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Lords Chamber

Volume 836: debated on Monday 12 February 2024

House of Lords

Monday 12 February 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Local Planning Authorities: Staffing

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the levels of staffing in planning departments in local planning authorities.

The Government regularly engage with local authorities. We understand that they, as well as the wider planning sector, face capacity and capability challenges that have resulted in delays, including in the processing of planning applications. To address this, we have developed a comprehensive planning capability and capacity programme which provides direct support, delivers funding to local government, provides upskilling opportunities for existing planners and further develops the future pipeline into the profession.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I would just raise two points with her. First, there may be additional funding coming into the system, but is she confident that this will lead to an increase in staffing capacity? Even if it does, given that staffing has reduced by 25% in the last nine years, does she feel that staffing of planning departments is adequate to not only deal with planning applications but with the new responsibilities around biodiversity net gain and providing local plans?

My Lords, we think that the staffing in local planning authorities needs to increase. We have provided several routes for that to happen, including the planning skills delivery fund, which is worth £29 million. In December, we announced the first 180 local authorities to get funding from that, and there will be further allocations this spring. We have also increased planning fees by 25%, and up to 30% for major applications, and made provision for that to be indexed in future years. The pipeline is not just about funding; it is also about skills, which is why we have put in place support for master’s programmes and an improved pipeline for getting people into planning and helping them upskill in the specific skills the noble Lord mentioned once they are there.

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend has just said. Does she accept—I am sure she does—that shortages in planning departments and changes in planning skills are causing considerable delays, and that that is unfair to claimants who are seeking planning consent and can often cause considerable expense to them?

My Lords, we recognise this as a source of delays. In addition to the planning skills delivery fund, we have put in place the “planning super-squad”, backed by £13 million of funding. It deploys teams of specialists into planning authorities to accelerate the delivery of homes and developments.

My Lords, it certainly will not wash that, after 13 years of cuts, including to these departments, the Government then in the last two years start to increase it slightly. It will not compensate anything near what has been lost to local authorities in their planning and other departments.

My Lords, one of the things we have done in our recent changes is make provision for the indexing of planning fees going forward. That will ensure not only that local authorities will benefit from the substantial increase in fees that were put in place in December this year but that, on an annual basis, the value of those fees will be retained in future.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the increase in planning fees, and she is quite right, but when the Government made that increase they knew that it would not cover the costs of planning applications. Can the Minister justify why hard-pressed councils have to take funding from other public services to pay for planning applications?

My Lords, we want to proceed in a measured way, providing additional resourcing without disproportionately impacting businesses and householders. Full cost recovery now could result in a substantial rise in some fees, which would adversely impact some developments. Of course, further to the fee increases and the additional specific funding through the planning skills delivery fund, we have made provision for an increase in the settlement to local authorities overall this year.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that, if local authorities had the ability to set their own planning fees, they would be in a far better position to recruit more planning officers, compete more efficiently with the private sector and deliver the housing of the future?

My Lords, we do not think that the answer is for local planning authorities to set their own fees. There is no guarantee that additional income would go into planning services or deliver efficiencies, and it would risk a variation in fees between different areas, dissuading home owners and small developers from undertaking development. The substantial increases in fees and the indexing of fees that we have provided for this December will go a long way to supporting local authorities to increase staffing in their planning departments and the skills of those already there.

My Lords, I hear what the Minister is saying, but it will not touch the sides. The local government funding crisis has seen planning departments, even those in shared services, with ever-diminishing resources. Economic growth absolutely depends on a quick and efficient planning service, delivered at local level. Labour will increase planning capacity by hiring more than 300 new planners, funded by increasing the surcharge on stamp duty paid by non-UK residents, to ensure that every local planning authority has at least one full-time planner. Does she agree that every local planning authority should have at least one full-time planner?

My Lords, as I have said, we have made provision for increased resources to go into local planning. I am glad the noble Baroness opposite has recognised the success of the surcharge on stamp duty charged to non-resident purchasers of property, which was introduced by this Government.

My Lords, given the clear impression that local authorities do not have the resources to draw up a robust local plan at the moment—this can be rectified only over time—and, even worse, that they do not have the resources to defend a local plan when it is challenged by speculative proposals on appeal, what does the Minister suggest for current issues around water and nutrient neutrality and biodiversity net gain, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, given the existing lack of ability to monitor, let alone take enforcement action against, infractions?

My Lords, as noble Lords will know, the Government had a proposed solution on nutrient neutrality that was rejected by this House, including by the Front Bench opposite, holding back the building of thousands of additional homes. The point about more specialist skills is well made. That is why, as part of our planning capacity and capability programme, we are looking to boost specialist skills so that local planning authorities have the skills they need.

My Lords, it might not be just a matter of staffing our local planning departments. Do the Government have any concerns about the quality of the planners whom a local authority can recruit, given that the private sector will seek to poach many of the brightest and best?

My Lords, the Government are focused on the recruitment pipeline of planners and offering increased skills training to them. We have two schemes providing bursaries for master’s degrees in planning and have commissioned a nationwide survey of the skills and resources in local authorities with planning responsibilities. It will be the most detailed picture of planning capacity in England to date. We expect it to be published this spring, and will use it as an annual baseline to measure progress.

How can it be a surprise that there is currently a shortage, given that His Majesty’s Government have removed the normal requirement that every local authority had to have a specific target of homes to be built? As any of us who had been in local government knew full well, the minute that went, local authorities that were strapped for cash would automatically not move forward immediately to replace planners who retired or moved on.

Planning authorities still have an obligation to produce an up-to-date local plan, setting out how they plan to build the houses that their local areas need. The Government are focused on this and will shine a greater light of transparency on the authorities that do not have plans. We will be prepared to take any measures needed to put that in place.

Can His Majesty’s Government have any influence on the training of planners so that they understand the word “beauty” and do not allow such grotesque buildings in London? They are so high, dominating the river, and they destroy the heritage and history of our wonderful capital city.

As I have already said, we are putting funding and resources into increasing the skills of planners in the pipeline for master’s-level qualifications. The point about beauty was well made, and it has been added to the National Planning Policy Framework. Part of getting more houses built is ensuring that local residents have given their consent, and how houses look and feel in local areas is an essential part of that.

Schools: Special Educational Needs

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that all schools have the capacity to identify and implement a plan of support for the most commonly occurring special educational needs, including Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, and Autism.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and remind the House of my declared interests.

My Lords, ensuring everyone, regardless of need, gets the best education possible is vital. Our SEND and AP improvement plan will ensure all children get the support they need. So far, we have opened 15 special free schools since September; announced the Partnerships for Inclusion of Neurodiversity in Schools programme; trained 100,000 professionals in autism awareness; confirmed funding for 400 more education psychologists; and updated the initial teacher training and early career framework, including additional content on SEND.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. I have just managed to read through the updates and changes for training teachers. If we are now going to use online testing as a major identification tool—as suggested—and use it in the classroom, how will we disseminate that knowledge without having more specialists directly available to the school, so that can have accurate diagnosis when those assistive technology methods are used?

The noble Lord will be aware that our whole approach is about meeting the needs of the child and not requiring a diagnosis to get support. That is incredibly important for our focus on intervention and support at the earliest possible stage. All that comes before the online testing, and it is critical that we get it right.

My Lords, around 6% of UK children are affected by dyscalculia: a learning disability impacting numerical processing and the ability to learn, understand and perform maths. It has a similar prevalence and impact on education and employment as dyslexia, yet there is no official government recognition of dyscalculia. Does the Minister share my concern that specialist maths teachers are under no obligation to learn about dyscalculia unless they opt for additional modules? Given that the Government intend for maths to be taught to everyone until age 18, surely learning about dyscalculia should be standard for maths teachers?

I understand well the point the noble Baroness makes, but I refer again to the very recently published changes that we are making to the initial teacher training and early career framework, which is bringing much more on identification of special educational needs and specific learning difficulties such as dyscalculia into the early career framework. We are also making sure that teachers get the support from their mentor to develop those skills throughout their career.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Public Services Committee, which has been looking into these matters recently, and I have a great-nephew who has just had his assessment for autism. If I have understood it correctly, there is a massive recruitment issue in respect of assessment staff. What are we doing in national government and local government to improve the situation? I would be very happy for my noble friend the Minister to write to me on that.

As my noble friend knows, for some of the issues with waiting lists for assessment—which I recognise are incredibly worrying for parents and their children in particular—those reasons are complicated. As I have already said, we want to be sure that our mainstream education is inclusive and supports children before they get a formal diagnosis. That is some of the focus of our new national professional qualification for SEND leaders. We are increasing the number of educational psychologists by 400 from 2024. As I mentioned, we are developing the partnership for neurodiversity in schools between local authorities, integrated care boards and schools, supported by £13 million of funding, to make sure that schools respond to neurodiverse children as well as possible.

My Lords, notwithstanding the Minister’s Answer to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, if she had a chance to read an article in the Observer yesterday, she will know that many schools up and down the country are facing deficit budgets and are required to make redundancies of both teaching and non-teaching staff, which means that the capacity to deal with all these issues—as well as others—is significantly reduced. When might the Government consider urgently putting in additional resources?

The Government have enormously increased support for children with special educational needs. The high needs capital investment is £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025, which will create many more specialist places, which the Government absolutely acknowledge are needed. I remind the House that per-pupil funding next year will be the highest ever in real terms.

My Lords, I welcome everything that the Minister has said, but we all know that, even with the initial screening online, a full diagnosis for many children with any of these needs can take years to confirm. I am interested in what the noble Baroness has to say about how families—and the children themselves—are accompanied through several years of negotiation with the NHS and with local authorities, especially when, as has already been said, certainly in Lincolnshire, staffing costs outstrip the need that is expressed within our schools.

