Amendment 91

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

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 11:30, 19 February 2024

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.