Amendment 22

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 4 March 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Etherton:

Moved by Lord Etherton

22: Clause 4, page 4, line 12, after “question” insert “or, where the person in question is a member of a particular social group within Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention 1951, for that group”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment and the related amendments to Clause 4(1)(b) and Clause 4(4) provide for the situation where the person in question is a member of a particular social group, the members of which have a well founded fear of persecution, and following the decision of the Supreme Court in HJ (Iran) v SSHD [2010] UKSC 31 the focus is on the group and not the individual circumstances of each member of the group.

Photo of Lord Etherton Lord Etherton Crossbench

My Lords, I will also speak to related amendments that I have tabled: Amendments 24, 26, 28 and 30. I am extremely grateful to those who have co-signed all or some of those amendments: the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

I will speak very briefly, because I spoke previously about this both on Second Reading and in Committee. The current version of Clause 4(1) enables an applicant to oppose removal to Rwanda on the grounds that it is not a safe country for the applicant, but only if the applicant provides

“compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances”.

Similarly, Clause 4(4), on the ability to obtain interim relief from removal to Rwanda, depends on particular individual circumstances relating to the applicant in question.

The defect in those provisions—a very basic defect—is that no provision is currently made for applicants in one of the important categories of refugee defined in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 refugee convention. That category comprises applicants who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their

“membership of a particular social group”.

You can immediately see the difference between other categories of refugee under the convention, who are individual persons, and this category—which is probably the largest, or certainly the most important—comprising a large number of people who qualify as refugees because they are members of a particular social group. Yet when we look at Clause 4—I mentioned subsection (1) as well as subsection (4) on interim relief—there is no reference whatever to “group”, so one category of refugee has simply dropped off the list completely.

The proper approach of courts and tribunals to such a refugee was described in detail by the Supreme Court in HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, a 2010 decision, especially in the judgment of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. I will not take the House through the case in detail. It is sufficient for me to say briefly that the approach to be taken, as established by that case, is that, if the applicant for asylum claims to be a member of a particular social group, the other members of which have a well-founded fear of persecution, the applicant is entitled to be considered a refugee provided that they satisfy the particular decision-maker that they are a member of that social group.

HJ (Iran) and the other case I mentioned concerned men who wanted to live an openly gay life and would have faced persecution in their home country had they done so, but the principle that I just described of the way to treat this category of refugee, as set out in HJ (Iran), applies across the board. It is not limited to people who are LGBT but applies to those who are members of a particular social group because of their ethnicity or gender or who hold a particular religious or political belief. For example, by way of analogy with the LGBT men who applied in HJ (Iran), if people hold particular philosophical, political or religious views that they have not expressed because of a real risk of persecution, but would like to do so and to live a life in which they can express those views, they are to be treated as members of a social group and granted the status of a refugee accordingly.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said in Committee, the Bill presents us with a false dichotomy. On the one hand, it is all about me—the claimant, the individual; on the other hand, it is about Rwanda generally. The former, the Bill says in Clause 4, allows you to make a claim for interim relief or removal generally to Rwanda, but the latter does not. In between those two extremes is the category of a member of a social group with a well-founded fear of persecution. This is not a torpedo point; it is not intended to undermine or delay this legislation. It is a reflection of the omission of a basic category of refugee defined in the convention, and an extremely important category as well. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I have put my name to the four amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I support everything he says and, since we are on Report, I do not propose to add to it. I also have my own Amendment 42. I declare an interest as the co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and the deputy chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation.

I spoke to this in Committee. Quite simply, and taking on what the noble and learned Lord has just said, this is a very special group of people who are in this country not because they have chosen to take the boat trip but because they have been brought here, by boat, lorry or some other route, and they are victims. When one starts complaining about people who should have stopped in France because France is a safe country, it absolutely does not apply to victims of modern slavery. They are here on an involuntary basis and need to be regarded in a totally different way.

Since I have been opposing much of the Rwanda Bill, I have heard endlessly, “What is it that you or other opposition would do to improve the situation of those crossing the channel?” I deeply regret those crossing the channel and I do not have an answer, but I do not believe that the need to stop people crossing the channel in a dangerous situation is any reason to pass an utterly shocking Bill. It is constitutionally incorrect and does not look at genuine victims, such as those victims of modern slavery. It is no answer to those of us who cannot accept what is going wrong in this country and what is going wrong in this Bill that, because we cannot offer an answer to the people crossing the channel, therefore we should be disregarded. Modern slavery is one of the most shocking crimes, making vast sums for perpetrators across the world. About a third to half the victims of modern slavery come to this country. The Government are ignoring the plight of this most vulnerable group of people. I hope that, at this last moment, they will think again about victims of modern slavery.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Before I refer to the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, I mention Amendment 25, in the names of my noble friend Lord Dubs and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. Sadly, my noble friend cannot be in his place, but I raised this issue in another amendment in Committee. Our concern is about freedom of religion or beliefs and the effect that Rwandan legislation could have on such beliefs, particularly minority religious beliefs, and the conflict that could arise with the Rwandan blasphemy law. The right reverend Prelate might say more.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has made a powerful case for the amendments in his name and for others within this group. I have added my name to his amendments. From Second Reading onwards, we have repeatedly made the case for these amendments. I will not return to the same arguments, pertinent and important though they are.

