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Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Volume 836: debated on Monday 19 February 2024

Committee (3rd Day)

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee

Debate on Amendment 35 resumed.

My Lords, the independent monitoring committee was established on 2 September 2022 under the terms of the initial memorandum of understanding. Its role has subsequently been enhanced by the treaty between the UK and Rwanda to ensure that the obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. The monitoring committee’s role is to provide an independent assessment of delivery against the assurances set out in the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked last week about how many members of the committee have been appointed, whether the committee has yet agreed the terms of reference that it is supposed to have agreed, and whether they have been published.

The monitoring committee is made up of eight independent experts, whose full details can be found on GOV.UK. Prior to the signing of the treaty between the UK and Rwanda by the Home Secretary and its subsequent laying in Parliament, the monitoring committee met on 4 December 2023 to formally agree the enhanced monitoring provisions the treaty sets out. These build on the terms of reference and monitoring plan that the monitoring committee had produced following the Court of Appeal judgment, the primary purpose being to address the Supreme Court’s concerns about real-time monitoring and thus ensure that mechanisms were in place to prevent the risk of harm to relocated individuals before it could occur. The monitoring committee discussed and approved forward-looking changes to the terms of reference and monitoring plan to enhance the monitoring regime in line with the provisions proposed in the treaty.

To make it clear, the terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan are available publicly on GOV.UK. However, to summarise, it sets out the following details of the committee’s remit: monitoring compliance with the assurances given in the treaty and associated notes verbales; reporting to the joint committee on its findings as to, for example, His Majesty’s Government’s and the Government of Rwanda’s implementation of the obligations in the treaty, reception conditions, accommodation, processing of asylum claims, and treatment and support of relocated individuals at all times while they remain in Rwanda; it may publish its reports following notification to the joint committee; it is expected to report any significant issues to the joint committee straightaway; it may provide advice or recommendations to the joint committee on actions which should be taken to address identified issues; monitoring complaints handling by His Majesty’s Government and the Government of Rwanda; and developing its own complaints system to allow relocated individuals and their legal advisers to make confidential complaints regarding any alleged failure to comply with the obligations in the treaty—including as to treatment of a relocated individual—or any element of the processing of their asylum claim in accordance with the treaty.

As I set out in earlier debates in response to similar amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Article 15 of the treaty provides that the UK and Rwanda must establish and maintain a monitoring committee for the duration of the term of the agreement. This means that both parties are obliged to ensure that the monitoring committee continues in operation for the life of the agreement, and this obligation is binding in international law.

Noble Lords last week also asked about safeguarding arrangements for relocated individuals. Article 13 of the treaty makes specific provision that Rwanda will have regard to information provided about a relocated individual relating to any special needs that may arise and shall take all necessary steps to ensure that those needs are accommodated. The treaty makes it clear that the agreed monitoring mechanisms must be in place by the time the partnership is operationalised. It specifically provides that there will be an enhanced initial monitoring period for a minimum of three months—from the date removal decisions commence in the United Kingdom—where monitoring shall take place daily, to ensure rapid identification and response to any shortcomings.

Under the treaty, the monitoring committee will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring, have unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports, and have the ability to publish those reports as it sees fit. The committee will monitor the entire relocation process from the beginning—including initial screening—to relocation and ongoing settlement and integration in Rwanda.

The monitoring committee will have the ability to make unannounced visits to accommodation, asylum processing centres and any other locations where documents or information relating to relocated individuals, or their claims and appeals, are held. It will also be able to sit in on interviews by the first instance body with the express consent of the individual being interviewed and to observe hearings before the appeal body.

I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but are we right to understand that he is saying that there will be no deportations to Rwanda until the monitoring committee is up and running?

As far as I understand it, that is the case.

On a point that we will debate further in relation to Amendment 76A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, during the period of enhanced monitoring, the monitoring committee will report to the joint committee in accordance with an agreed action plan to include weekly and bi-weekly reporting as required. It will otherwise produce a formal written report for the joint committee on a quarterly basis over the first two years of the partnership, setting out its findings and making any recommendations.

The monitoring committee will be supported in all its work by a new support team—

Will the Minister say whether the reports from the monitoring committee to the joint committee will be made available to the House?

I cannot say that at the moment, but, as I have said, they will be published on a regular basis.

The monitoring committee will be supported in all its work by a new support team, as set out in Article 15.(8) of the treaty. The new support team will consist of individuals who do not work for either the UK Government or the Government of Rwanda. The monitoring committee has already met three times since its inception and has agreed to the publication of its terms of reference and enhanced monitoring plan, which are both available online as part of the supporting evidence document that the Government have published. Therefore, we consider that Amendment 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is unnecessary.

Amendments 81 and 82 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and my noble friend Lord Hailsham seek to ensure that the Act does not come into force upon ratification of the treaty but instead requires secondary legislation to be laid before commencement requiring a JCHR report on the safety of Rwanda and agreement on this point from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Amendment 71 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, would introduce a new clause whereby the Secretary of State must lay a statutory instrument before Parliament every six months stating that their assessment is that Rwanda is a safe country. This Bill reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty to people transferred to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty. The treaty, alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since summer 2022, already enables Parliament to reach the conclusion that Rwanda is a safe country. There is therefore no requirement for any further legislation or additional reporting prior to commencement.

The UK-Rwanda partnership is a long-term policy and forms part of a wider set of measures to tackle illegal migration. A review of the policy every six months or two years would be an inefficient use of both government and parliamentary time. Furthermore, as I have set out, this is not needed, as the functions of the independent monitoring committee have been enhanced to ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to in practice. These arrangements, which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law, will ensure continued compliance with all the terms of the treaty.

It is also worth noting that Article 4.(1) of the treaty sets out clearly 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. The treaty does not place on the UK an obligation to make any such request. 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. As is the case in many scenarios, the Government would be able to respond and adapt as necessary.

I turn to Amendments 69 and 87 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. This legislation does not impact the financial agreement with Rwanda which was reached in 2022 through the memorandum of understanding for the migration and economic development partnership. Noble Lords will be aware that we have provided Rwanda with £220 million as part of the economic transformation fund and £20 million as an advance credit to pay for operational costs in advance of flights commencing. The spend on the MEDP with Rwanda so far is £240 million. In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the £100 million is not a credit line, as he indicated last week.

There was an initial investment of £120 million in 2022 as part of a new economic transformation and integration fund, ETIF, created as part of the MEDP. The ETIF is for the economic growth and development of Rwanda. Investment has been focused in areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and job creation. A further payment of £100 million was made in 2023 through the ETIF as part of the partnership. We anticipate providing another £50 million in the next financial year. This is not new but follows the same arrangement from 2022. We also made a separate payment of £20 million to the Government of Rwanda in 2022 in advance of flights to support initial set-up costs of the asylum and processing arrangements under the MEDP.

With regard to the question of whether there will be another tranche of funding for the Hope hostel in the next financial year, procurement of accommodation is for the Government of Rwanda. Accommodation costs are covered by the funding stream for operationalisation, and it is then up to the Government of Rwanda as to which accommodation they procure. This legislation also does not impact the process for removals to a safe third country, so the appraisal set out in the illegal migration impact assessment remains unaffected. The published economic note on this legislation explained that the exact cost will depend on the details of the implementation and the level of deterrence. The Government are already committed to disclosing further payments made as part of the economic transformation fund and the per-person relocation costs as part of the department’s annual accounts in the normal way.

Your Lordships will also be aware that the National Audit Office will be producing a factual report on the costs of this partnership. Officials have been working closely with the National Audit Office to ensure that they have the relevant information required for this. I cannot give any opinion on the date of publication, but it will likely be in the near future.

Finally, with the—

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the elements of the ETIF and the MEDP, but could he place in the Library a more detailed breakdown? The £20 million credit line for operational does seem to be one part of a credit line. The Minister says that I was incorrect in stating that there was a total of £100 million. I will happily take him at his word if that is the case, but a more detailed breakdown of how much of the expenditure of the Rwandan Government will be UK taxpayers’ money would be helpful. Also, can he confirm whether this is being scored as overseas official development assistance or not?

I am happy to commit to providing as much detail as I can in the letter that the noble Lord requests. I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the foreign development aid question, so I will have to look into that and come back to him.

With regard to Amendments 35 and 90 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, it is right that this Bill should apply to anyone arriving after the Rwanda treaty enters into force. It is the treaty, working together with the provisions in this Bill, that underpins the safety of Rwanda. As such, once the treaty is in force the basis for removal under this Bill is established. Clause 9(1) ensures that the Bill and the treaty come into force on the same day. This legislation builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and other immigration Acts. To the extent that those Acts have retrospective effect, this Bill does nothing to change that.

Accommodating migrants in hotels is costing us £8 million each day. That is billions per year, which is clearly not sustainable. If people know that there is no way for them to stay in the UK, they will not leave safe countries such as France to risk their lives and pay criminals thousands of pounds to arrive here illegally. It is therefore only right that we stop the boats and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people. The Government consider this partnership to be a vital investment and therefore I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, indicated in an earlier amendment that the Government would say how Parliament was going to keep its judgment that Rwanda was a safe country under review because circumstances could change. He was going to tell us, but then said that it was going to come in a later amendment. I indicated, at the beginning of this group, which was adjourned from Wednesday, that we were assuming that it would be the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, on this amendment, who was going to tell us how Parliament was going to keep its judgment under review. If it will be in a later amendment, by all means say, but if it is intended to be under this amendment, can the Minister tell us how Parliament is to keep the judgment that it is said we are about to make under review going forward in the future?

Separately from that question, the Minister dealt very shortly with retrospectivity. Does he agree that this Act applies to people who arrived in this country and made a claim for asylum before the Act came into force—and therefore applies retrospectively to them? If it does, what is the Government’s justification for retrospective legislation?

Well, my Lords, I recollect the discussion last week between the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend Lord Wolfson. I think my noble friend pointed out that the right to asylum is not a vested legal right—that there is a right to asylum, but not necessarily in the UK. The Government have consistently won in the courts on the point that you can send somebody to another country for asylum—so this is not, in effect, retrospective legislation. As the noble and learned Lord will be aware, I am not a lawyer, but it seemed to me to make some sense when my noble friend was making the argument, so I suggest we go back to that in this case.

Do I take it, then, that the Government’s position reflects the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson?

No, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, summed up the Government’s position rather well, and probably better than I can. I am afraid that we will have to return to the first question asked by the noble and learned Lord in a later group.

Before the Minister sits down, I have a practical question. He says that this will apply retrospectively—what is the Government’s assessment of the numbers of people that this applies to?

I appreciate that the noble Lord asked me about this in the debate last week as well. I will not give him a precise answer at this moment, but will come back to him.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this group of amendments. It has been an interesting group and I think we have teased out quite a bit of the Government’s intentions. It is clear that thousands of people will have these rules applied to them even though they arrived on the shores of this country when it was admissible for them to stay in the UK. There is no desire in the Government for this Parliament to have effective monitoring of both the treaty and the operational arrangements of what will happen.

It is very clear from this group, from the Minister’s answers and from what noble Lords have teased out, that there is no trigger to determine exactly, on the ground, that Rwanda is safe—it is only a sentiment in this Act of Parliament—and that the treaty arrangements do not have to be in place for Rwanda to be deemed a safe country by the Government. The treaty only has to be signed, rather than the operational arrangements be in place.

It is also clear that the costings and budgets for this are so diffuse that there will be no real public scrutiny or transparency of the costs of this scheme—it will take many years to get to the bottom of that. Even though the monitoring committee will be in place, the important point is that it has no powers of remedy over anything that it sees as wrong.

So this has been a useful part of Committee. There have been very good questions that have teased out some of the issues. I, like many noble Lords, am not convinced that the Government have answered some serious issues regarding the suite of amendments, and I am sure we will come back to some of them on Report. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Disapplication of the Human Rights Act 1998

Amendment 36 not moved.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4: Decisions based on particular individual circumstances

Amendment 37 not moved.

Amendment 38

Moved by

38: 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 statement

This 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.

My Lords, in speaking to this amendment I will speak to Amendments 40, 43, 45 and 51, which I tabled, all of which are connected.

The current version of Clause 4(1) enables an applicant to oppose removal to Rwanda on the ground that it is not a safe country for the applicant only if the applicant provides

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

Clause 4(4) provides that the court or tribunal may grant an interim relief

“only if the court or tribunal is satisfied that the person would, before the review or appeal is determined, face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”

if removed to Rwanda.

The defect in these provisions, which the amendments I have tabled are intended to address, is that no provision is currently made for applicants who come within the definition of a refugee in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 refugee convention as persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their

“membership of a particular social group”.

The proper approach of courts and tribunals to such a refugee was described in detail by the Supreme Court in HJ (Iran) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and HT (Cameroon) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department, especially in the judgment of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry in the first of those cases. That decision concerned gay applicants who faced persecution in their country of nationality if they lived an openly gay life. It is now clear that such persons are members of a particular social group within Article 1A(2) of the 1951 convention.

In such a case, the court or tribunal must ask whether it is satisfied, on the available evidence, that gay people who live openly would be liable to persecution in the applicant’s country of nationality. If so, the applicant is a refugee within the convention. If the applicant could and would leave discreetly not because of persecution but for reasons of concern about social relations with friends, family and colleagues, they would not fall within the definition of a refugee in Article 1A(2).

The focus, then, in these cases is to identify the social group which has a well-founded fear of persecution and ask whether the applicant is a member of it. Although HJ (Iran) concerned gay men, the analysis in that case, relating to the proper approach to persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their membership of a particular social group within Article 1A(2) of the convention, applies across the board—for example, to a group comprising women, or people of a particular race or ethnicity, or people who hold particular religious or political beliefs. Therefore, these amendments relating to groups are important to reflect our own jurisprudence.

What I have said so far looks at the general issue of members of a social group. I will turn from that to the particularity of the position of a special group, comprising LGBTQIA+ people. In view of comments made by the Minister on Second Reading and by the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, in his letter to all Peers of 12 February 2024, it is necessary to set the record straight regarding the position of members of the LGBTQI+ community in Rwanda in the context of interim relief under Clause 4(4). As I have said, such interim relief can be granted by a court or tribunal only if it is satisfied that the applicant would face

“a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”

if removed to Rwanda. This reflects the condition for a serious harm suspensive claim under the Illegal Migration Act. On Second Reading, I reminded the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, of the assurance given at the Dispatch Box by him and by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, to myself and others—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Cashman—during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act: that the principle to be found in HJ (Iran) would continue to apply.

On Report of the Illegal Migration Bill, addressing an amendment tabled by me, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, said:

“If the open expression of a person’s sexual orientation would prevent them living in a specified third country without being at … risk of serious and irreversible harm, they would meet the threshold for a serious harm suspensive claim as outlined in Clause 39, and the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in the case of HJ (Iran) would be upheld”.—[Official Report, 28/6/23; col.768.]

Subsequently, in response to another amendment tabled by me, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, said:

“I reiterate two points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart on Report. First, Clause 38 makes it clear that persecution and onward refoulement are examples of harm which constitute serious and irreversible harm for the purposes of a suspensive claim. Secondly, if the open expression of a person’s sexual orientation would prevent them living in a specified third country for the relevant period without being at … risk of serious and irreversible harm, they would meet the threshold for a serious harm suspensive claim, in line with the principles set out by the Supreme Court in the case of HJ (Iran)” .—[Official Report, 12/7/23; col.1812.].

