inherent logical consistency, it should be for Parliament to decide whether Rwanda remains safe in changed circumstances—not the monitoring committee or a Minister—but how much latitude Parliament would have in deciding whether Rwanda remains safe in changed circumstances rather depends on the point I raised in an intervention on the Minister.

If adherence to the treaty is evidence contributing to an assessment of whether Rwanda remains safe but is not wholly determinative of the question of safety, it remains possible, if unlikely, that Parliament would consider non-compliance but none the less decide that Rwanda remains safe for the purposes of the Bill. If the only consideration on safety is the question of compliance with the treaty, Rwanda cannot remain safe if it is in breach of the treaty. We need to be clear on which of the two it is, but either way—determinative or not—if Parliament is to be the sovereign decision maker, it must know of non-adherence to the treaty, and directly or indirectly the monitoring committee is the body that can tell us.

It seems to me that we must look at Lords amendment 3G in the light of this late stage in proceedings. We cannot keep batting the Bill backwards and forwards across the building. As I said, I do not think that the amendment is the best way to solve the problem that Parliament has no mechanism available to it to change its mind if the facts change, but with all due respect to the Minister, whom I hold in high regard, the Government have not come up with a better alternative. He leaves me little place to go other than to support the amendment, if he cannot propose a better way of resolving this deficiency.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:45, 22 April 2024

The Minister opened by saying that he had looked forward last week to not debating the Bill. I, too, wish that we did not have to debate it; indeed, I wish that it had never been brought to this House in the first place. I wish that it had never seen the light of day. If he never wanted to debate it again, he could of course have accepted the Lords amendments last week, instead of stringing this out for even longer. The Lords have tabled perfectly legitimate amendments, but Government Members are seeking to get around the tedium of voting on amendments to render vulnerable people overseas. A text message is circulating on X in the name of the Government Chief Whip, saying:

“Dear Colleagues,

With a potentially long and historic night ahead, on behalf of the Prime Minister I would like to invite you to drinks this evening from 21.30. These will take place in the Prime Minister’s office in the House of Commons.

I look forward to seeing you there.”

How absolutely heartless and despicable that Government Members will be quaffing drinks while thinking about sending people to Rwanda. How utterly without any kind of moral background. Should the Lords send back further amendments tonight and carry out the unusual procedure of double insistence, I will support them very much in that endeavour. We should use any mechanism that we can in this place to stop the Bill.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend on using every procedure available to her to state the SNP’s opposition to the Bill, not least by moving amendments in the Reasons Committee last week. We in the SNP will take every single opportunity to express our opposition to this outrageous plan.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and note on the record that Labour did not vote on any of the reasons that I sought to amend in the Reasons Committee. I have yet to hear any explanation for why Labour Members would not use any mechanism available to them to oppose the Bill.

We had yet another press conference this afternoon. The Prime Minister did not come to this House to talk about his gurning and his greeting that those mean old Lords would not let him have his way. I point out that the Conservatives have over 100 more Lords than Labour. Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm from their own Lords is reflective of the fact that many of them did not even show up to vote last week. The policy was not in the Conservative party manifesto. The Government have no mandate for the Rwanda plan whatsoever. Indeed, what manifesto would they put in front of people that would say, “We’re going to set out to breach our international commitments and engage in state-sponsored people trafficking?” What manifesto would that be?

Let me mention briefly some of the things that the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement. He suddenly conjured up a whole load of judges to determine these cases, when they could perhaps better serve by looking at the appeals backlog that his incompetent bulk processing of asylum claims has created. He mentioned charter flights being booked, but many commercial companies, including the Rwandan state carrier, have refused to be involved in the charter flights at all, so which companies have been engaged to do that and at what cost? We still do not know.

The Prime Minister said:

“The first flight will leave in 10 to 12 weeks.”

Will that be before or after we reach summer recess—we already know how far the timescale on this has slipped for the Government—and what scrutiny will occur should they take off during recess? If the Government do manage to send anybody to Rwanda, where will they put them? We know that the Rwandans have sold off the housing that they set up to place people in. Will they be piling them up in tents? I would not put it past this Government, but that would be useful to know.

We fully support the Lords amendments, which do their very best to mitigate an absolutely dreadful piece of legislation. I cannot see what the Government’s objection is to Lords amendment 3G. They are all about taking back control, but they want absolutely no parliamentary scrutiny of whether Rwanda remains a safe country. Sir Jeremy Wright rightly pointed out that we in this place have no means of declaring Rwanda unsafe, so it is safe in perpetuity—forever and ever. We cannot declare it unsafe should something happen, and that is just not logical. I note also that the Irish High Court ruled last month that, in the light of these plans, the UK is not a safe country to send asylum seekers to.

