Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

House of Lords

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Midwives: Bullying


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of bullying of students and newly qualified midwives in the NHS on (1) retention of staff, and (2) the treatment of pregnant women, as highlighted in the #Saynotobullyinginmidwifery report published on 12 November 2023.

This report makes difficult reading, highlighting unacceptable levels of bullying in midwifery. We know that culture and leadership have a significant impact on retention and staff experience. NHS organisations should have robust policies in place to tackle bullying and harassment. Through the NHS long-term workforce plan and the NHS equality, diversity and inclusion plan, we are seeking to expand the workforce and make the NHS a better place to work.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. As he says, all NHS trusts have those robust policies. The problem is that they are not coming out into practice. This report describes the experience of midwives working in a toxic culture. One newly qualified midwife is quoted as saying that they were left

“burnt out by bullying and the terror of working on understaffed wards”.

Another said:

“I would return home crying most days and became suicidal from the fear and treatment at this trust”.

Does the Minister accept that much more fundamental change is required to deal with understaffed maternity units, NHS trusts preoccupied with reputation management over patient safety, and a reluctance to take whistleblowers seriously?

I thank the noble Lord for his work in this whole area. That is genuine appreciation, because I know that he looks not just at bullying in this area. He is a very important conduit and I am personally grateful for the work he does on this and how much he cares. It is a combination of all the things that he mentioned. I had a meeting with the chief midwife on this subject this morning because of it being brought to my attention. I was actually quite reassured. Each trust now has what is called a quad leadership team, where the chief midwife, a neonatologist, an obstetrician and the general manager spend time together in a six-month process where they work together as a team on how they will address all these vital cultural issues.

My Lords, among the very disturbing elements in this report is the way that midwives are bearing the brunt of the toxic culture and dangerously low staffing levels, which are causing over half of midwives to consider leaving their organisation. Despite what the Minister just said, the Ockenden report was over two years ago. Is he satisfied with this rate of progress? Should we not consider a statutory inquiry—a recommendation of this report—before more midwives leave and more babies die?

We have the highest level of staffing ever in midwifery, 5% up on last year and 21% up on 2010, against a background of static births. I want to address that point on staffing; staffing levels are high. However, as the noble Baroness says, there are issues around culture. On the national inquiry, again, every one of those 150 trusts was visited by the CQC in the last year or so and action plans made on how to address this. We know what we need to do; we just need to get on and implement it.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his replies. I am much more grateful to the many midwives who have helped my family over the years. They give an extraordinary service. If we are not to have an inquiry, will my noble friend make sure that his ears and doors continue to be open when things are not going as well as they should? The NHS has a habit of closing doors on things and making it difficult to interact with it. Bullying is not the only problem. There is a succession of problems which need bringing out into the air, such as overmedicalisation, the failure to implement the better births policy, and the regulatory culture overseen by the NMC. The Minister could help with that.

I agree with my noble friend. Over the last 18 months, I have appreciated the power of this House and of these Questions. Each time I get one, it sets off a process. In this case, I undertook to meet the Chief Midwifery Officer to make sure that feet are being held to the fire. I know that Minister Caulfield is doing this. It is to the credit of the House that it has this scrutiny role.

My Lords, my maiden speech in this House was on bullying in schools. Can the Minister tell me whether there is an anonymous hotline for whistleblowers to report unbecoming conduct in the health service? It is so important to have one.

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. It is crucial. We have a whistleblowing system. It has had over 100,000 reported instances. We are trying to inculcate a culture where people feel able and free to stand up and point out an issue.

My Lords, workplace bullying is particularly toxic where managers are involved. This is where non-executive members of the NHS trust boards may come into their own if complaints involve executive members. What is being done to help non-executive members of trust boards be more responsive and able to deal with bullying complaints?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. This is the role of non-execs. Having done a bit of work on the Lucy Letby case, I understand that the non-execs should have said something. Obviously, the executives should have found out, but the non-execs clearly had a role. This is an excellent question. I have to be honest and say that I need to come back on it, if I may, so that I can give the noble Lord a full answer and make sure that this is happening.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we also need to tackle the conditions in which bullying can sometimes flourish? The Royal College of Midwives—the union representing midwives—published a report last week showing that over 100,000 hours of unpaid overtime are performed by midwives every week. Some 60% of midwives believe that staffing at their workplace is unsafe. Three-quarters of student midwives are expecting to graduate with £40,000 of debt. Surely it is time that we gave midwives the respect and the pay rise that they deserve.

I agree. As ever with these things, there are a number of issues, of which pay is one. The introduction of the £5,000 a year support that we now give to all students is an important help with regard to debt. Work conditions are important, but key to it all is the culture. I have seen many examples where that has not been great. I was quite impressed by the Chief Midwifery Officer saying that every trust now has a midwife retention person whose job is to get into all these issues and make sure that they are addressed.

My Lords, how many of the midwives recruited to deal with the current midwifery crisis in the NHS were trained and qualified in the United Kingdom? On a recent visit to Ghana, I visited a child oncology unit, which, in the past year, had lost a fifth of its clinical nursing staff, who were trained, qualified and paid for by the Ghanian taxpayer—to the benefit of the NHS. How is that ethical or right?

I will come back to the noble Lord with the exact number, but he is correct: the long-term workforce plan is all about making sure that we have the right resources and infrastructure to train the required number of people. Behind that, we have funded an extra 150 spaces this year and we have a target to increase them by 1,000 by 2026. It is absolutely as the noble Lord maintains: we are putting training in place domestically, as well.

My Lords, does my noble friend share my view about the evidence that, when midwives and other clinical staff understand the importance of continuity, it leads to safer care and better outcomes for both the mother and the baby? One of the midwives quoted in chapter 2 of the report that was sent to us—I thank my noble friend for that—says that working in a continuity team was the best, most rewarding time in their career. Continuity is absolutely critical; it comes up in a number of reports, some of which I have had a part in writing. We know that you need continuity if you are going to make a real impression on the midwifery service and that the women who are party to it must really understand what continuity does and can achieve.

I thank my noble friend, who has been a tireless campaigner on continuity of care. I challenged the chief midwife on this just this morning, and the objective behind the long-term workforce plan is to make sure that we have the resources in place to maintain that, starting with ethnic minorities. We all know that there is a disparity of outcomes in terms of inequality, so the first priority for continuity of care is that setting, but the objective is to spread that across the whole system.

Immunisation: RSV


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when a decision on eligibility for a potential 2024 respiratory syncytial virus immunisation programme will be confirmed, and whether this will be aligned to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s September 2023 advice.

The Government have made a policy decision on the eligibility of a potential RSV programme, which is in line with the JCVI’s September 2023 advice. We are working through the full business case, with costing and operational delivery, for final agreement in line with an autumn start.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but what plans and resources, both staff and finance, are in place to enable the immediate implementation of any RSV immunisation programme for young infants and older adults, in line with the JCVI’s advice, once the ongoing market engagement and tender process is complete?

That process is absolutely going on at the moment, as well as operational delivery aspects. For infants, it depends on whether we choose a vaccine that goes into the pregnant mother or the infant, as the delivery mechanisms are obviously different. We are looking at the effectiveness of not just one vaccination versus the other but the delivery mechanism. There is a different delivery mechanism for the group aged 75-plus. The full programme business case is considering exactly that to make sure that we can deliver in the autumn.

My Lords, will the Minister commit to making the vaccination records for new programmes such as RSV available through the NHS app from the outset? I ask this as a parent who has just had to verify his teenage children’s MMR status by hunting down the red books last seen a decade ago to find the tatty piece of paper that is the only record of it. I now have a digital copy through my camera phone, but it would be much more useful to have this kind of record in the NHS app.

It will not surprise the noble Lord to learn that I totally agree. It is absolutely on the road map. I cannot promise it is there today; it is more there for adults. The child digital red book is another objective we are working on, but that is taking slightly longer. But in terms of direction of travel—yes, absolutely.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on pursuing this even before we had vaccines available. Now we have succeeded in getting the vaccine, but why has 75 years been chosen for adult immunisation, when we know that the incidence and prevalence of RSV infections is much more common for over-65s?

I too add my thanks; the noble Baroness is very good at holding our feet to the fire, and it is very important and appreciated. Regarding the age group, we are being guided by the scientific advice on what is most cost-effective.

My Lords, earlier this year we discussed the busy pipeline of new vaccines, including those for RSV, which, coupled with the concerning decline in the uptake of immunisation, does point to the need for a fresh look at delivery mechanisms. What steps are being taken to move beyond traditional arrangements, and when can we hope to see an improvement plan in place, in readiness for the RSV immunisation programme?

Of course, the communication needed for each one is different, and that is a vital consideration. As I said, we found that, often, it is easier to put RSV in the infant rather than the pregnant mother. It is a question of considering which is the most effective way to get the best outcome and the highest take-up rate. That is one of the key criteria we are looking at. Regarding general communication, the noble Baroness will be aware that, on MMR, we have challenges in both London and the West Midlands. That has shown that you need other communication routes to get to some ethnic minority groups, using technology such as the app. There is no one silver bullet —you need a series of measures in place.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the implementation programme will take place before the 2024-25 winter period, as promised in previous iterations of this Question?

The goal is absolutely to make sure that the JCVI advice is there for the key winter period the noble Baroness mentions. That is the programme we are working towards, and this is where the logistics come in. It is not just about the effectiveness of each vaccine but, in terms of the maternal versus infant vaccination to which I referred, being confident of getting it in people’s bodies in time.

Lord Byron: 200th Anniversary


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to mark the 200th anniversary year since the death of George Gordon 6th Lord Byron, which commences on 19 April; and whether they are providing support for the relocation of his statue from a traffic island in Park Lane in London.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw the attention of the House to my direct descent from Lord Byron and my involvement with the Byron Society in London and also in Missolonghi, Greece.

My Lords, His Majesty’s Government appreciate the great interest that the bicentenary of the death of the sixth Lord Byron has generated, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. The continuing fascination with his life and works has cemented his status as one of England’s greatest poets, and it is absolutely right that his legacy be honoured. The Government fully support the relocation of Lord Byron’s statue into Hyde Park, led by the Byron Society. Once in situ, the statue will become a retained asset of the Government.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his reply, and particularly for his personal engagement and commitment to this. I draw to his attention that, in this House, in debate on 16 June 1958 about the then new Park Lane traffic scheme, Lord Mancroft, then speaking for the Government, said:

“It will be necessary to move one or two of the smaller memorials and statues, including Byron and the Cavalry and Machine Gun memorials, but, wherever possible, they will be re-sited in the vicinity”.—[Official Report, 16/6/1958; cols. 866-67.]

In the event, all were relocated, as far as I know, except Byron, which languishes in an isolated traffic island in the middle of Park Lane. In the light of the public fundraising that is going on to defray the cost of reversing both neglect and the fact that it has not been relocated as originally intended, and having regard to the bicentenary year, might the Government be prepared to assist financially in fulfilling the understandings given nearly 66 years ago, especially given that some department in the 1960s saved more than a bob or two in not moving the monument? I further suggest that it would be a rather appropriate way of honouring one of the nation’s major poets.

The noble Earl is right to point out that the Government have moved rather slowly in this instance. Part of the difficulty has been the question of the ownership of the statue. I am very pleased that my department has been able to break that impasse by taking responsibility for the statue, so that it can indeed be moved into the main part of Hyde Park. It is currently stranded on an island far less enticing and accessible than those of the Peloponnese that Lord Byron frequented. Once the statue is moved to its new location, subject to the planning permission which is currently before Westminster City Council, the Government are happy to treat it as a retained asset, which means that the regular maintenance will be the responsibility of the Royal Parks but any major repairs needed will be the responsibility of my department. I saw the chief executive and chairman of the Royal Parks this morning for a catch-up on progress. The fundraising effort is being led brilliantly by the Byron Society, which I am delighted is holding a dinner here in your Lordships’ House on Friday, the actual anniversary of Lord Byron’s death, which will be addressed by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia.

My Lords, given the rise in traffic in London at present and the excessive traffic around that statue, and given equally the flamboyance of Lord Byron, would he not be rather grateful to be seen by as many people as he is, rather than being in Hyde Park?

As part of its plans, the Byron Society is preparing a programme of engagement and education, which is wonderful, so that in its new location the statue will be able to inspire future generations of poets and philhellenes, and of course be much more easily accessed so that it can be maintained and repaired.

My Lords, the siting of the Byron statue in the dual carriageway is mad, bad and dangerous to show. Does the Minister agree that the great British public, who have poetry in their souls, should go to and help pay for the relocation to Hyde Park?

I congratulate my noble friend on his poetic exhortation. The Byron Society has received support from the Heritage of London Trust but welcomes support from members of the public. I would encourage them to do that, so that the statue can be moved, I hope in this bicentenary year.

My Lords, Ada Lovelace, who is credited with being the world’s first computer programmer, was Lord Byron’s daughter. Her achievements are truly remarkable and surely worthy of a prominent statue in London, especially as there are more statues to animals in London than to named women. Does the Minister agree?

