Motion A

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Commons Reasons – in the House of Lords at 6:46 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom:

Moved by Lord Sharpe of Epsom

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

1E: 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 Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, in moving Motion A I will also speak to Motions B, B1, C, C1, D and D1. I am grateful to noble Lords on all Benches for their careful consideration of this Bill. We have debated the same issues for some time, and it is of course right that the Bill is properly scrutinised. However, the time has come to get the Bill on to the statute book.

Motion A relates to Lords Amendment 1D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which seeks to make it clear in the Bill that it must have due regard to international law and specific domestic legislation. As I made clear yesterday, the Government take their responsibilities and international obligations incredibly seriously. The Bill simply ensures that Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country is deferred to and binding in domestic law. This is to avoid systemic legal challenges frustrating removals. What it does not mean is that the Bill legislates away our international obligations. There is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations.

In relation to domestic law, I have set out in previous debates the provisions in the treaty that take account of the needs of children and those who are victims of modern slavery. Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees, having already hosted over 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, and it has the necessary provisions in place to support those who are vulnerable.

I turn to Amendment 3G in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. At this late stage in the passage of the Bill I fear I am repeating much of what I have previously stated, but it is important to make it clear and to re-emphasise that we 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 the treaty.

Article 24 of the treaty states that the treaty will

“enter into force on the date of receipt of the last notification by”

Rwanda or the UK

“that their internal procedures for entry into force have been completed”.

Both I and my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton set out yesterday the details of the internal procedures that are now in place and continue to be put in place. We have spoken at length during our many debates about the monitoring committee, so I do not propose to reiterate all the details which are clearly set out in the Government’s published policy statement. However, it is important to point out again that the joint committee and the independent monitoring committee will oversee the partnership and ensure that the obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. This will prevent the risk of any harm to relocated individuals, including potential refoulement, before it has a chance to occur. As I said yesterday, there will be an enhanced phase of monitoring.

As I also set out yesterday, Article 4(1) of the treaty sets out that it is for the UK to determine

“the timing of a request for relocation of individuals under this Agreement and the number of requests”.

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 consideration. Pausing removals to a particular country in response to any potential changes which may affect that country’s safety and suitability for returns is the general approach the Government take across the board and will continue to take when looking to relocate individuals to Rwanda.

Moving to Amendment 6F in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, as clearly expressed by the other place on several occasions now, this is an amendment the Government simply cannot accept. It seeks to undermine the key measures of the Bill and is completely unnecessary. We have made it clear that we cannot allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges on its general safety. In this context, the safety of a particular country is a matter for Parliament, and one on which Parliament’s view should be sovereign. The evidence we have provided and the commitments made by the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda through the internationally binding treaty enable Rwanda to be deemed a safe country. This Bill makes it clear that this finding should not be disturbed by the courts.

Turning to Motion D, which relates to Amendment 10F in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as I said yesterday—and I again reassure the House—once the UKSF ARAP review has concluded, the Government will re-visit and consider how the Illegal Migration Act and removal under existing immigration legislation will apply to those who are determined ARAP-eligible as a result of the review, ensuring that these people receive the attention they deserve and have earned. The Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage by serving alongside us. We will not turn our backs on those who have served.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment B1, as an amendment to Motion B.

I have asked for a further amendment in lieu to be put down, because I have raised important issues which need to be resolved before the Bill finally passes. As has been mentioned by the Minister, the Act will come into force on the day on which the Rwanda treaty enters into force. This means that your Lordships are being asked to say that, as from that very moment and without more, Rwanda is a safe country. That is not all, as Clause 2 states that from that date, every decision-maker, including the Secretary of State himself,

“must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.

That is so, whether or not the treaty has been fully implemented, and whether or not Rwanda ceases to be safe some time in the future. The Secretary of State, just like any other decision-maker, will be locked by the statute into the proposition that Rwanda is a safe country, with no room for escape. In other words, it is no use his advisers saying that things still need to be done before all the protections and systems that the treaty provides for are in place. Nor is it any use his advisers saying that as these arrangements have broken down, Rwanda can no longer be considered safe. The Secretary of State is required by the statute to disregard that advice. He has no discretion in the matter. That is what the word “conclusively” in Clause 2 means.

The Minister has told the House several times that the Government are not obligated by the treaty to send anybody to Rwanda if the facts change. That may well be so, but that is not what the Bill says. The Secretary of State is bound by the statute to ignore any such changes. He is required by Clause 2 to treat Rwanda as safe, conclusively, for all time. If the Minister will forgive me, his head is buried in the sand, like that of the proverbial ostrich.

