Amendment 4

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 12 February 2024.

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Lord German:

Moved by Lord German

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out “Parliament” and insert “the Secretary of State”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment, along with Lord German’s amendments to Clause 2, page 2, line 33; Clause 2, page 2, line, 39; Clause 2, page 3, line 3; and Clause 9, page 6, line 38 provide that it is the Secretary of State’s judgement that Rwanda is a safe country and for this judgement to be linked to commencement of the Act. This suite of amendments provides criteria for how that judgement may be made, including compliance by the UK and Rwanda of their obligations under the Treaty in furtherance of the rule of law.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4, I will speak also to a suite of amendments which go throughout the Bill. Perhaps that indicates the way in which all these things are interconnected, because this suite of amendments will deal with a lot of the concerns that were raised in the Committee in the course of group 1 and will be relevant to any changes that we might pursue on Report.

In summary, these amendments remove the absolute nature of the declaration that Rwanda is safe; enable the courts to consider the safety issue; require the Secretary of State, not Parliament, to judge when Rwanda is safe; and ensure that all the measures this House has considered in its resolution of the treaty are operational and functioning according to our international obligations before the Secretary of State can lay a commencement order before Parliament.

As we have heard, the Bill deems Rwanda to be safe regardless of whether it is in fact safe, and this House has already determined that it is not yet safe. Unlike the use of deeming clauses in domestic legislation, this deeming subclause is being used alongside an international obligation. However, as the Bar Council, among others, points out in its evidence to the JCHR, deeming Rwanda to be safe in order to meet the UK’s international obligations under the ECHR and the refugee convention steps outside the domestic use of deeming clauses. This is particularly so when you take into account the conclusions reached by the UNHCR that the Bill, as well as the treaty,

“does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law”.

If the arguments which the Government put forward about it being in the context of international laws are true, why do they not let the courts have their say, finally, about this matter?

Some on the government side are comfortable about overriding our international obligations, maintaining that it is perfectly acceptable to be incompatible with international rules, laws, commitments and obligations of which we are part. I am not a lawyer, but, having read all the evidence given to committees of this House and the other House, and from all the people who have put evidence before us, it seems they represent a minority of legal opinion, and we have witnessed incredible displays of legal acrobatics, most of it on the head of a pin.

Fundamentally, based on Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, no rule of a state’s internal law can be used to justify a breach of an international obligation. Further, as our own Constitution Committee states, to legislate in this way could undermine our constitutional principle of the rule of law. Back in 2020 and again recently it said that

“respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.

Today we have that view expressed by the report of the JCHR.

We will hear much more on the rule of law and the words of Dicey. However, this suite of amendments, taken as a whole, will ensure adherence to the rule of law, reinstate the role of the courts, protect human rights, and meet our international obligations. Fundamentally, these amendments seek to safeguard and uphold the UK’s constitution and the rule of law. It is deeply problematic that the terms of the UK-Rwanda agreement have not yet been met, especially as the Government have deemed it as the basis for the declaration in the Bill that Rwanda is in fact safe. In fact, in their own policy statement the Government refer to “assurances and commitments”—those are not things that are happening at this moment.

Through these amendments we seek to ensure that the final arbitration on the safety of Rwanda lies ultimately with the judiciary and not with Parliament. The Secretary of State would come to a decision on the safety of Rwanda but the legality of this decision can be reviewed by the judiciary. This would enable the proper role of the independent judiciary—our domestic courts and tribunals—to review the legality of the Secretary of State’s actions and decisions. The amendments in this suite would mean that the Secretary of State should deem Rwanda safe only if it is safe for every person of every description: women, people of all ethnic minorities and religions, LGBTQI+ people, those in power, those whose political opinion differs from those in power, and every nationality. In coming to their conclusion, the laws of Rwanda and how they are applied should be scrutinised, together with evidence from international bodies and civil society organisations.

The Act could come into force only when the steps set out in Amendment 84 had been met—the Minister spoke of that amendment earlier; we have reached it already. In replying, can the Minister tell the Committee— I think this was a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as well—which of the matters listed in Amendment 84(1A)(c) are currently in place, which of them will be in place soon, and which will be operational on the date the Government think the Bill will be enacted? For those who have Amendment 84(1A)(c) in front of them, it is the 10 issues raised by the committee which reported to this House on the treaty.

As this House has determined in its resolution on the treaty, it is critically important for the safety of those concerned that any assessment of safety is completed before this Bill comes into force. The judgment on whether Rwanda is safe could be one of life and death. The Supreme Court has already made a factual assessment. Parliament should not be legislating to reverse the Supreme Court’s factual assessment while tying the hands of the judiciary and requiring them to ignore facts placed before them.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Conservative 6:00, 12 February 2024

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He has said repeatedly that the Supreme Court has held as a fact that Rwanda is an unsafe country. If one looks at the judgment of the Supreme Court, in paragraph 105 the noble Lord will see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, said that Rwanda was unsafe at the time that the Divisional Court was considering the evidence. As my noble friend the Minister said on the last group, the short point is that the question which this Parliament is determining as to the safety of Rwanda is in light of the new arrangements.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

As the noble Lord will know, the other clause in the Supreme Court judgment, which he did not refer to, said that it will take a considerable time for those matters to take place. That is why I have asked the Minister in this Chamber, having heard the views of the treaties committee of this House and the matters which it raised after taking evidence last month, whether the provisions in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c) are in place now. Are they operational? Which ones will be in place, and by when? If we follow the noble Lord’s remarks, that is the judgment that we are trying to make now.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

It is not only a question of whether they are in place but whether Rwanda is compliant and remains compliant, and whether there are any other reasons to doubt the safety of Rwanda.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

Indeed. That is why, in this suite of amendments, the Secretary of State has to take the advice of a number of organisations—not one in particular but a number of organisations. The Secretary of State must produce the evidence to show that the requirements are in place, operational and working according to the decisions that were originally in place as wanting to see this thing through.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

Is it right that what the noble Lord perhaps had in mind when referring to the Supreme Court judgment was its words that the problems in Rwanda were not a lack of good faith on the part of Rwanda but

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”?

