Amendment 9

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 12 February 2024.

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Viscount Hailsham:

Moved by Viscount Hailsham

9: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (4)

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 13. I will be very brief, because the hour is late. At this time I am usually putting my dogs out, but on this occasion I have the pleasure of addressing your Lordships’ House.

The effect of Amendment 9 is to delete Clause 1(4), and the effect of Amendment 13 is to delete Clause 1(6). It is worth just reminding your Lordships what these two clauses say. Clause 1(4) says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act”— any old Act, incidentally—

“is unaffected by international law”.

You then go to Clause 1(6) to see what is meant by “international law”, and that is everything to which we have ever put our name, which is there in very considerable detail. So the first question that your Lordships should ask yourselves is, why on earth is it there? I have no doubt that, as a matter of strict law, the statements are correct, but why are they there? They serve no legislative purpose whatever. I think I know why they are there: it is to provide comfort to the Braverman wing of the Conservative Party—and I, for one, do not wish to provide comfort to that wing of the Conservative Party, which has been bringing disrepute on the party which I have served for 40 years.

We then go on to consider: does it serve a purpose? Clearly, it does not. But what it does do is damage our reputation for probity, because any bystander reading the Bill will come to the conclusion that the given word of the United Kingdom, expressed in treaties and in international law, is not worth credit. I do not wish to give people that interpretation. Nor, for that matter, does the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution of your Lordships’ House, published on 9 February.

I commend to your Lordships paragraphs 54, 56 and 57. Paragraph 54 acknowledges that it is 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. Paragraph 55 states:

“We agree with Lord Bingham that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.

Paragraph 56 states:

“Legislation which puts the UK in breach of international law undermines the rule of law and trust in the UK in fulfilling future treaty commitments”.

The summary section, paragraph 57, states:

“We reiterate that respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law. Legislation that undermines the UK’s international law obligations threatens the rule of law”.

It concludes:

“We invite the House to consider the consequences should the enactment of this Bill in its current form breach the UK’s international obligations”.

These two clauses are unnecessary. They are damaging to our reputation, serve absolutely no legislative purpose and should be removed from the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I am very proud to have signed the two amendments tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. When I first looked at them, I thought that, given the scale of obscenity that this Bill perpetrates, maybe this is flotsam— maybe this is just stating the obvious that for many years we have passed Acts of Parliament and sometimes aspects of domestic legislation have subsequently been found to be in breach of international law. As a matter of domestic law, a statute is not automatically invalid because it breaches international law without incorporation of the kind that we had with the EU and the Human Rights Act.

However, having spoken to the noble Viscount and thought again about the contemporary implications of provisions such as those in Clause 1(4) and Clause 1(6), I felt compelled to agree with him and to sign up to his amendment. We are sending a signal, initially to domestic civil servants, diplomats and Ministers, including in the context of the Ministerial Code, that we do not think our international obligations matter. That is a very significant cultural concern. It was perhaps the noble Viscount who made the point in relation to the Rwanda treaty earlier that we are saying, in the context of this Bill as a whole, that it is going to be alright, that Rwanda is not just going to be safe in the future but we can assume that is it safe now because of this treaty, this international binding agreement that Rwanda will of course respect because it is binding in international law—while simultaneously we are saying that international law does not affect the validity of UK law.

That is an extraordinary position, and an extraordinary position to put UK civil servants in—whether in the Border Force or the Home Office or whether they are diplomats anywhere in the world. Perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton will comment on this in a while as a member of the Constitution Committee. There are real tensions for Ministers and their duty to comply with the rule of law to put a provision such as this in primary legislation, notwithstanding the traditional point about the delicate relationship between the validity of domestic law and international law.

Then there is the bigger, existential question. At this particular moment in the world, in its state of insecurity, the United Kingdom’s position on Russia and Ukraine, events in the Middle East, Houthis and China is to say that international law matters. Across the Atlantic, Mr Trump has made some remarkable comments about his NATO allies. We are saying one thing, including with our arms, military support and rhetoric, about the importance of international law—“Do not breach it, because if you do, you will find us standing in your way”—while we pass a provision like this at the same time. I apologise to the noble Viscount for not seeing the vital importance of his amendments to begin with, but I certainly do now.

Week after week your Lordships’ House has noble Lords, including Ministers, talking about various parts of the world and the importance of the UK as a permanent member of the Security Council, and everything it will do and has attempted to do over many decades, including by military force, to uphold the international rules-based order— and then there is a dinner break or a change of personnel, and we have the Home Office back here saying that it will pass legislation to state that international law does not matter. That cannot continue. For those reasons, I am proud to support the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, mentioned the Constitution Committee, and Amendment 10 in my name also seeks to reinforce the position of that committee’s reports to this House. It comes to something when an amendment has to try to define the purpose of this House, but the amendment states that

“the primary responsibility of Parliament and the courts is to uphold the constitution of the United Kingdom, including that constitution’s fundamental commitment to the rule of law”.

The bit we are talking about here is the separation of the two legs of the stool, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—Parliament and the courts.

It is the role of Parliament to enact legislation, and it is the role of the courts to apply legislation to the facts. Clause 1(2)(b) breaches that separation of powers between Parliament and the courts. Further to that, Parliament is overriding the role of the courts by replacing a factual assessment of the courts with a deemed factual assessment by Parliament. The courts have procedures to evaluate evidence and determine the facts. In asylum cases they assess safety and risk daily. Parliament exists to legislate rather than make these assessments based on the valuation of evidence. Although the sovereignty of the UK Parliament is an established principle of the UK constitution, there are huge consequences when legislation is enacted which significantly impacts that separation of powers. The Bill is a dangerous precedent in which legislation could be used to reverse factual conclusions, jeopardising the rule of law as well as the separation of powers.