The Government insist that belonging to this particular social group—LGBT—would pose no threat in Rwanda because there is no discrimination in law. However, there are no clear protections against discrimination or persecution within law. I refer your Lordships to the comments that I read into the record from activists in Rwanda, who detailed their direct experiences of societal discrimination, which directly affects them and their quality of life.

To put it in context, following the genocide, the abiding principle followed by the Rwandan Government is that of countering what is known as divisionism, ensuring that groups do not arise and are not pitted one against the other. The genocide informs their approach to governance, and that, in effect, means conformity. If you do not conform, it can be and regularly is represented as creating divisionism that would have further consequences and is punishable by law.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Conservative 8:30, 4 March 2024

The characterisation of the mentality in Rwanda that the noble Lord asserts does not reflect that of the community representatives whom the JCHR met last week. It is clear from the evidence that they gave us that Rwanda is very much a leading light in east Africa, being an open and tolerant home for LGBT+ people. Indeed, it is very much felt in the region that gay people are at home there. Therefore, I do not accept the characterisation that the noble Lord sets out. I encourage him to think again about the welcoming nature of society in Kigali, particularly given what is going on in neighbouring east African states—for example, Uganda and the DRC.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

I thank the noble Lord for that considered intervention. I can speak only according to my direct experience in Rwanda, from 2008. As I said earlier, in discussion on another group, I worked in Rwanda for several months as the chief election observer for the 2008 elections. At that time, I had to intercede on behalf of activists who were directly experiencing discrimination. I have not given up on that. I recognise what is going on in Uganda and other countries, but comparisons are not always helpful—indeed, they are somewhat odious when it comes to the lived experience of people with whom I am in direct contact. This is not academic; I am talking about what is reported to me, as the noble Lord is referring to what was reported to him and other parliamentarians on a parliamentary visit.

Following on from my previous references to divisionism and the consequences caused by one group being pitted against another, I therefore assert that LGBT people could not live openly. To do so would be a challenge to others that would not be accepted. It would and could be portrayed as divisionism.

This is in direct contrast to the protections that arise from the judgment referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, in HJ (Iran) from the Supreme Court of 2010. It affects characteristics that come from belonging to a particular social group. Again, I refer to my intervention in Committee, where I represented some of the concerns of LGBT activists. I will not repeat them, but if Members of your Lordships’ House request me to do so, I would be more than happy to oblige.

At the end of last week, I again made contact with LGBT activists, and asked again what the situation was like for LGBT asylum seekers in Rwanda. The reply was succinct and stark, written in four separate messages so that it could not be connected or traced:

“Rwanda is not a safe place for LGBTQ asylum seekers at all.

Though there are no laws

Community is facing

So much violence and discrimination”.

They are not my words, but the words of people living in that region. That is the reality of life for the LGBTQ people that we send to Rwanda, and sadly not the representations made to visiting parliamentarians.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop

My Lords, I support Amendment 42 tabled by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol regrets that she cannot be in her place today to speak in support of this amendment, which she has signed.

The question of deterrence is central to the Government’s premise in the Bill. The threat of being removed to Rwanda should, in theory, be sufficient to discourage asylum seekers from taking dangerous crossings in small boats across the channel. Even if we accept that this will work for individuals trafficked to the UK against their will—I have not seen evidence that suggests it will—how can the Bill possibly have a deterrent effect? This point was made repeatedly in Committee, but it has not been adequately addressed.

There are as many as 4,000 people in the national referral mechanism who could potentially be eligible for removal. Can we not give them assurance that we will not subject them to further upheaval? The Global Slavery Index estimates that the rate of modern slavery in Rwanda is more than twice as high as the rate in the UK. Can we be sure that victims will be safe from the risk of re-trafficking?‘

The provisions of the Bill are incompatible with protective obligations, but potential victims will not even be able to put this injustice to the courts under the Rwanda treaty. Not identifying victims or sending them to another country before their claim has been properly assessed will also set us back in our efforts to bring perpetrators of modern slavery to justice. Victims are often the only witnesses of this crime; without them, the case against perpetrators will be significantly harder to make. Safeguarding victims of modern slavery from removal to Rwanda will have a negligible impact on the supposed deterrent effect of the Bill, and every effect on the safety and flourishing of the victims of modern slavery.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my name would have been on the amendment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, but I was not quite agile enough to get in as number four. The treaty provides at Article 13 that

“Rwanda shall have regard to information provided about a Relocated Individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated”.

If the Home Office rushes through its processes, as it will under the legislation of 2022 and 2023, I doubt that the individual needs will be adequately identified. It is hard enough to do even under the pre-2022 procedures.

Of course, what Rwanda is told is necessary and what it actually can provide are not necessarily the same thing, as has been covered pretty fully today. Its record is not exemplary. Just last year, the 2023 US Trafficking in Persons Report of 2023 told us that Rwanda

“did not refer any victims to services”.

That there were none is, to me, literally incredible.

