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Lords Chamber

Volume 836: debated on Monday 19 February 2024

House of Lords

Monday 19 February 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

My Lords, I call the first Oral Question. The clocks are not working, but we will ensure that we stay faithful to the 10-minute limits.

Conventional Weapon Stocks: Expenditure

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they plan to provide an update on the spending of the £2 billion allocated in the 2023 spending review for replenishing conventional weapon stocks over the next two years.

My Lords, £1.95 billion was allocated in the 2023 Spring Budget to improve resilience and readiness across a range of defence capabilities. This is not just about new investments and new equipment; it will also be used to address long-standing challenges across the defence programme, which will make us better able to respond to new threats. The Ministry of Defence remains fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure the continuation of supply to Ukraine and that all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks are replaced as expeditiously as possible.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer; I am not sure that it contained any information, but it met the basic specification. In my view, the moneys are not being spent on their original requirement. That could be for one of two reasons: first, that the money is gone because it has been spent on budget shortfalls and not on the original objective, or, secondly, that the MoD is not good at purchasing things. Let us take, for instance, the 155 mm shells which are very much desired by Ukraine at the moment. The letter of intent was in November 2022, the contract took nine months to negotiate—to July 2023—and none will be delivered until 2025. Which is it: has the money gone, or is the MoD not good at purchasing things?

My Lords, we have just short of £1 billion out for contract, so it is on the way, and we have invested a further £500 million in industrial capacity. Therefore, the money has not been spent elsewhere in the Budget; it is being spent on what it was originally purposed for. This is not the easiest thing to grasp. Resilience and readiness are all about improving capability through, among other things, updating weapon stocks and munitions and investing in manufacturing to ensure that stockpiles are current and ready to meet defence needs. It is not just about replenishing like for like on capability.

My Lords, has the Minister discovered the underground ostrich room deep in the Ministry of Defence? It churns out complacent ministerial briefs and Answers to Questions telling us that all is well: no procurement black holes, enough ships to meet operational needs, and recruiting and housing improving. Last July, the Commons Defence Committee report said:

“We have discovered a UK procurement system which is highly bureaucratic, overly stratified, far too ponderous, with an inconsistent approach to safety, very poor accountability and a culture which appears institutionally averse to individual responsibility”.

Can the Minister say what improvements and changes, if any, have been made, and whether the MoD really needs to employ 60,000 civilians—which is virtually the same size as our Army?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. There are a few feathers lying around in some of the rooms in the Ministry of Defence because one thing that the disaster in Ukraine has meant is that the speed with which effective procurement needs to be undertaken has really shaken a few things up. There have been occasions where—it has not happened in the past—specification has been compromised for availability. That is a very good indication that things are starting to move.

My Lords, can I take the Minister back to munitions and how we are restocking those supplies? Given the limited lifespan for anything stored, can he say something about the surge capacity for production, in terms of both manufacturing and storage?

My Lords, a lot of orders are outstanding, as I have just said, with an enormous amount coming through in the next 12 months. We are replacing everything that we have gifted to Ukraine as expeditiously as we can. As I think I have described once before, this is a holistic view. We are not just replacing like for like; we are taking advantage of improvements in technology to ensure that we have the correct weapons to meet the threat that defence faces.

My Lords, Russian shell production—not shell orders—next year is assessed to run at 4 million per year. The Secretary-General last week asked member states to increase arms production. In response, arms manufacturers, including Norway’s Nammo, suggested that this would be possible only if Governments shared risks with manufacturers, given the scale of the capital investment needed. Therefore, what discussions are we having with our NATO partners about formal mechanisms through which this can be achieved?

The noble Lord raises an extremely important and valid point. Noble Lords will know that NATO placed an order for 155 mm artillery shells on 23 January worth $1.2 billion. We have also placed two orders with BAE Systems and invested in its production capacity to ensure that we can also take delivery of the right amount of 155 mm shells. I understand that it has increased the production rate by eight times.

My Lords, the Defence Command Paper places great emphasis on technology and innovation. A great deal of innovation comes from small and medium-sized enterprises, most of which view the MoD as one of the world’s worst organisations with which to do business. What progress is the MoD making to change that culture and eliminate what those enterprises refer to as the “valley of death” between good ideas and commercialisation of those ideas?

The noble and gallant Lord knows only too well that procurement is really difficult when it comes to military assets. We had a conversation last week about appetite for risk, but getting SMEs involved at the correct level will always be quite tricky because of the scale of operation that we need to deal with weapons and munitions. However, it is absolutely a focus in the MoD to ensure that procurement is much more light-footed that it has been in the past.

My Lords, what is my noble friend the Minister’s assessment of Russia’s current conventional weapon stocks and its reliance, so we are told, on importing shells from North Korea?

My Lords, the Russian threat is paramount, and Russia must not on any account be allowed to prevail—there is no question about that, and the Government, the Opposition and everybody else are on the same page. Russia has ramped up its production capacity and has been using North Korean equipment, although its reliability is not quite clear. It is certainly something of which everybody is increasingly aware.

My Lords, while this investment was welcomed when it was announced, if the Minister’s department does not spend the money, the Treasury will claw it back. Is it not about time that he acted to make sure that the money is spent?

My Lords, I could not agree more. We are spending the money and as quickly as we can get it. We have delivered everything to Ukraine that we said we would. We are replenishing our stockpiles as quickly as we can, and we are investing in technology.

My Lords, Putin has increased his defence spending to 40% of GDP. That is, in effect, a war footing. I think that, in many ways, he almost thinks that he is at war with us. How, in all conscience, can our Government not immediately increase our defence expenditure?