We may think that this legislation is for other people in our society—for people not like us—but the precedent this sets can be taken and applied more widely to achieve a political aim. We need to be alive to how marginalised people in our society are treated, and this is a marker of the values and priorities of our Government, who make decisions that affect us all.

It is clear from the debates in Committee that Members are not comfortable with what the Government are trying to do with this legislation: to replace the findings of fact of the highest court in the land with their own assessment of fact based on evidence yet to exist, in practice. We would mock other countries for trying to do that; that is why this amendment is so important, to lay down what Parliament and the courts are for.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 10:00, 12 February 2024

My Lords, I support the two amendments tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, which are entirely valid. It strikes me as a bit odd that the Government assure us, again and again, that nothing in the Bill is in breach of our obligations under international law. They say that with great determination, and I am not suggesting that they do not believe it, but, in that case, these clauses are completely, totally and utterly unnecessary. On the other hand, if the Government have doubts about it—and certainly, the Home Secretary was bound to give a warning that he was not absolutely sure this would pass muster under our international obligations—then of course they want to put clauses like this in, which totally invalidates the claim that they are not breaching international law.

I ask the Minister to reply to a very simple question; I know there is a reluctance to reply to questions, but let us try this one. For a very long time, this Government —this country—worked to the principle of “My word is my deed”. Is that still so? Yes or no?

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s determination to stop the boats, and I commend the provisions to disapply six sections of the Human Rights Act 1998 and to leave open to a Minister of the Crown whether to comply with an interim remedy from a court or tribunal that prevents or delays removal. I wish the Government success and hope the Bill will succeed, but it needs further tightening to avoid potential legal challenges that would prevent it from achieving its aims.

My Amendment 32 therefore is to disapply, for the purposes of the Bill, the relevant international arrangements and other law that prevents the UK from controlling its borders. The first reason for this amendment is a practical one. It is pointless to make a law that is unlikely to work. That, sadly, seems to be the case for the present Bill unless it is amended. The second reason is a deeper one. There is no doubt that there is a popular wish for the small boats to be stopped, and that one of the reasons why the Government were elected was to control our borders. Unless they make a law strong enough to withstand whatever challenge might be brought to it through national or international law, the Government will fail the people on whose support the laws made to govern Britain should be grounded. Trust in the democratic system, with its political parties, Parliament, Government and the judiciary, will be lost.

I do not accept the narrowness of contemporary theory about the dominant position that international treaty law should command. The apparent demand that international law should trump UK law is a form of legal and ideological utopian internationalism.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

Is it therefore the noble Baroness’s position that if there were extensive refoulement by Rwanda, that would not be a reason for not having the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

That is not my view. My view is that, none the less, given the ingenuity of many noble and learned Lords in this House, and members of the judiciary, barristers and solicitors outside this Chamber, there may very well be intelligent and ingenious challenges that will hold up the operation of the Bill. That is why I want to bring forward my amendment.

By contrast, there are treaties that govern trade, diplomatic or military alliances, and they deal with the national interests of a state and, at one remove, its people. Many who advocate the pre-eminence of international law base themselves on theories of universal rights formulated in the heady days of treaty-making in the decades after World War II—for a European world, by and large, and circumstances very different to our own. These arrangements have provided a quasi-legal framework—

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

I am sorry—the phrase “for a European world” makes me wonder whether the noble Baroness believes that internationally agreed human rights should apply around the world and not just in Europe.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness for her interjection. I am referring to the treaties emerging from the post-Second World War world, which was very much a European world at that time, to deal with circumstances such as the Holocaust and others, which had been left over from and arisen from it. I agree that there has been constant movement in this area. For instance, the European court at Strasbourg continues to make judicial interventions that sometimes try to push the European Convention on Human Rights much further than it was initially drafted to cover.

However, if I might continue, these treaties were conceived for a European world, by and large, and circumstances very different from our own. As I have said, these arrangements provide for potentially unlimited numbers of people from outside this country to command priority over the express and explicit wishes of its citizens.

Today, mass immigration threatens the democratic arrangements of western countries, the political systems on which they rest, and the stability on which societies and their economies depend. The threat does not stand over Britain alone. The failure of Governments all over Europe to stop clandestine or illegal immigration is destabilising them and their political arrangements. The difficulty of controlling long land borders all over Europe and the difficulties thrown up by the Schengen rules—now, I fear, ignored in many cases—have brought instability and undermined the democratic order. So too have international obligations embedded in domestic law and constitutions. The Sweden Democrats, who advocate tight controls on immigration, have shot to being the largest party in the centre-right governing bloc. For Denmark’s left and its social democratic Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s greatest challenge is non-western immigration. Italy can no longer process the volumes of asylum seekers arriving in small boats in Lampedusa and has called on the EU to help. France passed a measure on immigration, only to have the very amendments that had allowed it to pass, after 18 months to two years of wrangling, struck down by the constitutional court.

The UK is in a more fortunate position than these countries, since it is subject neither to Schengen nor the constraints of EU membership. This country and its people have the power to make their own laws. Their legitimacy derives not from arrangements made for times and circumstances different from our own—for a Eurocentric world, to be interpreted by internationalist institutions at a remove from democratic accountability that are often unaccountable for the consequences of the rules they liberally apply. I refer to my noble friend Lord Howard, who is not in his place: the question of democratic accountability must be central to any debate on controlling the UK’s borders.