The report also refers to widespread cultural prejudice, as we have just heard, along with a lack of capacity and resources that inhibits effective procedures, and so on. Referring to the words of the treaty as if that made them actually happen seems simply an extension of the argument of “The legislation says that Rwanda is safe and it therefore is”. What assessment have the Government made of the risks of Rwanda being safe in this respect? What assessment have they made of its capacity to provide services? Do they accept that Rwanda is able carefully to assess each individual’s risk of being re-trafficked? The risk in this country is enough—my goodness, what must it be there? Indeed, what assessment have they made of how those people sent to Rwanda by Israel disappeared? Common sense gives me a likely answer.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 44 in this group, which is in my name and supported by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Houghton of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Before turning further to Amendment 44, I say that I support the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I have had the benefit of hearing about these amendments in Committee and today in your Lordships’ House. I do not plan to say anything further on this, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government’s attitude to those who have been trafficked or other victims of modern slavery should be that they were in control of their own decision-making and to categorise them as such, when manifestly they were not. I also support Amendments 31 and 32 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which I am sure she will speak to immediately after I sit down, and Amendment 25 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs.

As the explanatory statement in relation to Amendment 44 makes clear, the new clause proposed by this amendment would exempt from removal to Rwanda people who are in a very special case: those who put themselves in harm’s way in support of His Majesty’s Armed Forces or through working with or for the UK Government overseas. It extends this exemption to their partners and dependants. In Committee on 14 February, responding to a debate on this amendment, the Minister said:

“Of course, we greatly value the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas, and we have accepted our moral obligation. … Anyone eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and Afghan citizens resettlement scheme should apply to come to the UK legally under those routes. As regards the specific case of British Council personnel, they are qualified under the third pathway of the ACRS and places are offered to them”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; cols. 287-88.]

I know and admire the Minister, and he is correct, but his restatement of the eligibility framework and criteria for these schemes does not engage, never mind undermine, the necessity for this exemption. It is clear that we have a moral duty to those who have served at our behest and in our interests. However, despite serving shoulder to shoulder with British troops, most of the Triples were not evacuated in August 2021, and many have subsequently been rejected under the ARAP scheme. We know now that they were rejected because of misunderstandings on the part of decision-makers of the terms of ARAP and, often, the nature of the service of the applicants, despite the existence of compelling evidence to the contrary, and there is now credible evidence suggesting that the UK Special Forces department blocked eligible applicants from being accepted. The group was refused wrongly by the bureaucracy or blocked for self-serving, venal reasons by the country’s Special Forces, whose Government and Ministers have a moral obligation to promise them, and still promises them, sanctuary.

It comes to this: many applied for the status that would allow them a legal route to resettlement in the UK. They were refused in error. Then, fearing what materialised as their comrades were murdered or tortured by the Taliban, they faced the choice of staying in Afghanistan and facing certain death or getting here somehow. They chose to get here somehow. They were in extremis and had no alternative. There was no legal route open to them because of our failures. In Committee, I shared accounts of the experience of five Afghans who were driven to this extreme and acted accordingly. I do not intend to repeat them but they are freely available in open source media, and I am sure many others will become apparent over time.

Responding to this amendment in Committee, the Minister asserted:

“Regardless of the contribution they have previously made, a person who chooses to come to the UK illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available to them, should be liable for removal to a safe country”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 288.]

The third clause of that sentence makes a rather startling admission: that the position of this Government is that, even when they—the Government—have failed, when access to a safe and legal route is wrongly denied, the consequences of their dereliction should doubly be laid on those who are already victims of it in the first place. Your Lordships’ House is a legislative Chamber. Where there is a wrong that can be remedied via legislative means, we are empowered to do just that. Making law is not separate from morality but, in cases of this moral seriousness, should be a means of translating morality into practical, proportionate and enforceable measures.

On 5 February, in the debate on a UQ on the relocation of Afghan special forces, I welcomed—and I repeat that welcome today—the Government’s undertaking to review all the ARAP applications from members of the Afghan special forces, known as the Triples, that already have been deemed ineligible. Some of these very brave men and their families and dependants are hiding in Afghanistan. Others are in Pakistan, waiting to find out whether the new Government in Pakistan will deport them back to Afghanistan, where they will be in fear for their lives.

As I said then, in addition to those who are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there are others who are here in the United Kingdom. In August 2021, when Kabul fell to the Taliban and chaos ensued around Kabul Airport, they were denied access to evacuation flights. The Taliban in attendance around the airport knew who they were and where they lived. Soon, when the killing of their colleagues and families started, they were forced to get here by irregular and dangerous routes. On 5 February, I asked whether the Ministry of Defence, in carrying out the review, would undertake not to make them ineligible for ARAP simply because of how they got here. No such undertaken was given, either then or since. Apparently, His Majesty’s Government, although greatly valuing the contribution of those who have supported us and our Armed Forces overseas and accepting their moral obligation to them, none the less value the Rwanda policy more.

The provisions of the Illegal Migration Act are so unambiguous that, if any of those people got here with the assistance of traffickers and crossed the channel in small boats, they would be illegal migrants. Section 1(2)(a) places a binding duty on the Secretary of State to arrange for their removal. In conjunction with the provisions of this Bill, were they to enter into force, that removal would be to Rwanda. Some already have been threatened repeatedly with deportation to Rwanda. It is to remedy this that the amendment is necessary. In this context, I echo a question that I asked in Committee:

“When we ask others to ally themselves with us in future”— as we will—

“what lessons do we imagine that they will draw from these cases? That we are steadfast in our support for those who have lent their support to us? That we can be trusted to meet our commitments? No, we will be seen as utterly transactional—a power that asks others to risk their lives and pledge themselves to act in our interests but will not offer sanctuary in return when they need it”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 272.]