My Lords, I think that everybody knows where I stand on this. There are competing demands on a finite amount of resource. The Government and the Prime Minister have made perfectly clear the direction of travel; it is just a question of when it is appropriate to get there and how far it goes.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister be a bit more precise about the quantities of ammunition being supplied to Ukraine and the different types?

NHS Dentistry

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the availability of NHS dentistry.

My Lords, since the pandemic this Government have taken decisive action to recover services. There are signs of recovery, with the amount of activity delivered and the number of patients seen increasing, but there is more to do. Our recently published plan to recover and reform NHS dentistry will make dental services faster, simpler and fairer for patients and will fund around 2.5 million additional appointments and more than 1.5 million additional courses of dental treatment.

My Lords, I welcome the recent Statement but, with 80% of NHS dentists not accepting new patients and with 190 hospital operations every day removing rotten teeth from children, clearly a fresh initiative was needed. However, the dysfunctional, discredited 2006 dental contract, which is driving NHS dentists out of the business, and which was described by the Select Committee in another place as not fit for purpose, remains in place. When will it be reformed? Given that everyone has a right to register with a GP and if they cannot find one the ICB has to find one, why is there not an equivalent right to register with a dentist if dentistry is an integral part of the NHS?

I thank my noble friend for raising this and declare my interest as my wife is a dentist, although she is not currently practising. It is accepted that we have made sensible improvements to the dental contract, but a fundamental longer-term overhaul is needed. In terms of the ability to get registered with a dentist, that is what the mobile trucks are all about. We realise that in certain areas it is difficult to get that registration. The idea is for mobile trucks to go into a neighbourhood where there is a particular shortage to resolve the problem.

My Lords, while working at No. 10 in the early noughties, I was involved in a strategic review of the NHS and was shocked, at the time, to discover how poor the long-term workforce capacity planning was. The total number of dentists currently working in NHS England—around 25,000—has not changed by more than tens or hundreds over the last five years. In that period, more dentists have left than joined. At the same time, fewer than 1,000 dental students have been enrolled each year. Precisely how many dentists do we need to bring NHS capacity in line with demand? In what year, again precisely, will that point be reached?

The noble Lord is correct in talking about the supply challenges. That is what the long-term workforce plan is all about, and why we are committing to a 40% increase in training places by 2030. The other issue that he rightly raises is the balance between the cost-effectiveness of providing private versus national health dentistry. The problem is that it is often seen as more lucrative for a dentist to go down the private sector route. That is why we are trying to rebalance that and have introduced an increase in the minimum charge to £28 for a unit of dental activity, and £50 for a new patient, to try to bring services back more in favour of the NHS.

My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the British Fluoridation Society. The Academy of Medical Sciences reported very recently that nearly a quarter of five year-olds have tooth decay. Unless we deal with this there will be many more queues and great difficulties with access. The Minister will know that shortly there will be a consultation in the north-east to introduce fluoride. Surely the current situation demands that we extend this throughout the country.

Yes, the noble Lord is correct that there is very good evidence of the effectiveness of water fluoridation, and the report as recently as 2022 showed there are no side-effects. The north-east will increase the number of recipients by about 1.6 million people, and there is a process that that needs to go through but I totally agree that we should expand it as far as we can.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, I point out that we have very good data on the number of dentists engaged in NHS activity. It shows a pattern of falling numbers—down to 24,151 in the last financial year. Does the Minister agree that it is fair for us to judge the success or failure of the Government’s new plan on whether that number increases? Does he have a target for where the Government intend it to reach?

The absolute measure that everyone cares about is output—the number of treatments—and this plan is all about increasing the number of appointments by 2.5 million. In the last year alone, we increased the number of treatments from 26 million to 33 million. There is more to do, granted, but the real measure of success is how many treatments we get done, which is a function not just of the number of dentists but of their productivity, and of the number of them we can persuade to provide NHS rather than private sector services.

Can the Minister confirm that it is nearly 13 years since the then Secretary of State, and his noble friend Lord Howe, initiated negotiations for a new dental contract? We still need that contract, because it would shift towards paying dentists for outcomes for their patients rather than for units of dental activity. It is when we have a shortage of dentists that we need to shift to outcomes and preventive work, to improve the balance of work that dentists must do and reduce demands on the total dental workforce.

Yes, it is all about outcomes and output. As I mentioned, there have been sensible moves recently in terms of the contract—the £50 for new patients; increasing minimum levels; and ensuring that dentists get more payment for doing, for example, three fillings versus one. I also agree that some fundamental work needs to be done in this space.

My Lords, the Minister has previously suggested that the 15 mobile dental vans would be able to address emergency situations as well as scheduled appointments. How will this work in practice, particularly in view of the size of the areas each van will cover? How will the Government meet the immediate need for thousands more appointments for emergency dental treatment?

There will be a schedule of when the mobile vehicles will visit each area, with the ability to pre-book so, if someone calls up with an issue, they will know that a truck will come to their area in a week or two’s time. That is the idea, or people can queue to receive those services as well. I hope this will be successful. It has worked quite well in some areas already. The case will prove itself and the 14 will be just the start. We can do much more from that, because we all agree that we need to expand supply.

Given that over 8,800 new oral cancers were diagnosed last year, and a fifth of those were in people under the age of 65, do the Government recognise that it is a false economy not to increase dentistry provision, dental hygienist screening for oral cancers and advice on prevention, such as by cutting down on smoking and so on? The cost of treating this, and of early morbidity to the country, is huge.

