Amendment 19

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 14 February 2024.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich:

Moved by Lord Anderson of Ipswich

19: Clause 2, page 2, line 33, leave out “conclusively”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment and others in the name of Lord Carlile of Berriew would ensure the declaration that Rwanda is a safe country is capable of being rebutted in law by credible evidence. The amendments require decision-makers (including courts or tribunals) to consider credible evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I rise in place of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to speak to Amendments 19, 21, 25 and 28, in his name and in mine, which are also signed variously by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. We are all grateful to Justice for its assistance in drafting these simple but important amendments.

The purpose of these amendments is to replace the irrebuttable presumption in Clause 2 that Rwanda is a safe country by a rebuttable presumption to the same effect. Decision-makers would begin from the same position that Rwanda is safe, but they would be entitled to consider credible evidence to the contrary. That is provided by Amendments 19 and 21, which amend Clause 2(1).

Amendment 28 supplies more detail by indicating the matters on which evidence could, if it is available, be presented: the risk of refoulement from Rwanda, the risk that there will be no fair and proper consideration of an asylum claim there, and the risk that Rwanda will not act in accordance with the treaty. These are all things that, under Clause 2 as it currently stands, may not be considered by independent courts and tribunals. They are not only relevant but of the highest importance to the lives and safety of anyone we send to Rwanda.

Finally, Amendment 25 would lift the bar on courts and tribunals considering claims that Rwanda is not safe. It is the logical corollary of Amendments 19 and 21: if decision-makers are entitled to consider credible evidence that Rwanda is not safe, the courts must be entitled to do so in order to determine whether they came to a lawful decision. Amendment 29, from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is welcome, but without an equivalent of Amendment 25 I am afraid that it does not do the job.

These amendments would not open the floodgates to vexatious claims. To be considered, any evidence must meet the credibility threshold—a well-established feature of Home Office practice, which, in a policy document entitled Assessing Credibility and Refugee Status in Asylum Claims Lodged on or After 28 June 2022, highlights a number of so-called credibility factors, including sufficiency of detail, internal consistency and plausibility.

To summarise, Clause 2, as it came to us from the Commons, requires officials to disregard relevant facts and prevents the courts calling them to account for it. With Clause 1, it creates a legal fiction—not in the field of tax law or planning law, where such things have their place, but in the totally different context of human safety and its opposite. It suppresses the evidence-based inquiry on which our common law and, ultimately, our democracy depend. Accept this and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said in his Second Reading speech, with all his constitutional expertise:

“We shall be living in a different land, breathing different air in a significantly diminished kingdom”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. 1022.]

These four amendments would enable those entrusted with these sensitive decisions to look at Rwanda as it is, not as we all hope that it may become. But I must acknowledge that, for this very reason, they go to the heart of this Bill, for it is not a by-product of this Bill but its whole purpose to assert to be true what first the Supreme Court and then our International Agreements Committee have found to be false, and then to protect that false assertion from rational challenge by decision-makers or in the courts.

This is not, like the previous group, a debate about exceptions. The deterrence theory on which the Bill is founded has the unfortunate result that it is the most objectionable features of this Bill to which the Government hold most tightly, even when, as here, they set a thoroughly depressing precedent. There are limits to my optimism that the Minister will respond positively to these amendments but, knowing him and respecting him as I do, I do not altogether abandon hope.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who has put his case with the precision and succinctness that we remember of our late friend Lord Judge. These amendments would render the safety of Rwanda, which we hope will come in the future, a rebuttable presumption rather than an absolute conclusion. They echo my Amendment 34, which we discussed in the first group, but put more flesh on those bones. I commend them to the Committee.

I also remind the Committee that the amendments echo a finding by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee. Ministers say that it is precedented and normal to have lists of safe countries in asylum statutes. That has been the case in the past, but in those past cases the consequence of being a safe country on a so-called and unfortunately coined white list of countries has been only a rebuttable presumption. So Ministers were wrong, for example, to say during the course of the Illegal Migration Act, “Nothing special here, nothing new”, when they said that it will be an absolute conclusion and irrebuttable presumption that any country is absolutely safe.

We need to amend this Bill in good faith. We need belts and braces. We will have to look at other provisions and amendments around how it is that we will judge when Rwanda becomes safe, as we all want it to be. In any event, even when all the experts in the world—the UNHCR, independent monitors, parliamentary committees —say that things have gone well in the last couple of years and that the treaty worked out, and how wrong we were to be so sceptical as things have gone so well, so quickly, and Rwanda is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world for its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, it is still right in principle that the presumption of safety should be a rebuttable presumption and not an absolute conclusion that squeezes out the judgment of civil servants, Border Force and Ministers, or ousts the jurisdiction of our courts.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 30 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. I am grateful to them for their support and to Redress and RAMP for their help, and I refer here to my interests in the register.

This amendment would mean that Clause 2(1) and related subsections concerning the treatment of Rwanda as a safe country would not apply where

“torture … has taken place in Rwanda in the two years prior”, or where the person concerned

“is themselves a survivor of torture”.

As such, it seeks to minimise the risk of torture arising from the Bill and to safeguard those who are survivors of torture.

The prohibition of torture is guaranteed by the UK through its ratification of various international and regional human rights instruments, particularly the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As a JCHR report on the Bill explains, UNCAT

“provides that a person cannot be removed to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.

The JCHR emphasis that this is

“a core principle of international law, to which the UK has committed itself on numerous occasions over the past 70 years”.

The existential significance of torture is underlined by a former UN special rapporteur on torture and professor of law, Juan E Méndez, who is himself a torture survivor. He says:

“Torture aims to dehumanise survivors through calculated acts of cruelty to remove the survivors’ dignity and make them powerless. It is a very serious human rights violation and an international crime. It is also a crime under UK national law, no matter where the torture was committed. Torture is forbidden under all circumstances and can never be justified”.

He is saying that this prohibition on torture is absolute and non-derogable, meaning that it cannot be suspended or restricted in any circumstances. This prohibition includes a ban on sending someone to a country where they are at risk of torture or where there is a possibility that they will be sent on to another third country where such a risk may exist. The amendment simply attempts to ensure that the first of these does not happen, while protecting those who have already been subjected to torture.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton referred to the issue of torture in the context of refoulement on Monday. However, this amendment concerns torture in Rwanda itself. Redress asked me to table this amendment because of consistent reports of torture being used in Rwanda by the military and the police. According to Human Rights Watch’s submission to the International Agreements Committee, serious human rights abuses continue to occur in Rwanda, including repression of free speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture by Rwandan authorities.

Despite Rwanda being a party to the UN convention on torture, Human Rights Watch argues that unlawful detention and torture are rampant, particularly in unofficial detention facilities known as “safe houses”. It states that it regularly receives

“credible information from former prisoners about torture and ill-treatment”.

It notes that, in 2017, the UN subcommittee on the prevention of torture was forced to suspend and later, for the first time ever, cancel its visit to Rwanda, citing obstruction by the authorities and fear of reprisals against interviewees. Rwanda has also failed to submit its third periodic state report to the Committee Against Torture, which was due in December 2021. The Supreme Court judgment noted that, at the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review of Rwanda in January of that year, the UK Government criticised Rwanda for

“extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.

The submission maintains that the Rwandan Government consistently fail to conduct effective investigations into allegations of torture and other human rights abuses, and is critical of the failures of the National Commission for Human Rights, which the UK Government pray in aid.

Just last month, Human Rights Watch, in an article, called for the release of a journalist and for the investigation of the serious torture allegations he has made. Its most recent World Report on Rwanda provided further evidence of torture and threats to Rwandan refugees and members of the diaspora. The US State Department 2022 country report on Rwanda cites significant human rights issues, including

“credible reports of … torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment”.

