Motion A1 (as an amendment to 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.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 1D in lieu—

1D: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “while having due regard for—(a) international law, and(b) the following Acts—(i) the Children Act 1989;(ii) the Human Rights Act 1998;(iii) the Modern Slavery Act 2015.””

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

My Lords, I was interested to listen to the Minister’s remarks, and I thank him for the introduction, but let me say why we think that the amendment that I have put forward to your Lordships now is still so necessary.

The Minister just asserts that domestic law will be obeyed, along with international conventions and laws. The last time this was before your Lordships’ House, we debated at great length some of these domestic and international law issues. They were dismissed in a sentence by the Minister in the other place—not by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart—with an assertion that we comply with domestic and international law. Nowhere did the Minister in the other place address the fact—I go back to a point that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has made, at great length—that the Bill explicitly lays out that international law can be disapplied. It states that, when an Act, it

“is unaffected by international law”, and then lays out all of the various treaties that can be ignored by the Government in the pursuit of their Rwanda policy—a policy that disintegrates before their eyes. Hundreds came across in small boats at the weekend, and thousands since the beginning of the year. Where is the Government’s announcement about that? When the figures go down, the Government announce it all the time; when the figures go up, there is radio silence from 10 Downing Street about whether or not the policy is working.

I say again to the Minister, in order to be reasonably brief, that it simply is not good enough for a Government to assert that domestic and international law will be applied when this Bill is passed. That is why we pushed this. We want something that persuades us that the Government take this seriously. All this amendment seeks is that there be due regard; it does not say any more than that. It is softened significantly to that extent. There is a necessity for the Government to have due regard to international law, and I have laid out some examples of the various legislative Acts that have been passed by this Parliament, of which we are all proud.

I come to international obligations. We have just had the Foreign Secretary explain at great length the importance of convention and international law, and of abiding by the things that we have signed up to. That is why we take action with respect to the Middle East. That is why take action with respect to what we quite rightly call the illegal war in Ukraine. That is why we take action with respect to the Houthis in the Red Sea. We take action with respect to all of that because our country proudly stands up for international convention and international law. It respects those conventions; it expects other countries to respect those conventions.

That is the whole point of what I am putting before your Lordships’ House. What on earth does it do to the credibility of His Majesty’s Government when, in international conventions across the globe, they stand up and lecture other countries on the importance of adhering to international law and convention and then pass a law that explicitly states that, with respect to the Rwanda Bill, they do not have to? Where is the integrity of the Government? I want His Majesty’s Government to be able to stand up in all the citadels of the great and good, where countries of the world meet together to solve common problems. The last time I spoke, I said to the Minister that the Prime Minister of Pakistan had used the Rwanda Bill as a legitimate reason that he could send people back to Afghanistan. He used the British Government as an example of the fact that he could ignore international conventions.

What has it come to when we read about another problem that we cannot go into? The Government cannot get anybody to fly these refugees and migrants—they cannot persuade anybody. Even the RAF is refusing, though I guess if it were ordered to, it would have to. We read that AirTanker is the latest airline. We cannot find an airline to fly the migrants back—the thousands who are waiting, queueing up at the airports. I found one airline that decided, at great length, that it was not going to ruin its brand by flying migrants back to Rwanda; it decided that that was something it could not bring itself to do. What has it come to when we read that the Rwanda state airline has rejected the UK proposal to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda because it is worried about the impact it will have on its reputation? Why on earth are the British Government not taking a cue from the Rwanda state airline, in saying that this will risk the global brand that Britain proudly has across the world? The Government should take a cue from the Rwanda state airline and say that they want to conform to international law and make sure that they will not be undermined in the courts of the world. There we have it, as an example to us all.

The amendment before us is simple. It simply asks the Government to have due regard to domestic and international law—the Acts that this Parliament has passed, the international conventions we have signed, and the law of nations which prevent anarchy in our own country and across the world. How on earth has it come to this for the great Conservative Party—the party that has always said that it treasures the rule of law and will always stand up for it, and that has for generations lectured the party to which I belong on the importance of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, both internally and internationally? It is unbelievable that the Minister has just dismissed this with a swish of the hand, as did his colleagues in the other place. Something as important as this has been just dismissed: “We’re going to do it. Don’t worry about it. There’s no need for us to explain how on earth it’s possible”. Something as important as this has just been swept away. This Motion should be agreed as one more effort to say to our Government, “Be true to the traditions on which the democracy of this country has been based for centuries, something of which we have all been proud”.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 4:15, 16 April 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Coaker. My Motion C1 very much a dovetails with his Motion A1. With his support, I will seek to test the opinion of the House in a little while, after the debate on Motion B1 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I very much hope that he will test your Lordships’ opinion as well.

