Amendment 19

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 1:45, 14 February 2024

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.