It went on to say that although the Government did take some steps to prosecute or punish members of the security services responsible for such actions, impunity remained a problem.

I am sorry; I realise that I have left out a section of my notes. It is not the logical order, but I will go back and read it now.

It is important to remember that all too many of those seeking asylum have experienced torture. Clearly, this increases their vulnerability, and thus I was surprised to read in a Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, the other week that to provide information on the number of asylum seekers in detention who have claimed to be victims of torture could be done only at “disproportionate cost”. This is information that one would expect the Home Office to have, under the rules that detention centres follow concerning vulnerable detainees. Could the Minister explain why this information is not held routinely?

According to Redress, estimates suggest that between 27% and 44% of refugees and asylum seekers in countries such as the UK will have experienced torture. It is surely unconscionable to externalise our responsibilities to asylum seekers who have suffered torture, and to do so to a country that, despite what the Bill says, has been deemed not to be safe by the Supreme Court and many observers, as other noble Lords have underlined— I have already given the evidence about torture. This would be an extreme case of the UK failing in its responsibility to share, rather than shift, the burden of protecting asylum seekers—a failure deplored by the UNHCR. The challenges faced by torture survivors in the UK are great enough, including difficulties accessing specialist support and services. I fear that they will be that much greater in Rwanda.

What investigations have the Government undertaken as to the support that asylum seekers can expect in Rwanda? I may have missed it, but I can see no explicit mention of support for torture survivors in the agreement. I bear in mind here that, on Monday, speaking from direct experience of Rwanda, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln said that

“the institutions of civil society remain substantially undeveloped”.—[Official Report, 12/2/24; col. 85]

Such institutions play a crucial role in the UK in supporting torture survivors.

A recent article in the Big Issue by a torture survivor, supported by Freedom from Torture, gives us some idea of what it must feel like to have the threat of removal to Rwanda hanging over one’s head. The author, King, writes:

“For the whole of 2023, I’ve lived with the terror of being sent to live again in a land that displays human rights abuses. The constant threat of being deported to Rwanda has brought shockwaves to my mind and body … the Rwanda Bill has really left me in a total state of anguish”.

The UK cannot connive in the slightest possibility of torture. This amendment would reduce the risk of it doing so, and I therefore hope that the Minister will consider it seriously, in line with the assurance given to the JCHR that the Government continue to recognise the binding nature of their international obligations and their commitment to respecting them.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 2:00, 14 February 2024

My Lords, I too have added my name to this amendment, and I declare an interest as a patron of Redress, the anti-torture organisation. A recent Westminster Foundation for Democracy report pointed out the common pitfalls that democratic Governments fall into when dealing with authoritarian regimes, one of which is to promote their economic and other development at the expense of acknowledging less desirable characteristics. Rwanda would seem to be a classic case of this pitfall.

As we have heard at length and in detail from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the human rights record of Rwanda is not good, to say the least. Torture, among other crimes against humanity, continues to be carried out. This amendment is therefore essential. I remind your Lordships of the case of Victoire Ingabire, who is the only opposition parliamentarian in Rwanda and has spent eight years in jail, some of them in solitary confinement. It would be useful to ask her what her views are on torture and other crimes against humanity in Rwanda at the moment, in both formal and informal sectors.

We have enough evidence to suggest that this amendment must be included in the Bill if we are to ensure freedom from torture for those whom we send to Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Conservative

My Lords, I support these amendments, which seem to me to go to the heart of the most extraordinary feature of this Bill. It is essentially intended to reverse a legal defeat the Government suffered in the British Supreme Court on a matter of law. Five Supreme Court judges listened to the evidence and decided as a matter of fact that Rwanda is not, at the moment, a safe country for the purposes we are discussing.

The Government have reacted to that judgment in a way no other disappointed litigant could possibly have contemplated. They have decided to invoke the sovereignty of Parliament and to ask both Houses to pass legislation that declares that the facts are indeed contrary to those which the Supreme Court declared to be the factual situation. The facts are to be regarded as the facts the Government state for the indefinite future, whatever happens from now on, unless or until this legislation is amended or repealed—if it ever is. I spoke at Second Reading, so I will not repeat all the arguments I made then, but I continue to be completely flabbergasted by the constitutional implications of the Government acting in this way.

Has the Minister been able to find any precedent for this occurring? Have any Government in a similar situation ever decided to reverse any legal defeat by just passing legislation saying, “The facts are what we say they are, not the facts the Supreme Court has found on the evidence”? I think it unlikely. For that reason, it is an extremely dangerous precedent. For that reason, I very much hope that there will be a legal challenge that will enable the Supreme Court to strike it down as unconstitutional in due course. But the better step would be for Parliament not to pass the legislation in the first place.

Finally, the most striking feature is that the legislation declares the facts to be the facts from now on, so long as it remains on the statute book, regardless of future events. Let us say that a situation arises which I very much hope does not, given that the Rwandan Government are one of the more attractive, by comparison, of African Governments. But say a coup were to occur in Rwanda and the present, fairly benign dictator were to be replaced by a much more malign dictator. What the Government are asking us to declare is that the courts can be told that Rwanda remains a safe country and they are not to entertain credible evidence that events in Rwanda have occurred which change that situation. It is being laid down as a matter of law for the indefinite future, regardless of whatever startling further facts might emerge which someone might put before a court. I find that completely preposterous. I very much hope that we would never elect a British Government who would be so outrageous as to proceed in those circumstances, but that is the legal position this House is being asked to endorse.

I find it incredible that anyone can really expect a British Parliament, in 2024, to pass legislation of this kind. I ask the Minister to reconsider and to let us know whether the rule of law, the admission of evidence and the consideration of that evidence by British judges might be allowed to function in its normal way, and whether the Government are prepared to reconsider at least the wording and the detail, particularly of Clause 2 of the Bill they have put before us.

Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop

My Lords, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester regrets that he cannot be here today to speak to Amendments 19, 21, 25 and 28 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, to which he has added his name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for setting out the case clearly, and I am particularly grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, as he has made the case so powerfully.

My right reverend friend and I are concerned, not as lawyers but as citizens, about the constitutional precedent the Bill sets. The role of the judiciary as distinct from the Government and Parliament must not be infringed. Parliament creates laws but judges and juries are responsible for the finding of facts. Where the Supreme Court has ruled that Rwanda is not safe, it is an abuse of Parliament’s powers, as we have just heard, for it to attempt to declare otherwise. We are concerned that the Bill represents a dangerous step. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, therefore attempt to preserve the important principle that facts should be considered by the courts. We must surely be able to take into account credible evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country.

It is not unreasonable to consider, as we have just heard, that the situation on the ground in Rwanda might suddenly change, even if the treaty is properly put into effect to take into account the Supreme Court’s concerns. It is surely right that such a change could be considered in law. Not only is this a vital safeguard for potentially vulnerable people at risk of being sent to Rwanda; it is a vital safeguard for our democracy itself. We must be able to take credible evidence into account when managing any policy, be it on Rwanda or anything else, and we must not be in the habit of setting aside court verdicts we do not like by bringing forward legislation.

My right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester has also added his name to the proposition put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that Clause 2 should not stand part of the Bill. Removing this clause would remove the requirement that all decision-makers must treat Rwanda as a safe country. The amendments to which I have already spoken try to mitigate the implications of legislating that a country is safe ad infinitum, but in truth the courts, immigration officers and tribunals need the capacity to consider the facts about whether Rwanda is a safe country in general. Removing the clause altogether is the best way to do this and to maintain independent judicial oversight. My right reverend friend and I agree that this principle is fundamental to the rule of law and access to justice.