Again, I stress that not every special educational need requires a diagnosis. Children should get support regardless. If we look at the age at which children get an education, health and care plan as a proxy for diagnosis, we see that around a quarter receive an EHCP under the age of five, with almost half getting one between the ages of five and 10. That has been very stable over the last 10 years. The remaining quarter are above 11. I understand that these can be stressful, difficult times, but there has been relative stability over many years at the age of diagnosis, although there is greater identification of specific issues—in particular, autism.

My Lords, I note what the Minister said in reply to my noble friend about new provision being made; that is to be welcomed. Ofsted inspections have found a shortage of school places and special school provision locally—that is the key word: locally—for children and young people with complex needs. As a consequence, they are placed out of their locality, away from their families, friends and peer groups. What are the Government planning to do to ensure that there is sufficient specialist provision in local areas?

I can only refer again to what I just mentioned: the £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 to deliver additional new specialist places, which will of course be closer to where children are. I absolutely share the noble Lord’s concerns about children having to travel out of area.

My Lords, school absences are one of the key issues for our school system, but absence rates are, by one measure, 10% higher for autistic children and even higher for children with a SEND statement? What assessment have the Government made of the interaction between the lack of provision for SEND support and absence rates? How do the Government plan to target the persistent absence of SEND pupils in particular?

The noble Baroness knows that absence rates for children with special educational needs have always, rightly or wrongly, been higher than those for children without special educational needs. In part, there is an assumption that such children may also experience greater incidence of ill health. The Government are focusing on a very detailed analysis, looking at patterns across different schools and identifying which practice is working to make sure that those children are back in school, and then sharing it through our attendance hubs. That is important, because we know that children with special educational needs, more than any other children, thrive when they are in school all the time.

Self-employment: A1 Forms

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the provision of A1 forms, in particular for self-employed workers in the music industry touring in the European Economic Area.

My Lords, HMRC is rolling out significant improvements to the application process by allocating extra resources to help answer phone calls and deal with correspondence across all national insurance services. That includes the training and deployment of more people to process A1 applications. HMRC has also introduced new digital A1 certificate application forms and will roll out automation technology to help process customers’ applications faster.

My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, concern is such that both LIVE and the Independent Society of Musicians have written to the Treasury about this issue. I appreciate that there is a recovery strategy but, as the April deadline approaches, there has been no noticeable improvement. Many musicians and crew are receiving their forms after a tour has ended, meaning that money is withheld, potentially permanently. Ultimately, the Treasury will be the loser. Will the Minister agree to meet Peers and interested parties to talk about this? I hope she agrees that that might be helpful.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising this issue. I reassure him that my inquiries in the Treasury have caused one or two minor waves in ensuring that this gets the priority that it needs. There has been an improvement, although I accept that it is not good enough—as HMRC also acknowledges—and that more needs to be done. I will take away his request for a meeting. Although I am of course happy to meet him, the subject is not directly within my portfolio, so it might be better if the relevant Minister met him.

My Lords, the news that the Treasury will speed up the process for these forms is welcome for touring musicians, but there are other limitations stifling a thriving live music sector that the Government could take action on. For example, can the Minister confirm whether the Government will commit to the permanent retention of the 50% orchestra tax relief rate?

The orchestra tax higher rate has been extended to the end of the 2024-25 tax year and then a taper will be put in place. It is worth noting that the orchestra tax relief has been worth £62 million since 2016. Obviously, the Treasury keeps taxes under review. I note the noble Lord’s comments.

My Lords, as the singer Rachel Nicholls has documented, the problems over visas for musicians and singers are now compounded by the fact that foreign opera houses and festivals are beginning to boycott British artists. Has the Treasury made any assessment of how these post-Brexit arrangements are affecting the economy, and if not, please can it do so?

I know that obviously the DCMS and colleagues across government are working very closely with the EU and indeed with individual member states to support musicians, and 23 out of 27 member states have clarified their arrangements or introduced easements to allow visa or work-permit-free routes for short-term touring. France, Germany and the Netherlands have all stepped up early on in the process, and Spain recently changed its requirements after intervention from His Majesty’s Government. Obviously, we will continue to address challenges where we see them.

My Lords, 20% of orchestras’ earned income comes from touring, mostly to countries in the European Economic Area. The Government’s plan to remove orchestra tax relief completely from performances in the EEA will have a hugely damaging effect on the viability of such touring, making it hard and, for some orchestras, even impossible to continue to tour in Europe. Will the Minister and her colleagues look again at this proposal and, if it cannot be scrapped, what support might the Government offer to orchestras to help offset the income they will lose and to enable them to continue to tour in Europe?

It is not entirely right that costs incurred in the EEA should be offset against UK tax; that would seem slightly odd. However, I reassure the noble Lord that of course some of the costs will be tax deductible: for example, if a group were to hire a conductor from the US and use that conductor for performances in the UK. Obviously, we have to make choices in this area. We are content with where we are headed in terms of removing EEA activity from the orchestra tax.

My Lords, the A1 form is required for each travelling worker, for each trip and for each EEA country they intend to visit. Industry bodies tell us that this represents a significant burden for their members, particularly for those who are self-employed or work for small organisations. Given that HMRC processes are increasingly digitised, do the Government believe that there is scope for simplifying the application process, such as moving from paper to digital certificates, or allowing people to use previously completed applications as a template for their next submission?

The certificates are a slightly different issue because of course that will depend on the overseas countries accepting a digital form, which I suspect may be slightly more challenging. Where that is possible we will look at it, but we are now focused on ensuring that the processes are sped up. It is important that we get the automation in but it cannot be done end to end, as in some cases one needs caseworkers’ judgment to issue the A1 certificate.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, raised the issue of the April deadline and making sure that the applications are available—the A1 form as well as the certification. What advice can my noble friend the Minister give to those who do not receive their forms in time, or maybe receive their form electronically but do not have the necessary certification? What leeway will be given to those individuals?

The A1 certificates are issued all the time. As the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, pointed out, in many cases a worker needs a certificate for every time they go to a certain country, because of course the circumstances may change. However, in other cases, forms can be valid for up to two years. Therefore there is not an April deadline per se. The April 2024 date is when HMRC expects to be processing back to its normal target arrangements.

My Lords, I declare an interest as my son is a rock musician. Does the Minister agree that the provision of music, particularly rock music, is something in which Britain has a comparative advantage? Does she also agree that, for all its benefits in other areas, Brexit has unambiguously increased the barriers to trade in this area?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that the UK has one of the finest music industries in the world, which of course includes rock music but also classical music and opera. It is the second-largest recorded music market in the world and contributes £6.7 billion to the UK economy. Brexit has meant that there have been changes to certain arrangements. However, the A1 form process has remained relatively stable for many years.

My Lords, as Brexit has been mentioned, I point out that many Members of the House still here will, like me, well remember the early days of the Beatles. They will remember that the Beatles managed perfectly well in Hamburg for many months, if not years, without any great difficulty. That was before the EU was even thought of. Can the Minister consider ways in which we can learn from this by contacting Paul and Ringo to see how they managed that?

The Beatles split up the year I was born so I do not have as long a memory as the noble Lord. However, the Government are very focused on developing our emerging artists and ensuring that they can get to new international markets, whether that be in the EU or beyond. The music export growth scheme has been tripled and will now spend £3.2 million over the next two years to support these emerging artists. When it comes to music, we are talking about not just the EU but the entire world.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that this is not a problem of Brexit but a problem of EU members not being co-operative?

My Lords, I had not expected this to get into a Brexit ding-dong per se. The UK was more ambitious than the EU when it came to negotiating the trade and co-operation agreement but some of our proposals were rejected. I note that the TCA is reviewed every five years and, while I would not want to comment on the scope of that review, there may be opportunities in the future.

Computer Systems: Independent Testing

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reform the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to enable legitimate independent testing of computer systems.

My Lords, the Government support people undertaking legitimate cybersecurity work to do so without fear of criminalisation. We are actively considering options to strengthen the legislative framework as part of the review of the Computer Misuse Act, which is ongoing. This work is complex and needs a lot of thought, not least to ensure that we do not inadvertently create a loophole that can be exploited by cybercriminals or hostile state actors.

My Lords, the need to be able to carry out independent research into computer systems has been put into the spotlight by the Horizon scandal. We last discussed this issue at Oral Questions last July. Since then, the Government have had the conclusions of a stakeholder working group for several months but have done absolutely nothing to include a public interest defence in the Criminal Justice Bill that is now in the Commons. I described the Government’s progress last year as “glacial”. Was I being unkind to glaciers?

Regrettably, the noble Lord is wrong. We set up a multistakeholder group of systems owners, law enforcement, cybersecurity companies and prosecutors—a systems access group—to specifically consider the proposal of statutory defences. Six meetings were held between May 2023 and October 2023. Unfortunately, there is a lack of consensus among those participants and the cybersecurity industry, and with law enforcement and prosecutors, on whether there is a need for statutory defences and on what is considered to be legitimate activity. That lack of consensus proves the point that careful thought is needed in this area.

My Lords, I declare my technology interests as set out in the register. Does my noble friend agree that it is time that a statute which is 34 years old, was introduced when only 0.5% of us were online and which 91% of cyber professionals say is damaging to the UK cyber industry, was updated to enable our fantastic cyber professionals and to increase growth and productivity in the UK?

