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Commons Chamber

Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024

House of Commons

Wednesday 17 January 2024

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Restoration of Power Sharing

1. What recent discussions he has had with party leaders on the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland. (900948)

5. What recent progress he has made on the restoration of political institutions in Northern Ireland. (900952)

13. What recent discussions he has had with party leaders on the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland. (900960)

It will not have escaped your notice, Mr Speaker, that four years ago, on 11 January, the Northern Ireland Assembly reformed. The First Minister effectively collapsed the institutions and power sharing by resigning on 3 February 2022.

Behind these questions is a desire for the return of power sharing and the Northern Ireland Executive—a desire that I very much share, hence my most recent discussions with the leaders of most of the political parties that took place in Hillsborough on Monday, when we discussed the very many matters relating to this goal.

Negotiations with the Democratic Unionist party have been ongoing for quite some time, and they have not yet resulted in the restoration of the Executive. What does the Secretary of State think the DUP is looking for?

I cannot answer for the DUP, and would never seek to do so, but behind all this is the concern that it had about the Northern Ireland protocol as we left the European Union and how, as a consequence, goods were gradually being removed from Northern Ireland’s supermarket shelves—a visible sign that Northern Ireland was being pulled away from the United Kingdom’s sphere of influence and into the European sphere. I believe the Windsor framework set that straight.

I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to a £3.3 billion financial package. However, we are seemingly at an impasse. He will be aware that there is a groundswell of opinion that believes elements of the package should be released to address the ongoing crisis in our public services and, in particular, public sector pay pressures. Will he consider releasing some of that money to address public sector pay?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and, indeed, for the way in which he and his party have conducted themselves in the talks to try to restore the Executive. The UK Government put an extremely fair and generous package for a restored Executive, worth £3.3 billion, on the table before Christmas. The money that Northern Ireland civil servants and I have available is from the budget passed in this place in the last year.

I was recently in County Kildare with the Minister of State and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, working to build understanding between the two countries. We heard from Irish Ministers and the ambassador about the impact of the lack of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. Bearing that in mind, and the struggles that we know people are having in Northern Ireland with their bills, potential strike action and all kinds of issues, can the Secretary of State say a bit more about what he is doing, and about the meetings and conversations he is having, to work at pace to try to get a solution?

I thank the hon. Lady both for her interest and for the sentiment behind her question. A huge amount is happening, including meetings galore with all the political parties in Northern Ireland, and especially the Democratic Unionist party, because it is the DUP that I need to get on board so that the Executive can be restored. The hon. Lady says “at pace”, and we will happily work at whatever pace we can, but it is slightly determined by our interlocutors.

The current industrial action is due to hard-pressed public servants feeling that they are at the end of their tether. Would it not be better if the Assembly were functioning normally, so that this could be resolved as soon as possible?

Yes, the hon. Lady is exactly right. There is a fair and generous £3.3 billion package on the table for a restored Executive to use for this purpose and many others. As everyone involved in Northern Ireland politics understands, there is a need to transform public services in Northern Ireland, and this package would help to do that too.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his efforts to try to restore the Assembly and the Executive with a big offer. Is it not right that, were direct rule to be contemplated, we would now need primary legislation following the St Andrews agreement? The political reality is that it would mean huge political pressure on all of us here, not only from within our United Kingdom but from outside. Does he agree that the best way to preserve our great United Kingdom is for everyone to get back around the table and to govern Northern Ireland from Stormont?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question and welcome his election as Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, probably more than some other Members will—I look to a certain Member on the Benches opposite. He is absolutely right in what he says; there is no way this Government want to go down the route of direct rule, which would need primary legislation. We do not want to go down the route of joint authority either and we will not do so. We need to find an appropriate form to allow the Executive to reform, which is what we are working unbelievably hard on with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply regrettable that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is pandering to his domestic audience, rather than thinking of the greater good of Northern Ireland and the victims of the troubles?

My right hon. Friend makes a very fair point, because in the midst of everything we are trying to do to get the Executive back up and running, the Republic of Ireland’s decision to take an inter-state case out against the UK Government on our Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, which is designed to bring justice and information recovery to victims of the troubles, is unhelpful and unfortunate. We have made our representations very plain on that matter.

Now that the talks have concluded, with the House having voted overwhelmingly to support the Windsor framework back in March, Labour Members stand by our commitment to implement it if we were to be in government, and we support the efforts the Government are making to restore the institutions. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that there would be no prospect of negotiating with the European Union further arrangements of benefit to Northern Ireland if the UK were to renege, again, on an international agreement it has signed. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if the Executive are not restored by tomorrow evening, he will need to bring forward legislation to postpone the elections?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and for his affirmation of the work done on the Windsor framework. Obviously, I will be doing everything I can to ensure that it is not a Labour Government who come in to do any of this in the future. However, he is right to say that as of midnight on Thursday—tomorrow night—I will need to bring in primary legislation, because a duty falls on me to call an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have a number of weeks—I believe it is 12—in which to do that, and I intend to bring in legislation on these matters next week.

I am grateful for that clarification. The absence of the Executive and the failure to sort out the urgent question of public sector pay is going to result in the biggest strike in Northern Ireland for many years tomorrow. Some workers have not had a pay rise for almost three years—that is not sustainable. As we await the restoration of the institutions, the party leaders and indeed the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland have all called on the Secretary of State to release the money for pay, which he has said is available. Will he now do so, so that public sector workers in Northern Ireland can get the pay increase they deserve?

I am acutely aware of the industrial action scheduled for tomorrow and the detrimental impact it will have on public services. I hear the call from the right hon. Gentleman and others to step in, but let me put this into a slightly different context. Public sector pay is devolved to Northern Ireland, and he will know that, as I mentioned earlier, this Parliament set the budget for Northern Ireland this year, with primary legislation. He will also know that decisions on matters such as this are obviously ones that locally elected Ministers should take, as they involve big and fundamental choices; every penny spent on pay is a penny not spent on services. Choices on this are therefore eminently political—indeed, they are as close as we would get to the choices made in the period of direct rule. Direct rule is absolutely not the way forward; these decisions are for the Executive, and a restored Executive have a generous financial package available to them to do exactly as the right hon. Gentleman wishes.

The Secretary of State will know that Northern Ireland can benefit from power sharing arrangements only when those institutions enjoy the support and confidence of both the nationalist and Unionist communities. I think I have previously heard him accept that the Northern Ireland protocol does not enjoy the support of any Unionist in Northern Ireland. Despite references to talks having concluded in December, the Secretary of State helpfully indicated on Monday this week that further progress had been made. Does he accept that the restoration of institutions will be secured only when that confidence within the Unionist community is put where it needs to be?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the many, many hours of work that he personally has put into the talks we have been having. They are detailed talks and it is a complex situation. I have said before, because it is absolutely obvious, that the Unionists in Northern Ireland are deeply unhappy with the existing Northern Ireland protocol. I believe we have made excellent progress. I hope that in the coming days and weeks, we can get to a point where his party can come to a conclusion on those talks that leads us to reform the Executive, because I know that he is a democrat and wants it reformed.

I appreciate the Secretary of State’s remarks. He will have heard the concerns around the general strike, which will be called tomorrow. He will know that his Government dismissed our calls when we said that there simply was not sufficient money. He knows we had to battle for sufficient money and that in the run-up to Christmas he personally secured the availability of that money. The release of the funds is called for by the DUP, every political party in Northern Ireland, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service and, this morning, 50 chief executives of public sector agencies across Northern Ireland. I do not believe there is a lack of will on the Secretary of State’s part, but this is a choice—a political choice that the Government can make. Will the Secretary of State use today to encourage his Government colleagues, the Treasury and anyone else who believes that using public sector workers as blackmail or political pawns is beneficial in any way?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and the way that he put it. As I mentioned earlier, public sector pay is devolved and is properly a matter for locally elected politicians who are best placed to take decisions in that space.

Flooding: Funding

2. What progress he has made on allocating funding to help tackle the impact of flooding in Northern Ireland. (900949)

In the absence of the Executive, this Government have made up to £15 million of support available for businesses and non-domestic properties through the reallocation of existing funding. It is for the Northern Ireland civil service and local councils to consider how to utilise the remaining funds to provide further support to businesses and non-domestic properties.

Building resilience for the future is vital if this Government are to address the challenges around climate change. York’s resilience measures cost over £100 million to protect my city this winter, but the estimated cost to businesses in Newry alone is £37 million as a result of the winter weather. When will the Minister bring forward a proper amount of money—not just £15 million, which may be a deposit—to ensure that Northern Ireland can build its resilience for the future?

I will answer in a couple of ways. First, only just over £1 million of that £15 million has been drawn down, which is a sign that the amount is sufficient. Secondly, the Northern Ireland civil service has recently announced that up to £10 million has been made available to assist small and medium sized businesses, with up to £100,000 available per business. The experience of her constituents—I have the figures in front of me—shows that this Government are committed to our infrastructure being ready for the future. That is partly why we are so keen to see the Executive back, with a large package to help support the stabilisation and transformation of public services, so we can get the kind of investment she refers to.

Cost of Living

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the effect of increases in the cost of living on people in Northern Ireland. (900950)

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the effect of increases in the cost of living on people in Northern Ireland. (900957)

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the effect of increases in the cost of living on people in Northern Ireland. (900959)

The Government have taken decisive action to help tackle increases in the cost of living, including support for the most vulnerable households in Northern Ireland. We are targeting support this winter through a range of measures, including cost of living payments of £900. It remains vital that there is a functioning Executive in place that can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, who deserve that stable Government taking the relevant decisions.

I want to return to the subject of public sector pay. Public sector workers in Northern Ireland have seen their real pay fall by more than 7% over the past year. Does that not demonstrate that the UK Government’s response to the cost of living crisis is leaving Northern Ireland behind? I encourage the Minister to join the cross-party calls to ensure that public sector workers in Northern Ireland are fairly paid for their important work.

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman raises this matter again. He will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. I wish to emphasise that the money that has been made available in what is a large package for stabilisation and transformation in Northern Ireland includes a sum of money to enable public sector pay to be settled, but that is a matter to be decided in Northern Ireland. That is why we continue to press the DUP and other parties with as much force as we can muster to restore the Assembly and the Executive to deal with that.

Given that the UK is experiencing the biggest drop in living standards on record, with households bearing the brunt of higher energy costs and temperatures dropping dramatically this week across Northern Ireland and, indeed, Scotland, why have the UK Government left households out in the cold this winter?

I do not accept that we have left households in the cold. Further cost of living support through the winter period for Northern Ireland households was announced in the autumn statement in 2022, with additional payments to households across the UK. Those on means-tested benefits are getting £900, those on disability benefits £150 and pensioner households £300. We are resolved to promote prosperity in Northern Ireland and we are seized of the reality that disposable incomes in Northern Ireland are particularly squeezed. That is why we have put in a range of measures to promote prosperity, which I hope to return to in later answers.

We have just heard the Minister say that incomes in Northern Ireland are particularly squeezed. In November, the typical monthly pay in Northern Ireland saw a month-on-month fall of 1.8%. By contrast, typical wages in the UK showed a 1.2% month-on-month increase. That means that earnings in Northern Ireland sat 11% below UK earnings—the biggest difference on record. What steps are being taken now, in the absence of a functioning Stormont, to offer some kind of sustainable pay deal in Northern Ireland for public sector workers?

Mr Speaker, I could give a lengthy answer to the hon. Lady’s question, which would try your patience, so I will just return to her final question on what is being done for public sector workers. We are absolutely seized, as we have said previously, of the need to ensure that public sector workers have a pay rise. That is why a very substantial sum is in the package on the table for the parties. None the less, we are absolutely clear that, on this issue, as across a wide field of others about which I am sure we will hear in the course of these questions, Northern Ireland needs devolved Government to take the relevant decisions in Northern Ireland, and on that there is consensus across the House.

The Government’s package to support people with the cost of living amounts to about £94 billion over two years. It is one of the most comprehensive in Europe. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that people in Northern Ireland, as an integral part of our United Kingdom, have had full access to those cost of living support measures?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The extent of Government support for Northern Ireland households was unprecedented. It included the energy price guarantee on electricity and gas bills; £600 in payments comprising £400 for energy bill support scheme payments, plus £200 to recognise the widespread use of home heating oil; and targeted support for the most vulnerable households, some of which I have already touched on. She is right that we are determined to ensure that Northern Ireland feels the benefits of being in the Union of this United Kingdom.

I recently met the Melted Parents campaign group in Belfast. It speaks for so many parents across Northern Ireland, where the cost of living crisis is far harder for families because there is no funding for a free childcare scheme, or the 15 or 30 hours of pre-school, just eye-watering and unaffordable Bills. But there is a cross-party childcare strategy proposal. Will the Minister say for all the employers and parents watching, if there is a new temporary Budget for Northern Ireland, whether it will include childcare funding provision?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. It is of the highest importance in Northern Ireland, and it is impressed upon me frequently. The Budget will be debated in this House, of course, and I am confident that we will return to it. As we have said before, this is one of those issues that underscores the importance of the Executive returning, and I am grateful that we agree on that point. She is absolutely right to raise the issue.

Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on ensuring timely payments from the troubles permanent disablement payment scheme to eligible individuals. (900951)

Like the hon. Member, I too am quite surprised that he is that popular. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I misread the room again.