Many Members of this Committee have been clear that the most worrying aspect of this Bill, setting aside concerns for the safety of vulnerable people, is that it undermines the independent finding of fact by our own Supreme Court. Clause 2 is at the heart of this problem, as it legislates that Rwanda must be treated as a safe country regardless of the judgments of our independent courts. If the clause cannot be removed, amendments must be included to ensure that the courts can take new evidence into account.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 2:15, 14 February 2024

My Lords, every time in this Committee you think that the Government cannot be more flattened than they were in the previous debate, they are even more flattened. I refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who in my respectful submission completely flattened the Government’s case for not allowing the courts in.

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is proposing. As the Committee understands, it means that if somebody challenges whether Rwanda is a safe country in general, the courts must decide on it. The Government are obviously under no illusions about what such a clause would mean. It would not mean that an asylum seeker, every time they were in trouble and might be about to be expelled, could raise the question generally of whether Rwanda is a safe country; it would mean in practice that, eventually, one case in a high Court of Appeal would definitively decide whether at that time Rwanda was a safe country in general or not.

The practical consequence of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is that the courts will determine once—and maybe again in a few years’ time if the position has changed—whether it is a safe country in general, and everyone else will be bound by that. The Government accept that, if the issue is whether an individual’s circumstances put him or her at risk, they have the right to challenge in court anyway. By refusing to allow this to happen, they are cutting out a one-off shot by the courts to determine whether Rwanda is a safe country in general.

Why on earth would they not want that to happen, as their case is not that Rwanda might or might not be a safe country but that it is a safe country? Might I venture to suggest a reason why they are behaving in this extraordinary way? It is because it will take a bit of time for the courts to reach that conclusion—maybe two or three months from the Bill becoming law—and in that time there might be a general election and nobody will have flown to Rwanda. Could a responsible Government be willing to put asylum seekers’ lives at risk on the chance that Rwanda might not be a safe country? Obviously not, without a proper examination by the courts.

What I am saying does not challenge the basic policy of deporting to a third safe country or offshore processing—that debate is for another day—but, if the Government are going to do this, to give people confidence in them and to give the world confidence in the UK, surely they should do it lawfully, not unlawfully. They should not be advancing bogus reasons for cutting out the courts, when the courts are there in every other consideration of whether a country is safe. It is very discreditable.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

My Lords, I hope the Committee accepts that I rarely intervene when the lawyers are at it, because I am not of great assistance, particularly to my noble friend of a great many years Lord Clarke. But he asked the Government to tell him of an occasion when this has happened before. I will remind him of one: the court of King Canute told him that, because he was sovereign, he could tell the waters to stop and the tide to go out. Of course, we were never taught it this way round in school, but the truth is that King Canute went to prove to his courtiers that he could not reverse the truth.

The problem with this part of the Bill is that it proposes that the sovereignty of Parliament is able to make a situation true, whether it is or not. In other words, this would be wrong even if the Supreme Court had not ruled that this is not a safe country. It is not part of the sovereignty of Parliament to declare truth; it is part of the sovereignty of Parliament to declare the law—and, in so far as we are sensible, we try to make the law as close to the truth as possible.

Now this Government have done a remarkable thing. There are many bishops on the Bench at the moment, so I will speak with a certain amount of care, but I seem to remember:

“‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer”.

This Government have not even asked the first question. They assert that this is true and, as my noble friend suggested, not only is it true but it will always be true until, I suppose, the Government—because the courts will have no place in this—say that it is not true.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is that I have spent nearly 11 years of my life as chairman of the Climate Change Committee. One of the problems I have faced all that time is people asserting “my truth” —not “the” truth but “my” truth—and that their truth is the equal of anyone else’s truth. That is not the nature of truth. Truth has constantly to be questioned. Doubt is an essential part of faith; you have constantly to question. The Government are proposing a unique situation, which is that we shall never question their decision, at this moment, that Rwanda is a safe place. I am not going to try to say whether I think it is safe or not. I think merely that it should be under constant consideration if we are going to take other human beings out of our jurisdiction and place them somewhere else.

That, if I may say so to my noble friend, is a moral matter. We remove responsibility by doing this, and the one way in which we can protect ourselves is if the place to which we send them is constantly available for questioning. The only place where that questioning can take place is in a court because courts listen to all the arguments, hear all the evidence and make a decision. If you do not like the decision, you can appeal it, but finally you have to accept it. Once you undermine that, I do not see how you can uphold the rule of law anywhere else. Once the Government have said that their truth is true and there is no other truth, we have moved into a position which is entirely unacceptable in a democracy. This Government have to understand that—on this issue perhaps alone—this House will have to stop this Government’s proposal by whatever way. This is our duty. We are not a House which just puts the details of law into some sense. We also have a constitutional position. The Prime Minister made his rather curious statement about the will of the people, but the will of the people can be protected only if this House stands up for the constitution of our nation, and our constitutional position must be that the Government cannot determine truth. Only the courts can do that.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I will be very brief. I endorse the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I want to question slightly the use of truth because there is a difference between truth and factuality. Something can be not factual, but it can be true. Let us look at a parable, for example. We have not even got as far as factuality when we are talking about truth. To put it very simply—I am in terrible danger of evoking Immanuel Kant here, but I will try to avoid that—if I say I am a banana, it does not make me a banana. There has to be some credible questioning of that. I am not a banana. A country does not become safe because someone says it is, even if a Government say that. That has to be demonstrated, and it has to be open to question, particularly, as has been said many times, because the word “is”—we are getting very Clintonesque in his impeachment hearings when we get into the meaning of “is”—has a permanence about it that does not allow for the possibility of change. I fail to see rationally how this is such a problem for the Government, other than that there is an ideological drive in this which is not open to argument.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 22, 37 and 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord German, to which I have put my name. These are probing amendments to bring out the mistreatment of evidence that this Bill is enforcing. It is not just that the courts are being cut out but, in the very limited times that an individual can go to a court or tribunal, the truth also is being denied. The court cannot look at the truth in those individual cases.

The primary effect of the Bill is to intentionally—and I use that word deliberately—reject and exclude evidence, and any consideration of it. This is destructive to any real respect for either law or the truth. Law needs to be properly applied to the facts, and the Bill prohibits this. Its proper application depends on an assessment of whether the relevant facts are one way or the other. If we do not have this, we are left with the arbitrary exercise of power. We are ultimately talking about truth that is established according to evidence, with an understanding that the evidence which leads to findings of fact may change and therefore the facts will as well. Fixing facts contrary to or regardless of the evidence, and fixing them for all time, is not something we recognise in the tradition we have in this country, and which gives us our international reputation. It allies us to countries where citizens cannot be confident that truth, and therefore justice, will prevail.

Clause 4(1) relates to the narrow grounds for appeal that individuals have, and that they have to show compelling evidence relating specifically to their individual circumstances. This is highly contrived and suggests that the court cannot make assessment of risk to a person, particularly individual circumstances, without being able to consider evidence linked to the general safety of Rwanda as a country. It is difficult to comprehend what this would permit. Any proper approach to evidence must be holistic; evidence specific to the person and that which is more general are always interlinked—they are never separate. Linking the individual’s case to the generality of Rwanda gives the court the full facts to be able to make a decision about the truth and the risk to that individual.

For example, a risk to an individual based on their political activity can be understood by understanding the general approach to a regime of political dissenters with the same profile of the individual before the court, particularly if they themselves have had no connection with that country. It is only by assessing all the evidence that any proper evaluation of risk can be concluded.