Yes, absolutely. That goes back to my noble friend’s point about outcomes. I know that a lot of places, if they are fortunate enough to have an NHS dentist, give you check-ups every six months as a matter of course. In fact, NICE says that if you are in good oral health you will need that only every 24 months, with the idea being that you can create more space for other people to come in, because prevention and screening are vital in all this as well.

My Lords, I live in Cornwall, where there are now very few NHS dentists and many people are resorting to do-it-yourself. What plan does the Department of Health have to ensure that all in Cornwall have access to a dentist as and when needed? A kit is available from the high street for less than £10, but this does not buy any expertise or guarantee of success.

The noble Baroness is quite correct. Cornwall is one of the areas where we piloted the mobile services. It is probably not the number one area, but it is fair to say that it is one of the main areas where we are putting in more resources for precisely that reason.

My Lords, I shall switch sides of the country. The campaign group Toothless in England was founded in Suffolk and is calling for contracts for NHS dentists to cover the real costs. It says that this is the only way to solve the drought of dentists in places such as Waveney Valley, where one in three people has been unable to secure an appointment over two years.

These plans were welcomed by Toothless in England, which was good to see, as well as by Healthwatch. I know personally that making it economic for dentists to work in the NHS rather than in the private sector, or getting that balance right, is fundamental. The changes are a good first step towards that but more probably needs to be done.

Post Office Horizon Scandal: Racism

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reports from sub-postmasters involved in the Post Office Horizon scandal that racism affected the way they were treated by the Post Office.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. Some of the evidence that has been brought to light through Sir Wyn Williams’s inquiry has been appalling and regrettable. The Government are committed to ensuring that lessons are learned and events are never repeated, but it is important that Sir Wyn is given the time and independence he needs to draw conclusions and report to Ministers on his findings.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. My heart goes out to all the sub-postmasters, whatever community they belong to, who were victims of this miscarriage of justice. I thank Balvinder Gill, who is in the Public Gallery and who has been through a horrendous experience, along with his mother. Just like Balvinder’s mother, many victims were hard-working, first-generation immigrants, who had accumulated wealth and had a good status in the community. They generally did not have a full grasp of the English language and were treated like second-class citizens by the Post Office. As the Minister will know, over 40% of sub-postmasters were from minority communities. Why was such a high percentage of Asian females prosecuted by the Post Office when, in reality, the prison population of Asian females is less than 5%?

I thank the noble Lord. We are all deeply distressed by the events that have happened during this 25-year sorry saga. The noble Lord refers to one of the documents that was used by Post Office Ltd, which was released in 2023 under the Freedom of Information Act. That did have language in it using descriptors that were very much out of date and should have been updated; it was offensive language and the Post Office has now, rightly, completely changed its methodology. But, once again, Sir Wyn Williams will go into this in great detail.

My Lords, it is easy to see why the noble Lord was shocked by the racist terms uncovered, which were used by the investigating team in Post Office Ltd. It is even more shocking to note how recently those terms were being used, and still more shocking that many of the people who were using those terms are still employed by Post Office Ltd. We do not need the conclusion of the inquiry to know that Post Office Ltd is rotten to the core. When will the new chairman be appointed and when will the work start on cleaning this rotten business out?

I share the noble Lord’s frustration with this process. There was indeed offensive language used in the official documentation, which had not been updated since the 1980s and for which the Post Office has clearly apologised. As far as the culture in the Post Office is concerned, there is a rebuilding job required. The chairman has been removed and live conversations are going on right now to appoint a new chairman. My department is fully focused on rectifying this sorry situation.

My Lords, none of the racist terms in the report, codenamed Project May, could have been used without the approval of directors, all of whom were appointed by the Government. Rather than hiding behind the claim that the Horizon inquiry might look at it, the Minister needs to be accountable to Parliament. An inquiry is not a substitute for parliamentary accountability. So, can he tell us when he first became aware of these racist terms and why he has not already referred the Post Office to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for investigation?

I thank the noble Lord. He is referring to the historical document that was released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2023. It has clearly been identified to have offensive language in it, which had not been updated since the 1980s. There is an ongoing inquiry into this. We all want to know the answer. The reason we got into this position in the first place is that people were deemed guilty rather than innocent without due process. Let us not do the same thing again.

My Lords, is it not obvious, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, that there has been a complete failure of corporate governance here, and the only way to deal with that in the real world is to clear out the people responsible and put in some people who are capable of bringing order and good management to the Post Office?

I thank my noble friend. We both come at this from the same point of view: the private sector board. The board currently in place is not the board that prosecuted any of these postmasters. In fact, of the non-executive directors, three have been appointed in the last 12 months. There is no question that there has been a failure of governance. As we discussed last time, the governance of this company goes through the chair to the Secretary of State to Ministers. That is where we need accountability and where the inquiry will focus.

My Lords, as we have heard, the BBC recently reported a number of concerns and comments made by Post Office staff. One sub-postmaster was told:

“All the Indians are doing it. They have relatives so they take the money and send it to them abroad”.

But neither the terms of reference nor the completed list of issues for the inquiry explicitly mentions racism or discrimination. Is the Minister comfortable that the Wyn Williams investigation will deal with these specific issues of racism and discrimination in his report?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. The inquiry was set up by this Government in 2020, initially on a non-statutory basis, immediately following the case with Lord Justice Parker in 2019. That was then upgraded to a statutory inquiry. So Wyn Williams has the full authority of the judicial process to get to the heart of this matter. We are also being advised, as we know, by the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, and the advisory committee. It is very clear that we will get to the bottom of all these issues.