The troubles permanent disablement payment scheme is a devolved matter delivered by the Victims’ Payments Board. I met Judge McAlinden, the president of the board, last week to discuss those matters.

According to recent evidence presented to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committeethis is actually very serious; it is not a joke, so maybe Members would like to listen—it could take more than 10 years to process the applications for the troubles victims’ compensation scheme, meaning that victims in Northern Ireland who have waited decades for compensation to be delivered will need to wait even longer. Can the Secretary of State advise not only the House but those awaiting payment what his Government are doing to deliver that compensation scheme?

As I said, having met Judge McAlinden, I am conducting a review of the operation of the scheme, which will report before August this year. The review is under way, and I very much hope that it will address all those matters so that those who qualify for the payments get them in a much more expedited way.

Given the length of time it takes in many cases to gather the supporting evidence to make a claim under the scheme, the pressures on the payments board itself, and the strong likelihood that many of those who are potentially eligible are yet to apply, it is clear that there is a risk that many who could be eligible for a payment might miss out as things stand. One way the Secretary of State could mitigate that is by extending the period allowed for claims to be made and processed. As part of the review, will he consider extending that deadline?

The Union

6. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to strengthen Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. (900953)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I wish to reassure him that the UK Government are fully committed to protecting and upholding Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. I regularly discuss matters of the Union, and the importance of Northern Ireland within it, with Cabinet colleagues and frequently meet the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the Union is now stronger than ever, particularly with the decline of the SNP, and that its vital importance can be seen not only in Northern Ireland but in border constituencies such as mine, Clwyd South, particularly in shared services across the border with neighbouring North Shropshire, such as the Gobowen to Wrexham line, the A5/A483 and the Chirk-St Martin’s GP partnership?

As we can see, all politics is local, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of shared cross-border services in his constituency; he is absolutely right. I know he is a great champion of connectivity across the United Kingdom, and I am sure that his constituents appreciate his efforts on those matters.

Every devious, deceitful and dishonest tactic is being used to try to bribe, bully and beat Unionists into accepting the Windsor framework and the Northern Ireland protocol, despite the impact it has on our citizenship and on the Union. It seems that the latest recruit is the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), who only this week told the BBC that Unionists should get back to Stormont, because constitutional issues are the responsibility of the EU and the Irish Government, in any settlement, would have a say in the future of Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this Conservative and Unionist Government have not handed constitutional control of Northern Ireland to the EU and that the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has either become an over-zealous advocate of the scare tactics or is talking through his hat?

Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] Based on that cheer, the Select Committee Chair has a lot of work to do to increase his popularity in this House. As ever, the right hon. Gentleman asks a question in his characteristic shrinking violet way. I completely disagree with what he says about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland). We need to get a deal done now. The people of Northern Ireland want to get a deal done. It is time for a deal to be done. Let us get the Executive back up and running.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I am pleased to inform the House that, since last week, we have been providing British Sign Language coverage on all questions and statements as a matter of course. This is available directly on, and it is also available to broadcasters and media outlets who may be interested in taking up the live feed. I am delighted that the House service has been able to deliver this significant improvement in the accessibility of our proceedings.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, nearly 5,000 people are currently living with dementia in my Colne Valley constituency, of whom 3,153 have had a formal diagnosis. That figure went up by one this week with my dad’s diagnosis—my dad is my constituent. Will my right hon. Friend pledge to make dementia a priority by driving up diagnosis rates, bolstering dementia research, investing in social care, and improving access to the most innovative diagnostic methods and to new, life-changing treatments?

I send my warmest wishes to my hon. Friend and his father and family. I recognise that a dementia diagnosis can bring worry, both for the person who is diagnosed and for their wider family. He is absolutely right about the timely diagnosis of dementia; it is vital to ensure that those affected can access the care and support they need. NHS England is carrying out a pilot to ensure that we can improve dementia diagnosis in care homes, and our major conditions strategy includes a focus on dementia. Crucially, as he says, we are now doubling the funding for dementia research so that we can help everyone, including his father.

I send my best wishes to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and his father, and to all those suffering in that way.

I cannot let today pass without saying how saddened I was by the tragic death of Bronson Battersby, aged just two, who died in heartbreaking circumstances in Skegness. I know that the House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to his family.

The Government have been forced to admit that they have lost contact with 85% of the 5,000 people earmarked for removal to Rwanda. Has the Prime Minister found them yet?

What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that, in spite of him seeking to block every single attempt that we have made, we have now managed, because of our actions, to reduce the number of people coming here by over a third last year, to remove more than 20,000 people from this country back to their home countries, to carry out 70% more illegal immigration enforcement raids, to arrest hundreds of people, to close down thousands of bank accounts and to process more than 100,000 cases—the biggest number in more than 20 years. That is because, on the Conservative side of the House, we want to stop the boats. We have a plan and it is working. With him, we would just go back to square one.

My first thought is, “How do you actually lose 4,250 people?” Then I remember that this is the Government who scrapped High Speed 2, but the costs are still rising by billions; this is the Government who spent £400 million of taxpayers’ money on a Rwanda scheme, yet cannot deport a single person; and this is the Government who waged a week-long war on the Greek Prime Minister for reasons known only to themselves—and suddenly I remember that of course this farce of a Government could lose the people they were planning to remove. The Prime Minister did not answer the question, so I will ask him again: where are the 4,250 people the Government have lost? Where are they?

As I said, we have actually identified and removed over 20,000 people from this country back to where they belong. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks these questions about the Rwanda scheme, but it is important that we get it up and running, because it is important, as the National Crime Agency says, that we have a working deterrent in order to resolve this issue. That is how Australia solved the problem, and that is how Albania has worked for us. He asks these questions about the detail of those things, but we all know that he does not actually care about solving the problem. We know that because the BBC quizzed him, asking:

“If…the numbers crossing the Channel on small boats decline— i.e. so it’s working—would you still reverse it?”

The Labour leader said, “Yes.” It is crystal clear that he does not have a plan and it will be back to square one.

Spending £400 million on not getting anybody to Rwanda while losing 4,000 people is not a plan; it is a farce. Only this Government could waste hundreds of millions of pounds on a removals policy that does not remove anyone. Only this Government could claim that they will get flights off the ground only to discover that they cannot find a plane. Only this Government could sign a removals deal with Rwanda only to end up taking people from Rwanda to here. The Prime Minister still has not answered the question, so I will try again. What progress has he made in locating the 4,250 people his Government have apparently lost? He has dodged it three times. Where are they?

It is the same thing again and again. Here we are, talking about what we are doing, and I am happy to go over it. What are we doing? We have increased the number of illegal immigration enforcement raids by 70%, leading to thousands of arrests, using powers that the right hon. and learned Gentleman sought to block in this House. We have closed down thousands of bank accounts of illegal workers—again, using powers that he sought to block—[Interruption.]

As I said, we have worked through a record number of cases and returned a record number of people back to where they came from. All that is a plan that is working, and we can see that it is working because the number of people coming to this country is down by over a third. Again, it is a bit rich to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman pretending here that he cares about how we actually stop the boats when he has been crystal clear in saying that even if the plan to reduce the numbers is working, he would still scrap it. That is because he has no values, no conviction and no plan. It is back to square one.

The Prime Minister does not have a clue where they are, has he? I can tell you one place they are not, and that is Rwanda—the only people he has sent to Rwanda are Cabinet Ministers. For all the words, the ridiculous thing is that we know the Prime Minister himself does not even believe in this Rwanda gimmick. He had to be talked out of scrapping the whole thing. He did not want to fund it; he did not think it would work. When he sees his party tearing itself apart—hundreds of bald men scrapping over a single broken comb—does he not wish that he had had the courage to stick to his guns?

I have absolute conviction that the plan we have put in place will work, because I believe it is important that we grip this problem. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spends a lot of his time in this House talking about his time as a lawyer, and I would urge him to listen to lawyers, because Lord Wolfson has said that our Bill severely limits the grounds for removal. Four eminent King’s counsels have said that it is undoubtedly the most robust piece of immigration legislation this Parliament has seen, and—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear what the Prime Minister has to say, because it matters to my constituents; those who feel that it does not matter to theirs should please leave.

As I said, Mr Speaker, four eminent KCs have said that this is undoubtedly the most robust legislation this Parliament has seen, and a former Supreme Court justice has been clear that the Bill would work. But I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has always been more interested in what leftie lawyers have to say. I even have in my hands the textbook that he authored for them—it is called “European Human Rights Law” by Keir Starmer, so—[Interruption.]

Prime Minister, when I stand up, please sit down. Can I just say that we do not use props in this House? If you need reminding, I will certainly ensure that I do so.

It is such utterly pathetic nonsense. The Prime Minister has been brutally exposed by his own MPs yet again. He has one party chair who says that she hopes the Lords will rip his Rwanda deal to pieces, and two more who had to quit because they do not think it will work—all of them appointed by him, all now in open revolt against his policy, each other, and reality. Is it any wonder that they all think this gimmick is doomed to failure when the Prime Minister himself does not believe in it?

It is rich to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about belief in something. It will be news to him that it is actually the case that you can believe in something and stick to that position on this side of the House. [Interruption.]

Can I just say to Members on the Government side that this is very important? It is an important day. People want to know what is going on, so I want my constituents, just like yours, to hear what the Prime Minister has to say.

Just this week we had another example of the right hon. and learned Gentleman doing one thing and saying another. This week he backed the Home Secretary in banning the terrorist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite him personally using the European Court of Human Rights to try to stop them being banned. You do not have to take my word for it; the extremists’ own press release said, and I quote, “the Hizb ut-Tahrir legal team, led by Keir Starmer”. I know that he does not like talking about them because they have been a client, but when I see a group chanting “jihad” on our streets, I ban them; he invoices them. [Interruption.]

There are eight questions that I think some Members might want to hear answered. I tell you what: some who wanted questions have already gone off the list.

If the Prime Minister stuck to his position, he would be voting with us. His former Home Secretary says that the plan will not work, his current Home Secretary calls it “batshit”, his former immigration Minister does not back his plan, and even the Prime Minister himself does not believe in it. Last week, another of his MPs said that the Tories should admit that things have got “worse” since they came to office, that after 14 years they have left Britain “less united”, and that the country is a “sadder” place. If the Prime Minister cannot even persuade his own MPs that it is worth supporting him, and if he himself does not even believe in his own policies, why on earth should anyone else think differently?

Another week when it is crystal clear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not believe in anything, and he does not have a plan. While he talks the country down, let me update him on what has actually been happening in the past week—inflation more than halved from 11% to 4%, and real wages rising for the fifth month in a row. Last week, rates started falling, and millions of people benefited from a tax cut worth £450. So while he takes us back to square one with a £28 billion tax grab, let us stick with the plan that is delivering a brighter future for Britain.

Q7. It is against the law to silence victims of crime, but that is exactly what the Post Office did through the use of non-disclosure agreements, and this is just the most recent case of NDAs covering up mismanagement, misconduct and even crimes at work. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister consider banning their use in all severance agreements once and for all? (901004)

My right hon. Friend is right to raise an important point. The ability to speak out about things is key to unlocking justice. While NDAs can have a place—and my right hon. Friend is right to say that they should not be used to stop victims of crime in particular getting the justice they deserve—I can tell her that the Ministry of Justice is carefully considering how best to address this issue, including the use of legislation, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will keep the House updated on further progress.

When people woke up today in homes that they cannot afford to heat, with mortgages that they are struggling to pay, to news that inflation is once again on the rise, they will have looked to Westminster for answers, and instead they find a UK Government who are tearing themselves apart over how quickly they can send vulnerable people on a plane to Rwanda. Surely the Prime Minister must understand that the anger that some of his own Back Benchers have towards him is no comparison to the anger that the public have towards his party.

If the hon. Gentleman did care about supporting working families to pay their bills and to pay their mortgage, why on earth is the SNP making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, where the average—not the wealthiest, but the average—worker in Scotland is now paying more tax than they do in England.

Of course, when it comes to the Rwanda Bill the reality is that, if you want to stop the smuggler gangs, you should introduce safe and legal routes, but instead the Prime Minister is seeking to weaponise some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is straight out of the cruel and callous right-wing extremist playbook. His time in office is fast approaching its conclusion. Does he seriously want this to be his legacy?

As I said, it is important that we stop the boats because illegal migration is simply not fair. It is not right that some people jump the queue and take away our resources from those who need our help most—and, by the way they are exploited by gangs and many of them lose their lives making these dangerous crossings—so I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fair and compassionate thing to do is to break these criminal gangs, and that is why we are going to stop the boats.

Q9. Unexpectedly, five months ago, I had a heart attack. Thanks to the swift action of the NHS emergency services, it was caught early. So one stent operation later, I was on a swift path to rehabilitation and recovery, and I am sat here today fighting fit and a bit lighter, too. So along with encouraging everyone to visit the British Heart Foundation website to understand the early warning signs and get fantastic resources to help them, would the Prime Minister also join me in personally thanking everyone who helped to save my life and helped me recover, including the East of England Ambulance Service, the teams at Watford General Hospital and Harefield Hospital, the cardiac rehabilitation teams and everyone who supported me, especially my family and my team, some of whom are in the Gallery today, who help to ensure that I continue to deliver for the great people of Watford? (901006)

I thank my hon. Friend for sharing his story, and I know the whole House will be delighted to hear that he has made a swift recovery. We all wish him good health for the future, as he resumes his excellent campaigning on behalf of his constituents in Watford. I also join him in thanking our fantastic NHS staff for the life-saving work that they do up and down the country. We are backing them with record resources—from our doctors to our ambulance service—and we are all in this House truly grateful for what they do.