The attitude to evidence in the Bill indicates that there is no true concern for the safety of anyone who falls under its remit, and the Bill is to facilitate the transportation of people no matter the implications for the law, morality or truth.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 2:30, 14 February 2024

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments in this group, which seem eminently sensible—that is probably why the Government will reject them. I also support particularly Amendment 30, to which I have added my name. I am not going to go over the points raised by my noble friend Lady Lister, who has outlined the reasons for the importance of this amendment extremely well.

There have been consistent reports of torture being used in Rwanda, by both the military and the police. The United Nations has concluded that Rwanda does not have in place the necessary safeguards against torture or the structures to respond to it. Recent reports also confirm that torture persists in Rwanda, along with continued risks of refoulement to third countries. It is clear in those reports that Rwanda does not have in place safeguards against torture, or an effective process for responding to the allegations of torture. There is a long list of cases and reports set out by the eminent organisation Redress, and I note them for the record in Hansard.

At the UN Human Rights Council universal periodic review of Rwanda in January 2021, as has been cited by my noble friend Lady Lister, the United Kingdom Government criticised Rwanda for

“extrajudicial killings, death in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.

I ask the Minister: what has been the miraculous turnaround in the past three years?

Photo of Lord McDonald of Salford Lord McDonald of Salford Crossbench

My Lords, I support the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and ask about a current torture case concerning a journalist called Dieudonné Niyonsenga. Last month he appeared in a court in Kigali on appeal; he was sentenced three years ago to seven years in prison. He appeared in court with a wound in his head and he claimed, in that hearing, that he had been tortured. His case has been taken up by the Committee to Protect Journalists. This is not something theoretical or in the past; it is happening right now.

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

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the expert contribution of the noble Lord, Lord McDonald. I offer Green support for all the amendments in this group. I particularly highlight and commend the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and her allies for highlighting something that is crucial, but I feel that has been covered powerfully, so I will simply address most of the other amendments in this group.

It is worth stressing that the amendments would remove the legal fiction that Rwanda must be treated conclusively as safe by the courts and other decision-makers. They would allow the consideration of evidence. I am speaking in the midst of many eminent lawyers, so I will focus on the politics of this. We live in a world in which we are often told we are living with post-truth politics. At the weekend, I was in the constituency of Kingswood knocking on doors. I met some people there who were living in a post-truth environment—people who had disappeared down some very dark conspiracy rabbit holes. When you are knocking on doors, of course it is impossible to attempt to extract people from those rabbit holes in the couple of minutes you have, but it is truly terrifying—I have to say that most of them will be voting for the Reform party on Thursday, which is something the Government should have great concern about for all kinds of reasons.

Post-truth politics is one thing, but what we confront with the Rwanda Bill is post-truth law. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, said—I wrote down his words—that he was

“completely flabbergasted by the constitutional implications”.

What are the constitutional implications of post-truth law? Nothing is weighed on the reality of the world.

I want to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, about the duties of this House. Surely it is the duty of this House to ensure that we have truth- based law.

Photo of Lord Hoffmann Lord Hoffmann Crossbench

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Clarke asked whether there was any precedent for the kind of legislation we are considering, in which some question of fact is declared to be the case to the exclusion of any contrary decision by a court. There are such precedents, but you have to go a long way back in our history to find them.

In 1531, there was an unfortunate incident at a dinner party given by the Bishop of Rochester. All the people who ate their dinner became sick, and one of them died. This was not, at the time, put down to the inadequacy of the health and safety laws in the 16th century, but suspicion fell upon the cook. The King had a horror of poisoning. He was more or less a contemporary of Lucrezia Borgia and recognised that it was being used as a political weapon all over the country. He came down to Parliament, to your Lordships’ House, and promoted a Bill that became an Act. It declared, first, that poisoning was a form of treason; secondly, that the penalty for it was to be boiled alive; and, thirdly—this is the point—that the cook had been guilty of this crime and no trial was to take place. They were probably concerned that some lefty lawyers might get the cook off if it went to trial. The result was that the cook was duly boiled alive before an appreciative audience at Smithfield. That is the sort of precedent which one has to look at in order to justify what is being done now.

Since then, for centuries, we have had the development of the principles of the rule of law and the separation of powers—principles which English constitutional lawyers have written about with pride and foreign lawyers have written about with admiration. I suggest to your Lordships that that is where we ought to stay.

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, perhaps it is only the House of Lords that when asked to find a precedent can refer back to 1531. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffman, that I was aware of that issue, because I have seen the Act. It was on display in the National Archives in its exhibition on treason last year. I think the Minister has also seen it. It was also noted that it was repealed quite shortly afterwards.

Photo of Lord Hoffmann Lord Hoffmann Crossbench

Once the cook was dead.

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)

The Government are asking us to be the perpetual judge of the legislation and actions of another country. That puts the legislature in an unusual position. In fact, it puts it into a unique position, specifically for this country. I am not a judge on Rwandan legislation, policy or actions. I have been to Rwanda; I respect it greatly and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I have been massively impressed with the development of Rwanda that is in their hands.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, referred to the eloquent points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lords, Lord McDonald and Lord Cashman, with regard to torture. She told us that if we wanted to be a judge, we should speak to Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader who is currently under house arrest. I have. I have been in her house, and I have asked her that question. Subsequent to my meeting the opposition member, officials of the Rwanda Government asked the hotel that I was staying at to inform on me. I am not a judge as to whether that means that Rwanda is a safe country. That is one example—I think, a bad example. It is probably an illustrative example. However, I am not a judge on that—our courts are. That is why we have them here.

We are asked not just to pass a “Rwanda is safe” Bill but to pass—

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I want to add to his experience that, the minute I had visited Victoire Ingabire, my phone was nicked.

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 Baroness. The Minister might see two examples and ask when it becomes a pattern. Again, I am not a judge for it. As I was saying, we are not just asked to judge that Rwanda is a safe country under this legislation but we are asked to agree to legislation that states that Rwanda will never be unsafe. How on earth can we possibly do that?

On Monday, the Minister found it incredibly difficult to determine that Rwanda is currently safe. I remind the Committee of his response—because it is worth reminding the Committee, if not him. My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked whether there would be safeguards in place to make Rwanda safe. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said:

“My Lords, it is a matter of working towards having the safeguards in place”.

I then asked:

“If the Rwandan Government are ‘working towards’ putting safeguards in place, that means they are not currently in place. Is that correct?”

The noble and learned Lord said:

“It must do”.

That is the Government saying that it is not currently safe. Why is that important for this group of amendments? It is important because I later asked the Minister to confirm that

“no relocation would take place until those safeguards would be in place”.

The noble and learned Lord replied:

“I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative”.—[Official Report, 12/2/24; cols. 64-70.]

We know that there will be no relocation until safeguards are in place that Rwanda will be a safe country. The Minister was unable to confirm when that would be the case. However, the Bill is asking us not only to jump ahead of that but to deny courts from ever considering whether Rwanda could be unsafe. It is still quite hard to work out the rationality of where we are.

The Government will reject Amendments 19 and 21. If they were in the Bill, they would at least make Clause 2 say: “Every decision-maker must treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country unless presented with credible evidence to the contrary”. If the Government find that objectionable, we are now in very new territory—besides references to the 16th century. No other treaty that this country is party to prevents it being challenged, and there is no other relationship with any other country in the world where we are unable to allow our courts to consider its security, safety and safeguards. The Government want us not only to decide on some things that we cannot decide as a legislature but then to bind the hands of any institution and the judiciary so that they cannot take any evidence of any changes. That is egregious for the reasons my noble friend Lord Scriven and others have given: not only should we in this place not decide whether a country is safe but we absolutely should not decide that a country should never be unsafe.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 2:45, 14 February 2024

My Lords, I will make a brief postscript to the very powerful interventions that have been made by many other Members, including and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I point to some practical aspects. The fact of the matter is that the asylum system is in chaos. The number of cases that are waiting to be assessed would fill Wembley Stadium. This Government are in real difficulty and the next Government, whoever they are, will be in equal difficulty if we do not find a way forward. I accept all the legal difficulties that have been raised very effectively, but let us also keep in mind the practical aspects, and that if this is allowed to continue there will be a very unfortunate effect on relations between communities in our country.