I certainly do. The noble Baroness is right to remind us that, sadly, Lord Byron’s marriage was brief and unhappy, but his pioneering daughter, Ava Lovelace, deserves recognition and to be remembered. Her portrait was hung in some of the state rooms in Downing Street until recently. It would be wonderful to inspire future generations of women and girls to go into computing, engineering and whatever field they choose.

Normally one is memorised in our country by a stone slab in Westminster Abbey. I think it is unlikely that the Church of England would welcome one for Byron, but he was, from 1809, when he went to Greece, a Member of this House, so could we not find a niche for him here somewhere? How many noble Lords can remember a Peer who sat in this House from 1800 to 1820? Are there any names to be offered? No. If tourists saw a statue of Bryon, they would find this House rather more interesting.

My noble friend makes an important point. Lord Byron made a number of contributions in your Lordships’ House, speaking in defence of the Luddites. He was politically engaged throughout his career. Of course, we recall his support for Greek independence—in fact, the marble for the statue was donated by the Greek Government in recognition of that. His legislative contributions bear rereading and remembering in Hansard.

My Lords, Lord Byron is rightly canonised as being symbolic of the international contribution that UK art and literature make to the world. Byron himself once said:

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,

Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think”.

In Greece, they celebrate National Byron Day on 19 April. Does the Minister think we should have a Byron day to celebrate the arts and the contribution that they make to our industry and culture? Does he agree that it will take more than moving the statue to ensure that we continue to revive our cultural sector?

I hope that the campaign to move the statue into Hyde Park, where it can be seen and admired by more people, will help to inspire people into art, whether that is sculpture or poetry, and to investigate history. The efforts of the Byron Society to promote this legacy are important. Many towns in Greece have an Odos Vyronos—that is, a Byron Street. He is perhaps better commemorated in Greece than in the land of his birth. I hope that this bicentenary will help inspire new generations of admirers.

A wider concern here is the protection and conservation of all our public sculpture and heritage, from ancient to contemporary, including concerns over stone and metal theft. Has the Minister seen the excellent recent report by the APPG on Metal, Stone and Heritage Crime and the important recommendations it makes in relation to heritage crime? Is the department working closely with the Home Office in this area, as well as with Historic England?

I am happy to reassure the noble Earl that, yes, we are. Historic England does a great deal of work, working with police forces across the UK on this important issue. We have to protect our public statues from, alas, vandalism and theft, and from the challenges of climate change. On this, the department, Historic England and many others work closely.

My Lords,

“To have joy, one must share it”.

That is a quotation from Lord Byron. He is hardly being shared where he is presently located. Indeed, the proposals to go to Hyde Park seem almost as bad. Will my noble friend the Minister look carefully at the activities of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group at Trafalgar—or “Trafulgar”—Square, where we have seen recently some very interesting choices being made as to who should occupy that plinth. In the final run-off, before announcements were made, it included a great sweet potato and an ice-cream van. Surely Lord Byron deserves better, and would be better placed there to give to the people of this country the joy that he wishes us to share.

As Arts Minister, I am certainly not an art critic. I have always lived by the motto “de gustibus non est disputandum” when it comes to the selection of artwork. The matter of the fourth plinth is the responsibility of the Mayor of London, but I certainly share my noble friend’s hopes that, in moving the statue of Lord Byron to its more prominent place by Victoria Gate, more people will be able to admire this wonderful bronze work by Richard Belt, as well as the very kind Greek donation of the marble, and learn more about Byron’s life and works and be inspired by them.

Farmers: Flooding Compensation


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what rules apply to compensation payments made to farmers affected by flooding from the Farming Recovery Fund and similar schemes.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Farmers will receive payments from the new farming recovery fund for all land parcels that are flooded contiguous to a river with notably high river level gauge readings, following Storm Henk during January this year. Currently, eligible areas are Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, West Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. The fund remains under review and flexible as we ensure that it supports areas where farmland is most impacted. We are currently reviewing a further eight areas.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but why on earth are Ministers not fully compensating all farmers whose entire cropping land is submerged under water? They are at their wits’ end, refused compensation even when right alongside a major river because their farms are more than 150 metres from the centre of it. After six months of nearly solid rain—there has been nothing like that for nearly 200 years, says the Met Office—and with the climate emergency likely to make this a regular pattern, also threatening food production, surely farmers should be fully compensated now. We should bin these ridiculously restrictive rules, for goodness’ sake.

The noble Lord is right about the 150-metre restriction, which was lifted within 48 hours of that announcement. The farming recovery fund will pay farmers who suffered uninsurable damage from exceptionally high continued rainfall from Storm Henk in the period 2 to 12 January this year. The fund is a contribution towards the cost of recultivating whole land parcels flooded by notably high river levels caused by the storm. For grassland, the grant is towards the cost of recultivating grassland ready for reseeding; for arable land, it is for getting the land ready to plant crops. I appreciate the noble Lord’s point that there is extensive damage over a lot of areas, but it is not the Government’s intention or job to compensate every single farmer for all those issues.

My Lords, will my noble friend look kindly on the fact that livestock farmers are unable to put their sheep and lambs on to the fields because the fields are simply too wet? That is going to have devastating consequences for the livestock industry in North Yorkshire and other parts of the north of England. Will he agree to be less prescriptive with the criteria set out in the farm recovery fund? Will he go further and recognise the role that internal drainage boards play—I speak as a vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities —in regular drainage maintenance and recovery after floods of minor watercourses? Will he look to create more of them where it is appropriate to do so?

I am particularly sympathetic to the issue of livestock farmers, being one myself. As I explained in my opening comments, that fund is restricted to a number of areas at the moment but we are exploring what else we might apply it to. There are a number of funds that the farming community can use, and this is just one of them. The flood recovery framework covers the business recovery grant. It also includes the property flood resilience repair grant, and it provides for business rates relief from local authorities.

Climate change and global events have exposed the vulnerability of relying on imported foods. Given the extreme weather events and flooding, the likelihood that this will continue and the impact on farming, what plans do the Government have in place to ensure food security?

The right reverend Prelate is entirely right to raise the issue of food security, which is high on the Government’s agenda. Through our environmental land management schemes, we are ensuring that food production remains constant. We also have the food index, announced by the Prime Minister at the NFU conference in January, to measure the amount of food that the country is producing and ensure that it remains constant.

My Lords, to follow on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the announcement by the Prime Minister in February of £75 million funding for internal drainage boards is to be welcomed. There are 112 independent IDBs in England. The consultation on the alternative valuation calculation statutory instrument is due to end this Friday. Is the allocation of the £75 million dependent on the outcome of the consultation, or has the money already been allocated and distributed?

I thank the noble Baroness very much for her question. I do not have the exact answer so, rather than perhaps mislead her and the House, I will endeavour to write to her very shortly.

In Princetown on Dartmoor, near where I live, 122 centimetres of rainfall was recorded from 1 to 12 April; the normal average for the month of April is 90 centimetres. The extreme rainfall illustrates that where flooding is occurring it is the result of streams and rivers breaching banks, affecting far greater areas of farmland than previously recorded. Planting is simply impossible and grazing some animals is extremely difficult. In the interests of the mental health of farmers and to reduce the number getting out of farming, can the Minister explain how quickly the Government will revise the current payment system?

I have recently attended a number of meetings on this specific subject, and the intention last week was to get the first element of this fund out and available to farmers. We have this issue under constant review and I hope that, if there are further announcements to make, we can make them very shortly.

My Lords, I come back to the right reverend Prelate’s question about food security. The Minister talked about food production being constant and mentioned ELMS, but that also looks at flood relief schemes for farmers that take more land out of food production. The increase in climate change and the storms we have been seeing have really worrying implications for food security, and I genuinely do not think that measuring food production constants is going to solve the problem. We need a long-term food security plan that takes account of the implications of future storms and flooding.

The noble Baroness will be very well aware that there is a trade here between the environmental gains we are looking to enact and protecting our food production. One of the main aims of ELMS is to improve productivity, and a lot of the funding through ELMS is driving better productivity—higher yields from smaller areas of land—so that we can then allow land to be available for nature and improve our biodiversity.

My Lords, I am a farmer and luckily my crops are all planted, but many farmers are not so lucky, with fields that have been underwater since October. Even fields that have not flooded are too wet now to plant. Many farmers find it very difficult to get any information on the flood recovery scheme and to know whether they are eligible. What are the Government going to do to help them?

The Rural Payments Agency is contacting all eligible farmers to remove the burden of the farmers themselves having to contact the RPA. The RPA has a range of measures to look at these issues—aerial photography, digital mapping and local knowledge—to assess who is eligible, and it will contact farmers directly. Any farmer who feels that they should be eligible and has not been contacted by the RPA may, of course, contact it directly.

India: Freedom of Religion or Belief


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what assessment he has made of the current state of freedom of religion or belief in India.

My Lords, India is a multifaith, multiethnic democracy and remains among the most religiously diverse societies in the world. It is home to 966 million Hindus, 172 million Muslims, 28 million Christians, 20 million Sikhs, 8 million Buddhists and 4.5 million Jains. India is committed via its constitution to freedom of religion and belief. Where specific issues or concerns arise, the UK Government of course raise these directly with the Government of India.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Disturbing reports of violations of freedom of religion or belief in the Indian state of Manipur over the past year have been rightly highlighted by the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance —of which the UK is a member, under the leadership of the Member of Parliament for Congleton, Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm his support for the Bill to place the vital international role of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FORB on a statutory footing? I hope to bring that Bill forward to this House in the next few weeks once it concludes its current stages in another place. The statutory establishment of this role was a recommendation of the Truro review that I was honoured to author, the implementation of which remains government policy.

I can certainly give the right reverend Prelate that confirmation. I very much agree with the Bill. In fact, I insisted that it went forward with government support. Fiona Bruce does an excellent job in this regard and, for the first time, one of these governmental envoys will be placed on a statutory footing. That reflects the importance that we in this Government and in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office attach to celebrating freedom of religious belief. She does a great job and should be able to do it on a statutory basis.

My Lords, will the noble Lord build on the success of his department at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in managing to include in communiqué the words,

“freedom of religion or belief are cornerstones of democratic societies”,

and will he encourage his officials on two things? The first is to emphasise that this is not exceptionalism and that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that everyone has the right to believe, not to believe or to change their belief—is about every human being’s right. Secondly, there is empirical evidence that shows that those countries which promote freedom of religion or belief are the most prosperous and most stable in the world. If we look at factors such as the 114 million displaced people in the world, we see that they are often in countries where there is not such freedom.

The noble Lord speaks with great passion and knowledge about this. My department takes this very seriously: not only have we set up the envoy and are putting that into legislation but we have dedicated staff in the FCDO who look at freedom of religious belief. My noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon led at the United Nations Security Council in June, together with UAE, in defence of a motion on freedom of religious belief. Of course, in response to the report by the right reverend Prelate when he was the Bishop of Truro, we commemorate Red Wednesday—I want to reassure my noble friends that this is not a political moment; it is a moment when we celebrate and make clear how important it is that people have freedom of religious belief, and how we stand up for those being persecuted for their beliefs. I think that on the last occasion of Red Wednesday, we lit up the FCDO in red—something which, in other circumstances, I hope is not going to happen any time soon.

My Lords, it is almost exactly 10 years since the Minister stated, in the other place, that the mass killing of tens of thousands of Sikhs in 1984 was one of the greatest blots on the history of post-partition India. It is true that India has what is called a secular constitution, but since then, we have had the riots in Ayodhya where tens of thousands of Muslims were killed; then we had its Home Minister describing the Muslims as termites; then a Hindu temple was built on a razed mosque. Christians have been persecuted again and again, and Sikhs are told that if they behave like Hindus, they are fine; otherwise, they are termed separatists. Does the Minister agree that India is a member of the Commonwealth, and should not freedom of belief be at the forefront of the Commonwealth charter?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I will never forget the visit I made to Amritsar; it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and one of the most peaceful places, but, of course, it is important that we acknowledge what happened there and how wrong it was. The noble Lord makes important points about the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of religious belief in India. There have been occasions on which it has been something we have raised with the Indian Government. That should continue.

The original question was about the situation in Manipur. A very good report on that has been written by David Campanale, which I have studied. It is right to say that we should not downplay the religious aspects of some of this strife. Sometimes it is communal, tribal or ethnic, but in many cases, there is a clear religious part of it. We should be clear about that.

My Lords, perhaps I may broaden the Question out to an issue that I think is close to the Foreign Secretary’s heart: the delivery of the sustainable development goals. Religious tolerance is important in creating a secure world. He will be aware that India will be key to delivering the sustainable development goals. Could he inform the House of any discussions he has had recently with the Indian Government on how they can play a role, with us in partnership, to ensure that they are delivered?

We have an excellent dialogue with the Indian Government in all sorts of ways. In fact, I spoke to Foreign Minister Jaishankar at the weekend. My noble friend Lord Ahmad visits frequently and has a very deep dialogue. I have a good relationship with Prime Minister Modi, and we discuss all these things.