My noble friend raises some good points and, as I said, the Government are considering the right way to do that. If I talk about some of the difficulties, it might illustrate this point to the House. Amending legislation to enable cybersecurity activities involves accessing computer systems, and the data is complex. This needs a lot of thought. We would need to establish what constitutes legitimate cybersecurity activity and the boundaries of such activity. We would need to consider who should be allowed to undertake such activity, where the professional standards would need to be complied with and what reporting or oversight would be needed. We cannot make changes that would prevent law enforcement agencies and prosecutors investigating and prosecuting those who commit cybercrimes. It is right to consider this carefully and that is what we are doing.

My Lords, the Minister set out a long list of things that need considering. I understand his point, so could he perhaps tell us the timetable for this process, when we might hear the verdict on all these considerations and perhaps see some legislation before your Lordships’ House?

My Lords, the public consultation on this process concluded only in November 2023, so we have not had a huge amount of time to consider all the responses. As I have explained, we will be reviewing how to take forward the recommendations and will update Parliament in due course.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a related issue of computer-based evidence? The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 stated that computer-based evidence should be subject to proof that the computer system was operating properly. That changed, in 1999, to a presumption that a computer system has operated correctly unless there is explicit evidence to the contrary. That change was supported by the Post Office and coincided with the introduction of the Horizon IT system. Does my noble friend agree that this area needs to be looked at?

My noble friend raises a very good point. If I may, I will look into the specifics of her question and write to her.

My Lords, Article 40 of the French criminal procedure code provides for cybersecurity specialists who are acting in good faith and solely in the national interest to be protected from prosecution. Does the Minister believe that a similar provision would be suitable here?

My Lords, we are always interested in learning from the approaches taken by other countries and jurisdictions. We speak with our international counterparts, including all our major allies, to understand how they approach the issue of whether there should be defences to these types of offences. But the majority of our like-minded partners do not have statutory defences and are instead in favour of prosecutorial guidance. For example, the US Department of Justice introduced guidance for prosecutors on when to prosecute instances of potential breaches of its Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Criminal Justice Bill is a good opportunity for the Government to bring forward a public interest amendment, perhaps with the bells and whistles that the Minister is talking about, or is he firmly of the view that this will occur only in the future?

My Lords, I am not quite sure where the bells and whistles come from. As I said, we are just considering all the potential implications. However, part of the Criminal Justice Bill introduces a new power for law enforcement and other investigative agencies to suspend IP addresses and domain names where they are being used to facilitate serious crime. So the answer is partially yes, but the other situation that the noble Lord described is very complicated.

My Lords, the prosecutorial guidance referred to just now by my noble friend leaves computer professionals in a position of uncertainty. Do they not need certainty as to the shape of the law?

Well, yes, and as I said, the working group that was set up to look into this, which included the cybersecurity industry, law enforcement, prosecutors and others, could not reach consensus on this subject. Certain cybersecurity professionals are in favour of defences but other industry experts are not—so we have to continue to consider these responses.

Royal Navy: Aircraft Carriers

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the material state of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.

My Lords, the Royal Navy continues to meet its operational commitments, both at home and abroad. Having two aircraft carriers means that HMS “Prince of Wales” has quickly prepared to deploy in place of HMS “Queen Elizabeth”. She has sailed from Portsmouth this afternoon to join the NATO exercise Steadfast Defender. Following initial investigations, HMS “Queen Elizabeth” will be required to sail for Rosyth in Scotland to undergo repairs for an issue with her starboard propeller shaft coupling, which will be carried out in due course. Her issue is not the same as that experienced by HMS “Prince of Wales” back in 2022.

My Lords, the Minister has made it quite clear that the “Prince of Wales” has now sailed. It is unfortunate that they prepped everyone for a sailing yesterday and that did not happen, but I understand why that was the case. Beatty very famously said, as his second battle-cruiser blew up at the Battle of Jutland, “There seems to be something wrong with our”—expletive—“ships today”. That is not the case with the carriers, but I am very concerned about the initial problem the “Prince of Wales” had some almost two years ago with the shaft misalignment. Will the Minister tell us how we are going to be able to get some payment from the people who built the ship? To have accepted it with a misaligned shaft was bad, and it was badly built. Somehow, we should be able to get money back from the builders, rather than the UK public paying for that damage.

I thank the noble Lord, and I concur that the Royal Navy has worked extremely fast to be able to move the “Prince of Wales” out in place of the “Queen Elizabeth” after only eight days—it is a remarkable feat, and we should be grateful to them all. As far as her propellor shaft problem, my understanding is that it is ongoing and subject to continued negotiations.

My Lords, nobody knows better than me how much the noble Lord, Lord West, enjoys his little bit of impish mischief when discussing Royal Naval assets. I say to the Minister that, while technical malfunctions are, of course, regrettable—and I am pleased to hear that the “Prince of Wales” has now sailed—it must be acknowledged that both aircraft carriers have made significant contributions to our naval capability. They have been a huge credit to us across the globe, and that is an important part not just of our RN operational capability but of our global soft power.

I thank my noble friend for that confirmation and entirely agree with it. It is worth saying that HMS “Prince of Wales” will reach Steadfast Defender before the commencement of this extremely important NATO exercise, involving the 31 nations of NATO and Sweden as well.

My Lords, the material state of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers should be a national shame. Without these aircraft carriers being in a suitable state, the Navy cannot carry out its necessary defence duties. At this stage, it appears to be difficult to determine whether the issues are due to fundamental design flaws or with the amount of testing time allocated when these vehicles are trialled. In the light of this, would the Minister support a review into the procedures for routine maintenance checks on HMS vessels?

My Lords, I answered this question the other day. These are highly technical pieces of equipment. We carry out regular tests, and it was a regular test which determined that the “Queen Elizabeth” should not sail. The advice was that it should not sail, and the sensible thing to do was to use the other aircraft carrier. That is exactly what we have done.

My Lords, further to the request from the noble Lord, Lord West, that compensation should be paid by the manufacturers of these aircraft carriers for a total sum of £6.2 billion, does my noble friend accept that BAE S might not be very good at building ships but it is very good at writing contracts?

My Lords, that is not something I am particularly expert in, but I can see that it is important to make certain that a contract has the correct clauses to ensure that, when things go wrong, the placer of the contract is suitably covered.

My Lords, I refer your Lordships’ House to my register of interests, specifically my ties to the Royal Navy. Our aircraft carriers are a core component of our conventional deterrent. While we welcome the fact that the “Prince of Wales” has deployed—we thank the crew for so quickly changing their plans—can the Minister tell the House what message it sends to our adversaries that we have had such struggles with our carriers in recent days? What assurances can he give your Lordships’ House that the carrier is able to complete this deployment in full, without further maintenance issues?

My Lords, that is precisely the question I asked earlier in a briefing. I am assured that the carrier which has left to join Steadfast Defender will certainly fulfil its commitments, and that the “Queen Elizabeth” is on her way to dry dock to find out exactly what is wrong.

My Lords, I am a simple soldier, but I do not underestimate the complexities of trying to get carriers to sea, not least marrying the personnel issues with the mechanical. My concern, though, is a slightly different question. Does my noble friend feel that the MoD’s attitude to risk is currently in balance? From my experience over a number of years now, our attitude to risk seems to be that we are becoming ever more averse to it. Of course if a propeller is not working, a warship cannot go to sea, but it seems that ever smaller incidents prevent principled actions happening because we are becoming so risk-averse when many of these risks could be mitigated and ships could get to sea.

My noble friend raises an extremely interesting point. As I think many noble Lords know, I have come in from the private sector relatively recently, where the concept of risk is considered completely differently from how it is within government, and certainly within the Ministry of Defence. I fully understand that, when you are dealing with people’s lives, you want to minimise the risk as far as you possibly can, but there comes a point where you have to get the risk-return in balance. I am not certain that we have got that right in government yet.

Could the Minister update the House as to when aircraft suitable for flying from these very expensive aircraft carriers will be ready to be deployed?

Could the Minister tell us how many other UK vessels are available to accompany and defend our aircraft carrier going to the Red Sea?

My Lords, the answer to that question is that there is planned maintenance and a certain amount of ships are out of service at any one time. However, force protection is considered paramount at all times, and there is sufficient cover to ensure that is the case.

My noble friend raised the question of risk in the Ministry of Defence. Is there not also the question of efficiency, particularly an ongoing question of the efficiency of procurement in the Ministry of Defence? This is a vital issue, given the state of the world at the moment. Will he take this point to his friend the Minister in the department so that we can consider this carefully?

I thank my noble friend for that. I certainly will; the question of procurement is a deep and difficult one to get your hands around, but it is certainly something we should all take very seriously.

My Lords, in the light of this discussion, and the usual concerns of the noble Lord, Lord West, what discussions are the Government and the Ministry of Defence having, in the light of the comments from a potential presidential candidate in the United States about backing off from NATO or potentially encouraging Russia to attack certain NATO members?

I am sure that all noble Lords will find that particular gentleman’s comments extraordinary. I assure all noble Lords that the Ministry of Defence is looking into all possibilities very seriously.

My Lords, can I come back to the Question posed by my noble friend Lord West right at the beginning? In answer to my noble friend’s question about recovering some of the costs from the companies which built the carrier, the noble Earl said that the Government are involved in negotiations. Will he undertake to come back to the House and update us on these negotiations, so that we can see if we can get some of our money back?

My Lords, to come back on the point of risk, would the Minister not agree that, if there had been a war, there is no doubt that the “Queen Elizabeth” would have sailed, thus with corrosion on her coupling of tensile steel? I have no doubt, with my professional knowledge of this, that she would have been under steam for many months without anything going wrong. They are doing double checks and double checks because they are so nervous about something happening. I think there is an issue about risk, and possibly sometimes we do not take risks we should. On this occasion, I think it was the right decision, because another carrier was available, but in wartime we would have gone ahead and the ship would have operated.