My Lords, the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sahota, about why there were more Asian subpostmasters treated harshly and sent to prison is important. Nick Wallis, who has written the book on this scandal, said:

“As I spoke to them I did start to wonder why Asian sub-postmasters seemed to be getting far more punitive sentences than their white counterparts”.

It is good that the Minister said that the Government want to learn from the mistakes. Is anyone looking at the difference in sentencing terms between white and Asian sub-postmasters?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Absolutely—this is fundamental to looking at the overturning of the convictions. There were 983 wrongful convictions and the Ministry of Justice is now working through that process and it absolutely needs to understand exactly how these convictions came about and to whom.

My Lords, the chairman of the Post Office, who has now resigned, was recently quoted in the press as being advised several times on the quiet by officials in Government to go slow with giving money back after prosecutions in order to save government expenditure. Was that the reason he was sacked or was it because the Government wanted to have a new broom there? It does not reflect very well on what the civil servants were reported to be telling him.

I thank the noble Lord for that. I can inform the House that the Secretary of State for the Department for Business and Trade will be giving a detailed Statement in the other place on this in about half an hour’s time, where she will categorically refute the allegations made by Henry Staunton—with evidence that we will put in the House of Commons Library to demonstrate that that was absolutely not the case. It does not match the facts. The fact of the matter is that we have compensated 64% of all the postmasters already and in the HSS scheme 100% already had offers in Henry Staunton’s time—so the facts do not match the article.

My Lords, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Sahota, has made me question whether or not misogyny and sexism played a role in the sentencing of the Asian sub-postmasters. Is that being looked into as well?

I thank the noble Baroness. As I said, these are all issues that will be looked at. Sir Wyn Williams has complete authority to look into all these matters and he will be guided by the public interest—where this is clearly in the public interest—and also by the advisory committee, with the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, and Mr Bates et cetera.

I refer noble Lords to my interests as set out in the register. I ask the Minister: does this not show one of the concerns that we should have about arm’s-length bodies, where they are supposed to be accountable but there are many questions over their accountability? They can act in this way but actually not be held responsible. I wonder whether that has wider lessons for who regulates the arm’s-length bodies and how they are accountable, not only to Parliament but to the British people.

I thank my noble friend for that. I have said at the Dispatch Box before that there will quite a lot of examination required following the Wyn Williams report. There are number of arm’s-length bodies that are set up to look like plcs but do not behave like plcs, largely because there has not been the challenge and the scrutiny typical of non-execs and from Ministers in terms of oversight. That is, I imagine, something which will be very much focused on following the Wyn Williams report.

The Minister mentioned Wendy Williams as looking into the sub-postmasters. Is it the same Wendy Williams who looked into the Windrush scandal? The mere fact is that the Government took no notice of that and have not implemented anything there, so how is that going to work with this new thing around the Post Office scandal?

My understanding that the judge in this inquiry is Sir Wyn Williams. I will have to write and find out whether there is a connection to Windrush. I am afraid I am not aware of that.

Leasehold: Property Management Companies

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure leaseholders get the best value for money from services provided by management companies appointed by freeholders without their involvement or consent.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I refer the House to the register of interests and the fact that I am a leaseholder.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a leaseholder. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill will make long-term changes to improve home ownership for millions of leaseholders in England and Wales. Measures to empower leaseholders and improve their consumer rights, such as better transparency of fees and charges and improved access to the right to manage, will make management companies more accountable to leaseholders who pay for their services.

Leaseholders are at a complete disadvantage with regard to service charges, and the Bill before the other place does not change that fact, nor do the overoptimistic comments of the right honourable Member for Surrey Heath, which go way beyond what the legislation proposes. When will we get regulation of property agents, following the review by the noble Lord, Lord Best, published in 2019? When will we get proper control over the system whereby leaseholders pay out all the money but have no say in the services provided?

I am afraid I have to disagree with the noble Lord’s assessment of the Bill. I can set out a number of ways in which the Bill will improve the position of leaseholders regarding service charges. It will require greater transparency of service charges, so that leaseholders receive key information regularly; we will rebalance the legal costs regime, giving leaseholders greater confidence to challenge their service charges; it will replace the buildings insurance commissions system for managing agents, so that transparent admission fees are in place; and it will increase the non-residential limit from 25% to 50% for buying the freehold or exercising the right to manage, giving leaseholders greater rights in respect of taking over the freehold of their property or managing it themselves.

My Lords, my noble friend will know that the law of forfeiture allows a managing agent to take possession of a flat worth, say, £500,000 if there is a debt of more than £350 outstanding. In those circumstances, the freeholder pockets the difference between the value of the flat and the debt. Surely the leasehold Bill should put a stop to that.

My Lords, the Government believe that forfeiture is an extreme measure and should be used only as a last resort. In practice, it happens very rarely and is subject to the right to relief. However, any changes to forfeiture would require a careful balancing of the rights and responsibilities of landlords and those of leaseholders. As a first step, we have asked the Law Commission to update its 2006 report on this matter, given the passage of time since then, and to take into account the implications of the reforms currently under way, so that we can consider what action should be taken.

My Lords, it is not just leaseholders who face these practices. What response can the Minister give to freeholders who face the imposition of private management companies charging extortionate and unregulated yearly fees, instead of having public areas adopted by local authorities? I believe this practice is known as “fleecehold”. Effectively, this means freeholders paying twice for maintenance: once through their council tax and again through fees to private management companies. What measures will the Government take to regulate these practices?

My Lords, the Bill aims to grant freehold homeowners on private or mixed-tenure estates the same rights of redress as leaseholders in this area—equivalent rights to transparency on estate charges and the ability to challenge those charges at tribunal. I believe the CMA is also looking into this matter, and we look forward to receiving its final report.