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)

The noble Lord is an expert in these areas. If the Bill goes through, what is his estimate of how many people will be relocated from the backlog that he has referred to, and over how many years? I think it could take up to 20 years. How will that deplete Wembley Stadium?

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

I do not think that anybody has any idea of the answer to that. That is one of the difficulties. I am pointing to the social difficulties that will also follow. Therefore, we must give the Government some space in order to make an impression on the future inflow of cases to this country.

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

My Lords, I also pay tribute to the quality of the contributions that we have had from so many noble Lords in the debate on this group. I recognise some of the shortcomings of my Amendment 29, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out, but it is an attempt to discuss refoulement. I will come back to that.

The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke to, have much to commend them about ensuring the role of the courts, as does my noble friend Lady Lister’s amendment, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. Indeed, so do the other comments from the noble Lords, Lord Deben, Lord Clarke and Lord Purvis, and many others. I will put those amendments and our discussions in the context of something that we have heard much talk about: the importance of the unwritten constitution on which our country functions, and the role and importance of the House of Lords.

I do not believe that what I am going to say is true of the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, or his colleague, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart. But it is true that something was published on Monday evening— I did not see it until this morning, when it was sent around as part of the House of Lords Library summary of press cuttings that are sent to many of us, if not all of us. It said that the Prime Minister of our country

“challenged Labour and the House of Lords to back the bill, saying: ‘We are committed to getting it through parliament, but unfortunately, we don’t have a majority in the House of Lords’”.

A vote was lost in this House of Lords. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, a vote was had and His Majesty’s Opposition officially did not support it, and we have never talked about blocking or delaying the Bill. We are discussing these amendments today, so why is the Prime Minister saying that we are talking about blocking and delaying it? I would have thought that if we are talking about the constitution, we have a perfect right to stand up in here. All Members of this House, from all the different parties, have made different contributions with respect to the Bill to try to ask the Government to think again and revise what they are doing. What is unconstitutional about that? We might as well pack up. What is the point of our debates and discussions—the brilliant speeches we have heard today and a couple of days ago? Even if we disagree, what is the point of it, if all the Prime Minister of our country says is that we are being deliberately destructive and trying to block the Bill, when we said quite categorically that we are not going to?

To continue:

“Everyone else right now as we speak is lining up to do deals”— this is the Prime Minister—

“in the House of Lords to block us … We’ve already seen that in the Commons”.

Does it make any difference what anybody says? The amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke to on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; the comments that the noble Lords, Lord Clarke and Lord Deben, made; the comments that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, made the previous day—do they make any difference? Are we just going through a rubber-stamping process here? What is the constitutional position of the House of Lords if the Prime Minister of our country is saying that none of the amendments that we are discussing—in this group, the last group, the next group and the groups that will come next Monday—means anything?

The worst thing was when I read in the Sun that all 93 amendments that have been tabled are “wrecking amendments”. That goes for the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, who was in his place a moment ago. He has tabled an amendment, as has the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. They are not “wrecking amendments”. They are doing the proper job of this House to say to the Government, “Have you really got this right? Do you really not think you should think again?”.

I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, and through him the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the others: when we have these debates, do they go back to the department and say, “Coaker got up and had a real go at us about something. Did he have a point?”. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, or the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Howard, said this, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said this, and my noble friends Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Lister tabled these amendments, including those we have today about torture. Is it worth bothering? Is the Prime Minister saying that this is just them trying to stop the Bill, when people in this Chamber have the integrity and belief that it is their job to question the Government? That is the constitutional role of this House of Lords, and we should be proud of it and stand up for it. We will not be intimidated or bullied by a Prime Minister into just accepting that we have no right to question the Government because he says it. Will the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, take that back to the Cabinet? Will the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, take it back to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister?

It is good to see the Government Chief Whip here and I hope that she will make those representations as well, because it is really important. It does not matter which amendment we are talking about. This Chamber deserves that respect from the Government: to listen to what is said and to make the counter-argument if they do not agree with it. It is perfectly reasonable for the Government to do that as well.

I could not believe what I read this morning. I am sure it is an opinion shared by the majority in this House that even if people disagree, they have the right to be heard and have what they say considered by the Government of the day. That is the constitutional position our country has existed upon, and a constitutional arrangement of which we should all be proud. Nobody is trying to block or wreck the Bill, but we have a perfect right to stand up and say whether the Government have got it right.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, were spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. What can be more important than asking whether the Government are seeking to undermine the role of the courts in determining whether the rule of law is being upheld? Is it not reasonable to ask the Government that question, and to table amendments to that effect? Is it not reasonable for my noble friend Lady Lister to ask whether torture is a factor? The Government are perfectly entitled to say that amendments are unnecessary, but these are legitimate questions, and they cannot simply say, “We’re going to ignore them. This is the Government’s position”. Real questions have been asked about the rule of law, and the Government are just saying, “We’re going to overturn the Supreme Court judgment not through an argument or opinion, but by simply changing the facts and ruling that Rwanda is safe. It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court determined —we’re going to do that”.

I turn to my own Amendment 29 and will read from the JCHR report. The main reason it gives is that

“the Supreme Court, after considering all the evidence placed before it, held that Rwanda was not a safe country because of the risk that individuals sent there would be subjected to refoulement”.

My amendment therefore seeks to address the Supreme Court’s concern that there was a risk of refoulement. The Minister will no doubt respond by saying that the Government have dealt with that, because Article 10(3) of the treaty provides the mechanism to do so. The heart of the problem throughout is that the Government are saying that Rwanda is safe, whereas all the various amendments say that, as the Supreme Court and the International Agreements Committee recognise, it may be that Rwanda becomes safe. What cannot be simply stated is that Rwanda is safe now.

Article 10(3) states:

The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation does not occur”.

Can the Minister tell us what that effective system is? Is it already in operation, and if not, when will it be? What is the timeline, and what do we know about it since? It is through Article 10(3) of the treaty that the Government seek to address the problem the Supreme Court identified.

The Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, will no doubt say, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, did on the previous set of amendments, that this is necessary because of the deterrent effect. The very helpful briefing on the Bill provided by the House of Lords Library reminds us that the Permanent Secretary required ministerial direction to carry on with respect to deterrence, because of the lack of evidence that the Rwanda policy had any deterrent effect. The Home Secretary of the day provided that letter.

I finish where I started. I ask for an assurance from the Minister that our amendments are not seen as wrecking amendments by the Ministers dealing with the Bill, and that they take them back to their departments and consider whether some Members of your Lordships’ House may actually have a point. Rather than blocking the Bill or even delaying it, many of your Lordships are trying to say, “Even though we oppose it, we are trying to improve it”. This House deserves, at the very least, that respect from the Government.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland 3:00, 14 February 2024

My Lords, it is customary on these occasions to thank all noble Lords directly for their contributions to the Bill; but, in light of the remarks the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made from the Opposition Front Bench, the Committee will pardon me if I address those first.