My Lords, from what I know about that, I agree entirely with what the noble and gallant Lord has just said.

Would my noble friend the Minister agree with me that, disappointingly, these aircraft carriers, which are in any event extremely vulnerable in the theatre of operations, also appear to be unreliable? Will he confirm to the House that there will have sailed with the aircraft carrier an added complement to her crew from the civilian engineers responsible for these problems?

My Lords, my understanding is that that is the case. Clearly, these matters are looked at seriously throughout these exercises, and obviously one hopes that the reliability of these extremely complicated pieces of equipment improves.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Committee (1st Day)

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely. I remind the Committee that unless they are leading a group, remote speakers speak after the mover of the lead amendment in a group and may therefore speak to other amendments in the group ahead of Members who tabled them.

Clause 1: Introduction

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “The” insert “first”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, and others in the name of Baroness Chakrabarti to Clause 1, add the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence. The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda.

My Lords, we commence the vital work of this Committee with amendments that address a fundamental dispute of fact that, because of the Government’s attitude to checks, balances and the rule of law, now threatens our unwritten constitutional settlement. Having failed to convince our highest court that the Republic of Rwanda is currently safe for asylum seekers and refugees, the Executive seek to overturn the Supreme Court’s recent factual determination, ousting the jurisdiction of domestic courts to reconsider those facts in the light of further developments, including the Rwanda treaty on which the Government rely. The Government further purport to take powers to ignore interim orders of the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, they threaten both the domestic rule of law, especially the separation of powers, and the international rules-based order.

I remind noble Lords not just of the Supreme Court’s decision of 15 November last year but of subsequent reports of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, endorsed by an overwhelming vote in your Lordships’ House; of the Constitution Committee, including three former Conservative Ministers and a former No. 10 chief of staff; and now the majority report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will assume that some members of those committees will speak, so I will leave them fully to outline the clear results of their deliberations.

None the less, as your Lordships overwhelmingly decided to give this Bill a Second Reading, I will approach the task of amendment in the spirit of constitutional compromise, seeking to amend the Bill in line with the Government’s desired policy of offshoring asylum decisions while also seeking to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and the unequivocal advice of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee and Constitution Committee—this notwithstanding my personal objection to transporting human beings for processing, which will no doubt be subject to further political and legal scrutiny in the months and years ahead.

For present purposes, I take the Government at their word—even if that word has been put rather belligerently to the Supreme Court and your Lordships’ House. I will assume that the Government do not want to put the Executive of the United Kingdom on a collision course with our Supreme Court or our international legal obligations, so amendments in this group seek to offer a way through the stalemate for people of good will from all sides of your Lordships’ House. Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 in my name are supported by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I have signed Amendments 3 and 7 tabled by the noble Viscount. The noble Lord, Lord German, has Amendments 11 and 12.

Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee warned of a number of concerning trends in the present Government’s approach to our constitution and our courts, which seeks, for example, to disapply the Human Rights Act for particular unpopular groups rather than repeal it wholesale for everyone. I observe another new fashion in adding a lengthy introduction to a relatively short Bill that deems facts changed, making its purposes so clear that the courts should be wary of interpreting the legislation as they might otherwise do. However, since the arrival of this Bill in your Lordships’ House, the Prime Minister has stated—by a press conference, but stated—that his Rwanda Bill was designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Therefore, Amendments 1 and 2 add a secondary but essential purpose to the primary purpose of preventing and deterring what the Government see as unlawful migration. This purpose is to

“ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law by providing that no person will be removed to the Republic of Rwanda by or under such provision”

unless two conditions are met. The first condition is that there is advice from the UNHCR that Rwanda is now safe; for example, as a result of the successful implementation of promised reforms and safeguards to the asylum system there. The second condition is that this advice has been laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Now, some may balk at what they regard as a foreign body having any role whatever in the assessment of facts on the ground in Rwanda. However, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights noted, our Supreme Court’s concerns about the lack of safety there were in no small part in the light of unequivocal expert evidence from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with its special expertise and role under the refugee convention.

If the Executive is now asking Parliament to become complicit in overturning findings of fact by our Supreme Court—this is made explicit by Amendments 3 and 4 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—it should at the very least allow Parliament to hear advice from the expert body that the Supreme Court found so authoritative before allowing facts to be deemed as having changed. Accordingly, Amendment 5 replaces the edict that Rwanda “is” safe with that belief that it “may become” so, because it should be our unanimous aspiration that the whole world becomes a safer place for persecuted and displaced people.

Further, as even an independent expert body should never usurp the fact-finding jurisdiction of our courts, especially in dangerous and fast-changing times, Amendment 34 makes it clear that even clear and positive advice from the UNHCR would create only a “rebuttable presumption” that Rwanda is safe. In keeping with earlier legislation, as observed by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, it would not hobble our courts with an absolute conclusion. Yet, if the Government are really so confident that that Rwanda treaty, unlike the refugee convention so long before it, will be implemented so as convincingly to render that country safe, they have nothing to fear from either these amendments or our courts. I beg to move.

My Lords, I must begin by apologising for the fact that I was abroad at the time of Second Reading and was therefore not in my place at that time. Much was made at Second Reading of the notion that the Bill in some way contravenes our constitutional principles, is an affront to the separation of powers, and infringes on the power of the judiciary. Those allegations are thoroughly misconceived but they are highly relevant to this amendment.

The plain fact is that we are a parliamentary democracy. That means that Parliament is sovereign and the reason why so many of us cherish that overarching principle is that we attach high importance to something called accountability. Accountability was not a word which featured very large in your Lordships’ debate at Second Reading. The courts are accountable to no one; they proudly proclaim that fact. Many of the bodies to which Parliament has in recent years outsourced some of its responsibilities have little, if any, accountability. But Parliament itself, or at least the other place—the House of Commons, in which I was privileged to serve for 27 years—is truly accountable. It is answerable to the British people at regular intervals and its Members can be summarily dismissed.

There are those who seem uncomfortable with our system and it is indeed true that there has been something of a whittling away at it in recent years. The courts have extended their power. Parliament itself has contributed to it by the outsourcing to which I referred. I often think it is a pity that those who praise these developments failed to come up with some suggested alternatives to parliamentary democracy, but there it is.

These amendments, if passed, would mark a new jump in this process. I ask those who support them to address the question of accountability. To whom is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accountable? They might say to the General Assembly of the United Nations, perhaps. To whom is that body accountable? Neither the high commissioner nor the General Assembly have any responsibility for securing our borders. They have no responsibility for the safety of those who make the perilous channel crossing. They have no duty to take into account the resentment felt by so many against the sheer unfairness of illegal immigration and the way in which it gives preference not to the most deserving, but merely to those who can afford to pay the people smugglers.

Our elected Government and this Parliament bear those responsibilities, and the House of Commons is directly accountable to the electorate for the way in which those responsibilities are discharged. These amendments would prevent our Government and Parliament discharging those responsibilities. They seek to outsource those responsibilities to an unelected body with no accountability. The acceptance of these amendments would constitute nothing less than an abdication of the responsibilities of government. I note without surprise—

I do not understand the argument that the noble Lord is making. As I understand the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the responsibility laid on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would be to advise the Secretary of State. I do not see how that makes him accountable; it would remain the Secretary of State, surely, who was accountable to this Parliament for the decisions that he decided to take in the light of the advice he received.

I fear not. The easiest way of replying to the noble Lord is to read from the Member’s explanatory statement on the amendment:

“The amendments require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda”.

If there is no positive advice from the UNHCR, those claims cannot be processed in Rwanda. I think that will aid the noble Lord’s understanding of what I am saying.

I think it is perfectly reasonable, if one wants to know the intention of the amendment, to look at the Member’s explanatory statement. That is, indeed, the purpose of the explanatory statement.

I note with interest, but not with surprise, that none of these amendments is signed by any member of the Opposition Front Bench. I am not surprised because no party that aspires to government could support the abdication of the responsibilities of government, which these amendments would achieve.

I will just say a word about Amendment 7 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and others. It asserts that the decision of the Supreme Court was a “finding of fact”. But it was not; it was a finding of opinion—the Supreme Court’s opinion that the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda would expose them to the risk of refoulement. It is an opinion on which men of good faith and true can disagree. Indeed, it is an opinion on which distinguished judges disagreed.

The Divisional Court, one of whose two members was a Lord Justice of Appeal, came to the conclusion that what the Government were proposing was entirely lawful. The Court of Appeal, by majority, disagreed, but the then Lord Chief Justice dissented. In my view, when the Supreme Court reaches a conclusion on a matter of opinion, it is entirely legitimate and proper constitutionally for Parliament—the House of Commons is democratically accountable to the people, and the Supreme Court is not—to substitute its own opinion. That is what the Bill does, and that is why I support it.

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I want to put on record for this Committee that the Bar Council has a real concern about the apparent incompatibility of the European Convention on Human Rights and this Bill. The Supreme Court, as we know, made a decision—in my view, on the basis of facts—that Rwanda is not a safe country. It put forward a whole series of points to support that view. The Bill has not in any way countered any of the points made by the Supreme Court in its judgment. The Bar Council is concerned about that.

The Bar Council is also concerned that the Government are standing down the judges from their role overseeing the work of the Government in operating this Bill. The Bar Council sees this as a clear infringement of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. It seems that, in disapplying in this context the convention on human—

Is it not right that Clause 4 of the Bill provides exclusively that members of the judiciary will have the opportunity to consider challenges brought of an individual nature in relation to a particular claimant?