My amendment seeks to add two provisions to Clause 1. Before Rwanda can be judged to be a safe country, the mechanisms that the treaty provides for must be put into practice. Ratifying the treaty is an important step, but that is not enough. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the situation on the ground is still being developed. The treaty must be implemented before Rwanda can be considered safe. My amendment seeks to write into the Bill a provision whereby Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement from the independent monitoring committee that the key mechanisms the treaty provides for have been created. It provides that Rwanda will cease to be a safe country for the purposes of the Act if the Secretary of State makes a statement to Parliament to that effect. In other words, it provides the Secretary of State with the escape clause he needs if he is to escape from the confines of Clause 2, should that situation develop.

I remind your Lordships of what Sir Jeremy Wright said in the other place when my amendment was being considered there on 18 March:

“But it is simply not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently, save through primary legislation, if the facts were to change … the Government … should give some thought to the situation of the Bill…it must be right for Parliament to retain the capacity to reconsider and if necessary revise it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; cols. 679-80.]

Developing the point this afternoon, he said that I was wrong in my then amendment to give it to the monitoring committee to decide whether Rwanda was safe, as this should be a matter for Parliament. I agree with him and, as it happens, I have already deleted the reference to the monitoring committee from this part of my latest draft. What I am proposing now is that it be left entirely to the Secretary of State to decide, although he would no doubt seek the advice of that committee.

Sir Bob Neill and Sir Robert Buckland, both of whom spoke in favour of my amendment last time, also spoke in support of it this afternoon. Sir Robert Buckland accepted that there needs to be a system by which it can be verified that the treaty has been fully implemented. He said that to do this would reduce the possibility of legal challenge. He said that a reliable method of doing this was to use the monitoring committee set up by the treaty itself. He also said that there needs to be a mechanism for dealing with the situation if Rwanda is no longer safe, without resort to the time-consuming method of primary legislation. That is what my amendment seeks to provide, and as to the question of what happens in the future, my system is flexible: the Secretary of State can come to Parliament and say that Rwanda is not safe. He does not need primary legislation, so the Act is still there, and he could come back when the situation is cured to say that Rwanda can be regarded as safe now. It provides not only an escape clause but flexibility to enable the Act to continue if necessary, without the amending legislation.

The Commons reasons set out in the Marshalled List are exactly the same as last time. They state that my amendments are “not necessary” because the Bill comes into force when the treaty comes into force, and that

“it is not appropriate for the Bill to legislate for Rwanda adhering to its obligations under the Treaty as Rwanda’s ongoing adherence to its Treaty obligations will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the treaty”.

No doubt that is so, but that still fails to face up to what I am saying on both points.

In short, the coming into force of the treaty is not enough. We need confirmation and verification that it has been implemented before we can make the judgment that Rwanda can be considered safe. It simply is not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently, save through primary legislation, if the facts were to change.

I regret that I have had to press my points yet again. It is not my intention to obstruct the operation of the Bill in any way. My amendment is necessary to make sense of the Bill. It is modest, simple and easy to operate. The other place needs to think yet again.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. There are three Motions left: B1, C1 and D1. Motion B1, as we have heard, is the parliamentary sovereignty amendment—that, if I may say so, is what the noble and learned Lord has just described. If the Bill is about restoring sovereignty to Parliament, then Parliament must have an ability to scrutinise the ongoing future safety of Rwanda. Forgive me for paraphrasing.

Motion C1 is the rule of law amendment, which has been amended after I listened to a particular exchange last night about what would happen if the facts changed in Rwanda. Would the Secretary of State be able not to send people to Rwanda? As we have just heard once more from the noble and learned Lord, the Secretary of State’s hands are tied by this legislation. Even if the Secretary of State—or, dare I say it, a future Secretary of State—believed that the facts had changed, they would be bound by this legislation to send people to Rwanda. So I amended my amendment to take out immigration officers to avoid systemic challenges but just to allow the Secretary of State to make a judgment, and for that to be reviewed by the courts. That is the rule of law amendment.

Motion D1, in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, is the debt of honour amendment—the debt to those who have paid in courage and blood for a promise that they would be looked after by the Crown that they served. Many of them are refugees in the first place only because they served this country.

Those are the three amendments. I will not be pressing the rule of law amendment because it is right for your Lordships’ House to focus on what is attainable at this stage in the process, but I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords across the House for the moral and practical leadership that they have shown in this legislation to this generation of voters and future voters. Noble Lords’ grandchildren can be proud of what they have done over this Bill.