The noble Lord, Lord German, might also have had in mind that the Supreme Court identified

“a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda’s obligations under the refugee convention”.

Would it be the case that the noble Lord, Lord German, might also have been rather worried that simply having to agree that “We won’t refoule” from a date which I assume would be about a month or two from today sits rather unkindly against that assessment by the Supreme Court? Am I also right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord German, would have been very heartened by the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who said that he accepted all that the Supreme Court had said?

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am loath to say “yes” to a leading question from a leading lawyer, but he is absolutely right, of course. For those words added to what I said earlier and paragraph 104, which we have already had referred to, the

“necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

If you read the Supreme Court judgment, you will know what we have to test in order to prove Rwanda’s safety. That is what the committees of this House have been trying to do.

This suite of amendments turns it all around. It says that it is the judgment of the Government, which they would have to bring forward in an order for the House to accept, but before that they would have to address all the issues in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c). They would also have to consult and be certain that they had made the case. If, at the end, Parliament approved the order that the Government had put before it, the courts could intervene and test it on the basis of fact. That is our current procedure for dealing with issues of this sort. I am loath to say that this is back to the future, but it is keeping in track where we stand as a Parliament—how we make decisions, where they are tested and whether they can be tested in the courts.

We cannot allow a dangerous precedent to be set with this overreach of Parliament’s role. The courts need to remain as the check and balance on the exercising of the Secretary of State’s power. Parliament cannot be allowed to overturn the evidence-based findings of fact made by the highest court in the UK, given that this Bill is there for ever and does not look at what happens in the future. We need to stand firm against the Government’s attempt to subvert the separation of powers in this country. Today, this is about asylum seekers; tomorrow, this precedent will be applied to the next group who find themselves as the latest scapegoats of the Government.

I end with the words of the late Lord Judge in this Chamber. I sat here listening to him and I hear those words echoing in my head now. He said:

“the rule of law is a bulwark against authoritarian incursion, and even the smallest incursion threatens it”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1286.].

Those are wise words. This suite of amendments seeks to uphold the principle that he espoused so powerfully. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated

My Lords, I regret that I was not able to take part in discussion on the previous group because I was on the train as it began.

The point that has been made here is an important one, which I did not hear elaborated on during the debate on the first group. Without wishing to disparage Rwanda in any way, countries in that part of the world do have a habit from time to time of changing their regimes, and those regimes often have very different characteristics. If you are approaching this problem, which seems to me entirely reasonable in normal circumstances, that the country where the asylum seekers end up should be safe, it does not follow that once it has been ruled to be safe it then continues to be safe. The problem with Clause 1(2)(b) is that, if the wording remains as it is now, even if you go through the procedures that the noble Lord, Lord German, is discussing, once there has been a ruling that the country is safe then there is no means to return to the question if circumstances fundamentally and damagingly change.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

I commend to my noble friend the concept of the rolling sunset, which he will find in Amendments 81 and 82.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I am very interested in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. On one view, it is saying that the Secretary of State makes his or her decision only after properly considering all the relevant factors. It may be that what he has in mind is that, thereafter, there can be appropriate review of that by the courts. I assume that he has in mind judicial review. Therefore, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State that was judicially reviewable. It is worth thinking about whether, once that decision had been made and then upheld by the courts because there was a proper basis on which a Secretary of State could reach that decision, in general terms the question of whether the country was safe would not thereafter be open to consideration by the immigration office.

I would not be in favour of that as a matter of principle, but if one is looking for a compromise—this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, touched upon, and it may be dealt with in later amendments—I would be very interested to hear what the view of the Government is in relation to a situation where, in effect, the Secretary of State had to make a proper decision addressing the proper considerations and that decision was then open to judicial review. Could that be a compromise?

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this group, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has just raised an extremely interesting point. He suggested that a decision by the Secretary of State, having considered the factors referred to by the noble Lord, Lord German, should be subject to judicial review. The principles of judicial review are clear: the court does not substitute its own view of matters; it assesses whether the Secretary of State came to a reasonable decision.

Departing somewhat from the Government’s view, one of the problems that I have with the Supreme Court decision is that it was not based on the principles of judicial review. The Divisional Court did approach it on that basis and the Supreme Court said that that was wrong. The Supreme Court, relying on precedents that had never received the authority of Parliament or statute, decided that it should not apply the principles of judicial review, but should decide these matters for itself. That is a very important distinction between what happened in this case, which gave rise to this legislation, and the procedure now being proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise with some hesitancy, in the middle of a rather technical debate, but I would like to make a couple of points on this group. The Committee has already heard from my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb who, in her inimitable way, made it very clear that the Green Party remains utterly opposed to the entire Bill and greatly regrets that we gave it a Second Reading—but we are where we are.

From listening to the debate on the first group, a word that came up again and again, which might be surprising to people listening from outside the Committee, was “silly”. Of course, what we are talking about is deadly serious, but the definitions of “silly” are interesting, if you look them up. One is “showing a lack of common sense or judgment”. Common sense and judgment are two things that this group of amendments seeks to introduce to the Bill, so I commend the noble Lord, Lord German, for introducing it so clearly and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his excellent assistance in presenting the argument.

It is a statement of the obvious that Parliament, and certainly your Lordships’ House after our vote on the Rwanda treaty, does not believe that what the Bill states is common sense. It is not based on the evidence and has been disproved. More than that, these amendments are making a person, the Secretary of State, responsible for making a judgment. If we are to have the rule of law, a person has to be identified and held responsible for making that judgment. We are introducing a sense of responsibility and evidence here, which would at least be a step forward.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord German. It has been a short debate, in comparison to that on the first group, presumably because some have now given their Second Reading speeches on this Bill and that is sufficient for them. We will just have to go through the grind. It has, nevertheless, been an interesting debate.