My Lords, some freeholders, although not all, treat their leaseholders as a cash cow. I have two examples for the Minister. First, there was a ground rent increase—and there is no value at all to the leaseholder in a ground rent—of 113% this year, which was backdated three years, and the sum was demanded to be paid in full in four weeks. Secondly, there was a 23% increase in service charges this year. There is no accountability. Transparency there is, and challenge there can be, but nothing comes of it—and it seems that nothing in the Bill will change that. Can the Minister tell me that it will?

I can. The Government have consulted on a range of options to reform existing ground rents, having legislated in 2022 to set all new ground rents at a peppercorn rate. Following the outcome of that consultation, we aim to legislate in the current Bill before Parliament. As I say, not only will we give leaseholders greater rights to transparency on what service charges are charged for, to ensure that they are reasonable, but we are changing the cost regime in the courts so they can challenge those charges where they think they are unreasonable.

My Lords, I have a friend who is trying to sell their flat in London. The managing agents took so long to respond to the requirement that they consented that the purchasers went away. Will this Bill do any good for that situation?

The Bill contains both a time limit and cost limit for the provision of information from freeholders to leaseholders when they are seeking to sell their properties. I do not know the exact circumstances of the case the noble and learned Baroness refers to, but action is being taken in this area.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that legislation in 2000 and 2004 abolished leasehold in Scotland. Given noble Lords’ concerns about the current Bill, why on earth can we not be more radical and abolish leasehold in England and Wales?

Following previous Questions I looked at the example of Scotland, which we do seek to learn from, but the circumstances there are significantly different. At the time, there were only some 9,000 long leasehold properties in Scotland, compared with around 5 million leasehold properties in England and Wales. The majority of Scottish leases had ground rents of only £2.50 per year, whereas the average ground rent in England is £300 per year. It is more complicated to take reform forward in England, but the Government are committed to doing this. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill will take important steps toward delivering commonhold as an alternative in future.

My Lords, there are some very good things in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, but the Government have stopped short of instituting a proper regulator of managing agents, which would solve many of these problems and difficulties. Why stop short? Why not do the job properly and have a regulator of property agents?

I welcome the work of the noble Lord on this issue, and I know that your Lordships will be looking at it further in Committee. It is already a legal requirement for property agents to belong to one of two government-approved redress schemes. We also welcome ongoing work undertaken by the industry itself to raise professionalism and standards across the sector, which will make property managing agents more accountable to leaseholders. We will keep that and the question of further regulation for the sector under review.

My Lord, if leaseholders want to change their managing agent, they need 50% plus one of the residents to vote for change. But in many modern blocks of, say, 100 flats, perhaps 40% to 50% are being sublet, and you have no right to know who the people are who need to vote. How can leaseholders who want to change their managing agent exercise their right to change? It is impossible, because they do not have a right to that data.

Leaseholders wishing to take forward the right to manage claim will need to obtain the title documents of their building from His Majesty’s Land Registry. Those will contain the names and addresses of leaseholders in the other flats in the building, so it should be possible to contact them. On the voting threshold of 50% plus one, we agree with the Law Commission’s recommendation that these existing requirements should not be changed, because they make sure that a minority of leaseholders cannot impose changes on the majority.

Post Office Horizon Scandal: Compensation Payments

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of claims that the Post Office was asked to delay compensation payments to sub-postmasters who were victims of the Horizon IT scandal.

I thank the noble Lord for that Question. I can utterly refute this allegation. This Government have sped up compensation for victims and have consistently encouraged postmasters to come forward with claims. To suggest that any actions or conversations happened to the contrary is incorrect. In fact, upon appointment, Mr Staunton was set concrete objectives in writing to focus on reaching settlements for claimants—clear evidence of the Government’s intent. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business and Trade will shortly give an update to the House of Commons with a detailed rebuttal of these allegations.

I thank the Minister for the point that he makes about the Statement in the other place. I am sure that this whole House will welcome it being repeated in this House later in the week. Mr Henry Staunton, the former chairman of the Post Office, said that he was told by a “fairly senior person”—his words—to stall on compensation payments to Horizon victims. The Sunday Times yesterday said that the Government utterly refuted these allegations, and the Minister has repeated that today. To make this statement with such confidence, obviously the Government will have had to fully investigate the matter, and I am sure that the Minister would want to confirm this. Can the Minister tell us who carried out this investigation and whether Mr Staunton was approached and asked for the name of the person he said had told him to stall the compensation payments? Can the Minister confirm that the Government will provide a full copy of the investigation report on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry?

The sadness about this is that the Secretary of State said that she did not want to conduct HR in public, and this is now the situation that we have got ourselves into. We are very clear that no civil servant made that statement; perhaps it is up to Mr Staunton to provide a name, and we can then investigate whether that was the case. In the meantime, it does not make sense, given that the Post Office has been fully funded for compensation already—before the programme “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”, two-thirds of postmasters had had their claims met in full. Indeed, of the £160 million paid out so far to sub-postmasters, £138 million was paid out by December, before the television series. Therefore, it was fully funded, and there is no basis for the allegation.

My Lords, clearly the public statements of the Secretary of State and the former chair, Staunton, are mutually exclusive, and we look forward to hearing the Secretary of State’s version, which I hope will be repeated in your Lordships’ House. It would be easier to understand in full if it was supported by transcripts of all the relevant meetings. In her social media rebuttal, the Secretary of State said that she

“dismissed Staunton due to very serious allegations about his conduct while Chair of the Post Office”.