My Lords, that may be so, but I think that the point I have made stands—and I think that perhaps I have said enough to point out that the Bar Council has very real concerns about this Bill.

My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendments 11 and 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord German. I cannot stop myself saying that it really goes against the grain to do anything that suggests that Liberal Democrats regard the Bill as requiring only some tweaking to be acceptable.

First, I would like to make a general comment about Clause 1. For many years, Governments have opposed amendments setting out the general purpose of a Bill on the basis of such a clause having no effect and being rather confusing. I used to find that understandable, although I signed such amendments; they have tended to be narratives describing hopes, rather than expectations or anything firmer. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has commented on the changing fashion—of such measures being there to make the courts wary of the direction in which they might like to go. This problem applies to Clause 1.

There is a notable omission from the exposition of the Government’s policy—and that is tackling people smuggling, which is abhorrent in itself, not only because of the smugglers’ role in bringing asylum seekers to the UK. The Illegal Migration Act has a similar introductory section. Specifically, Section 1(3) says:

“Accordingly, and so far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect so as to achieve the purpose mentioned in subsection (1)”.

It is important to be clear about the legal effect of Clause 1. If it is intended that the clause is to be relied on, it needs to be sharpened up—for instance, in the case of terminology such as

“the system for the processing of … claims … is to be improved”,

an objective of the treaty, which is a pretty low bar. But my central point is that we need to be very clear about the legal effect and status of this clause, because there will be little point in amending the clause on Report unless the amendment has an effect, either as a stand-alone or by subsequent reference, such as the Act not coming into force unless a provision in Clause 1 is met. This may seem a rather technical point but, looking ahead, I do not want to be tripped up on it.

Amendment 12—I am aware that it is an amendment to the clause whose effect I have been querying—therefore probes the definition of “safe country”. The Bill refers, in Clause 1(5)(b)(ii), to a person having

“their claim determined and … treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law”—

that is, Rwanda’s obligations. The amendment would leave out “that country’s” and insert “the United Kingdom’s”, changing it to being the UK’s “obligations under international law”.

The treaty is predicated on Rwanda being under the same obligations, and as observant of them, as is the UK, so that the transfer to Rwanda, as I understand it, means really only a change of venue. Dr Google did not really help me yesterday in finding what conventions Rwanda has signed up to and, importantly, ratified and observed. But we are proceeding with this on the basis that everything that we would do in this country will apply under the new regime, and I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

Amendment 11 is related to this. Clause 1(5)(a) also defines a safe country for the purposes of the Bill. It refers to the UK’s obligations

“that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there”.

Surely, all our obligations are relevant to the treatment of persons removed there, not just in that country. So both amendments go to the issue of safety—that is, the Bill’s compatibility with the UK’s human rights obligations, which are the obligations that are crucial as part of this whole regime.

My Lords, it is a hard act to follow so many lawyers here: I hope that my compassion and conviction might help me where I am missing legal expertise. I support the amendments to Clause 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which introduce an additional purpose of compliance with the rule of law and a role for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I apologise that I was unable to join your Lordships for Second Reading, as I was overseas. I have read the Hansard record of the debate, during which many noble Lords raised what I see as the fundamental issue at stake with the Bill and the Rwanda scheme more broadly: how it is squared with the rule of law and with the international agreements and obligations that are the bedrock and defence of our freedom and prosperity.

I come to this with a conviction that our best chance of solving the global challenges we face, illegal migration among them, is not through unilateral action but through international co-operation and standing up for the rule of law. Other noble Lords have explained how these amendments would help ensure that refugees really are safe, and the importance of this as a matter of humanity as well as of law. I suggest that recognising a role for the UNHCR is also important from an international perspective, and as a route towards the lasting solution the Government seek. It is right to want to reduce people smuggling, but, if the Bill is to have a positive impact, it will be only as part of a wider approach.

The preamble of the 1951 refugee convention is surely correct when it states that a “satisfactory solution” to the problem of supporting refugees in a fair and humane manner, without placing an undue burden on any one state,

“cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation … the effective co-ordination of measures taken to deal with this problem will depend upon the co-operation of States with the High Commissioner”.

As I have argued in your Lordships’ House before, a lack of respect for international law and the weakness of international institutions lie behind the large number of people forcibly displaced around the world. While not the only cause, wars of aggression, indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of civilians, war crimes and crimes against humanity drive displacement. We will not reduce the number of displaced persons globally while wars and atrocities continue unchecked, and while international law is applied unevenly. At a time when we and the wider West are struggling to maintain any credibility when it comes to the rule of law and international co-operation, recognising in law a place for UNHCR in determining the safety of the Rwanda scheme would be a small step towards demonstrating our ongoing commitment to international institutions and agreements that are critical for global security.

It has become a bit of a trope to say that the refugee convention and UNHCR itself are outdated and unable to rise to the magnitude of the task at hand. In supporting a role for UNHCR in this legislation, I challenge that view. It is worth putting the scale of the refugee situation in some context. As a recent book, How Migration Really Works by Professor Hein de Haas, one of the world’s leading experts on migration, sets out very clearly, current refugee numbers are not in fact exceptional or unprecedented. There are 30 million refugees globally, but this is 0.3% of the global population, only marginally above the proportion of refugees in 1992. The vast majority of the displaced stay either in their country of origin or their immediate region; it is a small minority who come to Europe and to the United Kingdom.

We should be able to rise to this challenge. The refugee crisis is one of protection and political will, not only of sheer numbers. This Bill is all about signalling. The Government hope to signal that they are tough on illegal migration and to deter small boat crossings, but we are at risk of signalling that we are uninterested in the rule of law and in our international agreements and co-operation. That would be a very serious mistake for our ability to co-operate on refugees and other global issues, as well as for the international rules-based order.

My Lords, I support Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Amendments 2, 5 and 34, tabled by the same noble Lords and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I also offer supportive comments on Amendment 7 to Clause 1, tabled by the noble Viscount, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The most reverend Primate is present but cannot attend the entirety of this debate and the right reverend Prelate cannot be with us this afternoon.

It will be a very slight augmentation of the wisdom of this House to know that we on these Benches do not favour the outsourcing of asylum claims to other countries or territories—which is rather different from what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was saying about the outsourcing of power. We recognise, however, that the courts have deemed this lawful in certain circumstances and that we have a Bill from the other place which is designed to deal with a particular designation that the Supreme Court deemed to fall outside our obligations under the law.

I accept that the recent treaty between His Majesty’s Government and the Republic of Rwanda makes legally binding, with additional enhancements, the 2022 memorandum of understanding between the two Governments—for example, the commitment under the new asylum procedure that no person relocated to Rwanda under the treaty will be sent to any country other than the UK, if the UK so requests. However, as the House knows, the International Agreements Committee of this House recommends not ratifying until further evidence is available.

None the less, there remain very significant concerns about the contents of the Bill, not least about using legislation to make a declaration of fact in order to correct a court that has heard evidence. It is clear that the Government have gone to a great deal of effort to provide evidence to persuade critics of the feasibility of removal to Rwanda as a safe and properly functioning process while at the same time trying to satisfy their policy aim, and critics of a different stamp, that the limited capacity of the scheme will be a deterrent to those who make long and dangerous journeys to cross the channel.

The purpose of these amendments is to match the Bill more closely to the requirements of the Supreme Court judgment, so that it is more just and less open to challenge. For the sake of the people whose lives will be affected by yet more upheaval, who as it stands will not even have the opportunity to have their claim heard in this country, we cannot afford to get this wrong. Courts and tribunals must be able to make a judgment about the safety of Rwanda based on a consideration of the facts. We are not primarily discussing the suitability of Rwanda; we are discussing its safety for people who, by definition, have highly complex lives and circumstances.

The treaty introduces safeguards and checks, as it should, but these are not yet in force. I share the view that more is needed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency the Government have worked with in a highly effective way over many years, should provide that positive judgment of safety. Until then, the Government are taking an unreasonable risk by sending anyone to Rwanda.

These amendments offer practical steps which strike the kind of balance we are wise to pursue in this revising Chamber. They do not wreck the Bill, nor remove the objective of deterrence from it—and we can debate in due course the degree of inhibition that brings to the process. Rather, these amendments would provide an adequate mechanism for addressing concerns about the UK’s compliance with international law, and, appropriately, given the name of the Bill, the safety of Rwanda as a destination for the processing of asylum claims intended originally for the UK. These amendments are important for the preservation of judicial oversight and for the maintenance of the separation of powers, which is a fundamental component of our constitution. It is for Parliament to make laws and it is for the judiciary to judge cases, including the lawfulness of government decisions, and to make findings grounded on the basis of evidence.

Amendment 7 seeks to make it plain that the Bill replaces the Supreme Court’s finding of fact. A Bill cannot change the actual situation on the ground in another country; it can only mandate that evidence to the contrary is disregarded. We have a duty of care in international law towards asylum seekers who arrive in this country. Legislating that Rwanda is a safe country does not necessarily make it so for the potentially vulnerable people who might be sent there. However, the Bill’s primary purpose is to disregard the UK’s own Supreme Court’s finding that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers.

Let us be clear what we are doing. The Law Society has said, unequivocally, that it is inappropriate for the Government to undermine the judiciary in this way and that the Bill threatens the balance of powers in the United Kingdom. The amendment would put in the Bill that a judicial finding of fact is being replaced. I hope that we give these amendments a fair wind.

I give my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. In doing so, I express slight puzzlement that the Government seem to have difficulty in accepting the amendments. The Government tell us again and again that nothing in the Bill is contrary to our international obligations. Okay, they should then just accept the amendments and make it clearer than it was before. One may have one’s doubts as to the reasons the Government are not going to accept the amendments, but, basically, their position is that of the Red Queen in Alice: “It is so because I say it is so”.