As I have said, I welcome the Statement made on 1 February that the MoD has decided to undertake a reassessment of all decisions of ineligibility made on applications with credible links to Afghan specialist units, but evidence of errors in handling eligibility for the Afghan resettlement schemes is not confined to the Triples and ARAP. I refer your Lordships to the evidence complied by the charity the SULHA Alliance, whose spokesperson Professor Sara de Jong has commented that their casework includes interpreters and labourers who qualify under ACRS who are being treated similarly by decision-makers, with many errors.

This amendment goes significantly further than the Government’s reassessment and meets the moral need. Although I do not approve of the Bill or its intentions, this amendment should attract support even from those who count themselves among the Bill’s supporters. If they wish the Rwanda scheme to work and to be seen to work, this would at least ensure that we do not face the ignominy of seeing those who risked their lives at our instigation being deported from the country in whose service they have risked exile, serious injury and death.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench 8:45, 4 March 2024

My Lords, having tried earlier in the day during Questions to be supportive of the Minister, let me now seek to redress the balance. I have appended my name to Amendment 44 for two reasons: first, because I regard it as essential that we meet the obligations we have undoubtedly accrued to those who have supported the UK’s overseas endeavours in the past; but, secondly and equally, because we need to protect our ability to garner such support in future—support that will be crucial in many instances to the success and safety of our own Armed Forces. It is for this reason that faster and better handling of currently outstanding issues, such as those pertaining to the Afghans, will not resolve the issue.

The Bill has passed the other place and will undoubtedly become law. This amendment does not in any substantive way affect the powers and arrangements set out in the Bill. It carves out a limited exemption. The Government will undoubtedly argue that the more exemptions, the weaker the Bill. That may be, but it seems to me that is a pretty important exemption. That really is the question before your Lordships: would the harm done to the UK by not agreeing this amendment outweigh the impact that agreeing it would have on the Government’s objective of ceasing illegal immigration? The answer, it seems to me, is an overwhelming yes, and therefore I believe we should agree the amendment. The Minister will undoubtedly disagree. My proposition to your Lordships is therefore this: let us pass the amendment and send the issue back to the other place and let us then see what importance it attaches to the safety of those who have hazarded their security and their very lives in support of global Britain’s overseas endeavours.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, there is an irrefutable case, in my view. It is very odd when you think about it. We had three days in Committee and a long Second Reading, and the Government have heard nothing from us which is of any interest to them. There are no government amendments on the Marshalled List today, not a single one, and the Government have shown no signs of picking up, improving, adjusting, or taking advantage of any of the amendments tabled by anyone all around the House. I am tempted to say it is rather contemptuous. We have taken their Bill seriously. I am not sure that they have taken seriously what we have said about the Bill, but now we come to the test because this group contains nothing which would in any way detract from what the Government are trying to do.

Having heard the explanation by noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, of the modern slavery amendment, that it cannot be right to treat the victims of modern slavery as perpetrators and it cannot be right to penalise victims; having heard the arguments advanced by noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, who has drawn attention to what clearly is a lacuna—not a large lacuna, but a real lacuna—in the Bill; and having heard the noble Lord, Lord Browne, explain what seems to me to be a debt of honour, it would not cost the Government very much to say, “Okay, we have heard you. Maybe we want to adjust your wording, but we are prepared to incorporate your thoughts because you hit on three real points, not seriously damaging to our Bill, where changing our view would be the honourable course to take”.

I very strongly support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Browne. The service that I was privileged to lead is a small service, which, in my time, employed more than 10 locally engaged staff for every single member of the Diplomatic Service in our high commissions and embassies around the world. The vice-consuls, the clerks, the drivers, the security guards, the messengers: many of them worked for us for a lifetime. In certain countries, at certain times, having worked for us puts such people in grave danger. One thinks nowadays of Russia, Belarus, Iraq, Iran and, of course, Afghanistan.

I strongly support the case for doing the right thing for those who have assisted our military, but those who have assisted the King’s servants on the ground in diplomatic missions, without diplomatic immunity, and who are now, as a consequence, at risk deserve the same degree of support. It is a matter of honour; not to pick up the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, would be dishonourable.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench

My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, to which I would have been more than happy to add my name had there not been a limit of four sponsors for each amendment.

As we have already heard, one of the groups of Afghans to whom this exemption would apply would be the interpreters who worked with the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, whose predicament at the hands at the Taliban I have been highlighting in your Lordships’ House for over 10 years now. I am happy to say that many thousands of Afghan interpreters have succeeded in being relocated to the UK with their family members, but there are others whose claims under the various schemes have been unfairly or inexplicably rejected and who still live in fear, as do their family members. Only two weeks ago, I was contacted by one such individual, who had worked as an interpreter and translator. He said it was common knowledge in his community that he had been working for the British, so he felt forced to flee to a third country where he is now living in hiding, in fear of his life, with his mother and younger brother.

The importance of this proposed new clause to this individual and others like him is that his application under ARAP was refused on the grounds that he was not directly employed by HMG. His employment as an interpreter and translator was with a global agency under a contract that that organisation had with DfID to provide translation and interpreting services to the Armed Forces and to UK government projects in Afghanistan. So he would clearly fall under the terms of proposed subsection (1)(b) of this new clause in relation to indirect employment, and his family would fall under Clause 1(c).

To me he appears to be typical of the brave linguists who worked with pride for the UK but who, in the end, may feel forced to seek access to the UK by what would be treated as illegal means. In no way should he then have to face the indignity of being further removed to Rwanda. His loyalty is to the UK.