I will not be pressing Motion B1 but I urge every noble Lord in this House to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in his parliamentary sovereignty amendment and my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton in the debt of honour amendment this evening.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 7:00, 17 April 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, and I thank her enormously for her words of support for Amendment 10F. I also thank her for her continued support throughout the time that I have been pressing this amendment in my preparations and other aspects of what I have been doing in your Lordships’ House.

I will speak to Motion D1 and Amendment 10F in lieu. I began my remarks yesterday with a promise not to rehearse the moral case for the amendment. I add to that the promise not to rehearse the compelling long- term strategic security case for it to protect our future credibility as an ally, nor to rehearse in detail the irrationality of the Government’s two principal lines of argument in refusing to accept the principle of exempting a small number of ill-served brave Afghan fighters, who are already here in the UK, from deportation. Rather, as this is the fifth time that I have had to make a speech in your Lordships’ House in support of a variant of this amendment, I refer noble Lords to cols. 906-08 of the Official Report for yesterday—that is for those of you who are not already word-perfect on my speeches on this.

Since yesterday the halls of this Parliament and beyond have echoed to suggestions, and in some cases reassurances, that we who support this amendment could expect a statement of assurance from the Government about the fate of this small body of brave soldiers who fought with our forces in Afghanistan and are in this dilemma, facing compulsory deportation to Rwanda, only because of our Government’s sclerosis and administrative shortcomings and the possible venal dishonesty of some forces that they served with, which have resulted in the wrongful refusal of the ARAP status that they would have been awarded and which would have included visas for them, thus enabling them to escape certain death rather than compelling them to take irregular routes here in the first place. If those assurances had been bankable, our party and I would have engaged with them. A promise of such assurances was supported by credible evidence of high-level exchanges, but that was withdrawn this afternoon. I understand that that is because of a political policy decision at No. 10 that was reflected in a statement by the Prime Minister’s spokesperson. I would read it out to noble Lords but they can read it for themselves.

We are left with the best that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for whom I have great regard, can offer. I will read the assurance from yesterday that he repeated today in his short, interrupted speech:

“I turn to Motion F and Amendment 10D. As we have set out before, the Government recognise the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage by serving alongside us, and we will not let them down. Once again, I reassure Parliament that, once the UKSF ARAP review has concluded, the Government will consider and revisit how the Illegal Migration Act and removal under existing immigration legislation will apply to those who are determined ARAP eligible as a result of the review, ensuring that they receive the attention that they deserve”.—[Official Report, 16/4/24; col. 901.]

That is what we have, but I do not have any faith in the Government’s attitude to the brave men and women concerned from that assurance. I do not understand what it means. I do not take any assurance from it, given not only the way that these individuals have been treated but the way that your Lordships’ House and my noble friends have been treated over the last 24 hours. I also do not take any reassurance from it because, as a parent, a practising lawyer and a politician, on occasions in my life when I have “ensured that people receive the attention that they deserve”, it has normally resulted in me scolding them, disciplining them or telling them they were wrong and they will have to be punished. It does not seem to give any assurance that there will be any positive result; it sounds more like a threat than anything else.

As I said yesterday, now is the time to give these people the sanctuary that their bravery has earned. This worthless assurance will not do. I therefore feel compelled to test the mood of your Lordships’ House and to send the message to the other place that it is time the Government learned the political consequences of the failure either to give an assurance that is bankable or to accept this amendment. There is little, if any, support in your Lordships’ House for the failure to do so, and there is certainly no majority support in the country for us to treat these brave people this way.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I do not intend to repeat the arguments that were made yesterday for the two amendments that I understand are going to be pushed to a vote. I shall simply say this about the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope: it provides Parliament and the Government with protection. Parliament, including this House, is provided with protection by the amendment in declaring that Rwanda is a safe country when we do not have the evidence of it being so. The amendment gives us security. Secondly, it provides protection for both present and future Secretaries of State, whose ability to act when Rwanda is perhaps declared as not being safe in the future is constrained by the Bill that we are being asked to pass without amendment. It is therefore essential for both Parliament and the Government to have the protection that this Motion provides.

In respect of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I was hoping to hear from the Government a concrete guarantee that Afghan supporters and allies, who provided such great service to the United Kingdom, would be given the right to live in our country. No such guarantee has been given. Vague words do not stand the test here, and it is essential that this House stands by the resolve it has shown by ensuring that this matter is referred back to the other House to really consider its obligations to those who have served this country.