Those statements from the Dispatch Box make it clear that the Government did not intend to deviate from the principles of HJ (Iran). They also make it clear that, where gay people have a well-founded fear of persecution in the applicant’s country of nationality and the applicant is a gay person, that is sufficient for their removal to give rise to a risk of serious and irreversible harm. This is obvious. If it were not so, it would be necessary to distinguish between degrees of harm. Would being beaten up on one occasion for being openly gay not be enough, or would there have to be violence of such a degree as to result in hospitalisation or death? I ask the Minister to address in his reply the approach that is required to be taken under the Bill.

In his reply at Second Reading, the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, simply asserted that LGBT people were not at risk of persecution in Rwanda, giving the same explanation as can be found in the Government’s policy statement, published on 12 December 2023, which contains evidence of the safety of Rwanda on which the Government rely. At paragraph 43c, the policy says the following:

“LGBTI persons may face some discrimination in practice in Rwanda. However, Rwandan legal protection for LGBTI rights is generally considered more progressive than that of neighbouring countries. The constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate … in law or policy”.

This statement is far too weak to rebut the generally accepted evidence of institutional homophobia in Rwanda. In the first place, the travel advice on Rwanda given by the FCDO remains the same as at the time of the Illegal Migration Bill:

“Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda but remains frowned on by many. LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals”.

The 2022 US State Department country report on Rwanda, which was published in March 2023—that is, less than a year ago—stated that there was significant discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, and that LGBTQI+ individuals reported harassment from authorities and abuse by officials of LGBTQ+ persons in transit centres, with trans persons targeted with particularly severe hate speech and physical and sexual abuse. It must also be remembered that there is no equivalent law or legal policy in Rwanda that mirrors the case of HJ (Iran).

Secondly, the fact that the position of LGBT+ people in Rwanda is not so utterly ghastly as in neighbouring countries is neither here nor there, bearing in mind that, in Uganda, same-sex conduct is punishable with life imprisonment and the new anti-homosexuality Act of 2023 introduces the death penalty for several acts considered as what is called “aggravated homosexuality” and increases the prison sentence for attempted same-sex conduct to 10 years, Burundi’s penal code criminalises same-sex sexual relations for both men and women and imposes a sentence of up to two years imprisonment, and Tanzania’s penal code criminalises same-sex sexual activity for men and women, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Thirdly, the fact that the constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination is neither here nor there if the state fails to take adequate steps to prevent persecution against individuals or groups who carry it out. This is again well-established, and was a point made by Lord Rodger, in HJ (Iran). The 2022 US State Department country report on Rwanda, to which I have referred, stated that there were reports that the Government did not adequately respond to reports of abuses and violence against LGBTQI+ persons. The report noted that the law in Rwanda does not explicitly recognise or protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws or access to government services, such as healthcare.

The letter of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to all Peers on 12 February this year referred to and relied upon the latest country information on Rwanda published by the Government in this country. This was published in January 2024, presumably for the purposes of bolstering the Government’s Rwanda policy and the legislation we are currently considering. We do not know whether the Government of Rwanda played any part in its content. Strikingly, the updated note makes no reference at all to the US 2022 country report on Rwanda.

Finally, I draw attention to the rather curious comment in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, that the assessment of risk faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, in line with the principles in HJ (Iran), is an “exceptionally high bar”. I do not understand that comment. Proof of risk is, in this case, like any other factual matter in civil cases, decided on a balance of probabilities.

In order to be consistent in their policy, and to avoid a head-on clash with domestic and international law, the Government need to reconsider their approach, both generally in relation to refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution by virtue of being members of a particular social group and, more particularly, in relation to LGBTQI+ people who wish to live openly as such. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am in favour of the amendments in this group, including that in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs, who cannot be in his place. I have added my name to those in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and I thank him for so powerfully putting the case for the amendments. I too received the letter from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and will refer to it in my submission.

At the same time, I asked LGBT activists in Africa—in neighbouring countries and within Rwanda—for their reflections. The background information is that, in Rwanda, individuals who identify as LGBT+ face marginalisation and stigma. In order to protect themselves from potential physical and verbal harm, they frequently find it necessary to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity. By that submission, HJ (Iran) immediately comes into play. Despite homosexuality and same-sex acts not being illegal, as referred to in the Minister’s letter, discussing sexual orientation remains a taboo subject in Rwandan society, with little to no open dialogue on the matter. By way of example, months before a planned June 2021 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, authorities rounded up and detained people regarded as “socially undesirable”, including over a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers and street children.

The situation now is that the Government have declared their plan to relocate individuals seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda for the processing of their claims. This policy, in view of those activists in Africa and within Rwanda, will impact LGBTI+ individuals who have escaped life-threatening circumstances in their countries of origin, and in my opinion such treatment would be cruel in the extreme.

There is further evidence from LGBTI activists. Overall, they highlight the complex challenges and dynamics faced by LGBT+ individuals in Rwanda, and emphasise the need for greater awareness and protection. There is evidence of ill treatment and abuse. On the international front, one must rightly recognise that Rwanda is trying to do the right things, but on the ground there is still much more to do around the protection of what is called the queer community.

Despite no formal criminalisation of LGBT+ individuals, there are significant challenges, such as stigma, discrimination and a lack of protection mechanisms in daily life. Discrimination comes mostly from social attitudes, rather than from the authorities in an organised way. Queer LGBT refugees often face societal pressure and discrimination, with instances of anti-LGBT+ groups fuelling violence. While the police generally maintain decent communications with the LGBT+ communities, there are instances of untrained officers exhibiting homophobic, brutal behaviour.

Social discrimination affects various aspects of daily life for LGBT+ individuals, including things that many take for granted, such as housing, employment and social integration, particularly in rural areas and especially for those who come from lower-income communities. Rwandan officials claim that queer refugees should not fear persecution as they do not criminalise them, but societal discrimination does the very job. The activists would like to see provisions in the UK’s Rwanda Bill specifically protecting the vulnerable communities in the country, with a special focus on the LGBT+ community.

I have some direct quotes. One activist said:

“A case that I know is about a person”

who, thankfully, has now been now moved to Europe. They said that

“one day, he faced one of the anti-queer groups. He was beaten one night, and they broke his arm”.

Another said:

“The police as an institution has been open to dialogue and discussions about the challenges faced … However, regarding their actual role in protecting LGBTI+ individuals, there have been mixed experiences. While some have found support and understanding from the police, others”

have faced “arbitrary arrests or discrimination”.

Sadly, there are more quotes I could continue with. My contention, as a member of this social group, is that you cannot live openly as an LGBT person because to do so would mean facing persecution. Therefore, I contend that these amendments should be adopted.

I will now speak briefly to Amendment 41 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. He has concerns, which are shared by members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Here, I refer to my interest as a patron of Humanists UK. Concerns were raised at Second Reading that Rwanda retains its blasphemy law, in violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. The punishment for blasphemy can result in imprisonment and/or fines, as evidenced by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Blasphemy Law Compendium. This law may be intended to protect the right to worship, but it is open to misuse, as non-religious beliefs can easily be framed as an insult to religion, as we see in other countries.

Therefore, it is our contention that Rwanda cannot be considered a safe place for those who are non-religious or those belonging to minority religions. They may fall foul of this law simply by expressing their beliefs. This is why my noble friend Lord Dubs has put forward this amendment, to make it clear that those who would be at risk due to their lack of religion, or their minority religion, would fall into the scope of Clause 4. Therefore, on behalf of my noble friend, I put forward this amendment.

My Lords, I support the two amendments just mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cashman. I remind the Committee, in relation to the LGBT community, that when the law was changed in the mid-1960s in this country it did not end the persecution of homosexuals. For years afterwards, there was a constant terrorising of the gay community. “Queer rolling” is a term that noble Lords will remember—men being attacked simply because it was suspected that they might be homosexual, or they were in a particular place at a particular time of night. The situation was really grave.

When I was a young lawyer in the 1970s and 1980s, one found oneself in court representing people who were being framed for the offence of importuning, which is still a criminal offence in Rwanda. The police harassed and monitored particular venues known to be habituated by gay men. It took many years before we ended that cultural underplay, which exists in societies even when the law is changed. We know that this is the situation in Rwanda, which has a high level of persecution of gay people still.

I also support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs, which relates to freedom of religion and belief. Many of those fleeing Afghanistan are Hazara. It is a religious minority of the Shia tradition, and they are sorely persecuted in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I conducted an inquiry, which concluded at the beginning of last year, into the persecution of the Hazara. It is one of the main reasons that our security services put them on a high level of risk of being persecuted by the Taliban and other extremist groups. Unfortunately, they are likely to continue to be persecuted by others in Rwanda because of their particular religious beliefs.

I, too, feel that there is a misunderstanding about what “safety” means. In this Bill, when we talk about safety, it does not mean that, in declaring that Rwanda is safe, a person cannot say, “It’s not safe for me”. That is the point. When someone comes to a court and says, “This place is not safe for me because I am gay, or because of my religious beliefs or my non-religious beliefs”, those are bases on which any court protecting people’s human rights would declare that the place was not safe. I want that to be in the minds of noble Lords as they ruminate on this Bill and the amendments to this Bill—that questions of safety cannot be rubbed out of existence simply by a declaration of Parliament that a place is safe.

My Lords, I have added my name to these amendments. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, spoke very powerfully in moving them, and I shall not seek to repeat anything that he said. It is a pleasure to follow the experience and knowledge of noble Lords who have spoken before me in this group.

I just wish to refer to two elements of why I have supported the amendments. I know that my noble friend Lord Scriven will speak to this group after me. The first is a general point with regard to the assessment of safety in a country where the Government have made a political decision that it can be nothing other than safe. This is what we debated on a previous group. That is illustrated in this group to an alarming degree. We can refer to the equality impact assessment with regard to the legislation; that assessment was carried out after the Bill had been agreed by Ministers, as I understand it. Ministers stated that Rwanda was to be a safe country.

The assessment says, in paragraph 3a, in consideration of the duty of eliminating

“unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act”,


“We consider that removal to Rwanda would not risk discrimination or less favourable treatment as it is a safe country”—

and that is it. Ministers had already decided that it was a safe country, so equality impact assessments are now rendered almost completely pointless when it comes to Ministers deciding this.

That is notwithstanding the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, stating in this House that he could not say that Rwanda was safe yet, because safeguards were not in place. So we are in a situation where the contradictory nature of the decisions about safety, especially for those who may be more vulnerable than others if they are relocated, has now become political and not evidence based. That should be alarming for all legislators.

The second point that I wish to make is the inconsistency of what the Government are saying, because it is led from the political decision that was made for this Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, quoted the current FCDO travel advice for someone travelling to Rwanda voluntarily. If they are travelling to Rwanda voluntarily and are LGBT+, they are warned by the Foreign Office that they

“can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities”—

that is the Government of Rwanda. So the Foreign Office advises voluntary travellers that they can experience discrimination and abuse from the Government. The Home Office is saying that, for someone being located there involuntarily, there is no possible experience of discrimination and abuse from local authorities. So which one trumps? Is it the Foreign Office or the Home Office that has the best advice to receive on this situation?

On the FCDO traveller advice, with regards to discrimination and abuse from local authorities, the Minister has an opportunity in responding to the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, to outline in clear terms at the Dispatch Box some examples of discrimination and abuse from local authorities. The reason why this is important is that it is the Government’s policy that those who are relocated to Rwanda, once they have been processed, will then become residents of Rwanda in local authority areas. The Government state in their travel advice that there is a recognition of a general concern about discrimination and abuse but that, with regard to this legislation, only specific and personal high-bar thresholds for potential discrimination and abuse can be considered.

The final thing I consider to be relevant is the country note for Rwanda, which is the basis on which the decision-makers will make their decisions, either for remedies or in seeking some form of injunction or relocation. It was cited by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. The country advice that was withdrawn had an interesting comment on potential crimes against LGBTIQ+ persons:

“Lack of reporting of crimes against LGBTIQ+ persons, due to stigma and fear of harassment, results in limited information”.

The Government, with limited information, can make categorical decisions—but of course, they will be made on a political basis. So perhaps any amendment we move to make this objective is futile, because it is not going to change the fundamental position: that Ministers have politically decided that Rwanda is safe and will always be so.

My Lords, we heard this debate opened with great clarity and legal exactitude by my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton, followed by a very good speech from the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. I am not going to go over all that again, but am I right in this simple analysis of the situation in which the Government seek to place individuals who might be affected by this law?

If I can produce compelling evidence that Rwanda is not safe for me—not my brother, but me—I am entitled to a decision from the Secretary of State, no less, or an immigration officer, that I should not have to go to Rwanda. If that decision is not made in my favour, I have all the advantage of the English legal system, through which I can judicially review the decision of the Secretary of State or the immigration officer. But if I can show that there is compelling evidence not that Rwanda is unsafe for me, but only that it is unsafe for a person like me, I am excluded from all the protection of the law, just because I cannot provide evidence that relates to me as a particular individual—who may, as it happens, not be as well-known as someone like me in Rwanda.

If that is the situation, how can His Majesty’s Government possibly justify that difference? It seems to me to be fundamentally unjust. If that is the case, I hope the Minister, who is very open with your Lordships’ House, will say so, so that the House can decide on Report how to deal with my noble and learned friend’s proposal.

My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. On this occasion, it is fortuitous to follow him because—without repeating the brilliant points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and my noble friend Lord Cashman, about the safety of Rwanda for particular groups, which are echoed in my noble friend Lord Dubs’ amendments on religious freedom—he pre-empts a point I want to emphasise about the false binary the Government appear to be creating in Clause 4, for example.

As someone who has worked with the refugee convention for about 30 years, I feel that something is missing—well, there are many things missing, but there is something particularly dangerous about tying the hands of decision-makers in the way proposed, be they the Secretary of State, Border Force, or judicial decision-makers in particular. There is a false binary, which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, began to outline. At one end of the spectrum, the country is particularly dangerous for Josef K, not other people in Josef K’s family or political party, or in another social group. The language of the Bill uses the following adjectives:

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

At the other end of the spectrum—the false binary the Bill proposes—is the general safety of Rwanda, the Bill’s definition of which includes safety from refoulement in particular. Of course, any refugee lawyer or anyone with experience of dealing with asylum anywhere in the world will tell you that, for a great many refugees, the crucial issue—forget the false binary—is membership of a persecuted social group. Those are the social groups highlighted by these amendments, but they could be other political or ethnic social groups, and so on.

On an ordinary reading of this extraordinary draft statute, I have no doubt that even this odd formulation of the specificity of the person’s “particular individual circumstances” would be construed by a court as including membership of a social group. That would be a normal reading of even this draft provision. However, because of all of that odd stuff in Clause 1 about the purposive construction the Government propose—disapplying the common law, disapplying the Human Rights Act and so on—there is now a real question mark about whether social groups are included for the purposes of Clause 4, for example.

To be fair to the Minister, in his letter, which I read, the clear indication is that social groups would be covered, because HJ (Iran) and gay people who are persecuted are alluded to. But, with respect, if that is the case, in the light of the very odd formulation of this draft statute, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and others have done the Government an enormous favour. At the very least, they ought to agree to the amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord. Otherwise, I fear that, because of all these straitjackets in the Bill upon decision-makers, including the Secretary of State, let alone the judiciary—we will come to it later—the Government may find that they are sending people to Rwanda in circumstances where they do not want to, and contrary to the Minister’s letter. For those reasons, I support the amendments in this group.

