Amendment 91

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 11:30 pm on 19 February 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford:

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

91: Clause 9, page 7, line 2, at end insert—“(3) This Act expires at the end of the period of two years beginning with the day on which it comes into force.(4) But the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument provide that subsection (3) is to cease to have effect and that this Act is accordingly to continue be in force.(5) Regulations under subsection (4) may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.(6) A draft under subsection (5) may not be laid before Parliament unless the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report based on evidence obtained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that the Government of the Republic of Rwanda is fulfilling its obligations under the Rwanda Treaty.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would insert a sunset provision for the Bill to expire two years after commencement unless Parliament decides that it should remain in force and the Government has produced a report containing evidence that the Rwandan government is fulfilling its Rwanda Treaty obligations.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, in moving Amendment 91 I am grateful to my friends the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Blunkett, for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is in his seat and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was in touch with me today to apologise for not being able to be here this evening.

I want to keep my comments as short as possible, given the hour and the fact that some of the issues have already been debated in Committee. However, there is merit in discussing the value of a sunset provision, now that each of the Bill’s clauses has been scrutinised.

The fundamental issue, which I fear has not yet been fully addressed by the Government Benches, is that we are being asked to make a permanent judgment on the safety of Rwanda on the basis of the yet to be implemented arrangements outlined in the treaty. This is, of course, against the opinion of our highest court. Furthermore, it is simply not arguable on any rational basis that Rwanda is safe at present, when, as the Minister himself has conceded, Rwanda is moving towards having the required protections in place.

At present, it remains the opinion of this House that the treaty should not be ratified until Parliament is satisfied that the protections it provides have been fully implemented. This amendment simply probes what other mechanism could be used to enable Parliament to revise or review its judgment on the safety of Rwanda, if the Government do indeed proceed with ratification.

This is not a wrecking amendment; rather, it enables the Rwandan partnership to continue if the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can confirm that Rwanda is fulfilling its obligations under the Rwanda treaty, even if, on these Benches, we do not believe this to be an approach befitting our nation’s values.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the UK or Rwanda in trying to fulfil these obligations, and they may well provide the basis for a future assessment of the safety of Rwanda, if fully realised. But good faith is no basis for a sound legal judgment, and this amendment therefore provides Parliament with the opportunity to revisit the issue after a fixed period. At present, the evidence simply is not there that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that the treaty protections will be in place to protect a very vulnerable grouping from injustices.

The treaty itself envisages initial shortcomings, for which increased monitoring is proposed. UNHCR has yet to observe substantial changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns of the Supreme Court. Two years, then, seems a plausible timeframe in which to operationalise the required changes, given that the Minister has stated at the Dispatch Box that the Rwandan authorities are expediting the changes that are needed.

Importantly, the terms of reference for the monitoring committee also stipulate that it will cover the first two years of the partnership. If it is the opinion of the Government that a sunset clause is not necessary, I give the Minister another opportunity to answer the question posed by many in this Chamber: how will the Government ensure that the obligations of the treaty—here I quote the treaty—

“can both in practice be complied with and are in fact complied with”?

This is an even more critical question, given that any recommendations arising from the monitoring arrangements in the treaty are non-obligatory.

I remain of the belief that it is not the role of Parliament to impose a factual and legal determination on all courts, for the fundamental reason that—I hope noble Lords will forgive me for stating the obvious—declaring another nation state safe does not in fact make it so. But, if the Government are choosing to place what some have called a “judicial blindfold” on our courts, we must explore what independent and expert scrutiny can come to bear on the question of the safety of Rwanda. Other noble Lords have commented on what might be an appropriate mechanism, and I implore the Government to give due consideration to this. Surely, we cannot leave a conclusive legal fiction on the statute book, irrespective of the evidence.

By signing off Rwanda as safe without a method to evaluate whether the treaty has been fully implemented, we will expose asylum seekers to a real risk of refoulement, especially given that there is limited suspensive legal remedy for those facing removal. This is no light matter, given that they may go on to face torture or serious mistreatment, from which they once fled—a trauma that cannot be undone. Providing no legal or parliamentary accountability for the terms of the treaty is both absurd and an abdication of our nation’s commitment to justice. I therefore hope that a solution can be brought forward, ahead of Report, to this unprincipled omission. I beg leave to move my amendment.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The right reverend Prelate obviously speaks with the authority of the Church of England. Is it the view of the Church of England that Rwanda is not safe?

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I cannot speak on behalf of the Church of England. We are not whipped on these Benches, and I speak for myself. I do not know for certain whether Rwanda is safe or not, and our courts seem to think they cannot state whether it is safe or not. I suggest that we need to review that in two years when we have more evidence.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

My Lords, I am sorry to detain your Lordships at this late hour. I shall try to be very brief. This amendment, particularly proposed new subsection (6), is remarkably similar to an amendment put forward earlier in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which I characterised as outsourcing decision-making to the UNHCR. I had a little spat with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about that and the right reverend Prelate, who spoke in favour of the amendment, denied that it was outsourcing. Very graciously, the noble Baroness intervened to say that that was the effect of her amendment and that she would consider making it, in her words, less rich when she brought it forward on Report.