Mr Speaker,

“Until the UK Government calls for an immediate ceasefire, it is complicit in the horrors…in Gaza.”

Those are not my words but those of the head of Oxfam who, like every single agency trying to operate on the ground, is clear that aid cannot be effectively delivered while fighting continues. More UK aid is of course welcome but even when it does get through, it can result in what one Palestinian aid worker calls

“bombing us on full stomachs.”

Some 24,000 people have already been killed so what will it take for the Prime Minister to back a permanent bilateral ceasefire?

Of course we want to see a peaceful resolution to this conflict as soon as possible. A sustainable permanent ceasefire with an end to the destruction, fighting and loss of life, the release of hostages and no resumption of hostilities would of course be the best way forward, but in order to achieve that a number of things need to happen: Hamas would have to agree to release all the hostages; Hamas would have to no longer be in charge of Gaza; the threat of more rocket attacks from Hamas into Israel would have to end; and the Palestinian Authority, boosted with assistance, would need to return to Gaza in order to provide governance and aid. That is a sustainable ceasefire that we will work very hard to bring about.

Q11. Today I was unsure whether to raise a national issue such as the desperate need for a Minister for men or a local issue such as Doncaster’s need for a new hospital or Edlington’s for a new leisure centre, but I thought the best thing I could do was ask the Prime Minister to come and have a tour of Doncaster, and while I am showing him around my home town I can press the need for a Minister for men, I can show him the site for a new hospital, and I can introduce him to the people of Edlington so that he can discuss their new leisure centre. Will the Prime Minister accept my invitation? (901008)

Thanks to my hon. Friend’s fantastic campaigning on behalf of his constituents, City of Doncaster Council has received more than £80 million in levelling-up funding to support its regeneration projects and most recently Doncaster has been awarded £20 million in our long-term plan for towns over the next 10 years, which I know he is working very hard to make sure is prioritised for local people. I will be delighted to discuss both projects and his other ideas when I come and visit him as soon as my diary allows.

Q2. Some 71% of requests for funding from the community ownership fund aimed at saving libraries, pubs and village halls have been rejected since 2021. It pits communities against each other and does nothing to address the underlying causes that have led to the loss of these much-loved assets. When will the Government offer more than a simple sticking-plaster for our towns, high streets and communities? (900999)

I set up the community ownership fund when I was Chancellor and it is doing fantastic work funding hundreds of projects across the country, including, I believe, one in the hon. Lady’s constituency—the back on the map scheme. It is there to support local communities, take over assets—whether pubs, village halls or other community assets—and is doing a fantastic job. It is right that there is a competitive process because we want to make sure the money is deployed in the areas where it can make the most difference.

Q14. Over-crowding on Chiltern Railways has become a daily misery for commuters from stations including Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough in my constituency, the root cause of which is an ageing fleet constantly breaking down and shorter trains having to be run. There are proposals on the table for both short-term additional capacity and long-term fleet renewal. Will my right hon. Friend instruct the Department for Transport to fast-track those proposals so we can end overcrowding on Chiltern? (901011)

I agree with my hon. Friend that the performance on Chiltern has not been good enough in recent times. I know that Chiltern has recently begun engagement with the rolling-stock leasing market, which will help reduce overcrowding, but also, together with DfT, it is looking at providing additional capacity at peak times. I know that the rail Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) will ensure that these plans continue to progress and keep my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) updated.

Q3.   What exactly is it about the prospect of deportation to Rwanda that make the Government think it will be such a deterrent to asylum seekers? Do they think that life in Rwanda is somehow less comfortable, secure and safe than here in the United Kingdom? What do the Government think is wrong with Rwanda that means asylum seekers will not want to live there? (901000)

It is not that there is anything wrong with it; it is just that it is not the United Kingdom. And I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that deterrence works: we know that it works because our scheme with Albania has ensured a 90% reduction in arrivals from that country.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is committed to energy security and the development of renewables, as am I, and that is why Sizewell C started a development consent order this week. However, there are plenty of other developments happening on greenfield sites, where National Grid plans to use compulsory purchase orders to plough up farming fields used for food and tree production when brownfield sites are available that are connected to the network. National Grid is refusing to publish its study on Bradwell and why they deem it not suitable for the connection of offshore wind farms and interconnectors. Will he meet me and other East Anglian MPs to discuss this matter and use the powers of his office to get that study published?

As my right hon. Friend will know, planning applications for new infrastructure are managed independently, so I cannot comment on specific cases, but I agree with her that it is important to listen to the views of local communities, such as those she represents across Suffolk and East Anglia. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) was visiting her area recently to mark the commencement of the project at Sizewell C, and I can assure her that relevant Ministers will continue to pay close attention to her concerns.

Q4.   The Leader of the House last week correctly described the contaminated blood scandal as “on another level” compared with other scandals. Sir Brian Langstaff has announced today the publication of the final report of the infected blood inquiry, and he reminds us: “My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency. No-one should be in any doubt about the serious nature of the failings over more than six decades that have led to catastrophic loss of life and compounded suffering.”More than 100 parliamentarians wrote to the Prime Minister this week, so can he tell us when those affected will be paid compensation for their loss? (901001)

I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling on this issue and the suffering of all those impacted by this dreadful scandal. I gave evidence to the inquiry last year, and as I said then, I recognise the suffering that thousands have experienced over decades. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) updated Parliament on this matter towards the end of last year. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is a highly complex issue. Interim payments have been made in some cases, and we are absolutely committed to responding to the final report as quickly as possible following its publication.

Last week, Conservative-controlled Bromley Council’s children’s services were rated outstanding by Ofsted in all four areas of inspection. That is only the third time that has happened under the current framework. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the officers and members of Bromley Council and perhaps even visit Bromley and see our new cost-saving civic centre?

It is perhaps not quite on my way to Doncaster, but I will bear it in mind. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Bromley Council and all the officers involved in providing an incredibly important service in their local community and looking after some of the most vulnerable children in our society. They all deserve our thanks and praise for their brilliant efforts.

Q5. HS2 promised to transform intercity travel and my seat, where Old Oak Common will one day be. However, after Leeds and Manchester were ditched, the London end of HS2 is now in doubt. Can the Prime Minister commit today to ensuring that it at least reaches Euston, or is he intent on stopping all transport forms, except perhaps private jets? (901002)

The Leader of the Opposition may have something to say about forms of transportation, and perhaps about HS2 as well—I still have not heard his position on the subject. Old Oak Common is destined to be one of the foremost stations in the country because of the extra connectivity it will have across London and as the initial terminus for HS2 trains. As we said at the announcement, we are working with the private sector, as we have in other developments in London, to raise private money, save the taxpayer money and deliver the connection to Euston as planned.

I have just got back from the inaugural women’s health summit. During the summer, it was announced that specialist maternal mental health services will be available to women in every part of England by March. That is particularly pertinent for me, after one of my constituents, Jessica Cronshaw, passed away while pregnant with her baby Elsie after suffering severe pregnancy sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum. I thank the Government for following through with this important reform and pushing to keep going with the spirit of this reform so that our NHS is fit for women in the future.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I know that the whole House will want to convey its sympathies to Jessica’s family. I am pleased that the reforms we are making will make a difference to women across the country in the future. We are committed to our women’s health strategy, and I am grateful for her support and, again, her advice and ideas so that we can ensure that it delivers the care that we want it to across the country.

Q6.   Yesterday, the Conservative candidate for the Wellingborough by-election revealed that the Conservative party had offered her a deal to be the candidate if the previous Member—her partner—stood down without a fuss. Just last week, the Prime Minister said that “Candidate selection is done locally”in his party, so would he like to deny that this secret deal was offered? (901003)

Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that a remote rural hotel is the wrong place to house asylum seekers or refugees from their point of view? Will he therefore join me in thanking the Home Secretary for announcing yesterday that the Wiltshire Hotel outside Royal Wootton Bassett is to be returned to its proper purpose in April?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. He is absolutely right: the use of hotels is unfair on local communities and costs taxpayers £8 million a day. Our plans to reduce the number of people coming have meant that we can close the first 50 hotels across the country, with more to follow. I thank the Home Secretary and his team for their efforts. But, fundamentally, the only way to resolve this once and for all is to implement our Rwanda scheme so that we can have a working deterrent. That is how we will stop the boats.

Q8. I have been contacted by desperate constituents who have rung every single pharmacy within a 50-mile radius of Warrington and still have not been able to access their medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This has been going on for months, and it is not just a Warrington issue: pharmacists are calling it the worst shortage ever, with only 11% of people able to access their full dose this month. ADHD UK has called the Government’s response “pathetic”. It is right, isn’t it? (901005)

I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency. The Health Secretary heard what she said and is in touch with the relevant drug bodies to ensure that we can have the provision of ADHD medicine for all those who need it.

For about a decade, over 200 of my constituents in the Mill complex in Ipswich have been caught in the cruellest form of limbo. The building has deep structural problems and cladding problems. A few years ago, they got about £15 million in an out-of-court settlement to make a contribution towards cladding costs, but the freeholder, the National Asset Management Agency—an Irish financial entity set up after the Irish banking crisis—ran away with that money, putting my constituents back to square one with little to no hope. Will the Prime Minister talk to the Irish Taoiseach to raise this immoral case and meet me to discuss a way forward for my constituents, who I meet every week?

I am sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s case. I will ensure that the Government look into the details and get back to him in the shortest order about how we can support him and his constituents.

First Minister of Scotland

I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to joint working with the First Minister of Scotland to deliver for the people across the country.

I am grateful for that answer. Although much attention has rightly been paid to the Post Office-Horizon scandal, there is another shocking example of Government and private sector collusion that began under the last Labour Administration and has continued under the Tories. Almost 200,000 mortgage prisoners who borrowed with high street lenders such as Northern Rock have become trapped after the portfolio was sold off to foreign entities including Topaz Finance and Heliodor, who have been creaming off extortionate standard variable rates since 2008, leaving even those who kept up with payments in danger of having their homes repossessed. Some 200,000 aspirant homeowners have had their dream taken away from them. Will the Prime Minister, instead of playing catch-up as he is with the Post Office scandal, meet me and campaigners to discuss what more can be done for mortgage prisoners?

I am familiar with the situation for mortgage prisoners, and it was something that I worked on as Chancellor. The Treasury and the current Chancellor have been engaging with campaign groups and others to find ways to resolve it. It is not an easy situation to fix overnight, but things are being looked at as we speak.

Yesterday, the Scotch Whisky Association published a report on the economic impact of the sector not just in Scotland but across the whole UK. Some highlights included that in 2022, it generated £7.1 billion in gross value added, £2.1 billion was invested in capital projects between 2018 and 2022, and 41,000 jobs are supported by the sector in Scotland, including one in nine in my Moray constituency. Does the Prime Minister agree that supporting the Scotch whisky industry in the forthcoming spring Budget and beyond is a correct priority for this Government?

My hon. Friend is a superb ambassador for Moray and Scotch whisky. He is right that it is a hugely successful export industry that supports tens of thousands of skilled jobs across Scotland. I will not tread on the Chancellor’s toes about future Budgets, but I am proud of this Government’s track record of supporting the industry, having removed US tariffs on Scotch whisky, reduced tariffs in deals with countries like Morocco and Argentina and supported the sector’s interests in our free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand and, most recently, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.


Q12. The Prime Minister has been very keen to take credit for falling inflation in previous months. Will he now take responsibility for today’s rise? (901009)

Inflation was over 11% when I got this job. Inflation today is 4%, in common with the US, France and Germany. All countries have seen a mild tick-up in December, but the crucial thing is that inflation has been more than halved and delivered ahead of schedule. That is an enormous benefit to families up and down the country—a benefit that would be reversed by the Labour party’s plan to saddle them with £28 billion of tax rises.

I am a keen parkrunner in Walsall, but I am also part of the core team of volunteers that recently brought parkrun to Tamworth. In the 20th anniversary year of parkrun, will the Prime Minister join me in encouraging other towns that do not yet have a parkrun to get one?

It is great to hear that my hon. Friend is an avid parkrunner. I thank him for volunteering so that the people of Tamworth can enjoy one, too. I completely agree with him—when I had more time, I was a regular at the Northallerton parkrun, and the junior parkrun, which I recommend to those with children. It is a fantastic and accessible way to get people moving. I join him in encouraging everyone to get involved in his local area and beyond.

Q13.   At the last general election, residents in west Hertfordshire were promised a new hospital, but we are still waiting for the green light and are having to put up with broken lifts and overly crowded treatment wards. In other parts of the country, entire hospital buildings have had to be closed down, like the one in Stepping Hill in Stockport, because they are structurally unsafe. From broken promises on new hospitals to the backlog of repairs, people are sick and tired of waiting. Will the Prime Minister tell me, by the time of the next general election, how many broken hospitals will be fixed, and will my residents be able to point to a single spade in the ground? (901010)

We are investing record sums to deliver not just 40 new hospitals across the country but 90 different hospital upgrades. The hon. Lady will be familiar with the plans at West Hertfordshire trust to develop a new emergency and specialty care facility at Watford General, including women’s and children’s services. It will make an enormous difference to residents in the area.