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, which he moved almost unanswerably. I agree with the support given to it by my noble friend Lord Cashman, and I support his proposal of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs.

The specific point my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti made is key. I can understand the idea that Rwanda is not a safe country in general because it has no adequate system of addressing asylum seekers and is willing to refoul people irrespective of the merits. I strongly agree with my noble friend when she says that, if a person—for example, a member of the LGBTI+ community—says, “I would not be safe if I were sent back to Rwanda”, that relates specifically to their “particular individual circumstances”, which is the language of the Bill.

The purpose of the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, and of that of my noble friend Lord Dubs, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Cashman, is not to determine in this House whether Rwanda is safe for LGBTI+ people; it is to ensure that, if there is a question mark over that issue—if somebody asserts that, because they are a member of the LGBTI+ community, the Minister is not tied by determining that Rwanda is a safe country—the courts would then consider the question.

Key to the House’s determination of these amendments is the Government’s view of what the Bill, particularly Clause 4(1), means. In responding to the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, can the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, tell us whether, if a member of the LGBTI+ community asserts that Rwanda is not safe for gay people, a Minister can take that into account under Clause 4 in relation to that person? Can he indicate whether, if that applicant disagreed with a Minister’s conclusion, they could go to the courts? We need to know that to determine whether we need to put the noble and learned Lord’s amendment on the statute book.

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group and seek to tease out a couple of answers from the Minister on these issues. Under the 1951 refugee convention, membership of a particular social group is one of the reasons forming a guard for people to be able to claim refugee status. One would therefore assume that Rwanda, which has signed up to the treaty, would grant asylum to people who are LGBT based on their being a member of that social group. The Government aim to send people who have arrived here via illegal routes, who may be LGBT, to be processed for asylum in Rwanda. I do not know whether noble Lords or the Minister have read the latest Human Rights Watch country report on Rwanda, but it points out that there is a systematic refusal by the Rwandan authorities to grant asylum to those who have fled their home countries because of persecution on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What due diligence have the Government done in claiming that Rwanda is a safe country, and in ensuring that the way it deals with asylum claims from LGBT refugees is equal to the way it does so for others? What is the refusal rate compared to those seeking asylum in Rwanda who are not LGBT individuals? If the Minister cannot answer those questions, there is no way that the Government can claim as a matter of fact that Rwanda is a safe country for those seeking asylum there, given that asylum claims seem to be turned down, according to Human Rights Watch, on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.

The Government have not referred to their own impact assessment on the first treaty, the memorandum of understanding with Rwanda, from May 2022. It said that the Home Office was concerned about the treatment of LGBT people in Rwanda and that cases of “ill treatment” towards this group were “more than one off”. What has changed between May 2022 and the impact assessment for this Bill, which says that ill treatment of LGBT+ people in Rwanda no longer takes place and that these “more than one off” issues of discrimination and ill treatment have stopped?

Finally, I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The latest US Report on International Religious Freedom on Rwanda shows clear evidence of discrimination against certain religious practices, even though the laws of Rwanda protect religious freedom. Examples are cited, including that pressure has been put on religious leaders and organisations on multiple occasions when that religious leader or organisation criticises the Rwandan Government’s policy. Recently, the Muslim community has been targeted about its call to prayer practices and has had a number of repressive actions taken against it by the Rwandan police. Noble Lords should remember that many of the people arriving on our shores via irregular routes are of Muslim faith, coming from Muslim countries. I ask the Minister what assessment has been done on religious freedom. Have the Government come across the issues that the US Report on International Religious Freedom has identified? What commitments have they got from the Rwandan Government that these kinds of practices will stop?

My Lords, this group is concerned with members of specific social groups. I welcome the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton: the Government have repeatedly put forward plans in legislation which appear to ignore the very real danger posed to members of certain social groups, including LGBT+ people, in many countries around the world including Rwanda. It again raises the issue of refoulement and the danger it poses; my noble friend Lord Coaker has already spoken about refoulement and has tabled amendments that would address this concern.

I also welcome the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs and spoken to by my noble friend Lord Cashman who, alongside Humanists UK, has pointed out the dangers posed to the religious minorities or those who have no religion in Rwanda.

This group has been interesting. It has been a relatively short debate but has focused on the core issues raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti about the false dichotomy between individuals and groups in general. I think it was my noble and learned friend who said that the effect of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord would be that the Minister is not tied to the Government’s stated view that Rwanda is a safe country; rather, it would be for the courts to decide that in individual cases where, for example, someone may be gay.

Surely involving our courts in the decision-making process goes to the very heart of the absurdity of the Government making a blanket decision that Rwanda is a safe country. It is doing no more than dipping our toe into the court system by asking it to review individuals who are particularly vulnerable. The amendment is not in any way driving a coach and horses through the legislation; it is trying to reflect concerns for vulnerable individuals through well-established practices within our courts. We support it.

My Lords, as we have previously set out, the purpose of the Bill is to stop the boats and end the perilous journeys being made across the channel as it is the busiest shipping lane in the world. These journeys are overwhelmingly made by young, fit men in search of better job opportunities, who are travelling from a safe country. Males represented 88% of small boat arrivals in the year ending September 2023. This is a similar proportion as each year from 2018 to 2021.

Since January 2018, 75% of small boat arrivals have been adult males aged 18 and over. We need a strong deterrent to stop illegal migration and measures to prevent removals being frustrated; we have therefore taken bold steps. However, to ensure that we are meeting our international obligations, Clause 4 provides that a Home Office decision-maker or a court or tribunal can consider a claim that Rwanda is unsafe based on compelling evidence relating specifically to a person’s individual circumstances.

As the Government have set out, since the partnership was announced, UK officials have worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that individuals relocated under the agreement will be safe and that their rights will be protected. The Government’s legal position, published on 11 December 2023, further sets out that the treaty, and the evidence pack, provide for compliance with the Government’s substantive obligations under international law. Therefore, no one will be removed to Rwanda if they face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm.

I turn to Amendments 38, 40, 43, 45 and 51 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and Amendment 41 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. These proposed amendments to Clause 4 would undermine one of the principles that the Bill is seeking to address; namely, to limit the challenges that can be brought against the general safety of Rwanda, even with the signed treaty and updated evidence presented by the Government.

The legislation is clear and affords the appropriate safeguards to ensure that decision makers make a decision about the particular circumstances of each case. The Bill already 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.

I of course entirely understand the desire of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, to get clarity and certainty on this issue. For people who identify as LGBT+, that consideration would include any assessment of any compelling evidence reviewed in line with the principles outlined in HJ (Iran)—as referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—that being LGBT+ would mean that Rwanda was not safe for them in their particular circumstances.

As in all cases under the provisions of the Bill, individuals will be given the opportunity to provide that compelling evidence that they would be at risk in their particular circumstances if they were relocated to Rwanda. That would include any alleged harm as a result of an individual’s gender or sexuality. As I say, any such claims would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and in the case of LGBT+ claims, that would include any assessment in line with the principles outlined in HJ (Iran).

I make it clear that the Rwandan penal code does not punish homosexuality or relations between people of the same sex. The constitution of Rwanda includes a broad prohibition of discrimination and does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law or policy. As regards the FCDO advice, which I was asked about, paragraphs 173 and 174 of the policy statement deal with this, stating:

“As experts on the bilateral relationship between the UK and Rwanda and its development over the past thirty years, FCDO officials based in the relevant geographic and thematic departments working closely with colleagues in the British High Commission in Kigali have liaised with the Home Office throughout the production of this Policy Statement … Information drawn from their institutional expertise as to the in-country situation in Rwanda, and Rwanda’s history of compliance with its international obligations is reflected as appropriate throughout”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, raised concerns about the unequal treatment of women in Rwanda during Monday’s debate. The Rwanda country report refers to the National Commission for Human Rights, or NCHR, which is a constitutional commission provided for by the Rwandan constitution. The NCHR is made up of seven commissioners. Each of them has a specific area of focus, including the rights of women. There is a commissioner who is a focal person for or who is in charge of those rights.

The country report concludes that the general treatment of women is good. Women and children’s rights, among those the NCHR monitors, have seen an improvement since the creation of the NCHR. That is reflected in the laws and the constitution, which provides for specific groups’ rights; for example, women, children, and the disabled. The situation is the same for women as for those who are disabled. They are allowed to be elected, and at each administrative level at least 30% of representatives have to be women. In Parliament, more than 60% of representatives are women; the current Rwandan cabinet is 50% women, and five out of the seven commissioners in the NCHR are women.

Women’s rights are respected in every area. Although the NCHR receives some complaints about rights to property, Rwandan family law was amended to allow women to inherit from parents in 1999. The country information note also refers to the police response to victims of gender-based violence and the Gender Monitoring Office, which considers specific issues relating to gender-based violence. The National Women’s Council is represented from village level and at every level above and is a channel for sharing information on anything regarding gender-based violence. It is the responsibility of local leaders to ensure that there are no gender-based violence issues in their area of control. Police monitor what is going on; they can investigate and come up with a report or action.

Furthermore, the rule of law index, which ranks countries on indicators including equal treatment and the absence of discrimination, ranks Rwanda 26th out of 142 countries worldwide and first out of 34 countries in the region. That is a measure of whether individuals are free from discrimination—based on socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity—with respect to public services, employment, court proceedings and the justice system. I add that the 2022 US State Department human rights practices report on Rwanda noted:

“Women have the same legal status and are entitled to the same rights as men, including under family, labor, nationality, and inheritance laws. … The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions”.

As I indicated at the start, this clause provides the foundations for the Bill as a whole; it is fundamental to the effective operation of the scheme, and the amendments put forward would serve only to weaken its effectiveness. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply and to those who have spoken. What the debate has shown, short as it was, is that the issue of social groups and how they fit into the legislation is very important. Many points were made on various issues that were all extremely valuable, including the wonderful examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, referred to the ongoing discrimination even after decriminalisation took place here; the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, made criticism of the equality impact assessment; and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, referred to Human Rights Watch’s latest report.

In addition to those points, what this debate has teased out—and this fits in with the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—is what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to as the “false binary”. It is a critical issue. For this, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Even after the Minister’s reply, it remains unclear how one treats someone who has not personally experienced persecution, because, for example, they have hidden their sexuality, their religious views or their political views, but who is a member of a group that has a well-founded fear of persecution were there to be an honest expression of their sexuality or their political and social views or a display of their ethnicity or race. How would one treat those people? The false binary does not allow one to take into account the effect of being a member of a group, as opposed to—as my noble friend Lord Carlile referred to it—being “about me”.

I ask the Government to consider carefully whether, without any undermining of the Bill and its purposes, the introduction of the amendments that I have tabled would not add an important element of clarity, both for those assessing claims—the Ministers, the Government and immigration officers—and for the courts. Subject to that, and on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

Amendment 39

Moved by

39: Clause 4, page 4, line 12, leave out from “question” to end of line 14

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, and other amendments to Clause 4 in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti, restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts by rendering the future safety of Rwanda (evidenced by UNHCR advice) a rebuttable presumption and restoring the ability for UK courts and tribunals to grant interim relief.

My Lords, this group goes to the heart of domestic, constitutional, rule-of-law concerns about the Bill. I share Amendments 39, 44, 49, 50, 52 and 53—the bulk of the group—with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is also a supporter of this group but gallantly withdrew his name because he is prevented from being here today. These amendments will restore the proper jurisdiction of our courts. In a moment, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, will explain them, but for now I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall explain why I am proud to support this vital group of amendments to Clause 4 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. They restore to the courts of this country the role which is properly theirs under our centuries-old constitutional arrangements, which respect the separation of powers between Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary.

I must apologise to the Committee that prior commitments prevented me speaking at Second Reading—although I was there for the all-important closing speeches—and attending the first two days of the Committee’s considerations. I have, however, followed the proceedings closely and have been hugely impressed by the quality of the debate.

I agree with so many noble Lords that reversing the very recent findings of fact in our Supreme Court with absolute and for ever conclusions as to the safety of Rwanda, ignoring international law, and disapplying the Human Rights Act are of the gravest concern. However, it is also of the gravest concern that the Bill ousts the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s courts and tribunals to consider matters which are properly theirs to consider, in a constitution which respects the rule of law. It is for the courts to decide whether the Executive have violated, or propose to violate, the rights of individuals—rights they are given, as the Supreme Court made clear, not only by international law and the Human Rights Act but by other UK statutes and by the common law of the land, of which we are so rightly proud.

Amendment 39 restores to the Executive the ability to consider the general safety of the Republic of Rwanda, not just the particular circumstances of a particular individual. This reflects the concerns already expressed in Committee, not only that the situation in any country may change very quickly but that it makes no sense to be able to examine the circumstances of a particular individual but not the evidence that hundreds or even thousands of people may be imprisoned or tortured there. This amendment would also cater for the concerns raised by the previous group of amendments about members of a particular social group.

Amendment 44 restores the same ability to evaluate such vital country information to courts and tribunals considering decisions to remove individuals to Rwanda.

Amendment 49 restores the ability of decision-makers, whether in government or in our courts and tribunals, to look at evidence that the Republic of Rwanda will or may refoule people. Refoulement, as the Committee well knows, means sending people to places where they are at risk of persecution.

Amendments 50, 52 and 53 also restore to our domestic courts and tribunals the jurisdiction to grant interim relief to claimants, preventing their removal to Rwanda until their cases have been properly considered. Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also restores the jurisdiction of courts and tribunals over possible refoulement but not the possibility of granting interim relief, so, with respect, though commendable in itself, it does not go quite far enough.

I remind the Committee that Clause 5 of the Bill allows for the possibility that a Minister of the Crown may comply with interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights. As a matter of sovereignty, it would be odd indeed if an international court could grant relief to people within the United Kingdom when our own courts and tribunals have been deprived by statute of any say at all. In my experience as a judge at the highest level in this country, there is a great deal of respect between our own courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If and when Rwanda were to become a safe country, our courts would find it so and the Strasbourg court would almost certainly agree. On the other hand, if our own courts are unable to consider the matter, the international court would have to scrutinise the decisions of the UK Government with great care—an outcome which many noble Lords may think regrettable.

My Lords, my noble friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury regrets that he cannot be in his place today to speak to the amendments in this group tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. I wish to associate my remarks with theirs and to emphasise how important the restoration of the jurisdiction of the domestic courts is in considering also UNHRC evidence and the ability to grant interim relief. This is no mere technicality. This jurisdiction might make the difference between sending an asylum seeker to Rwanda while their claim, or an aspect of their claim, is pending or not doing so.

Many of those who have been earmarked for removal will have fled from perilous circumstances in their places of origin. What they need is the certainty of knowing that they will not be removed from the country in which they seek asylum while their cases are pending. Clause 4 includes provisions for a court or tribunal to grant interim relief if they are concerned that the person faces a,

“real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”

in Rwanda.

Through debate on this group of amendments, we are considering whether courts and tribunals may benefit from greater discretion for the express purpose of the well-being and future risk of the individuals themselves. We have seen the multiple difficulties faced by the Government in sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Bearing that in mind, is it really plausible that, having sent an asylum seeker to Rwanda, the Government will then be able to return them to the United Kingdom on the basis of evidence that should have been considered while their case was reviewed here? This seems neither efficient nor plausible.

There is also a need to consider advice from the UN Refugee Agency in reviewing the safety of Rwanda, recognising its crucial role in administering many of the services to support more than 110 million people who are forcibly displaced around the world. That agency serves on the front line in supporting people, and it understands the particular challenges faced by those seeking safety. The agency knows of what it speaks; the courts and tribunals should be able to draw on this expertise as they make their judgments.