I will pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. Of course, members of the Supreme Court are not here to answer questions, but I understand that they considered whether the Divisional Court was correct in deciding whether Ministers had followed an incorrect process, under law. The Supreme Court’s view was that the question to answer was whether issues of fact on refoulement, which was the origin of the appeal, were to be determined. That is why the Supreme Court made the decision that it did, and that is the relevant part of judicial review. I do not think that the relevant part of judicial review for the Bill is the Supreme Court’s judgment, but that judicial reviews of the process that decision-makers had followed in deciding to relocate anybody to Rwanda can no longer be carried out. That will now be prohibited which, if I may say so, is a major constitutional step, which the Bingham Centre and many others have warned against. I suspect we will hear that in other groups of amendments and, for me, that is the important part of judicial review.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray—who is not in his place to listen to the Minister’s closing speech, even though he spoke on this group—referenced the Supreme Court in an intervention on my noble friend, in regard to when the Supreme Court made its decision and whether that decision could be taken as only a snapshot view of its position on Rwanda then. That seems to be what Ministers have said: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the Advocate-General, said that at Second Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, referred to it in the debate on the first group. It seems to be a fundamental part of the Ministers’ case that we can look at the Supreme Court judgment only in the context of the evidence and information that it took up to the point of its judgment.

However, paragraph 104 of the Supreme Court judgment said categorically and clearly that:

“The necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

Paragraph 102 of the Supreme Court’s judgment referred to

“the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

So changes will be necessary in scale, as well as to attitudes, effective training and the current approach. However, we know from the UNHCR—to which the Supreme Court gave considerable weight—and its report from this January that those factors are still not in place. That is a major reason why this House declined to state that Rwanda is currently a safe country.

When the Minister winds up on this group, if he is to persuade us that the Supreme Court’s view should now be addressed because of the time lapse, what has happened between then and now has to be evidenced. That is what my noble friend is asking of the Minister, so I hope that he gives a clear, detailed response to Amendment 84. That lays out the 10 things that a committee of this House identified as needing to be done before we can consider whether Rwanda is a safe country.

At this point, I raise my challenge about “we”. The “we” here is Parliament, the legislature not the Executive, which will make a determination about a relocation or a safe country. We know it has long been the practice for there to be lists of countries to which someone could be relocated, either because we have a relocation or resettlement agreement with them or because the Minister has stated in secondary legislation, which subsequently has not been vetoed but has been approved by Parliament, that an individual may be sent back to those countries. Sometimes these schemes are voluntary, or they could be forced removals, but this is a long-standing practice. It is difficult and controversial, but there is consensus to that approach.

This is a world away from a system in which the Executive state that they consider a country safe, and that decision is approved by Parliament and can then be judicially reviewed. We are a world away from that when it comes to one country uniquely—Rwanda. It is the reversal of Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind—what do you do, sir?” It seems that, when Ministers change their minds, they want to change the facts.

So what are we going to do now? I do not think we should approve it, because we would now—on the statute book and unique among our legislation—have legislated in perpetuity, in primary legislation, defining a country’s asylum procedures in accordance with our standards. If that country changed them in any way, we would have to change statute in this country to follow what it does.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative 6:15, 12 February 2024

I know I am going slightly outside the ordering of clauses, but Amendments 81 and 82 to Clause 9 address the very difficulty that the noble Lord has identified. Circumstances can, and almost certainly will, change. We need to put rolling sunsets in place so that the Bill is never in force for more than, let us say, two years, and that each time it is extended there is a proper assessment of the safety of Rwanda, its compliance with treaties and, incidentally, whether the policy itself is succeeding.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I listened carefully to what he said, including at Second Reading, and when he comes to make the case I will also listen carefully for that. If he will forgive me for saying so, we will be into the categories of plan C, D, E and F to try to make the Bill a bit better. I refer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on the first group. These are all silk purse amendments, are they not? We are desperately trying to make something better that, in our hearts, we know cannot be better. We are trying to just take the rough edges off it slightly.

Our approach in this group is to revert the Bill to long-standing common practice for asylum laws that Ministers on those Benches have regularly said is the proper procedure, because it includes executive decision-making, parliamentary approval and then judicial review. That is what we are saying should be the case, because that is what, for years, Ministers have said is the case. We are seeking to restore that. Amendment 84 requires Ministers to report on these areas.

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary in December asking a whole series of questions regarding the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, gave me the courtesy of a substantive reply, and I am grateful for it. I asked specifically about when some of the mechanisms of the treaty would be in operation—for example, on the capacity for decision-making processes in Rwanda, for us to determine whether it would have the capacity and therefore be able to be safe. The noble Lord replied: “Some of the newer mechanisms will be finalised before operationalisation”. I want to know when. The Government are clearly working on it. They must have a working assumption of when they will be in place—so tell us. If the Government are saying that we are the determining body, tell us when those procedures will be in place. They cannot have it both ways and say that we are the determining body but they have the information—that does not cut it any more. If we are the determining body, we must have the information.

This is why I asked about when the judges will be in place. Under the treaty, judges who are not Rwandan nationals will have to be trained on Rwandan law, not UK law. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, who is not in his place, was completely wrong in the debate on the first group about this being similar to the Australian processes. The people who will be relocated will be processed under Rwandan law, not British law, so the judges will have to be trained on it. I asked when that will be complete, because we are obviously not going to relocate an individual where there will be a panel of judges to process them who are not sufficiently trained in Rwandan law. I am sure everybody will agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, replied: “The proper procedures, facilities and support for relocated individuals, with regard to the judges’ training, will be in place before they are relocated to Rwanda”. The Prime Minister, who bet Piers Morgan that the flights will leave, obviously knows when the judges will be trained—so what is the working assumption of when they will be trained?