A recent BBC news article raised fears that Blyth could become a ghost town, as we see our shopping centre close, to be replaced by a new higher education facility. Residents are right to be concerned. I have personally seen decades of Labour neglect and decline in our town. This Conservative Government have invested hundreds of millions of pounds to level up my constituency, with spades in the ground as I speak. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the rebirth of our towns will continue as a key focus of this Conservative Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I commend him for being such a strong advocate for Blyth. Nearly half the recent towns fund has been distributed to northern regions in England to level up constituencies like his. That is the difference. As he said, after years, if not decades, of neglect under the Labour party, it is this Government who are levelling up across our country.

Q15.   In June 2022, to some fanfare, the Government announced the approval of £41 million for a package of works for the restoration of the Tyne Bridge, which is the route of the A167, the old A1, and connects Gateshead with Newcastle city centre. It is instantly recognisable around the world as an emblem of Tyneside. However, the funding is still awaiting sign-off within the Department for Transport and work cannot progress. Given the scale and complexity of the work required, and the significant additional cost implications if funding does not come forward, can we please have the money to get on with the work so that the bridge will be ready for its centenary celebrations in 2028? (901012)

I will ensure that the relevant Minister gets back to the hon. Gentleman with an update on the project. I am pleased that we are not just investing in that project in his area. Following on from the previous question, I know his area has received levelling-up funding worth £20 million to help transform the visitor economy in Gateshead—yet another example of the Government investing to level up across the north and across the country.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and the announcement this morning by Sir Brian Langstaff that the infected blood inquiry report is now scheduled for publication in May, the hon. Member raised what Sir Brian said very clearly this morning. Sir Brian made the following recommendation in April 2023:

“My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency.”

The Prime Minister did not respond to what Sir Brian said this morning. I wondered, Mr Speaker, whether you had had any indication that there would be a statement from the Cabinet Office to set out what it will do about complying with the recommendations made by Sir Brian?

This is a very important issue and the right hon. Lady has campaigned all the way through to ensure that people recognise the suffering that has taken place and the tragedies in families. I am not responsible for the Prime Minister’s answer and I have been given no notice that a statement is forthcoming. What I know, however, is that I can rest assured that the right hon. Lady will not stop at the question she has just asked, but will pursue it through other avenues to ensure that it is answered.

Bill Presented

Outdoor Education Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Tim Farron presented a Bill to require that every child be offered at least one outdoor education experience during primary school years and at least one such experience during secondary school years; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 June, and to be printed (Bill 147).

Clean Air (Human Rights)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the right to breathe clean air; to require the Secretary of State to achieve and maintain clean air in England; to involve the UK Health Security Agency in setting and reviewing pollutants and their limits; to enhance the powers, duties and functions of various agencies and authorities in relation to air pollution; to establish the Citizens’ Commission for Clean Air with powers to institute or intervene in legal proceedings; to require the Secretary of State and the relevant national authorities to apply environmental principles in carrying out their duties under this Act and the clean air enactments; and for connected purposes.

In 2013, the life of nine-year-old Ella Roberta Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was tragically cut short when she suffered a fatal asthma attack. Ella lived close to the heavily congested south circular in Lewisham, and, following an inquest in 2020, became the first person to have air pollution listed on her death certificate, with the coroner, Philip Barlow, concluding that Ella:

“Died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

Next week would have been Ella’s 20th birthday, and I know that all our thoughts will be with her family at this time. I want to pay tribute to Ella’s mum Rosamund, who is in the Public Gallery today, for her incredible campaigning on air pollution, and to express my personal thanks to her for allowing this Bill to be called “Ella’s law” in memory of her daughter. It is an honour to be able to present it to the House today.

This Bill is needed because, to put it simply, the state of our filthy air is a public health emergency. Air pollution is associated with conditions such as asthma, heart disease and cancer, and has been shown to have an impact on our mental health too, leading to an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Its impacts are not equally felt, however, with those on low incomes and from black and ethnic minority backgrounds far more likely to live in polluted areas. It is children’s health that is affected most of all. A study published just last week by the University of Dundee revealed an increase in the number of under-16s admitted to hospital for respiratory problems following periods of high air pollution, while a 2019 study conducted by King’s College London showed that living within 50 metres of a busy road could stunt children’s lung growth by up to 14%. Let me put that in context: it is estimated that in London a third of the population—about 3 million people—live near a busy road.

It is therefore profoundly shocking, but perhaps not entirely surprising, that the UK has one of the highest rates of asthmatic children across Europe, with one in 11 young people living with asthma. It has been calculated that cleaner air could prevent up to 43,000 avoidable deaths in the UK each year, and it could save the public purse billions as well. Estimates of the public cost of air pollution total as much as £20 billion each year, including the cost of the impact on social care and on our crumbling NHS. It could not be more urgent for the Government to take action to clean up our air and protect lives, both now and in the future, could not be more urgent, but, although their current approach is vastly insufficient, Ministers remain bullish in defending their efforts. Indeed, last year the Prime Minister himself told me:

“We are confident that the measures we are putting in place are not only legally binding but world leading in tackling air quality.”

He went on to say that the Environment Act 2021 provided

“the capability, accountability and ambition”


“to make all the effective interventions to drive down air pollution.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2023; Vol. 727, c. 338.]

The reality is, however, that the Environment Act did very little to help deliver clean air, and it is certainly not “world leading”. The environmental target that did get made under it—to reduce levels of PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre—falls short of the new World Health Organisation guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic metre, and could certainly be achieved far earlier than the Government’s target date of 2040. Indeed, when Professor Frank Kelly of Imperial College London, an adviser to the World Health Organisation on health and pollution, recently gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, he stated very clearly:

“Our studies showed that 99.8% of the UK could achieve a figure of 10 micrograms per metre cubed by 2030 and the 0.2% that could not were certain hotspots in London, which again if you took extra measures on you could probably eliminate those as well.”

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate from the University of Southampton, a special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians, subsequently wrote to the Committee to confirm that such a change would result in about 20 fewer infant deaths each year—20 fewer lives lost, and 20 families saved from unimaginable heartache.

Given that the Mayor of London has already committed himself to delivering on this more ambitious target, and given such significant benefits, it is incumbent on Ministers to explain why the current legal limit remains so unambitious. They must also set out, as a matter of urgency, how they will meet the new WHO guidelines, which have halved the limit for PM2.5 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre in response to the marked increase in evidence showing how air pollution affects different aspects of our health. In the words of the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty,

“We can and should go further—and it is technically possible to do so.”

The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, or Ella’s law, would set out an entirely new approach to delivering clean air in England. It would enshrine the human right to clean air precisely and explicitly in English law, thereby transforming decision making by public authorities by requiring them to consider clean air alongside other rights under the Human Rights Act. It would be a step towards incorporating the 2022 resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, which recognises the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It follows a “one air” approach that encompasses the health and environmental impacts of air pollution and greenhouse gases, and it would set standards based on advice from the Climate Change Committee and on the WHO’s new air quality guidelines and require the Secretary of State to achieve clean air within five years, with the possibility of postponement for up to a further five years per pollutant, subject to strict conditions. The Environment Agency and the Climate Change Committee would be required to review the pollutants and the limits annually and advise the Secretary of State if they needed tightening.

The Bill also covers air pollution, both outdoors and indoors, in public spaces, and where health and safety standards apply. The tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, brought on by “extensive” mould in his family’s flat, shone a spotlight on the significance of indoor air pollution. While I welcome the prompt action taken by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up in bringing forward Awaab’s law—a law that should now, frankly, also be applied to the private rented sector through the Renters (Reform) Bill—it is clear that legislation to address indoor air pollution must extend beyond the home too, especially since on average we spend around 80% of our lives indoors, whether for work, study or leisure. Finally, in order to ensure independent scrutiny and continuous improvement, the Bill would establish a citizens commission for clean air, which would review annually the Secretary of State’s compliance with the provisions of the Bill and advise the Secretary of State where improvement was needed.

This Bill has already undergone significant scrutiny in the other place, after my noble Friend and Green party peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, topped the private Member’s Bill ballot in the previous parliamentary Session. It has already been extensively debated, amended and improved and it received cross-party support, including from Lord Randall of Uxbridge, a former environment adviser to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) when she was Prime Minister. He said:

“We have waited too long for proper clean air legislation…I urge the Minister to take this back and say that it is a golden opportunity to do something really wonderful. The Government could take pride in being part of a world-beating Bill”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 November 2022; Vol. 825, c. 1133.]

He was absolutely right. By taking up Ella’s law, the Government have a real opportunity to genuinely lead the world in tackling this pressing public health emergency, and I urge them to take it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Caroline Lucas, Mr Barry Sheerman, Layla Moran, Ian Byrne, Dan Carden and Munira Wilson present the Bill.

Caroline Lucas accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 June, and to be printed (Bill 145).

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

I remind Members that in Committee they should not address the Chair as Deputy Speaker. Please use our names when addressing the Chair. Madam Chair, Chair, Madam Chairman or Mr Chairman are also acceptable.

Clause 3

Disapplication of the Human Rights Act 1998

I beg to move amendment 11, page 3, line 21, after “Act” insert

“, and of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 insofar as they relate to the removal of persons to Rwanda”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 12, page 3, line 22, after “disapplied” insert

“, in relation to both of those Acts in relation to the removal of a person to Rwanda”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 13, page 3, line 25, after “legislation),” insert—

“(ba) sections 4 (declaration of incompatibility) and 10 (power to take remedial action),”

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 14, page 3, line 27, leave out from “apply” to end of line 29 and insert

“in relation into provision made by or by virtue of this Act, the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Immigration Acts in relation to the removal of a person to Rwanda”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 15, page 3, line 30, at end insert

“, the Illegal Migration Act 2023 or the Immigration Acts”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 16, page 3, line 30, at end insert—

“(4A) Sections 4 and 10 do not apply in relation to provision made by or by virtue of this Act, the Illegal Migration Act 2023, or the Immigration Acts.”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 17, page 3, line 32, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert

“provision made in relation to the removal or proposed removal to Rwanda by or by virtue of this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023.”.

This amendment is intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA.

Amendment 18, page 4, line 6, at end insert—

“(5A) This section applies only in relation to the removal or proposed removal of a person to Rwanda under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023.”.

This and other amendments to Clause 3 are intended to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 are fully disapplied for both this Bill and for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in relation to removals to Rwanda – including by ruling out the use of sections 4 and 10 of the HRA. The Immigration Acts are listed in section 61(4) of the UK Borders Act 2007, as amended.

Clause 3 stand part.

Amendment 7, in clause 5, page 5, line 12, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment would omit the provision that only a Minister of the Crown can decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights.

Amendment 23, page 5, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2A) The interim measure is not binding on the United Kingdom, and will have no effect on any provision made by or by virtue of this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023, and shall not prevent or delay the removal of a person to Rwanda under this Act or the Illegal Migration Act 2023.”.

This ensures that the default position is that Rule 39 indications are not treated as binding on the United Kingdom and will not prevent removals to Rwanda, but to provide an optional discretion to Ministers.

Amendment 8, page 5, line 15, leave out subsection (3).

This amendment would remove the requirement that a court or tribunal must not have regard to the interim measure when considering any application or appeal which relates to a decision to remove the person to the Republic of Rwanda.

Amendment 51, page 5, line 15, leave out “not”.

This amendment would require court or tribunal to have regard to an interim measure of the European Court of Human Rights.

Amendment 24, page 5, line 19, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4A) A Minister of the Crown, acting in person, may (but need not) determine that the duty to remove in section 2(1) of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is not to apply in relation to a person to whom this section applies.”.

This amendment is linked to Amendment 23.

Amendment 52, page 5, line 22, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment removes the definition in relation to Clause 5 of “Minister of the Crown” as a Minister of the Crown acting in person.

Amendment 38, page 5, line 23, after “person” insert

“in consultation with the Attorney General.”.

Explanatory note: This amendment ensures a Minister of the Crown making a decision on compliance with an interim injunction consults with the Attorney General.

Amendment 9, page 5, line 23, at end insert—

“(5) The Government must, within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay before Parliament a copy of a report setting out how this clause is compatible with Section 7A of the European Withdrawal Act and the UK’s obligations to citizens under the Good Friday Agreement.

(6) Within three sitting days of a report being laid under subsection (5) the Government must move in each House an amendable motion that that House has considered and approved the report which has been laid.

(7) Subsections (2) and (3) do not come into force until such as time as both Houses have passed motions under subsection (6) approving reports laid under subsection (5).”.

Amendment 25, page 5, line 23, at the end insert—

“(5) Section 55 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is amended as follows.

(6) In subsection (6) —

(a) omit “Where a Minister of the Crown does not make a determination under subsection (2)”, and

(b) after “applies” insert “in relation to the removal or proposed removal of a person to Rwanda”.

(7) For subsection (9) substitute —

“(9A) Where a Minister of the Crown has not made a determination under subsection (2) in relation to the removal or proposed removal of a person to Rwanda, section 4(2) of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 applies.”

(8) After subsection (10) insert—

“(11) Section 8(18) applies to any decisions made in connection with this section or section 5 of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024.””.

This amendment ensures that the default position is that Rule 39 indications are not treated as binding on the United Kingdom and will not prevent removals to Rwanda, but to provide an optional discretion to Ministers.