My Lords, I very strongly support what has been said but want to draw attention to the statement, published today, from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I will not read the whole statement, just one paragraph which is supportive of this group of amendments. It states:

“The combined effects of this Bill, attempting to shield government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles. Independent, effective judicial oversight is the bedrock of the rule of law—it must be respected and strengthened. Governments cannot revoke their international human rights and asylum-related obligations by legislation”.

Has the Minister read this and what is his response to the UN high commissioner?

My Lords, I rise very briefly on that point to support the noble Baroness. We have heard in previous groups the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, who is not in his place, and other noble Lords, that the debates which we are having in this House are being keenly viewed outside this House and very keenly in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It is a depressing fact today that the top news story on the UN global news website is commentary on this Bill going through this Parliament. The UN Human Rights Council, which will be gathering next week, will be discussing the atrocities in Sudan and the Israel-Gaza conflict. It is a time of great turmoil and danger for many people, but the fact that the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, today in the preparatory meetings of the council singled out the United Kingdom and the safety of Rwanda Bill as an illustration of the undermining of basic principles of the rule of law and of the risk of delivering a serious blow to human rights is deeply troubling.

The statement referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which was made today, said:

“Settling questions of disputed fact—questions with enormous human rights consequences—is what the courts do, and which the UK courts have a proven track record of doing thoroughly and comprehensively. It should be for the courts to decide whether the measures taken by the Government since the Supreme Court’s ruling on risks in Rwanda are enough”.

The statement continued:

“You cannot legislate facts out of existence”.

I appeal to Ministers considering this Bill. Many in the world are watching us. We have led in these areas. We should be leading the discussions in the Human Rights Council about global abuses of the rule of law and human rights. We should not be being singled out for abusing them ourselves.

My Lords, I rise to support these amendments for a very fundamental reason. The separation of powers is crucial for the freedom of all our people and I find it very distressing that the Government have not understood how deeply offensive this element of these proposals is.

It is deeply offensive simply because it purports to say that something is true which is not true. It suggests that the sovereignty of Parliament extends to the decision on whether something is or is not. That is a decision which has always been the purview of the courts, simply because the courts have a structure that enables them to listen to the evidence on all sides and make a decision at the end.

I fear that the Government have presented this because it is inconvenient that the courts should take a part in it. The price of liberty is inconvenience. You cannot be a free nation unless you accept that there are processes that are embarrassing to Governments, to Oppositions, to people of standing, to people who have got other views. You have to accept that it is the price we pay. This Government are suggesting that, because they have got to get something through before the end of the year because they said they would, they can claim that inconvenience is something they will not accept.

Down this route, if we go it, we move towards losing freedom not just of the people we talk about today but all the rest of us. That is why I appeal to your Lordships to accept this fact: by doing this to these people, we do it to ourselves. No man is an island—it is true that we are all part of the same human beings. I am not surprised that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has put his name to this. There is a deeply important religious, as well as secular, truth. Once you distinguish in the rights between people, you say about people as a whole that they are not each worth something. It is fundamental, and inconvenience is no excuse. We should insist that the Government restore to the courts the rights that people have fought for down the ages, which we have held in this nation as sacrosanct for hundreds of years, and which they have the gall to suggest we should throw aside because it is inconvenient.

My Lords, I want to follow the remark made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, when she referred to the general safety of Rwanda outside the particular circumstances of anybody who might be sent there for asylum. I apologise that I was not able to be at Wednesday’s meeting, but, on reading Hansard, I noticed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, did not answer a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford, regarding the renewed imprisonment of the journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga. These were grave allegations. If the Government are aware of the general safety within the justice system of Rwanda, have they made representations about the renewed detention and alleged torture of this journalist, which has become a source of international concern?

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who reminded us of the importance of the law in protecting the rights of individuals against states. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and yet another speech in which he said that the debates and discussions on these groups of amendments bring us to fundamental principles of democracy, including the rights of law, freedom of speech and the separation of powers. Debating and discussing these in the context of the Bill is an important reminder of the power and responsibilities of this Chamber.

I am pleased to support the amendments of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, on reasserting the role of the domestic courts. To the noble and learned Baroness and my noble friend I say that it shows what a strange world we live in that, when the current Minister for Illegal Migration was Solicitor-General, he is reported to have told the Government that ignoring interim relief would put us in breach of the ECHR and that they should act with great trepidation. Now he is no longer Solicitor-General but is responsible for illegal migration, and he seems to have forgotten the advice he gave the Government. He could do with reading his own advice. All this, of course, is “so we are told”.

We are also told that the Attorney-General has had serious worries about this, but of course nobody can know about that because legal advice is always kept secret. Although he is the Advocate-General for Scotland, the Minister is not acting in a legal capacity but as a Justice Minister of some sort, and no doubt he will have read the comments made in the other place by various Members about how the Bill works with respect to the interaction with the Scottish judicial system. This is a parallel universe in which we exist, but, none the less, these are all extremely important amendments.

In speaking to my Amendment 48, I wish to highlight a particular aspect that goes alongside Amendment 39 and the others in my noble friend’s name. As a barrack-room lawyer, I take on board the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, with respect to my inadequate amendment and the fact that it does not include interim relief. I apologise profusely for that oversight. In due course, it may return on Report with interim relief.

On a serious point, the Supreme Court said that the main reason it found Rwanda not to be a safe country in general was the risk of refoulement. The Government have gone to great length, in the treaty and in other things they have published, to say that they have dealt with all the concerns the Supreme Court had—although we note that, in its report published a few days ago, the JCHR continues to assert that there are problems that need to be considered.

I draw attention to Clause 4, which allows individuals who have compelling reasons to argue against their deportation under this Bill and the Illegal Migration Act. I remind noble Lords that even this minor concession of allowing individuals to do so, rather than debating the general safety of Rwanda, was regarded as a step too far by many in the Conservative Party and the Government.

My amendment seeks to delete Clause 4(2). I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, although he is not in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. The particular aspect I draw noble Lords’ attention to is that, although an individual can present compelling circumstances, and try to persuade the Government that this Bill should not apply to them and that they should not be deported to Rwanda, it does not allow them to do so if they say that they should not be sent there as there are reasons why they might be refouled—in other words, sent to a third country.

Under Clause 4(2), they are prohibited from arguing that in the courts. Subsection (2) says this is so

“to the extent that it relates to the issue of whether the Republic of Rwanda will or may remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of … its international obligations”.

It includes the word “will”. An individual cannot even argue that they “will” be sent to another country, never mind that they “may” be—the Government included the word “will”. I find that extraordinary; it is almost that an individual cannot argue in a court, as a matter of fact, that they will be refouled. They cannot say, “I have compelling evidence that I will be sent to a third country”. It is extraordinary that legislation would say that you cannot as an individual—let alone the point about general safety made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—argue in a court that you will be refouled. The court could dismiss such an argument, of course, but it would be up to the court—that is the whole point of the courts.

I take the point about interim relief, but I want justification from the Government as to why an individual cannot take that argument to a court, an immigration officer or the Secretary of State. The Home Secretary, or an immigration officer, cannot consider an individual saying to them, “I will be refouled if I am sent to Rwanda”. How on earth is that consistent with the principles of democracy of this country, of which we are all so proud? That is why I tabled the amendment, and I would like to hear the Government’s justification.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to an interesting debate on this important point.

Clause 4 provides that a Home Office decision-maker, or a court or tribunal, can consider a claim that Rwanda is unsafe only

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

Subsection (2) prevents a decision-maker or the courts considering any claim where it relates to whether Rwanda

“will or may remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of any of its international obligations”.

Where the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act does not apply, subsections (3) and (4) prevent the courts granting interim relief unless that person can show that they would face

“a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm”

if they were removed to Rwanda. This is the same threshold that can give rise to a suspensive claim based on serious and irreversible harm under the Illegal Migration Act. Subsection (5) provides that the consideration of “serious and irreversible harm” will be in line with the definition set out in the Illegal Migration Act, with any necessary modifications. Any allegation relating to onward removal from Rwanda is not an example of something capable of constituting serious and irreversible harm, as the treaty ensures that asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda under the partnership are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

Regarding the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, spoke to in opening, I remind noble Lords that the evidence pack published alongside the Bill details the evidence the United Kingdom Government have used to assess the safety of Rwanda. It concludes that, alongside the treaty, Rwanda is safe for the purposes of asylum processing, and the policy statement outlines the key findings. As experts on the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Rwanda and its development over the past 30 years, FCDO officials based in the relevant geographic and thematic departments, working closely with colleagues in the British high commission in Kigali, have liaised with the Home Office throughout the production of the policy statement.

As my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom and I set out in earlier debates, the United Kingdom Government and the Government of Rwanda have agreed and begun to implement assurances and commitments to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system. These assurances and commitments provide clear evidence of the Government of Rwanda’s ability to fulfil their obligations generally and specifically to ensure that relocated individuals face no risk of refoulement. In answer to the points raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, which were adopted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, and by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, from the Opposition Front Bench, among others, the position is that a person cannot argue this fundamentally academic point over a long period of time, occupying court resources. It is a point rendered academic because of the provision of the treaty governing the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for stating clearly that the Government of Rwanda have begun putting the safeguards in place. That is consistent with what he said earlier in Committee—that the Government of Rwanda are moving towards putting safeguards in place—but he accepted that Rwanda will be a safe country only when those are place, which may be after Royal Assent. Will an applicant be able to argue, even after Royal Assent, that Rwanda is not safe until the measures that are being moved towards are put in place?

My Lords, on the passing of the Bill, the Act will decree that Rwanda is safe. Just because work is being done to render a place safer it does not make it unsafe.

The Minister just said that Rwanda is becoming safer, but in his earlier comments he said that it has begun to put measures in place, and he has previously confirmed to me that until they are in place, it cannot be determined that Rwanda is safe. The Bill will decree that it is safe before the measures are in place so that it is safe. Surely someone would be able to argue in a court that it is not safe until those measures are in place. That is what the Minister just said.

I did not. I said that just because safeguards have not yet been fully put in place, it does not mean, as a result, that Rwanda cannot be deemed safe.

If Rwanda is not safe now, but it will be safe, then the period between now and the point at which it will be safe must be one in which somebody could argue that it is not safe, otherwise it does not mean anything. My noble and learned friend has himself said that it is not safe now but will become safe. I am not one who thinks that we cannot have an extraterritorial arrangement, but I do not understand the logic that says that it is not safe now, it will be safe, but you cannot appeal to the courts in between those times otherwise it is just academic. This is a use of “academic” that I do not really understand.

I reiterate my previous answer: the fact that further work is being done does not mean that the safety or otherwise of a place is conditional on the completion of that further work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, cited the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford, concerning a journalist. She is quite correct: I did not address that specifically when I spoke earlier. The question was not pressed on me subsequently, but given that the noble Baroness has returned to it, I will look into the matter with officials and correspond.

I have one final point for the Minister. If this legislation decrees on Royal Assent that Rwanda is a safe country, what is the point of having the safeguards he has mentioned?

Does the Minister still stand by the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, that nobody will be deported to Rwanda until the monitoring committee is up and running? He is talking as though people will start to be deported the moment this Bill passes, which is not what the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, led us to believe.

My noble friend Lord Sharpe confirmed to me a moment ago that the monitoring committee is already operational; it is up and running.

My Lords, the monitoring committee consists of four people, two of whom are apparently in the pay of the Rwandan Government. Can the Minister reassure us that he thinks it will be completely unbiased?

My Lords, in the first instance, the monitoring committee consists of not four but eight people. If I might express the words of my noble friend sitting next to me on the Front Bench, I can give that assurance.

My noble friend Lord Deben quoted John Donne’s line that

“No man is an island, entire of itself”.

I think in that piece of prose, which is one of his sermons, Donne also says the familiar passage about asking not for whom the bell tolls; “it tolls for thee”. None the less, while accepting everything of a universalist nature that my noble friend says about our obligations one to another as humans, I have to say that the Government’s scope for operation is restricted. We can operate within our powers and jurisdiction, must legislate to protect our borders, and cannot seek to exceed our powers.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised the point that the progress and content of this legislation are under scrutiny. His Majesty’s Government fully accept that scrutiny and appreciate that it is timely and important because of the scale of the problem that we face. It is a problem faced across all sorts of different countries, and the Government are undertaking to address it by this legislation.

The Minister may be about to speak on this but I did ask a specific question as to the Government’s response to the absolutely damning statement from the UN commissioner for human rights, which was published today and which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also quoted. It talked about

“drastically stripping back the courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions”


“a serious blow to human rights”.

This is serious stuff. I would like to know the Government’s response.

The noble Baroness indeed anticipated me as I was turning to that point. As she says, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, had touched on that. I have the statement by the United Nations human rights chief. The Government repudiate the charges that he places when he says:

“The combined effects of this Bill, attempting to shield Government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles”.

We disagree with that.

Will the Minister answer a very simple question? Did the United Kingdom vote for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take his post? If so, by what right does it now repudiate his views?

Whether or not we as a country voted for him to take his place does not exclude the possibility of disagreement with anything that any official, be he ever so high, may have to say.

I am encouraged by the noble and learned Lord’s statement that the monitoring committee is up and running. He will know that the international treaties committee of this House said that

“the implementation of the Treaty requires not just the adoption of new laws, systems and procedures, but also the recruitment and training of personnel. For example, the Monitoring Committee has to recruit a support team”.

Are we to take it that the Minister is saying the committee has indeed already recruited a support team? If not, it is very difficult to see how it could be described as “up and running”.

That is the information given to me, but I am happy to look into the matter to reassure the noble and learned Lord.

The point I am making is that I have been told the body is up and running. That does not touch on the matter of the recruitment of a support team, which is the basis of the noble and learned Lord’s supplementary question.

From the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, touched on advice said to have been given by the former Solicitor-General and by the Attorney-General. I think he is aware—I have touched on it from the Dispatch Box at earlier stages—of the existence of the law officers’ convention. I will return to it again in a later group, but the essence of that convention is not only that the content of advice given is confidential but also that it is confidential that advice has even been sought. The reason for that, accepted by Governments of every stripe over the years, is to assist with the passage of decision-making and the consideration of legal matters that touch on legislation to be passed. As I said, if I may, I will revert to that in consideration of a later amendment.

The assurances and commitments that the Government have received, together with the treaty and conclusions from the FCDO experts reflected throughout the policy statement, allow his Majesty’s Government to state with confidence that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been addressed and that Rwanda is safe. As the point has been taken in this debate, albeit in passing, I stress once again that this is a matter not of overturning the findings of the United Kingdom Supreme Court but rather of acting on them.

The Minister is being generous in giving way, but what he just said contradicts what he said previously in Committee. At col. 70 of 12 February’s Official Report, I asked about the mechanisms for safeguards. It had been the Government’s position—until today, it seems—that the requirements of the Supreme Court would be met by the implementation of the treaty, which includes the safeguards within it. These include the appeals mechanism and the training and capacity-building. They have to be in place. If they are not in place, the treaty is not operative. Progress is being made towards them, as the Minister said, but he has just said that the Government’s view is that the requirements of the Supreme Court have been met. These comments are contradictory. This is important because, when I asked,

“can the Minister at the Dispatch Box reconfirm that position: that no individual will be relocated before the safeguards—including the appeals mechanism, the training and the capacity-building—are in place?”,

the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, responded:

“I can answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question in the affirmative”.—[Official Report, 12/2/24; col. 70.]