I fully support Lords amendment 10F relating to Afghans. I have mentioned many times before my support for the Afghans who served and supported UK objectives in Afghanistan and how woeful the Government’s response to their needs has been.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the £11,000 it costs per person to deport to Rwanda could be used right now to rescue my constituent and his wife, who got out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan and are now stuck there waiting for the UK Government to rescue them?

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

I wholeheartedly agree. I know of many cases of people who have been sorely let down by the Government.

We note that the figures that the Government brought out this morning show that there has been an increase in small boat arrivals in the past three months compared with last year. The plan is hardly any kind of deterrent if people are still coming over in small boats in their droves. Among them were 1,216 Afghans—an increase on the 1,098 who came in the same period last year. If the Minister thinks that the Afghan schemes are such a roaring success, why are so many Afghans being forced on to small boats just to get to safety? Many of them will have family in this country, many will have been unable to avail themselves of the Afghan schemes that he so talks up, and many will not have been able to use family reunion, which is an existing safe and legal route.

Given the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not go into detail on the Afghan cases that I wished to mention. However, I will say this to the Government: this legislation is utterly despicable. It is state-sponsored people trafficking, it is against our obligations in international law, and Scotland wants no part of it. We will oppose it every step of the way.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

May I start by agreeing with what the Opposition spokesman, Stephen Kinnock, said about there being nothing new to say? The trouble is that he then spent 14 minutes saying nothing new. He said that the amendments do nothing to stop flights getting off the ground, but the fact that we are still having to debate amendments is preventing the legislation from going through, which would allow the scheme—literally—to get off the ground. Now it is time to get the Rwanda legislation done.

On the remaining amendments, many people have had days, weeks and months to make their points. The Government have given undertakings, and we have heard further undertakings about the treatment of Afghan refugees today. The Bill does not oblige the Government to return anybody from Afghanistan; there are explicit schemes to protect them.

When it comes to declaring Rwanda a safe country, the only reason why the legislation states as such is that a court declared it not to be, based on limited and snapshot evidence. The Government have a white list of countries that are deemed not to be safe—the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office issues guidance about where it is safe to travel—but what constitutes “safe” in the eyes of those courts? Is Spain safe to a Catalonian dissident who is in exile because they have taken issue with the Spanish Government? Is it safe to go back to France? Some of the refugees I have met in the Napier barracks claim that they are beaten by French police, and that it is not safe for them to go back to that country. Indeed, in the eyes of some court judgments, is London safe for a person who is “openly Jewish”?

Plenty of safeguards are given in this Bill: it will bring people back to the UK if Rwanda is deemed not to be safe or appropriate. Plenty of international legal scrutiny has now been added into the Bill. The issue of refoulement, which was the Supreme Court’s major complaint, has been dealt with, and legal assessment is available for those sent to Rwanda. I will say it again: when the Home Affairs Select Committee went to Calais last year, we were told by all those who were in charge of the policing system on the beaches that when the Government announced the Rwanda scheme the previous May, there was a surge in migrants around Calais approaching the French authorities to try to regularise their position in France, because they did not want to risk being sent to Rwanda.

It is disgraceful that, time and again, those behind these amendments—the Labour party, continuing this ping-pong—have not come up with a single solution to the really important question of what we do with asylum seekers who have come to this country illegally, who have no credible case to be in the UK, but who it is practically impossible to return to their own country. It is also absolutely disgraceful that just this morning the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, made it quite clear that a Labour Government would abolish the Rwanda scheme, whether it is working or not. They are saying to people on the other side of the channel, “Just wait a few months, and then you can come in your droves.” That is the truth of the matter, and these amendments need to be beaten again.

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

Although at times I agree with quite a lot of what Tim Loughton says, the point he has just made about Labour’s policy is absolutely incorrect. I am very pleased that the Minister stated at the beginning of his remarks that the other place absolutely has the right to act as a revising Chamber and give its advice to this Chamber.

Lords amendment 3G was tabled by the noble Lord Hope of Craighead, a former deputy president of the Supreme Court. It states that

“Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country for…the purposes of this Act until the Secretary of State has obtained and laid before Parliament a statement from the independent Monitoring Committee” confirming that the treaty provisions have been implemented. It also allows the Secretary of State to rescind the confirmation if the treaty stops being adhered to, rather than the nonsense position of claiming that Rwanda is safe for evermore. This is a sensible and measured amendment to deal with the facts, allowing that they may change.