I am desperately trying not to make this a silk purse exercise. We are fully in an Alice in Wonderland situation here. In the debate on the earlier group, the Minister said that because things have changed, we should now look at the new country note. The new country policy and information note version 2—and version 2.1 in January, which he was referring to—supersedes the summer 2022 country note. The Minister is saying that the old note should not be taken into consideration because there is a new note—and, if we want to refer to the UNHCR’s up-to-date position we should, as we heard him say, look at annexe 2 of that report. Not only have I read the country policy notes front to end, I also clicked on the annexe 2 links—anybody can do it now on their smartphone. A box comes up with a note that the publication was withdrawn on 11 December 2023. The publication the Minister referred to, which was withdrawn, was from May 2022, which the Supreme Court used as its evidence for the UNHCR.

If we are to be the decision-making body, how on earth are we going to be making decisions when the Government do not tell us even the basic information of when they—not us—think Rwanda will be a safe country?

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, there is a suite of amendments in this group that, in many ways, cover the same ground as the first group. It is clear from this short debate, as well as the first, that this debate—approaching the Bill by ensuring that the terms of the treaty are being properly adhered to; essentially, we are debating the mechanism for how best to do this—will dominate the whole Committee stage. I hope colleagues can work together to return the best possible solution on this issue.

In the same way that the Opposition do not wish to delay the Bill’s passage, we do not want to create barriers for the scheme to start. Our focus should be on how we monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what should happen if Rwanda is judged not to be a safe country for those being removed to it.

The noble Lord, Lord German, introducing Amendments 4 and 17, said there should be no commencement of the Act until Rwanda is deemed a safe country. A number of noble Lords spoke at length on proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84, which are the 10 issues raised by the committee of this House about how that might be achieved. The noble Lord looked at how that might be done, how many of those elements are in place, which are operational and—perhaps more fundamentally—whether Rwanda has the practical ability to fulfil the undertakings in a more long-term way. That is really the point that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made in his brief contribution to this group.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer speculated that the Secretary of State could, after making a decision, be open to judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that the Supreme Court did not use the principles of judicial review when it made its decision, but decided the case on first principles. Both my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord are well above my grade in legal matters, but it seems to me that this is another example of possible compromise as we move forward—as there were possible areas of compromise discussed in the debate on the first group.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, gave his customarily extremely articulate speech on the various provisions in proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84. He spoke of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and went through various ways in which that might be achieved—although he made his reluctance to do so very clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spoke about his Amendments 81 and 82, on the rolling sunsets, as he described them, which we will get to on a subsequent group.

So, really, this whole group is trying to make sure that the Government are properly held to account. As I said in my introduction, our focus will be on how to monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what Parliament’s role is in that, rather than putting up a barrier against the Bill itself.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland 6:30, 12 February 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord German, for opening. I acknowledge the spirit across the Committee of approaching this matter by looking to see what can be amended and not setting out to wreck the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said on the first group.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I would like to wreck the Bill—just so the Minister knows.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I accept that and I did hear the noble Baroness make that point from the Benches opposite.

Since summer 2022, when judicial review proceedings in relation to the migration and economic development partnership began, the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda have worked to refine and improve that partnership. This has strengthened not only the operational readiness of Rwanda to receive and support migrants relocated under the partnership but the legal footing of the agreement and the commitments both sides undertake to ensure that national and international obligations and standards are met, having scrutinised closely and carefully all the circumstances of the country and information from appropriate sources.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region. It has also been recognised internationally for its general safety and stability, strong government, low corruption and gender equality. I quote from what the Kigali-based comprehensive refugee response officer, Nayana Bose, of the UNHCR said in December 2021—mark the date:

“Rwanda has done an excellent job integrating refugees in the national education system, including urban refugees in the national community-based health insurance plan, providing them with national ID cards and offering them livelihood opportunities”.

As the Committee is aware, the Bill is underpinned by the treaty, Article 10 of which in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein

“shall be met in respect of all Relocated Individuals, regardless of their nationality, and without discrimination”.

Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of measures within the treaty will be expedited. The treaty will follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. I note that amendments tabled by noble Lords on this topic will be debated in the group to follow.

Amendment 17 would also oblige the Secretary of State to consider Rwanda safe only if it was deemed so for every descriptor of person as set out in Section 7(3) of the Illegal Migration Act. In relocating individuals to Rwanda, decision-makers will make a case-by-case decision about whether there is compelling evidence that the particular circumstances of each case would mean an individual would be at risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be relocated to Rwanda. This means that each person’s circumstances are considered before relocation. We therefore consider the amendment unnecessary.

Amendments 24 and 27 relate to the roles of courts and tribunals. It is important that we recognise that these are considered decision-makers in relation to relocating individuals to Rwanda, and they may have a say in it.

Amendment 27 in particular would place an obligation on courts and tribunals to consider any claim that Rwanda may breach its international obligations by removing an individual to a country that was unsafe for them; that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of their asylum claim; and that Rwanda will not act in accordance with the terms of the treaty. This obligation is unnecessary. Rwanda is as committed to this partnership as we are. We have worked closely together to build this partnership and have trust that the commitments in the treaty will be upheld. That is why we have introduced the Bill, which reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty, allowing Parliament to confirm the status of the Republic of Rwanda as a safe third country.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—I speak to his later contribution, rather than when he was assisting the noble Lord, Lord German, with legal analysis—posed the question of whether judicial review might be applicable. My noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne took up that point as well. On that aspect, I refer noble Lords to the terms of Article 22 of the treaty, which provides:

“In the event of a dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity, termination, interpretation or implementation, the Parties shall refer the dispute to the Joint Committee which shall meet within 14 … Working Days to discuss and seek resolution to the dispute by consultation”.

