Motion B

Part of Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 4:49 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:49, 16 April 2024

My Lords, in moving Motion B I will also speak to Motions D, D1, E, F and F1. At this late stage in the Bill’s passage through both Houses, it has been made unequivocally clear, here and in the other place, that it remains the Government’s priority to stop the boats. As I have stated before, the deterrent will work only if we apply the same rules to everyone. We need to take swift action now to put in place the policy that will enable relocations to Rwanda to take place, to create that deterrent and stop the boats. We have seen the deterrent effect work for Albania and we need to replicate it for everyone else.

I turn to Motion B and Amendment 3E. We have made it clear that the Government will ratify the treaty in the UK only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under it. Clause 9 clearly sets out that the Bill’s provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force, and the treaty enters into force when the parties have completed their internal procedures. Furthermore, the Government maintain periodical and ad hoc reviews of country situations, including Rwanda, and this will not change. The published country information notes include information from a wide range of sources, such as media outlets, local, national and international organisations, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The treaty also sets out clearly in Article 4.1 that it is for the UK to determine the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under the terms of the agreement and the number of such requests made. This means that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty if there had been, for example, an unexpected change to the in-country situation in Rwanda that required further considerations.

The Government of Rwanda’s commitment to the partnership and their obligations under the treaty has been demonstrated by the progress they are making towards implementation. The recent steps taken were set out by my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart in the last group. On Thursday 21 March, the Rwandan Senate passed the legislation ratifying the treaty. The domestic legislation to implement the new asylum system has been approved by the Cabinet and is now with Parliament for consideration. A complaints process has been set up and will be further developed as we progress further into the partnership.

Motion D1 and Amendment 7D would result in the provisions of Section 57 of the 2023 Act applying only to decisions on age made by a designated person or local authorities under Section 50(3)(b) of the 2022 Act where the removal is to Rwanda, and would prevent Section 57 of the 2023 Act from applying to decisions on age taken by the other listed decision-makers in Section 57(6) where the removal is to Rwanda—for example, initial age decisions of immigration officers at the border. The initial decision on age is an important first step to prevent individuals who are clearly an adult or a child being subjected unnecessarily to a more substantive age assessment.

As part of this process, on arrival individuals will be treated as an adult only where two immigration officers assess that their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest they are significantly over 18. This is a deliberately high threshold and the principle of the benefit of the doubt means that, where there is doubt, an individual will be treated as a child pending further observation by a local authority, usually in the form of a Merton-compliant age assessment. This approach has been confirmed by the Supreme Court in the landmark case BF (Eritrea) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department 2021, UK Supreme Court 38.

We know that assessing age is difficult, but it is important that the Government take decisive action to deter adults from knowingly claiming to be children. Unaccompanied children will be treated differently from adults under the 2023 Act, and there are obvious safeguarding risks of adults being placed within the care system. It is therefore crucial that we take steps to safeguard and swiftly identify genuine children, and avoid lengthy legal challenges to age decisions preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. This amendment would simply open the floodgates for more abuse within the system and encourage adults to knowingly claim to be children to avoid being relocated to Rwanda, placing genuine children at risk of being disadvantaged.

Furthermore, this amendment would give rise to differential treatment. The amendment would result in Section 57 of the 2023 Act applying only to decisions by local authorities and the National Age Assessment Board if the person is to be removed to Rwanda. That would result in treating differently those who are to be removed to Rwanda under the 2023 Act from those removed to another country under the 2023 Act. Decisions of immigration officers and the other listed decision-makers in Section 57(6) would therefore not fall within Section 57 if removal is to Rwanda. In judicial reviews to these decisions suspensive appeal rights could apply, and the judicial review could be heard on a matter-of-fact basis. There is simply no justification for that differential treatment.

I turn to Motion E and Amendment 9. As I have previously set out, under the internationally binding treaty the Government of Rwanda will have regard to information provided by the UK relating to any special needs that an individual may have that may arise as a result of them being a victim of modern slavery and human trafficking. Rwanda will take all the necessary steps to ensure that those needs are accommodated. Safeguarding arrangements are set out in detail in the standard operating procedures on identifying and safeguarding vulnerability, dated May 2023, which state that

“At any stage in the refugee status determination … and integration process, officials may encounter and should have due regard to the physical and psychological signs that can indicate a person is vulnerable”.

The standard operating procedures set out the process for identifying vulnerable persons and, where appropriate, making safeguarding referrals to the relevant protection team. Screening interviews to identify vulnerabilities will be conducted by protection officers who have received the relevant training and are equipped to competently handle safeguarding referrals. The protection team may trigger follow-up assessments and/or treatment, as appropriate. In addition, protection officers may support an individual to engage in the asylum process and advise relevant officials of any support needs or adjustments to enable the individual to engage with the process.

Victims of human trafficking and human slavery will receive the necessary support that they need in Rwanda, as they would in the UK. 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. To that end, the government amendment in lieu—Amendment 9C—requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report about the operation of this legislation as it relates to the modern slavery and human trafficking provisions in Article 13 of the treaty.