Amendment 66

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

66: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Reporting requirementWithin 60 days of this Act receiving Royal Assent the Secretary of State must provide a written report to Parliament setting out— (a) the number of individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty,(b) the current location and immigration status of any individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires the Secretary to report to Parliament on the operation of the Rwanda Treaty.

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

My Lords, with Amendments 66 and 67 we get to the meat, in many respects, of the Bill. We also start to try to understand why the Committee has debated at great length many issues of principle, and the contrast between the views of those who see it as perfectly reasonable for this House to overturn the opinion of the Supreme Court and those who think it raises issues of very serious constitutional principle.

It is important that your Lordships understand why the Government are going to such great lengths to give effect to the Illegal Migration Act and to pass this Bill. I have asked the Minister a couple of times now and he will have to come forward with numbers as I have been unable to understand quite what difference this will make.

The first thing is that it is necessary for there to be a reporting requirement, as in Amendment 66, where the Government have to come forward with various numbers with respect to the numbers of individuals who will be deported and what will happen to them when they are in Rwanda. But, for me, Amendment 67 goes to the nub of it. We have heard many of the legal objections, which we support, but we also believe that the Government have yet to persuade any of us that the Act will be workable. In fact, we know that many Ministers have described it both in private and public as unworkable and have criticised it, saying that they do not know why the Government have put all their eggs into one basket and are obsessed with Rwanda, with no visible impact on what has been happening.

Let us see whether the Minister can help us out here. Under the provisions of the Bill and its relationship with the Illegal Migration Act, we know that, despite whatever the Government have done, at a cost of nearly £400 million, no asylum seekers have yet been sent to Rwanda. Given that we have this huge investment of effort, can the Government tell us the number of individuals whom they expect to send to Rwanda? The Appeal Court said 100; Ministers have said a few hundred. What is the actual figure? I say to the Minister that there will be a working paper in the Home Office even if he says the answer is unclear. There will be a working assumption; the Government will have had talks about how many individuals they expect to send.

We know that the Government want a flight off. They do not care how—they just want to get one off as soon as possible so that the Prime Minister can pose with the plane in the background. What is the timetable? Will we have one flight or a couple of flights every week? This is why we have bothered with the Bill; we have had three days in Committee in the House of Lords, it went through the other place, and we have a couple of days coming up on Report. What is the purpose of that apart from being able to say that a plane will take off?

Can the Minister say how many asylum seekers are due for deportation under the Illegal Migration Act? Originally there was going to be a retrospective element to that Act from its First Reading. An amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, got the Government to agree that it would be from its enactment. That was some time in the middle of July, I believe. What is the number of asylum seekers who have come by irregular routes and who are now subject to deportation from this country? I saw in the Daily Telegraph today that it was 33,000. Is that wrong? If it is wrong, what is the figure? Michael Tomlinson MP, the Minister responsible for illegal migration, was asked on television yesterday whether it was 22,000. He did not say it was not 22,000; he made some reference to whatever, but he did not say it was not that. I calculated that the number of small boat arrivals since then is 16,628, so is it 33,000, 22,000, 16,628 or another figure? If it is another figure, how many of those asylum seekers who have arrived through these irregular routes do the Government expect to send to Rwanda? If the Government are driving a coach and horses through many of the democratic principles of this country, we would like to know why we are doing it. What is the purpose of it?

We have had great legal arguments—very, very important legal arguments—but I want to get down to the nitty gritty here. Why are the Government bothering? How many asylum seekers are there who should be being deported under the Illegal Migration Act? How many do they expect to send to Rwanda? What is the timeline for it? All of us want to understand what is going on. That simply goes to the heart of it. We need some numbers from the Government and some explanation of what is actually going on. That is the purpose of my Amendments 66 and 67. I beg to move Amendment 66.