Therefore, the process by which matters will be addressed, if there is some shock to the operation of the system once it is operational, is set out in the terms of the treaty and operates on the level between the two countries.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I thank the noble and learned Lord for answering the question, but I am not sure that answers the point. Suppose the position were that the UK said, “You haven’t implemented it properly”; the effect of this Act would be nevertheless that a Minister and every single deciding body would have to decide that Rwanda was a safe country. I am not quite sure how Article 22 responds to the suggestion that I think the noble Lord, Lord German, makes in his amendment that judicial review should be available—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, said, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State as to whether it was a safe country. Could the noble and learned Lord address that suggestion?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, in relation to the operation of the treaty during its currency, we should bear in mind that a monitoring committee is in place, which examines these things on a going-forward basis, keeps them under supervision and reports back.

Annexe B of the treaty also sets out the claims process for relocated individuals and how they will be treated. It sets out clearly that members of the first instance body, who will make decisions on asylum and humanitarian protection claims, shall make such decisions

“impartially, solely on the basis of evidence before them and by reference to the provisions and principles of the Refugee Convention and humanitarian protection law”.

In preparation for the potential relocation of individuals, officials in the United Kingdom have worked together with Rwandan officials to develop and commence operational training for Rwandan asylum decision-makers. Most recently, Home Office technical experts, in collaboration with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development, delivered a training course aimed at asylum decision-makers in Rwanda.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I wonder if the Minister might tell us how long the course was, how many people were training and where they were from.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I do not think the noble Lord will be especially surprised to hear that I do not have those facts to hand, but I will undertake on behalf of the relevant department to communicate with him in writing on that topic.

The course focused on applying refugee law in asylum interviews and decision making—

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

The UN has reported on the treaty and the deficiencies that the Supreme Court referred to. In January, it noted in paragraph 20 of its report that training, based on its historical review of what is required in such circumstances, is normally of limited use. Over and above the training, what else has been put in place for those decision-makers to ensure that they fully abide by and understand their obligations, not just within Rwandan law but international agreements?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, as I said when I was responding to a point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the presence of British officials and foreign judges in Rwanda, looking at these matters and collaborating to resolve them, will clearly inculcate an atmosphere and a spirit of proper observance.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister speaks in the future tense—that the presence of British judges and the training “will” have that effect. I guess he is right; it may very well have that effect. But the point is that we are asked to declare Rwanda safe now. I hope the Minister is going to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about timing: when do we expect Rwanda to produce the new asylum law? When do we expect the judges to be appointed? When do we expect the system that is to be devised to ensure that there is no refoulement? When will that system be created? When are the Government going to see it? When will the House see it? If we are asked to say that Rwanda is safe, then we have already voted that we cannot ratify the treaty until the measures set out in Amendment 84, which were in the International Agreements Committee report, have come into effect. It is all very well the Minister speaking in the future tense; he has to tell us now when things are going to happen.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, I may have missed it, but could the Minister say whether Rwanda has drafted a refugee law?

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can I add to the Minister’s list the number of judges who have agreed to go to Rwanda and work there, and indeed the number of officials, and for how long?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, it is a matter of working towards having the safeguards in place. We have received assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of all measures in the treaty will be expedited. The point is that we are working with them to accomplish that end. We have already developed and commenced operational training—

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. That is the closest we have got to an answer: “working towards”. Can we pursue that a wee bit more? If the Rwandan Government are “working towards” putting safeguards in place, that means they are not currently in place. Is that correct?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

Just before the noble Lord sits down—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

Just before the noble Lord stands up or resumes his position, I have specific information on the point he raised earlier on information available electronically. I am told that the page on the GOV.UK site to which he was referring was in fact withdrawn on 11 September 2023 and has been superseded by one dated 11 January 2024.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful. I clicked on it half an hour ago. Maybe they can do some clicking in the Box, because the information the Minister has just provided is false. He needs to correct the record, but he can do it in writing to me if he so wishes.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I think a discussion on this point would be taking up too much of the Committee’s time.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

As the Minister confirmed to me, by definition, the safeguards that would make Rwanda safe are not in place, because the Rwandan Government are “working towards” having them in place. Why then are we asked to determine that Rwanda is currently safe when the Minister has said it is not?

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, might I add to that question? Is the noble and learned Lord the Minister not embarrassed by the word “is” in the clause, which I will address in the next group? It is the language of that particular provision that causes embarrassment to the Government. They really need to face up to the significance of using the word “is”.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland 6:45, 12 February 2024

My Lords, taking the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, together with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I think that brings us to considering where we are with the decision of the Supreme Court, and how that sits with what we, as a Government, are inviting the House to do at this stage.

The point is—and it is one which has been anticipated by noble Lords contributing on this and the previous group—that the factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision has changed. The factual basis on which the Supreme Court reached its decision was frozen in time, as it were, by the court of first instance. Since then, considerable development has taken place. The facts have changed; we are entitled to move forward. I also do not consider that that there is anything—

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for giving way. In January, the UN gave an assessment of where the Rwandan immigration system is. Paragraph 18 of that report states:

“As of January 2024, UNHCR has not observed changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns set out in its 2022 analysis and in the detailed evidence presented to the Supreme Court”.