I will address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, because they were extremely far-reaching, damaging and disruptive of our ability to support a rules-based international order. He seemed to not take into account that it was this sovereign Parliament that ratified our membership of the United Nations in 1945. The Charter of the United Nations contains the charter for the General Assembly, and the General Assembly appoints the High Commissioner for Refugees. Therefore, I do not think his argument about lack of accountability stands up. If you think about it, contradicting any role for the High Commissioner for Refugees to give advice to us about whether Rwanda is a safe place is an extraordinarily far-reaching and damaging claim to make.

As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, it is not simply a question of seeking advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The amendments clearly state that, unless positive advice is obtained, no one can be removed to Rwanda. So the decision will no longer be the decision of the Secretary of State; it will be the decision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That is the point. It is not just advice; it is advice which would be binding, according to these amendments, on the Government.

I thank the noble Lord for that point. He interrupted me before I got to the answer to his question—but that is fine. I had been going to say that the doctrine, according to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is that every member that has signed the refugee convention—well over 150, I think—and ratified it, including our sovereign Parliament, has the right to reinterpret the convention as it wishes. You have only to stop and think for one minute what that implies to realise that it implies complete chaos and the law of the jungle. If all 150-plus members of the United Nations refugee convention are able to stand up and say, “Well, actually, this is what I think the convention means, and I don’t care a damn what the High Commissioner for Refugees says”, then we are living in chaos. It is to avoid that that these amendments are being put forward.

I strongly support the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who expressed extremely eloquently the reason this country has a real interest in paying attention to these matters.

I thought it might help the Committee, before this debate with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, rumbles on, for me to clarify that he is quite right. This amendment, as currently drafted, requires positive advice from the UNHCR, and not just advice, positive or negative. In the current iteration of the amendment, the reason for that is that the Prime Minister expressly said that the Bill is designed to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court, which were based predominantly on the negative advice from the UNHCR about the situation in Rwanda—such was the nature of the evidence of the UNHCR and the credence that our Supreme Court gave to it.

However, if that formulation is too rich for their blood, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, or the Government, are welcome to amend the amendment or offer their own, which requires only advice positive or negative by the UNHCR before either the Secretary of State or Parliament can look again at whether Rwanda has changed subsequent to the treaty and is now, or in the future, a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees.

My Lords, I do not wish to pursue that course at all. I am not one of the proposers of this amendment; I am merely supporting it.

The arguments that I am adducing relate to the state that this country would be in if it issues forth into the world and says it has an absolute right to interpret a United Nations convention which it ratified many years ago, and which it has supported through thick and thin ever since, and now wishes to contradict. That is a serious matter and I do not believe that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, ought to carry weight, because the implications of them for our position in the world and our support for a rules-based international order would be extremely damaging.

My Lords, I want simply to say a few words in support of Amendments 3 and 7 in my name, and to express more general support for the position adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

On Amendment 3, it is simply untrue to state that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country. That may be the opinion of the House of Commons—I was a Whip there for many years, so I know the forces that are put in place to assure the opinion of that House; the “elective dictatorship” of which my father spoke—but what is absolutely certain is that it is not the opinion of this House. We know that to be a fact because of the vote that took place here on 22 January.

In my opinion, we should not put into a Bill a statement that is manifestly untrue. Hence, I put down amendments that state the truth: that the safety of Rwanda is the opinion of the Government. That is the truth, so why on earth should we not enact that simple truth, rather than commit what, in other circumstances, would be described as a lie?

On Amendment 7, we should state in clear terms what we are doing. We are, in fact, using a statutory and untrue pronouncement to reverse a recent finding by the Supreme Court. I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Howard; we were colleagues for very many years, and he was in the House of Commons for 27 years. I beat him, as I was there for 30 years, but he was a lot more distinguished than me. However, to try to say that the Supreme Court did not make a finding of fact is to turn the situation on its head. It expressed an opinion as to fact, as juries do in criminal cases—and an opinion as to fact is a finding of fact.

I will take a slightly broader view. I happen to share the view—I suspect it is pretty general in this House—that both legal and illegal migration are far too high and should be reduced. I share the very correct intention of the Government to deter illegal migration, which we need to do. My objection is not to the purpose but to the means being advocated, which is wrong in principle and will not succeed. However, it is clear to me, as it is to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the Government have decided to push ahead and will doubtless reverse our amendments in ping-pong.

In the spirit of compromise, I will make some positive suggestions, as the noble Baroness did. Leaving aside the issue of principle, I am concerned that the Government are seeking to enact, without any proper assessment, their judgment as to whether Rwanda is safe. That means not just whether the treaty is put in place in Rwanda, but whether its provisions are implemented over a period of time—and whether we can for other reasons say that Rwanda is safe. That, we are entitled to do. To be clear: that is not a one-off assessment; it has to be a continuing assessment, because things can change.

The other thing we need to be absolutely clear about is whether the policy objective is working. We are told that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce illegal migration across the channel. That is a judgment—I do not happen to think it will work—but one thing is certain: we do not know now whether it will work, but in the course of time, we may be able to form a view.

My concern is that the Bill provides no mechanism for a continuing assessment of both the safety of Rwanda and the success of the policy, and I believe that Parliament is entitled to demand a continuous and authoritative assessment. We can argue whether it should be based on the European body; or, as Amendment 81 suggests, it should be done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights; or, as I have in the past suggested, by a special Select Committee appointed for the purpose. However, there is a way forward. The Bill does not come into operation without both Houses of Parliament triggering it by an affirmative resolution, and they can do so only once a report has been received from whatever assessment monitoring board we put into place.

That is not enough because, as I say, we need continuing assessment. Therefore, I contemplate something like this. The initial trigger should be, say, for two years. It could then be renewed for two years by another statutory process—affirmative resolution—on the basis of a further report; and then again, if the Secretary of State thinks he will get away with it. That way, we will have a continuing process of assessment, which would give this House and Parliament in general something on which it could honourably proceed.

I would like to think that my noble friends on the Front Bench will show a certain degree of flexibility. If they do not, it may be quite difficult to persuade their critics to be flexible.

My Lords, I briefly want to follow my noble friend Lord Hailsham in his remarks. Had he been the presider in a three-person court, I would have been very happy to say that, having heard his speech, I had nothing else to add. However, since we are here, your Lordships have the disadvantage of hearing what I have to say. Like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne and my noble friend Lady Helic, I regret not being present at Second Reading and apologise, but I have read the Hansard of the debate.

I am always reluctant to disagree with my noble friend Lord Howard, but he took too narrow an approach to the questions before us. I use Clause 1(2)(b), which is the subject my noble friend Lord Hailsham attacks, as a hanger on which to make a few remarks. I think, if I understood him correctly, that my noble friend Lord Howard said that Parliament can essentially do what it likes, and of course he is perfectly right. Parliament can be as foolish as it likes. It can pass a law saying that all dogs are cats, but that does not make all dogs cats. It can pass a law saying that Rwanda is a safe country, but that does not make it a safe country. In addition—this is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham—it is for the Executive to advance their policy, whether it is a good policy or a bad one. It is for the Government to say that it is their policy that Rwanda is a safe country to which to send failed asylum seekers. If the Government then wish to have their view tested by Parliament, again, they can go ahead and do it.

Therefore, what the Government are proposing as a matter of policy is not a constitutional outrage, but the way in which they are writing it down in Clause 1(2)(b) is, if I may respectfully say so, just plain silly. It is worse to be silly than it is to be guilty of a constitutional outrage, and this is not a constitutional outrage but just plain silly.

Ridicule is a more powerful weapon than the constitutional and legal arguments of any number of lawyers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, advances in one of her amendments, it would be helpful to have a UNHCR opinion on the safety or otherwise of Rwanda. However, I have a feeling that exporting government policy to the UNHCR is not a good idea. It would be helpful to have that opinion, but it is not essential. The Government must stand on their own feet, bring their policy to Parliament and have it tested. It will survive or not on the merits of the facts. The assessment of whether Rwanda is a safe country must be for the Government to consider and for Parliament to agree; we as a bicameral parliamentary body are not equipped to reach those sorts of conclusions. We can agree or disagree with the Government, but we are not equipped in a presidium to reach a conclusion on whether the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country as a matter of fact.

I do not wish to undermine or underestimate the hugely difficult political problem that the Government face with illegal immigration and the making of unsound asylum applications. Nor do I wish to undermine their genuine and very proper decision and policy to stop the boats. However, if we are to stop the boats, and if we are to reduce the amount of illegal immigration and bogus asylum applications, the Government would go a long way if they had the confidence of their own convictions and allowed Clause 1(2)(b) to say that that the Bill gives effect to the politically expedient policy of the Government that the Republic of Rwanda is safe, rather than trying to shift the responsibility for that opinion on to Parliament. Parliament may come to agree with it, but the initial policy is one for government. To that extent I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Hailsham.