Is that still the case, or did he mislead the House?

The point I was making was in answer to the point raised earlier in the debate by noble Lords, who were characterising the Government’s actions as going back on, or overturning, the Supreme Court’s decision. As I said, the point is that the terms of the Bill and the treaty are a response to the Supreme Court’s decision.

But it is absolutely clear from the policy statement, and from answers that the Home Secretary gave to the international treaties committee of our House, that the position is not complete in Rwanda until it implements new Rwandan asylum legislation, which has not yet been passed. The Home Secretary was specifically asked when that legislation would be passed by Rwanda, and he was unable to give a timeframe. For the noble and learned Lord to say that Rwanda is now safe, when even the Home Secretary accepts that this law has yet to be introduced in Rwanda, seems to completely contradict the Government’s position. I ask him to reconsider the answer to the question: are the Government saying that Rwanda is now safe, without that legislation in Rwanda?

I think the terms of Article 9 of the treaty are clear. The Act comes into force the day that the treaty comes into force. As to the specific Rwandan legislation to which the noble and learned Lord refers, I am not able to give a categorical answer from the Dispatch Box.

Will the Minister answer a couple of rather simple questions? Has he read the Rwandan legislation? Does he believe it is in conformity with the treaty?

The answer to the former is that it does not fall to me to read the Rwandan legislation; but, given that decisions are taken collectively by the Government, I can answer the noble Lord’s second question in the affirmative.

The Advocate-General for Scotland may not be the right person to express a view in relation to Rwandan legislation, but I assume that somebody in the Government has seen a draft of this legislation. Could he indicate who that is and what that person’s opinion is?

My Lords, I will look into that. Presumably, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will take this matter under its wing. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, refers to the Home Office. We will look into that and provide the noble and learned Lord with an answer.

Could the Minister confirm, for the benefit of all of us, that the Home Office team in charge of the Bill has not seen the Rwandan legislation and has no idea who has?

My Lords, what I have said was that I have not seen the Home Office legislation. I have not been called upon to review it.

My Lords, I would be keen to know what is the basis for the noble and learned Lord’s assertion that Rwanda is safe, which he is putting forward on behalf of the Government.

My Lords, it has been a matter that has been canvassed exhaustively already, but it flows from the treaty which the Rwandan Government and His Majesty’s Government have entered into.

My Lords, again, if the noble Lord is asserting that the relevant Rwandan legislation is a figment of the imagination of the Rwandan Government or His Majesty’s Government, I am not quite sure I can answer that. However, the point is that the treaty and the work going on—which has already been substantially completed—between the British Government and that of Rwanda must indicate that there is such a piece of legislation.

The assurance and commitments to which I have referred, given to and drawing upon the conclusions made by FCDO experts, reflected throughout the policy statement, allow us to state with confidence that the concerns of the Supreme Court have been addressed and that, I repeat, Rwanda is safe. We do not, therefore, consider it necessary to make the proposed changes to Clause 4 to permit decision-makers or courts and tribunals to consider claims or grant interim relief on the basis of Rwanda’s safety generally or that Rwanda will or may remove persons to another state in contravention of its international obligations. That is contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill. The assurances we have negotiated in a legally binding treaty with Rwanda address the concerns of the Supreme Court and make detailed provision for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, ensuring they will be offered safety and protection with—it must be emphasised—no risk of refoulement.

I turn to Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. If I may build on a point I have been making, the treaty makes clear that Rwanda will not remove any individual relocated there to another country, except the United Kingdom in very limited circumstances. Article 10(3) of the UK-Rwanda treaty sets out explicitly that no relocated individual shall be removed from Rwanda except to United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11(1). Annexe B of the treaty also sets out the claims process for relocated individuals and how they will be treated. Part 3.3.2 of Annexe B sets out clearly that members of the first-instance body, who will make decisions on asylum and humanitarian protection claims,

“shall make decisions impartially, solely on the basis of evidence before them and by reference to the provisions and principles of the Refugee Convention and humanitarian protection law”.

If there is no risk of refoulement because of all those processes, all the legislation and all the things the Minister has just read out, in view of his earlier answers will he confirm that all of that is in place now? Or is it due to be in place? And if it is due to be in place, when will that be? How long into the future will all of the various points that the Minister has read out be in place? At the moment, as it stands under the Bill, I cannot go to the Home Secretary or to any immigration official and say I might be refouled, because I will not be allowed to under the Bill. And yet the Minister cannot tell us that all of the processes to protect me from refoulement are in place. So, what am I supposed to do if I am at risk of refoulement?

If the noble Lord were to be threatened with refoulement, it could only happen to him once the Bill and the treaty were in place. A person could not be relocated to Rwanda until the Bill and the treaty are in place, and once the Bill and treaty are in place, there is no risk of refoulement.

I am very concerned with what the Minister has literally just told us. The Minister has just said that, once this Bill has passed, there is no risk of refoulement. Article 10 of the treaty says:

“The Parties shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation does not occur”.

Those are not consistent. The effective system has to be in place, because that is what the treaty says; the effective system is not the passage of this Bill. So can the Minister now correct the record?

My Lords, the Government are working with the Government of Rwanda to implement new protections to the Rwandan asylum system, including the introduction of new legislation. I am reverting to a point that was taken earlier, but I give the same answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Protections offered by the treaty will prevent refoulement from Rwanda to elsewhere.

I am grateful to the Minister, who has been very patient with so many concerned Members of the Committee, but everything that he says very honestly in relation to each question suggests that the safeguards are not yet in place. Therefore, Rwanda is not yet safe, because that was the whole point of the treaty: to offer additional protections and to attempt to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court. How can all of this be academic? This is not a bathroom that has been plumbed in and we are now just painting the tiles; we do not have the plumbing yet.

My Lords, the treaty guarantees that anyone relocated to Rwanda will be given safety and support and will not be returned to a country where their life or freedom will be threatened. That directly addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns about refoulement. As to the matter of the use I made of the word “academic”, I was using that in answer to points raised by noble Lords in relation to why the Bill bars the taking of general points of academic interest, which was referring to a point once the Bill and the treaty are in place. Once they are in place, there is no possibility of refoulement from Rwanda without contravention of an international instrument. The point is that, at that stage, argument before the domestic courts would be academic. I give way to the noble Lord.

I do not think that the Minister has taken on board what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked him. Article 10(3), which is the provision in the treaty that allows relocation only back to the UK, contains the following phrase:

“The Parties—”

that is, Rwanda and the UK,

“shall cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to this obligation—"

the obligation being to remove only to the UK—

“does not occur”.

The parties have not yet agreed that. The parties, the UK and Rwanda, therefore accept that, currently, there is not in place an effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to the obligation only to remove to the UK exists. Could the Minister please explain to the Committee how he can possibly say that, at the moment, under the agreement—that is the overarching agreement, not the agreement to agree an effective system for ensuring non-refoulement—such safeguards currently exist? We need an explanation for that.

My Lords, the point is that the treaty, while it has not been ratified, is a matter of agreement. I spoke about the work—

Further to the Minister’s answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, does the system—the effective system for ensuring that removal contrary to the obligation does not occur—exist?

My Lords, I am not fully clear that I follow the import of the question that the noble Lord poses. If he will bear with me, I am going to defer answering that point and will do so with him in writing.

Forgive me: I am just trying to understand the Minister’s position on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and pursued by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The treaty requires the parties to set up a system—it says they shall agree a system. The Minister is saying that Rwanda is safe and implying that that system has been set up, or at least has been agreed, and will come into force the moment the treaty is ratified. Is that the case?

Could the Minister then tell us what that system is? When will the House see that system? It would help us to judge how real the remaining risk of removal to a third country is if we could see the system that has apparently been created to ensure that that risk does not come to fruition.

My Lords, I will expand on the matter in the correspondence to which I referred the noble Lord.

I will go into more detail about the work that has been and is being conducted between Rwandan and British officials. Officials from the UK and Rwanda have worked closely together to strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system. We have already developed and commenced operational training for Rwandan asylum decision-makers and strengthened procedural oversight of the MEDP and asylum processes.

In November 2023, technical experts from the Home Office, working with the Institute of Legal Practice and Development, delivered a training course aimed at asylum decision-makers in Rwanda. It focused on applying refugee law in asylum interviews and decision-making, and on best practice in assessing credibility and utilising country-of-origin information.

Furthermore, as set out in paragraph 14.1.15 of the published country information note on Rwanda’s asylum system, once the treaty is ratified there are provisions for Rwanda to move to a case-worker model when deciding asylum claims. Under that model, for the first six months Rwanda’s decision-making body will consider advice from a seconded independent expert prior to making any decision in relation to a claim.

Under CRaG, the scrutiny period for the treaty has now been concluded, so, for clarification, when will the UK ratify the treaty?

That is a decision not for me to take. It will be taken by the Government collectively. I am not in a position to give a date to the noble Lord, if he was asking me to give one. In the circumstances, I cannot supply him with any further information.

The Minister just referred to the independent experts who are going to help the Rwandans in relation to their processing of claimants. Our International Agreements Committee said those independent experts have yet to be appointed. Could he give the House an indication of how the appointment process is going? How many have been appointed, and when?

My Lords, that is a matter of detail upon which I will have to correspond with the noble and learned Lord.

The Government of Rwanda are committed to this partnership. Like the UK, they are a signatory to the refugee convention and have an international obligation to provide protection to those who are entitled to it. The Bill is predicated on the compliance by both Rwanda and the UK with international law in the form of the treaty, which itself reflects the international legal obligations of the UK and Rwanda.

Taking together the strengthened Rwandan asylum system and the commitment set out in the legally binding treaty—which, once ratified, will become part of Rwandan domestic law—it is unnecessary for a decision-maker, whether that be an immigration officer or a court, to consider any claim made on the ground that Rwanda may remove a person to another state. Furthermore, as I said earlier, that would delay unnecessarily the relocation of individuals to Rwanda, thereby undermining the core of the Bill.

For the reasons outlined, I respectfully ask that noble Lords do not move their amendments.

My Lords—before the Minister sits down—it becomes crucial to know when this Act will come into force. This is not a personal observation, but the Minister has given the most unsatisfactory series of answers about what the position is in Rwanda. Clause 9 of the Bill says:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.

On Wednesday, I took the Minister through what the statement and the agreement suggest, which is that the Bill comes into force when the steps required for ratification are completed by both countries. The only step required for ratification that is referred to in the policy statement made by the Government, as far as the UK Government are concerned, is the passage of this Bill. So it appears that the Government are envisaging that, almost automatically on the passage of the Bill, they will treat the agreement as ratified. The consequence is that the Bill will immediately come into force. If that is right, it is pretty obvious that the Bill will become law and the Government can deport people to Rwanda when the safeguards are not in place. Could the Minister confirm that my understanding of when the Bill is going to come into force, which I set out in detail last week, is correct?

I cannot go beyond the terms of the clause to which the noble and learned Lord refers. Clause 9(1) states:

“This Act comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force”.

As always, I am grateful to the Committee for its deliberations, but on this occasion I am particularly happy to welcome the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, to those deliberations, and indeed to what I hope will be a long and happy role as a legislator in your Lordships’ House. I think the Committee will agree that she dealt with this important group of amendments with the expertise and clarity that we would have expected. She pointed out the dangers of the “for ever” conclusion that Rwanda is safe and therefore the inability of our domestic courts to ever look at that issue—something that I think every speaker other than the Minister found unsatisfactory and said so more than once.

The noble and learned Baroness pointed out the oddity of a situation where there would be at least the possibility of jurisdiction in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in circumstances where our domestic courts had been stripped of jurisdiction. For those concerned about sovereignty, that seems to be a very odd state of affairs. The one thing that the Bill does not purport to oust is the final jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—although it attempts to allow Ministers to ignore interim relief from Strasbourg—but it completely ousts all serious jurisdiction of our domestic courts, particularly in relation to the issue of the general safety of Rwanda. That is a very odd and unsatisfactory state of affairs and, again, no one in the Committee other than the Minister appeared to say otherwise.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for reminding the Committee what the UNHCR said just today about the Government of the UK attempting to shield themselves from judicial oversight. My goodness me—what would we be saying about any other country or jurisdiction in the world that that was said about by the main refugee monitor at the UN? Furthermore, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for pointing out the significance of this in places such as the UN Human Rights Council, and how shameful it is that an examination of the UK should now be threatening to eclipse the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine. There are almost no words.

When there are almost no words, thank goodness for the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I refer the Committee to Hansard last Wednesday, when he spoke about the “nature of truth” and how we should always be seeking after it and never trying to end that exploration. I say to the Minister that rather more important than any references to John Donne today was the allusion to Al Gore; it is the inconvenient truth that the Government are constantly seeking to avoid with this Bill. It is the inconvenient truth that Rwanda is not yet safe, hence the need for the treaty in the first place and all the mechanisms that need to be brought in and operated under it. This was put so well, repeatedly, by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. There is also the inconvenient truth that we still believe in the rule of law in this country. We still believe in anxious scrutiny of individual cases before people’s rights are put in jeopardy. There is the inconvenient truth that, even if Rwanda became generally safe tomorrow, things could change quickly, as they do in countries all over the world, as was pointed out once more by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Whitaker for pointing out very real concerns about journalists currently detained in Rwanda. We wait for responses “in due course” from the Government about reports of torture of the journalists currently incarcerated there. I was grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Coaker on the Opposition Front Bench. I thought, if I may say so, that the courtesy and deference he gave to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and the mutuality of respect between them, boded well for the attitude of a future Labour Government. I will hold him to that in due course, I hope.

Yes, in due course.

I say to the Minister that I am sure the Committee is very grateful for his patience and courtesy, as always, but this was a very difficult couple of hours. I do not know whether the word “decree” was a Freudian slip or just some straightforward, slightly shameless honesty. We now live in a country in which we are going to determine something as important as whether another country is safe for asylum seekers, not by fact finding or seeking after truth, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, would like, but by decree. I cannot believe that I am now living in a country where facts of such importance are determined, in effect, by Executive decree.

It is not even by parliamentary decree because Parliament will not have the opportunity to examine all these shadowy mechanisms under the treaty. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, with the able assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, attempted again and again to get answers about these but answers came there none. When will this legislation be brought into Rwanda? Who has seen the draft legislation? Who are the experts? All these are things that the Supreme Court was concerned about.

I remind the Committee that the Supreme Court never doubted the good faith of the Rwandan Government. It just felt that, on the evidence, the mechanisms and cultures were not yet there on the ground. The Minister, courteously and kindly, could not answer any of those questions. Therefore, in addition to stripping our domestic courts of their jurisdiction over such important matters, the Government have singularly failed to assure this Committee that Rwanda is safe and that we should “decree” it so.

I will end unconventionally with a comment made by one of your Lordships’ security staff to me earlier in the day. For obvious reasons, he shall remain nameless.

He or she or they—I have sort of admitted that it was a gentleman. He said to me that he had heard various comments I have been making. I said, “I am sorry for that; it is all rather depressing, isn’t it?” He said, “My Lady, I think there are all sorts of people that we would like to kick out of our country, but we don’t want to kick out our values”. I think that was a pretty good summation, worthy of any Member of the Committee.

Finally, I say to the Minister: if Rwanda is so safe, or if it will become safe and be safe for a long time, there is nothing to be afraid of in this group of amendments. The Government should not be afraid of His Majesty’s judges or the courts that have been the pride of this country and admired all over the world for so long. For the moment only, however, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 39 withdrawn.