On the day that the Prime Minister has stated that some asylum decision makers and judges have been trained, the joint monitoring committee has been set up and the president of the new appeal body has been selected, we still do not know whether all the other provisions of the treaty have been fully implemented or whether a sufficient number of officials are in place. With the Prime Minister insisting that flights will begin in 10 to 12 weeks, Lords amendment 3G provides a vital safeguard, ensuring that everyone sent to Rwanda will be protected by the implementation of the treaty provisions. I think that is entirely reasonable, and I agree with what Sir Jeremy Wright said.

Lords amendment 10F, tabled by the noble Lord Browne of Ladyton—a former Secretary of State for Defence—provides an exemption for people who supported the UK armed forces overseas, or who have otherwise been agents or allies of the UK overseas. Anyone seeking to rely on that exemption would need to provide notice to the Secretary of State

“within one week of arrival in the UK”.

Ministers have sought to reassure Members that they are reviewing the position, and will consider and revisit how the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and removal under existing immigration legislation will apply to those who are determined to be ARAP-eligible. However, I must note that, when responding in the House of Lords, the noble Lord Browne dubbed that assurance to be “worthless”. We should all be conscious of the strength of feeling among those former senior armed forces personnel who support this amendment. When individuals risk their lives to support British troops overseas, we must honour our commitment to provide sanctuary, not outsource it. That is why I support Lords amendment 10F.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 5:00, 22 April 2024

I am mindful of time, as always, and the time is quite rightly being reduced as we deal with this Bill—in a rather similar way to how, with some sort of exotic recipe, the sauce is reduced on every occasion—and we are now down to two important amendments.

I am glad that, in his tone and his approach, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has at the Dispatch Box, as he should, absolutely embraced this debate, which is all about the detail and about getting it right. He knows I support this policy. We have again heard a lot of rhetoric in this Chamber, which is unfortunate and misleading. We are doing something genuinely innovative, and it is right that we should do so.

I do think that the revised Lords amendment 3G in its form now, particularly in the light of the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright, does actually strike an appropriate balance in making sure not only that the reality of the position in Rwanda is met by the deeming provision in law, but that there is a mechanism by which we can deal with this as a Parliament if indeed circumstances change.

With great respect to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, he did almost concede that, if there was to be a change in the situation in Rwanda, primary legislation would have to be at least considered by the Government. It seems to me that it would be far better to ensure against that and to avoid the need for further primary legislation by making sure we can wrap it all up in this Bill, and have a system that is not just strong when it comes to potential legal challenge, but gives this place its rightful role. So, alongside my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam, I still commend and support that particular provision.

On Lords amendment 10F, I note the comments my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister made at the Dispatch Box, with the assurances he gave about the status of people who have had an assessment and are therefore found to have satisfied the requirements of the scheme, and that is an important step forward. I do not take the view that we should regard these matters as worthless. I do regard it as having quite a lot of weight, and I am grateful to him for that.

I think that making that very clear in the Bill would probably clear up the matter once and for all, and it may well mean—not that I mind being here until the wee small hours of the morning—that we can clear up this business once and for all. I am in the market for sorting this out now, so that the Bill can become law before it is too late this evening, which is why I would commend perhaps a little further movement on Lords amendment 10F by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

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

Throughout the proceedings on this Bill, my party both here and in the other place has by and large given support to the Government, even though at times we have been sceptical and concerned about the effectiveness of some of the measures. However, I have to say that we draw the line when it comes to Lords amendment 10F, on the protection of people who have served with our armed forces in dangerous situations and now find their lives being put in jeopardy.

The Minister has made the point time and again that some of these amendments are wrecking amendments or attempts to create loopholes and so on, but let us look at Lords amendment 10F. The people who would be covered by this amendment will, first, have served this country. Secondly, as a result, their lives will be in danger. Thirdly, when they arrive in this country, they must within a week immediately inform the authorities they are here, which allows for the records to be looked at, their claims to be verified and their connections with the armed forces to be ascertained. Lastly, if they have not done that, in any subsequent cases the courts can draw an inference from it.

So nothing could be more watertight than this amendment, yet the Government are refusing to accept it on the basis that there are already arrangements in place. Why is it—and my hon. Friend Jim Shannon has raised this time and again in the House, as have others—that people who served the armed forces in Afghanistan find themselves in danger at present? They are on the run from the police in Pakistan, and they are hiding because the police in Pakistan want to send them back to Afghanistan, where they will be in danger. Why? Because the system has not worked for them. That is why it is important that the amendment is accepted. We have a moral duty and, as has been pointed out, if we are to look to the future and recruit people in trouble spots to help the armed forces, we have a strategic duty. If the Minister really wants to get this stuff through tonight he has a political reason for doing this, because by accepting the amendment he will at least take away another leg on which the other House is seeking to stand in opposing the Bill. For all those reasons I hope the Minister will accept the amendment, to protect those who have served us, get the Bill through, and avoid any further delay.