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) 10:45, 19 February 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 76A, in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. This is a probing amendment to allow the Minister to expand on some of his helpful comments in an earlier group with regard to how the monitoring committee and the joint committee will operate.

When we started the Bill and I first read the treaty, I was not at that stage quite appreciative of how significant the monitoring committee and the joint committee would be when it comes to making decisions about the preparedness of when Rwanda would be a safe country. I was not aware at that stage, when I read the treaty, because at that stage, I was not aware that I was a decision-maker as to whether or not Rwanda would be safe. According to the Advocate-General, however, I am a decision-maker because I am a Member of Parliament and it is now a decision of the court of Parliament: this creature that has now come up from the grave to sit in judgment of a third country’s record on safety.

It is also relevant because the monitoring committee and the joint committee will be the supervising bodies, to some extent, with regard to the overall operation of the start to the end of the relocation processes. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is absolutely right: we do need more information about it, because we are gradually learning about what some of the estimates may be for the numbers to be relocated.

The Hope hostel in Kigali can accommodate 200 people, with an average processing time of a fortnight. On the previous day of Committee, we did the maths, as the Americans say. Well, we can do some more maths now, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has helped us. If we believe the Daily Telegraph, which occasionally is a reliable journal of Conservative thinking in this country, if there are 30,000 people, on the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Murray’s, impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Act, which, of course, we will take as read, that is £5.6 billion plus the £400 million down payment, so a neat £6 billion.

The Minister, in an earlier group, outlined the very high cost of accommodating existing asylum seekers in hotel accommodation. We know, through the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, that the Home Office decided on the most expensive and least efficient means by which to accommodate asylum seekers. Nevertheless, that is £2.9 billion a year—so, on any reckoning, the number of those who will be relocated to Rwanda will take at least a decade at a cost of at least £6 billion. There is no means by which the Government can have a more effective way for the British taxpayer than efficient accommodation and processing here in this country. There is no way the Government can square any of it to make the Rwanda scheme cheaper for the British taxpayer.

Ultimately, we are looking not just for value for money but for whether we can make the decision that Rwanda is safe and the mechanisms are in place.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

Before the noble Lord moves on to the other bits, can he give us some estimate of how much it will cost the British taxpayer if he and his friends succeed in perforating this Bill like a sieve so that it has no deterrent effect and we have an ever-growing number of people coming here having to be put up in hotels at immense cost to the UK?

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 Lord, who has been here during the various days in Committee. He will have heard last Wednesday what the Government’s own estimate is regarding the deterrent effect of the Illegal Migration Act. That ranges towards the top element of deterrence of 50%. That is not ours or the Opposition’s but the Government’s estimate of the likely impact of the Illegal Migration Act, and that is the mechanism by which this is brought about. A 50% deterrence would be roughly 16,000 people.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

If it does not rise.

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)

Well, that is the deterrent effect. Assuming that of those who are coming, 50% on a regular basis are deterred, then over the long term there would still be 50% coming by boats. That is not my estimate, it is the Government’s estimate.

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)

Before I give way, presumably what the noble Lord wants to get to is a deterrent effect of 100%, so that the boats are stopped, which is what we all want. But so far I have not found anything in any government documentation of policy that says that anything they are going to do will bring about 100% deterrence. Has the noble Lord found it?

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

I asked the noble Lord for his estimate of what will happen if we have no deterrent effect and there is an ever-growing number of people crossing the channel. Is it possible even to reach a figure? It must be enormous.

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 Permanent Secretary at the Home Office was unable to do so. That is why he sought ministerial direction. Home Office civil servants sought ministerial direction because the Permanent Secretary said that the Government’s policy was not proven value for money.

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 will address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and then happily give way to the noble Lord.

The valid question is, “If this Bill will not work, what would work?” We know that this Bill will not work, so the better deterrent effects are those policies such as relocation and resettlement agreements, which comply with international law and have policing mechanisms attached to them. That is called the Albania deal. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that this has been a success.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

A deterrent effect of 90%.