In terms of meeting the sustainable development goals, the most important thing India can do is to continue to grow and lift people out of poverty. I think it is true that there are more people in India below the poverty line than in sub-Saharan Africa. The need for India to grow and pull people out of poverty is great. Obviously, one thing we will discuss at the G20 and elsewhere is how to scale up the multilateral development banks, in which India has a voice, to make sure that we have the financing available to meet those development goals.

My Lords, the democratic elections in India are a positive for the whole world and are to be commended to the Indian authorities. But all too often there has been harassment and intimidation by the Indian Government when there has been reporting of human rights concerns, as well as freedom of religion concerns, including the necessity for the BBC uniquely to restructure in India so that it is no longer operating there like it operates in any other country. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that we are not offering market access to India for media, data and telecoms on an unequal basis? The freedoms that we should enjoy in this country when it comes to the BBC and open media to report human rights concerns should exist in India also. We should not give preferential market access here when we are not offered it there.

The noble Lord makes a very good point about the rumbustious nature of Indian democracy. India should be proud of being the biggest democracy in the world. As with all democracies, there are imperfections—as there are in our own country. We should celebrate the scale of India’s democracy.

The point the noble Lord makes about the BBC is important. My understanding is that India passed a law insisting that digital media companies had to be Indian-owned, and the BBC has had to restructure on that basis. That is not the British way—insisting that all media have to be domestically owned—although I know that some in this place and elsewhere have been tempted by those moves; I have sometimes fantasised about that when reading things that I have read. None the less, that is the reason why the BBC has restructured, together with some disagreements with India.

I will take away and look at the point that the noble Lord then made about the trade deal. My understanding of where we are with the trade deal is that good market access has been offered on both sides, but not quite enough yet to secure a deal. It is important with such trade deals, as you only really get one proper shot at it, to make sure that it is a good enough deal that will be welcomed by industry leaders here in the UK as offering real market access. On the point on media access, I will have to go away and look at that. Personally, I would say that we should open up media access on both sides to make sure we have a good plurality of media.

My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his continuing focus on Christian persecution and his comprehensive Truro report. In that report, it is noted that Foreign Office staff are often not equipped to deal with these terrible issues. A recommendation was made for mandatory training for all FCDO staff on religious diversity and inclusivity. The current training is not mandatory—perhaps the Foreign Secretary could tell us why.

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I shall have to take that one away and look at it. There is a lot of diversity training in the FCDO, and there is a dedicated number of staff for dealing with freedom of religious belief questions, but I shall certainly ask the specific question about whether the training is included in this area.

Ukraine: Support


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what action the Government are taking to maintain moral and physical support, in the United Kingdom and internationally, for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.

My Lords, no country has done more than the UK to maintain physical and moral support for Ukraine. Our military support has made a critical difference on the battlefield and paved the way for others to follow; our fiscal support has helped to keep the Ukrainian economy going; the British people have invited over 280,000 Ukrainians into their homes; and this July we intend to sign a hundred-year partnership agreement to demonstrate that a century from now the UK and Ukraine will still be standing shoulder to shoulder.

I thank the Minister for that, and for his efforts in the States recently. As he says, it is imperative that moral as well as military support is maintained, not just to reassure Ukrainians that we will back them till they win but to make sure that Russia knows that we will do that too. Given that the Kremlin watches our every move, would not a multi-year commitment have given a clearer signal to Putin that we were there until Ukraine won, rather than the programme for just one year and £2 billion that was announced?

I have just come from a meeting with a delegation from the Polish parliament, which thanks us for all the things that the Foreign Secretary has said and was full of praise for us. But those parliamentarians from Poland noted, interestingly, that they had not prepared their people for what happened in February 2022. They said that the challenge now was for all of us to persuade the people of our nations that this fight is worth it. Will the Foreign Secretary make the case domestically to stand firm against Putin in the interests not just of Ukraine but of the whole of Europe? Ukraine is actually fighting our war.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. One of the strengths of Britain’s position in this regard is the huge cross-party support for our backing for Ukraine. One can argue that multi-year packages would be even better than individual-year packages, but I think that Ukraine is and should be confident that we will go on providing the right level of support in this country in the years ahead. Of course, we do not know what that right level will be.

As for talking about keeping that support in the UK, as the noble Baroness rightly does, I think that there is an innate understanding in this country about the danger of giving into bullies in Europe. We learned that lesson in the 1930s, when appeasing Hitler did not bring peace—it ultimately led to war. The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and be strong, which is what this Government are doing.

My Lords, in addition to the obvious need of Ukrainians for combat aircraft and munitions, in the present situation can we at least make sure, with our allies, that they obtain the kind of super-efficient anti-projectile and anti-missile system as seems to be available to the Israelis? Can we ensure that the same standards are provided to the Ukrainians? Their system is good, but clearly it could be better still, and should we not work on that?

At the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting last week, there was a very clear request from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister for two things: first, the artillery shells to make sure that Ukraine stays in the fight against Russia in the days ahead but, secondly and crucially, air defences, particularly Patriot missile systems, which have been so effective. I know that action is being taken by us and others on both those subjects to make sure that we do everything that we can. My noble friend is absolutely right to point out how effective the Israeli anti-missile system was, and it shows what can be done if you have the right resources in place.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, reminds us about the UK commitment to Ukraine, and it is absolutely right that we keep focused on that. However, events at the weekend, and the fact that those Iranian drones did not succeed, remind us that many of the drones sent towards Ukraine from Russia are actually Iranian. What are His Majesty’s Government doing with allies to look at the relationship between Iran and Russia, and whether there is something that we can do, because we should not look at these incidents in isolation?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. We do not look at these things in isolation; in the contacts I have had with the Iranian Foreign Minister, we repeatedly make the point that supplying weapons to Russia is unacceptable. Over and above that, we are putting sanctions in place on every country and company that we can which we find is supplying these weapons. I am about to spend time at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, where there are specific proposals to look at what we can do together to make clear to the Iranians that there will be consequences if they continue to supply drones and more substantial missiles to Russia. We are working together on this and recognise the importance of dealing with it.

My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. The UK led the world on legislation to ban Russian oil imports in 2022, but we still import Russian nuclear fuel, which is a major energy security and national security issue for this country. It is not due to be phased out until 2030. Does the Minister agree that we urgently need to legislate to bring this date forward to the near term, as our allies in the US are doing, with all the attendant benefits for our domestic industry?

I certainly agree that we should look at this. We have been effective at taking Russian gas and oil out of our system and it is pretty remarkable what steps have been taken across Europe to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas. Just last week, we made an announcement about excluding Russia from the London Metal Exchange and other related exchanges. This is the next area that we should look at. I have had a letter from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that I saw just this morning about this issue. We will certainly take this away and look at it. It is the responsibility of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, as it deals specifically with Urenco, the company that delivers our nuclear fuel, but we will take this away.

My Lords, I certainly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s continued unity with the Opposition. We are at one with the Government on defeating Russian aggression. He said recently that we will ensure that Russia pays for its aggression through the use of frozen assets and that he would seek unity between the G7 and the EU. Can he update us on that? I have raised frequently with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the £2 billion from the sale of Chelsea, which is still languishing somewhere. Can the Foreign Secretary update us on that and say why we cannot ensure that this £2 billion is used for the immediate support of the people of Ukraine?

I can certainly update the House on both those issues. I have been perhaps one of the most enthusiastic about using the frozen Russian assets; you know that Russia will have to pay reparations, so you should give the money now to Ukraine and get it paid back by the reparations when they come. The difficulty is in getting consensus around the EU and in the United States. To be fair to European Union countries, the majority of the sovereign assets are in their countries and they have a direct interest in it, particularly Belgium and the money in Euroclear. I think there is an emerging consensus that the interest on those assets can be used to support much larger financial support for Ukraine, so I am confident that at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting and the G7 meeting there will be an answer around which America, the UK, France, Germany and others can coalesce. If we can get that done, we will be able to provide real financial firepower to Ukraine based on those assets, rather than delivering the assets directly.

The Chelsea situation is immensely frustrating; as the noble Lord says, what could be as much as £2.5 billion is sitting there in potentially one of the biggest charitable organisations in Britain, and it is very frustrating that we cannot get the money out of the door. The disagreement is over whether all the money has to go into Ukraine for the benefit of the people in Ukraine who have suffered from the war or whether any of it can be spent in other countries—although not Russia or Belarus—that have suffered from the Ukraine war. That is the difficulty with the people who set up this trust. We have to resolve that with the European Union and Portugal, where Abramovich has citizenship. We are working very hard because I do not want month after month to go by while the money has not got out of the door. It is difficult to get everybody into alignment, but we are on it.

My Lords, if we believe that Putin is a threat to the West, should we not start thinking about defending ourselves? If so, has my noble friend the Foreign Secretary considered following the Swedish example of a total defence service, including a selective system of conscription? It would, at any rate, bolster young people’s self-confidence, teach them to work in teams and give them the skills necessary to find a job once they leave the service.

Interestingly, I had lunch with the Swedish Foreign Minister yesterday to celebrate Sweden’s accession to NATO. It is an incredibly capable country. As it is financially robust and has very good armed forces and superb equipment, it will make NATO a lot stronger. I will not be tempted down the line of national service, but we will clearly need to improve the way that we encourage people, including young people, to join our Armed Forces and make sure that we get people to join our reserves and meet all our targets. The core of our effort is towards our highly professional Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, which are the key to our defence.

France: Security


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs when the next bilateral is planned between the United Kingdom and French governments on security issues, and whether it will involve the President and Prime Minister as well as the two foreign secretaries.

My Lords, last week, the Prime Minister and President Macron spoke on illegal migration and European security. On Thursday, I will speak to Foreign Minister Séjourné at the G7. I am confident that the Prime Minister and President Macron will meet again in person before too long. My colleagues, the Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary, and their teams similarly maintain regular, action-orientated dialogue with their French counterparts.

In light of the forthcoming elections in the United States and the constant reiteration of senior Russians that tactical nuclear weapons should be used in their invasion of Ukraine, would it not be a very good thing if the French and British Heads of Government got together and discussed their own targeting strategies for the nuclear weapons they possess in Europe and give some guidance—to Europe, to the rest of the world, and, above all, to the Russians—about their attitude to this constant invocation of nuclear weapons being used in Ukraine?

I thank the noble Lord for his question; he clearly has huge experience in this area. The Lancaster House agreement that I signed with President Sarkozy in 2010 expressly sets out areas where Britain and France will collaborate, including the most sensitive areas of nuclear weapon research and nuclear weapons. If what he is saying is that we need to enter into deeper dialogue to think about these things in the future, I agree. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is declared to NATO, and I am in favour of us having deeper conversations with the French about that.

I still maintain that one of the aims of NATO is, as Pug Ismay put it,

“to keep the Americans in … and the Russians out”.

That is still absolutely key to NATO’s future. I missed out a bit of that quotation, the noble Lord will be pleased to note. One of the things we must do is to make sure that we are talking to all parts of the American system, to make sure that NATO is in the strongest possible shape in its 75th year, with more members and more members reaching 2%, so that whoever becomes President at the end of this year can see that NATO is an institution worth investing in.

In an earlier incarnation, I had the opportunity to introduce the French Minister of Defence to our nuclear facilities and visited Saint-Nazaire, where the French showed me their facilities. It is on the importance of that background of our nuclear collaboration that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, is absolutely right. It is a background against which the United States is perhaps showing less interest in NATO, and its future involvement may not be so obvious and immediate. That makes it clear that the nuclear arrangements and nuclear understanding between this country and France are of manifest importance. The Heads of Governments and the Foreign Secretaries of both countries need to be very closely involved against the dangerous situation that we face in Europe at the present time.

Again, the noble Lord has huge experience of this. This is a great year for Britain and France to be talking about these things. It is the 120th anniversary of the entente cordiale, we will be commemorating D-Day again in June and there are the French Olympics, which I am sure will be a great success—we are helping France with security and other issues. So of course that dialogue, in line with the Lancaster House agreement and its renewal, will be part of it.

However, it is important that we try to encourage America to see NATO as a huge positive. One must not overinterpret this, but it was good news when yesterday the US Speaker of the House of Representatives made this remark about the Ukraine funding:

“We have terrorists and tyrants and terrible leaders around the world like Putin … and they are watching to see if America will stand up for its allies and our own interests around the globe, and we will”.

When asked about the Ukraine funding, he said that he expected to bring it forward this week. So there is positive news. Therefore, as well as all the things we should be doing with European partners to strengthen NATO, we should do everything we can to encourage America to see it as part of its defence as well as ours.

My Lords, we now know that the fourth meeting of the European Political Community summit will take place in Blenheim in July. The European Political Community is one of Macron’s major initiatives to encourage all European countries to work together on security and, in particular, to form a British-French partnership in leading European security. Can the Foreign Minister tell us when the Government will tell us more about what the agenda will be, and how far they will consult with other parties about this particularly important multilateral summit, in which Britain and France will play leading roles?