I am equally concerned about those who worked for the British Council as well as the so-called Triples, whom the noble Lord, Lord Browne, mentioned. Some of these Afghans are also in hiding, in fear of kidnap, violence and death threats at the hands at the Taliban. If forced to seek asylum here other than through an official route, they also deserve our gratitude, respect and protection. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment and to undertake to review all ARAP rejections, not just those of the Triples.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 9:00, 4 March 2024

My Lords, this group, similar to the third group, demonstrates the risk to individuals where their safety, due to their individual circumstances, cannot be properly considered under the Bill before they are sent to Rwanda. We have had a focus on LGBT, on modern slavery and on Afghans and other people who have served this country.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee raised the issue of modern slavery. Undoubtedly, this is an area where there is a lacuna in the Bill, because these people are victims. My noble friend asked the Government to do a complete analysis of the way in which they deal with this group of people in order to understand what sort of facilities they are going to need and, more importantly, to make the assessment here, and to understand that these people are victims who are suffering; their case should be heard so that we can judge that victim base.

On the other hand, we have talked about the Armed Forces, families and the carve-out for Afghans. It is not correct to assume that those at risk due to their association with UK forces have all been brought to the UK through safe routes. It is clear from the contributions that we have just heard that many of them remain. They have no alternative but to go into hiding or, if they see their life threatened, to take dangerous routes to reach safety in the UK, the country that they believed would protect them for all that they had put their lives at risk for.

I have two points to make to supplement that. The evidence from the UNHCR to the Supreme Court detailed that citizens from Afghanistan had a 0% success rate for claims processed in Rwanda between 2020 and 2022. During that same period, 74% of Afghans who came to the UK had had their claims processed successfully in that time period. I ask the Government: to what extent will the risk to Afghans, due to their association with allied forces in Afghanistan, be both understood and considered in Rwanda?

This question raises the issue of discharging our responsibility towards these people who were placed at risk because of their association with the UK but were then not given protection by the UK and were instead sent elsewhere for another country to deal with—a country that has a 0% success rate in giving people asylum in that country. These are people who put their lives and those of their families at risk in support of the UK’s enterprise and our forces in that country.

This group of amendments needs to be examined further. It needs a much more sympathetic approach from the Government because we are talking about victims and people who have given service to this country. Those people need to have special treatment, rather than us simply looking at the legislation and passing them through. I ask noble Lords to imagine if someone from Afghanistan who got to this country, who would have qualified if they had had the chance but their qualification was misrepresented for whatever reason, was then sent to a country where there was a 0% chance of their being recognised as a refugee.

This group of amendments has demonstrated that there is a risk that the Government have to pay attention to, in trying to make sure that they fulfil the requirements that I think are both humane and important.

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

My Lords, as we come to the end of today’s consideration of the Bill before us, I start with the important point that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned. I raised it in debate on the first group of amendments, when I said that the constitutional position is that the Government have the right to get their Bill through, but the House of Lords also has a constitutional position, which is the right for it to expect that its views and the amendments that it passes are considered properly by the Government. Unless I got it wrong, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was saying—it is certainly what I think—that our belief is that the Government are simply saying, “We’re not going to change the Bill at all. We don’t mind what the amendments are or what inconsistencies are brought forward, or how illogical what we are saying is. Such is our determination that we are going to drive this through and use our electoral majority to do it”. To that extent, the Government are undermining the constitutional conventions on which our Parliament is based.

I have been lectured, as many of us on this side of and across the House have been, on the Government’s right to get their Bill through. Indeed, the Home Secretary was at it again this morning in a newspaper, warning of the consequences of us not allowing the Bill through. Why would the Government simply ignore what the House of Lords is saying, which appears to be the intention? It may not be the intention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, or the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, but it will be interesting to see what amendments, if any, the Government make in response to what has happened in your Lordships’ House in Committee and, more importantly, in the votes that have taken place today.

I would appreciate us having some understanding of the Government’s view of what is being done here. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned, and as I am sure many other noble Lords feel, we have a right to be heard—and, at times, for our amendments to be acted upon—rather than simply ignored and dismissed as people who do not understand the problem and are simply trying to get in the way of dealing with the boats.

I started with that important point, notwithstanding the fact that some really important points reflecting on the Bill have been made on this group of amendments, as with many other groups. This group of amendments deals with individual claims and exemptions that may be made with respect to the general principle of the law. As somebody who has great respect for the law, although not a lawyer myself, it has always been my understanding that not many good laws do not have exemptions within them. A good law may have a generality of application to the population—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, will know this better than me, in his current position—but it will have exemptions within it because the impact of a general law on an individual may be such that justice is not served. Because of that, law therefore has to have exemptions built into it. As it stands, the Government are simply not able to have any exemptions within this. There is a blanket application of the law to particular individuals, whatever their circumstances.

We heard three very passionate and moving speakers leading on these amendments. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, supported by my noble friend Lord Cashman, outlined the circumstances that may occur with a particular social group. My noble friend mentioned the LGBT community, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, will also appreciate that. Does that need to be considered within the Bill? We will have to see, but it appears to be another thing that the Government will just dismiss.