I first acknowledge that, with characteristic courtesy, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, approached me informally and indicated that he would be making these points. He was also, if I may say so, animated by a characteristic concern for the standing of this House. I can give the assurance—which, if assurance were necessary, my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom gave me a moment ago as the noble Lord was winding up—that we as Ministers reflect very carefully on matters raised at every stage in the House, as we do with Questions, and we are concerned to pass back to directing departments and colleagues the views of the House, with an end to finding community between all sides of the House, or at least majorities of the House where possible. We do not allow these matters to go unsaid. Regarding one matter the noble Lord raised, the Government Front Bench can take no responsibility for the editorial policy of a national newspaper. Nonetheless, we can observe where that newspaper errs in anything it says.

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

I certainly was not. I was saying that, when the noble Lord quoted, or referred to the content of, that newspaper article describing every amendment as being a wrecking one, that is the matter to which I referred. I am happy to put the record straight. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his nod of acceptance.

I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate. The Bill builds upon the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, signed on 5 December 2023. The treaty, along with evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe, and the new Bill provides Parliament with the opportunity so to do.

That last proposition came under attack from a number of areas in the House. If I do not mention or cite them all by name, noble Lords will forgive me. I mention in particular the contributions from my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, speaking from the Cross Benches and, indeed, the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench.

I emphasise points made in Committee on Monday. The treaty does not override the judgment of the United Kingdom Supreme Court; rather, it responds to its key findings to ensure that the policy can go ahead. The court recognised in its decision that changes may be delivered in the future which would address the issues it raised. These are those changes. We believe that they address the Supreme Court’s concerns, and we will now aim to move forward with the policy and help put an end to illegal migration.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister has raised a really important point concerning the treaty. Clause 2(4) states that

“a court or tribunal must not consider … any claim or complaint that the Republic of Rwanda will not act in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty.”

That is quite significant. The Minister is saying is that the treaty deals with the Supreme Court’s concerns, but the Court will not be able under this Bill to determine whether the concerns that have been raised, which the treaty is meant to deal with, have been dealt with to the satisfaction of the UK Supreme Court. Is that correct?

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

My Lords, the policy of the Bill is to respond to the United Kingdom Supreme Court’s decision in the form of this treaty and the Bill which accompanies it. This does not, Canute-like, revise or reverse the truth. As I say, it is a response to the findings of the Supreme Court—findings made, as they were, in relation to a period of time which dates from the High Court’s consideration of the matter.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

These were findings that related to a period of time. The Government are saying that that period of time has moved on and therefore they make other findings. But they are also saying that no one may make any other findings, even if that moves on. In other words, the Government are saying that there is only one moment in which we can make this judgment. We have not got there yet—the Government have said we have not got there—but there is one moment, and once the judgment is made, although I do not know what the opposite of “retrospectively” is, it cannot then be changed, even if the facts change and even if the courts want to change it on the evidence. Will he please tell me whenever or wherever, in what Bill, that has ever been put before this or any other House?

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

My Lords, the point of the principle of the Bill is to remove the matter from the consideration of the civil courts and to place it before the court of Parliament; to take the matter from the civil courts and place it in the international and diplomatic sphere.

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)

What are the mechanisms —since, as my noble friend Lord Scriven said, the courts are no longer able to look at this—by which we can judge whether Rwanda will adhere to its treaty obligations? The Minister said that this is now going to be a duty of the court of Parliament: what is our mechanism in Parliament for doing that?

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

First, I remind the noble Lord of some of the constitutional truths that were adverted to in the debate on Monday. No Parliament can bind its successor. Parliament can always come back and revisit matters in future. On the specific point of how Parliament will come to learn of any matters that are of concern, I will refer to this in greater detail in the course of my submission, but I can refer the noble Lord to the independent monitoring committee which the treaty and the Bill establish, and to the work that that will do, feeding back to the joint committee of the two Governments.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

I am fascinated by this new “court of Parliament” concept. Anyone who thinks that the Age of Reason ended in 1800 will need to read Hansard tomorrow because, if I may say so, the Conservative Privy Council Benches have perhaps delivered some of the finest contributions to this Committee today. I, for one, will be rereading the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because enlightenment is clearly not a single moment but something that has to be fought for again and again so as not to end up where the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, warned us. If there is now to be a court of Parliament that is examining the safety of Rwanda on an ongoing basis, I do think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, should have an answer on what procedures there are, under the Bill as currently drafted, for these monitoring committees to report not just to the Government but to the court of Parliament that is being so elegantly expounded by the noble and learned Lord.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

My Lords, before the Minister answers the question, this is a rather unusual court, because it is a court that does not afford the most basic rights of justice to the people who will be affected by the decisions we make. In any other court, if you are about to be exported to a place you say will torture you, you can normally at least have your voice heard; but not in this new court that the noble and learned Lord has just set up.

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

First, as the noble and learned Lord is perfectly well aware, the Bill blocks the possibility of refoulement and of return to any country other than the United Kingdom. In relation to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that Parliament is a court is a familiar and well-known concept; it is a name by which Parliament is well known.

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)

Not on the theory point but on the practical point of what the Bill states, can the Minister just expand a bit more? He said that there will be a monitoring committee that will report to the joint committee of the Governments. How will they report to Parliament if we are to make a judgment, subsequently, that we wish to repeal this?

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

As I said to the noble Lord when first responding to him, I will address those matters in more detail in the course of my submission.

Clause 2 creates a conclusive presumption that Rwanda is generally safe and will not send someone to another country in breach of the refugee convention. I respectfully disagree with my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and others that this amounts to an abuse, far less to a constitutional innovation. In relation to a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made on the matter of how the courts might respond, the noble and learned Lord put it to the Committee that there would be one case that would decide. I congratulate him on his optimism, but he must surely recognise—reflecting on the practice of immigration across the decades—that what happens is that, where a position is advanced and set forth before the court, it will remain open subsequently for people to argue that there has been a change in fact or a change in circumstances. Therefore, the proposal that the noble and learned Lord advances to the Committee that there would simply be one case that would determine all things is, I regret, a proposition to which I cannot accede.

The conclusive presumption as to the safety of Rwanda enables Parliament to confirm that Rwanda is safe for the purposes of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership. It reflects the strength of commitment from the Government of Rwanda on the safety and support that they will provide to individuals relocated there. Clause 2(2) notes that a decision-maker means the Secretary of State, immigration officers and the courts, including tribunals, when considering a decision relating to the relocation of an individual to Rwanda under provision of the Immigration Act. Clause 2 also excludes several general grounds of challenge and, as set out in subsection (3), prohibits generalised appeals or reviews.

As I have said already, the Government have signed an internationally legally binding treaty responding to the Supreme Court’s conclusions, in particular on the issue of refoulement. We have been clear that Rwanda will not remove any individual relocated there to another country, except to the United Kingdom in very limited circumstances. The implementation of these provisions in practice will be kept under review by the independent monitoring committee, whose role is enhanced by the treaty, and which will ensure compliance with the obligations. Therefore, as set out in subsection (4), there is no reason for a court or tribunal to consider any claim that Rwanda may remove a person to another state, that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of an immigration claim in Rwanda or that Rwanda will not abide by the treaty terms. Finally, subsection (5) is a “notwithstanding” provision, requiring courts to honour—I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I am so sorry, I thought the noble Lord was poised to intervene.

Finally, subsection (5) is a “notwithstanding” provision, requiring courts to honour the previous clauses, notwithstanding all relevant domestic law, the Human Rights Act 1998 to the extent that it is disapplied by this Bill, and any alternative interpretation of international law reached by the court or tribunal.

The effect of Amendments 19, 21, 25 and 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, would be to remove the requirement for decision-makers and courts or tribunals to treat conclusively Rwanda as a safe country. That is similar to the terms of Amendment 22, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. These amendments would allow individuals to present evidence to challenge removal decisions on the grounds that Rwanda is not generally a safe country.