Amendments 40 to 45 not moved.

Amendment 46

Moved by

46: Clause 4, page 4, line 22, at end insert—

“(c) a court or tribunal from considering, in the case of a person who was but has ceased to be an unaccompanied child, a claim that their removal to the Republic of Rwanda would be contrary to their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment ensures that a person previously recognised as an unaccompanied child has the ability to challenge their removal to Rwanda when they cease to be an unaccompanied child at the age of 18 on the basis that removal would be contrary to their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, this would enable consideration to be given to any rights accrued under Article 8, right to private and family life, by virtue of having lived in the UK for a period of time, including building relationships and connections etc.

My Lords, I am moving Amendment 46 as an understudy to my noble friend Lord Dubs, who apologises that he cannot be here today because of a long-standing commitment. I will speak also to Amendments 54 and 55 in my name. All the amendments in this group are designed to ensure that we do not overlook the best interests of children who stand to be removed to Rwanda and that we provide a degree of protection for them. These concerns were raised briefly on Wednesday.

Amendment 46, the technical details of which I will not go into as I am advised that the wording may not be perfect, aims to ensure that when an unaccompanied child asylum seeker reaches 18, they are able to challenge a decision to remove them to Rwanda. There are two compelling arguments in support of this. First, having lived in the UK for what could be some time, it would be cruel to uproot an 18 year-old from the life they have forged and the relationships they have developed in order to remove them to a country about which they know nothing.

Secondly, there is the concern put forcefully by the Children’s Commissioner that there is a real danger that the prospect of removal at 18 will result in these children disappearing. This could open them, in her words, to huge risks of exploitation by the kinds of criminal groups that the Bill is supposed to smash. I refer to the Committee’s exchange on morality in our previous sitting. As the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said:

“It is immoral to facilitate the activity of criminal gangs”—[Official Report, 14/2/2024; col. 292.]

and traffickers and it is “our moral imperative” to stop them. This amendment would contribute to this moral imperative.

I turn to the amendments in my name and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Brinton, to whom I am grateful for their support. I am also grateful for the help of ILPA, the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, and RAMP, of which I am an associate. I shall begin by making some general points and then speak to each amendment separately.

My starting point for the two amendments is last year’s concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in which it urged the UK to:

“Ensure that children and age-disputed children are not removed to a third country”.

It expressed deep concern about the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Act, which underpins this Bill, and the lack of consideration for the principle of the best interests of the child. This is clear from the failure to provide a child rights impact assessment until the very last minute of the Bill’s passage, despite repeated calls from noble Lords—and then it amounted to little more than a post hoc justification of the Bill’s measures. Needless to say, there has been no child rights impact assessment of the current Bill. In the debate on the treaty, when I asked whether there would be one, I did not receive a reply.

UNICEF warned that a blanket provision on inadmissibility and subsequent removal that applied to children without undertaking a best interests procedure and implementing its determinations would not be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular Article 3, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, advised on Wednesday, we need to take seriously. Yet the treaty, while acknowledging the convention, makes no reference to determining a child’s best interests. Concerns about children’s best interests are not assuaged by the treaty’s statement that it does not cover unaccompanied children and that the UK Government will not seek to relocate them, as the Minister reminded us on Wednesday.

The treaty does cover accompanied children, which brings me to Amendment 54. Amendment 54 would require consultation with the Independent Family Returns Panel on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and families due to be removed to Rwanda. Veterans of the Illegal Migration Bill might recall that it disapplied the existing duty, introduced in 2014, to consult the panel with regard to families covered by what is now the Act. The purpose of the panel is to provide advice on the welfare and safeguarding aspects of removal arrangements for families of children facing removal, with particular regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children in the family. Importantly, it states that its role includes ensuring that the best interests of children are considered. The Children’s Commissioner has described this role as vital, and she has asked how the Government will ensure that there is appropriate scrutiny of the plans for the removal of a child. Who will consider their best interests?

While it is difficult to see how it could be in any child’s best interests to be sent with their family to a country over 4,000 miles away with which they have no connection, this amendment would at least allow for independent consideration to be given to the welfare and best interests of specific children.

One fear expressed by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium is that removal to Rwanda of accompanied children could have a devastating effect on their mental and physical health, with implications also for their future development. Yet according to the BMA, Rwanda faces a critical shortage of skilled health workers. How can the Government be sure that the complex mental and physical health needs of child asylum seekers will be met, especially as those needs are likely to be intensified by the process of removal on top of what they have gone through to get to the UK in the first place?

Amendment 54 is a very modest amendment, which would do no more than put back in place safeguards introduced by the Conservatives in 2014. These safeguards are needed more than ever, so I hope that the Minister might be willing to concede it.

I turn to Amendment 55, which is about unaccompanied children. The amendment aims to ensure due process by disapplying the provision of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 which would enable the removal of an individual to Rwanda before a court or tribunal can consider whether they are under the age of 18 and which would limit any judicial review to a point of law rather than consideration of whether the decision was wrong as a matter of fact. The amendment would serve to avoid a situation in which an unaccompanied child is erroneously relocated to Rwanda.

As I have acknowledged, the treaty states that it does not cover unaccompanied children, but it goes on to make it clear that the UK Government would have to deem them to be under the age of 18 to remove the possibility of their relocation to Rwanda. It continues:

“Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11 of this Agreement”.

In other words, it is tacitly acknowledged that the UK Government might send a child to Rwanda on the grounds that they deem them, wrongly, to be an adult. Should the child challenge the decision, they may have to continue to do so from Rwanda and only on narrow grounds for judicial review.

There are a number of problems with this. First, and most fundamentally, is the high likelihood of the age assessment being wrong. Just last month, a report from the Refugee Council, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network catalogued the existing evidence in the absence of reliable data from the Home Office. Over an 18-month period from January 2022 to June 2023, more than 1,300 children were wrongly assessed to be adults by the Home Office. The organisation found children who had been assessed as adults living in an adult setting, including shared accommodation with an unrelated adult. I do not need to spell out the safeguarding implications, an issue which I know is of great concern to the Children’s Commissioner.

I have a statement from the Children’s Commissioner, who says that she is

“deeply concerned about children who are wrongly age assessed and the potential removal/or a threat of removal for these age disputed children. This is even more concerning in the context of the potential of children being sent to Rwanda and the risks that could pose. We know that we are not good enough at age assessment and I have seen shocking examples of those who are wrongly assessed being sent to adult prisons for entering the UK illegally. My concern is that the use of so-called scientific methods will only make this worse. We need to support these children to integrate in their new home and community and not face another huge disruption through removal”.

During the debate on the treaty and at Second Reading, the Minister sought to reassure us about the safeguards to prevent the wrongful treatment of children as adults occurring. He said that:

“The Home Office will treat an individual claiming to be a child as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two officers—one of at least chief immigration officer grade or equivalent—have separately determined that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are ‘significantly over 18 years’ of age”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. 1097.]

That sounds reassuring, but according to the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium it is precisely this practice, with two officials, that has resulted in hundreds of children being incorrectly assessed as adults. It points out that the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Chief Inspector of Prisons have respectively highlighted the failings of this supposed safeguard. Indeed, the Home Office’s own guidance for the National Age Assessment Board warns that

“physical appearance is a notoriously unreliable basis for assessment of chronological age”

and that

“demeanour can also be notoriously unreliable and by itself constitutes only somewhat fragile material”.

Yet despite the strong evidence of its failings, we are supposed to be reassured by a test that is accepted to be “notoriously unreliable” and “somewhat fragile”.

Secondly, the Minister pointed out that a challenge to an age decision can be made through judicial review, but, as he acknowledged, only once the applicant has been removed and, under the Illegal Migration Act, on narrow grounds only. As was pointed out in written evidence to the International Agreements Committee, even taking account of the provision for video conferencing under the agreement, it is unlikely that such an approach could be said to be in the best interests of the child.

Thirdly, even if such an appeal is successful, we have the unedifying prospect of a child being sent back and forth like an unwanted parcel—again, hardly in their best interests. Prior to the Illegal Migration Act, a Written Answer to me set out clearly that this should not happen under the MEDP. It said:

“No one undergoing an age assessment, or legally challenging the outcome of an assessment, will be relocated until that process is fully considered”.

Surely, if that was the right thing to do then, it is the right thing to do now, and Amendment 56 would simply take us back to the status quo ante.

I shall finish with a case study from the report I mentioned. Ahmed was a 17 year-old Afghan who arrived on a small boat last June, having been rescued following a frightening voyage. He had photographs on his phone of documents proving his age, but he was not permitted to show them to immigration officers. He was treated as an adult, spent two days at Manston sleeping on the floor in a tent, and ended up in a London hotel, where he had to share a room with an unrelated adult male. He experienced acute distress and discomfort and felt that no one was listening to him. He took himself to a police station and finally, with the help of Humans for Rights Network, was visited by social services and was accepted by them as a child. Under the Bill, Ahmed might have ended up in Rwanda without a civil society organisation to help him. We must try to prevent that happening, so I hope the Minister will seriously consider this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, and I wish to make only a very few short points in relation to Amendments 54 and 55, to which I have added my name. I apologise that I could not be here for the two previous days in Committee, due to prior commitments.

Once again, we are considering the age-old issue of age assessment of young asylum seekers. I will not rehearse the many arguments about the validity of such age assessments using so-called scientific means or, indeed, any other means; I have spoken in this House on many occasions on this very subject. Now, the consequences of these age assessments may be very much worse than hitherto: as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, rightly said, you may be sent to Rwanda, and you might even be sent back and forth like an unwanted parcel. This is really serious: time and time again, we have seen unaccompanied children incorrectly assessed by the Home Office as adults on their arrival in the UK and treated as if they were over 18, only for them to be determined to be children after further assessment.

In addition to the evidence the noble Baroness has just given us from various organisations that have found age assessments to be wrong, we have evidence from local authorities’ children’s services—and noble Lords might think that they would know. They reveal that in the first six months of 2023 alone, 485 children were wrongly assessed by the Home Office as adults. Under the Bill, those 485 children, as well as all the others cited by the noble Baroness, would face removal to Rwanda. Furthermore, should those children seek to challenge the incorrect assessment, Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act provides that the Home Secretary can still make arrangements to remove them to Rwanda, as we have heard, while the UK courts and tribunals are considering the challenge of the age assessment. There is a real risk, given the numbers we already know about, that children arriving alone in the UK in search of safety will mistakenly be sent to Rwanda before they can access justice. That is truly shocking.

We also know that mistakes are made; we have the evidence. The Rwanda treaty itself acknowledges that, so lone children may well in fact be facing the nightmare of being removed alone to Rwanda. The very article, already cited, that sets out that unaccompanied children will not be removed provides that any unaccompanied individual who is removed to Rwanda and subsequently found by a UK court to be under 18 years of age is to be returned to the UK: the parcel that goes back and forward and seems to be somewhat unwanted. So, we have to take this seriously and allow the courts and tribunals to take their time over the assessment, and not allow these children to be removed to Rwanda before a determination is made.

Of course, once these children have been removed to Rwanda, it is another problem to make sure they are even identified as having questions as to their actual age. Their only hope is that their plight might be acknowledged, their challenge quickly progressed through the UK courts while they remain in Rwanda, and the mistake reversed. This is all at devastating risk to their physical and mental well-being; and of course, we already heard in considering the previous group of amendments that there is some question whether systems are in place in Rwanda that might help these young people, who may be so very considerably at risk. A child’s best interests cannot be upheld when they are located more than 4,000 miles away from the proceedings to determine their age, with little, if any, access to legal representation and no support from services dedicated to children. We have not heard anything about services in Rwanda that might be dedicated to looking after any of these young people.

The proposed amendment provides for a legal challenge against an age assessment, to be completed before a young person is removed to Rwanda, to ensure that no unaccompanied child wrongly determined to be an adult by the Home Office is removed and that the UK upholds its commitment to give due weight to the best interests of the child. We have national and international commitments to do just that. It is, indeed, the best that we can do.

My Lords, I too support Amendments 54 and 55, to which I have added my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us the opportunity to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in this debate. For we should never forget that both accompanied and unaccompanied children, and those who may well be found to be children, are in the scope of the Bill, which the Government cannot confirm is compatible with convention rights under the ECHR. I spoke earlier in Committee on the universality of human rights, but to remove children from their reach is simply unforgivable. For this reason, I repeat the noble Baroness’s request that a children’s rights impact assessment be published as a matter of urgency.

I believe strongly that changes are needed to Clause 4 if we are to ensure that the welfare and best interests of children are protected. For safeguarding is not a discretionary requirement, and the UK is legally obliged to protect and promote the interests of the child. The fundamental issue that Amendment 55 seeks to address is that the treaty itself excludes unaccompanied children from the partnership agreement, while acknowledging that they may be sent to Rwanda erroneously. This contradiction means that the treaty, in a section entitled “Part 3—General”, provides only vague information about Rwanda’s plans to safeguard children, a group surely more vulnerable than any other we could possibly imagine.

It is not my place to doubt the sincerity of the Rwandan authorities’ commitment to providing child-suitable safeguards, but good intent is no basis for safeguarding, and sending children before the treaty is fully implemented would be a dereliction of our duty to them. This, combined with leaving a potential child with no suspensive legal redress against their removal, is simply unconscionable. If the treaty has identified the risk of sending a child to Rwanda in error, why has no mitigation been put in place? Has it been decided that the risk is tolerable, regardless of all the anguish and trauma it would cause to a child? Can the Minister assure us that all children would be returned in these circumstances? Although it is in the treaty, it is not a legal obligation in the Bill.

The Home Office’s own figures, although incomplete—they do not include the number of children moved into an adult setting—indicate that, last year, 60% of all resolved age dispute cases found the young asylum seeker to be a child. This point was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but I will emphasise it because of its importance. There are 2,219 children without a parent or guardian, who, if the Bill had been in operation, may have been eligible for removal to Rwanda if a full assessment had not been completed. I therefore ask the Minister: what assessment has been undertaken to evaluate the impact of removing a potential child from the UK’s child support services, and then from the UK entirely, before awaiting the conclusion of all outstanding age assessment challenges?

Age assessments are complex—again, we have already heard this—and therefore it is understandable that visual age assessments by immigration officers can lead to inaccurate judgments. I will not repeat the quote from the Home Office’s guidance on this. Given that errors are an inherent part of the age-verification process, can the Minister reassure us that, at the very least, when an individual’s age is disputed, they will not be subject to removal before having met with a social worker and child protection team for a more comprehensive age assessment?

Under the Bill, the repercussions of inaccurate age assessments are disastrous. Even if a child were to be returned to the UK after they were verified to be a minor, the impact would be devastating for their physical and mental well-being, and it would likely leave an imprint on them for the remainder of their life. The amendment proposed does not hinder the Government’s objective to begin the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda, but it ensures that there has been a definitive determination of a person’s age before their removal. It supports the Government in meeting the treaty commitment.

The determination that a young person may be a child, and therefore could deserve all the rights of a child, should and must be reason enough to prevent their removal. A child is a child, regardless of whether they remain with their family or not. Amendment 54 simply seeks to maintain a current safeguard when a child is being considered for removal, which requires the Home Secretary to consult with the Independent Family Returns Panel to ensure that their safeguarding needs are appropriately met. Section 14 of the Illegal Migration Act, which is not yet in effect, disapplied this safeguard.