Why my Motion dovetails with my noble friend’s Motion is that we cannot observe the international rule of law by defenestrating our domestic courts. This Motion seeks to restore the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s judges and their ability to give appropriate scrutiny to these most vital of human rights decisions.

The Minister was quite right earlier when he said that this is not the first time in legislative history that a country has been deemed presumptively safe for refugees and asylum seekers—but there is a world of difference, I suggest, between a country being presumptively safe and being conclusively safe for all time, with no avenue for challenging that safety, even as facts change.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

There is another difference too. The Supreme Court, just a few months ago, held that Rwanda is not safe.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

As always, I am so grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, whose father famously coined the phrase “elective dictatorship” in his Dimbleby lecture of 1976.

The fundamental problem with the Bill, unamended by the proposed new Clause 4, is that it allows the Executive to dictate the facts. It allows the Executive to defenestrate domestic courts—not international or, some would say, foreign courts but domestic courts—including in their ability to grant in extremis interim relief.

The amendment turns the conclusion for all time that Rwanda is safe into a rebuttable presumption based on credible evidence. It therefore incorporates the earlier work of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. It also incorporates earlier amendments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Cashman in including a person’s membership of a persecuted social group in the examination of whether they would be safe—not just their most particular individual circumstances but their membership of a social group, which is probably the basis for most refugee claims in the world.

As I have said, it restores that vital ability in extremis to grant interim relief. In understanding of some concerns on the Benches opposite and of the Government, a court or tribunal under this measure, as amended, would have to have heard from the Secretary of State or taken all reasonable steps so to do, and to grant such an injunction only where the delay would be

“no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case”.

This does not prevent a policy of transportation to Rwanda, no matter how much I loathe that policy in its utility, morality and expense. It is a reasonable compromise to which the other place has given no serious respect or attention and, therefore, it has given no serious respect to your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I want to extend—

A noble Lord:

No.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Yes. I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to the Benches opposite, because I know there are many people there who are very unhappy about this Bill. It is an absolutely vile Bill, and part of that is the fact that the Tory Government are abusing not just human rights, and not just the rule of law, but democracy itself. The fact is that they have wasted this House’s time over these weeks—many hours and many days—and then taken everything out in the other place. That is an abuse of democracy. What is the point of your Lordships’ House if it can simply be ignored by the Government?

Shame on the Government. If they think the public support this Bill, they should call a general election. I think they will be unpleasantly surprised that they do not. Let us have a general election now, please.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests. I am supported by the RAMP project. I looked carefully at the House of Commons Hansard report about this first amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, looking for some rationale as to why the Government would not accept it. It was a single sentence, in which the Government said:

“We have a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international obligations”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; cols. 80-81.]

On the basis of that sentence, they rejected the amendment that this House passed about seeking to observe national and international law. If that sentence stands on its own, and that is the only reason why we are being asked to change our minds, what dangers, exposures or difficulties do the Government believe are in the amendment—which is even more restrictive and tightly specified than the last—that stand in the way of anything they wish to do? Why can they not simply accept it?

If the concern is the ECHR, I am sure the Government will have seen that the threshold for granting interim injunctions has been considerably raised to a level described by former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland last night as

“vanishingly small—in fact, non-existent

So why do the Government not accept the amendment? We will certainly support it.

We will also support the other amendment. That one does the job of dealing with part of the problem that people have seen with the Bill, which is that it changes the balance in our country between our judiciary and the Executive. That balance is what we are trying to maintain, even in the very limited circumstances. This does not take away from our belief on these Benches that the Bill is entirely wrong, cruel and inhumane and will not work, which is clearly demonstrated by the numbers we have seen so far. It seems to us that the Government have no rationale, and have not given one, for refusing these amendments.

Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop

My Lords, I welcome the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, particularly the detail of the inclusion in it of the Modern Slavery Act 2015; it is a detail except for those who have been, or may well have been, trafficked. There are as many as 4,000 people in the national referral mechanism whose cases are currently to be determined. That is absolutely right and proper under current legislation, and that legislation should be taken into account as part of the implementation of this Bill.

The Modern Slavery Act is a world-beating piece of legislation that we disregard at our peril, yet it is being undermined in many changes to other legislation. In this case, there will be not only a negative impact on victim care but significant law enforcement issues in not paying due regard to the Act. Not identifying victims, or sending them to another country before their claim has been properly assessed, will set back our efforts to bring the perpetrators of modern slavery to justice. Victims are often the only witnesses to this crime, so perpetrators will be more likely to escape detection and conviction.

