Amendment 19

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 14 February 2024.

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

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.