I am another supporter of Amendment 3. Clause 1 is an example of the current vogue for starting Bills not with operative provisions but with preambular statements of the obvious, a custom which is always irritating but normally harmless. However, there is harm, not just silliness, in Clause 1(2)(b) with its rather grand invocation of

“the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”,

a judgment for all time, apparently, that there is no provision to revisit or change. That invocation is unnecessary and contrary to principle. It is unnecessary because there are other ways for Rwanda to be declared or deemed safe. The Secretary of State could be entrusted with the decision or, if it really is necessary for Parliament to take it, there could at least be a power for the Secretary of State to amend it in the light of changed conditions, as was the case with Section 75 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

It is contrary to principle because it requires us to come to a judgment on a fact-specific life-and-death matter on which, frankly, we are ill equipped to adjudicate. Of course, this is not the first time that such a thing has happen. It was tried in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, when the countries of the European Economic Area—all signatories to the ECHR—were deemed, beyond rebuttal, to be safe. That experiment, a requirement of European Union law, was not a successful one. Its unwieldiness was demonstrated in the case of Nasseri. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords dismissed a challenge to the safety of Greece but, through the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, whom I am delighted to see in his place, indicated that the courts might have to issue a declaration of incompatibility if the deeming provision was contradicted by the evidence. The issue was sensibly addressed in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 by transforming the irrebuttable presumption into a rebuttable one.

No such good sense is on display in Clause 1(2)(b), which is a much more contentious provision because of its very different context. It asks us to state definitively that Rwanda is safe, when all the evidence points the other way—in particular, the verdict of our own Supreme Court, which identified defects that it did not consider solvable in the short term, and the judgment of our International Agreements Committee, which we endorsed by a healthy majority when we voted on it on 22 January.

Of course, we can do anything we want, but this does not mean that it is sensible to do so. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights put it in its report of this morning:

“the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact”.

A unanimous Constitution Committee, on which I serve, went a little further last week when it described this clause as “constitutionally inappropriate”. It invoked both the rule of law and the separation of powers.

I emphasise the practical point that this clause puts Parliament on a quite unnecessary collision course with the courts, both domestic and international. Amendment 3 would not solve all the Bill’s problems; it would not even stop Clause 1 from being pointless, but it would at least render it harmless and that is why I support it.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I was unable to be present for Second Reading two weeks ago, but I cannot allow the Bill to pass through the House without making my deep concern about it evident in public. I am speaking on this group of amendments because they go to the heart of my concern.

I have been a Member of Parliament for a very long time, on and off, and a member of the Conservative Party for some 66 years, when I counted it up. I find it quite extraordinary that the party of Margaret Thatcher should introduce a Bill of this kind. Like some other noble Lords, I have a clear memory of the great battle that Margaret Thatcher fought with the European Union—the European Community in those days—over the British budget contribution. From time to time, it was suggested that she should cut the cackle, put the continentals in their place and cut off the British contribution. That would have been very dramatic, and very popular in some circles, but she did not countenance the idea because she believed that it would be contrary to the law. There were those who warned that it might even run into trouble in the British courts. How different that is from this Bill and the way in which we are now asked to behave towards the Supreme Court and the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is no esoteric matter that concerns only the subject under discussion and is of interest only to lawyers. We in this country frequently boast that Britain is such a marvellous place to do business because of our great respect for the rule of law and because the Government, unlike some Governments of the world, can be relied on not to make arbitrary and unreasonable acts. It is very difficult to sustain that argument in the light of the Bill now before us. I do not know whether those who envisage doing business in this country will draw that conclusion or not, but we are going against a fundamental interest, not just on this issue but for our wider reputation.

What we are asked to do represents the sort of behaviour that the world associates with despots and autocracies, not with an established democracy nor with the mother of Parliaments. It is a Bill we should not even be asked to confront, let alone pass.

It is a privilege to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, and I strongly agree with it. I will focus on two things in relation to what the Government are asking us to do. Before that, I apologise for not having been here at Second Reading—I, too, was abroad. I declare an interest as a member of the Constitution Committee of this House, which published a report unanimously expressing very considerable concerns about the Bill.

I have two concerns about the Bill. As a nation, we have accepted for the last 70 years that we will not deport asylum seekers to a place where they may face death, torture or inhuman treatment, and that, if asylum seekers feel that that is a risk, they can seek protection from the courts. The courts may well give an applicant short shrift if they do not think there is anything in it, but we have stood by that protection for 70 years and incorporated it into our domestic law in the Human Rights Act 1998. The Bill envisages the possibility—or indeed it being the more-likely-than-not result, according to those who have looked at it independently—that people will be sent to Rwanda, where they will be at substantial risk of being refouled, which means sent back to a place where they could be tortured or killed.

The claim made by the Government is that we have entered into an agreement with Rwanda that says it will not send anybody who comes from here to anywhere except the UK, to which the answer is that given by the international treaties committee: that the reason there was a risk of refoulement was that Rwanda did not even have the most basic system of properly assessing asylum claims. The idea that the Bill envisages—that the moment the new treaty comes into force, it will provide that protection—is absolute nonsense. Everybody appreciates that except, as far as I can see, the right honourable Mr James Cleverly, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. If we look at the conclusions that the Supreme Court introduced, we see that, factually, it is just a non-starter.

The Government say, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, will confirm it on their behalf, that they stand by the commitment we have made for the last 70 years that asylum seekers will not be exported to a place where they might be refouled. If that is their true position, how on earth can they allow this? The international treaties committee also said that, quite separately from the fact that we would need to reform completely Rwanda’s asylum system, we would have to enter into a number of other detailed provisions before it could be seen whether the provision in the new agreement prevented refoulement. Those agreements have not yet been entered into with Rwanda, and there is no requirement for them to be so before the Bill becomes law.

My first big objection to the Bill is that it goes against commitments we have made as a nation and stood by for the past 70 years. If we are looking for solutions to the problems of immigration in the world, turning our backs on all the international agreements that we have made seems a very bad start indeed.

My second big objection to the Bill is that it fundamentally crosses over the separation of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, whom I greatly admire—he was a member of our Constitution Committee—said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’re just taking the opinion of the former Lord Chief Justice, who is the dissenting voice in the Court of Appeal”. No, that is not what the Government say they are doing. They are saying, “We’ve taken account of the Supreme Court judgment. We respect that judgment. We’re not going with the former Lord Chief Justice’s judgment; we’re dealing with the points that have been made—and, by the way, dealing with them while not letting anybody question us about that”. That is absolutely not the role of this House or the courts.

What this Bill leads to is Parliament delivering what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, described as silly, but is so much more profound than silly. I quite agree with him that the beginning of the Bill is very silly in the way that it reads—it is a cack-handed attempt to deliver a judgment, like a court would read—but it is not silly; it is dangerous.

Think of three examples. First, Parliament can say, “Even though we see Rwanda refouling people we are sending, and it is sending Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis back to death or torture, we will do nothing”. We will say that that is okay because we made our judgment that it was a safe country.

That is one example. Let us take another. Suppose the Prime Minister has a friend or a crony in the House of Commons who is convicted in a court of corruption of some sort. The Prime Minister then presents a Bill to Parliament, saying, “It is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP actually wasn’t able to present this new evidence to the criminal court that convicted him, so it is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP is innocent”. That is the route this Bill takes Parliament down.

Take a third example: the Electoral Commission decides that it will not investigate some problem of, say, not complying with expenses and the courts then say, in relation to that decision, “The Electoral Commission was overinfluenced by party-political considerations”—for example, the governing party was very unkeen for there to be a proper investigation of some expenses fraud in an election, and on judicial review the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate was set aside on the basis there was no basis not to investigate. Once again, relying on this precedent, the Government of the day, assuming they have a big majority, can produce a Bill that says, “It is the judgment of Parliament that the courts have got that opinion wrong”—as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, introducing a whole new concept in the law, said is the position.

That is the danger of this Bill. I am not sure that I support all my noble friend Baroness Chakrabarti’s solutions—in particular, I am not sure the reference to the United Nations commissioner on refugees is the right source—but, my goodness, if we start letting Parliament make such judgments, we open a door that will be incredibly difficult to close. We in this House surely should not give effect to it.

I have one final point. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, said, “Don’t worry, it’s all Clause 4”. It is not. Clause 4 allows appeals to be made only by people who say something different from “the country is not safe generally”; it is only if there is something specific about them. If, for example, I am a voluble member of the Rwandan opposition and I am then sent to Rwanda, where I may get tortured or killed, then I have a ground, but if I am from Syria or Afghanistan and Rwanda is refouling regularly, I have no basis for appealing.

My first point is that we should stand by our commitments to asylum seekers. My second is: do not listen to this siren song that this is not a fundamental change in our constitution. It is, and it will be the foundation of very bad things to come.

My Lords, I was at Second Reading. I do not know if that makes me less interesting to listen to than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and all the rest. I have heard some of these remarks before, of course, but it is always a pleasure to hear them again, if I agree with them. I will say something quite similar to what noble Lords have just heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I will obviously say it less competently, because I do not have legal training, but what I do have is common sense. I am not suggesting that they are mutually exclusive, but they are two completely different things.

This is an absurd Bill. It is nasty. It is inhumane. I do not want any part of it, and Greens have made it clear, along with our friends—on this occasion—the Lib Dems, that we would stop it if we possibly could. In line with that, I support Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It has been claimed that “silly” is not an appropriate term; but it is frankly silly drafting.

Clause 1(2)(b) says that

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

Acts of Parliament are not vehicles for Parliament to express its opinion about issues, so this clause ought to be removed on that basis alone, or else we will start legislating opinions instead of laws.

But Parliament is not of the opinion that Rwanda is a safe country; we have not been presented with any evidence to prove that, and we have no process to make such determinations. The best we have is a debate on amendments, which we may pass and return to the Commons—to the other end, or whatever we call it. The Government will, of course, disagree with any amendments we pass; they will almost certainly strip them out, and we will be back here debating again, wasting long hours trying to make this Government see sense. This is bad lawmaking, and a silly precedent.