Clauses 5 and 6 stand part.

Amendment 58, in clause 7, page 6, leave out line 18 and insert—

““safe country”—

(a) means a country to which persons may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law, and

(b) includes, in particular, a country—

(i) from which a person removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and

(ii) in which any person who is seeking asylum or who has had an asylum determination will both have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligation under international law.”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of Clause 1 and restores to the Bill a different clarification of the meaning of “safe country” for the purposes of the Bill.

Clause 7 stand part.

Amendment 4, in clause 8, page 6, line 23, leave out “Scotland”.

The intention of this amendment is to prevent the Bill affecting the law in Scotland.

Amendment 5, page 6, line 25, after “within” insert “the rest of”.

The intention of this amendment is to ensure that any amendment made by any Act resulting from this Bill would affect only the rest of the UK, and not Scotland (see Amendment 4).

Amendment 32, page 6, line 25, leave out “the United Kingdom” and insert

“England and Wales and Northern Ireland.”.

This amendment is linked to Amendment 4 and is intended to remove the application of this Bill to Scotland.

Clause 8 stand part.

Amendment 53, in clause 9, page 6, line 38, leave out from “Act” to end of line 39 and insert

“shall only come into force only when each House of Parliament has come to Resolution on the following motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown: That the Agreement, done at Kigali on 5 December 2023, between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for the Provision of an Asylum Partnership Agreement to Strengthen Shared International Commitments on the Protection of Refugees and Migrants (CP 994), a copy of which was laid before Parliament on 6 December 2023, should not be ratified.”.

This amendment aims to remove the treaty section from the bill and ensure there’s a separate debate on the matter.

Amendment 59, page 6, line 38, leave out from “force” to end of line 39 and insert

“on the day after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement that the Monitoring Committee under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty has been fully established (and see section (suspension of Act if Monitoring Committee not in operation))”.

This amendment makes commencement of the Act contingent on the establishment of the Monitoring Committee under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty.

Amendment 33, page 6, line 39, after “force” insert

“in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland”.

This is a paving amendment for Amendment 34.

Amendment 36, page 6, line 39, after “force” insert

“, or the day on which a full economic impact assessment for the bill is published including any financial memorandum signed between Rwanda and the UK relating to the Rwanda Treaty, whichever is later”.

This amendment requires the publication of a full impact assessment on the costs involved in removals to Rwanda under the bill, including per-person removal costs and the confidential financial memorandum signed between the two countries, in advance of the Bill entering into force.

Amendment 34, page 6, line 39, at end insert—

“(1A) This Act comes into force in Scotland on the day after the Scottish parliament grants its legislative consent to this Act.”.

This amendment would prevent the Bill coming into effect in Scotland until after it had been agreed to by the Scottish Parliament.

Clauses 9 and 10 stand part.

New clause 2—Monitoring and enforcement of conditions (No. 2)—

“(1) If the conditions of subsection (2) are met, then no provision of this Act shall have effect until such as time as each House of Parliament has passed a motion agreeing that the Act remain in effect.

(2) The conditions of this subsection are that the Monitoring Committee has—

(a) published a report noting that any provision of the UK-Rwanda treaty is not being adhered to by either party,

(b) published a report noting that the conditions under which asylum seekers are being held in Rwanda are materially different to those in place at the point where the UK-Rwanda treaty was signed, or

(c) published a report in the last six months confirming that neither (2)(a) or (2)(b) have in their view been necessary.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the Monitoring Committee refers to the Committee established by Article 15 of the UK-Rwanda treaty: provision of an asylum partnership.”.

New clause 3—Effect in Northern Ireland—

“The provisions of this Act shall have effect in Northern Ireland, notwithstanding Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.”

New clause 4—Court of Session—

“Notwithstanding anything in this Act the supervisory jurisdiction and the nobile officium of the Court of Session are preserved.”

New clause 5—Monitoring Committee—

“(1) A Monitoring Committee overseeing removals to Rwanda must be established and maintained in accordance with Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty.

(2) The Monitoring Committee must report to Parliament every 90 days from when it is first established to confirm that the obligations set out in the Rwanda Treaty are being complied with.

(3) If a report made under subsection (2) either (a) is not received within a 90-day period or (b) does not confirm that the relevant obligations are being complied with, the provisions of this Act relating to the removal of persons to Rwanda do not apply.

(4) Reports made under subsection (2) may be taken into consideration in proceedings of any court or tribunal.”

This new clause places the Monitoring Committee for the Rwanda Treaty on a statutory basis, requires regular reporting to Parliament, and ensures that their findings can be reviewed and can affect the operation of measures in the Act resulting from this Bill.

New clause 7—Reporting requirements—

“(1) Within 60 days of this Act receiving Royal Assent, and at every 90 days subsequently, the Secretary of State must provide a written report to Parliament setting out—

(a) the number of individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty,

(b) the current location and immigration status of any individuals relocated under the Rwanda Treaty, and

(c) the quarterly and total costs incurred to transfer individuals to Rwanda under the Rwanda Treaty, including processing costs.

(2) The Secretary of State must also notify Parliament within 10 days of any direct payments being made to the Republic of Rwanda under the terms of the Rwanda Treaty.”

This new clause requires the Secretary to report regularly to Parliament on the operation of the Rwanda Treaty, and to promptly notify Parliament of any payments made by the UK Government to the Republic of Rwanda under the terms of the Rwanda Treaty.

New clause 8—Return of individuals due to serious criminal offences—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must lay a statement before Parliament within 40 days if both of the following conditions are met—

(a) the Secretary of State has approved a request from the Republic of Rwanda to return to the UK a person previously relocated under the terms of the Rwanda Treaty,

(b) the person specified in (a) had their permission to remain in the Republic of Rwanda revoked owing to the person’s participation in serious crime.

(2) If Parliament is notified of the conditions being met as set out in section (1),—

(a) a motion must be moved by a Minister of the Crown to be debated on the floor of the House of Commons, and

(b) the motion must require the House to—

(i) consider the statement laid before Parliament under section (1), and

(ii) consider whether or not as a result of the contents of the statement, there should be a suspension of the Rwanda Treaty.

(3) For the purposes of this section—

“the Rwanda Treaty” means the agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership to strengthen shared international commitments on the protection of refugees and migrants, signed at Kigali on 5 December 2023;

“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.”.

New clause 9—Removals to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023

“Within 60 days of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement referring to all individuals whose asylum claims have been deemed inadmissible since the granting of Royal Assent to the Illegal Migration Act 2023, confirming—

(a) the number of such individuals due to be removed to Rwanda under the Rwanda Treaty,

(b) the timetable for these removals, and

(c) the arrangements in place for any such individuals not due to be removed to Rwanda during the time period set out in the Rwanda Treaty.”.

This new clause requires the publication of a timetable for the Government’s plans to remove the 33,000 asylum cases accrued under the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 to Rwanda.

New clause 13—Suspension of Act if Monitoring Committee not in operation—

“(1) This Act ceases to have effect on the day after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement that the Monitoring Committee under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty has (for whatever reason) ceased to function.

(2) The suspension of this Act under subsection (1) is terminated (and this Act accordingly resumes effect) on the day after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement that the Monitoring Committee under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty has started to function normally after a period when it had ceased to function.”.

This new clause makes the operation of the Act resulting from this Bill dependent on the continued operation of the Monitoring Committee to be established under Article 15 of the Rwanda Treaty.

Amendment 39, in clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out from “to” to “the” in line 3 and insert

“uphold the intention of Parliament to respect and abide by the Human Rights Act 1988 and International law (see subsection (6)) in respect of”.

This amendment rewords part of the declaratory Clause 1.

Amendment 40, page 1, leave out line 6.

Amendment 41, page 1, line 7, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment aims to remove the treaty section from the bill and ensure there’s a separate debate on the matter.

Amendment 42, page 1, line 11, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment 31, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (4).

The effect of this amendment is to remove the reference to the sovereignty of parliament and the assertion that an Act is unaffected by international law.

Amendment 43, page 2, line 6, leave out “the validity of an Act is unaffected by” and insert

“Parliament of the United Kingdom will normally legislate with the intention of abiding by, complying with, and implementing, international law”.

Amendment 44, page 2, line 7, leave out subsection (5).

This amendment leaves out the definition for the purposes of this Bill of a “safe country”.

Amendment 54, page 2, line 9, leave out from first “Kingdom” to “and” in line 11.

This amendment would remove from the Bill text which suggests that Parliament can determine whether the UK is in compliance with international law.

Amendment 55, page 2, line 14, leave out from “country” to end of line 19.

This amendment would remove from the Bill text which suggests that Parliament can determine whether the UK is in compliance with international law.

Clause 1 stand part.

I know that the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), said that he did not watch box sets, but here we are once again for the next episode of this drama. It is also the most important one of all, because this is likely to be the final opportunity for this House to consider the Bill. Does it work? Will we be able to stop the boats? Can we secure our borders? As Members in all parts of the House know, I feel passionately that illegal migration is doing untold damage to our country, and we have to make sure that the Bill actually does the job.

I want to speak to two amendments, but one in particular, and that is the one with respect to rule 39. Let me say at the outset of this debate that I do not believe that our membership of the European convention on human rights is sustainable. I think that that will become clearer and clearer to the British public in the months and years ahead, but that is not the purpose of my amendment today and it is not the subject of this debate. That is a discussion for another day. What we are discussing here is whether we believe it is appropriate for a foreign judge in an international court to impose a late-night judgment, often without the United Kingdom being able to give its own arguments or to hear the reasons for that judgment; whether we think that that really accords with the rule of law, particularly in relation to this policy; and whether we are willing to see the same thing happen again that happened in the summer of 2022, when a judge did just that, grounding the flight and preventing the policy, leading to months, indeed years, of legal action and tens of thousands of illegal migrants breaking into our country, costing our taxpayers billions of pounds, imperilling lives in the channel and perpetuating this challenge for years to come.

I am happy to support my right hon. Friend tonight on this amendment, as I did last night. I am on the Council of Europe, so I take quite a lot of interest in this. There is an established legal principle that, in fact, the judge was acting ultra vires in 2022 and that it was not in his powers to do that. There is also an established legal opinion that our Government could actually have ignored it. How does this relate to my right hon. Friend’s amendment?

I will come on to the exact points that my right hon. Friend is making; they are fair and important ones.

As night follows day, if we do not make changes in this respect, we will find ourselves in a few months’ time in exactly the same position that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) was in as Home Secretary in the summer of 2022, wherein the Strasbourg Court could issue one, or potentially many, rule 39 interim measures. The decision about what to do will fall to a Minister—perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration—and other colleagues within Government. The courts will be involved and we will find ourselves in a very difficult, indeed intractable, situation. As I have said before, setting this scheme in train without knowing what we would do when that happens is a bit like pulling the pin out of a grenade but not being prepared to throw it. This is entirely foreseeable. Let us find a way through this challenge.

To answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and to address the legitimate challenge that is made to those like me who make this argument, we have to go back to the foundation of the Court. Many of my colleagues say, “Well, it was great Conservative and British jurists who were the authors of the European convention on human rights. Why would you want to alter what they created?” With respect, that is a misunderstanding of what was done when the convention was founded and the treaty signed. No one signed up to the Court being able to make binding injunctions. In fact, quite the opposite: it was considered at the time and rejected. The UK, like all other signatories to the European convention, expressly declined to give the Court the power to make binding interim measures. This was created by activist judges in 2005, in response to the Mamatkulov and Askarov v. Turkey case, whereby the Court conferred upon itself a power that was not given in the treaty. It is a mistake that the United Kingdom has for many years, by convention, gone along with the approach the Court has taken to itself.

Do not take my word for it; take the word of many eminent jurists and lawyers. When this very point was considered in the other place during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, a not dissimilar point—I will not put words into their lordships’ mouths—was made by the noble Lord Sandhurst, the noble Lord Faulks and the noble Lord Woolf. In a foreword to an important piece related to this debate, the noble and learned Lord Sumption made a similar and very important point.

In fact, the professor of international law at the University of Oxford, Professor Richard Ekins, whom many of us respect highly, has said that to change the current approach is not to breach the rule of law but to defend the rule of law, because we, as signatories to the European convention, expressly objected to the approach, which has been conferred by activist judges outside the rule of law. We should not be following through with this.

At least the right hon. Gentleman has the strength to be vocal about what he actually believes, which is more than can be said for many other Conservative Members. He has made it clear that he could not care less about what the European convention on human rights says. Will he go further and openly say that this vile, dangerous and inhumane Bill has one purpose, which is to flout international law, and that his party could not care less about the human rights of the most vulnerable individuals?

It is a pity, but I cannot say I am surprised, that the hon. Gentleman sinks to those depths and does not present a proper legal argument. Had he been listening to me, he would have heard that I did not say anything of the sort. The case that I am advancing is far from an undermining of the European convention on human rights, although there are many who might wish to leave it. We are defending the original intent of the European convention on human rights, and the rule of law, because it is not sustainable for activist judges in Strasbourg to bend and change the original intent of the signatories to that convention, in ways that they would never have accepted, by inventing new powers. I want us to defend the rule of law, and in this case it is best defended by saying that the Court’s interim measures are not binding on the UK, either on the domestic plane or on Ministers. It is better that we simply return to the position before 2005. In fact, I think most of this happened under a Labour Government.