Can the Minister confirm that that is true and explain to your Lordships’ House why those allegations were not in fact investigated, rather than simply dealt with through a summary dismissal? If the Minister is unable to do so now, can he come back when the Statement is repeated and tell your Lordships’ House the answer to those questions?

As I have said, a detailed Statement on this will be given in the other place, and there will also be transcripts and meeting notes put in the House of Commons Library for full interrogation. It is clear that there were very serious concerns about governance. The noble Lord himself mentioned a toxic culture in the earlier Question on this issue, and the Government’s requirement to clean it up and change it. The most important figure on any board of any company is the chair, and, if the culture is wrong, perhaps the best place to start would be to remove the chair, which is what has happened. A full Statement will be given as to the circumstances of that, but it was not done on a whim and it was not a summary dismissal.

My Lords, ordinary sub-postmasters throughout the UK have had their integrity and reputation impacted upon. I was talking to one of those people this afternoon, from Northern Ireland. They are part of the 33% who have not yet received payment and their simple question is: when will those outstanding payments be made to sub-postmasters?

The Government can go only as fast as the claims come in. Take as an example the GLO 555: 477 of them do not have any convictions. Of those 477, 58 have submitted a claim, of which an offer has been made to 48 and 41 have accepted. We cannot go any faster; we can go only at the speed at which claims are made.

My Lords, the allegations made by Henry Staunton over the weekend are incredibly serious. Thousands of people, as we have discussed many times in your Lordships’ House, have been robbed of their lives, liberty and livelihood. For them to experience any modicum of justice relies on the truth coming out. I have one specific question, because I know we will come back to this, probably on Wednesday, to discuss the Statement being made in the other place. Will the Government publish all correspondence and minutes of meetings between the relevant departments, UKGI and the Post Office, and put them in the parliamentary Library?

Once again, we are in a situation where we are dealing with private individuals and HR. We should not be doing that in this Chamber, or indeed in television studios; individuals’ livelihoods are at stake here. We did not want to be in this position, but we have to refute the allegations made against us. A judgment will be made by the Secretary of State as to all supporting documentation, and read-outs of minutes will be put in the House of Commons Library. At the end of the day, it comes back to the fact that we need a full inquiry to find out what has actually happened here.

My Lords, I have seen reports that there are still problems with the Horizon system and that some postmasters are still experiencing the problem of underpayments that created this disastrous position. My question is about ensuring that compensation goes to people as quickly as possible. Can my noble friend assure me that that will be the case and that we will look into the suggestion that this is still an ongoing problem, and, if so, ensure that remedial action is taken?

The response from management on this—and this has now been audited—is that issues with the software system are minimal, and £150 million of government money has now gone in to completely replace the system. A lot of investment is going in to ensure that this does not happen again. On compensation for victims, of the 2,700 claims in the HSS, 2,400 have already had their payments cleared—that is 85% of that category. The more sluggish category is the GLO, because those people have more complicated claims. As I said before, we have received only 58 claims from that cohort. As soon as we get them, we will process them.

My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on 10 January, the Prime Minister said that postmasters will be cleared and compensated swiftly. On the same day, Kevin Hollinrake MP said at the Dispatch Box that all compensation should be paid by August. However, on 28 January, Kemi Badenoch said on the BBC that the deadline was not a priority and that getting governance sorted out at the Post Office was more important. Given that in the last few days a number of postmasters have said that they have received derisory offers—in the case of Alan Bates, one-sixth—is this limping things along?

The reality is that the Government are not dragging their feet—quite the opposite. We will process the cases as quickly as they are put in. When cases are put in, and if the offer made is rejected, there is a full appeals process for postmasters, which goes all the way up to a High Court judge. At the moment, Mr Bates has not appealed that decision. All these individuals have to have time to assess the offer that was given. We need these offers to be fair and reasonable. There is a reason for all the offers to be made. We are not here to comment on individual cases, but the money is there for compensation, and all these postmasters and postmistresses will be compensated for the damage that has been done to them.

My Lords, in answer to previous questions about racism or misogyny, for example, the Minister clearly and repeatedly said that that is a matter for the Wyn Williams inquiry. My question is about process. How do the Government decide that matters should be dealt with by the public inquiry, and how do they decide that it would be useful, expedient and desirable for them to investigate and respond themselves?

The Government are a shareholder, and there is only one shareholder in this company, if you can call it a company—I have never come across a company that has only one. Therefore, the Secretary of State is exercising her shareholder right to reorganise the board of this company to make it fit for purpose to make sure that this does not happen again. In the meantime, the Government, through the Treasury, provided the thick end of £1 billion to pay compensation. The Government also committed to taking full recourse against Fujitsu in due course. In the meantime, a statutory inquiry, with statements being taken under oath, is ongoing. When the truth has emerged, there will be a price to pay.

My Lords, in answer to an earlier question, the Minister said that £150 million of public money has been expended correcting the system. Why is it not £150 million of Fujitsu’s money? Will whatever expenditure the Government have made in putting things to rights be extracted in due course from Fujitsu?

That is absolutely the case, and my colleague in the other place, Minister Hollinrake, has made it very clear that we will pursue Fujitsu for its share of the compensation. It is not right that the sole payer of the compensation should be the taxpayer.

My Lords, what is the government advice to the postmasters who, due to their experience, have developed mental health problems, and received all kinds of electric shocks and so on, and are unable to work?

The government advice is that each individual claimant must submit his or her claim, and money is available to them to take legal and medical advice. That is part of the reason why we think that, of the 477 cases, we have 58 claims—because they are more complicated—quite rightly being put together by each claimant and their advisers. When these claims are submitted, we have guaranteed that we will action 90% of them within 40 days of receipt.