We heard from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about her amendments with respect to victims of modern slavery and trafficking. People who are trafficked have no choice. They do not say “Yes, traffic me”. That is different; that is smuggling. We are talking about people who are trafficked and have no part in the decision. The Government’s Bill just does not care about that. Those people will be subject to automatic deportation or going to Rwanda. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, quite rightly, surely that could be considered for exemption under the terms of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment, supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and others, pointed out that a consequence of the Bill as it stands will be that people who served this country and put their lives on the line for us will simply be treated as illegal and deported to Rwanda. Does the Minister think that is right? Does he actually agree with that? It would be interesting to know whether he thinks that somebody, as my noble friend Lord Browne pointed out, who has fought for this country, served this country and put their life on the line, and who has had to come because of the situation in Afghanistan that my noble friend outlined, should be deported. Who in this House thinks that they should be deported to Rwanda? I do not believe the Government Front Bench think that. It is a rhetorical question; I will save the Minister from answering it. If they do not think that, then they should sort it out.

We are not playing at this; these are things that affect real people’s lives. The point the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, made, is really important. What credibility will this country have if it finds itself in a similar situation in the future and says, “Work with us because we will ensure that you are protected”? What possible credibility would we have as a country or as part of an alliance? If we said to people, “If you serve with this country, do not worry about the consequences of it, because you will be protected”, what will we be able to say to them when, as the noble and gallant Lord pointed out, they simply turn around and say, “That is not what happened with those who served in Afghanistan”? Many of them were forced to stay and the consequences of that for some of them have been very severe.

The Government need to act on my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment. We do not need warm words such as, “Yes, we need to consider this and think about it. It is a very important, interesting point that has been made”. The Government make the law. With respect to this, they should change the Bill to make sure that those people are protected and they should change the Bill in the way the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has outlined, with respect to victims of modern slavery and trafficking. As my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said, the Bill needs changing with respect to LGBT people—although I note my noble friend’s Amendment 33, which we will consider on Wednesday, may be a way of doing that. We will leave that for Wednesday.

This is a very important group of amendments dealing with individual claims and exemptions. This is not only about the law; it is about the way that justice works in this country. Justice demands these changes and I hope the Government respond.

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

My Lords, these amendments go to the issue of whether it is safe to relocate a person to Rwanda for particular individuals. It remains the Government’s view that these amendments are not necessary. I will again set out the Government’s case. Before I do, on the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, regarding amendments from noble Lords, obviously I cannot pre-empt what the other place will do or what that will prompt. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that.

Amendments 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would undermine one of the core principles of the Bill, which is to limit the challenges that can be brought against the general safety of Rwanda. The Government do not accept that these amendments are required to safeguard claims against removal to Rwanda on the basis of an individual’s LGBT identity, or indeed for any other characteristic, such as religious belief. These amendments would unnecessarily and significantly broaden the Bill’s provisions.

The Bill provides appropriate safeguards to ensure that decision-makers will make a case-by-case decision about the particular circumstances of each case. The Bill also allows decision-makers and the courts to consider certain claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual person due to their particular circumstances, despite the safeguards in the treaty, if there is compelling evidence to that effect.

As in all cases, decision-makers will make case-by-case decisions about whether the particular circumstances of each case would mean that an individual would be at real risk of harm were they to be relocated to Rwanda. That consideration would include an assessment of whether individuals faced a real risk of harm as a result of their sexuality. Furthermore, for LGBT individuals, that consideration would include any assessment of any compelling evidence reviewed in line with the principles outlined by HJ (Iran)—to which many noble Lords referred—that being LGBT would mean that Rwanda was not safe for them in their particular circumstances.

As we set out previously, the constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law or policy. Rwanda has assented to international conventions and continental frameworks that protect the human rights of all citizens, including the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity and the UN report on sexual orientation, gender identity and LGBT populations.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 9:15, 4 March 2024

Can the Minister tell the House what legal provisions are on the statute book in Rwanda for the “T” part of “LGBT” in particular?

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

No, I cannot. I will have to come back to the noble Lord.

Rwanda is a signatory to the 2011 United Nations statement condemning violence against LGBT people, and it has joined nine other African countries to support LGBT rights. As part of the published evidence pack, the updated country policy information note gave careful consideration to evidence relating to the treatment of LGBT individuals in Rwanda. The Rwandan legal protection for LGBT rights is generally considered more progressive than that of neighbouring countries, as has been alluded to.

Amendment 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, relates to claims on religion or belief grounds being taken into consideration for whether Rwanda is a safe country. The amendment specifically mentions an individual’s “religion or belief”, but the effect would be to permit the Secretary of State to consider whether an individual who is due to be relocated to Rwanda has any refugee convention reasons why Rwanda would not be safe for them, including on grounds of religion or belief. In effect, this would be considering a protection claim for a third-country national whose home country is not Rwanda.

A number of noble Lords raised concerns about religious tolerance in Rwanda and sought to argue that it would be unsafe for individuals who followed minority faiths or had no faith at all. The Government disagree with this contention. As our policy statement and the country information note on human rights make clear, and as I set out in my letter following Second Reading, the Rwandan constitution provides protection for individuals of different religions and faiths, as well as prohibiting discrimination of the grounds of religion or faith. Taken with the appropriate safeguards, which are set out in the Bill and elsewhere in our partnership with Rwanda, decision-makers will be in a position to consider the particular circumstances of each case, including where they involve an individual’s religious beliefs.