I do not believe that children seeking safety in the UK should face removal to Rwanda. But, at the absolute minimum, the process should ensure that their welfare and best interests are considered, and maintaining a role for the panel would help facilitate this. If the Government proceed to send minors to Rwanda without appropriate safeguards, vulnerable children will undoubtedly face an intolerable level of emotional distress. I therefore implore the Government to give the utmost consideration to these reasonable and principled amendments.

My Lords, I strongly back the amendment of my noble friend Lady Lister, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. I am unclear at the moment about whether the Government are saying that they will do this anyway, even though it is not in the Bill, on the basis that there appears to be a commitment on the part of the Government not to deport any unaccompanied child to Rwanda. Despite the exclusion of anybody, including the Home Secretary, saying Rwanda is not safe, that necessarily involves the Government having a process in mind for how they will deal with any unaccompanied person who comes to this country and says that they are under 18. Can the noble Lord set out for the Committee the process that will be applied and the basis for dealing with an unaccompanied minor saying that an age assessment is wrong and that he or she is under 18? Will there be a right to go to a tribunal or any other court to contest that? If there is not some such process, I am not clear how the Home Secretary can be sure he will comply with his assurance that he will not be deporting unaccompanied minors to Rwanda.

My Lords, I support Amendment 55, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Brinton. I also support Amendments 78 and 79, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, supported by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. These amendments relate to children who arrive in the UK alone, unaccompanied by any adult.

Lone children have no one. They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and their welfare and best interests should be safeguarded. I am glad to see that it is not the intention of the Government of this country or of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for this scheme to cover unaccompanied children. Article 3 of the Rwanda treaty is clear, stating:

“The Agreement does not cover unaccompanied children”.

Therefore, on my reading, this amendment helps safeguard that intention while upholding the best interests of such children.

If the agreement with Rwanda does not cover unaccompanied children, it seems to me common sense that the United Kingdom should make sure that it is not sending unaccompanied children to Rwanda. The constitutionally proper way for us to be sure of that is after an assessment that an individual is an adult, to allow our courts and tribunals to have an opportunity to fully consider whether an individual is an unaccompanied child, as they claim to be, before the individual is removed.

The safeguard this amendment seeks to maintain and restore is nothing more than due process. I am certain that your Lordships’ House does not wish to see children forcibly sent to Rwanda on the mistaken belief that they are adults, or to allow them to be wrongly treated as adults in Rwanda, potentially placed in accommodation that is unsafe and unsuitable for them, only to have our courts subsequently confirm they are children and order that they be brought back to the UK.

It appears to me that the Government are conscious that mistakes may happen, because Article 3 of the Rwanda treaty also states:

“Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11 of this Agreement”.

That is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it is not in the best interests of the children concerned.

That is not only my view but the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which stated last year that Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 was

“clearly not in the best interests of any child and is likely to breach the child’s rights under Articles 6, 8, and 13 of the ECHR”.

Those rights are to a fair trial, to respect for private and family life and to an effective remedy.

While the debate on Section 57 last year related to age assessments for removal to a vast range of countries under the Illegal Migration Act, your Lordships’ House is now considering removal to Rwanda under the conditions to be put in place by this Bill. Amendment 55 would disapply Section 57 in relation to this Bill only and Amendments 78 and 79 would remove unaccompanied children from the remit of this Bill altogether. All three go to the heart of the matter. Surely, flights returning traumatised children to the UK from Rwanda are not an image that the UK Government, the Rwandan Government or the public wish to see. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence to suggest that we would see such images if this Bill were to pass unamended and come into effect.

Unaccompanied children are often incorrectly assessed by the Home Office as being adults on their arrival in the UK and treated as over the age of 18, only to be determined to be children after further assessment. As other noble Lords have mentioned, even though two officers must separately determine that an individual’s

“physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age”,

mistakes can happen, and they have. As the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said, evidence from local authorities’ children’s services have revealed that, in the first six months of 2023 alone, 485 children were sent to adult accommodation or detention by the Home Office. These 485 children would have been sent to Rwanda, in error, under this Bill.

I worry that, without a lawyer or support from child protection professionals, when mistakes happen, children may never access justice and be returned to the UK. For these common-sense and humane reasons, I support this amendment, which seeks to remove the possibility that unaccompanied children are sent to Rwanda under this Bill, contrary to their best interests and without being able to access due process on our soil.

My Lords, the purpose of this measure is to deter immigration by unsafe and illegal routes. Your Lordships have mentioned the best interests of the child. Is it in the best interests of the child to be trafficked across the Mediterranean from Libya, their body perhaps being found off the coast by some unfortunate fisherman—I have seen reports of this—whose heart is then broken? Is it in the child’s interests to be trafficked across Italy from Lampedusa to the French border, up through France to Calais and then across the channel?

I too believe in serving the interests of the child and agree with much of what your Lordships have said about the horror of such a journey for youngsters under 18, but I strongly oppose any measure or amendment that would weaken the prospect of the deterrence that unaccompanied children, once they are 18, will be removed to a third country, including Rwanda, if it is safe to do so. For this reason, I strongly oppose this group of amendments.

I do not entirely follow the argument of the noble Baroness. If an individual is trafficked across the Mediterranean and the channel, I do not see how the argument about deterrence applies. Their movement to our shores is involuntary; how would the passing of this Bill deter those who did not choose to come here but were trafficked here? I do not really follow the argument.

This is an important group of amendments, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. When I was a trustee of the Refugee Council, I was struck by the high number of initial age assessments that turned out in the end to be wrong. The noble Baroness gave some statistics on this. What arrangements are we making or have we made for age assessments of those sent to Rwanda? It is very good that we are not planning to send unaccompanied children there, but we will be sending a number of people who, had they been subjected to the age assessment procedures in our country, would have been found to be children, not adults. Therefore, they will have been wrongly sent to Rwanda. The way to remedy that will be to have in Rwanda a system for age assessment analogous to the one we have in this country. I assume that that is the Government’s intention. I hope the Minister will tell us about it.

My Lords, I signed Amendments 54 and 55. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for introducing them. I will not repeat their important comments and scene-setting.

I will also pick up on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, about deterrence. To say that a trafficker or smuggler of a 14 year-old child in north Africa wanting to come across the Mediterranean will be deterred by the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is extraordinary. However, I will not focus on that.

Amendment 54 seeks to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within families who may go to Rwanda. I asked at Second Reading about special educational arrangements for children being sent with family groups to Rwanda, because it is not evident from what we have seen of the accommodation in Rwanda under the treaty that appropriate education is provided. I commented that, while Rwanda thankfully now has a good and fairly widespread primary system, it does not have a secondary system at all. As I have no idea, can the Minister tell us what arrangements will be made for this very small number of children—given that the number of people going to Rwanda will itself be very small—to continue their education, which, I remind your Lordships’ Committee, is their right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will they be living in an environment that is right for family groups and not in the sort of detention arrangements we have in the United Kingdom? Does he know what the living arrangements will be for this small number of family groups?

I will spend the rest of my time talking about Amendment 55 and all the issues, which have been laid out, around a child deemed to have been an adult in the UK. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I tabled regret amendments in November to an SI that arose from the Illegal Migration Act on the use of age assessment techniques, and I continue to have great concerns about the medical use of those assessments. But it is not just that—it is also visual assessments and, frankly, guesswork by the people assessing them.

The report she referred to, Forced Adulthood, spoke very clearly about the fact that some age assessments that happen as young people arrive in our country may take 10 minutes, which also includes discussions about how old they say they are. Forced Adulthood says that, quite often, the wrong interpreters have been provided for the young people; we do not even know if they are getting a proper and effective translation that would support them.

A couple of references have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, to support for young people going through the process. It was not at all clear from the SIs or the debates on the Illegal Migration Act that the sort of protection you would expect for somebody who is, or claims to be, a child—which we see in many other European countries that carry out this age assessment—would be provided for by the Bill or the SIs we covered on 27 November last year. I am very happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, in his place, as we frequently had this debate.

Can the Minister say what age assessments are being used now, given that the SIs have come into force? Do they include the medical assessments that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to? If so, are they happening under the terms the noble Lord, Lord Murray, outlined at the Dispatch Box? These included that the Home Office would ensure that the individual has the capacity to fully understand the process and is communicated with in a child-friendly and clear way, and that interpreters would be available to assist with understanding information. I could go on. The key phrase was that it would be Merton-compliant.

Young people who say that they are children are now arriving in this country; the Government may disagree with them. Therefore, can the Minister confirm that those processes are now under way? Do the children have—as we fought for but did not win—independent representatives to support them in the process to help them with appeals? For all the other reasons that all noble Lords have spoken about in the debate, once a child arrives in Rwanda, they will find it extremely hard to appeal as—given the process—they are deemed to be an adult upon arrival. This amendment in particular is important because there may be a few who are able to articulate that and are finally believed, but who fell through the net.

There are consequences of getting it wrong. The Forced Adulthood report, which was published in January and refers to figures for last year but builds on figures from previous years, talks about local authorities’ concerns when they have received those deemed to be adults into hotels, but it quickly becomes clear that they are actually children. The consequences of them perhaps being abused and trafficking themselves from those hotels are unconscionable. We must do everything we can to make sure that everyone who is, or believes they are, aged 18 or under gets the support they require—including the transitional support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was looking for in his Amendment 46.

I hope the Minister will be able to give us some detail that might provide reassurance on that. Even with that, however, we need a clear pathway back for anyone who has been misdiagnosed as an adult and gets to Rwanda, where it becomes apparent that they are a child. Perhaps the Minister can outline exactly how that will happen.

My Lords, I shall be brief but I will widen my remarks beyond just children. The Committee has made a very thorough examination of the Bill. I admire the quality of contributions from our legal colleagues. The debate has, however, been rather one-sided. The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is the only person who has touched on the wider issues, which is what the debate is about.

We are not dealing with saints. We are dealing with people entering our country illegally and on a considerable scale. This raises policy issues which are not part of this debate but are very important. Just the backlog of claimants, as I have mentioned, is enough to fill Wembley Stadium. Roughly 80% of the claimants are males aged between 18 and 40. I accept, of course, that children need special treatment, but most of them are young men and virtually all have destroyed their documents, and all have come from a country where they were already safe, mainly France or Belgium.

I apologise for not being able to rise to intervene. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

The Government have claimed that in almost half the age-disputed cases, the people in question were found to be adults. This figure, however, fails to include the many hundreds of children deemed to be adults by the Home Office who were subsequently referred to local authorities and then found to be children. It is children we are talking about in this group of amendments.

I understand that but I said at the beginning of my speech that I was going to range more widely. There are difficulties concerning children, but the point of the Bill is deterrence. If the Government can deter people from coming here, they are saving themselves a lot of difficulties. If the Government can deter people from sending their children here, often alone, they can avoid the difficulties the noble Baroness and her colleagues have so rightly described.

I have just one other point to make. The British public are very angry indeed. Some 68% want to see effective action; I sympathise with them and would like to find a way to deal with the problem. The Bill clearly has some serious difficulties and it has been strongly attacked in this House without much attention given to the real issue facing the Government—and the next Government—of how to deal with the inflow and the state of public opinion.

In reviewing where we have got to, I have looked at the amendments being discussed. There are at least nine that would render the Government’s policy completely ineffective; they would torpedo it and, therefore, later in this process, will have to be addressed. I am referring to Amendments 1C, 8, 20, 36, 39, 48, 57, 81 and 90. Most of those would pretty much destroy the Government’s policy.

I conclude with a quotation from the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who wrote in connection with a paper produced by the CPS:

“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system. And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration”.

I recognise that that is a different note and I am quoting the former Home Secretary, but a lot of people outside this Chamber would agree with that.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green. For my part, I agree with his assessment. However, it is one of the unfortunate features of the area that our more generous arrangements for handling unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are open to abuse and are abused. We needed to take steps to stop that. That is why, in the Illegal Migration Act, we put into force Sections 57 and 58. In the Nationality and Borders Act, authorisation was given for the utilisation of scientific methods of age assessment, all of which aim to prevent adults abusing our special arrangements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

All these amendments, in particular Amendment 55, will not have the objective that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, sought to persuade the Committee. She says in her Member’s explanatory statement that the amendment

“avoids a situation in which an unaccompanied child is erroneously relocated to the Republic of Rwanda”.

That is simply not the case. If one looks at the Illegal Migration Act, one will see that Section 57(1) makes it clear that it applies only if the

“relevant authority decides the age of a person … who meets the four conditions in section 2”—

ie, that they are an illegal entrant—and determines their age in accordance with Sections 50 and 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act, using scientific methods. The effect of the provision is to avoid the hazard that there will be repeated challenges which would be suspensive of removal. It does not take away someone’s opportunity to challenge completely the finding that they are, in fact, an adult. It simply says that they have to do that from Rwanda, and there is nothing wrong with that. For those reasons, I oppose these amendments.

My Lords, this group has been about children. We spoke at length during the passage of the then Illegal Migration Bill about the danger posed to children by the changes in that legislation. To open, I have a couple of questions for the Government. Can the Government give an update on the number of children who have previously been identified as adults but have later been identified as children? How many of them would have been on the list to be moved to Rwanda had the scheme been working?

It is clear that the asylum system is failing, and failing vulnerable children. Beyond the risk of children being sent to Rwanda before their age has been identified, there have been ongoing reports about missing children, children exposed to assault, and children waiting potentially years for a decision on their protections claims. Given this, how can we trust the Government to make the correct decisions for children when it comes to Rwanda?

My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said that it was cruel for children who come in under the age of 18 and live here for a number of years to be sent to Rwanda when they get to 18. She rightly said that this provides an incentive for children to disappear when they know that birth date is arriving. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, talked about the age-old issue of age assessment. I know that very well because, as a youth magistrate, one of the first bits of training I did was on age assessment. Despite all the processes which are rightly in place, sometimes you are bounced into making those decisions, both as an adult magistrate and as a youth magistrate. I am very conscious of the difficulty in making those decisions. I think it was last week that somebody referred to Luke Littler, the darts player, and how he does not look like a 16 year-old boy.

All noble Lords have set out the case very well, and I will not go over the same points that they have raised. I will raise a different point, which I have raised in previous debates. This arises out of a trip with my noble friend Lord Coaker to RAF Manston about a year ago, facilitated by the noble Lord, Lord Murray. At that trip, it became evident to me from talking to the officials there that there is a reasonably large cohort of young people who identify as adults. I have debated this with the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe—before, and he has written me a letter about it. They identify as adults because they want to work when they get here. They may well have been working in their own countries since they were about 14 years old. They identify as adults, they may look like adults, and they move into an economy—maybe an underground economy—because they want to work. It seems to me that by having the provisions within the Bill, they will have no incentive to identify as an adult. That will be taken away from them. They would prefer to identify as a youth. Have the Government made any assessment of the increase in people likely to identify as youths when they are coming irregularly into the country? I suspect it is not an insignificant figure and that it is actually quite a large figure.

Nevertheless, this is a very important group of amendments, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which, as we have heard, brings us on to the relocation of unaccompanied children and the subject of age assessments.

Amendment 54 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would reinstate the statutory duty to consult the independent family returns panel in circumstances where we would seek to remove families with children under 18, who fall within the remit of the Illegal Migration Act, to the Republic of Rwanda. This amendment would effectively undo Parliament’s previously agreed position in relation to the removal of families to Rwanda, taking them out of line with those being removed to any other destination, either a safe third country or their home country where it is safe to do so.