Our Government have indeed recognised this in drawing up the present Bill, but they have held back from the final measure needed to make it effective. My amendment, like the same one proposed in the other place, will ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose—a purpose fervently desired by the people of this country.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Lawlor. I will speak generally about the Bill very briefly, and the amendment, and also say why I strongly oppose the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which are pernicious and dangerous. I cannot believe that, when my noble friend Lord Hailsham sought election in the county constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham in 2010, he would have told his constituents that he would seek to disregard the rights and privileges of Parliament in favour of supranational legal entities and international treaties, because I suspect that that would not have been a very popular point of view to take. But that seems to be the logical implication of the amendment he has put forward today.

The Bill does contain some important statements of principle, in that it reasserts the sovereignty of Parliament and its right to legislate to cut through the morass of alleged international norms which currently frustrate the ability of the United Kingdom to control its own borders, in Clause 1(4). The partial disapplication of aspects of the Human Rights Act—

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

Does the noble Lord realise that the Government, and previous Governments, have signed and ratified the international agreements and treaties about which we are talking?

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

Well, I will develop my argument about the tension between domestic legislation, parliamentary sovereignty and the rights and privileges of Parliament, and the international obligations and a universalist human rights regime which many noble Lords seem very content to support in preference to the former.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, whose complaint appears to be about supranational bodies. I do not know if he is aware—I am sure he is—that his own amendment disapplies

“any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts,”— that is domestic law—

“the Human Rights Act 1998”— that is domestic law—and

“any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law)”.

Why is he complaining only about supranational bodies when his amendment seeks to disapply great tranches of domestic law?

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

Well, the noble and learned Lord will be well aware that the Human Rights Act 1998, for instance, arose from the European Convention on Human Rights and the obligations in domestic legislation to that particular convention. I am sure there are other examples—

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

The hour is late, so if the noble and learned Lord will permit me—

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I would be grateful for an answer to the question of what the noble Lord says about

“any other provision or rule of domestic law (including any common law)”.

Nobody could suggest that was derived from abroad.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

As the noble and learned Lord will know, the amendment is worded such that it is declaratory and unambiguous. I am glad he has allowed me to make the point that the amendment my noble friend Lady Lawlor and I put down is explicit and unambiguous, so that it cannot be misinterpreted further down the line, outside this Chamber in the judicial setting. That is why it is copper-bottomed. It may not be quite to his liking, but it is there for a reason and the wording serves a specific purpose.

I will continue, as the hour is late. As I have explained, the amendment aims to disapply, for the purposes of this Act, the relevant international arrangements and other laws which prevent the UK controlling its borders, as the people of this country have elected their Government and their Members of Parliament to do. To that end, the laws we pass in this Parliament must be clear and unambiguous. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, the President of the Supreme Court, in dismissing one claim in a judgment on 15 November—that of ASM, an Iraqi—said that a court may not

“disregard an unambiguous expression of Parliament’s intention”.

I agree with what my noble friend Lady Lawlor said about the narrowness of contemporary theory and the universalist view, a logical corollary of which leads to a belief in open borders. It is practically impossible, in the current regime, for us to control our borders while we remain encumbered by international obligations which seek to subvert and undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament.

I think it is worth making the point again—and it is not an ignoble point to make—that the 1951 convention and the European Convention on Human Rights need to be updated in a geopolitical regime where there are mass movements of people. Even people who would not take the view of supporting this Bill or this Government’s wider policy on immigration understand. I have to say to a former esteemed member of a previous Labour Government that this will be an issue for any future Labour Government. It is very easy in opposition to strike poses, like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and say “We’ve got to signal what we think and what we do on this really pressing issue”, but we are not here to signal. We are here as legislators to pass legislation and to have oversight and scrutiny, not to virtue-signal to the world and undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 10:15, 12 February 2024

I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, that we do indeed need to address the immigration problem, but surely it would be better to address it in accordance with the law than in breach of the law.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

I hope to address the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Yesterday, I was in Huntingdon town hall watching a play recreating the trial of Charles I, which took place from 20 to 30 January 1649. Obviously, it did not end well for Charles I, who was arraigned on a charge of treason for making war against his own people. What he really did, of course, was that he usurped Parliament. He grabbed for himself the age-old privileges, that Parliament then said it bestowed upon itself, of a sovereign Parliament. It was the ultimate demonstration of the rights and privileges of that Parliament to put to death for the first time in history its own King. The point is that the sovereignty of this place is a precious thing, and I think that the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Hailsham unbalances the three-legged stool that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who is no longer in his place, referred to in his earlier comments.

I draw attention specifically on that issue to—noble and learned Lords will no doubt be aware of this reference—AV Dicey’s doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament. The eighth edition of the textbook, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, was published in 1915. It outlines the concepts of parliamentary sovereignty and the supremacy of Parliament. The three key points of parliamentary supremacy were that: Parliament can make any laws, it cannot be overridden by any body and cannot bind its successors nor can it be bound by its predecessors. The wider point is that we are a dualist Parliament. We do not cut and paste international treaties into law without proper scrutiny and oversight. Obviously, that involves primary and secondary legislation going through the proper procedures in this Parliament. That has been upheld by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords in its time and of course by the Supreme Court. Treaty obligations have effect in domestic law only so far as they are expressly incorporated into domestic law. The sovereignty of Parliament is fundamental to our rule of law and cannot be circumscribed by international law, opinions or even conventions.

In the case of R v Lyons in 2002—it is a very important point, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I read it in full— Lord Hoffmann, stated that

“it is firmly established that international treaties do not form part of English law and that English courts have no jurisdiction to interpret or apply them... It is not the treaty but the statute which forms part of English law. And English courts will not (unless the statute expressly so provides) be bound to give effect to interpretations of the treaty by an international court, even though the United Kingdom is bound by international law to do so. ... The sovereign legislator in the United Kingdom is Parliament. If Parliament has plainly laid down the law, it is the duty of the courts to apply it, whether that would involve the Crown in breach of an international treaty or not”.