First of all, I am delighted that the meeting of the EPC, the European Political Community, is going ahead. I am also delighted that it is at Blenheim, because that is in my old constituency and is one of the finest places in Britain to hold a summit. We will not necessarily remind all the participants who was on which side at Blenheim, but I am sure we can find a way through that. In fact, there were Germans on both sides, so perhaps that will help. We will certainly talk about security and Ukraine, and I am sure that there will also be discussions about the issue of illegal migration, which we are all wrestling with around Europe. However, I am sure the Prime Minister will have more to say about it closer to the time.

My Lords, I do not disagree with the Foreign Secretary about the importance of the United States, but, whether we like it or not, we are in a context where future US leadership can be hoped for but not relied upon. In such a context, defence co-operation and co-ordination between the UK, France and the wider EU is crucial. President Macron has said:

“Our partnership with the United Kingdom must … be raised to another level”.

Given that openness to a deeper defence and strategic relationship, what discussions have the Government had with France and other European allies in respect of the important issue of co-ordinating defence production to ensure that our procurement harmonises rather than conflicts with the proposed European Defence Industry Programme?

That is a very important question. The way that the UK has worked with other European powers in response to Ukraine has shown that, although we are outside the European Union, we can work together very effectively and put in place arrangements such as those around the Wiesbaden arrangements and others that work extremely well. Of course we should look at what other co-operation and collaboration we should do, but quite a lot of clarity will be required, including about the European Defence Industrial Strategy and on what terms it should be open to non-EU members. Collaboration makes sense only if we are acting in a way that not only benefits our own industries as well as other European industries but is open to collaboration with others at the same time. So far, from everything I have seen in this job, I can say that where you have good ad hoc arrangements and can make them work, that may well be better than a very structured and potentially rather bureaucratic dialogue—unless you are really getting what you want.

My Lords, one area that the United Kingdom and France have worked closely together and given leadership on is nutrition. I was very pleased to see that we have now got a date for the Paris Nutrition for Growth summit, which will take place not this year, sadly, but next year on 27 and 28 March. Will the Minister be raising support for the Nutrition for Growth summit when he meets his counterpart? Will the Prime Minister be involved, to ensure that the leadership that both countries have given in alleviating the world’s problem of malnutrition is delivered properly and that we remain supportive?

I certainly will raise that with my European counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné. The first of these summits happened at the London Olympics in 2012, partly because it was a very important issue but also because we knew that Brazil, which has a very deep concern about this issue, was going to host the next Olympics and we could create that momentum. It was more difficult in Tokyo because of Covid and everything else, but this is a good opportunity to get this back on the road and I will certainly raise it with my counterpart.

My Lords, surely there was no better display of French-British co-operation than in the skies of the Middle East on Saturday night. Will the Foreign Secretary discuss with his French counterpart how we can increase the pressure on the regime in Tehran so that it might allow the region to live in peace?

My noble friend makes a very good point. In our case, the Americans asked us to backfill their operations, in our joint Operation Shader, where we have been running a counter-ISIL, counter-Daesh operation in Iraq and Syria for many years now. We are delighted to do that, to free up more of their planes to defend Israel. At the same time, we told our pilots that they should shoot down any projectiles coming Israel’s way in the process. That is exactly what they did, with great skill and ability. My noble friend is right to say that Britain and France can work very closely together on this agenda.

We have sanctioned hundreds of people in Iran. We have sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety. We will be discussing with the French and others further steps to discourage Iran from this behaviour and further sanctions that should be put in place. We also need to look at the work that we do together at the International Atomic Energy Agency, where we need clear resolutions when Iran is in breach of the promises that it has made. The point that he makes more generally is right. When you look at this region, who is funding Hamas? Who is funding the Houthis? Who is funding Hezbollah? In every case, the answer is Iran.

Council of Europe: 75th Anniversary


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what plans he has to mark the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of London establishing the Council of Europe on 5 May.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Markham, in particular, who is not currently in his place, for becoming impatient and intemperate during yesterday’s Oral Questions. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I am worried already.

We value the role of the Council of Europe and we are a major contributor to the organisation. The Council of Europe’s commitment to peace, freedom and democracy is best evidenced by its swift decision to expel Russia following the brutal invasion of Ukraine and the launch of the register of damage, which will allow individuals to file claims for loss, injury and damage caused by Russia’s invasion. The 75th anniversary will be celebrated at the ministerial meeting in May.

My Lords, I am sincerely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for an equivocal Answer to my Question. We all know that he has an awesome responsibility at the moment to practise statecraft globally and to seek to explain it at home. With that in mind, when he is considering institutions such as the UN, NATO, the Council of Europe and, dare I say it, the European Court of Human Rights, would he categorise them as international and worthy of our continued commitment and support, or foreign and worthy of repudiation and occasional contempt?

I say to the noble Baroness that the Council of Europe is so much more than the European Court of Human Rights; it has over 200 conventions that make practical contributions, such as the Saint-Denis convention on safety in sport, which underpinned the UK and Ireland’s successful bid to host the 2028 European Football Championship, and the Council of Europe convention on preventing violence against women, or Istanbul convention, which helps the UK promote its gender equality priorities. We should always keep the European Court of Human Rights in proper context: since 1975, there have been 21,784 cases and only, I think, 329 judgments against the UK, so we have relatively little incoming.

But—and it is a big but—there are occasions, in my view, when the court overreaches itself. We saw one last week with respect to climate change, where it took a judgment against Switzerland. I think it is dangerous when these courts overreach themselves because, ultimately, we are going to solve climate change through political will, through legislation in this House and the other place, by the actions we take as politicians and by the arguments that we put to the electorate, so I think there is a danger of overreach. But the Council of Europe overall is a good thing.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the recent European Court of Human Rights judgment on climate change. Did he have a chance to look at Tim Eicke KC’s dissenting judgment, where he said it was extraneous and went beyond its judicial remit? Further to the Foreign Secretary’s reply to the Question, what sort of reform did he have in mind, and what changes can be made to improve the court?

I did look at the dissenting judgment, and I thought it was pretty frank and clear. We have made reforms to the European Court of Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, battled very hard in the coalition Government to achieve the Brighton Declaration, which was an improvement, and we have made some changes recently on Article 39, so there are changes you can make. But I think it will depend partly on the court’s attitude to how far it takes its mission beyond the actual convention rights. I am not an expert on the convention, but I do not think that it mentions climate change and, as I said, climate change or the rights that we have in terms of our health service or education are things that we should be legislating for in Parliament, by politicians accountable to their electorates, rather than depending on a court. So reform is necessary and reform is going through, but I think there also needs to be a balance about leaving to nation states those things that they should be deciding themselves.

My Lords, one of the significant committees in the Council of Europe is the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the committee raised concerns last year about UK immigration policy regarding the detention of vulnerable people who are seeking asylum, no matter how they get to the UK. The Foreign Secretary’s signature is on the Rwanda treaty, which, enabled by the Rwanda Bill, will mean that a trafficked woman who ends up in the UK against her knowledge and against her will through an irregular route will now be detained and sent to Rwanda under his policy. As the committee said, that is a reversal of the commitments given by the Prime Minister in 2016

“to introduce a clear presumption against detention of vulnerable people”.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that, on the 75th anniversary of the Council of Europe, we should be strengthening our support for vulnerable trafficked people coming to the UK rather than reneging on the commitments given?

What we should be doing is dealing with the problem of very visible illegal migration, which is a problem not just in this country but all over the world. To do that, every country has to come up with an answer on what it is going to do. As I have explained at this Dispatch Box before, it is not possible to do immediate returns to France—that is not something that is currently negotiable —and that is why we have the Rwanda judgment. I have been looking at this issue for well over a decade, and I remember the Chahal case back in the 1990s, where the court determined that you could not balance +the risk to Britain of a dangerous terrorist staying and the risk to that dangerous terrorist if they were deported; there was no balance, as the right was absolute. You can argue that that is a good thing or a bad thing, but my argument would be that that is the sort of thing that we need to debate and decide in Parliament rather than simply rely on a court.

On the issue of international organisations, has the Foreign Secretary had time to reflect on the comments of Liz Truss, who said that she would like to see the United Nations abolished because she claimed that she does not see a purpose for the organisation. Has he any message for those of us who cannot see a purpose for Liz Truss?

I take the view that the United Nations has many problems and issues. The frustrations of dealing with the Security Council at the moment, when there is a Russian veto and a Chinese veto, are very great. None the less, it is important that we have an international body where issues can be discussed and countries can come together. Good work is done through the United Nations in spite of the frustration, so I can see the point of the United Nations.

My Lords, the Council of Europe has at its heart the enforcement of human rights, yet to some of us the human rights situation in Europe is sliding backwards, whether it is in Poland, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Spain or Portugal, which are all lurching to the right. One of the worst is Poland. The Council of Europe is a place where Britain and Poland share a forum. Poland is in breach, and has been for decades, of its moral and legal duty to make restitution of property stolen from victims of the Second World War, not to mention its clampdown on the judiciary, the freedom of the press and women’s rights. Will the Foreign Secretary use the Council of Europe to take Poland to task?

My interpretation of recent political movements in Poland is that it has rather moved back to the centre, having elected Donald Tusk and my counterpart, Radek Sikorski. I will look specifically at the point about restitution, because I am not aware of that, but I make the broader point that one of the reasons why some of these more fringe parties are doing well in Europe—look at the Portuguese elections, for instance—is because mainstream politicians have not done enough to demonstrate that immigration is under control, that illegal immigration is cracked down on, and that migration policies are designed in and by parliaments for the specific benefits of the countries. Where you see that happen in Australia or Canada, which have higher rates of migration than we do but it is so clear that the policies are designed by those countries and for those countries, they seem to have less of a problem with extremist parties than many countries in Europe.

My Lords, I think I am right in saying that the only country on the entire continent that has always rejected membership of the Council of Europe and refused to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights is Belarus, which is a cruel dictatorship with no regard for human rights at all. Russia has been expelled. My noble friend was a little evasive on the present position of the court. Reform is undoubtedly one thing, which can be collectively agreed on by all the members of the Council of Europe, but can he not just give a simple, categorical assurance on the part of the present Government that they will not at any stage contemplate rejecting membership of the Council of Europe or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which is a most important international institution, particularly for the reasons given by the previous questioner?

Let me be clear: the Government see no inconsistency between their policies and our membership of the Council of Europe. We do not have any plans to act in the way that my noble friend says. The point I am making— I am being very frank and open with your Lordships’ House—is that there are moments of extreme frustration. My noble friend will remember serving in government with me when the European Court of Human Rights ruled repeatedly that we had to give prisoners the vote. There is nothing in the European convention that says anything about giving prisoners the vote. To me, that is a decision for democratic parliaments. You can decide that everybody has the vote irrespective of what crime they have committed, but that is not my position. I think that if you commit a crime, you go to prison and lose your right to vote. That is a perfectly reasonable, democratic and, dare I say, almost liberal position that you should be entitled to hold, so when the court told us that we could not hold that opinion we disagreed with vigour. The point I am making is that these organisations are important and do good work, but if they overreach they plant the seeds of their own destruction.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Commons Amendments and Reasons

Motion A

Moved by

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

1C: Because the Commons consider that the provisions of the Bill are compliant with domestic and international obligations, and that it is therefore not necessary to refer expressly to having due regard for domestic and international law when setting out the purpose of the Bill.

My Lords, I will also speak to Motions A1, C and C1. Motion A1 relates to Lords Amendment 1D, which seeks to ensure that the eventual Act has due regard for international law, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

As set out on many occasions during the passage of this Bill, the Government take their responsibilities and international obligations seriously. It was said in the other place that they take them “incredibly” seriously. There is nothing in the Bill that requires any act or omission that conflicts with our international obligations. Relocating migrants to safe third countries to process their asylum claims is, in principle, compliant with the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, as confirmed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal. It is a model that other countries are also exploring. Furthermore, the Bill is predicated on both Rwanda’s and the United Kingdom’s compliance with international law in the form of a treaty which itself is underpinned by wider international legal obligations by which the United Kingdom and Rwanda are bound.

As the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration set out in the other place yesterday, we must bring to an end the dangerous, unnecessary and illegal methods that are being deployed to enter the UK. We must break the people smugglers’ business model. We must stop the exploitation of vulnerable people. We must protect our borders. Most importantly, we must save lives at sea. Our systems are being overwhelmed and our resources stretched.

We need to be ambitious in how we tackle this issue, and our partnership with Rwanda provides an opportunity for just such ambition. This Bill provides the legislative means through which we can pursue this policy, while having due regard to our domestic and international legal position. However innovative our partnership with Rwanda, as I reminded the House during our last debate, this is not the first time legislation has been used to determine that a country is safe. The Government are clear that we assess Rwanda to be a safe country, and we have published detailed evidence that substantiates this assessment. This is a central feature of the Bill, and many of its other provisions are designed to ensure that Parliament’s conclusion on the safety of Rwanda is accepted by the domestic courts.

The Bill strikes the appropriate balance of limiting unnecessary challenges that frustrate removal, while maintaining the principle of access to the courts where an individual may be at real risk of serious and irreversible harm. This balance creates the strong deterrent that is needed to prevent perilous and unnecessary journeys, while also ensuring that we have due regard for domestic and international laws.

