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Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

Third Reading

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


Moved by

My Lords, I wish to make a point which I hope may be taken into account by honourable Members in another place, though I fear it is unlikely to find favour with most of your Lordships. I cast no aspersions on the motivation which has led to the amendments your Lordships have passed. An undeniable consequence of most of these amendments would be delay in dealing with an issue which is regarded as important and urgent by very many people in our country—an issue to which no alternative remedy has been advanced. I hope that this point may be taken into account by honourable Members in another place, even if not by most of your Lordships.

My Lords, mine is a different point. I am not sympathetic to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has just made. On Report, I raised the question of representations by the Government of Jersey and our Government’s failure to consult before including a provision in the Bill. I do not know whether this also represents the view of Guernsey and the Isle of Man, but the Government of Jersey said that they were not happy about it. I asked the Minister if he could clarify the position at Third Reading. Can he do so?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that no one else has put forward another idea. In fact, many of us have talked about finding safe and legal routes. This Government seem incredibly reluctant to do this. I do not understand why. This Bill is an absolute stinker. It is the worst of the worst. I have seen terrible Bills come through this House, but this is by far the worst. It is a shame on all of us that we have had to sit through hours and days of debate.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, has made a plea on behalf of Members in another place. Will they have available to them the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which I asked for in Committee, on Report and again today? The Minister will recall that, last week, he said it was imminent. I hope he will be able to tell us that it is now available in the Printed Paper Office and that it will be made available to honourable Members down the Corridor.

I have a great deal of respect for the Minister and like him enormously. All of us agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that there is an issue that has to be addressed. Some 114 million people are displaced in the world today. When will His Majesty’s Government bring together people from all sides of the House and the political divide to look at what can be done to tackle this problem at its root cause? Unless we do that, we can pass as many Bills as we like in this and in the other place but, frankly, in the end, it will make very little difference.

When the House voted to delay ratification of the treaty, it did so on the basis that there was unfinished business and on the basis of a list of 10 requirements, most of which were for the Government of Rwanda, which should be fulfilled before Rwanda could be declared safe. Among these was the requirement in Article 10(3) of the treaty

“to agree an effective system for ensuring”

that refoulement does not take place. The risk of refoulement was, of course, central to the Supreme Court’s finding that it would be unsafe to deport refugees to Rwanda.

I have asked a couple of times in the Chamber during our 40 hours of debate how we are getting on with that requirement, which binds us, as well as the Government of Rwanda, to agree a system for ensuring that refoulement does not take place. Most recently, I asked on 4 March —Hansard col. 1379—whether Rwanda had agreed with us an effective system. The Minister replied that he did not know but would find out and get back to me. I am still waiting. Can he tell the House the answer now? If he cannot, will he undertake that the effective system will be up and running and reported to this House before the treaty is ratified and before any asylum seekers are deported to Rwanda?

I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, who does reply to questions, assured me in a letter dated 4 March that the Rwanda legislation required to implement the treaty

“will be operational prior to relocations beginning”.

I think this point is quite relevant to the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, about delay.

My Lords, we will come back to a number of these debates on ping-pong next week and we will argue vociferously about some of the debates, discussions and points that are being made. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that I hope the Government have taken note of what we asked for, which was for the other place to give proper consideration to the amendments that were made in this place and not just dismiss them out of hand. We wait to see what the Government do about the amendments we have sent to them and we will continue this debate next week, following the other place’s discussion of our amendments on Monday of next week and whatever comes back to your Lordships’ House next Wednesday.

Let me do some of the normal courtesies and say that, notwithstanding the fact that it has been a difficult and controversial Bill, with many differing opinions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, for their courtesy and for the way in which their officials have worked with us. We have not always agreed, to be frank, and still do not agree, but it is important to recognise the way in which the Government have made their officials available to us, to try to explain some of the details of the policy. We are very grateful for that, as we are to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, for the way in which they have conducted the business with us. I hope, however, that they take note of the JCHR report—a response to that would be helpful for our deliberations and, as far as I am aware, it is not yet available. It is important that that becomes available.

I thank all noble Lords for their participation, including my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and many other noble friends, but also noble Lords across the House, for the continuing legal education I am receiving as we go through the Bill. Seriously, it has been very in-depth and important debate.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that none of us disagree with the proposition that the country faces a real problem that we need to deal with. The debate is how we deal with it, and that is the fundamental discussion.

As well as the Government’s officials, I thank the people who have worked with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and me, particularly Clare Scally in our office, who has given us a lot of support in understanding the Bill to the depth that is necessary to inform mine and others’ contributions. It is a mammoth task, and we are very grateful to her and others who have supported us.

I finish by saying that I am very grateful to all Members across the House for the contribution that they have made. We hope the Government properly take account of the amendments that have been passed in your Lordships’ House. We look forward to their debate next Monday and to our further deliberations on the Bill next Wednesday. I say to the Minister: depending on what happens with respect to the other place, we will be considering those exchanges in some detail, and, if necessary, we will act robustly at that time as well.

My Lords, I add to the thanks that have been given. This has obviously been a very difficult Bill for those on our Benches, and we made our position quite clear at Second Reading. It is clear where we stand on this matter, and I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to the Hansard contribution at that time, which he may have missed, which gave an alternative for the way we should handle this matter.