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)

From a sedentary position. I agree with the noble Lord. I think Hansard picked it up: a successful 90% deterrent. The noble Lord heard me at Second Reading saying that we welcomed the Albania deal. An internationally legal, efficient, effective resettlement and relocation agreement is what works. This is not any of those. I happily give way to the noble Lord, Lord Murray.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Conservative

It is very interesting that the noble Lord should refer to the effectiveness of the Albania arrangement. The document that the noble Lord likes to refer to in relation to the ministerial direction on deterrence came before the Albania deal, the 90% drop and the tangible evidence that deterrence works that we saw as a result of the Albania deal. We can extrapolate from the experience of the Albania deal to say that deterrence will work more generally if we can be sure that a significant proportion of those crossing the channel in small boats are sent to Rwanda for third-country processing.

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)

Even for the noble Lord, it is a bit of a leap to say that a negotiated relocation agreement with Albania has been a deterrent because they may have thought we were going to send them to Rwanda. Even factually, I am afraid that he was incorrect. The noble Lord knows that the ministerial direction sought on the migration and economic development agreement with Rwanda was specifically for this Rwanda agreement. He also knows that when the Permanent Secretary was giving evidence in December, after the Albania agreement was agreed, he said that no circumstances had changed with regard to his view for value for money for this agreement. The Permanent Secretary still believes that the Rwanda agreement will not propose to be value for money. I agree with the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.

The monitoring committee will have eight members, as the Minister said, and its terms of reference are online. The Minister said earlier that it would be independent of government, and that is true to an extent—if you think that four members being appointed by one party and four by another constitutes independence, because when it is being established, each party will appoint them. The key thing from our point of view is the ability of the monitoring committee to, as the Minister wrote in a letter to me,

“ensure all obligations under the treaty are adhered to”.

It will not, because it cannot—the monitoring committee has no powers of enforcement. It will be able to refer aspects it considers important to the joint committee, but it is under no duty to publish any of those recommendations or any of its findings, which can be significant. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said, the safeguards that must be in place as far the Government are concerned will be considered to be in place only if the monitoring committee has said that they are in place. We in Parliament will not know; but we are supposedly the decision-makers when it comes to whether Rwanda will be safe.

The joint committee, under Article 16, can make only non-binding recommendations to the parties. So, there is a monitoring committee that does not have a duty to publish its findings and cannot ensure adherence to the treaty. It can make only recommendations to a joint committee, which can make only non-binding recommendations, and which itself is not duty bound to report to the body that is apparently to be making the decisions: Parliament.

I asked how we would then change this if the circumstances changed. Even if we in Parliament found that out from a monitoring committee and joint committee that do not report to us, how would we change it? The noble and learned Lord rightly said that no Parliament can bind its successors. That seemed to imply that a future Parliament could change this arrangement. Well, it cannot, because, of course, no Parliament can bind its successors, but no Parliament can bind a Government on making or ending treaties—that is a prerogative function. How can we in Parliament change the treaty if we decide that Rwanda is no longer a safe country? I hope the Minister can explain that to me when he winds up.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, I want to speak in support of Amendment 67, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I have listened to the last hour or two—I have lost count of how many hours of debate there have been—and have restrained myself, perhaps uncharacteristically, from intervening. There were contributions from, for example, my noble friend Lord Anderson, who has great experience, having appeared in courts in which I have not; from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who has been a very senior Minister; and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, who has given judgment in some of the relevant cases. I thought I would leave it to them to deal with the legal aspects.

I come to this as a lawyer who has spent 38 of the last 40 years as a Member of one or other House of this Parliament. I am concerned about the balance between the legal position created by a piece of draft legislation and the role that we legitimately have in these Houses, particularly in the other place, which is more democratically accountable than we are, although we are reluctant to deny at least some level of democratic accountability.