Although some of the provisions in the Bill are novel, the Government are satisfied that removals to Rwanda will be implemented with due regard to international and domestic law. It is therefore not necessary to set this out in the Bill. The treaty sets out the international legal commitments that the UK and Rwandan Governments have made, consistent with their shared standards associated with asylum and refugee protection. Article 10 of the treaty in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. The enhanced monitoring committee will be in place to monitor robustly adherence to these obligations.

Lords Amendment 6D runs counter to the core purpose of the Bill and would eliminate its key provision. The Bill’s purpose is to invite Parliament to agree with the assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and that Rwanda can be deemed a safe country, and to enact the measures in the Bill accordingly. The Bill reflects that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if it be Parliament’s judgment, requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised.

Rwanda is a signatory to key international agreements protecting the rights of refugees and those in need of international protection, including the United Nations convention against torture, the refugee convention and other core UN human rights conventions. Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded in its domestic legal provisions. The Rwandan constitution ensures that international agreements that Rwanda has ratified become domestic law in Rwanda. Article 28 of the Rwandan constitution recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum in Rwanda.

In light of this, from the evidence we have provided and the commitments made by the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda in the internationally binding treaty we have signed, our assessment is that Rwanda is generally a safe country that respects the rule of law. Our view of Rwanda’s safety has been further reinforced by the progress being made on the treaty’s readiness for implementation. To make it clear, we will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with their obligations under the treaty.

On Thursday 21 March, after our last debate on 20 March, the Rwandan Senate passed its legislation ratifying the treaty. Domestic legislation to implement the new asylum system has been approved by its Cabinet and is now with Parliament for consideration. The new Rwandan asylum law will strengthen and streamline key aspects of the end-to-end asylum system, in particular decision-making and associated appeals processes. A complaints process has been set up and will continue to be developed as we progress with the partnership. This, plus the wider assurances around trading and process that we have been given, will ensure quality of decision-making and build capability in the Government of Rwanda’s asylum system. All this simply reinforces our confidence in Rwanda’s commitment to delivering this partnership and its status as a safe country.

The treaty will ensure that those relocated will be safe and fully supported, and that they will not be removed to another country other than, in very limited circumstances, the UK. They will have their asylum claims processed fairly, with access to free legal representation at all stages of the asylum process. Those who are not granted refugee status or humanitarian protection will get equivalent treatment and will be granted permanent residence. Therefore, it is right to ensure that relocations to Rwanda are not frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges on its general safety, and that the Bill’s provisions limit challenges on the basis that Rwanda is generally not a safe country or that there is a risk of individuals being removed from Rwanda to their country of origin or to another country, in contravention of Rwanda’s obligations under international law, including—

I think the noble and learned Lord is talking about Article 10(3) of the treaty. He will know what I am going to ask, because this is the fourth time I have asked it. Article 10(3) commits the parties—us and Rwanda—to

“cooperate to agree an effective system for ensuring”

no refoulement. That system clearly did not exist when the treaty was signed. The signatories of the treaty, rightly, in my view, thought it necessary to create such a system. Has that system been created now and when will we see it here?

As I said, the point is that the treaty will not be ratified until such time as that protection is in place.

It is right to ensure that relocations are not frustrated as a result of general systemic challenges based on the general safety of Rwanda. The Bill’s provisions therefore limit challenges on the basis that Rwanda is not generally a safe country, or that there is the prospect of the refoulement to which the noble Lord referred a moment ago.

We are satisfied that the Bill, in Clause 4, explicitly protects access to justice by ensuring that courts can continue to consider the safety of Rwanda for an individual where there is

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

except where the individual circumstances claim relates to refoulement. This underpins the principle that no one should be put in a position where they would face a real risk of harm and is in line with the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations, including under Articles 2, 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I therefore cannot accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by

1D: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “while having due regard for—

(a) international law, and

(b) the following Acts—

(i) the Children Act 1989;

(ii) the Human Rights Act 1998;

(iii) the Modern Slavery Act 2015.””

My Lords, I was interested to listen to the Minister’s remarks, and I thank him for the introduction, but let me say why we think that the amendment that I have put forward to your Lordships now is still so necessary.

The Minister just asserts that domestic law will be obeyed, along with international conventions and laws. The last time this was before your Lordships’ House, we debated at great length some of these domestic and international law issues. They were dismissed in a sentence by the Minister in the other place—not by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart—with an assertion that we comply with domestic and international law. Nowhere did the Minister in the other place address the fact—I go back to a point that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has made, at great length—that the Bill explicitly lays out that international law can be disapplied. It states that, when an Act, it

“is unaffected by international law”,

and then lays out all of the various treaties that can be ignored by the Government in the pursuit of their Rwanda policy—a policy that disintegrates before their eyes. Hundreds came across in small boats at the weekend, and thousands since the beginning of the year. Where is the Government’s announcement about that? When the figures go down, the Government announce it all the time; when the figures go up, there is radio silence from 10 Downing Street about whether or not the policy is working.

I say again to the Minister, in order to be reasonably brief, that it simply is not good enough for a Government to assert that domestic and international law will be applied when this Bill is passed. That is why we pushed this. We want something that persuades us that the Government take this seriously. All this amendment seeks is that there be due regard; it does not say any more than that. It is softened significantly to that extent. There is a necessity for the Government to have due regard to international law, and I have laid out some examples of the various legislative Acts that have been passed by this Parliament, of which we are all proud.

I come to international obligations. We have just had the Foreign Secretary explain at great length the importance of convention and international law, and of abiding by the things that we have signed up to. That is why we take action with respect to the Middle East. That is why take action with respect to what we quite rightly call the illegal war in Ukraine. That is why we take action with respect to the Houthis in the Red Sea. We take action with respect to all of that because our country proudly stands up for international convention and international law. It respects those conventions; it expects other countries to respect those conventions.

That is the whole point of what I am putting before your Lordships’ House. What on earth does it do to the credibility of His Majesty’s Government when, in international conventions across the globe, they stand up and lecture other countries on the importance of adhering to international law and convention and then pass a law that explicitly states that, with respect to the Rwanda Bill, they do not have to? Where is the integrity of the Government? I want His Majesty’s Government to be able to stand up in all the citadels of the great and good, where countries of the world meet together to solve common problems. The last time I spoke, I said to the Minister that the Prime Minister of Pakistan had used the Rwanda Bill as a legitimate reason that he could send people back to Afghanistan. He used the British Government as an example of the fact that he could ignore international conventions.

What has it come to when we read about another problem that we cannot go into? The Government cannot get anybody to fly these refugees and migrants—they cannot persuade anybody. Even the RAF is refusing, though I guess if it were ordered to, it would have to. We read that AirTanker is the latest airline. We cannot find an airline to fly the migrants back—the thousands who are waiting, queueing up at the airports. I found one airline that decided, at great length, that it was not going to ruin its brand by flying migrants back to Rwanda; it decided that that was something it could not bring itself to do. What has it come to when we read that the Rwanda state airline has rejected the UK proposal to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda because it is worried about the impact it will have on its reputation? Why on earth are the British Government not taking a cue from the Rwanda state airline, in saying that this will risk the global brand that Britain proudly has across the world? The Government should take a cue from the Rwanda state airline and say that they want to conform to international law and make sure that they will not be undermined in the courts of the world. There we have it, as an example to us all.

The amendment before us is simple. It simply asks the Government to have due regard to domestic and international law—the Acts that this Parliament has passed, the international conventions we have signed, and the law of nations which prevent anarchy in our own country and across the world. How on earth has it come to this for the great Conservative Party—the party that has always said that it treasures the rule of law and will always stand up for it, and that has for generations lectured the party to which I belong on the importance of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, both internally and internationally? It is unbelievable that the Minister has just dismissed this with a swish of the hand, as did his colleagues in the other place. Something as important as this has been just dismissed: “We’re going to do it. Don’t worry about it. There’s no need for us to explain how on earth it’s possible”. Something as important as this has just been swept away. This Motion should be agreed as one more effort to say to our Government, “Be true to the traditions on which the democracy of this country has been based for centuries, something of which we have all been proud”.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Coaker. My Motion C1 very much a dovetails with his Motion A1. With his support, I will seek to test the opinion of the House in a little while, after the debate on Motion B1 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I very much hope that he will test your Lordships’ opinion as well.

Why my Motion dovetails with my noble friend’s Motion is that we cannot observe the international rule of law by defenestrating our domestic courts. This Motion seeks to restore the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s judges and their ability to give appropriate scrutiny to these most vital of human rights decisions.

The Minister was quite right earlier when he said that this is not the first time in legislative history that a country has been deemed presumptively safe for refugees and asylum seekers—but there is a world of difference, I suggest, between a country being presumptively safe and being conclusively safe for all time, with no avenue for challenging that safety, even as facts change.

There is another difference too. The Supreme Court, just a few months ago, held that Rwanda is not safe.

As always, I am so grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, whose father famously coined the phrase “elective dictatorship” in his Dimbleby lecture of 1976.

The fundamental problem with the Bill, unamended by the proposed new Clause 4, is that it allows the Executive to dictate the facts. It allows the Executive to defenestrate domestic courts—not international or, some would say, foreign courts but domestic courts—including in their ability to grant in extremis interim relief.

The amendment turns the conclusion for all time that Rwanda is safe into a rebuttable presumption based on credible evidence. It therefore incorporates the earlier work of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. It also incorporates earlier amendments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Cashman in including a person’s membership of a persecuted social group in the examination of whether they would be safe—not just their most particular individual circumstances but their membership of a social group, which is probably the basis for most refugee claims in the world.

As I have said, it restores that vital ability in extremis to grant interim relief. In understanding of some concerns on the Benches opposite and of the Government, a court or tribunal under this measure, as amended, would have to have heard from the Secretary of State or taken all reasonable steps so to do, and to grant such an injunction only where the delay would be

“no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case”.

This does not prevent a policy of transportation to Rwanda, no matter how much I loathe that policy in its utility, morality and expense. It is a reasonable compromise to which the other place has given no serious respect or attention and, therefore, it has given no serious respect to your Lordships’ House.

Yes. I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to the Benches opposite, because I know there are many people there who are very unhappy about this Bill. It is an absolutely vile Bill, and part of that is the fact that the Tory Government are abusing not just human rights, and not just the rule of law, but democracy itself. The fact is that they have wasted this House’s time over these weeks—many hours and many days—and then taken everything out in the other place. That is an abuse of democracy. What is the point of your Lordships’ House if it can simply be ignored by the Government?

Shame on the Government. If they think the public support this Bill, they should call a general election. I think they will be unpleasantly surprised that they do not. Let us have a general election now, please.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests. I am supported by the RAMP project. I looked carefully at the House of Commons Hansard report about this first amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, looking for some rationale as to why the Government would not accept it. It was a single sentence, in which the Government said:

“We have a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international obligations”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; cols. 80-81.]

On the basis of that sentence, they rejected the amendment that this House passed about seeking to observe national and international law. If that sentence stands on its own, and that is the only reason why we are being asked to change our minds, what dangers, exposures or difficulties do the Government believe are in the amendment—which is even more restrictive and tightly specified than the last—that stand in the way of anything they wish to do? Why can they not simply accept it?

If the concern is the ECHR, I am sure the Government will have seen that the threshold for granting interim injunctions has been considerably raised to a level described by former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland last night as

“vanishingly small—in fact, non-existent”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; col. 99.]

So why do the Government not accept the amendment? We will certainly support it.

We will also support the other amendment. That one does the job of dealing with part of the problem that people have seen with the Bill, which is that it changes the balance in our country between our judiciary and the Executive. That balance is what we are trying to maintain, even in the very limited circumstances. This does not take away from our belief on these Benches that the Bill is entirely wrong, cruel and inhumane and will not work, which is clearly demonstrated by the numbers we have seen so far. It seems to us that the Government have no rationale, and have not given one, for refusing these amendments.

My Lords, I welcome the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, particularly the detail of the inclusion in it of the Modern Slavery Act 2015; it is a detail except for those who have been, or may well have been, trafficked. There are as many as 4,000 people in the national referral mechanism whose cases are currently to be determined. That is absolutely right and proper under current legislation, and that legislation should be taken into account as part of the implementation of this Bill.

The Modern Slavery Act is a world-beating piece of legislation that we disregard at our peril, yet it is being undermined in many changes to other legislation. In this case, there will be not only a negative impact on victim care but significant law enforcement issues in not paying due regard to the Act. Not identifying victims, or sending them to another country before their claim has been properly assessed, will set back our efforts to bring the perpetrators of modern slavery to justice. Victims are often the only witnesses to this crime, so perpetrators will be more likely to escape detection and conviction.

The amendment that the Government have brought forward on a report on modern slavery to be made to Parliament is a concession that I hope will make it easier for Members of both Houses to scrutinise the effects of this legislation on some of the most marginalised people in our society, but it does not go far enough. There must be a general exemption for people who are suspected or confirmed victims of modern slavery. That is the very least we should do for survivors of a terrible crime. I am grateful for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

My Lords, I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions. I have no doubt that they are inspired by appropriate feelings of concern for people caught up in, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol mentioned to us a moment ago, the disgraceful practice of modern slavery.