I reassure noble Lords that the welfare of a family will continue to be at the forefront of decisions to detain and remove them, regardless of the proposed destination, and we remain in open dialogue with the independent family returns panel about the role that it will have in the removal of families under the Illegal Migration Act.

The intended effect of Amendment 55 is not clear, as the Bill is an additional legislative provision that will apply to removals under the 2023 Act. However, I consider that the amendment is intended to mean that when a decision is made to remove someone under the 2023 Act to Rwanda, Section 57 of the 2023 Act will not apply if there is a decision on age.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for Amendment 76, which inserts a new clause on age assessments. The intended effect of this amendment is that when a decision is made to relocate someone to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, Section 57 of that Act will not apply if there is an outstanding decision on age. It also seeks to prevent the removal of an age-disputed person from the UK to Rwanda if they are awaiting an age assessment decision under Sections 50 or 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 or have received a negative decision under these sections and are awaiting a final determination of either an appeal under Section 54 of the 2022 Act or a judicial review application.

It is important that the Government take steps to deter adults from claiming to be children, and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age assessment decisions preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. Assessing age is inherently difficult, as all noble Lords have noted. However, it is crucial that we disincentivise adults from knowingly misrepresenting themselves as children. Receiving care and services reserved for children also incurs costs and reduces accessibility of these services for genuine children who need them.

Accordingly, Section 57(2) of the 2023 Act disapplies the yet to be commenced right of appeal for age assessments that was established in Section 54 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, for those who meet the four conditions in Section 2 of the 2023 Act. Instead, under Section 57(4) of the 2023 Act, those wishing to challenge a decision on age will be able to do so through judicial review, which will not suspend removal and can continue from outside the UK after they have been removed.

Section 57(5) of the 2023 Act also provides the basis on which a court can consider a decision relating to a person’s age in judicial review proceedings for those who meet the four conditions in Section 2 of the 2023 Act. It provides that a court can grant relief only on the basis that it was wrong in law and must not on the basis that it was wrong as a matter of fact, distinguishing from the position of the Supreme Court in the 2009 judgment in R (A) v Croydon London Borough Council, UKSC 8. The intention is to ensure that the court cannot make its own determination on age, which should properly be reserved for those qualified and trained to assess age, but instead consider a decision on age only on conventional judicial review principles.

In the scenario whereby the Home Office has doubts over a person’s age, they would not be subject to the duty to remove until such time as a final decision on age has been made by the relevant authority referred to in Section 57(6) of the 2023 Act. We consider that those provisions are entirely necessary to safeguard genuine children and guard against those who seek to game the system by purporting to be adults. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me whether we have looked into the opposite. The honest answer is that I do not know, but I will find out and come back to him if we make any assessment of that.

To strengthen age assessments further, the introduction of scientific age assessments is a measure to improve our age assessment system by providing additional biological evidence to aid better-informed and more thorough decisions on age. Scientific age assessment will be one piece of evidence used alongside the existing Merton-compliant age assessment process, which is a holistic, social worker-led assessment. Importantly, the UK is one of very few European countries that does not currently employ scientific methods of age assessment. X-rays and MRIs of various body parts will be—

When I spoke earlier, I asked whether the scientific age assessment had been introduced. The Minister has just referred to other European countries. I said that all those European countries gave the child an independent representative to work with them and to help and support them. Is that happening for children going through this process in the UK?

Yes. Basically, all individuals will also have access to interpreters. There will be appropriate adults to assist the young person with understanding, as well as providing support with communications. As I said, the interpretation services—

I am very sorry, but the language here is important. An appropriate adult need not necessarily be independent of the process that is assessing them. When we debated this during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, it was made clear to us that that person would not be independent of the process. Is that person independent or, in effect, employed by the Home Office?

My Lords, this is a new and obviously complex process, and the full plans for integrating scientific age assessment into the current process are being designed. The statutory instrument that is now in place specifies X-rays, MRIs and so on as scientific methods—they are the building blocks. I will have to come back to the noble Baroness on the question of who is also in the room with the individuals, because I am not 100% sure of the answer.

As has been discussed many times during the course of this Bill and various others, these methods have been recommended by the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee.

I will respond to the comments made last week by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, on the incidence of potential children being assessed by the Home Office as adults, which was highlighted in a Guardian article and the published January report that had input from various children’s rights NGOs. According to the assessing age guidance details in the Home Office’s age assessment policy for immigration purposes, an individual claiming to be a child will be treated as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two Home Office members of staff independently determine that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are significantly over 18 years of age. The lawfulness of that process was endorsed by the Supreme Court in the case of R (on the application of BF (Eritrea)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] UKSC 38.

Where doubts remain and an individual cannot be assessed to be significantly over 18, they will be treated as a child for immigration purposes and referred to a local authority for further consideration of their age, usually in the form of a Merton-compliant age assessment. That typically involves two qualified social workers undertaking a series of interviews with the young person, taking into account any other information relevant to their age. “Merton compliant” refers to holistic, social worker-led assessments adhering to principles set out by the courts in several court judgments dating back to 2003.

I apologise for intervening again, but the Minister referred to the AESAC’s report, which is now being implemented. I will not repeat the detail, but in five different paragraphs it asked questions of the Home Office that it said needed to be further looked at before it could give a clean bill of health. Has that now happened? I will write to the Minister with the references in Hansard to our debate on that, which was on 27 November. Does he know whether the AESAC’s concerns about some of the science have now been answered? They had not when we discussed it on 27 November.

My Lords, as I pointed out in answer to the previous intervention, the system is still being designed, so I do not know the precise answer to that.

I am sorry if that upsets the noble Baroness, but I do not know the precise answer. I will find out more and write.

I am very sorry for intervening and grateful to the Minister for giving way. We are now back to the same sort of the debate that we had on the previous group, where we are just going round in circles, being told that it is all being developed and that it will all be fine in the future. Yet we are being asked to agree to legislation without protection for children. That is the real issue: it does not provide protection for children.

My Lords, the Government fundamentally disagree with that; we do provide protection for children. As I said, I will come back to the noble Baroness’s specific points. Any decision—

I apologise for also intervening. I was very interested in much of the answer that the Minister gave, and I am genuinely grateful to him for doing his best on this. He said that a judicial review could be taken against the Government where somebody asserts that he or she is under 18, but they have deemed him or her to be over 18. That can be challenged by a judicial review. So, presumably, the courts could stay the deportation until the conclusion of the judicial review. Is that right?

I am very interested in that answer, too. Surely that is not right. If a judicial review is possible, it is a matter for the court to decide, in its discretion, whether it should give interim relief pending the conclusion of the judicial review. For example, if it took the view that the person who brings the judicial review would be harmed by being sent to Rwanda before a conclusion of the judicial review, the court would have the power to stay it pending the hearing of the judicial review. There is nothing that I see in this Bill that would prevent that. If there is, could the Minister refer me to it?

I have to respect the noble and learned Lord’s point of view on that; I am afraid that I am not as well up on the court process as perhaps I should be. I will have to come back to him, if he will allow me to do so.

My noble friend the Minister might want to make reference to the powers that this Parliament has already passed in Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act, which provide for those judicial reviews to be conducted abroad once the section comes into force.

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Murray, referred to this in his contribution, he used the term “simply”. He said that it would simply have to be dealt with by the young person in Rwanda. Does the Minister agree that “simply” is an appropriate word to use in this context?

I am not in a position to agree or disagree, because I do not know how the judicial review process take place; I am afraid that I am not a lawyer.

Any decision on age made by the Home Office for immigration purposes is not binding on the civil or criminal courts. Where an individual is charged with a criminal offence and the presiding judge doubts whether the individual is a child, the court can take a decision on the age of an individual before them based on the available evidence or request that a Merton-compliant age assessment be undertaken.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked me a consider number of questions on safeguarding, so I will go into some detail on the safeguarding arrangements. They are set out in detail in the standard operating procedure on identifying and safeguarding vulnerability, dated May 2023. It states 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 that a person is vulnerable. The standard operating procedure sets 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 handle safeguarding referrals competently. 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. Where appropriate, the protection team may refer vulnerable individuals for external support, which may include medical and/or psychosocial support, or support within their accommodation; and, where possible, that should be provided with the informed consent of the individual.

Perhaps the Minister can clarify this since he is answering my questions. Are we talking about here or Rwanda? Does Rwanda have those kinds of safeguarding systems?

My Lords, as we discussed in previous groupings, with any of these decisions and any of the evaluations that take place in this country, all the relevant information will be shared with Rwanda. I think that answers the noble Baroness’s question.

I am sorry, it does not. I raised a concern, asking a specific question: how can the Government be sure that the complex mental and physical health needs of child asylum seekers will be met in Rwanda, especially as those needs are likely to be intensified by the process of removal on top of what they have gone through to get to the UK? You can send all the information you like from here to Rwanda, but—this is not a criticism of Rwanda but being realistic—what kind of support does it have for traumatised children?

My Lords, I cannot give details on the very specific question about traumatised children but I will find out, and again, I will come back to the noble Baroness.

Amendments 78 and 79, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, seek to prevent the relocation of unaccompanied children aged under 18 from the UK to the Republic of Rwanda. The Government consider these amendments unnecessary. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be aware that Article 3 of the UK-Rwanda treaty makes specific reference to unaccompanied children not being included in the treaty and that the UK Government will not seek to relocate unaccompanied children under 18 to Rwanda.

Amendments 46 and 56, also tabled by the noble Lord, seek to ensure that a person previously recognised as an unaccompanied child has the ability to challenge their removal to Rwanda when they cease to be an unaccompanied child at 18, on the basis that removal would be contrary to their rights under the ECHR. Our asylum system is under increasing pressure from illegal migration and the Government must take action to undercut the routes smuggling gangs are exploiting by facilitating children’s dangerous and illegal entry to the United Kingdom, including via such dangerous routes as small boats. These amendments would increase the incentive for adults to claim to be children and would encourage people smugglers to pivot and focus on bringing over more unaccompanied children via these dangerous journeys. The effect would be to put more young lives at risk and split up more families.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked a number of questions about the educational opportunities that will be available under the arrangements with Rwanda. I refer the noble Baroness to paragraph 5 on page 3 of the Second Reading letter that I wrote, which details some of those. However, education is also dealt with in paragraph 8 in Annex A to the treaty, and I can go through some of that if it would be helpful. It is headlined “Quality education”, and 8.1 says:

“To support successful integration (and in accordance with the Refugee Convention) … each Relocated Individual shall have access to quality education and training at the following stages (as relevant to their age and needs) that is at least of the standard that is accorded to Rwandan nationals: … early childhood … primary education … catch up programmes and accelerated learning, that is, short-term transitional education programmes providing children with the opportunity to learn content that they may have missed due to disruption to their education or their having never had access to education … secondary education … tertiary education … and … vocational training”.

In addition:

“Rwanda shall recognise foreign school certificates, diplomas and degrees as provided for by MINEDUC regulations”.

I think I also referred in an earlier group to the initial investment of £120 million in 2022 as part of the economic transformation and integration fund, which was created as part of the MEDP. I said then, and I will reiterate for the record now, that the ETIF is for the economic growth and development of Rwanda, and investment has been focused in areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and job creation.

The Government recognise the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children who enter the UK by unsafe and illegal routes. It is for this reason that unaccompanied children are not considered for third-country inadmissibility action under the current guidance. Furthermore, the duty to remove in the Illegal Migration Act does not require the Secretary of State to make removal arrangements for unaccompanied children until they turn 18, at which point they will become liable for removal as an adult, either to their home country if safe to do so, or to a safe third country.

In answer to this debate more generally, it seems self-evident—I think my noble friends Lady Lawlor and Lord Murray, and the noble Lord, Lord Green, pointed this out—that a child’s best interests are best served by claiming asylum in the first safe country that they reach. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and other noble Lords not to press theirs.

My Lords, the Minister did not deal with the question—perhaps understandably—about how this House, which has been constituted as a court by the Government, will get a chance to keep under review the question of whether Rwanda is safe. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, said it was coming in a later amendment; it has not come in any of the amendments so far. I simply raise it now to ask the Minister: when is it coming? We will end Committee only an hour or two after dinner, so could he give an indication when we might hear the answer to that question, which has been promised on a number of occasions by the Front Bench?

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken. I hope those who spoke in support of the amendment will forgive me if I do not spell out what they said, but they strengthened the case remarkably, helping to make a very strong case. I am conscious that other noble Lords want to get on with the dinner-break business so I will be as quick as possible.

I wanted to say something in response to the noble Lords who spoke against the amendment, particularly around the point about deterrence, which a number of noble Lords raised, including the Minister. I just remind them about the impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Act, which said:

“The academic consensus”—

I speak as an academic—

“is that there is little to no evidence suggesting changes in a destination country’s policies have an impact on deterring people from … travelling without valid permission, whether in search of refuge or for other reasons”.

I am sorry, but I do not think that all those arguments about deterrence are very compelling.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, seemed to use what was supposed to be our opportunity to focus on the best interests of children to make a much more general point about a whole list of amendments that are not in this group at all—and I am not sure that that is valid in Committee procedure. He did not make convincing points about children as such. However, he made the point about the British public being very angry. Has anyone asked the British public what they think about children being wrongly assessed as adults and then being put in adult accommodation? I suspect they would not be very happy about that. So I do not see the relevance of the more general point—the noble Lord is trying to get up; perhaps he has some evidence about that.

The noble Baroness is probably right that the public are not focused on children, still less on the precise means by which they are assessed. However, they are concerned about large-scale, illegal immigration into Britain, which is what I was referring to.

I remind noble Lords that it is illegal only because we made it illegal in the legislation that previously went through this House. There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum; there is an international right to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, questioned the explanatory statement. This has been drafted by a lawyer for me; I will not go into all the legal stuff now. The Minister rattled through section this and section that, and I am afraid I could not even keep up with it, so I will not try to address that; obviously, I will read what he said afterwards. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, said that there is nothing wrong with sending children to Rwanda and expecting them to challenge a decision from there. There is everything wrong with it. Think about it.

There is nothing wrong with sending adults, I said rhetorically, because that is the effect of Section 57. Those who are found to be adults may be sent, and if they wish to challenge that finding, they can do that from Rwanda.

We are talking about children who have been wrongly assessed. I do not think it is reasonable to expect them to challenge a decision. Other noble Lords made points on this: the sort of legal support they will get there; they will have to do it through video; and then, if they are lucky, they will be sent back.

The Minister simply repeated what we said about two separate senior immigration officers assessing people visually, but he did not engage with the arguments that we put as to why that is inadequate. I sometimes feel as though we take note of the arguments that have been put, look at them and come up with evidence that suggests that they are not strong arguments, only for those arguments to be put all over again. There is no real attempt to engage with what we have said. I am sure that we will come back to this. A number of questions have either not been answered adequately or not been answered at all, so I look forward to the Minister’s letter. I hope that we will get that letter before Report, because there are important questions that need to be answered.

I finish with the image raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for whose support I am grateful. Do the Government really want us to see images of traumatised children on planes, because we can be sure that when that first plane goes to Rwanda there will be a lot of TV cameras there? Does the Minister really want us to see that image of traumatised children either being sent to Rwanda or being sent back again like parcels, as I said, because they have managed somehow to be assessed as the children that they are? I do not think so.

I will leave it there for now, although I do not think that my noble friend Lord Dubs will be satisfied with the responses that we have had. We will certainly come back at Report with something around children and probably age assessment, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 46 withdrawn.

Amendments 47 to 56 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.37 pm.