I do not understand this concept of deterrence. There are two views on deterrence, and they are simply stated: either you believe that the provisions are deterrents, or you believe they are not. You can actually make pretty respectable arguments both ways. It seems to me that the deterrent that would stop people coming in small boats is to deal with the cases efficiently, which has not been done at least until very recently—in other words, to ensure that those who make what might well in the vast majority of cases be unjustifiable and inadmissible requests to be allowed to remain in this country, leave this country, after due process, as quickly as possible—and to ensure that Parliament retains some oversight so that it can see that the new law is being dealt with in a way of which we are not ashamed and that accords with British legal standards. Amendment 67, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will allow me to say is modest, would at least allow Parliament to have that oversight of public spending and the way a new and unusual law operates to ensure it is fair and that there is value for money.

There are some very odd things about this Bill. If noble Lords look just for a moment at Clause 5, it encourages the question: when is a Minister of the Crown not a Minister of the Crown? It provides the following in relation to interim measures:

“It is for a Minister of the Crown (and only a Minister of the Crown)”— it is very unusual to see a sentence such as that in a statutory provision—

“to decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure”.

There you see the language of judicial review: he or she is only a Minister of the Crown because you can judicially review a Minister of the Crown. But then your eye wanders down to Clause 5(4)(b):

“a reference to a Minister of the Crown is to a Minister of the Crown acting in person”.

So he is actually a Minister of the Crown who is not a Minister of the Crown; he is acting in person, so that means, I assume, that you cannot judicially review the decision he has taken, because although he happens to walk into this building as a Minister of the Crown, this decision is taken as though he was sitting in their sitting room in East Cheam or wherever they happen to live.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 11:00, 19 February 2024

That is an interesting thought, but I wonder whether it underlays this provision. I had assumed, until the noble Lord spoke, that it is drafted in that way to exclude the Carltona principle—namely, to prevent a civil servant acting in the name of a Minister of the Crown.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

That may not be the reason why it has been so drafted, but it is my interpretation of one of the consequences of that drafting.

The point I am making is that that construct, whereby a Minister of the Crown is a private person only for the purposes of that clause, seeks to exclude Parliament’s oversight of the actions of that person. At least Amendment 67 makes a respectable attempt to ensure that parliamentarians in both Houses can review the potential operation of certain issues under this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the issue of numbers—very well, if I may say so. The leader of the Opposition, who was a young barrister in my chambers at one time and was noted for his determination and accuracy, told the nation that about 100 people would go to Rwanda. Others have suggested a figure of about 200. Would the Minister be kind enough to confirm the actual number of places that exist in Rwanda for people who would be sent there under this Bill? I believe it to be certainly less than 200, but that is based only on attempting to find out the figures through various articles I have read online. If we are really talking about fewer than 200 people, then what is all this about, and why is Parliament not to be allowed to draw the country’s attention to the fact that this is really a pig in a poke—a political construct designed to deceive people into believing that it will stop the boats—and take appropriate parliamentary steps? That is not what will stop the boats.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the poke is very difficult to interrogate. One of the provisions of the treaty is about reception arrangements and accommodation, which goes to the point that the noble Lord has just made. I hope that the Minister will agree with our Amendment 76A, which is about transparency and the workings of the treaty. It is only through the joint committee that we could have any hope of understanding the day-to-day implementation of the treaty. It is only if we have something like Amendment 76A—we are not wedded to the particular drafting of it—that we will be able to understand. We need a reporting mechanism to Parliament in order to scrutinise, which is one of the major reasons that we are here, what actually happens—if it ever does happen.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

My Lords, are we not in danger of simply adding to the bureaucracy of the Bill by demanding an extra measure of reporting or an extra way of scrutinising? We have Questions four days a week, we have Questions for Short Debate. There is hardly a debate I have been in that did not end with a noble Lord’s question to a Minister about one matter or another, seeking precise information.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is certainly the case that we ask for a lot of information, but if there is no obligation on the Government to provide the information, where do we go from there?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this relatively short debate. Just for the record, I point out that my noble friend Lord Hailsham extended the courtesy of letting me know that he would be unavailable today, which I appreciate.