The Bill—at this point—has left us with a huge number of unanswered questions, though the one answer that I am able to give is that which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, sent to me in relation to Jersey which arrived this morning. It said that the reason that the Government had not followed the Home Office instruction about the way this matter should have been dealt with was a matter of the speed of the Bill. Without putting words into the Minister’s mouth, he said that it would not happen again, because basically, it must not be a precedent. That was the reason given in answer to that question. I hope the Channel Islands will be satisfied with the response to which I have just referred, especially as members of the Channel Islands are meeting here in this Parliament, celebrating Commonwealth Day.

The Bill has provided us with a tension between principle on the one hand and political expediency on the other. That has worried me right the way through the debates that we have had, though, along with other noble Lords, I think that having such great strength in our legal Lords in this Chamber has meant that a lot of lessons have been learnt about a lot of people I had never heard of who have made our democracy what it is. Understanding that has been helpful.

I hope that when the Government take this matter through to the other Chamber, they will take note of the huge majorities that have been given to the amendments that have been passed in this House during the deliberations on the Bill. That underpins the sensitivity about the principles that lie behind it, to which I have just referred.

No matter what else has happened on the Bill, I continue to pay thanks to many people who have contributed and to Members on all sides. Even though we disagree, we may still—when we want to—hear and understand the arguments that they make. I particularly thank the staff of the Home Office—some of whom are in the Box—who I know from conversations have been working very hard to follow the Government’s instructions as they go through the Bill in the rapid way that they have. Along with them, I thank all Members around the House, Ministers—of course—and my colleagues behind me who have also contributed to the Bill. I want to include Elizabeth Plummer and Sarah Pughe from our Whips’ office for all the work that they have put in to help us challenge the Bill in the way that we have.

I look forward to the answers that we get to the unanswered questions—next week, presumably, but we might get some today—and to when we continue the debate next week.

My Lords, as the Bill nears completion of its passage through your Lordships’ House, it is obviously timely for me to say a few words. First, I want to say that I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. The two responses to the JCHR and the Constitution Committee were cleared this morning and issued this afternoon. I apologise that this has taken a while longer than it should have. They deal with the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. The key point remains, of course, that the Government will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. We have dealt with that at some length over the passage of the Bill.

I think we can all agree that there is common ground in the view that we need to stop the boats. We need to prevent the tragic loss of lives at sea and bring to an end the horrid trade of the criminal gangs who are exploiting people for financial gain. Where there is disagreement is on the means by which we can achieve that and the strength of our desire to carry out the will of the British public—to control our border and tackle this global crisis of illegal migration. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it is a global crisis that will inevitably require global solutions.

The Government have made progress towards stopping the boats. Small boat crossings were down by a third in 2023, when our joint work with France prevented more than 26,000 individuals crossing by small boat to the UK. There is, however, more to do. As we have made unequivocally clear, to stop the boats and prevent people taking such perilous journeys across the channel, we need to send out a message that if you arrive in the United Kingdom by such means, you will not be able to stay.

We need to be able to take bold and innovative steps to create a strong deterrent that will stop the loss of lives at sea. Our partnership with Rwanda provides just that. The new, legally binding treaty with the Government of the Republic of Rwanda responds to the Supreme Court’s concerns, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments. Under our new legislation, migrants will not be able to frustrate the decision to remove them to Rwanda by bringing systemic challenges about the general safety of Rwanda. It is imperative that the scheme as provided for in this Bill is robust and sends the unambiguous message that if you enter the UK illegally, you will not be able to build a life here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe third country.

In light of the non-government amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House on Report, it is clear that many noble Lords in this House do not agree on how to end the misuse of our immigration process. However, it is not an option for us to not act: without a plan or an alternative approach, more lives will be tragically lost at sea and the financial burden on the British taxpayer will grow as millions of pounds continue to be spent each day accommodating people in hotels. We have spoken at length about the protections needed for various vulnerable cohorts of people, which we are satisfied this Bill and partnership will provide. However, as I have said repeatedly, the people to whom we refer are those who have already reached a country of safety, where they could and should have claimed asylum.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, noted, there was some debate on Report about consultation with the Crown dependencies. The Government, of course, recognise the concerns raised by some noble Lords and remain committed to consulting the Crown dependencies on any legislation which might affect them, including on the inclusion of a permissive extent clause, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord German, for clarifying.

Although I have no doubt that the amendments passed by this House are well intended, some do indeed—as my noble friend Lord Howard noted—seek to undermine the core purpose of the Bill and would continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated. No doubt, our debate on such matters will continue.

That said, I want to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their valued contributions during the passage of the Bill through this House. I want to express my appreciation to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Ponsonby, for the courteous manner in which they have engaged with me on the Bill. I thank them also for their warm words. I also wish to extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord German, and his Front-Bench colleagues for their clarity of views, albeit ones with which I have not agreed.

I want also to record my gratitude for the invaluable support and assistance of my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton. I must also put on record my thanks to the Bill team, my private office, and all the officials and lawyers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice who have provided such thorough support and expertise.

In conclusion, the purpose of this Bill is to deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the United Kingdom, which are putting people’s lives at risk, and to disrupt the business model of the people smugglers who are exploiting vulnerable people. This Bill reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the internationally binding treaty to people transferred to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty. Alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since the summer of 2022, this Bill will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe. I have no doubt that we will shortly be debating these matters vigorously again, but, for now, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.