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

I think this is a disgraceful Bill and I want to oppose it at every opportunity. However, to follow on from Sammy Wilson, we have to accept that at some stage the Bill will go through, and it is the normal run of things in these matters that the Government will have compromised on a number of issues, usually by this time. For the life of me I cannot understand why we have not reached that compromise so far, particularly on this amendment.

As the right hon. Member said, if the system was working at the moment, we would not be finding the cases that we have got. The situation in Afghanistan in particular is deteriorating at the moment. For example, I am dealing with a woman who is now in this country but who campaigned for women’s rights in Afghanistan. The Taliban are now arresting and torturing her family, just because she stood up for women’s rights. If anyone is associated with the British Government in any form, that makes matters even worse. I had a constituent asylum seeker in one of the hotels whose family simply rented out property to the BBC and some of the British authorities. The family got out, but they still have a connection, and they showed me videos of the Taliban turning up and beating, almost to a pulp, the staff who were working in those premises.

The situation is deteriorating and the existing system is not working. People who are in any way associated with the British Government, and British forces in particular, are targeted, and their families are targeted. They are not just abused; they are tortured. I think we have a debt of honour, and that compromise has to be done tonight. The amendment cannot be seen as a wrecking amendment in any way; it is simply a logical conclusion to the debate that we have had in both Houses. I urge the other place to stand firm on this amendment, because I think the British public support it. Indeed, I think that perhaps a majority in this House want to support it too. I urge the Government to think again, because this has gone beyond the normal process. My hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock asked what there is to gain for the Government by continuing this process. If they think it is about demonstrating their bravado and commitment, and trying to milk some publicity out of it, it is going the other way. At the moment, the general political and public mood is that, for goodness’ sake, accept that when a compromise is offered we should seize it, particularly on this issue.

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

I hear impatience and irritation from the Conservative Benches that we are still here debating this, but I respectfully point Members towards the impatience, irritation, and even outrage on the part of my constituents at the fact that the Government are wasting vast amounts of their money on something that they know, and the Government know, will not work. If there is a one-in-200 chance that an asylum seeker might be sent to Rwanda, it will clearly not be a disincentive. What might be a deterrent would be to process the applications that we have, and remove that 25% of asylum seekers who turn out not to be genuine, but we will never know that if we do not have the competence to process them. It would also be sensible to set out safe routes, so that people are able to bypass and therefore undermine the model of the evil people traffickers.

That outrage from my constituents is also due to knowledge of what could be done with the money that has been spent on this nonsense scheme so far. It is the equivalent of 5.7 million GP appointments, if the Government had the priorities that the British people want them to have. The two amendments are entirely sensible. I do not need to repeat all the arguments for them, but we should have independent verification, rather than simply declare that a place is safe despite the lack of evidence, which is nonsense. As an aside, if Rwanda is a safe place, why would it be a deterrent? If it is not a safe place, why would any decent Government send anybody there?

I support the Lords in pushing their amendments 3G and 10F.

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

I will not give way, because we are about to finish and it is unfair on others.

Lords amendment 10F guarantees that those who have risked everything to protect and serve our servicemen and women in Afghanistan cannot be betrayed by this or a future Government. That is basically a simple and decent thing to ask for. Whatever motivations the Government ascribe to those pressing the amendment, it is clearly totally reasonable, and a reasonable Government would accept it.

To finish, I will address the Conservative party’s irritation that we are still here. I gently encourage Conservative Members present to imagine a time—sometime in the future maybe—when they are in opposition. Let us imagine a time when a Government of a different colour ignore the rule of law, bypass the courts, think themselves above the law and then try to use their numbers in Parliament to steamroller through something that was not in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. An honest answer to that question would lead to this Government yielding. This is awful legislation. It is cruel, inept and expensive. We should vote to keep the amendments, the Lords should keep going, and the Government should concede.

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

With the leave of the House, may I address directly my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) and for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), who both addressed Lords amendment 3G? It does not do what they are looking for. They are looking for a parliamentary moment, and this amendment would merely produce a statement. I invite them to imagine a scenario whereby what we have been discussing would not produce an urgent question or a moment for a Secretary of State to make a statement in the Chamber of the House of Commons in any event. I repeat to them: this amendment does not meet the challenge they have set. I encourage them to be with the Government in a few short minutes.

We must get on and put an end to this. We must pass this legislation to stop the boats. Perhaps in the words of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, I urge this House once again to send a clear and unambiguous message to the other place.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3G.

Division number 130 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill: motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 3G

Aye: 304 MPs

No: 228 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 229.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 3G disagreed to.

More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 18 March 2024).

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