This legislation builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and other immigration Acts. It does not seek to replicate the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act for other case types. It is limited to the issue of the safety of Rwanda and makes some consequential changes to give proper effect to the presumption that Rwanda is a safe country.

The Government are considering plans for delivery of the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act in light of the Supreme Court judgment. Provisions in the Illegal Migration Act to support removal of people to Rwanda whose asylum and human rights claims are inadmissible will be commenced after Parliament has given its view on the safety of Rwanda.

As drafted, Amendment 67, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asks for information normally used only for internal government planning. This is not information that is normally shared since it is not Parliament’s role to examine the details of internal operational planning, nor is it necessary to meet the Government’s primary objective of ensuring that flights can relocate people to Rwanda.

However, I can confirm that, where claims are declared inadmissible for those who are subject to the duty to remove, the Government will provide support and accommodation in line with Section 9 of the Illegal Migration Act. Furthermore, in response to both Amendments 66 and 67, once the partnership is operationalised and flights commence, as soon as practicable following Royal Assent, removal data will be published online in the usual manner as part of the quarterly immigration statistics.

With regard to reporting on the current location and immigration status of any individuals relocated under the Rwanda treaty, it would be wholly inappropriate for the Government to report on personal data pertaining to the locations of relocated individuals in this manner. We believe that is also unnecessary. As we have set out, the treaty provides that no one relocated will be removed from Rwanda except, in very limited circumstances, to the UK. We have also been clear that anyone relocated who wishes to leave Rwanda voluntarily is free to do so.

The UK and Rwanda will co-operate to ensure that removal contrary to this obligation does not occur, which may include systems for monitoring the locations of relocated individuals. However, this would be with their express consent only and would, of course, not be for wider sharing or publication. This is in addition to the robust monitoring mechanisms already in place via the monitoring committee to ensure the effective operation of the partnership in practice and the well-being of those relocated, the findings of which will be reported in line with the agreed procedures set out in the monitoring committee terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan, which, as set out earlier in this debate, are published online.

I turn to Amendment 76A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. The terms of reference set out clearly that during the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee, which is made up of both UK and Rwandan officials. This is set out in Article 15(4)(b), in accordance with an agreed action plan, which will include weekly and bi-weekly reporting, as required. As per Article 15(4)(c) of the treaty, the monitoring committee will make any recommendations to the joint committee which it sees fit to do. The monitoring committee will otherwise produce a formal written report for the joint committee on a quarterly basis over the first two years of the partnership, setting out its findings and making any recommendations.

Following notification to the joint committee, the monitoring committee may publish reports on its findings as it sees fit. At least once a year, it will produce a summary report for publication. I have set out that the treaty includes enhanced provisions to provide real-time independent scrutiny of Rwanda’s asylum procedures aimed at preventing the risk of mistreatment contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR before it has the chance to occur. This addresses the findings in the Supreme Court proceedings that under the previous arrangements, as set out in the memorandum of understanding, the work of the monitoring committee would necessarily be retrospective. The treaty further provides at Article 15(9) for the monitoring committee to develop a complaints system that can be used by relocated individuals to lodge confidential complaints regarding alleged failure to comply with the obligations agreed, and that the monitoring committee will investigate all such complaints received directly during the enhanced three-month monitoring period.

Since the partnership was announced, UK officials have worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that individuals relocated under the agreement will be safe and that their rights will be protected. For example, the treaty sets out at paragraph 3 of Part 2 of Annex B a new process for Rwanda’s first instance body, responsible for making decisions on claims for refugee or humanitarian protection status at first instance. These changes, which will require the introduction of a new domestic asylum law, will move Rwanda’s asylum system to a caseworker model and address the Supreme Court’s conclusions as to the system’s capacity.