None the less, these amendments are not necessary. In particular, in relation to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, they undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill, which is to invite Parliament to agree with its assessment that the Supreme Court’s concerns have been properly addressed and to enact the measures in this Bill accordingly. Each of the measures in the Bill as originally drafted is necessary to enable us to create a deterrent that will stop the boats. That deterrent will work only when there is an end to the cycle of spurious legal challenges that seek to do nothing more than frustrate removal and prevent us having control of who can stay in the United Kingdom.

Opening for the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, deplored a series of steps in the Bill which he said undermined domestic and international law. The measures to which the noble Lord referred are entirely consistent with the status of a sovereign Parliament. The Bill reflects that Parliament is sovereign and can change domestic law as it sees fit, including, if that be its judgment, requiring a state of affairs or facts to be recognised. The principle that Parliament should be able to address any determination by the courts of incompatibility, rather than having primary legislation being quashed by the court, is part of the fundamental basis of parliamentary sovereignty. The example the noble Lord put forward—a citation by a head of state or a Prime Minister in a different country—is, of course, an example of precisely that refoulement which is forbidden in terms of the treaty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, speaking to her Motion, said that the handling of the point of your Lordships’ amendment in the other place showed the other place to be guilty of a serious lack of respect to your Lordships’ House. What we could say instead is that it demonstrates that the other place identified that the noble Baroness’s amendment, however well intentioned, cuts straight to the heart of the policy that the Government have set out.

I think that addresses the points made respectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord German, to whom I would say that, as we set forth in earlier stages of this Bill, there are examples across the world of where a similar approach has been successful and has now gained approval across most of the political spectrum.

My noble friend Lord Hailsham said that the Supreme Court held that Rwanda was not a safe country; that is not the case. That is not what the judgment said. In any event, the Supreme Court’s assessment was based on a situation long since superseded, as your Lordships will hear in more detail from my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom later.

My Lords, in answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the Minister said that the Bill will not be brought into force until the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is safe. The noble Lord was referring to the network of agreements required to ensure refoulement. Can the Minister describe to the House and to the country the process the Government are going to use to determine that Rwanda is a safe country? Obviously, the Minister accepts that it is not a safe country at the moment because the refoulement arrangements are not in place. Indeed, the last time we were here, he told us there was a Bill going through the Rwandan Parliament, or its equivalent, that was not yet through. So how will the Government know—because they say they are going to decide—and what is their process?

My Lords, if I referred at an earlier stage to the Bill as opposed to the treaty, I apologise to your Lordships’ House. The treaty will not be ratified until such time and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord.

As to the measures to which he refers, anent their adoption by the Rwandan Government, I think I touched on that in my speech. In any event, in treating with later amendments my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom will go back in detail over the measures being carried out by Rwanda. In relation to the interaction between our state—His Majesty’s Government—and their state, again the House will hear later about the operation of the monitoring committee and the other bilateral bodies established to check on the ongoing safety of persons relocated to Rwanda.

I apologise for pressing this, but the Minister is saying that the Government are going to make a judgment. Can he tell us how they will make that judgment?

My Lords, it will be by the implementation of these steps by the Government of Rwanda and the establishment of the very processes to which I have referred your Lordships.

It is not right or fair to allow our asylum and legal systems to be misused in the way they are being. The public rightly expect us to remove those who have entered illegally and do not have a right to be here. This Bill, which forms part of a wider programme to assess rising numbers in illegal migration, will enable us to deliver on that priority. To the point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I spoke from this Dispatch Box in some detail, as did my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom, in relation to the interdiction of criminal operations elsewhere in the world, including the seizure of engines and equipment and the increased co-operation with the criminal authorities in France and elsewhere.

The country is entitled to expect of its Parliament that it takes urgent steps to address the problems which have concerned us during the passage of the Bill. The other place has now considered and rejected amendments similar to these on several occasions. It is time to restore the original Clause 1 to the Bill, with its clear statement of purpose. I respectfully submit that it is time to respect the clearly expressed view of the elected House by endorsing Motion A.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it does not satisfy me. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Motion B

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 3B and 3C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3D.

3D: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary to refer expressly to the arrangements in the Rwanda Treaty being, and continuing to be, implemented and adhered to; the Bill is clear that it comes into force on the day on which the Rwanda Treaty enters into force and it is not appropriate for the Bill to legislate for Rwanda adhering to its obligations under the Treaty as Rwanda’s ongoing adherence to its Treaty obligations will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the Treaty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victims of human trafficking and human slavery will receive the necessary support that they need in Rwanda, as they would in the UK. The Government of Rwanda have systems in place to safeguard relocated individuals with a range of vulnerabilities, including those concerning mental health and gender-based violence. To that end, the government amendment in lieu—Amendment 9C—requires the Secretary of State to publish an annual report about the operation of this legislation as it relates to the modern slavery and human trafficking provisions in Article 13 of the treaty.

My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House how far the scope of the annual report will go beyond what the monitoring committee will be doing, so that both the Government and Parliament are able to scrutinise exactly what is going on?

I am afraid that I do not know how far it will differ—or not, as the case may be—from the monitoring committee, so I will have to write to the noble Baroness on that subject.

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. Can the Minister confirm that, before the Government are satisfied that Rwanda is a safe country, they will seek the views of the monitoring committee?

My Lords, in the last group my noble and learned friend discussed how the Government will be made aware of whether or not treaties should be ratified and so on. That is also dealt with in considerable detail, as we have rehearsed from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions, in the agreement that was published in January of this year—starting, I believe, at paragraph 101—so I will not go through it all again.

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

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Moved by

3E: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—

“(7) The Republic of Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country for the purposes of this Act until the Secretary of State has obtained and laid before Parliament a statement from the independent Monitoring Committee formed under Article 15 that the Objectives referred to in Article 2 of the Rwanda Treaty have been secured by the creation of the mechanisms listed in that Article.

(8) The Republic of Rwanda will cease to be a safe country for the purposes of this Act if a statement is made to Parliament by the Secretary of State, on the advice of the Monitoring Committee, that the provisions of the Rwanda Treaty are no longer being adhered to in practice.””

My Lords, I asked for this amendment in lieu to be put down because I believe that Lords Amendment 3C—to which I propose Amendment 3E in lieu—raised important issues to which further thought still needs to be given by the other place. If I do not receive a satisfactory reply, it is my intention to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

My amendment as now phrased seeks to add two provisions to Clause 1. That clause states, as we know, that the Act

“gives effect to the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.

In other words, it is a country from which persons who are sent there will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and, further, their claims for asylum will be determined and treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law as well. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said on an earlier group, that provision is central to the entire provisions in the Bill—it is a crucial provision on which so much else depends.

The Act will come into force on the day on which the Rwanda treaty enters into force, which means that your Lordships are being asked to say, as a matter of judgment, that as from that very moment and without more, Rwanda is a safe country. I do not believe that, despite the assurances given by the Ministers, your Lordships have been told enough to enable that judgment to be made.

Moreover, as the Bill stands, the assumption seems to be that Rwanda will continue to be safe for evermore, for ever after, come what may. That is because the decision-makers referred to in Clause 2 are under an obligation to make the assumption conclusively that Rwanda is a safe country without any qualification whatever as to what may happen in the future. Surprisingly, no provision is made anywhere in the Bill for what should happen if the facts change and everyone can see that Rwanda is no longer safe.

I want to make it clear, as I did last time, that I do not for a moment question the good faith of the Government of Rwanda when they entered into the agreement which is enshrined in the treaty, nor in the carrying forward of the obligations which it contains, and I do not question their determination to do everything they can to make the treaty work as it is intended to do. That is what my amendment is about.

My first point is that before Rwanda can be judged to be a safe country the mechanisms in the treaty that provide for this must be put into practice. Ratifying a treaty is an important step, but it is not enough; it must be implemented before Rwanda can be considered to be safe. Under sustained cross-examination by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, questions have been asked repeatedly as to what is going on in Rwanda, and the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said that “progress” is being made and that further developments are taking place. However, that is not good enough, and the assurances that we are given are in themselves not enough for us to make the judgment we are required to make.

That is why I am asking that Rwanda be not treated as a safe country until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement from the independent monitoring committee that the key mechanisms that the treaty provides for its implementation have been created. The monitoring committee exists; communications have been taking place between the Government and that committee. I cannot see that my amendment is placing any difficulty on the Government if their assurances to us are soundly based. It is very strange—I simply raise this as a question for your Lordships to consider—that I have been asking for this amendment for some time now, the Government know perfectly well what my point is, and yet we have still not had a statement from the monitoring committee that the treaty is being implemented. That raises a serious issue as to where we really stand on this crucial issue.

My second point is that surely there must be some way of dealing with the situation without resorting to primary legislation if for whatever reason Rwanda is no longer safe because the provisions of the treaty are no longer being adhered to in practice. Anything may happen in the future; we cannot be sure of what is going to happen three years, five years or 10 years on from now. My amendment provides that Rwanda will cease to be a safe country for the purposes of the Act if the Secretary of State, on the advice of the monitoring committee, makes a statement to Parliament to that effect. Where that will lead to is for the Government to work out if they accept my amendment. The extraordinary thing is that, without that amendment, there is no way of curing the problem without primary legislation, with all the complications that gives rise to. What I am seeking the Government to face up to is to get some mechanism in so that the matter can be dealt with without resorting to primary legislation.

When my original amendments were considered in the other place before Easter, they received support from three very experienced lawyers speaking from the Conservative Benches—Sir Jeremy Wright, Sir Bob Neill and Sir Robert Buckland. They directed their remarks specifically to my second point. Sir Bob Neill said:

“Facts change, and if Parliament sets itself up as an arbiter and decider on fact, it must have a means of changing its decision if the facts change … Can we find a way forward?”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 679.]

Sir Jeremy Wright said

“it is simply not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently, save through primary legislation, if the facts were to change”

and that the Government

“should give some thought to the situation of the Bill … it must be right for Parliament to retain the capacity to reconsider and if necessary revise it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; cols. 679-80]

Sir Robert Buckland said that

“there is force in their Lordships pursuing that point, so that we marry up the reality with what we want to achieve legally”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/24; col. 717.]

Indeed, when my revised amendments were debated yesterday, Sir Robert Buckland said that he still commended them. I am grateful to him for understanding what I am asking for and for supporting me.

The Commons reason set out in the Marshalled List states that my amendments are not necessary, first, because the Bill comes into force when the treaty comes into force and, secondly, because it is not appropriate to legislate for Rwanda adhering to its treaty obligations because its ongoing adherence to its treaty obligations will be subject to the monitoring provisions set out in the treaty. That fails to face up to the points that I am making on both the issues that I raise. The coming-into-force of the treaty is not enough, despite its ratification. We need confirmation before Parliament that it has been implemented before Rwanda can be considered to be safe. As for the second point, as Sir Jeremy Wright said, if the facts were to change then it is simply not sensible for Parliament not to be able to say differently save through primary legislation. The other place needs to think again. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support Motion B1, moved by the noble and learned Lord. I support both proposed new subsections within his amendment, subsections (7) and (8), but I want to focus exclusively on subsection (8), because it addresses directly what will happen in the foreseeable circumstances that Rwanda ceases to be safe. It lives in a fragile and volatile part of the world. It does not have a long tradition of democracy. The president has been there for an awfully long time. I do not regard that as a good sign. Therefore, there is a foreseeable risk that Rwanda will cease to be safe. As the noble and learned Lord said, this Bill not only does not address that point but requires future decision-makers to assume that it is safe when the rest of the world knows that it is unsafe. That is a nonsense. It is unjust and it is bad government. I am glad to say that there were distinguished voices on the Conservative Benches yesterday and when the matter was last debated, cited by the noble and learned Lord, who made these points.

I recall also the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when the matter was debated in this House a few weeks ago. He told your Lordships that on that very morning he had heard the Lord Chancellor, Mr Chalk, say that in the event of the monitoring committee holding that Rwanda was no longer safe, there would be a parliamentary occasion. He did not specify whether the occasion would be a social one to which we would or would not be invited, nor did he tell us about the parliamentary process. I asked my noble friend the Minister whether he would be good enough to tell us what the parliamentary occasion would be. He said that he could not tell us. Well, he has now had four weeks to find out.

I apologise for intervening, but I have not heard, either, from the Lord Chancellor as to what the parliamentary occasion would be. Can the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, help us? Has he heard what the parliamentary occasion would be?

No. I have been speculating on whether we will be asked to a party, to which we might or might not be invited, or whether there will be a parliamentary Statement or whether the Government will bring forward a Bill to repeal this Bill. There are a number of possibilities, but we have not been told and, so far as I am aware, the Minister has not been told either—though he could go and take advice from the Box, if he so chose, because he has officials in this Chamber who could doubtless advise him.