As we heard from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom earlier and on Monday, that approach is contrary to the purpose of the Bill. The Government’s assessment in the published evidence pack is that Rwanda is a safe country that respects the rule of law. The assurances that we have negotiated in that legally binding treaty with Rwanda address the findings of the Supreme Court and make detailed provision for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, ensuring that they will be offered safety and protection, with no risk of refoulement; this addresses the concerns raised by the court.

It is important to make clear—I revert again to contributions from my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on the Front Bench and others—that, although the Supreme Court found some faults in the Rwandan asylum system, as it was, the courts have not concluded that there is a general risk to the safety of relocated individuals in Rwanda. Repeated consideration of the general safety of Rwanda would be a waste of court resources and would unnecessarily delay the relocation of individuals to Rwanda. For noble Lords who are concerned about whether the treaty will be abided by, the independent monitoring committee will be in place to ensure that obligations in the treaty are adhered to—a topic that we will be debating at a further stage, perhaps even later today. Individuals relocated to Rwanda will be able to raise any issues of concern, should they arise, with the committee.

The treaty, which is internationally binding, is a result of the hard work between our two Governments and their officials to respond to the Supreme Court’s concerns. We are confident of the safety of Rwanda, and therefore the aim of the Bill is to prevent domestic courts and tribunals from considering claims that relate to the general safety of Rwanda.

In relation to Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, Article 10(3) of the UK-Rwanda treaty sets out explicitly that no relocated individuals

“shall be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11(1)”.

The noble Lord did indeed anticipate correctly my response that it is a matter of treaty obligation and I am unable to go further.

Overall, this will ensure that we can put an end to the dangerous crossings in the channel as quickly as possible and relocate individuals to Rwanda without unnecessary systematic legal challenges. A question was posed about the circumstances in which the Permanent Secretary issued a qualification in relation to the matter: it is the absence of direct evidence, because this is a novel policy, that informed the Permanent Secretary’s decision to issue that qualification.

The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, speaking from the Cross Benches, impressed upon us the urgency of the situation. He spoke about the numbers concerned, the volume of immigration, and, with words that I think the Committee will reflect on carefully, the continuing, and possibly increasingly adverse, effects on communities in this country if we are unable to bring such migration under control. The noble Lord’s contribution echoed the thoughtful remarks by my noble friends Lady Lawlor and Lord Jackson of Peterborough in their contributions on Monday on Amendment 42, which the Government are unable to accept, but we consider that the concerns that noble Lords raised were, none the less, genuine and motivated by concern for the coherence of our communities.

Requiring decision-makers to consider evidence on the general safety of Rwanda is, as a result of these measures, unnecessary and contrary to the policy intention of the Bill. The Bill makes it clear that Rwanda is safe generally and that decision-makers, as well as courts and tribunals, must treat it conclusively as such. The amendments, even though drafted by reference to credible evidence, would open the way to lengthy legal challenges, which will delay the relocation of individuals.

I assure the Committee that the Government of Rwanda are committed to this partnership and, like the United Kingdom, are a signatory to the refugee convention and have an international obligation to provide protection to those who are entitled to it. The Bill is predicated on both Rwanda and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of the treaty, which reflects the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom and Rwanda.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 3:15, 14 February 2024

I just remind the noble and learned Lord that he said he would return to the temporal issue of how Parliament would be able to reassess the safety of Rwanda, if facts changed—if there were a sudden change of government or a coup, or if the monitoring committee found that people had been refouled, which was the fear of the Supreme Court, of course. What processes, under the Bill as currently crafted, are there for the court of Parliament to take an application to reconsider its safety, so that it is not determined as safe for all time?

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s point echoes the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I had a brief communication on it with my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom as the noble Baroness was speaking. I think the temporal point that the noble Baroness referred to and the noble Lord raised is to be dealt with in a subsequent group. Perhaps noble Lords will be content if we treat that matter in detail in that subsequent group. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will bear in mind the burden of their questions and will come back to us if we have not answered them to their satisfaction. I am obliged to them.

I move on to consider Clause 4, which preserves the ability of individuals to challenge removal due to their particular circumstances where there is compelling evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country for them, other than where that allegation relates to onward refoulement, in relation to which the treaty is very clear. That is the appropriate mechanism to ensure that an individual’s circumstances have been considered.

In response, therefore, to Amendments 37 and 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, we maintain that it is right that the scope for individualised claims remains limited to prevent persistent legal challenges covering the same ground and to enable us to remove individuals who have entered the United Kingdom illegally.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, raised, quite appropriately, the constitutional implications of our response to the Supreme Court’s decision. I underscore my submission to the Committee: no constitutional violence has been done in referring this matter to Parliament, and in taking it into the international, diplomatic and political sphere, as opposed to the civil courts. Ultimately, returning to a remark made by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, who is in his place, this Committee must be concerned with the question of accountability for decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, also made the point that evidence must be of an holistic nature. The rules of evidence are based on the principle of exclusion of that which has nothing to do with matters of fact and law with which a particular case is concerned. I wholly accept the point that the noble Lord was trying to make, which was that all individual circumstances must be borne and considered in the round. Although referring to individual reasons is appropriate for considering individual cases, I dispute his submission that it is appropriate for the systemic general claim. I do not accept that.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

If the arrangements in the treaty are not in place, that would be specific to the individual, yet the Bill excludes that being looked at by the court. Would that kind of issue—whether the provisions within the treaty are in place—not be relevant to an individual case?

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

The only thing relevant to an individual case would be matters specific to the individual.

In line with our obligations, I assure noble Lords—in particular the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord German —that individuals will still be able to challenge removal decisions on the basis of compelling evidence that Rwanda is unsafe for them due to their particular individual circumstances. The threshold for such claims is a high one, rightly. People must not be allowed to frustrate and delay removal with the kind of legal challenges we have been seeing for some time, which the Bill is intended to prevent. I have spoken at length—

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

Surely we come back to the point about temporality, which a number of noble Lords have raised. Surely the circumstances of an individual, and the nature of the Rwanda they are being transported to on the day their flight lands, are relevant to the individual case.

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

My Lords, that would depend entirely on the case presented by the individual.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for tabling Amendment 30 with regard to victims of torture. With reference to the points of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in winding up, while we will reflect on the matters she raises, at this stage I cannot support their inclusion in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

Is the Minister going on to another point? I did ask some specific questions.

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

I am of course ready to take specific questions that the noble Baroness develops, but it was not my intention to pass by her contribution at this stage.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

Is the Minister going to answer my questions?

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

My Lords, as I have said several times during this debate, at this and other stages, it is the Government’s assessment that Rwanda, which is a signatory to the United Nations convention against torture, is generally a safe country with respect to the rule of law. The treaty, at Article 15(9), provides that the monitoring committee is to develop a complaints system that can be used by relocated individuals. The committee will be expected to report any significant issues to the joint committee straightaway, and may provide advice and recommendations to the joint committee on actions that should be taken to address issues that have been identified. Any issues escalated will involve reporting directly to the joint committee co-chairs in relation to emergency and urgent situations. We will continue to assess complaints and observations by Redress and the other organisations to which the noble Baroness, and others—the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, made mention of this as well—have referred when they are referred to us.

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

My Lords, as I said to the noble Lord, this matter is to be dealt with in further groupings. In the interests of saving the Committee’s time, I will revert to consideration of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.

The treaty which the United Kingdom has agreed with Rwanda makes express provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, demonstrating the commitment of both parties to upholding fundamental human rights and freedoms without discrimination and in line with both our domestic and international obligations. Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded too in its domestic legal provisions.