This amendment falls into exactly the same trap. In proposed new subsection (6), on the renewal of the Act after two years, the decision is again outsourced to the UNHCR. I will not go through all the reasons I gave in my earlier speech as to why that is entirely inappropriate but, for those same reasons, this amendment is also completely inappropriate.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated

My Lords, I will briefly comment on the relationship between Rwanda and the United Kingdom contained in the treaty. A lot has been said about the treaty being inadequate and how it depends on what happens in future. The noble and learned Lord took a certain amount of flak during earlier debates in Committee when he was asked what the treaty is doing if Rwanda is safe. He suggested that it might make it safer. The rather scornful response to this observation was somewhat unfair. The treaty contains a number of obligations and is entirely typical of treaties in that respect. These obligations use the word “shall” and are directed to future activity.

The general principle of international law is that a treaty is binding on the parties and must be performed in good faith. That principle is embodied in the maxim “pacta sunt servanda”. We take that very seriously. If a party breaks the terms of a treaty, provided there has been a fundamental change of circumstances, as the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties makes clear, the treaty in effect comes to an end. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, spoke of the possibility of a coup and seemed to suggest, as the proposer of this amendment did, that because Parliament had determined that Rwanda was safe, we would be stuck with that determination.

I respectfully disagree. The treaty bears close reading. I will not refer to it at this stage of proceedings, but Clause 8(1) makes its nature clear, Articles 14, 15 and 16 concern the arrangements for monitoring and Article 22 provides a dispute mechanism. Further, the treaty will end on 13 April 2027 in any event. These seem to me to be sufficient safeguards built into the treaty, but if there is a coup or a fundamental change of circumstances, or any Government think that Rwanda is unsafe, the treaty can be brought to an end, at least until a subsequent agreement has been reached. To suggest that Parliament must somehow not be satisfied that there are obligations in international law seems to me unreal.

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 respect the noble Lord and am listening carefully to what he is saying, and as always, he makes well-considered arguments. I have a genuine question. I agree with everything he said, but only the Executive, under the prerogative power, would be able to make the judgment to end that treaty. Parliament cannot do it. Is that correct?

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated

The noble Lord is entirely correct about the prerogative, but Parliament, perhaps unusually, in considering this Bill has the opportunity to see the treaty and the obligations contained within it. Parliament should look at those obligations and see whether it is satisfied with the terms of the treaty and whether it provides sufficient safeguards. These are relevant factors for Parliament to consider but, ultimately, I accept that the noble Lord is right—it is for the Executive to decide.

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 very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way again. In essence, that was my argument in the previous group when it came to the necessity for us to have the information for the monitoring committee and the joint committee, given the circumstances, to allow us to form that view. Ultimately, we do not have the power to bring the treaty to an end or amend it because it is a prerogative power. We are, therefore, very limited as to what we are able to do if there are changes of circumstances in Rwanda that our Government and their Government do not then wish to change within the treaty.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated 11:45, 19 February 2024

That shows very little faith in a Government of whatever colour. This particular Government will take a view as to whether or not there was a breach of the treaty in relation to the various safeguards contained within it. The Opposition are proposing to repeal the legislation in any event, so the matter might well disappear as a result of such an Act. We must credit the Executive, however, with the power to review and seriously consider if there was a sufficient change of circumstances—a coup, for example—to warrant a different approach.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

My Lords, I strongly support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford in moving the amendment. We have gone through, in some detail, the question of when this Bill is going to become law and whether it will become law before the changes are effected as a result of the new treaty.

Noble Lords will remember that the Home Secretary is asking us to bear in mind the key part of his evidence that the position has changed since the Supreme Court judgment: namely, the treaty for the provision of an asylum partnership, which was laid before this House in December. Obviously, it is only when the provisions of that treaty are implemented that the position will have moved on from what the Supreme Court found, because the Home Secretary quite rightly is not challenging the finding of the Supreme Court; he is saying the position will change when the treaty is given effect to.

Obviously, this House is very sceptical of what Ministers are saying about when the treaty changes take place. Earlier in the afternoon, Ministers were unable to identify when the law in Rwanda would be changed to give effect to it. Ministers were not able to tell the Committee at all when the monitoring committee was going to recruit a support team, independent experts were going to be appointed to advise the first instance body, and all the other things set out in paragraph 19 of the International Agreements Committee report. We have no idea at the moment whether this Bill will be brought into force before the changes envisaged by the agreement and therefore the place will then become safe, so I am very surprised the Government are willing to go ahead with it before the changes are implemented.

That is the beginning. As far as the end is concerned —as this amendment is concerned with—Ministers will be aware that the agreement that gives effect to the changes, which remedies the problems identified by the Supreme Court and accepted as problems by the Government, ends on 13 April 2027, unless the agreement is renewed. I assume, though I invite Ministers to confirm, that if the agreement with Rwanda is not extended beyond 13 April 2027, it is the Government’s intention that the Rwanda Bill will come to an end. If that is not the position, how on earth could the Government contend that Rwanda continued to be a safe country after 13 April 2027?