Is this British exceptionalism? Is the right hon. Gentleman making the case that the ECHR should no longer apply only to the UK? Or is he saying that it is not fit for purpose across the board and should be scrapped entirely?

It seems as if we are having a dialogue of the deaf, because that is not what I said at all. I said that the debate about the European convention is for another day, but the hon. Gentleman is saying that the decision of the Strasbourg Court in 2005 to confer upon itself, without seeking the consent of any of the signatories to the convention, the ability to impose binding interim injunctions on other countries is the right way forward and, indeed, that those injunctions should be able to be made at the eleventh hour, in the middle of the night, without giving reasons, without asking for our arguments and without even naming the judge behind the ruling. That poses very serious rule-of-law questions and is a reason why conventions such as the ECHR are increasingly out of step.

My right hon. Friend is, of course, right that it contradicts the long-established custom and practice that was the accepted basis for the rule of law in this country. He cites Lord Sumption and Lord Woolf, but he might also have cited the constitutionalist A. V. Dicey who, long ago, supported by Lord Denning and many others after, established that the relationship between the rule of law and this place is that a polity can make and change laws because it has the legitimacy to do so, conferred on it by the people. Frankly, that means this House is supreme. That in no way underestimates the significance of international agreements and treaties, but it affirms the significance and sovereignty of this House.

As somebody who has served on the Council of Europe and was proud to do so because of the United Kingdom’s history of setting it up to protect citizens from overbearing Governments, I think it is worth looking at the data on interim measures. In 2019, 82 requests were made to the Strasbourg Court for interim measures against this Government and zero were granted; in 2020, 47 requests were made and two were granted; and in 2021, 51 requests were made against this Government and five were granted. That is just seven out of 180. Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that this Government get things right all the time, so there should be no capacity to challenge them legally, even when irrevocable harm is on the agenda?

That is not the point I am making. Once again, the hon. Lady is not listening. The point I am making is not about the virtues or otherwise of our membership of the European convention on human rights, which I have said is a matter for another day. The discussion on the amendment is simply about whether we believe it is right that the Strasbourg Court should confer upon itself, without our consent, the ability to impose binding injunctions. There is a separate question, not unrelated, as to how those injunctions are made. I would like to believe that most of us agree that doing them late at night with an unnamed judge, without giving reasons, raises serious rule-of-law questions. Perhaps the hon. Lady disagrees with that, but the purpose of the amendment is to enable us to return to a previous position. [Interruption.] She now has her clip for social media, so the rest of the debate is largely irrelevant.

I want to address the point of law in respect of the Strasbourg Court. The difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is that, under the scheme of the convention, the Court is the body that determines the meaning of the convention. Not just in the 2005 case but consistently thereafter, the Court has held that failing to comply with interim measures amounts to a breach of article 34 of the convention. That is the legal difficulty with his argument, is it not?

No. There may be a good-faith disagreement between the hon. and learned Lady and me, but I do not believe that international bodies and courts should be able to grow organically as a result of the decisions of activist judges. This is a matter of the rule of law and of parliamentary sovereignty. We in the United Kingdom chose to be a signatory to the European convention on human rights, and I do not think it is correct that the Court gave itself this power in 2005.

I return to how this matter relates to the policy. First, let us cast our minds back to the summer of 2022. A rule 39 interim measure was imposed by the Court to ground a flight and to prevent us from proceeding with the policy. Do we think that anything has changed in the months and years that have passed? My conjecture is no. We will be in exactly the same position in a few months’ time unless we take action.

We included a provision in the Illegal Migration Act that merely restated the orthodox constitutional and legal position that, in theory, it is at a Minister’s discretion whether to comply with a rule 39 interim measure. Underlying that was the Government’s legal advice—which I believe to be erroneous, for the reasons I have just described—that they would be in breach of international law not to do so. As far as I am aware, the Attorney General and the Government Legal Service therefore continue to advise Ministers and civil servants that a decision not to support a rule 39 interim measure would be illegal and in breach of the ministerial code.

My best recollection was that no Minister should give any indication that they would ignore a rule 39 interim measure. The Attorney General’s position, as I understand it, is that there is a very small number of cases in which it is conceivable that one could do so, but that is a vanishingly slim number of cases and situations. As night follows day, if that position were to continue, we would find ourselves in exactly the same situation as we were in during the summer of 2022. I do not want to be in that position. It would be a huge breach of trust with the British public if we knew that something was likely—if we watched this train not speeding down the tracks but moving slowly towards us—and had ample opportunity to resolve the issue, but chose to do absolutely nothing. We have kicked the can down the road and now there is no more road—at the end of the road there is a precipice. We are moving forward with a scheme, but we do not know how to implement it. We are pulling the pin out of the grenade, but we have not got the guts to throw it.

We need to resolve this and the way to do that is simple: the Government could accept the amendment that stands in my name and those of many others. To do so is not to say that we are leaving the European convention on human rights. There are respectable international law arguments behind the amendment, and I would wager that the Government would have no difficulty in finding senior King’s counsel and former judges in the other place who would support my position—and the Government’s position, should they choose to adopt it.

The Government could change some of the accompanying minor documentation, such as the civil service code and the ministerial code. I would not place too much emphasis on those. At the end of the day, this is not about civil servants; it is about Ministers and the law. A good captain does not blame his sailors. It is on us: we have the power to fix this and we have the responsibility. So let us use the opportunity we have today with the amendment to resolve this situation. If we do not, we will be here in two months’ time, the Strasbourg Court will impose a rule 39 measure and the Government will be scrambling around trying to resolve the situation, and they will have no one else to blame.

I am here to help the Government, to ensure that this policy works, because I, like everyone, at least on this side of the Committee, believe passionately that we have to make this policy work and to stop the boats. So I strongly encourage my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, and indeed the Prime Minister, to support the amendment, and I encourage everyone else on both sides of the Committee who shares my determination to fix this problem to do exactly the same.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship again, Dame Rosie.

Here we go again: it is day two in Committee for the third asylum Bill in less than two years, and day 643 of the Rwanda psychodrama that the Conservative party continues to inflict on our weary and baffled nation. Let us not forget that the Rwanda saga started off as Operation Save Big Dog, that desperate and, thankfully, doomed attempt to save the skin of Boris Johnson. But then, for some bizarre reason known only to Conservative Members, it did not fade away once Mr Johnson exited stage right—quite the opposite. It took on a life of its own, evolving into an article of faith for the Conservative party, a purity test that has come to define whether or not someone is a true believer, so vast quantities of political capital and untold amounts of Government time, resources and energy have been squandered on a policy that, at most, might one day enable the transfer of a few hundred asylum seekers to Rwanda. It truly is an absolutely extraordinary state of affairs.

Meanwhile, out there in the real world, food bills are spiralling and mortgages are going through the roof; 7.8 million people are on NHS waiting lists; raw sewage is being pumped into our rivers; and at least 30,000 people risked life and limb to cross the channel on small boats. Nothing in this Bill will address any of those challenges, not even the last one. As I said yesterday, the Rwanda plan is extortionately expensive, with £400 million on its way or committed to the Government of Rwanda, without a single asylum seeker ever having been sent there. In addition to that vast sum, it will cost at least £169,000 to send each individual asylum seeker to Rwanda; the figure will probably be far higher, but the Government are refusing to come clean on that point.

The plan is also unworkable, because there is no evidence that sending just a few hundred asylum seekers will deter the tens of thousands who are crossing the channel each year. Desperate people who have risked life and limb crossing continents to escape violence and persecution are not going to be deterred by a less than 1% chance of being sent to Rwanda. Of course, we know that in addition to being unaffordable and unworkable, the scheme is unlawful, as has been found by the Supreme Court, owing to Rwanda’s not being, as it stands, a safe country. Yet here we are again, being forced to indulge the fantasies, fixations and psychodramas of Conservative Members.

We have heard that before, but let us address the narrow legal point. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it was right for a Strasbourg judge to impose an injunction in the night, on his own, without giving the British Government the chance to make their case?

What we are seeing is complete shambolic incompetence in the asylum system, and if cases are not made clearly and are open to legal appeal, legal appeals will come and, in some cases, will succeed. On the broader point, the UK is party to a number of international agreements and conventions. That reality is extremely important to our national interest. In many cases, it strengthens our sovereignty, not weakens it. So Labour Members are clear that politics is about choices, and when we look at the bigger picture of our country’s place in the world, it is absolutely clear that our sovereignty and national interest are strengthened, not weakened, by being party to these international agreements and conventions.

It is deeply troubling that every day seems to bring a new example of the tail wagging the dog. We now hear that the Prime Minister is assembling 150 judges and 1,000 staff to fast-track Rwanda cases through our courts. Sorry—what? Does he not know that under his leadership and on his watch, the Crown court backlog in this country is at a record high of 65,000? Victims of serious crimes regularly wait more than two years for their day in court, so that they can seek justice against the perpetrator. The system is completely broken because of 14 years of Tory incompetence and indifference, yet the Prime Minster clicks his fingers and, glibly, is apparently able to magic up 150 judges and 1,000 staff. Where on earth have those 150 judges been hiding all this time? Are they going to be new recruits or are they currently working? If it is the latter, are they going to be told to drop everything and transfer to dealing with asylum cases? I trust the Minister will be able to answer those questions today, but I am not holding my breath.

Regardless of the operational issues, imagine the impact the Prime Minister’s glib announcement yesterday would have on you if you were a rape victim who has been languishing for years in our broken judicial system. Imagine the anger and disgust you would feel at the spectacle of a Conservative Prime Minister sacrificing your fight for justice on the altar of his desperate attempt to cling to power by appeasing his Back Benchers. What an utterly shameful and shabby way for the Prime Minister of our country to behave.

On the point the shadow Minister made about political choices, he is valiantly opposing the Bill and he voted against it on Second Reading, just as I did, but does he recognise that given that this is the last Session of this Parliament, the Parliament Act cannot be engaged and plenty will take place in the other place, so the only way the Bill will become law is if Labour makes the political choice to say that fighting and frustrating it any longer is not in its interest?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but we have made it absolutely clear that the Bill is unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful. The Opposition will never support any piece of legislation that is guilty of those three sins—that is as clear as crystal to us. With pride we voted against the Bill on Second Reading, with pride we voted against the amendments that would only make it even worse, and with pride we will vote against it on Third Reading.

My hon. Friend is right about the purpose of the Bill, which is one of the most flagrant attempts to directly flout international human rights law that we have seen. Does he agree that that is the only purpose of the Bill before us today?

I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful intervention. It is difficult to determine the true purpose of the Bill these days, because it has become embroiled in various Tory internal wars, fights between factions and certain people’s leadership ambitions, but we know it will not stop the Tory small boats chaos. It is that chaos that has to be stopped. The people smuggler gangs are trading in human misery and must be stopped, but we need practical, sensible, pragmatic measures, rather than the headline-chasing gimmicks we have seen from this Government over the last years and months.

The irony of the announcement yesterday about the judges was that, by definition, it is an admission of failure, because it recognises that the Bill will fail to prevent the legal challenges and appeals that the judges will be working on. The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was further evidence of the profoundly troubling way in which the Government are prepared to disregard and disrespect our judiciary. I urge Members on all Benches to take careful note of what Sue Carr, the Lady Chief Justice, told the Justice Committee yesterday:

“I’m afraid that this headline draws matters of judicial responsibility into the political arena…matters of deployment of judges, the allocation of work for judges and the use of courtrooms is exclusively a matter for the judiciary and, more specifically, a matter for myself and the senior president of the tribunals. It’s really important that people understand that clear division.”

There speaks a true democrat.

The shadow Minister knows that our view on the Government Benches is that the problem cannot be comprehensively tackled without a deterrent; I cannot think of any examples around the world where it has been tackled without a deterrent. The shadow Minister has spoken before about safe and legal routes, and I have asked him questions about whether the numbers using those routes should be capped or uncapped, so has he thought about what the cap level would be? What would be the number?

It is clear that in order to stop the Tory small boats chaos, we have to smash the criminal smuggler gangs. That will be done through enhanced co-operation with European partners and allies. The shadow Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition visited Europol recently. It is hugely important that we get better data sharing and co-operation with European authorities, such as Europol and Frontex, in order to be able to smash the criminal gangs upstream. As I will go on to say in my remarks, the more we jeopardise co-operation with our European partners and allies by threatening to leave the European conventions, the more difficult we make it to have that European co-operation and the more we undermine our own ability to deter the criminal smuggler gangs. If someone were looking for a definition of counterproductive legislation and policies, this would be the one they would go for.

The shadow Minister makes a good point about co-operation. He is right that the only way to tackle the problem is through a suite of measures under an umbrella policy but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) just described, an important part of that is deterrence. The brand and the marketing message of the criminal gangs is that people will get to Britain and never leave. Sadly, that has too often been the case, has it not?

As I said yesterday, there are pragmatic, sensible things the Government have been doing that we support. For example, the Opposition fully support the Albania deal. The fact that removals to Albania are facilitated by that deal has acted as a deterrent and led to a clear decrease in the number of Albanians trying to come over. Why do the Government not do more of that? They should do the pragmatic, sensible stuff rather than being sucked into endless bun fights about the Rwanda deal, which is unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a question of priorities: the Government have limited time, resources and energy, so they should focus it on the stuff that works rather than on the headline-chasing gimmicks.