What the UNHCR is saying is that, as of January this year, it has seen no evidence that the issues that the Supreme Court had in its evidence have been addressed to make Rwanda a safe country.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, we disagree with the views of the UNHCR on that point. As noble Lords were reminded at an earlier stage, the UNHCR is not the sovereign Parliament of this country.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

Will the Minister give way? Just a moment ago, he said that Rwanda was “working towards”—that is not the same as “is”. I hate to say it, but it would appear that he is contradicting himself.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I do not think that that is the case. I think that by saying that Rwanda is continuing to work on a process is to say that it is working on making things safer—not that they are not safe already.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. We have not received any evidence as to how this change has taken place in this short period. Rather than an assertion, what evidence is being placed before this House as to what is taking place and what has taken place to totally change the assessment of safety? I really would like to hear what the evidence is.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

My Lords, could I assist the noble and learned Lord in relation to this? There is a document called Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, and what this rather excellent document reveals—no doubt the noble and learned Lord will correct me if I am wrong—is that, since the Supreme Court decided, there has been the agreement that has been entered into, which is really just making legal and international law commitments they had already given, and that just before the Supreme Court gave its judgment, two courses were held, one from 18 to 22 September 2023 and the second from 20 to 24 November 2023, in which a number of Rwandan officials were trained, as the document says, to have a better understanding of the refugee convention.

Apart from those two courses and the entering into of the agreement the Minister referred to, will he tell us what else has happened since the rendering of the Supreme Court’s judgment, which I think was a few weeks ago?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

More than a few weeks ago, I think, but what we have is an internationally binding treaty between two sovereign states. That—if the noble and learned Lord will bear with me—is of the utmost significance in considering such matters.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

Am I right in saying that the legally binding commitment commits Rwanda to do the things, particularly in relation to refoulement, which it had already promised—although not in an agreement—to do? Am I right in saying that the very judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said an hour ago the Government respect, would take considerable time to take effect because of cultural understanding and the need for very substantial change? I am looking for something other than simply signing an agreement to do with that which it had already promised to do, which the Supreme Court said it was not in a practical position to deliver. Will the Minister tell the Committee what has happened that gives one confidence that that which the Supreme Court says will take time will in fact be ready in an instant?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

It is not a matter of being ready in an instant. The work is being undertaken. The point is that we have a specific treaty commitment not to refoul. As the noble and learned Lord knows, but just to remind the Committee, that is not to send people from Rwanda anywhere other than back to the United Kingdom; and, specifically, not to send them to places where they might be subject to torture or mistreatment; and, further, not to send them back to the countries from which they emerged if those countries are deemed dangerous.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

Have we bought through financial consideration special treatment for the people we send for asylum, as distinct from anyone else being considered for asylum; or is the asylum system as a whole being reformed? If we are buying them business class, as distinct from sitting at the back of the bus, does that really conform to our high standards of the rule of law and the protection of human rights? Or are we just buying something a bit special for the folk we are intending to put on a plane?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the Government enter into diplomatic arrangements such as treaties with other countries on behalf of the Government, the people and the country of the United Kingdom. Decisions on how to approach handling immigration or asylum claims elsewhere are surely matters for other countries. We would not trespass upon their independence and privileges in order to negotiate on behalf of them with a separate sovereign country.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

Is their whole system to be reformed in order that we can be confident of the quality of decision-making?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I think the noble Baroness has my answer, but the point is this: we do not impose or seek to impose upon anyone; nor, when the noble Baroness talks about buying privileged status, would I go along with that. What I am talking about and what the Government are seeking to enact in this measure is a commitment with a forward-looking, democratic country which is signatory to the same treaties and international obligations as we are.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is about to stand up to intervene. I am aware she has not been here for the whole of this debate.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

I am sorry to intervene again, but I have been here for the whole debate. May I take the Committee back to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, quoting from the UNHCR? The Minister said that we do not agree with the UNHCR, but it points out that its conclusions are based on

“UNHCR’s own extensive experience in capacity development of national asylum systems”.

Is the Minister saying that this Government have more experience than the UNHCR of the capacity of countries to change? It makes it very clear that training is not enough and that there needs to be systemic change and a change of culture.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

As I say, this is now a matter of a treaty commitment by that country. We surely accept the possibility that countries have changed. We know the trauma Rwanda has gone through in the comparatively recent past, and we support and acknowledge the work it is attempting to do as a forward-looking African country, looking to provide solutions as opposed to exporting problems.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

These questions have ranged far and wide, but was not the one issue, as I understand it, on which the Supreme Court came to its decision the risk of refoulement? That is covered in the treaty, and anybody would be able to see and know whether anyone was refouled in breach of international law and the concern expressed by the Supreme Court.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am grateful to my noble friend. The matter is entirely patent on the Supreme Court’s decision. It is about refoulement. We now have a treaty commitment preventing that happening.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

I have a straightforward and simpler question for the Minister. Paragraph 20 of the policy statement states:

“in order to implement the treaty, the GoR will pass a Rwandan asylum law in the coming months”.

When will that law be produced? Has it already been passed? If not, when will it be passed? If it is going to be passed after we pass this Bill, obviously, the treaty cannot be enabled.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I do not have information specific to the questions the noble Lord raises.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I have listened very carefully to this debate. I was particularly interested in the comments from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer about training people in Rwanda. I think he said there were two weeks of training. For any treaty to work, it must be between countries that are equal. My impression is that we are telling the Rwandan Government and people what to do, putting pens in their hands and making them sign without properly training them and giving them the experience to act equally to what we are looking to do ourselves. I may be wrong—perhaps the Minister can put me right.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I think the noble Lord overstates the matter. Advice and assistance are being provided to assist a country to shape its laws and culture in a way which is consistent with ours. The work Rwanda has undertaken is substantial. Work has been done in response to the decision of the Supreme Court, albeit, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne pointed out, that that decision ultimately related to refoulement, which is expressly covered in the treaty.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is correct when he says that the fundamental reason why the Supreme Court said no to this was the risk of refoulment. But it said that the risk of refoulement was caused by Rwanda’s asylum system, which was totally defective across the board. Rwanda could not prevent refoulement because its system was so bad. The judgment refers to

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

That is what the Supreme Court identified as being required. So it is both accurate but rather misleading to say it was only refoulement. There was the risk of refoulement because of the failures. Would that be the Government’s understanding of the position?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland 7:00, 12 February 2024

People cannot be refouled to a different country under this treaty. They can be sent back to the United Kingdom; that is as far as it goes.