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord’s question was about not compensation but the issue of funding the correction of the software to the tune of £150 million. The entirely appropriate question is: why is Fujitsu not paying for the reworking of that software, rather than the Government and the taxpayer?

Perhaps I should have been clearer: the Government are funding this company, Post Office Ltd, to effectively commission a new system to replace Horizon. It might be reasonable to assume that it will not be Fujitsu that does the second system.

My Lords, I hope whoever takes on this responsibility will bear in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that there may well be continuing problems deep inside the Post Office systems. I speak as an accountant, and I declare my interest. Basic double-entry accounting systems should never have allowed this system to have occurred. What guarantees can the noble Lord give us that a proper accounting-based system will be put in place of the current Horizon?

The issue here is that the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who run these shops know their accounts back to front—that is the whole point. They know to a penny what they are doing from one week to the next, which is why perhaps the greatest sadness in this saga was those honourable people being told that they were alone, when in fact there were thousands of them. We are clear now that, in day-to-day operational matters, we do not have these issues. We are clear that we need to put a new system in place, which is what the Government are committed to doing.

My Lords, in response to an earlier question, the Minister said that the chairman had to go because he was effectively responsible for the toxic situation within the company, and it was the chairman’s job at the top to be responsible for this. I am sure he would agree that that is the case, but what about all the other people within the Post Office? Is the Minister saying that none of them had any responsibility for the toxicity within the whole company?

A company’s culture is set by the board and the management. There has not been a prosecution since 2015, and no one on the board of the Post Office today was involved in the prosecutions. The current board is completely different, and we are now dealing with getting the culture right for this company going forward. We always start with the chair, because that is the top position in the company.

My Lords, have His Majesty’s Government now put a block on any new government contracts with Fujitsu?

I am not aware that that has happened formally, but the law of common sense says that it must be the case.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Collective Money Purchase Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 14 December 2023 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 February.

Motion agreed.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (Pension Scheme Amendment) Regulations 2024

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 19 December 2023 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 February.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Callanan, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Automated Vehicles Bill [HL]

Third Reading

Scottish and Welsh Legislative Consent sought

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, before I begin, I will briefly update the House on our engagement with the devolved Administrations. In line with the Sewel convention, the Government are seeking legislative consent Motions from the devolved legislatures of Scotland and Wales. The legislative consent Motion process is engaged for Scotland and Wales in relation to automated passenger services and the powers under Clause 40 to require reports from the police and local authorities. The Welsh Government laid their legislative consent memorandum in November. I am grateful for their constructive engagement to date. The Scottish Government laid an initial memorandum in December and we are awaiting a supplementary memorandum, outlining their recommendation on consent, later this month. UK government officials are working closely with their Scottish counterparts to clarify questions and provide support. The devolved Governments are rightly taking a close interest in this legislation, and we will continue to work constructively with them to progress the consent process.

A privilege amendment was made.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I will make a short speech, conditioned by my being a former pilot with experience of Boeing, probably the most sophisticated company in the world on unmanned aircraft. The net result so far has been that 346 people died recently, although, thankfully, nobody died in the Alaska experience. Given that situation, although this Bill is supposedly about safety on the roads, we need to take great care; I recognise that we need a framework here, but I hope my noble friend will listen to what the noble Lord suggested earlier in the debate and have the Office of Rail and Road help oversee this Bill as it is implemented in relation to vehicles on the road.

I briefly congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing this useful, modest and largely technical Bill to its completion. The Government have expressed optimism that the arrival of automated vehicles in large numbers on our roads is going to have no effect whatever on how the rest of the road system and other road users operate. It is the principle on which the Bill is based but, to me, it seems to be credible only in the somewhat artificial reality of your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend the Minister and his department still need to address a worry many of us have. He has stated that nothing will change—that facilities for pedestrians, for example, will not be affected—with the arrival of these vehicles, but it is clear that is not wholly credible. The people who have invested in automated vehicles will find that pedestrians and other road users are obstacles to the rollout of their plans, and they will then turn up at the ministry and say, “We have spent all this money, so now you have to do something to make it work for us”. At that point, officials will roll over, Ministers will wave their hands and the money will decide what the policy is. All of this will happen without a parliamentary debate considering the effect of the vehicles and what they mean for road users, especially in urban environments. I hope my noble friend the Minister will find an opportunity to allow us, and the public, a debate about what the vision of our cities is when automated vehicles are operating in large numbers as the Bill makes provision for.

My Lords, in line with the usual courtesies of the House, I thank the Minister and his team, all of whom were exceptionally helpful and willing to give their time and expertise in some useful meetings with myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues. I also thank my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lady Bowles, supported by Sarah Pughe in our Whips’ office, for their work. Finally, I thank noble Lords across the House: there was exceptional co-operation in improving the Bill, and one of the outcomes was the amendment of the Minister which clarified the statement of safety principles.

The Bill was a logical progression from 2018, and I would predict that this second Bill will be followed, I am sure, by a third Bill to try and get this right. There are still unanswered questions, and I will briefly list them. There needs to be a fresh look at the legislative framework affecting delivery vehicles that are already on our streets. Those who operate them are concerned about lacunas in the legislation.

We are also particularly concerned about the issue of disabled access, which is where my noble friend Lady Brinton worked closely with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said,

“the promise of automated vehicles is accessible mobility for all”.— [Official Report, 6/2/24; col. 1585]

It is, therefore, deeply disappointing that the concept of disabled access—from the physical space of the vehicle to the software that drives it—is not to be built in from the start. It always costs more to adapt things later, and I believe this is yet another missed opportunity.