So we have a real problem, and it is addressed by the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. The amendment has advantages, in that it does not deny parliamentary sovereignty and it retains the accountability of the Secretary of State, but it has one disadvantage in that it is silent as to what happens if the Secretary of State makes a statement to the effect that Rwanda is not a safe country. I am not quite sure what happens in legal terms at that point, but I am certain that it is an important step forward. We would be making progress if we accepted this amendment, and if the noble and learned Lord tests the opinion of the House, I shall be supporting him.

My Lords, perhaps I might respond to the noble Viscount. The provision in proposed subsection (8) simply states that, if the Secretary of State makes such a statement to Parliament, Rwanda will not be safe for the purposes of the Bill. I think that is as far as one can go, but if there is anything wrong with it, it is up to the Government to sort it out.

My Lords, I shall speak to Motion D1. In the last round of ping-pong, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti described her amendment in lieu as an “olive branch”. Well, this amendment is more of an olive tree, such is the compromise it represents on the original amendment passed by your Lordships’ House. In the case of an age-disputed child, the amendment would require a proper Merton-compliant age assessment to be made either by the local authority or by the National Age Assessment Board before they could be removed to Rwanda. If the assessment decided that the person was an adult, they would then be removed.

In response to the previous amendment in lieu, the Minister made much of the role of the National Age Assessment Board, spelling out in detail why it should be involved in any age assessment. The present amendment takes on board what he said and includes the board as one of two possible safeguards to prevent a child erroneously being sent to Rwanda. As such, it would help to ensure that the Government’s own intention that no unaccompanied child should be removed to Rwanda is fulfilled. The Minister emphasised this, reading out the treaty’s clear statement to that effect. He stated that,

“if an age-disputed individual requires a Merton assessment, they will be relocated to Rwanda only if determined to be an adult after that Merton assessment”.—[Official Report, 20/3/24; col. 259.]

The problem is that, under the current provisions, it is all too likely that an age-disputed child will be sent to Rwanda without any possibility of a Merton assessment, so the age assessment board will be redundant. As it stands, the Bill allows for the decision to be made by immigration officers on the basis of a quick visual assessment of physical appearance and demeanour, acknowledged to be unreliable by the Home Office—not a high threshold, as the Minister claimed. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium warns that

“we continually see immigration officers deciding a child is an adult on arrival and placing that child in the adult system. It is only after that age decision is challenged and a further determination is made that the child is correctly assessed to be a child”.

That is the same practice that the Minister has repeatedly said will act as a safeguard against wrongful assessment and removal.

I dealt with the other arguments put forward by the Minister at the previous stage. The key issue facing us today is whether we are prepared to ensure a genuine safeguard against a child being removed to Rwanda because of the failure to provide a proper, holistic, social work led age assessment that is as accurate as possible.

Given that it is government policy that no unaccompanied child should be removed and the further concession the amendment represents, I had hoped that the Minister might have been able to accept it. As he refuses this olive branch—or olive tree—would he at least be willing to give an assurance, on the record, that no age-disputed child will be sent to Rwanda on the basis of an initial age assessment of appearance and demeanour alone, or to accept his colleague David Simmonds MP’s urging of the Minister yesterday that the decision be made on the basis of

“a Merton-compliant age assessment that is the gold standard for determining whether a young person is an adult”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; col. 94.]

or, I would add, a child? This would provide a helpful basis for the meeting that the Minister kindly agreed to on Report. It would be really helpful if we—Peers who signed the original amendments, and key stakeholders on the ground—could sit down with the Minister and officials in a less polarised and contested space to discuss how current safeguards could be strengthened by non-legislative means so as to minimise the risk of a child wrongly being sent to Rwanda or anywhere else, which is a goal we all share.

My Lords, since the Minister spoke about Motion E, I should like to respond to the government amendment. I am co-chair of the parliamentary group on modern slavery and a vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. The government amendment on modern slavery or human trafficking is entirely inadequate to deal with a group of people who are victims of a crime, suffering very often serious trauma, and without control of their destiny—they arrive here without the choice to be here. They are a specific and completely different group from any other group that your Lordships have been considering. They are then sent to Rwanda or to another country.

This Government, and I praised them at the time, passed a brilliant piece of legislation: the Modern Slavery Act, which is admired across the world. It has been made, if I may say so, almost entirely without any effect by subsequent legislation. For the Government to rely on the Modern Slavery Act as the legislation that is taken account of is laughable. The idea the Government make, that the Modern Slavery Act provides a protection for those victims who are covered by the existing legislation, is equally laughable. I did not table again the amendment that I put at the first ping-pong, but I must say that I deplore the Government’s approach to victims of a heinous crime that is widespread across this country.

My Lords, I will speak to Motion F1 and Amendment 10D in lieu. Your Lordships’ House will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to rehearse the moral case for this amendment in any detail. Frankly, if I have not persuaded the House of that on any of the previous occasions that I have spoken to a variant of this amendment, then I will not do so today. Instead, I shall focus briefly on yesterday’s proceedings in the other place and the reasoning of the Minister and others in refusing to accept it in its earlier version, Amendment 10C.

First, I must dispute any suggestion that mine, in any of its versions, is a wrecking amendment. Indeed, I argue that, far from being a wrecking amendment, it is calculated to improve this legislation in a very specific way and, in so doing, to protect our international reputation and our credibility as an ally in future conflicts while leaving the central policy entirely unchallenged—although I do not agree with the central policy or support it.

I take this opportunity to express my thanks to 13 senior military and security figures, many of whom are Members of your Lordships’ House, for their letter in support of Amendment 10C, which was published in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday. As they said in this letter, without this amendment, the legislation we are considering will

“do grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations”.

I will be grateful if, when he responds, the Minister explains why several noble and gallant Members of this House—former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and others with direct senior experience in national security issues—are wrong in that assessment and that his Government are right. If the Government simply feel that our future credibility as an ally is less important than other considerations, perhaps he could just say so openly.

Ours is a revising Chamber; this is what we are here to do. Given that we have already seen objective reality defined by governmental fiat in relation in Rwanda, I am less surprised than I otherwise might have been by the Government’s determination to construe Amendment 10C as in some way disruptive or hostile. It is neither. After all, as I have explained before, it affects only a small number of people who have given service to this country when we have asked it of them. This is a measured, limited and proportionate amendment, calculated to achieve justice for a relatively small number of people who have risked death and injury at our behest and in our interests.

As I have also explained before, in many cases it has been our own bureaucratic sclerosis, administrative shortcomings and wrongful refusal of the status that would have awarded visas to these very people, enabling them to escape certain death, that compelled these brave men to take irregular routes here in the first place. To then use the fact of their irregular arrival—the need for which is a consequence of our own failure—as a justification for their removal to Rwanda is not merely illogical but disgraceful and immoral.

The Government have offered two principal lines of argument in refusing to accept the principle of exempting this group from deportation. First, they have argued that the deterrent value of the Rwanda policy requires absolute consistency: there should be no statutory exemptions from deportation, however deserving. In response to Conservative Back-Bench voices outlining support for the principles underlying my amendment, the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration argued that it was unnecessary, given that the Home Secretary had discretionary powers under Section 4 of the Illegal Migration Act to exempt individuals in certain circumstances.

Justifying the refusal of my amendment by arguing simultaneously that clemency may hypothetically be exercised and that the deterrent effect must be adamantine is completely incoherent. The Government have had more than a year’s notice of this and of the identity of some of the people affected by the amendment. The Times, the Independent, Sky and Lighthouse Reports have all exposed the failures of our approach to the people affected. If the Government wished to offer certainty and comfort to these people, they have had ample time so to do. What faith can we possibly be expected to repose in the Government’s possible future gratitude to these brave men, given the way in which they have been treated to date? Of course, I welcome the relocations and assistance policy review, but why not simply accept the moral case, add this amendment to the Bill and relieve this and any future Home Secretary of the burden of exercising discretionary power by enshrining this exemption into law?

As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has claimed, the Government’s new amendment on modern slavery reporting is inadequate. It undermines their own contention that this Bill must be passed unamended to preserve its deterrent effect. In making this concession, they have also—albeit tacitly—conceded the value of the scrutiny of this House. I therefore propose both to test the opinion of this House once again and to ask the other place to consider whether it is really in our moral or national interest to expose those brave men who have served with us to further uncertainty. I continue to believe—as all the time I have been advancing this amendment I have believed—that it is now the time to give them the sanctuary their bravery has earned.

My Lords, I will make one point in support of Motion F1. I yield to no one in my commitment to the democratic legitimacy of the House of Commons, but this House does have a constitutional role to play and this Bill is an example of it. We have a constitutional right and duty to make amendments to a Bill—even a bad Bill such as this Bill, which was in no manifesto—to try to improve it.

The noble Lord who just introduced his amendment referred to yesterday’s debate, from which I will read one sentence:

“My abiding concern remains for a class of people who served our country, who endured great danger in Afghanistan, who still find themselves in danger in a third country—namely Pakistan—and who may well fall foul of an entirely unintended consequence as a result of this legislation, however well intentioned it may be”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; col. 100.]

That was said by the distinguished Conservative Member Sir Robert Buckland. If we vote in support of Motion F1, we can give Members in the other place another opportunity to think again and accept this improving amendment.

My Lords, it was interesting to hear the statement from the Minister in the other place last night that, in the first amendment we are discussing in this group, Amendment 3E, we had confused arrangements between what the treaty required and what the Bill required. However, the House is absolutely clear that the Bill and the treaty are in lockstep. They are locked together not only by Clause 1(2) but by the Minister’s claims that the Government could, through

“this internationally binding treaty, show that Rwanda is a safe country, and enable the Bill to deem Rwanda a safe country”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/24; col. 81.]

It is quite clear that the treaty and the Bill are in lockstep. Therefore, what we do and say about the treaty is just as important, because the Bill flows from it.

This House has already made a determination on the treaty. A vote of this House said that Rwanda is not safe unless certain conditions are met. The Government have already told us that they are working towards the implementation of the issues required to make the treaty operational. However, despite sustained questioning from many Members of this House, we have not been able to identify where those issues are, who has put them forward and at what point they will be operational.

Given that this House—Parliament is in the Bill and that is us, as well—has to declare that Rwanda is safe as a result of the treaty, clearly we must be satisfied that the treaty is operational in the way that has been described. That is why Amendment 3E from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is so important. Among the issues that we now know have yet to be resolved are those on training, the implementation of appropriate systems and—I venture to say—what system there is for refoulement. We have heard no answers to those questions and there have been many more from other Members during discussions on the Bill.

The amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will provide Parliament, including this House, a mechanism for ensuring that these conditions are in place to ensure that Rwanda is safe. That is all the first part of this amendment states; we now need to know that the conditions, which the House has determined by its vote on the treaty, are in place so that proceedings on the treaty and Bill can move forward. I therefore encourage all Members of the House to support the noble and learned Lord’s amendment.

Clearly, we give the other amendments great support. On the amendment—it is almost like a thorn in the side—that is required about Afghan supporters, it is amazing to me that the Government cannot find a way of giving action to it. The Government have made no concrete proposal, other than to look at this matter sometime in the future or by some form of special treatment by a Secretary of State. Surely the moral imperative here is to help those who have helped us. Letting them down will not help us in the slightest when we might have need of support in other areas of the world. I encourage people to support this amendment too.

My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Browne. This has been worrying many of us for a long time, and I am one of the signatories to the letter to which he referred. There is just one additional point, which has been made before but I think is worth bearing in mind. That is what the impact would be on individuals whose support we would need on some future occasion, if they felt that they would not be treated as well as they should be, and as well as we have tended to treat those who have already taken part in helping our Armed Forces on operations.

My Lords, I rise briefly to say how much I support the remarks of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, with respect to slavery, and my noble friend Lady Lister’s comments with respect to children. We will also support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on his amendment, should he test the opinion of the House. We think it is a very sensible amendment; it simply seeks reports saying that the things that are required to be implemented have actually been implemented. One has only to look at the International Agreements Committee report, which lists out 10 things in particular that it feels should be implemented before you can say that Rwanda is safe. As the noble and learned Lord has pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, there has been no answer from the Government, other than some vague platitudes as to progress being made and steps being taken to ensure that these things will happen, rather than that they have happened.

Similarly, we support the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has made with the second part of that amendment: to actually reflect on what happens in the future should, for whatever reason, changes happen in the environment with respect to Rwanda—political or whatever—that would require Parliament to reconsider its original decision that it was safe. We very much support the amendment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has put before us.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Browne on his amendment, and say how much we support it. The case was made in the Sunday Telegraph, as my noble friend pointed out, with 13 military and diplomatic leaders putting forward the case for exempting those who have served this country from the provisions of the Bill. This is something that we as a country should embrace without any debate or controversy at all. I say that because it is important that we support my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment, but also that the size of the majority is such that the other place is forced to reconsider the bland statement it made: “Don’t worry. We’ll revisit this at the end of the deliberations we are having”. There is no certainty in what the Government are saying.