Photo of Lord McDonald of Salford Lord McDonald of Salford Crossbench

The Minister rests a great deal on a signature on a treaty with a country that—with the current Government—has in the last decade refouled over 4,000 refugees sent by Israel to Rwanda. That was the current Government of Rwanda behaving badly with refoulement. Why is the Minister so confident that the same Government are so fundamentally different and reformed?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

Well, my Lords, the treaty is governed by our laws, by the Government of Rwanda and by international law. For a former diplomat, the noble Lord seems to have very little confidence in the ability of treaties to regulate the conduct of Governments between one another.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

For the Minister to be persuasive in response to that question, he would not have said that they are working towards putting safeguards in place—safeguards which have to be in place, in respect of the point about refoulement made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The Minister said that they were working towards putting safeguards in place. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said no relocation would take place before these safeguards were in place. So can the Minister at the Dispatch Box reconfirm that position: that no individual will be relocated before the safeguards—including the appeals mechanism, the training and the capacity-building—are in place? And when will the date be for when relocations of individuals can happen? I ask because we will be informed in Parliament that all of those safeguards are in place; not that they will be in place or are being worked towards, but that they are in place.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative. On the second part, I cannot give a date.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

As I understand it, my noble and learned friend is effectively saying that, because the treaty is going to be in place, Rwanda can be presumed to comply with its obligations. However, Clause 1(4) of this Bill says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.

“International law” is very widely defined in subsection (6). If that is true of this country, is it not also true of Rwanda, and why should we necessarily believe in its commitments to the treaty?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

Another noble Lord is perhaps too ready to disparage the activities and views of the Rwandan Government. As to the first point, paragraph 54 of the Constitution Committee’s report, which was published recently and quoted by the noble Lord, Lord German, towards the beginning of this debate, says:

“It is the case that United Kingdom Parliament is sovereign, and therefore may enact legislation which breaches international law. It is also true that the validity of an Act of Parliament, in domestic law, is not affected by international law. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is still subject to the provisions of international law”.

I do not disagree with anything that the Constitution Committee says in that document. The United Kingdom and this Government take their international commitments extremely seriously, but this measure, this treaty and this Bill are drawn up in response to a considerable problem. People are dying, and a huge amount of money is being spent by the United Kingdom in accommodating people, many of whom have no business being here in the first place. This Bill is an attempt to drive the matter forward.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said when winding up for the Opposition Front Bench at Second Reading, a number of things are being done already. He endorsed them on behalf of his party. He spoke about the directions against criminal groups to try to break their business model. He spoke about the enhanced levels of co-operation with our partners on the continent of Europe. Patently, however, while this is a complex and multilayered problem, these things are not working of themselves and the Government have taken a view that we must take further measures to try to stop the boats.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is quite right that the crux of the Supreme Court judgment is the question of refoulement. Ex-diplomats tend to take treaties very seriously. They read Article 10.3 of the treaty with Rwanda, which says:

The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring” that refoulement does not occur. I repeat:

“The parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system”.

That is the crux of it. Where is that system? Can we see it? If we could see that system, it might help us to determine whether Rwanda is safe.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

The noble Lord is aware that, as I explained a moment ago, the provisions of the treaty will send people to the United Kingdom only. They will not and cannot be refouled under the treaty and the arrangements we have with Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

Why then does the second sentence of Article 10.3 exist? Why is there? Why does it say:

The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation” which the Minister refers to “does not occur”?

Why do we need a system? If the Minister is completely confident, why have this Government signed a treaty that has a fallback to say what should happen if refoulement does occur? When will we see that system to ensure the fallback—the safety net? When are we going to see that? It is not good enough for the Minister to say that refoulement cannot happen because we have signed a treaty. The Government have also signed a treaty containing a provision for what happens if refoulement nevertheless occurs.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, it is entirely prudent and appropriate to anticipate contingencies in the terms of a document such as a treaty.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

The noble and learned Lord is taking a much tighter and more defensive position than the Government themselves are taking. They accept the proposition of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. They do not say that Article 10 is enough on its own. They say the following:

The Supreme Court concluded that changes needed to be made to Rwanda’s asylum procedures in order to ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement”.

They accept the proposition. That is paragraph 76 of the Government’s own statement. So tell us what changes and where we have got to. It is not enough—and the Government accept that it is not enough—just to rely on Article 10.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I have adverted at some length already to the Monitoring Committee that is in place and to the work currently under way by judicial and bureaucratic civil servant staff assisting the Rwandans in working through these matters.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated

My Lords, I am feeling slightly confused at this point. Am I correct in saying that the Government accept that, at present, Rwanda has not fully adhered to the commitments that it has given and that it follows that, by reference to those tests, it would be unsafe? As I understand it, even if the Government did nothing, if this Bill goes on the statute book as currently drafted, no changes will take place in the wider world and, suddenly, Rwanda becomes a safe country. Is that the reality of what we are looking at?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the intention of the Bill is to provide that Rwanda is a safe country. As I have explained to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in discussing Article 22 of the treaty, in the event of some disturbance to that situation the matter will be approached on a Government-to-Government basis by the convening of the relevant committee within 14 days.

Returning to a text which was prepared earlier for me, I ask the Committee to bear in mind that Article 10 of the treaty sets out particular assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein shall be met in respect of all relocated individuals, regardless of their nationality and without discrimination. Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. Furthermore, Article 10(3) in the treaty sets out clearly that the only place to which Rwanda can remove individuals—we have covered this ad longam—is the United Kingdom, which ensures that there is no risk of refoulement.