In any event, the possibility of changes of circumstances are something that Parliament should be able to debate. The two-year sunset clause the right reverend Prelate is proposing is a means by which that debate could take place. Everybody who has debated the Bill in this House agrees it is a very grave thing that the Government are seeking to do by promoting the Bill. The idea that it is a permanent state of affairs that can never be looked at again without the consent of the Executive promoting another Bill is an inappropriate way to deal with it.

For all those reasons, I submit that this Committee should agree to the amendment proposed by the right reverend Prelate. However, I am extremely interested to know what the answer is to the position if this agreement with Rwanda is not extended beyond 13 April 2027.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. Because of the lateness of the hour, I will not repeat any of the arguments for why the amendment is needed. I will add an extra point, again looking at the treaty. It was partly alluded to by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed. Amendments to the agreement are by executive order. This Parliament is being asked to say that Rwanda is safe. Rwanda is safe on the basis of this treaty; that is the basis on which this Parliament is being asked to say that Rwanda is safe.

However, Article 20 on amendments to the agreement states:

“This agreement may be amended at any time by mutual agreement between the Parties”.

Therefore, tenets that are deemed to make Rwanda safe based on the judgment of the Supreme Court could, by executive order, be amended. This Parliament would not be able to change its view that Rwanda is safe. The treaty could be changed.

Therefore, when this treaty falls on the date that has been said in two years’ time, it is quite right that this Parliament should therefore be able to look at everything in the round, including any amendments to this treaty, to determine whether Rwanda is still safe. That is why this amendment is needed.

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

Once again, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As we have heard throughout today’s debate, we have to do more to break the criminal gangs’ business model, and to deter illegal migrants. These journeys are extremely dangerous. People have lost their lives attempting to cross the channel, as is well reported. These journeys are also unnecessary, as those making these crossings are coming from safe countries, such as France, where they could have claimed asylum. I say respectfully to the right reverend Prelate that that is surely the fundamental issue.

While the Government have made progress towards stopping the boats—with small boat crossings down by a third in 2023, while the numbers of illegal migrants entering some European countries have risen by 80%—we still need to do more. By delivering our key partnership, relocating people to Rwanda and not allowing them to stay in the UK, we will prevent people making these dangerous crossings, and we will save lives.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for tabling Amendment 91, but we do not think it is necessary. It is clear from the evidence pack that the Government published on Thursday 11 January, and from the treaty itself, that Article 15 of the treaty enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, ensuring that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. I am sorry that I will be going over some old ground, but, as my noble friend Lord Howard pointed out, this is not dissimilar to some earlier amendments.

We have repeatedly made clear that the monitoring committee will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring, unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports, and the ability to publish these reports as it sees fit. Crucially, the monitoring committee will undertake real-time monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months. This period of monitoring can be extended if required. The monitoring committee will be able to urgently escalate issues prior to any shortcomings or breaches placing a relocated individual at real risk of harm. This will include reporting directly to the joint committee co-chairs within 24 hours in emergency or urgent situations.

To expand on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, I also refer the right reverend Prelate to my remarks earlier. Article 4.1 of the treaty sets out clearly that it is for the UK to determine the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under the terms of the agreement, and the number of such requests made. This means that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty if there had been, for example, an unexpected change to the in-country situation in Rwanda. As is the case in many scenarios, the Government would be able to respond and adapt as necessary and there is therefore no need to include a sunset provision as suggested.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region; for example, through its work with the UNHCR to host the emergency transit mechanism. A specific example of Rwanda’s successful work with the UNHCR is the memorandum of understanding between Rwanda and the UNHCR to host a transit facility in Gashora for asylum seekers fleeing civil war in Libya, which has operated since 2019.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is correct: if the agreement is not extended beyond the date he mentioned, in effect, it dies. Rwanda has a strong history—

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

If the agreement dies, will the future Act die with it?

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

As I understand it, yes.

Rwanda has a strong history of providing protection to those who need it, and it currently hosts more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have found safety and sanctuary there. The terms of the treaty we have negotiated with Rwanda address the findings of the UK domestic courts and make specific provision for the treatment of relocated individuals, guaranteeing their safety and protection. I invite the right reverend Prelate to withdraw her amendment.

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 the Minister concludes, I would be grateful if he could say what the mechanism will be for ending this legislation, if the treaty is not extended. Could he also answer my noble friend’s question on amendments to the treaty? It is long-standing practice that amendments to a treaty must come before Parliament through the CRaG process. Can he confirm that that would be the case?

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

My Lords, I am not expert on treaty law but, as far as I understand it, that is the case. I am afraid that I do not know the process behind the noble Lord’s question; I will have to find out.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have participated in this debate. Given the late hour, I hope they will forgive me for not going through the particulars; I am sure that everybody wants to get home at this stage.

It has been genuinely very interesting to hear the different perspectives on this matter. I am not yet entirely convinced; I want to reflect on this and speak to others about whether we might come back to this on Report. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 91 withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed.

Amendments 92 and 93 not moved.

Clause 10 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.

House adjourned at 11.57 pm.