Finally, it is a great pity that the vote on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was lost so narrowly. It was just the kind of thing an advisory council could provide a sense of direction on. I hope the Minister will reflect on the need for certainty on the future structure of appropriate bodies to provide advice and regulation.

We remain concerned, in particular, about data protection in respect of the Bill, which is predicated on a future conglomeration of personal and commercial data, and data associated with the security of the state. It will come together in an unprecedented way. It would enable a massive intrusion of personal privacy, but in its entirety would offer massive power to a malign foreign power or even to a clever, meddling, individual hacker. Although it is well intentioned, the Bill hardly starts to tackle the dangers of that accumulation of data.

Having said all that, I thank the Minister again for his co-operation, assistance and leadership on the Bill.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the time he spent explaining things on the Bill. I support everything that has been said in this very short debate. I am also sad that the advisory committee did not get voted through. My idea of having an independent regulator was the same thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made the most important point—that behind the technology for this will be very large companies with enormous balance sheets. When equipment starts operating on the road, if the Government and Parliament have to consider how to balance the interests of those companies with disabled people, cyclists, or pedestrians, it will be very hard to do that and resist the pressure from these big companies without some kind of independent scrutiny. As other noble Lords have said, we look forward to the next Bill with interest.

My Lords, I echo the thanks to my noble friend the Minister and his team for all the work they have done on the Bill. I also echo the thoughts that this is just one Bill. We are on a journey with this technology and these vehicles, and where it will be going.

I would like to address some of the comments that have been made from all sides of the House, because I hear the fear, worry and concern, as technology takes a giant leap forward. We worry about the implications for the world as we see it now. However, the world changes and adjusts. I understand the questions the noble Baroness had about data, its ownership, its power and the responsibility. When we launched the Oyster card in London in 2003, the first time data would be captured en masse—tracking peoples’ individual movements—I remember similar challenges being made as to what we would do with it.

We have come a long way in 20-plus years. We understand a lot more about the power of data and how it can be used for the benefit of people, as much as the challenge there is to keep it safe. I hope that will be echoed in the usage of data with these vehicles.

Additionally, I hear the voice of my noble friend Lord Moylan. We worked together many a year ago at TfL, bringing in implementations. Back then, there was a significant challenge to another change we were implementing. We were told pedestrians would be vulnerable; we were told accessibility would be reduced; we were told safety would be jeopardised. What was the change we were bringing in? It was bicycles: the cycle hire scheme for London. There are always challenges to bringing in new schemes. They are always seen as having many problems on safety and security, and vulnerabilities. As I say, this is in the context of the world as we see it, not maybe as we can amend it and make it better.

This is the journey. There will be more Bills, and we will scrutinise further the use-cases and the opportunities that this technology will bring, for the benefit of designing the future with safety in mind, I hope.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and his team for their co-operation on the Bill. I thank my co-spokesman, my noble friend Lord Liddle, and Grace Wright, our researcher.

When I wrote these few lines down, I was full of unbridled optimism for the Bill—but I had better come back a bit. I am sorry that the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have not been satisfied; they were good and proper concerns, but I am sure that they will be properly considered.

Proceedings on the Bill have been very much the House of Lords at its best, and that was very much facilitated by the Minister. Like the Lib Dems, we had several meetings with him, and issues were generally treated on their merits. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is not more reassured by the changes we made to the safety standard. I believe that the safety standard that is now in the Bill is a good one that regulators will be able to work with and that is robust enough to stand up to enterprises with a great deal of money. I, for one at least, say that we have a better Bill of which this House can be proud.

My Lords, it is nearly three months since the Bill had its Second Reading in this House. I am hugely grateful to colleagues on all sides for the very detailed scrutiny and challenge that they have provided over that period, as has already been alluded to. I heard what noble Lords have said.

The Bill has seen real benefit from the open and positive manner in which the opposition Front Benches have engaged. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Tunnicliffe, for the series of constructive discussions we have held on safety and other matters. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, brings with him many decades of experience in the world of transport safety, and I am pleased that we have been able to draw on that during the Bill’s passage. I am grateful too to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her contributions, both in the Chamber and in our separate meetings. I also thank those who joined me for our two round-table sessions on data and accessibility, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Brinton, and my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Borwick.

I am also grateful to the teams at Wayve and Oxa, which have been so accommodating in welcoming me and colleagues across the House to experience self-driving technology in action. For those who have not yet had the chance, I can tell them that riding in one of these vehicles is simultaneously astonishing and—for want of a better phrase—reassuringly dull.

I am sure that colleagues will join me in thanking the countless policy officials and legal experts standing behind this piece of legislation. I am very grateful to the Bill team: Josh Kossoff, Marty Zekas, Dani Heard, Fran Gilmore and John Latham. My thanks also go to the policy leads Jenny Laber and Catherine Lovell; to Sam Cook, our drafter; and to Adam Lawless and Sean McGarry in my private office.

Finally, I pay tribute, one last time, to the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. Their painstaking review is the foundation on which this legislation is built, and we have felt the benefit of their expertise throughout our debates. In particular, I thank the review’s lead lawyer, Jessica Uguccioni. The Bill receiving its Third Reading today is, in no small part, the product of more than half a decade of her work.

At Second Reading, I spoke of the potential benefits of bringing self-driving technology to our roads: safety, connectivity and new economic opportunity. Thanks to the careful and considered scrutiny of this House, the Bill now moves to the other place all the better able to make those benefits a reality.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

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”,

that:

“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”

and

“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.