Motion A

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton:

Moved by Lord Stewart of Dirleton

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1C.

1C: Because the Commons consider that the provisions of the Bill are compliant with domestic and international obligations, and that it is therefore not necessary to refer expressly to having due regard for domestic and international law when setting out the purpose of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I will also speak to Motions A1, C and C1. Motion A1 relates to Lords Amendment 1D, which seeks to ensure that the eventual Act has due regard for international law, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

As set out on many occasions during the passage of this Bill, the Government take their responsibilities and international obligations seriously. It was said in the other place that they take them “incredibly” seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations. Relocating migrants to safe third countries to process their asylum claims is, in principle, compliant with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, as confirmed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal. It is a model that other countries are also exploring. Furthermore, the Bill is predicated on both Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of a treaty which itself is underpinned by wider international legal obligations by which the United Kingdom and Rwanda are bound.

As the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration set out in the other place yesterday, we must bring to an end the dangerous, unnecessary and illegal methods that are being deployed to enter the UK. We must break the people smugglers’ business model. We must stop the exploitation of vulnerable people. We must protect our borders. Most importantly, we must save lives at sea. Our systems are being overwhelmed and our resources stretched.

We need to be ambitious in how we tackle this issue, and our partnership with Rwanda provides an opportunity for just such ambition. This Bill provides the legislative means through which we can pursue this policy, while having due regard to our domestic and international legal position. However innovative our partnership with Rwanda, as I reminded the House during our last debate, this is not the first time legislation has been used to determine that a country is safe. The Government are clear that we assess Rwanda to be a safe country, and we have published detailed evidence that substantiates this assessment. This is a central feature of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic courts.

The Bill strikes the appropriate balance of limiting unnecessary challenges that frustrate removal, while maintaining the principle of access to the courts where an individual may be at real risk of serious and irreversible harm. This balance creates the strong deterrent that is needed to prevent perilous and unnecessary journeys, while also ensuring that we have due regard for domestic and international laws.

Although some of the provisions in the Bill are novel, the Government are satisfied that removals to Rwanda will be implemented with due regard to international and domestic law. It is therefore not necessary to set this out in the Bill. The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan Governments have made, consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection. Article 10 of the treaty in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. The enhanced monitoring committee will be in place to monitor robustly adherence to these obligations.

Lords Amendment 6D runs counter to the core purpose of the Bill and would eliminate its key provision. The Bill’s purpose is to invite Parliament to agree with the assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and that Rwanda can be deemed a safe country, and to enact the measures in the Bill accordingly. The Bill reflects that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if it be Parliament’s judgment, requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised.

Rwanda is a signatory to key international agreements protecting the rights of refugees and those in need of international protection, including the United Nations convention against torture, the refugee convention and other core UN human rights conventions. Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded in its domestic legal provisions. The Rwandan constitution ensures that international agreements that Rwanda has ratified become domestic law in Rwanda. Article 28 of the Rwandan constitution recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum in Rwanda.

In light of this, from the evidence we have provided and the commitments made by the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda in the internationally binding treaty we have signed, our assessment is that Rwanda is generally a safe country that respects the rule of law. Our view of Rwanda’s safety has been further reinforced by the progress being made on the treaty’s readiness for implementation. To make it clear, we will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with their obligations under the treaty.

On Thursday 21 March, after our last debate on 20 March, the Rwandan Senate passed its legislation ratifying the treaty. Domestic legislation to implement the new asylum system has been approved by its Cabinet and is now with Parliament for consideration. The new Rwandan asylum law will strengthen and streamline key aspects of the end-to-end asylum system, in particular decision-making and associated appeals processes. A complaints process has been set up and will continue to be developed as we progress with the partnership. This, plus the wider assurances around trading and process that we have been given, will ensure quality of decision-making and build capability in the Government of Rwanda’s asylum system. All this simply reinforces our confidence in Rwanda’s commitment to delivering this partnership and its status as a safe country.

The treaty will ensure that those relocated will be safe and fully supported, and that they will not be removed to another country other than, in very limited circumstances, the UK. They will have their asylum claims processed fairly, with access to free legal representation at all stages of the asylum process. Those who are not granted refugee status or humanitarian protection will get equivalent treatment and will be granted permanent residence. Therefore, it is right to ensure that relocations to Rwanda are not frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges on its general safety, and that the Bill’s provisions limit challenges on the basis that Rwanda is generally not a safe country or that there is a risk of individuals being removed from Rwanda to their country of origin or to another country, in contravention of Rwanda’s obligations under international law, including—

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I think the noble and learned Lord is talking about Article 10(3) of the treaty. He will know what I am going to ask, because this is the fourth time I have asked it. Article 10(3) commits the parties—us and Rwanda—to

“cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring” no refoulement. That system clearly did not exist when the treaty was signed. The signatories of the treaty, rightly, in my view, thought it necessary to create such a system. Has that system been created now and when will we see it here?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

As I said, the point is that the treaty will not be ratified until such time as that protection is in place.

It is right to ensure that relocations are not frustrated as a result of general systemic challenges based on the general safety of Rwanda. The Bill’s provisions therefore limit challenges on the basis that Rwanda is not generally a safe country, or that there is the prospect of the refoulement to which the noble Lord referred a moment ago.

We are satisfied that the Bill, in Clause 4, explicitly protects access to justice by ensuring that courts can continue to consider the safety of Rwanda for an individual where there is

“compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances”, except where the individual circumstances claim relates to refoulement. This underpins the principle that no one should be put in a position where they would face a real risk of harm and is in line with the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations, including under Articles 2, 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I therefore cannot accept the amendment. I beg to move.