As I set out during an earlier debate, the Bill, along with the evidence of changes and the treaty, makes it clear that Rwanda is safe generally, and decision-makers, as well as courts and tribunals, must treat it conclusively as such. This ensures that removals cannot be delayed or frustrated by systemic challenges on safety. For this reason, I cannot accept Amendments 31 and 32 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

Amendment 31 would remove the need for the risk of harm, when a serious and irreversible harm test is carried out, to be imminent. If accepted, this would enable a court or tribunal to delay or prevent a person’s removal to Rwanda based on a risk of harm that may not materialise for many months, if not years, after the person’s removal to Rwanda. This cannot be right. We cannot have a position whereby a person’s removal from this country is prevented based on a risk that does not currently exist and may not exist until a significant amount of time has elapsed after the person is removed. These provisions are consistent with the measures introduced in the Illegal Migration Act, agreed by this House last year. “Imminent” features in the European Court of Human Rights’ practice direction on interim measures. Clause 4(4) is not out of step with the Strasbourg court.

Amendment 32 would disapply Section 54 of the Illegal Migration Act, enabling the UK courts to grant an interim remedy preventing removal to Rwanda in cases where the duty to remove applied. This would undermine the suspensive claims procedure provided for in that Act. It risks vexatious claims being brought at the last minute in an attempt to frustrate removal, which would weaken the effectiveness of that Act. These amendments ultimately undermine the core principles of the Bill, and the Government cannot support them.

I turn to the position of potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery. The UK has a proactive duty to identify victims of modern slavery. We remain committed to ensuring that, when indicators that someone is a victim of modern slavery are identified by first responders, they continue to be referred into the national referral mechanism for consideration by the competent authorities. For all cases, steps will be taken to identify whether a person may be a victim of modern slavery. If a person is referred into the national referral mechanism, a reasonable grounds decision will be made.

The amendment proposed would act to impede the provisions already passed in the Nationality and Borders Act and the Illegal Migration Act, which introduced the means to disqualify certain individuals from the national referral mechanism on grounds of public order before a conclusive grounds is considered. Furthermore, the amendment is unnecessary, because it is important to be clear that the Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence.

If there is a positive reasonable grounds decision in a pre-Illegal Migration Act case, the provisions in Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Act will protect the person from removal pending a conclusive grounds decision, unless they are disqualified on the grounds of public order.

As I set out in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, under Article 5(2)(d) of the treaty the United Kingdom may, when necessary for the purposes of relocation and when UK GDPR compliant, provide Rwanda with

“the outcome of any decision in the United Kingdom as to whether the Relocated Individual is a victim of trafficking”, and this includes positive reasonable grounds decisions. Under Article 13(1) of the treaty, Rwanda must

“have regard to information provided about a Relocated Individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and … take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated”.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

The Minister has just said something at the Dispatch Box that is not factually correct. He said that under Article 13(1) on trafficking Rwanda must take all necessary steps. The treaty actually says that it

“shall take all necessary steps”.

Those are two very different things.

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

Is that correct? It sounds very moot to me, legally. I said that Rwanda must

“have regard to information provided about a Relocated Individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and … take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated”.

That sounds very much the same to me.

All relocated individuals, including potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery, will receive appropriate protection and assistance according to their needs, including referral to specialist services, as appropriate, to protect their welfare. So it is simply not correct to assert that the Government do not care.

Finally, if, despite those safeguards, an individual considers that Rwanda would not be safe for them, Clause 4 means that decision-makers may consider a claim on such grounds, other than in relation to alleged onward refoulement, if such a claim is based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s individual particular circumstances, rather than on the ground that Rwanda is not a safe country in general.

I turn to Amendment 44, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and spoken to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. Although this amendment is well intentioned, it gives rise to the possibility that criminal gangs operating in northern France and across Europe will exploit this carve-out as a marketing model to encourage small boat illegal entry to the UK. The terms “agents, allies and employees” will likely result in people who have arrived illegally falsely claiming to be former agents and allies as a tactic to delay their removal, completely undermining this policy’s priority to stop the boats and promptly remove them, either to their home country or to a safe third country such as Rwanda.

The Government deeply value the support of those who have stood by us and our Armed Forces overseas. As a result, there are established legal routes for them to come to the UK. For example, those who enlist and serve in His Majesty’s Armed Forces are exempt from immigration control until they are discharged from regular service. After this time, non-UK HM Armed Forces personnel can apply for settlement under the Immigration Rules on discharge when their exemption from immigration control ends.

There are also provisions for family members of HM Armed Forces personnel to come to the UK legally. Anyone eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme should apply to come to the UK legally under those routes.

I take what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, say very seriously, and His Majesty’s Government regret that so many cases need to be reassessed. The MoD is taking the necessary steps to ensure that all future decisions are made in accordance with the enhanced guidance being produced for the review to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred. This was recently announced by the Defence Secretary and while many former members of Afghan specialist units, including the Triples, have been found eligible under ARAP and safely relocated to the UK with their families, a recent review of processes around eligibility decisions demonstrated instances of inconsistent application of ARAP criteria in certain cases. In light of that, the MoD is taking the necessary steps to ensure that the ARAP criteria are applied consistently through reassessments of all eligibility decisions made on ineligible applications with credible claims of links to Afghan specialist units on a case-by-case basis.