For noble Lords who remain concerned as to whether the Rwandan Government will abide by the treaty, the independent monitoring committee will be in place to ensure that obligations in the treaty are adhered to. For an initial period of at least three months, there will be enhanced monitoring; that shall take place daily to ensure rapid identification of, and response to, any shortcomings. I refer the Committee in that regard to Article 15(7) of the treaty. This enhanced phase will ensure that monitoring and reporting take place in real time. Individuals who are relocated to Rwanda will be able to raise any issues of concern, should they arise, with the committee. It should also be remembered, as I have said on a number of occasions, that this is a legally binding treaty that will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of this into consideration, I submit that these amendments are unnecessary. Further, they undermine the objective of the Bill, unnecessarily delaying, potentially, the relocation of individuals to Rwanda. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, if the Committee will forgive me, slid into an earlier part of the Minister’s response was a reference to some glowing statements about the progress within Rwanda on gender equality. Those statements should not be allowed to be left standing, because although we have been very much focused in this debate on refoulement, we are assuming that if refugees—in particular, women refugees—are given status in Rwanda they will remain and have to live in Rwanda. On those glowing statements made about gender equality there, yes, it is well known that Rwanda has made considerable progress in terms of parliamentary representation and ministerial representation—indeed, more progress than our own Parliament has.

None the less, is the Minister aware that in Rwanda, 83% of women work in the informal sector or are in low-wage occupations, earning on average 60% of men’s incomes? Its National Gender Statistics Report 2021 revealed that physical violence affected 36.7% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Rwanda. Will the Minister acknowledge, with regard to his earlier remarks, that making claims about gender equality progress in Rwanda needs to be done with caution?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to look at such matters with caution. In relation to the figures which she cites, the statistics concerning domestic violence would be primarily, one presumes, a matter for Rwandan society itself.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I am sorry: those were not domestic figures but general violence against women and girls figures.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am very aware of the noble Baroness’s campaigning work on the topic, and she will be aware that the bulk of violence visited upon women criminally is within the domestic setting.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

Given that, what is the basis for the Minister’s assertion about gender equality, which was also made in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to Peers? Can he give us some references, since the noble Baroness has?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

With respect to the important point which the noble Baroness tables, I have a feeling that this matter is dealt with in a later group. I do not have the figures to hand at the moment. If we do not touch upon that in a later group, with which I may not be concerned—I have not had a look at that, as a result of the division of labour on these Benches—then on the point which the noble Baroness makes, which reflects the original question, I will make sure that those figures are either brought out in the scope of the debate or are the subject of correspondence.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 7:15, 12 February 2024

To be helpful, as the Minister finds his place, what is clearly becoming a bone of contention between the Government Front Bench and the Committee is the progress that has been made. To help us before we get to Report, can the Minister write to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate to show the significant progress—that is the phrase he used—that Rwanda has made to deal with the concerns of the Supreme Court? We would then have some evidence before we get to Report to see the exact content of those significant reforms.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am happy to take up the noble Lord’s suggestion. We will correspond with him and other noble Lords who have participated in this debate.

I touched on the role of the independent monitoring committee. We have heard about the presence of persons from outwith Rwanda offering their expertise and skills, bolstering the system that will rule in these situations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a point in relation to the situation in Rwanda. Of course, the Committee ought to be reminded that it is not the intention of the Government that this be a means of sending people to Rwanda; our intention is that people who want to come to Britain will be deterred from following illegal routes travelling to Britain. We intend to use Rwanda as a deterrent for those people. Rwanda itself is safe. The point is that the people who want to travel to Britain will be deterred from travelling if they know that they will be taken instead to Rwanda. This is expressed in a legally binding treaty, which will become part of Rwandan domestic law.

Taking all of what has been said, including the extensive extemporary interventions from Members on all sides, I submit to the Committee that these amendments are unnecessary. They undermine the Bill’s objective. They unnecessarily delay matters in relation to the relocation of individuals and the deterrent effect of which I spoke. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on keeping his cool during this debate, because he has had a lot of information requests thrust at him.

If you were to separate this group of amendments into two halves, the first is about the process by which Parliament deals with the results of the Bill and how it should do it, looking at normal parliamentary practice. That is what was at the heart of this group; we should do it in a proper and appropriate manner. When the Government have determined that it is safe, according to the conditions laid down for them by this House, they would put an order before this House and the Commons, which would be voted on and could have a judicial end if necessary. That was the purpose of this group of amendments.

The second half of the group is much more about what we know in order to make that decision about whether Rwanda is safe. We have heard, “Rwanda is safe, but we’re going to make it safer”. We have heard “It will be expedited”, “We are working towards the treaty” and “We are”—as written down—“seeking assurances and commitments”. All those are in the future tense. The House is being asked to change our mind about what it has already determined, and we need to have the evidence to make that determination. On the most fundamental, simple question—whether, to implement the treaty, the Government of Rwanda will pass a new Rwandan asylum law—we do not know the answer, let alone having answers to all the other questions raised. We do not know where we will be by the time we get to Report.

On the issue of process, bearing in mind the idea of rolling sunset clauses—we need to look a judicial review and everything else—all those matters are important, but they do not deal with what happens before the Rwanda treaty is enacted; they deal with afterwards. I am interested in what happens both before and after, to find solutions which meet the needs of this Committee.

In a sense, I am in a quandary. If you were to ask me after listening to this debate to make a decision on whether Rwanda is safe, the answer would be, “I don’t know and I’ll come back later—but please tell me when I should come back”. As far as I can see, the Committee does not know when that will be. We have had no evidence, dates or timings, or rollout of information to help us make that decision. I hope that we will see it. If we do not, we certainly will be back. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendment 5 not moved.

Sitting suspended. Committee to begin again not before 8.10 pm.