In Bradley and Ewing’s authoritative book Constitutional and Administrative Law, it is clearly stated that the legislative supremacy of Parliament is not limited by international law:

“the courts may not hold an Act void on the ground that it contravenes general principles of international law”.

Indeed—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will be aware—the Labour Government in 1998 specifically reaffirmed the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to the Human Rights Act.

The amendment that we put down specifically makes that point. As I draw to a finish, I want to say to noble Lords that convention and international treaty obligations can be circumscribed and undermined to an extent by government. I draw noble Lords’ attention, for instance, to the prisoner vote issue of 2005. When I served in the other place, it was very much the settled view across the parties, including the Labour Government and the leader of the Opposition, that we would not accept prisoners who had been incarcerated with custodial sentences over a certain period receiving the vote. That was anathema to David Cameron, the case being Hirst v UK (No. 2) ECHR 681 [2005]. There was no outcry or uproar then; there was a settled consensus in this sovereign Parliament that the British people were not prepared to subsume their views, attitudes and opinions on prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment having the vote, having those civil and human rights that other people did. This issue will come up again when we debate in another Bill Committee the issue of marriage of whole life-tariff prisoners. One other example of course is that Madam Merkel disregarded the Dublin convention in 2015, allowing over a million Syrian refugees to come to the country in breach of Germany’s obligations under various treaties.

In conclusion, this Bill is of course imperfect; it is flawed. I may not even have voted for it when I was still in the other place, but that is another issue. Some noble Lords clearly want to hobble the Bill, make it inoperable and kill it with multiple amendments. We know that; it is only honest to say so. But the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hailsham moves the dial far too much towards judicial activism and away from parliamentary sovereignty. For that reason, I must ask noble Lords to resist it.

Finally, to those potentially assuming a ministerial responsibility later this year on the other side of this Chamber, I say, “Be careful what you wish for”. If Labour is elected to government, it will have to put into place an election manifesto; the people will have given it the faith and trust so to do. To undermine that by subjugating parliamentary sovereignty to international treaty obligations, which may change against the interests of a Labour Government and the British people, is a hostage to fortune. Undermining parliamentary sovereignty may seem a prudent thing to do in Opposition, but the burdens of higher office mean that, one day, the boot may well be on the other foot. For those reasons, I very strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Lawlor and resist the amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Hailsham and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP

My Lords, Amendment 80, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Morrow, relates to the application of the Bill across all parts of the United Kingdom. I want to explore with the Government—I would be interested in hearing their response—whether, despite Clause 8(1) stating that the Bill

“extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland”, that is in fact the case, given the effects of Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is of course the conduit by which EU law flows into Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland protocol, also known as the Windsor Framework.

Whatever one’s view of the merits of the Bill, it appears to apply across the UK with equal effect. That is according to the Bill and of course it should be the case: immigration law has always applied with equal effect right across the United Kingdom; otherwise, the danger is that one part of the country will be operating different rules, with all the attendant consequential problems that would arise. So what is the position and what effect would the Bill have on Northern Ireland?

As we know, under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which remains fully in place today despite the recent Command Paper which the Government have published, there is no diminution of rights for Northern Ireland compared with what previously existed under the Belfast agreement. The Government argue that the issues of immigration are not captured under that provision, and that therefore the Bill can proceed and Article 2 does not have any effect. However, in my view there is no doubt that Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 allows for the continuing application to Northern Ireland, uniquely within the United Kingdom, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU general principles.

I refer the Committee and the Minister to the recent High Court case in Belfast and its judgment in the Aman Angesom case, on 18 October 2023. This was a case of judicial review and at paragraph 94 of that judgment it was stated:

“The combined effect of section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 … and Article 4 of the Protocol limits the effects of section 5(4) and (5) of the EUWA 2018 and Schedule 1, para 3 of the same Act which restrict the use to which the Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU General Principles may be relied on after the UK’s exit” from the European Union. It continued:

“Thus, the Charter of Fundamental Rights remains enforceable in Northern Ireland and falls within the ambit of Article 2(1) of the protocol”.

Within the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is Article 18, which has rights of asylum. Is it not the case that despite the Bill stating in Clause 8(1) that it extends to Northern Ireland, because we do not have a notwithstanding clause in relation to Section 7A of the 2018 Act, Northern Ireland is in fact not now in the same position—or would not be in the same position—as the rest of the United Kingdom, were this Bill to proceed unamended? If that is so, the Government need to be totally transparent and open about it. We have had examples recently of legislation coming to this House, including a recent debate on a matter to do with trade, in which amendments were tabled to illustrate the fact that despite that legislation being silent on the matter, major provisions of that Bill could not apply to Northern Ireland because of the effects of the protocol/Windsor Framework.

If there is no problem then the Minister should have no difficulty in accepting the amendment in my name, which will clarify beyond any shadow of a doubt that the principle of the Bill—whatever the merits of it—should be that it applies across the board across the United Kingdom; otherwise, we will find that Northern Ireland will become a magnet for asylum seekers and others. They will say that the less rigorous application of procedures and sanctions will not apply in Northern Ireland. Therefore, people will want to move there. People who then come into Northern Ireland will perhaps wish to move to the rest of the United Kingdom. Then, not only will we have a trade border, but potentially a people border at some point in the future.

I want the Minister to look very carefully at the judgment in the High Court in Belfast I referred to. Could he explain why he believes that the amendment I and my noble friend have tabled therefore is not relevant? If we are curtailed in Northern Ireland by—or subject to, I should say—the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, could he explain how asylum cases will be processed and dealt with in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom?