The amendment that the Government have brought forward on a report on modern slavery to be made to Parliament is a concession that I hope will make it easier for Members of both Houses to scrutinise the effects of this legislation on some of the most marginalised people in our society, but it does not go far enough. There must be a general exemption for people who are suspected or confirmed victims of modern slavery. That is the very least we should do for survivors of a terrible crime. I am grateful for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

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

My Lords, I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions. I have no doubt that they are inspired by appropriate feelings of concern for people caught up in, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol mentioned to us a moment ago, the disgraceful practice of modern slavery.

None the less, these amendments are not necessary. In particular, in relation to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, they undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill, which is to invite Parliament to agree with its assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and to enact the measures in this Bill accordingly. Each of the measures in the Bill as originally drafted is necessary to enable us to create a deterrent that will stop the boats. That deterrent will work only when there is an end to the cycle of spurious legal challenges that seek to do nothing more than frustrate removal and prevent us having control of who can stay in the United Kingdom.

Opening for the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, deplored a series of steps in the Bill which he said undermined domestic and international law. The measures to which the noble Lord referred are entirely consistent with the status of a sovereign Parliament. The Bill reflects that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if that be its judgment, requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised. The principle that Parliament should be able to address any determination by the courts of incompatibility, rather than having primary legislation being quashed by the court, is part of the fundamental basis of parliamentary sovereignty. The example the noble Lord put forward—a citation by a head of state or a Prime Minister in a different country—is, of course, an example of precisely that refoulement which is forbidden in terms of the treaty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, speaking to her Motion, said that the handling of the point of your Lordships’ amendment in the other place showed the other place to be guilty of a serious lack of respect to your Lordships’ House. What we could say instead is that it demonstrates that the other place identified that the noble Baroness’s amendment, however well intentioned, cuts straight to the heart of the policy that the Government have set out.

I think that addresses the points made respectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord German, to whom I would say that, as we set forth in earlier stages of this Bill, there are examples across the world of where a similar approach has been successful and has now gained approval across most of the political spectrum.

My noble friend Lord Hailsham said that the Supreme Court held that Rwanda was not a safe country; that is not the case. That is not what the judgment said. In any event, the Supreme Court’s assessment was based on a situation long since superseded, as your Lordships will hear in more detail from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom later.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour 4:30, 16 April 2024

My Lords, in answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the Minister said that the Bill will not be brought into force until the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is safe. The noble Lord was referring to the network of agreements required to ensure refoulement. Can the Minister describe to the House and to the country the process the Government are going to use to determine that Rwanda is a safe country? Obviously, the Minister accepts that it is not a safe country at the moment because the refoulement arrangements are not in place. Indeed, the last time we were here, he told us there was a Bill going through the Rwandan Parliament, or its equivalent, that was not yet through. So how will the Government know—because they say they are going to decide—and what is their process?

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

My Lords, if I referred at an earlier stage to the Bill as opposed to the treaty, I apologise to your Lordships’ House. The treaty will not be ratified until such time and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord.

As to the measures to which he refers, anent their adoption by the Rwandan Government, I think I touched on that in my speech. In any event, in treating with later amendments my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom will go back in detail over the measures being carried out by Rwanda. In relation to the interaction between our state—His Majesty’s Government—and their state, again the House will hear later about the operation of the monitoring committee and the other bilateral bodies established to check on the ongoing safety of persons relocated to Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I apologise for pressing this, but the Minister is saying that the Government are going to make a judgment. Can he tell us how they will make that judgment?

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

My Lords, it will be by the implementation of these steps by the Government of Rwanda and the establishment of the very processes to which I have referred your Lordships.

It is not right or fair to allow our asylum and legal systems to be misused in the way they are being. The public rightly expect us to remove those who have entered illegally and do not have a right to be here. This Bill, which forms part of a wider programme to assess rising numbers in illegal migration, will enable us to deliver on that priority. To the point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I spoke from this Dispatch Box in some detail, as did my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, in relation to the interdiction of criminal operations elsewhere in the world, including the seizure of engines and equipment and the increased co-operation with the criminal authorities in France and elsewhere.

The country is entitled to expect of its Parliament that it takes urgent steps to address the problems which have concerned us during the passage of the Bill. The other place has now considered and rejected amendments similar to these on several occasions. It is time to restore the original Clause 1 to the Bill, with its clear statement of purpose. I respectfully submit that it is time to respect the clearly expressed view of the elected House by endorsing Motion A.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it does not satisfy me. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 258, Noes 233.

Division number 1 Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons — Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Aye: 256 Members of the House of Lords

No: 231 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Motion A1 agreed.