The High Court found that it was generally safe for individuals relocated under the MEDP to be in Rwanda. In view of its finding on the issue of refoulement, the Supreme Court found it unnecessary to decide the question of whether individuals were generally at risk of ill treatment in Rwanda. The Court of Appeal likewise did not reach a conclusion on this point. This means that the ruling of the High Court on the point of general safety remains undisturbed.

The treaty guarantees that anyone relocated to Rwanda will be given safety and support and will not be returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This directly addresses the court’s conclusions about the risk of refoulement. Rwanda shares our concern to find ways to end the global illegal migration crisis. The treaty enhances the role of the monitoring committee which will ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. It will provide real-time comprehensive monitoring of the end-to-end relocation and asylum process, ensuring delivery against the terms of the agreement and in line with both countries’ obligations.

I remind the Committee of aspects of Rwanda and its strong track record for supporting asylum seekers. It is currently hosting more than 135,000 migrants who have found sanctuary there. It is a state party to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees and to the seven core UN human rights conventions. In those circumstances, I submit that the concerns which the noble Baroness raises can be taken as having been dealt with.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 3:30, 14 February 2024

The amendment has two parts. One was the about treatment of asylum seekers in Rwanda and that there should not be evidence of torture for two years. The other was about asylum seekers who have already suffered torture. I asked a couple of specific questions in relation to them. One was about what investigations the Government have done about the support they can expect in Rwanda. Supporting people who have gone through torture is more than just everyday support. These people have been traumatised. They need help with their mental and physical health. Even in this country, that help is often inadequate, and they have to turn to civil society groups. The point was made the other day that civil society is still quite weak in Rwanda, so I do not know whether there are any organisations that could specifically help torture survivors. I also asked why the Home Office does not routinely collect data about the number of people in detention who have suffered torture, given that the Home Office’s rules say that torture is an example of a vulnerable group that needs special support in detention.

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

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Baroness’s question about why those statistics are not kept. My noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom tells me that they are not. That may be a matter to be taken back to the Home Office to be given consideration. It would be pointless for me to speculate on the reasons why that should not be.

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

I have not taken part in this debate—I came in only earlier this afternoon—but on this I have some information. It is that the mental health situation in Rwanda is very poor. The country suffered a genocide, as we all know, some 30 years ago. There is a very high level of mental illness within its population. Apparently 25% of the population have mental health problems or suffer depression or recurring episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is intergenerational, so the next generation also suffers the consequences. There are only 15 psychiatrists in the whole country and very few trained psychologists. We are talking about a very underresourced country when it comes to mental health problems.

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

My Lords, I am reminded that Article 13 of the treaty makes the specific provision:

“Rwanda shall have regard to information provided” by the United Kingdom

“about a Relocated Individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated”.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

I could well have missed it when I read the treaty, but the quotation the Minister has given talked about human trafficking and slavery but not torture. My noble friend has reinforced my fears about what will happen to torture survivors, who will probably have very serious mental health needs, if they are removed to Rwanda, however “safe” it might be.

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

My Lords, all relocated individuals will receive protection appropriate to them and assistance according to their needs, including, where necessary, referral to specialist services to protect their welfare. Furthermore, it remains possible for an individual to raise a claim that their individual circumstances mean that Rwanda is not a safe country for them. Should such a claim succeed in demonstrating that serious, irreversible harm will result from removal to Rwanda, that removal will not take place. We expect such successful claims to be rare, bearing in mind the safety of Rwanda, which I have already set out in my response.

The United Kingdom and Rwanda will continue to work closely to make this partnership a success. I do not accept that individuals relocated to Rwanda would be at risk of torture or any other form of inhumane or degrading treatment. I assure the Committee that, under this Bill, decision-makers will already be able to consider compelling evidence relating specifically to a person’s individual circumstances. Should someone with particular vulnerability concerns be relocated to Rwanda, safeguarding processes will be in place.

That Rwanda cares deeply about refugees is amply demonstrated by its work with the UNHCR to accommodate some of the most vulnerable populations who have faced trauma, detention and violence. We are confident that those relocated under our partnership would be safe, as per the assurances negotiated in our legally binding treaty. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, it was once the practice of our courts to prevent the jury from dining until they had reached their verdict. Rising to my feet on the wrong side of 3.30 pm, it seems that this practice may live on, unreformed, in what we must get used to calling “the court of Parliament”. Your Lordships may feel that they have had enough food for thought in this debate and that it is time for sustenance of a different kind, so I shall be as brief as I can in response.

What a debate it has been—fully up to the standards of its predecessor earlier today. I will pick out a few of the highlights from the Back Benches. We had lessons from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, on precedent. It seems one has to go back to 1531 to find a precedent for this Bill. The moral I took from his tale was that it ended badly for both the cook and the Act.

We were reminded by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady D’Souza, of the astonishing fact that the courts must not consider even a complaint of risk of torture in Rwanda or a country to which Rwanda might send somebody. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, reminded us, that is no theoretical possibility. What an illustration it is of the lengths to which this extraordinary provision goes. We also heard a political analysis from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—I suspect it was very astute, but it is well above my pay grade so I will say nothing more about it. The right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Bristol and Leeds wove together the legal, moral and even philosophical aspects of the issue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. We are grateful to them for that.

I will single out two speeches, both from the Conservative Benches. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham. I followed with great care everything the noble Lord said, not just in this debate but in the debates on the Illegal Migration Bill. It seems that he is one of the very few people, either in this House or outside it, who can vocalise the quite understandable unease engendered in fair-minded people in this country by the prospect of immigration generally, and particularly by the prospect of people—as they see it—coming in without respecting the rules, and combine that with an absolute conviction that we need to address that problem without sacrificing our core values. I am so grateful to him, once again, for that extraordinary speech. How on earth did he never become Prime Minister of this country? There will be political historians who know the answer to that.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is the other speech I will single out, because he made the link so persuasively between this Bill and the most insidious of the threats to our democracy: disregard for the truth and subjugation of the truth to political expedience.

As to the Minister’s speech, he made the argument that considering even a claim that someone would be exposed to torture would place, as he put it, excessive demands on the resources of the courts and stand in the way of relocating individuals. With great respect to the Minister, I found that extraordinary coming from the mouth of a lawyer. I have rarely heard such a formulation of the argument for administrative expedience.

He raised Clause 4(1), and I acknowledge that it makes provision for decisions based on “particular individual circumstances”. If you have compelling evidence relating specifically to your individual circumstances, you might receive some consideration, either by the decision-maker or the court. However, as the clause also says, if your ground is that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country in general, it does not work. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffman, reminded me sotto voce during the debate, it is apparently therefore a defence to a claim under Clause 4 that you are about to be exposed to torture, “Oh, don’t worry, plenty of other people will be exposed to torture as well, it’s nothing to do with your own particular individual circumstances—case dismissed”. It is extraordinary.

We should be grateful, I suppose, to hear the Minister say that our amendments and speeches are listened to and that his party does not dictate the reporting of the Sun. I am grateful for both of those things, and we look forward to seeing those welcome words reflected in actions. On that theme, it was good to see the Opposition Front Benches listening intently throughout. I have no doubt that we will be coming back to these issues on Report. It may be that, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, the Bill will not be blocked, but we have to get it right and we cannot legislate for nonsense.

I say to the Minister that we do not want to boil him alive—although it may sometimes feel a bit like that—but this Bill poisons the springs of our democracy and I very much hope that this Chamber at least of the court of Parliament will continue to say so. However, because it is the convention at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Amendments 20 to 30 not moved.

Sitting suspended. Committee to begin again not before 4.30 pm.