What we have here, in effect, is another example of how Northern Ireland—whatever one’s views on a particular issue may be—does not have the right to decide. Even people in this mother of Parliaments, either the other place or your Lordships’ House, or in the Northern Ireland Assembly, do not have the right to decide these things for themselves—whatever side of the argument they may come down on. These matters are now decided for them as a result of the application of the Northern Ireland protocol and the direct application of EU law uniquely within this United Kingdom to one part of it. That raises very serious constitutional issues and very serious issues about democracy itself.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative 10:30, 12 February 2024

My Lords, I will speak against Amendments 9, 10 and possibly 13. I declare that I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights but, personally, I did not agree to the full report. Like the noble Baroness, Jones of Moulsecoomb, who is not in her seat, I have to say that I am not a lawyer, but I am a woman and therefore I am a pragmatic person.

The one thing about this Bill is that everybody criticises it, but nobody gives us an answer on how to deal with what is a huge problem. As a pragmatic person from the outside, I see it as a totally political discussion rather than people getting together to try to find a solution. The problem is that there is no silver bullet solution to regaining control of our borders, dealing with immigration and how to deal with all those people dying coming into the United Kingdom.

As I see it, the Strasbourg court states that members have an obligation to comply with interim measures, but it does not say anywhere that they are compelled to do so. Therefore, the argument that Parliament will undermine the rule of law by authorising Ministers to decide whether to comply with Rule 39 measures, is incorrect.

The other argument advanced by people opposing the Bill is that our reputation across the world will be damaged, but this is not a proven belief. It is unsubstantiated. The reality is that the whole international migration system has got totally out of control. Our Government are taking decisive actions to protect our country’s border, strengthen our national security, stop the appalling trade and, ultimately, avoid many unnecessary deaths.

Is not the primary duty of any Government to keep their citizens safe and the country secure? British citizens generally welcome migrants and value the importance of migration, but they are becoming more and more reticent at the idea of footing the bill, seeing the pressures on our NHS, schools and housing. This Bill is not anti-immigration but a pragmatic response to the urgent crisis. One cannot compare previous waves of immigration, such as those of the Jews and others who were forced to leave their country and were limited in their numbers. Faced with the scale and cost of the current migration into the United Kingdom, doing nothing is not an answer.

I realise that this Bill is not perfect, but it is a first step. If we do nothing, there will be political consequences, as the noble Baroness pointed out earlier, and we can see that in the rise of populism and anti-immigration movements in the rest of Europe. This is why I object to these amendments; they will strip away parliamentary authority to decide not to comply with the Rule 39 interim measures and therefore go against the whole idea of this Bill.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I am prompted to intervene by Amendment 80, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. Although I do not support that amendment, I think that he has raised a very significant issue. He referred to Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, as amended by the Windsor Framework, and to the principle of non-diminution of rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as he knows, has a statutory duty under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to monitor the implementation of Article 2 to ensure that there is no diminution of rights.

As the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission explains in its advice on the Rwanda Bill, referred to in the Constitution Committee’s report last week—and I declare an interest as a member of that committee—the rights not to be diminished include the EU procedures directive. That requires, among other things, by Article 27, that a third country can be considered safe only where the authorities are satisfied that key human rights principles will be respected. The procedures directive cannot be satisfied by a deeming provision; that is not how EU law works. It requires decision-makers to be untrammelled by legal fictions, and it requires convincing evidence that third countries are safe in practice. So there would appear to be a clear mismatch between what the Bill says and what the procedures directive preserved in Northern Ireland says.

My understanding is—although I submit to noble Lords from Northern Ireland on the detail of this—that this by no means a theoretical question. Official statistics do not provide an accurate picture of the extent of human trafficking on the island of Ireland, but the Northern Ireland refugee statistics for December 2023 record that there were 3,220 people receiving asylum support in Northern Ireland, and they were eligible for that because they were destitute on arrival.

To echo the call from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, for transparency and openness in this matter, my questions to the Minister are as follows. Does he agree with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission report, and in particular its conclusion that Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill are contrary to the principle of non-diminution of rights under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol? When he responds to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, on his Amendment 80, would he also explain how, consistently with the Northern Ireland protocol, this Bill can apply in Northern Ireland at all?

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 9 and 13. I obviously have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Hailsham and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but let us look at the two subsections whose removal they called for at the beginning of the debate. Clause 1(4) says:

“It is recognised that … the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign, and … the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”, and Clause 1(6) defines what the term “international law” means. There is nothing at all controversial in either of these clauses: indeed, Clause 1(4) is a classic statement of the legal position. I am afraid that I find it frankly bizarre for speeches to be made in this Committee expressing outrage that the Government have had the temerity to put them into Clause 1, as though they were dark secrets to be discussed only among lawyers in quiet corners of the Inns of Court. It is simply a frank statement and it has every place in Clause 1, where it will help the courts interpret the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, one can see that the interpretation provision at the end of the Bill refers back to Clause 1(6). For those reasons, I oppose the amendments proposed by my noble friend.

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

My Lords, acutely aware of the hour, I will be extremely brief and restrain myself. I offer Green support for Amendments 9, 10 and 13 and I will simply say about Amendment 9—I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong—that I invite noble Lords who are opposing these amendments to turn this around and say how we would feel when the Chinese Government say, “Well, we’re just going to ignore the Sino-British joint declaration”—as indeed the Chinese Government do and we rightly condemn that behaviour, and I hope will continue to do so.