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

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the speeches that we have heard this evening. What a brilliant speech that was from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, setting out in clear and concise terms why your Lordships should vote for his Motion B1. To put it more simply, at the moment the Bill says that two and two is three and a half; the noble and learned Lord’s amendment makes two and two make four.

The Government should listen. The amendment would not delay or stop the Bill—it is not an obstacle to the Bill—but would simply make the Bill make sense. It uses the monitoring committee, set up by the treaty that the Government have put forward, to say to the Government in a very simple way, “Rwanda is now safe, because all the mechanisms outlined in the treaty have been put in place”. The Government have committed themselves to that, and if the amendment is accepted it will simply allow the monitoring committee to inform the Government of that fact.

More important, perhaps, is the second part of the amendment, whereby the monitoring committee could rescue the Government from what is in the Bill, if at some point in the future Rwanda became unsafe, by letting the Government know—or the Government themselves could act. Why on earth would the Government oppose that amendment? It is completely unbelievable that a sensible amendment like that has not been accepted.

I say to the Government—to those on the Front Bench both here and in the other place—that they should reflect properly on what the noble and learned Lord is saying. I hope that your Lordships will reflect on the words before us. We will certainly support his Motion B1.

The other brilliant speech was that of my noble friend Lord Browne on Motion D1. I have said this before, and I say it again, with a lot of regret. I do not blame the Minister or the others on the Front Bench, but it is inexcusable for the Government to say, 24 hours ago, to His Majesty’s Opposition and others that we could expect something to be done about this amendment —that we could almost accept that it would be accepted, changed and put into the Bill—only for us to find out, when we woke up this morning, that nothing like that had happened. I am not talking about the Front Bench in this place, but that is a terrible way for the Government to behave. It is inexcusable for us to be told what we have been told.

The Minister has carried on with the Bill for months now. He has included us, talked to us and treated us with respect. But somewhere along the line, those on the Front Bench here have been told what to do by somebody. We would like to know who. Who has turned around and said that my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment is unacceptable? Who in this House believes that we do not have a moral duty to those who stood by our Armed Forces, fought with our Armed Forces and in some cases died with our Armed Forces, and did all they could to ensure that the values of this country and the coalition that operated in Afghanistan were as successful as they could be? Who on earth in His Majesty’s Government has decided that those people do not deserve the protection of my noble friend’s amendment?

This is an astonishing situation. It is wrong. It is morally bankrupt. The Government have failed in their duty to protect those they promised to protect. That cannot be right. I say to noble Lords opposite, particularly when they are asked to vote on my noble friend’s amendment, that this is not only to do with whether they are Conservative, Labour, Liberal or Cross-Benchers, or of no persuasion at all. It is a matter of standing up for the moral certainty of what His Majesty’s Government, of whatever colour, stand for—that when they give their word to other countries, and to those defending the freedoms, the democracy and the values that we care for, those people can trust that word. The Government of today are breaking their word to those veterans, and that is what my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment seeks to address.

The amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is important from a legislative and a moral point of view. My noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment speaks to what sort of country we are and what sort of country we would want others to see us as. How on earth can we stand in the corridors of power of the various international institutions and have the moral certainty and the moral position that we would all want?

I do not believe that those on the Front Bench here agree with their own Government on this. Their Government are asking them and all their Back-Benchers to vote for something that is morally bankrupt—something that goes against what we promised those who stood with us in Afghanistan. We promised that we would protect them—but we are not going to do that, because my noble friend’s amendment will not be passed if we send it to the other place and those there do not give way. We are not going to exempt them from the provisions of the Bill. It does not matter what political party you stand for; that cannot be right. I ask and urge every Member of your Lordships’ House not only to consider the noble and learned Lord’s Motion B1 but, when we come to my noble friend’s Motion D1, to consider what the consequences will be for this country if we cannot ensure that our word is our bond.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:15, 17 April 2024

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this relatively short debate. The House of Commons has now considered and rejected these amendments on several occasions. I will keep my remarks brief and simply remind noble Lords of the key points.

We will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. Rwanda has a strong track record of welcoming asylum seekers and looking after refugees, and it has also been internationally recognised for its general safety and stability. The Bill complies with our international obligations and allows direct access to the courts and an appropriately limited possibility of interim relief, consistent with what is required by the ECHR. No word is being broken. We will not turn our backs on those who have supported our Armed Forces and the UK Government.

It is simply not right for criminal gangs to control our borders and decide who enters the UK. It is not right that they exploit vulnerable people and put lives at risk—their own and others’. It would not be right if this Parliament did not pass this legislation, which will enable us to protect those being exploited, protect our borders and stop the boats.

Motion A agreed.