This review will move as quickly as possible, but we recognise that ARAP applications from this cohort present a unique set of challenges in assessing their eligibility. These units reported directly into the Government of Afghanistan, which means that HMG do not hold employment records or comprehensive information in the same way we do for many other applicants. It is essential that the MoD ensures this is done right and provides the opportunity for applicants to provide further information—which I note can sometimes take time—from these individuals.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

Will the Minister answer the question I asked in February when this review was announced: will anyone who is eligible for ARAP but was told they were ineligible—and acted in a way in which a small number of them did in extremis to protect themselves from possible death—be disqualified from being allowed to become eligible on review? Will they be excluded from the requirement of the Illegal Migration Act and this Bill if it becomes law that they must be deported to Rwanda?

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

As I understand it, they will be deported to Rwanda.

In conclusion, the Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities. The Bill already includes adequate safeguards which allow decision-makers to consider certain claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual due to their particular—

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

In relation to modern slavery, is there any law in Rwanda that protects those suffering from modern slavery or human trafficking?

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

I am unable to comment on Rwandan law, but, of course, the treaty takes care of this and I went into detail on that earlier. Under Article 5(2)(d) of the treaty, the United Kingdom may where necessary for the purposes of relocation provide Rwanda with

“the outcome of any decision in the United Kingdom as to whether the Relocated Individual is a victim of trafficking”, and that includes a positive reasonable grounds decision. Under Article 13(1) of the treaty, Rwanda must have regard to information provided about a relocated individual relating to any special needs that may arise as a result of their being a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, and must take all necessary steps to ensure that these needs are accommodated.

I have to answer the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, by saying that at the moment I do not know whether it has those laws enshrined in domestic laws, but when the treaty is ratified, it will.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench

My Lords, will the review of ARAP decisions apply to the Afghan interpreters and translators and not just to military personnel?

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

When I was explaining the ARAP situation, I pointed out the difficulty of assessing and accessing some of the records, but I will certainly make sure that is taken back to the Foreign Office, which, as I understand it, administers a large part of the ACRS, which is the agreement under which the Afghan interpreters come to this country. I will find out the answer.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

The Minister will not be able to answer this, but I would appreciate it if he could write to me and the House on it. He keeps referring to the treaty saying “must”. There is a difference between “must” and “shall”. In law, “must” is an absolute obligation. Article 13(1) says that Rwanda they “shall” take necessary steps, not “must”. Will he write to me, as I have the treaty here and it says something different from what he has said three times from the Dispatch Box?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:30, 4 March 2024

I am advised by my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton that “must” and “shall” both have a mandatory quality, but I will of course write to the noble Lord.

If there is compelling evidence, despite the safeguards in the treaty, decision-makers will be able to consider certain claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual due to their particular circumstances, as we have discussed a number of times. However, I say again that these amendments are unnecessary. On that basis, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment and urge other noble Lords not to press theirs.

Photo of Lord Etherton Lord Etherton Crossbench

I am very grateful to the Minister for that analysis of the speeches made and the Government’s response to them. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has raised some important points about people who are extremely vulnerable.

The noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Coaker, articulated the point that all these amendments dealing with exemptions are objectively extremely reasonable and important, and do not involve huge numbers of people such as to undermine the effectiveness of this proposed legislation. Descending to details to say that they are not necessary, when it is plain that they are, shows a certain lack of not only sensitivity to the Chamber but a spirit of humanity which should underlie the Government’s response.

Turning to my Amendment 22 and its consequential amendments, I find it difficult to understand how the Government can justify dropping and effectively disfranchising one of the expressly specified categories of refugee in the convention. There is nothing in the policy statement issued by the Government when the Bill was published or in the Explanatory Notes to say that they would do this. I would have thought that dropping a specific category of refugee defined by this convention which we have signed up to is an extraordinary move.

The justification seems to be that the Government will not permit reference to groups because it would significantly enlarge the number of those entitled to claim. However, if they are entitled to claim by virtue of a convention which we have signed up to, the Government must accept that, like all the other 149 states signed up to it. You cannot simply say, “We’ll ignore this or that category of refugee” or “We’ll just rely on this category of refugee”. There must be an ability, in one way or another, for all those mentioned as refugees to explain why removal would result in persecution and serious harm.

Leaving that matter aside, I will comment on the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Murray, on comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, about the situation of LGBT people in Rwanda. I do not want to go through this again, but there are two factors on which the noble Lord, Lord Murray, did not comment, and in fact have never been commented on appropriately by the Government, by way of some sort of excuse in relation to LGBT people and the risk that they face in leading an openly gay life in Rwanda.

First, the travel information provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office remains the same as it always has done, as it was at the time of the Illegal Migration Act: there is a danger to LGBT people living openly as such in Rwanda. Secondly, and importantly, no reference has been made to something that I mentioned in Committee: the country report on Rwanda of the US State Department, which was published only one year ago, and which talks about persecution and the possibility of physical harm to LGBT people. The Government have never addressed those points at all, but I am not going to go further into that.

As to the others, I personally strongly support all the other exemptions, which seem to me to be reasonable, humane and entirely appropriate, not designed to undermine the Bill but really rising to the level of morality which we should display as a country in relation to these categories of people. Having said all of that, and having heard the Minister, the best thing that I can do is to leave it to the amendment in the next group, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which contains reference to groups. For my part, having had this debate will have been useful in honing the points that will have to be met in relation to that. On that basis, and that basis alone, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.

Amendments 23 to 32 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 9.38 pm.