On the second point, I commend the noble Lord, Lord German, for trying to fix the British constitution. It is a brave attempt, particularly at this hour of the evening. I was reminded, looking at his amendment, of the conclusion of the historian Peter Hennessy, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, that we suffer from the fact that our constitution—uncodified or unwritten, whichever you prefer—relies on people being “good chaps” who will just follow along and do the right thing. We are well past the point, it is very clear, when we can rely on the Government being good chaps.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I shall make a couple of brief comments. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his Amendments 9 and 13, makes a hugely important point. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, that I would be quite happy, if I were to be able to stand again, or indeed vote at the next general election, for my party to stand on the principle that it will abide by international law. That is something by which the Labour Party would be proud to stand. It is clear, with respect to his own party, that there is a division, frankly, between the position that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, holds, where he espoused what was the traditional and in my view the well-respected view of the Conservative Party, and the view of the Conservative Front Bench, which is to the right of the noble Viscount but to the left of the noble Lord, Lord Jackson. I am afraid that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, is getting it not just from His Majesty’s Opposition but from the right and left of the Tory party. We will be interested to see how he responds to that.

On the issue that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, mentioned Clause 1(6), which details the international law that can be ignored or is irrelevant under the Act. It is quite astonishing. If noble Lords have not read Clause 1(6), or have not got it in front of them, it is worth looking at. Virtually every international treaty or convention which this country has been a proud member of, often for decades, is simply to be ignored or considered irrelevant to the validity of the Act. These comprise

“the Human Rights Convention, the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings done at Warsaw on 16 May 2005, customary international law, and any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights”.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative 10:45, 12 February 2024

I may be pre-empting the noble Lord—incidentally, I very much hope that if there is a Labour Government he will be a senior figure in it, because his service in the other place was exemplary—but what is his answer to the material change in geopolitical circumstances since the time of the 1951 convention and the European Court of Human Rights? There is an incompatibility between the weapons available in current domestic law and the stresses from international treaty obligations. What will his party do to square the circle?

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

We will not take unilateral action but seek to work within the international framework to bring about any refinement that needs to be made, as many other countries across the world do in the light of their circumstances. I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, a question that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, just posed: why can we take action in the Red Sea? Because we are conforming with international law. Why can we say what we are saying to China about its attitude to Taiwan and its appalling attitude to Hong Kong? Because of international law. Why can we support Ukraine in the way we are? Because of our adherence to international law. In the past, as he will know, serious questions have been raised when people have been said to have acted in a way that was inconsistent with international law. That is its importance.

Anarchy will arise across the world if everyone simply abandons that and pursues what they consider to be their own interests. That way lies disaster. All I am saying, in a small but very important way, is that we do not believe we should be able simply to ignore international law in this Rwanda Bill. That is not the right approach for His Majesty’s Government.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

I thank the noble Lord for letting me clarify. I specifically mentioned international diplomatic, military and trade treaties, which are in the interests of a country and its people. The contrast was with international treaties made some years ago for different circumstances. We may well be able to make international treaties to deal with global problems in future, but the international treaties to which the noble Lord referred govern maritime trade, security alliances and other matters, and they are direct and immediate in their impact on the people of this country. My point is that we must defend the interests of people, Parliament and democracy, because we cannot have laws that are not grounded in trust.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

That is an interesting point, but you cannot pick and choose. You cannot simply decide that you do not agree with something at a particular time and abandon it. If we suddenly decided, because a new Government with a particular political ideology had been elected, to abandon a treaty with X and another with Y, we would have no case with respect to numerous countries around the world. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, the new Chinese Government simply abandoned everything that they negotiated on the withdrawal from Hong Kong. That is a new circumstance, but it is not right in any sense of the word that they unilaterally abandoned the international treaty.

That is the fundamental point at the heart of what the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is saying. The proud tradition of this country—not just his party—is to adhere to international agreements, to be able to walk into a room full of diplomats and for them to know that, when we say something, we mean it and it will be adhered to. Sometimes it is on the basis of trust built up over decades, and we play with it at our peril.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Conservative

A moment ago we heard the noble Lord read out the list of the international conventions set out in Clause 1(6), as though in some way it would disapply them domestically. That is clearly not the effect of the drafting. All Clause 1(6) does is define what the term “international law” means in other places in this statute. It is just a definition clause, so I am unsure why the noble Lord felt obliged to read it out as though it was of great importance, on the basis that were resiling from these conventions. As was clear from my noble friend’s speech, we are not in any way resiling from these obligations.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

If Clause 1(6) is completely purposeless and meaningless, it is worth the noble Lord asking the Minister why the Government have included it in the Bill. It obviously has to mean something if it is included in the Bill. All I am doing is reading from the Bill, which says that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.

It then goes on to define “international law”. I am simply pointing out that there is a big list of international conventions and legal treaties that we have been members of for decades, in many cases, which we are now saying unilaterally do not apply with respect to this Bill. That is a very significant constitutional change and something to be regretted.

That is why I welcome the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has tabled Amendments 9 and 13. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jackson—I thank him for his nice remarks about me—that one of the ways the Labour Party can win at the next general election is to say that we are proud to stand up for the international law to which this country has traditionally adhered, and propounded across the world. That is why we take action in many areas of the world to reinforce those rules. The international rules-based order is something of which we can be proud. The Labour Party will stand—or indeed fall—on the basis of being proud to stand for that.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative

That was devised in the 1950s when the circumstances were quite different and were more important than taking care of the citizens of this country.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

Of course taking care of the citizens of this country is necessary and important. There is no debate in the Chamber about that. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, started the debate by saying that all of us want to stop the boats and believe that illegal migration is harmful to the country. I say, and I believe my party will say, that the levels of legal migration are too high, and something needs to be done in a controlled and managed way. The debate is about how you do that and what the correct policy response is. That is where the division is. The division is not about whether we need to stop the boats; of course we do. We need to do something about the levels of migration; but to do it in a way that undermines the standing of this country in the world is not the way.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative

The noble Lord says that the Labour Party agrees that we need to stop the boats and reduce illegal and legal migration because it is unsustainable. But who has come up with a better solution? Those are just steps towards a solution.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

We have. The noble Baroness may disagree with us, but we have put forward a number of proposals involving tougher action to tackle criminal gangs, including more co-operation with our European partners—particularly France—and tackling the problem at source. That would be done through the re-establishment of the aid budget, which the noble Baroness’s party cut; however, I do not want to get party political about this. Those are the sorts of things we have suggested. The noble Lord shakes his head, but that does not mean that we do not have a plan—simply that he and the noble Baroness disagree with it. That is the nature of political debate. In supporting the amendments from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, we are saying that undermining international law is not the way to tackle a problem that we all agree needs to be sorted.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which has been a far-ranging one given the nature of the amendments. Clause 1(4)(a) and (b) states that it is recognised

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

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law”.

That is a statement in conventional terms of constitutional reality. My noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth expressed it with his characteristic clarity and concision. We have heard nothing in this debate—not from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, not from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, not from the noble Lord, Lord German, on the Liberal Democrat Benches—to disturb that reality.

I will take matters out of the order in which they were presented, to deal with them conveniently. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, replying a moment ago from the Opposition Front Bench, asked for a word about the status of the instruments enumerated in Clause 1(6). Following on from what I said, it is not the case that the Bill jettisons those commitments. It says—as my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth said—that this provision exemplifies what is meant by international law. When it lists these provisions, it does so for the purpose of stating what is, again, the constitutional reality—that the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law. That includes those provisions. That is and always has been the case. I appreciate that not all Members of the Committee think that it should be the case. We have heard cogent submissions from Members of the Committee to that effect. However, the point is that it is the case until such time as Parliament decides otherwise.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

I shall be brief. Why did the Minister put that on the face of the Bill, when all the lawyers in the Committee agree that, as a matter of domestic law, unless a treaty is incorporated directly, it is not justiciable in the UK courts? None the less, as a matter of international law, our word is binding. My noble friend Lord Coaker made it very clear why it is so important in this dangerous world that our word should be binding. If this is just a statement of domestic law, why was there the need to put it in the Bill? Is it because the Minister wants to show a bit of ankle to his friends who are pushing even further to the right with their amendment? What on earth are the Government trying to signal with this kind of statement in primary legislation?

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

There are a number of points that I could address there. As for the matter of me as a Minister showing ankle—the noble Baroness of course speaks metaphorically—I found it as difficult to comprehend as I found the references to a “Braverman wing” of the Conservative Party.

I go back to the submission of the noble Baroness earlier on. International law, as she is well aware, operates on the international plane, not on the domestic plane. There could be no greater restraint on state action than a treaty, and that is what the Government propose to deliver. She gave a submission earlier about the implications for Ministers and indeed for civil servants. To reassure her, I say that this does not bear on the actions of civil servants fulfilling their duties to assist the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, referred to Section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act. He was, I think, disparaging about the use of that provision, as opposed to Section 19(1)(a), which more familiarly is a statement given by the promoter of a Bill that, in his or her view, it is lawful. Of course, there is nothing unusual about the use of Section 19(1)(b) in these circumstances; it is entirely appropriate, which is why it appears in the Bill. It was used, for example, by the last Labour Government in, I think, the Communications Act 2003—I might be corrected on that, but it has been used by Labour when in government in those circumstances.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 11:00, 12 February 2024

Can the Minister say how many times it has been used in total?

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

The noble and learned Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have the figure to hand, but I imagine it is readily available from Westlaw.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, “Answer yes or no, does our word continue to be our bond?”, or words to that effect. It continues to be our bond within the circumstances of the incontrovertible constitutional position set out in Clause 1(4)(b). The United Kingdom and this Government take their obligations—

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

I wonder whether I can encourage the Minister to try that out on some foreigner with whose country we are signing a binding agreement, by telling him, “We will shake hands on that but, by the way, we can do what we like afterwards”. He ought to try it; he would find it quite an interesting experience.

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

That would be a treaty commitment of the sort that is the strongest bond that two countries can enter into, as we have been reminding the Committee. The conventional statement of constitutional reality—as I described it and as my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough described it in his submission, citing AV Dicey—was little more than a reassertion of the position that applies in law and that always has.

The Bill, as currently worded, enables Parliament to come to the same conclusion and provides a statutory finding that decision-makers, including courts or tribunals, will conclusively treat Rwanda as a safe country. Amendments 9 and 13, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, seek to remove the provision that recognises the sovereignty of Parliament and the provision that confirms that the validity of an Act is unaffected by a domestic court’s or a tribunal’s view that there is a conflict with international law. That is at the core of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic court. The treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, to which we referred, will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe, and the new Bill provides Parliament with the opportunity so to do.

I note that Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, is a probing amendment that makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the courts is to uphold the constitution of the United Kingdom, including the constitution’s fundamental commitment to the rule of law. That amendment again sets out the status quo. But the rule of law, as a concept, is difficult to tie down in a series of short statements, and I fear that the noble Lord’s amendment would be productive of debate in the abstract, producing perhaps more heat than light.

I again assure the Committee that the United Kingdom continues to be bound by and respects its legal and international obligations. The Bill is predicated on both Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda. It does not legislate away our international obligations. The purpose of the Bill is to say that, on the basis of the treaty and the evidence before it, Parliament believes those obligations to have been met—not that we do not care whether they have been. I repeat that the Government take their international obligations, including those under the ECHR, very seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires the United Kingdom to breach its international obligations.

