Amendment 19

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 14 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 3:30, 14 February 2024

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.