It is so important that my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment is in the Bill. What it requires, and what the people of this country want, is not some reconsideration of the policy in future but a certainty that those who have served with our Armed Forces, or served us in whatever circumstances, can be assured that the promises made to them are adhered to and kept.

I cannot believe that we as a country would turn our back on those who have served with us. It is unbelievable that we should be in this situation. I say to the Minister and others who may feel it important that they vote with the Government that we are talking about men and women who have served our country, stood alongside our Armed Forces and served with us to deliver the objectives of His Majesty’s Government. How on earth can we think it appropriate that the provisions of this Bill and the treaty should apply to them? It is simply unacceptable. As such, my noble friend Lord Browne’s amendment gives us a way of saying to the Government: “Think again. We believe it should be on the face of the Bill”. I hope that noble Lords will support my noble friend when he tests the opinion of the House.

My Lords, once again I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. To restate for the record, the Government’s priority is obviously to stop the boats. Although we have made progress, more needs to be done. We need a strong deterrent; we need to operationalise this partnership with Rwanda. Only by applying this policy to everyone without myriad exceptions will the deterrent work. We are not diminishing our responsibilities to provide support to those who are vulnerable, and we have ensured that the necessary support will be provided in Rwanda. We are sending the clearest signal that we control our borders, not the criminals who charge migrants exorbitant amounts to come here via illegal routes on unsafe small boats.

I will endeavour to deal with all the points that have been raised. I turn first to the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I restate for the record that as part of the process, upon arrival individuals will be treated as an adult only where two immigration officers assess that their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are significantly over 18 —I emphasise “significantly”. This is a deliberately high threshold, and the principle of the benefit of the doubt means that where there is doubt, an individual will be treated as a child, pending further observation by a local authority, which will usually be in the form of a Merton-compliant age assessment.

I turn to Amendment 3E from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. As he correctly pointed out, Clause 9 clearly sets out that the Bill’s provisions come into force when the treaty enters into force. The treaty enters into force when the parties have completed their internal procedures. Furthermore, the Government maintain periodical and ad hoc reviews of countries’ situations, including Rwanda’s, and that will not change.

One of the things we have discussed in previous debates on this subject is that there will be a real-time enhanced monitoring phase by the monitoring committee. The enhanced phase will ensure that the monitoring and reporting takes place in real time, so that the monitoring committee can rapidly identify, address and respond to any shortcomings, and of course identify any areas of improvement or urgently escalate issues that may place a relocated individual at risk of real harm. This enhanced phase is dealt with in paragraphs 106 to 112 of the policy statement, and I say to my noble friend Lord Hailsham that, of course, if the facts change, this means that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty. That may very well prompt the parliamentary occasion to which he referred. I am afraid I cannot say quite what form such an occasion may take; if I have anything to do with it, it will definitely include alcohol.

Will my noble friend give way on that point? My first problem with the Bill is that I am asked to say that something is safe when it is clearly not safe, and the Government have said that it is not. What I am really asked to say is that after all this has happened it will be safe, but the Government do not seem to explain to me exactly what will happen before we get to that.

I have another problem: how can I possibly vote that it will always be safe? I am not very keen on lawyers, but surely it is a very simple matter of saying that if the monitoring committee recommends to the Secretary of State that Rwanda is no longer safe, the Secretary of State can in fact change the situation as regards Rwanda. It seems very simple to me. If I had been the Minister, the first question I would have asked my civil servants is, “What happens if the situation changes?”, and my civil servants would not have left that room until they had given me an answer. How did he allow his civil servants to leave the room?

My Lords, I have already stated that the Government would not be obligated to remove individuals under the terms of the treaty if there has been a change, unexpected or otherwise, in the in-country situation in Rwanda.

The Minister uses the phrase “not be obligated”. That just means they do not have to do it, but it does not alter the legal position.

My Lords, I understand the definition of the word “obligated”.

The Bill builds on the treaty and the published evidence pack and makes it clear in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country, and it does address the concerns of the Supreme Court. The courts have not concluded that there is a general risk to the safety of relocated individuals in Rwanda. Rather, the Supreme Court’s findings were limited to perceived deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system and the resulting risk of refoulement should any lack of capacity or expertise lead to cases being wrongly decided. My noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton and I have dealt with exactly where Rwanda is in terms of ratification and so on. The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the High Court’s finding that a policy of removing individuals to safe third country where their asylum claims would be determined did not breach the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and the Supreme Court did not disturb that finding. The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which could address those concerns, and those changes are being delivered.

Turning to Motion F1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and spoken to powerfully, if I may I say so, by other noble Lords, I again reassure Parliament that once the UKSF ARAP review has concluded, the Government will consider and revisit how the Illegal Migration Act and removal under existing immigration legislation will apply to those who are determined ARAP eligible as a result of the review, ensuring that these people receive the attention they deserve. I will go a little further here and say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that there is no intention to turn our backs on those who have served.

Finally, I am sorry to hear that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, does not like the Government’s amendment in lieu, but I am afraid there is very little else that I can say on that subject.

Before my noble and learned friend sums up on his Motion, I say to the Minister that he has not answered the question about what happens if there is a change in Rwanda and it is no longer safe.

I beg to differ from the noble and learned Baroness. I appreciate that it is a difficult place to be, but I think I have answered the question. As I have said before on a number of occasions, the Government are not obligated to send anybody to Rwanda if the facts change.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. Picking up immediately on the point the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, has just made, he said that if matters change the Government would not be obligated by the treaty to remove people to Rwanda. The problem for the Minister is that Clause 2 states:

“Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.

That is without any limit of time. Furthermore, the Minister might care to read the clause more carefully, because the words “decision-maker” include the Secretary of State himself, so he is obligated by the statute to assume that Rwanda is a safe country. Whatever the treaty may say, the statute binds him to do that. This is a ludicrous situation that the Government, for some strange reason, refuse to address. The situation requires being looked at again by the other place. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Motion C

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 6B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 6C.

6C: Because the Commons consider that it is not appropriate to leave out clause 4 of the Bill and insert the new clause in the Amendment, as the Bill allows decision-makers to consider claims that Rwanda is unsafe for an individual due to their particular circumstances.

Moved by

6D: Leave out Clause 4 and insert the following new Clause—

“Decisions in individual claims

(1) Where credible evidence displaces the conclusion that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country, section 2 does not prevent—

(a) the Secretary of State or an immigration officer from deciding (under any applicable provision of, or made under, the Immigration Acts) whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which the person belongs,

(b) a court or tribunal considering a review of, or an appeal against, a relevant decision to the extent that the review or appeal is brought on the grounds that the Republic of Rwanda is not a safe country for the person in question or for a group of persons to which that person belongs, or

(c) a decision-maker considering whether there is a real risk that the Republic of Rwanda will remove or send the person in question to another State in contravention of any of its international obligations.

(2) The court or tribunal may having heard from, or having taken all reasonable steps to hear from, the Secretary of State, grant an interim remedy that prevents or delays, or that has the effect of preventing or delaying, the removal of the person to the Republic of Rwanda, providing such prevention or delay is for no longer than strictly necessary for the fair and expeditious determination of the case.

(3) Section 54 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is disapplied for the purposes of this Act.

(4) In this section—

“interim remedy” means any interim remedy or relief however described (including, in particular, an interim injunction or interdict);

“relevant decision” means a decision taking by the Secretary of State or an Immigration officer (under any applicable provision of, or made under, The Immigration Acts) that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country for the person in question.””

Motion D

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 7B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 7C.

7C: Because the Commons consider that is it not appropriate to amend the age assessment provisions of existing legislation.

Motion D1 (as an amendment to Motion D) not moved.

Motion D agreed.

Motion E

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 9 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 9C in lieu.

9C: Page 5, line 23, at end insert—

“Report about victims of modern slavery or human trafficking

(1) The Secretary of State must—

(a) prepare and publish an annual report about the operation of this Act as it relates to the modern slavery and human trafficking provisions in Article 13 of the Rwanda Treaty, and

(b) lay a copy of each report before Parliament.

(2) The first report must—

(a) relate to the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force, and

(b) be laid before Parliament and published as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of that period.

(3) Subsequent reports must—

(a) relate to the period of 12 months beginning with the day after the last day of the period to which the previous report related, and

(b) be laid before Parliament and published as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the period to which the report relates.”

Motion E agreed.

Motion F

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 10B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 10C.

10C: Because the Commons consider that it is not necessary as the only way individuals should come to the UK is through safe and legal routes.

Moved by

10D: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—

“Exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK Overseas

(1) Notwithstanding the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Illegal Migration Act 2023, any earlier Immigration Acts and the other provisions of this Act, the following categories of person may not be removed to the Republic of Rwanda—

(a) agents or allies who have supported His Majesty’s armed forces overseas in an exposed or meaningful manner that now affects their claim for protection;

(b) persons who have been employed by or indirectly contracted to provide services to the UK Government in an exposed or meaningful manner that now affects their claim for protection;

(c) the partners and dependent family members of persons referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) above;

(d) persons who were the partners or family members of persons referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) above in a manner that now affects their claim for protection.

(2) The exemption in subsection (1) above includes but is not limited to persons eligible for entry to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (“ARAP”) and Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (“ACRS”).

(3) A person seeking to rely upon the exemption in subsection (1) above shall give the Secretary of State notice as soon as reasonably practicable to allow prompt verification of available records as to allies, agents, employees, contractors and family members.

(4) Failure to give reasonable notice as required under subsection (3) above, may in the absence of available records verifying the claimant’s qualification for exemption under this section, allow a court or tribunal to draw adverse inferences as to the credibility of the claimant’s case for exemption.””

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Report (1st Day)

Clause 1: Meaning of “victim”

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “a person” and insert “any adult or child”

My Lords, this will be a mercifully brief group and I will speak primarily to Amendment 1 in my name, which has the great virtue of complete and utter simplicity. It was an attempt to get His Majesty’s Government to recognise that children are different from adults and have different needs and requirements. I am glad to say that in the discussions we have been having, particularly between the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Minister and his team, we have made significant progress in recognising in various places in the Bill that children have particular needs and are a particular group that needs to be thought of in a particular way. The reason behind that is simply the need to recognise children’s unique and special characteristics.

I suspect that, like many of us, one has been to meetings where different charities and others that help children have brought parliamentarians together to listen to the experience of victims. It is pretty searing to hear directly from victims who have suffered a whole variety of terrible things happening to them, but particularly searing is listening to children who have experienced this. Some of us who have been working in this area were privileged to listen to some of those children, who very bravely spoke about their experiences, some of which were truly shocking. In one instance we not only had a victim talking powerfully but immediately after that we had the victim’s mother talking about the effect that it had had on her child and her family. In this instance, it was made even more ghastly by the fact that the perpetrator of her daughter was actually one of her grandfathers. It was almost unimaginable.

The needs of children who have gone through that sort of trauma are very specific. However well intended it may be to say that we will allow children to have access to what are essentially adult services, those services may be very good at treating adults but children are definitely different. Done well with individuals, psychologists and trained people who really know how to deal with children sensitively, the outcomes can be hugely better than well-intended interventions by people who, frankly, are not qualified to do so. I am hoping to hear from the Minister at the Dispatch Box on not only the amendments that the Government have brought in but, more broadly, the Government’s intention to try to do everything they can for children. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I tried to add my name to this amendment but in fact I was on holiday, staying with my daughter in Spain. The suggestion that I sent put me on to Amendment 2 instead of Amendment 1, but I strongly support Amendment 1.

I was for many years a family judge and President of the Family Division. I spent a great and uncomfortable part of my time hearing about the sexual abuse of children, very seldom from the children, though occasionally, but otherwise from the doctors—the paediatricians and psychiatrists—on the trauma suffered by children. Since I left being a judge, on a number of occasions I have met those adults who cannot forget, 20, 30 or 40 years later, what hit them sometime around the age of eight, 12 or 14. The trauma is shocking; it may be short, medium or, for many, long. Those who live with it are never quite the same.

We therefore have to look at what we do for children in the Bill, and this is the purpose of the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has put down. I support it for those reasons, given my own experience over 35 years in different parts of being a judge, where I lived that at second hand. I have to tell the House that judges obviously do not cry in court—except one, once—but I sat in my room sometimes in floods of tears from hearing what happened to these children. I strongly support this amendment.

My Lords, I too have added my name to Amendment 1. The great thing about following my noble friend Lord Russell is that I need to say very little. The beauty of this is its simplicity. We have talked about this again and again, and I thank the Ministers for their hard work and the very collegiate attitude we have had. People have come to an agreement and the Government have given a lot. However, it is so beautifully simple to change “a person” to “any adult or child”. There is a lot of talk about how, if you start doing that, where do you stop? But “any adult or child” is perfect.

My Lords, we discussed this in Committee. Since then, a decision of the Court of Appeal comprehensively rejected the rather eccentric argument that a child is not a person. In fact, reading that judgment, it is quite clear that there was never any doubt that a child is a person. The Oxford English Dictionary definition, which was quoted, defines a person as:

“An individual human being; a man, woman, or child”.

The purist would say that this amendment is unnecessary, but I suggest thinking about it a little more deeply, and that the arguments