The UK Government have already worked with Government of Rwanda to build the capacity of their current asylum system. This work has included agreeing detailed standard operating procedures, reviews of contracts for services the Government of Rwanda have procured—for example, with accommodation facilities and medical insurance companies—and new or revised training programmes. The Home Office has also conducted ground visits, detailed guidance reviews, table-top exercises and walk-throughs to map out the end-to-end process of this partnership and better identify prospective areas for strengthening. This is in addition to ongoing training and capacity building for Rwandan officials within the refugee status determination process. Home Office officials are working on a daily basis with the officials in Rwanda to deliver this partnership.

I do have an answer for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, as to how the joint committee can report to Parliament. It is not the answer that he will want, but it is all I can say at the moment. The joint committee is due to meet this week, when discussions on treaty implementation will continue. Senior Home Office officials will be in attendance, and I hope to have more to say on this before we get to Report.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

The question that is being asked all the time is: how does Parliament keep it under review and raise the question that the country is no longer safe? That is not an answer.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I appreciate that it is not the answer that the noble and learned Lord was seeking—

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

Sorry, but it is not an answer at all to the question: how does Parliament in some way or another keep the question under review? The Minister has given an answer to a completely different question.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not believe I have, my Lords. What I am trying to say here is that the joint committee has to make reports to Parliament in order for Parliament to keep it under review. That is what is under discussion at the meeting this week. So it does answer the question—perhaps not in the way that the noble and learned Lord would like, for which, obviously, I apologise.

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 for that comment. Just for the record, it is 11.13 pm on the last day of Committee, and it might be that the Government are thinking about something that we have been talking about. I thank the Minister for that. We will have an update with regard to how the joint committee operates. However, in order for Parliament to make its judgment, it must have access to independent information. The joint committee is the two Governments, so it does not really meet the criteria of Parliament making a judgment on the basis of Rwanda being safe, if the only information that we can use to make that judgment is that of the Government of Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, we have gone into the operation of the joint committee and various other bodies in considerable detail today, so I am not going to rehash those now. I am sure we can refer back to the record.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about the timetable. Obviously, I would say this, but the treaties need to be ratified and laws need to be passed, so I am afraid I cannot give a timetable at the moment.

With regard to numbers, as we have discussed many times before, the scheme is uncapped so I cannot provide a commentary on the possible likely numbers.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 11:15, 19 February 2024

What steps beyond the passage of this Bill are required for the UK Government to ratify the treaty?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Again, I say to the noble and learned Lord that we had a lengthy debate about that a couple of weeks ago on the International Agreements Committee report, and those are the steps that will be required of the Government. Also, as discussed before, the Government of Rwanda still need to pass their new laws in order to be able to ratify the treaty.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I am not sure that is an answer. Apart from the passage of this Bill, which is the only thing that Mr Jenrick’s statement referred to for what was required for the UK to ratify the treaty, what else is required?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sorry, I disagree. I think I answered the question about what has to happen in order for the treaty to be ratified. It was under discussion at considerable length in the International Agreements Committee debate that we had three or four weeks ago, whenever it was.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

The Minister has just said that the numbers are uncapped, but in the walkthroughs and exercises, some of which have taken place in Uganda, someone will have told the Government how many spaces are currently available in Rwanda. How many spaces are currently available in Rwanda?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I do not have the precise number. I will find it and write to the noble Lord. As I say, the fact is that the scheme is uncapped. In a perfect world, we would not send anyone to Rwanda because the deterrence would work. Surely that is the point, as alluded to by my noble friends Lord Lilley and Lord Murray, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who pointed out that deterrence is entirely a binary argument. The Government take one view and others take another.

I think I have answered most of the questions—or at least I have tried to, although I appreciate not necessarily to all noble Lords’ satisfaction. We will have more to say before Report. The Bill buttresses the treaty. Alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since the summer of 2022, it enables Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe and provides Parliament with the opportunity to do so. For the reasons I have outlined, the amendments are not necessary, and I therefore respectfully ask noble Lords not to move them.