As noble Lords will know, states take different approaches to their different international law obligations. Some states treat international law as automatically forming part of their domestic law, but the United Kingdom and other countries with a similar background, including many Commonwealth countries, with which we share so much, have a dualist system in which a treaty ratified by the Government does not alter the laws of the state unless and until it is incorporated into national law by domestic legislation.

On Amendment 32, tabled by my noble friend Lady Lawlor, this legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief, which prevents removal to Rwanda, only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. As my noble friend put it in her submission, the Bill needs tightening. We do not accept the amendment proposed by her and my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. None the less, I invite the Committee to consider that in the course of the discussion and the interventions which were made on my noble friends, matters of interest and importance emerged.

We do hold that law has to command public support and that it should emerge from public consideration, whether through our common law, which does no more than evolve to meet certain essential propositions that bargains should be sustained and that harm should be punished and compensated for, or whether it emerges from a representative Parliament. None the less, the law dare not risk moving too far from the confidence of the public. The risk to the maintenance of institutions and public peace of judicial activism and overreach moving too far away from what the public is prepared to appreciate is, I think, the point that my noble friends took.

My noble friend Lady Meyer added to the discussion by stating that while the Bill was, in her words, not perfect—that has been something of a leitmotif running through the submissions which we have heard today, and indeed at Second Reading—it is none the less not holding itself out as a silver bullet. It is not perfect because—to quote my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere—in a dull and sublunary world, very few things are capable of perfection. However, as my noble friend Lady Meyer pointed out, it is rather a pragmatic response to an urgent crisis. I commend my noble friends for their thoughtful analysis of the problems facing other countries grappling with the impact of mass migration, and the risks to their own domestic systems which have been identified as flowing therefrom.

I have said to the Committee and will say again that, as I think we heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, other countries are watching keenly the experience of this country in moving legislation of this sort. It is clear that this is a huge problem. I readily accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said from the Opposition Front Bench as the last submission to this group about the need to work with our partners abroad to devote resources to smashing the pernicious grip of criminal gangs on people’s lives. However, as I said at Second Reading, we are doing all of that now and there is no simple answer to the problem, and that is why the Bill is being advanced.

I will revert to Amendment 32. As I said, the legislation provides that a court may grant interim relief preventing removal to Rwanda only where it is satisfied that there is a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. That is the same threshold which can lead to a temporary suspension of the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act. These measures are necessary to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and to ensure that the grounds by which people can challenge removal are appropriately narrow. This amendment also undermines the safeguards that we see as necessary to ensure that the Bill and the Illegal Migration Act are compatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations. The Illegal Migration Act and the Bill include provision for a person subject to removal to a safe third country to make a limited class of suspensive claim on the grounds that they would face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be removed.

The threshold for serious and irreversible harm is a high one. The harm in question must be both imminent and permanent. This reflects the test applied by the European Court of Human Rights when considering whether to indicate an interim measure under Rule 39, meaning that the United Kingdom courts will have to consider these questions before they are progressed to Strasbourg, further undermining the case for Strasbourg to intervene.

I turn to Amendment 80 tabled by noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. The Northern Ireland position was also adverted to in the debate on group 1 by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. She is not in her place, but I apply my remarks across the House. The Bill will apply in full in Northern Ireland, as it will across the whole United Kingdom. Nothing in the Windsor Framework or the Belfast/Good Friday agreement changes that. I seek to provide reassurance to the Committee in relation to the constitutionally vital point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn.

The Government’s position is clear that the Bill’s provisions relate to administrative matters of asylum procedure and as such do not engage Article 2. This is because the Bill does not relate to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, rights given effect in domestic law in Northern Ireland and underpinned by EU law before the end of the transition period, or the specific rights contained in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement which concern Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances. Any suggestion that the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should impinge on the Bill implies that the rights in the agreement are far more expansive than is the case. The Government will continue to defend the application of the Bill on a United Kingdom-wide basis.

I offer further reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and his colleagues on those Benches, with the letter written by my learned colleague in the other place the Minister for Immigration, Michael Tomlinson KC, to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP dated 19 January 2024. He said that as he set out in debate and at Second Reading on 12 December, the Bill applies across the entire United Kingdom, and

“neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the Windsor Framework do anything to cut across that position. I do recognise, however, the concerns raised by your colleagues in Parliament as to whether the Bill may have specific interactions in that regard”.

Nothing in the Bill affects the required incorporation into domestic law of the ECHR, as required in the agreement, or the ability of domestic courts to consider issues of compatibility. Nor does the Bill alter the capacity of the domestic courts to overrule incompatible legislation of the Northern Ireland Assembly with convention rights. The noble Lord referred the Committee’s attention to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government have underlined consistently that the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not form part of domestic law anywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I want to be clear. I referred to the provision of the procedures directive which requires a case-by-case decision on whether a third country is safe. I contrasted that with Clause 2(1) of the Bill, which says that:

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

Is the Minister saying that there is no difference between those provisions, or is he accepting there has been a diminution of rights under the procedures directive and saying that it does not matter? If that is case, can he explain why it does not matter?

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

My Lords, I do not wish to enter into a matter that lies outwith my department and sphere of responsibility at this hour. With the noble Lord’s permission, we shall write.

Having offered those reassurances to the unionist Benches, I offer this conclusion. We have devised a solution that is innovative and within the framework of international law. It is a long-term solution that addresses the concerns set out in the Supreme Court judgment and ensures that this policy can go ahead, paving the way, as I said earlier, for other countries to look at similar solutions. I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, I have just two points. First, I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, but most especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. We share many concerns about this Bill.

Secondly, I have said enough for tonight, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Amendments 10 to 14 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.

Clause 2: Safety of the Republic of Rwanda

Amendment 17 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 11.17 pm.