The mantra has been clear for many months from the Opposition Benches, including from the shadow Minister himself, about the need for safe and legal routes. Can we have some indication of what level of immigration through safe and legal routes would be needed to address the problem? I put it to him that as soon as that cap is reached, the rest will come by boat unless there is a deterrent.

On safe and legal routes, as a priority I would look at things like the Afghan schemes, which are completely and utterly broken. The Afghan relocations and assistance policy has collapsed and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme never really worked. Which nationality is always in the top three or four nationalities crossing the channel? The Afghans. We need to get the schemes that are currently in place working properly, and then we need to look at international co-operation, working with our European partners and allies, to create a dynamic whereby the United Kingdom does its bit, as part of ensuring that those trying to cross the channel in small boats do not do so.

To draw the shadow Minister back to the amendments and the interim measures of the Strasbourg court, and to build on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), am I right in understanding that the Labour party’s position is that it does not want to see reform of rule 39 interim measures? I find that surprising, given that the UK is working in concert with many, perhaps all, signatories of the European convention on human rights to do just that. Most of our friends and allies in Europe consider there to be serious rule of law issues arising from the so-called pyjama injunctions and, like them, we want to see them reformed. Would the Labour party abandon that piece of work?

When we enter Government, as I hope we will, everything we do will be based on a test: is it affordable, is it workable and is it legal? The legal piece has to be based on compliance with our international legal obligations. However, if one cherishes something, one also has to be open to changing and improving it. It is clear that a global conversation and a European conversation are required about the immigration position in which we find ourselves. If we, in concert with our international partners and allies, can find ways to improve the system, of course Labour would look to do that. Unfortunately, we cannot negotiate that deal from Opposition, but we will certainly prioritise that as and when we come into Government.

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will make a little more progress and then come back to him.

Order. It is the convention that any Member wishing to intervene should have been in the Chamber from the start of the speech. I know that the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber a little after the start of Stephen Kinnock’s speech.

Thank you, Dame Rosie. It is against the backdrop of chaos, confusion and “party before country” that we consider the amendments before us today. I wish to start by commenting on the amendments in the name of the former Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick).

This Bill is riddled with shamefully anti-democratic clauses that undermine the rule of law and seek to undermine the conventions and values that we on the Labour Benches hold dear. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the admission in the Bill that its provisions may not comply with the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law. Indeed, clause 3 explicitly disapplies international agreements, including the 1951 refugee convention and the 1984 convention against torture. The leader of the more moderate Conservative caucus, the one nation group, described this approach as “authoritarian” and “a betrayal” of who we are as a nation. He was absolutely right on both points. Our liberal democratic nation is founded on the rule of law and our respect for the judicial function; our international standing is founded on our commitment to human rights and international law; and our proud history is founded on the delivery of those principles, including, indeed, Winston Churchill himself helping to establish Britain as a founder of the 1951 convention.

I made the point yesterday—I will make it again now—that it is not for politicians to interfere with court judgments, and it is not for the Government to respond in a knee-jerk manner to court rulings that they dislike. That is the behaviour of an autocracy, not a democracy. How on earth can our country be the international standard bearer for the rule of law in the face of, for example, Putin’s barbarism or an increasingly belligerent China if we are breaking our own international obligations? Indeed, how can we even hold Rwanda to account on its commitment within this new treaty if we are not practising what we preach? Then there is the real and present danger that this Bill represents to the international agreements that Britain is party to, all of which are central to our national interest.

Those who are worried about social media may also find it useful to use their phones in the Chamber to double-check those international obligations, and indeed the original text of the European convention on human rights, which states explicitly:

“The High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties.”

From the start, it was intended that there was a check—[Interruption.] I listened to the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick); I hope that he will accord the same respect and courtesy to me. Does my hon. Friend agree that, from the start, it was envisaged that it was an important check and balance to involve the courts in decision making?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As we have also seen in the letter that Nathalie Loiseau sent to her about the potential risks that there are to the trade and co-operation agreement, and to a range of other commitments, it is absolutely clear that it is in our national interest to pool our sovereignty with other nations through these conventions in order to strengthen our own national sovereignty. I agree absolutely with her on that point.

Let us look at some of these agreements. First, the European convention on human rights is woven integrally into many different parts of the Good Friday agreement. The political settlement in Northern Ireland should not be taken for granted, so disapplying the ECHR in British legislation would be playing with fire in that regard. The Prime Minister’s very own Windsor framework, which sought to resolve the issues around trade and Northern Ireland post-Brexit, was agreed on the basis of the UK’s full commitment to the Good Friday agreement. I am sure that the Prime Minister would not want to accidentally set fire to his own carefully crafted negotiations.

The EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement includes clauses on important mutual security co-operation, which are reliant on Britain’s commitment to the European convention on human rights. Under articles 1 and 692 of the TCA, UK withdrawal from the ECHR entitles the EU to immediately suspend or terminate the entirety of section 3 of the TCA. Therefore, introducing notwith-standing clauses into the Bill means that the Government would also be dicing with the risk of jeopardising security co-operation with our European partners and allies.

The irony here is that this very security co-operation and data sharing is of pivotal importance when it comes to smashing the criminal gangs that are behind the small boat crossings. This Bill, which is designed to deal with the issue of the small boat crossings and the criminal gangs, could undermine the very co-operation that is supposed to be smashing those gangs—you literally could not make it up. I do not believe that such legislative belligerence is in the interests or the traditions of the Conservative party, and I certainly do not believe that it is in the interests or traditions of our own proud nation. The amendments that have been tabled by the former Immigration Minister would, I am afraid, simply increase all the risks that I have described, so we on the Labour Benches will be opposing them.

Let me turn now to Labour’s amendments. Again, I stress that we reject the Bill in its entirety and that our amendments are designed to limit the damage of this unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful piece of legislation. A major concern of ours is the way the Government are handling the entire Rwanda saga from the point of view of transparency—everything from costs and the processing capacity of the Rwandan Government, to Ministers trying to hide the fact that criminals will be sent from Rwanda back to the UK, and the fact that the UK may have to take some refugees from Rwanda.

Our amendment 36 and new clauses 7 and 8 are all part of an attempt to force the Government to shed more light on the less clear aspects of the scheme, and to introduce more accountability. Amendment 36 would require the Government to publish a full impact assessment, setting out the costs per person for the removal scheme, and the confidential financial memorandum already agreed between the two countries. We believe that the cost per person is far higher than the £169,000 already acknowledged by the Government, and we want Ministers to come clean on that point.

New clause 7 would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on a regular basis—every 90 days, as with the monitoring committee—on the operation of the scheme, including data on the number of people relocated to Rwanda and the costs incurred by the UK Government. Similarly, new clause 9 would require regular reporting on the number of asylum seekers declared inadmissible under the Illegal Migration Act 2023 from the point of its entry into force—whenever that may be—and the number of such asylum seekers who were subsequently removed to Rwanda.

New clause 8 would impose further reporting requirements on the Government, including on the number of individuals involved in criminal activity who have been transferred from Rwanda to the UK. In the event of any such transfers, the Government would be required to table a debateable motion in Parliament, so that MPs could consider whether, in the light of the transfers, the operation of the treaty should be suspended. It is important that the British public understand just how many foreign criminals the Conservative Government will be importing back into our country as part of this Rwanda deal.

Further amendments relate to the monitoring committee—a central part of the new treaty, which both sides are required to set up in order to oversee the operation of the removal scheme, and to provide a mechanism for individual asylum seekers to lodge confidential complaints directly with the committee. The Supreme Court raised initial concerns about the capacity of the committee to review complaints in its judgment. Our amendment 59 would make the establishment of this committee a necessary precondition for the commencement of this Act. New clause 5 would place the committee on a statutory footing. The monitoring committee would be required to report to Parliament every 90 days, confirming that all the relevant obligations set out in the treaty are being fully complied with.

In the event that the monitoring committee either fails to meet the 90-day requirement or reports to Parliament that Rwanda is not in full compliance with any provision of the treaty, this Act would effectively be suspended from being in force until any issues with timing or compliance have been resolved. Linked to this, new clause 13 stipulates that the operation of this Act should be suspended at any time when the monitoring committee “is not in operation”.

Finally, new clause 5 states that it is for a Minister of the Crown, and that Minister only, to decide whether to comply with any “interim measures” issued by the ECHR for the purposes of blocking a person’s removal to Rwanda. Amendment 38 stipulates that, in making such a decision, the Minister in question must consult the Attorney General.

The Conservative psychodrama of the past 24 hours only goes to serve the old political adage: if a Prime Minister is incapable of managing his own party, he must be utterly incapable of running the country. The resignation of not one but two deputy chairs last night, followed by a 60-strong rebellion, illustrated the level of utter incompetence at the heart of his Administration. We know what they say: to lose one deputy Chair could be down to misfortune; to lose two in one night looks like sheer carelessness. At least we might see a bit more of them on their GB News show, discussing days of yore while spoon-feeding each other cold baked beans, which was my personal television highlight of 2023. It also explains quite a lot about the amount of hot air emanating from the Government Benches. I certainly hope to see and hear more from them in this election year.

In all seriousness, what on earth is going on? The country is looking on, baffled that the Prime Minister could pay the Rwandan Government £400 million for nothing, yet place such little focus on strengthening our security co-operation with Europe to stop the boats in the first place, and he has spent little time improving our broken public services or helping our struggling households during the cost of living crisis. They are perplexed that the Conservatives are spending so many hours on a piece of legislation that is not really meant to stop the boats; it is about the Prime Minister getting a single plane in the air, with a handful of asylum seekers on it, so that he can say, “Look, I did it! I delivered the Rwanda plan and removed a few refugees.” He thinks the British people will deliver something to him on that basis.

We are perplexed because this is not the behaviour and politics we can afford to expect from a British Prime Minister. These are not the serious policies that will fix our asylum system and make our country a better place—all the headline-chasing gimmicks over hard graft and getting a grip. That is not what the British public voted for. Indeed, nobody—not even his own party—voted for him at all.

This plan is a con. This Bill is a sham. I urge all hon. Members to get behind Labour’s amendments to limit the damage and to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. It is unworkable, unaffordable and unlawful. If we are to stop the Tories’ small boats chaos and end expensive asylum hotel use, which costs £8 million a day, this Conservative psychodrama needs to end. We need Labour’s five-point plan to end this chaos, starting with going after the criminal gangs upstream in a new security partnership with Europol. We need a Government that put country before party, and we need a general election this spring.

It may be helpful if I clarify a few things. First, if colleagues wish to intervene, it is important that they are present from the start of the relevant speech. It is also important that they remain to the end of the speech.

Secondly, I intend to give priority to those who have amendments down on the selection list—I will then come to others. In addition to the fact that we are discussing amendments, I should explain that, because we are also discussing clause stand part, the debate can range slightly more widely than would be normal, but it is not a Third Reading debate. There will be a Third Reading debate—an hour has been put aside for that—just in case colleagues prefer to speak at that stage. I know that Sir Jeremy Wright has an amendment, so I call him to speak.

Thank you, Dame Rosie. In fact I have two amendments—amendments 54 and 55—on which I wish to focus my remarks. We all understand that the purpose of the Bill is to allow this Parliament to designate Rwanda as a safe country so that people can be removed to it lawfully. In order to achieve that, of course, we require a definition of what a safe country is. The Bill does that in clause 1(5)(a), which describes a safe country as

“a country to which persons may be removed from the United Kingdom”.

So far, so good. It seems to me that that is an essential part of the Bill’s inherent purpose.

The part of that subsection (a) that concerns me, and on which my amendment is focused, is where it says that that is

“in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there”.

In other words, the Bill seems to say that the United Kingdom, by saying that Rwanda is a safe country, can also deem itself to be in compliance with a set of its international law responsibilities. I do not think that can be correct.

Few in this House are as familiar as I am with the vagaries and complexities of international law. If international law means anything, surely it must mean that it does not lie in the hands of any individual nation state—even this one—to determine its own compliance with it. Were it otherwise, international law would not really be international, and it would certainly serve no purpose in containing bad behaviour, as we sometimes ask it to do.

I work closely with my right hon. and learned Friend in a number of ways, as he knows, and I am well aware that he is a former Attorney General. If he were right that it is not for the Government or this House to determine whether measures are compliant, why on earth would they seek and get the Attorney General’s advice on just that?

My right hon. Friend knows that the Attorney General is consulted on a variety of different legal questions, both domestic and international. He would not expect me to disclose any of the advice I have previously given, but I can tell him that the Attorney General does give advice on whether the Government’s actions may or may not be in compliance with international law, but neither the Attorney General, nor, I think the Government, expects to be the ultimate arbiter of that question. The advice is given as to whether it is likely that that action would be in compliance with the law. I will come in a moment to what I think the Bill and the Government can properly do in relation to international law responsibilities, but it seems to me that what they cannot properly do is set themselves up as judge in their own cause on questions of international law. This House would be wrong to pass a Bill that suggested that they could. That is really where my amendments are focused.