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

My Lords, I do not often say this to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, but that was a really disappointing response, partly because the Committee is seeking numbers and information and numbers were there none. The Government will have assumptions about what is happening. The other place has spent months and months debating Rwanda and this place has spent months doing so too; we have spent weeks on this Bill, including three days in Committee.

What I was asking with Amendment 67—and I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, for their support—was what the Government’s assumption is about the number of people who are going to go to Rwanda. It is no answer to say that the numbers are uncapped. That is a Civil Service response; it is what you say when it is difficult to answer and you do not want to do so.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

It is quite wrong to insult the Civil Service.

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

Well, it is someone’s idea of how to answer that particular question, but it is not an answer.

I worked out the number of small boat arrivals myself, simply by counting the Home Office’s own statistics from the middle of July to the end of 2023, which came to over 16,000. According to the law that the Government have passed, all those people are waiting to be deported, but the only answer that the Government give is Rwanda.

The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is quite right to make the point about Albania. Albania works because it is Albanians being sent back to Albania. It is not a Rwandan deal with people from all over the world supposedly being sent to a third-party country. I quite agree with respect to that. If the Government had other treaties like this one organised, they would not have half the problems that they do, so the noble Lord is right to make that point.

The Minister has made no attempt to say the number waiting for deportation under the Illegal Migration Act. I worked it out for myself by looking at the statistics. If I can work it out using the Government’s own statistics, why can the Minister not come to this Chamber and tell us what the number is? Where are they? We read time and again that the Government have lost most of them or do not know where many of them are. That was part of the purpose of what I said.

I want a timeline because I am interested. If this is the only thing the Government are saying is going to work with respect to dealing with the small boats crisis and it will act as a deterrent, surely, we deserve some idea about the Government’s timeline. If it is going to act as a deterrent in the way the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said, then people would know that there will be planes every week taking hundreds of people. We read from the Court of Appeal that Rwanda can only take a few hundred people, yet there are tens of thousands waiting to be deported. That is not a policy; it is a gimmick. It is a way of trying to pretend that something is going on.

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

I will give way in a moment.

Why can the Minister not give us some numbers and facts? That is all we were asking for. I hope and I would expect, frankly, that we get a bit more about the numbers the Government are working towards. They will have working assumptions they are working towards, and this Chamber deserves to know what they are.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I bet if he were to ask the Australians their estimate of the number they would have to send to Nauru before it had a deterrent effect, they would not have been able to give a figure. They would have probably given a figure that was much larger than what turned out to be the case. I can, in the privacy of this Room, since no one will report it, say from speaking to civil servants about the Albanian situation that they were expecting to have to deport far more people before it had any effect. It started to have an effect even before they had deported one new person; they were only deporting people who arrived before the agreement took effect.

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

I have agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, about Albania. There is no question between us about Albania. Of course, it acted as a deterrent, because it was a situation in which Albanians leaving Albania to come to this country knew that they were going to be sent back there. We got an agreement between the UK Government and Albania. It was a proper returns agreement that people knew was happening, so it had the deterrent effect the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is hoping for.

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 sure the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is fully aware that the people he is referring to are economic migrants who have no right to be here. Therefore, a proper returns and resettlement agreement is completely legitimate. They are not asylum seekers.

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

With respect to the answer the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, gave us and the amendment I was speaking to, this Chamber deserves more numbers from the Government. We need to understand what the Government are doing. The whole government policy on small boats is built on deportations. If you ask the majority of people in the country, they would expect that the Government are going to deport thousands upon thousands to Rwanda. The reality is that there will be a few hundred at best. What sort of policy is that to deal with the scale of the problem the Government face? We deserve better than that. I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 66 withdrawn.

Amendment 67 not moved.