As I say, there is a good practical reason why we should be nervous about this: because we do sometimes rely on international law to discharge our own policy intents and purposes. Not more than 48 hours ago in this place, we were doing exactly that. We were saying that it is important to criticise the actions of the Houthis in the Red sea because they contravene principles of international law. We were saying too that we justify our own response to that because it is in accordance with the principles of international law, and quite right, too. We would not have accepted the Houthis’ unilateral declaration that they were in compliance with international law when they did what they did, nor should we have, and we would not of course accept a Russian legislative Act to say that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia was in compliance with Russia’s international law responsibilities.

Let me make it clear that I am not, of course, suggesting that what the Government have in mind here is in any way comparable to those two examples, but it seems that the point here is that to arrogate to oneself the right to declare one’s own compliance with international law runs the risk of, first, other states finding comfort in our example and, secondly, undermining our own messages in other situations. That makes this not just bad law, but bad foreign policy.

I am pleased to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to say on the question of international law. Does he share my concern—and I fully accept that I am not as legally qualified as him—that the Government’s own legal advice says that by stating that the Bill is incompatible, it makes it compatible? Is that not worthy of the mad March Hare when it comes to consistency in standing up for the rule of law?

I suspect that what the hon. Lady is referring to is the statement of incompatibility with the convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 at the beginning of the Bill. Of course, that provision is there for a reason: to allow the Government, if they so choose, to act in defiance of those responsibilities. That is perfectly proper, and I will come on to explain why I think that is something the Government can properly do.

I am concerned about something a little different. Instead of saying, “We don’t think this is in compliance with international law, but we’re going to do it anyway.”, the Bill is saying, “We think this is in compliance with international law; it is down to us to decide that, and we have so decided.” That feels to me like something that we could not and should not do. It would be concerning enough, in my judgment, if this Bill only tried to deem the UK’s compliance with international law, but it also seems to say that we can deem Rwanda’s compliance with international law.

That is set out in clause 1(5)(b), which goes on to say that, for the purposes of this Act, a safe country includes, in particular, a country

“from which a person removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country”.

So far so good; that is essential, to me, to doing what the Bill seeks to achieve. However, it goes on to say,

“in contravention of any international law”.

Again, it cannot lie in the hands of this Parliament to decide whether or not a person may be removed to another country in contravention of any international law. It goes on in sub-paragraph (b)(ii) to say that a country would be a safe country

“in which any person who is seeking asylum or who has had an asylum determination will both have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law.”

It seems to me that the Bill is seeking to say that, if we deem it so, not only is the UK in compliance with its international law responsibilities, but Rwanda is going to be as well. That feels to me not valid and somewhat over-ambitious.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend, who has great experience as a former Attorney General, agree that the deeming provisions under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 create a rather similar situation, because we deemed EU law to be UK law? Therefore, on the analogy he has just given, I imagine he would argue—though I think he might even have been Attorney General at that time—that that did exactly the same sort of thing, although I am listening with great interest to the more precise point he is making about the relationship with international obligations, on which I will speak later.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know, Dame Rosie, you would not want me to abuse the privilege you have given us to range slightly more widely in this debate to range quite that widely, so I will not. He is right that I am making a fairly precise point about what this language appears to me to say. I stress that I do not think it is necessary to include this language in order to achieve the objective that the Government have set in this legislation—with which I have some sympathy, although their methods make me nervous, and I make no bones about that. Worse than unnecessary, it presents some dangers that I do not think we need to present in order to achieve the Government’s objectives.

I suspect my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will tell me in a few moments’ or hours’ time that I do not need to worry about any of this. He may give two reasons for that. First, he may say that the Bill does not mean what I think it means. You will forgive me for saying this, Dame Rosie, but I am increasingly troubled that in this place we answer points such as mine by saying, “Yes, well, it doesn’t really mean that, and we don’t really mean that by it.” We should be concerned as legislators with what the language we are passing into law actually says, not what we meant to say. I am concerned that what this language says is not in accordance with what I am sure the Minister wants to do or what the Government want to do, but it might none the less have that effect, or be taken by others to mean the things that I am concerned about.

When the Bill says what a safe country is, it is potentially confusing two different things. One is deeming our own compliance with international law, which I do not think any country should be able to do, and the other is saying that Parliament resolves to do something even if it contravenes the UK’s international law obligations, which, going back to the previous intervention by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), I do think the British Parliament can do. We as a legislature can resolve to do that if we so choose.

We have to decide whether that is a wise and sensible thing to do, with all the ramifications it might bring, but as a matter of law it seems to me that the UK Parliament can, if it wishes, pass a law to say, “Despite or irrespective of our international responsibilities, this is none the less what we want to do.” That is not the same as deeming our own compliance with international law, which I worry this language almost certainly seems to do.

The point I make about the UK Parliament being able to do things even when they contravene its international responsibilities is already in the Bill and reflected in the language of clause 1(4)(b), which points out that

“the validity of an Act is unaffected by international law.”

Quite right. We can, if we so choose, deem a country a safe country for the purposes of domestic decision making if we want to. What I do not think we can or should do is legislate to say that we comply with our international law responsibilities when we do not—and when, crucially, to achieve the objective of this Bill we do not need to.

The second reason the Minister may give for why I do not need to worry myself about all this is that he may say that domestic and international law exist on different planes, and that this legislation is only targeted in any event at domestic authorities, so the Bill could not, even if it chose to try, deem our compliance with international law in actual fact. I would agree with that. It is perfectly true that domestic law and international law operate on different planes, and it is not likely that this Bill could determine any question of international law before any international tribunal.

If that is so, though, why include the language? If it does not have any meaning or legal effect, it does not serve any purpose, but I fear it may send a damaging political signal to other states. The language I am concerned about, which amendments 54 and 55 would remove, is either offensive or otiose, and in either respect the Bill would be better without it.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright). I find myself in agreement with much of what he said, and he made his points very forcefully.

I rise to speak to amendments 32, 33 and 34 and new clause 4 in my name and amendments 4 and 5 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), and to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). I also want to comment on clause 3 and clause 5 stand part and the amendments that have been put forward, particularly by the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), in my capacity as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

I turn first to my amendments, which relate to the impact of this Bill in Scotland, and in which respect I am speaking in a personal capacity. My amendments and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North deal with the extent of the Bill, its extension to Scotland and the date of its commencement in Scotland. We both seek to prevent this Bill’s extending to Scotland and, in the event that we are not successful in doing that, my amendments seek to ensure that the Bill will not extend to Scotland without the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament and that nothing in it will interfere with the supervisory jurisdiction of the Court of Session or its nobile officium. I will explain what that means later.

We must not forget that the regime this Bill seeks to impose, together with the Illegal Migration Act 2023, is imposed on asylum seekers across the United Kingdom, not just those who arrive in small boats on the Kent coast. The UK Government have not forgotten that, and that is why they want this Bill, with its far-reaching and unprecedented ouster clauses, to extend to Scotland. Accordingly, asylum seekers in Scotland looking to our courts for protection will find that the courts in Scotland have been emasculated in the same way as this Bill emasculates the courts of England and Wales.

As well as having their jurisdiction ousted on certain matters of fact, as was debated yesterday, the Scottish courts will find themselves unable to apply the Human Rights Act or to respect the United Kingdom’s obligations under the European convention on human rights and other international treaties. I believe that that constitutes a serious and unprecedented intrusion on the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts, and a serious interference with the separation of powers between legislature, Executive and judiciary. I do not think that this Parliament should be rubber-stamping the Bill at all, but particularly not in relation to Scotland.

What the Bill seeks to do in emasculating the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts in relation to asylum seekers is anathema to the Scottish constitutional tradition. People in Scotland do not want it; they did not vote for it—in fact, nobody in the UK voted for this, because the policy was not in the Government’s manifesto. In contrast to England and Wales, no opinion polls carried out in Scotland support the Bill. As the great Scottish judge Lord President Cooper noted in the famous case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate in 1953:

“The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle, which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law”.

In Scotland, it is the people who are sovereign. That makes a difference to our view of how constitutionalism works and on the separation of powers.

It is the essence of the Scottish constitutional tradition that Executive power should not be unchecked. That goes back in our history as far as the declaration of Arbroath in 1320, when Scottish nobles asserting the sovereignty of the people of Scotland in a letter to the Pope told his Holiness that if the King of Scotland should ever seek to make Scots subject to the King of England again, they would kick him out and seek another King to defend him. In Scotland, the sovereignty of the people is our guiding principle, not the sovereignty of the monarch. Neither our Parliament nor this Parliament is sovereign. It is the people who are sovereign.

Let me turn to the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts. This Parliament—this Union Parliament—exists because of the Treaty of Union. Scotland has always had a separate legal system. Article XIX of the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England protects that separate legal system, including its inherent supervisory jurisdiction and the nobile officium of the Court of Session, which is a power that the Court of Session has to give remedies where otherwise there would be none. Since the modern advent of devolution by virtue of the Scotland Act 1998, the civil jurisdiction of the Scottish courts, including judicial review, has been a devolved matter and therefore properly one for Scotland’s Parliament, so I believe that the Bill is a grave intrusion of the civil jurisdiction of the Scottish courts, and that is the reason for my amendments.

The Scottish Government are considering a legislative consent motion. My amendment 34 would ensure that the Bill cannot come into force in Scotland without a legislative consent motion. My new clause 4 would ensure that, notwithstanding anything in the Bill—I like a nice notwithstanding clause, and I hope that Conservative Members who have been so excited about notwithstanding clauses will support my Scottish one—the supervisory jurisdiction and the nobile officium of the Court of Session would be preserved. In that way, I hope to ensure that asylum seekers in Scotland will still have the protection of the courts, in accordance with our constitutional tradition. Just to explain, the nobile officium of the Court of Session is a noble office or duty of Scotland’s highest court—a sort of extraordinary equitable jurisdiction by virtue of which the Court may, within limits, mitigate the strictness of the law and provide a legal remedy to people where otherwise none would exist.

Without prejudice to the content of what the hon. and learned Lady is saying otherwise, may I simply say in relation to her notwithstanding clause that I am extremely glad that the Scottish eagle has landed?

I certainly will not be supporting the other notwithstanding clauses in the Bill, but I felt that it was perhaps time that we had one that benefited Scotland for a change.

My amendments are designed to protect Scotland’s courts and constitutional tradition. They are there to ensure that asylum seekers in Scotland might still enjoy the protection of the courts from the infringement of their fundamental rights. That is what people in Scotland want, and it has been expressed repeatedly through the Scottish Parliament. I am, of course, a Scottish MP and a member of the Scottish Bar, and I am here to do what I can to protect Scotland and its legal system from the extraordinary attack on human rights and the rule of law that this Bill constitutes.

However, I am not a Scottish exceptionalist. I recognise that—as reflected in the House of Commons Library’s excellent legal briefing on the Bill, and indeed in the speech that preceded mine, by the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam—concerns about the impact of the Bill on the rule of law and the constitution are shared by many in England, including many lawyers. For every lawyer cited by Conservative Members in favour of the Bill and the draconian amendments to it, they will find two lawyers who disagree.

The Library briefing, which is an excellent summary of the different legal views on the Bill, concludes:

“Tension between the sovereignty of Parliament to legislate, and the role of the courts in enforcing the rule of law principle that executive bodies must exercise their powers within their statutory limits, may be tempered by restraint on both sides. If either the courts or Parliament ceased to exercise such restraint, significant constitutional uncertainty could result.”

I believe that if we pass the Bill, this Parliament will have ceased to exercise the restraint referred to there—it would be a major departure from such restraint. I predict that, if the Bill passes, we will see what might be an unprecedented constitutional challenge to an Act of the British Parliament.

The hon. and learned Lady is making a good point about the checks and balances that prevent arbitrary power, and she is right that that is central to our constitutional settlement, but this is not the exercise of arbitrary power, because the Bill, and the amendments to it, are quite specific about their provisions. For example, in the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), our separation from the international obligations that I know she holds so dear is very specific to this particular legislation. That is not arbitrary—it is anything but.

The Bill seeks to carve out a group of people coming to our country, or who are in our country, from the protections that the rest of us enjoy. History shows us that that sort of legislation can put a state on a pretty slippery slope. That brings me to my arguments in relation to clauses 3 and 5 stand part.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has not yet had the chance to complete legislative scrutiny of the Bill given the speed with which it has passed through the House, so we have not as a Committee reached a concluded view on the Bill. However, before Christmas and before Second Reading, a Chair’s briefing paper referring to the legal advice that the Committee had received was published, and it is extensively referred to in the excellent legal commentary published by the House of Commons Library.

The briefing says, inter alia, that the disapplication of the Human Rights Act 1998 in clause 3 is very significant. As I indicated a moment ago in my answer to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), human rights are meant to offer a fundamental level of protection for every person on the basis of their humanity alone. As our Committee has noted in a previous report, if those protections are disapplied when they cause problems for a policy goal, they lose their fundamental and universal character. Arguably, that is especially the case when they are disapplied in respect of a particular group. In this case, fundamental human rights are being disapplied in respect of migrants who come to the United Kingdom without prior permission.

Bills that disapply parts of the Human Rights Act are not unprecedented under this Government, I am sad to say. Both the Illegal Migration Act and the Victims and Prisoners Bill have sought to disapply section 3 of the Human Rights Act in respect of certain legislation. However, this Bill seeks to disapply section 6 of that Act—the obligation on public authorities to act compatibly with human rights—which has never before been attempted, even by this Government, and represents a significant inroad into human rights protections. If we pass the Bill with clause 3 in it, it