Is not a Motion, rather than legislation, the correct vehicle for each House to formulate its judgment and express its view on an issue, independent of one another? What future opinions will be voiced in legislation? What views will be forced on your Lordships’ House by the elected House, no matter how wrong or how wicked? This deals with just one small part of this awful Bill, but it is illustrative of the constitutional and moral nonsense that runs throughout. This Bill cannot be amended; it must be stopped.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, with these amendments we are trying to stop the Government forcing us to lie. That is what we are trying to do.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I had the privilege of serving as a Cross-Bench member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in her remarks. Indeed, she referred to the 50-page report that was finally agreed by a majority in the committee—it is a majority, not a unanimous, report—on 7 February. It was published today, as others have said, and is available in the Printed Paper Office.

In my remarks, I will say something about what the report has to say about safety. Before doing that, I will agree in particular with the tone of many of the contributions that have been made so far on this group of amendments. As always, my noble friend Lord Hannay put his finger on our international obligations, not least among which is the 1951 convention on refugees. It may well be that this is not written in stone and that there should be attempts to try to change and reform this in the climate of today’s demands—I am happy to give way.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving way. He has just referred to international agreements. Would he agree with me, therefore, that this Bill contravenes international agreements such as the UDHR and also the ECHR? I am reminded of the fact that the provisions of this Bill extend to Northern Ireland. Hence, this provision and this Bill undermine the very basis of the Good Friday agreement.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness; I was not intending to touch on Northern Ireland, but she is right that this does touch on the Windsor agreement and on our obligations to Northern Ireland, which are separate from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. I commend that section of the report. These are not my opinions; the report does touch on that question.

The noble Baroness also asked about our other obligations. We have many obligations, not just under the refugee convention but under the ECHR, to which she has just referred. The Government on this Bill, as on the Illegal Migration Bill, decline to give a compatibility statement because they cannot say that it will be compatible—although I know Ministers take a contrary view that there is uncertainty around that. However, if there is uncertainty, we must be very careful where we tread.

On the issue of our international reputation, I was very struck by the statement made by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is referred to in the JCHR report. He justified what he was intending to do and has done in sending back 430,000 Afghan refugees to Pakistan. He said it was modelled on what we were seeking to do in the British Parliament. So, even though we know that is casuistry and extreme, nevertheless we can see where this argument can lead and the way in which it be used. So, yes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, our international reputation can easily suffer.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark got to the heart of this when he said that legislating that Rwanda is safe does not make it so. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, touched on that point. Just saying an apple is a pear does not make it such. Saying that a dog is a cat does not make it such. It may be your opinion, but it is not true—and that is surely what we have a duty to try to do in this place.

On process, procedure and governance, during our debates on the Illegal Migration Bill and the treaty, I complained that we had not been treated properly as a Select Committee in the way you would expect Select Committees to be treated. Suella Braverman, the then Home Secretary, declined to appear before the Select Committee. We did not see James Cleverly in the context of this Bill. However, we did see the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, and I pay tribute to him for the way he delivered his evidence and took the questions we put to him. As the noble and learned Lord has just said, it is the duty of the Home Secretary of the day to explain the intentions of legislation. If there is anxiety about something as important as a compatibility statement, they should explain why they feel unable to give it.

My noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich rightly said that we are ill-equipped to make these decisions in Parliament. I did not serve as long as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, although we have the distinction of contesting the same parliamentary seat in the heart of Liverpool on separate occasions, or as long as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, but I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said about the way in which legislation has traditionally been dealt with in another place and here. I cannot remember Select Committees being treated by Secretaries of State in the way that I have just described. Thinking all the way back to the British Nationality Bill 1981, on which I spoke many times, there were opportunities to hear the arguments, to discuss the implications and to make appropriate amendments. I have not felt that about this legislation or that which preceded it. I think it has been pushed through in a pell-mell way, bringing to mind the thought that, if you enact legislation in a hurry, you will end up repenting at some leisure.

Let me take noble Lords to page 15 of the report, which comes down to the role of the UNHCR and safety. “As of January 2024”, therefore as recently as last month,

“UNHCR has not observed changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns set out in its 2022 analysis and in the detailed evidence presented to the Supreme Court”.

The Supreme Court, not the House of Commons or the House of Lords, relied on the UNHCR when it came to a decision about questions of fact. The report states:

“UNHCR notes the detailed, legally-binding commitments now set out in the treaty, which if enacted in law and fully implemented in practice, would address certain key deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system identified by the Supreme Court. This would however require sustained, long term efforts, the results of which may only be assessed over time”.

Well, clearly, we have not had the time to make those assessments, and again we are being urged to rush pell-mell. I will not detain the Committee much longer. One witness, Professor Tom Hickman KC, said:

“Parliament is effectively being asked to exercise a judicial function, to assess evidence, to look at detailed facts and, effectively, to distinguish the Supreme Court’s judgment, to say that things have moved on and it is not binding on Parliament—I do not mean in a non-legal way—in making its judgment. In my view, that is an inappropriate exercise for Parliament to conduct. It is a judicial function”.

This view was echoed by Professor Sarah Singer, who is quoted in paragraph 57 as saying:

“To contradict the Supreme Court in this way is, perhaps, not showing the respect to the court that should be owed as a constitutional principle”.

I conclude with the summary on page 35, which says:

“We have considered the Government’s evidence that Rwanda is now safe, but have also heard from witnesses and bodies including the UNHCR that Rwanda remains unsafe, or at least that there is not enough evidence available at this point to be sure of its safety. Overall, we cannot be clear that the position reached on Rwanda’s safety by the country’s most senior court is no longer correct. In any event, the courts remain the most appropriate branch of the state to resolve contested issues of fact, so the question of Rwanda’s safety would best be determined not by legislation but by allowing the courts to consider the new treaty and the latest developments on the ground”.

For all those reasons, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has done noble Lords a great favour in bringing these amendments to us in Committee. She has already shown her willingness to think further about whether they might be applied in other ways. That surely is what Committee stage is all about. The tone that has been struck in the course of this debate behoves noble Lords to think very deeply. I commend this report to the Committee.

My Lords, I welcome the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the tone of this debate, particularly in relation to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I warmly welcome her obvious desire to find some way forward in this difficult area, which we certainly need to do, but I am afraid there is a rock—a difficulty—in the way of her amendment. It makes a classic mistake: taking two separate organisations with different objectives and obligations, and placing one with a veto over the other.

According to my reading of the amendment, the UNHCR would in practice have a veto over what the UK Government can do; this is the difficulty. The noble Baroness used the word “stalemate”, but her proposals would also lead to a stalemate while the UNHCR went on for ever, we know not when, saying whether Rwanda was safe. There would be debates, hostilities and probably no eventual consensus as to whether it was safe. Surely a more sensible way forward would be to take existing circumstances and practice, and for each side to engage properly and responsibly with the other.

We have obligations to the UNHCR; we are obliged under the refugee convention to engage with the UNHCR, and so we should. We are obliged to take account of the social and humanitarian consequences for refugees, and so we should. But, equally, the UNHCR should take into account the real responsibility of Governments to defend their borders in the sensible way that their own democracies would expect. If we can get the two working together, something sensible may emerge from that.

It already has in Australia. I wish we would not always be quite so insular. For 10 years now, Australia has been operating an outsourcing policy of the kind to which the UK aspires. It started off in precisely the same way—with precisely the advocates on each side—that we did. In the end, the Australian Government invited in the UNHCR at three different levels: the prime ministerial level, the ministerial level and the ordinary regional level of civil servants and so forth. They came to an agreement on how it should work.

Not only that but the UNHCR, as a consequence of its willingness to get involved, had leverage. It got out of the Australian Government more legal routes for genuine asylum seekers, and the same should happen here. Our legal routes for asylum seekers are at present wholly unsatisfactory, because they are confined to a small number of countries and most countries are excluded.

My view of a proper immigration policy has always been that there should be a settled cap on how many we should bring in, which we put publicly to the people every year in Parliament. Within that cap, the priority should be genuine asylum seekers and only thereafter economic migrants or people joining their families here. That is the right way to approach a total immigration policy, of which this is numerically only a very small part.

We should therefore follow the Australian example, which is now operating successfully and is supported by both parties. The Labor Party in Australia has just reduced the cap on the number of immigrants allowed into that country because it is dissatisfied with the numbers going there; it is a vast country, after all. We have a similar but even more acute problem here. If we followed that example of Governments working within the existing acknowledged framework of their obligations to the international community, surely we could make some progress. If we hang on to too many bells and whistles of the kind that the House seems to want, I am afraid that we will fail and not make the progress available to us here.

My Lords, this has been a long debate and I shall therefore be extremely brief. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark spoke powerfully, as have many extremely well-qualified lawyers, so I will not talk about the law. I found myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. He put important points that I hope will be reflected later in our debates.

We also need to take account of what one might call the real world. I am glad to see that the Opposition Front Bench is being cautious at this point; perhaps that is one of the reasons. The reality is that the Government have lost control of our borders, and even the backlog of asylum seekers is enough to fill the largest stadium in the UK. I regret to say that there is deep public anger, but there is, and we have to take it into account—I am sure that the Commons will—when we take this forward. It is therefore for the Government to take action to bring all this under control and for us to give some advice as to how that could best be done. But let us not lose sight of the fact that this is a very difficult and widely resented situation, and we need to be careful ourselves.

My Lords, I wish to speak to this group of amendments; I apologise to the Committee that I could not be here for Second Reading. Even though I was on the estate, I had a bad chest infection. I was coughing and sputtering, which I did not think would add to the debate, so I listened to it in my office and have subsequently read the Hansard. I was also very proud to vote for my noble friend Lord German’s fatal amendment to the Second Reading Motion. I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests in the register on this issue. I will try not to do a Second Reading speech but to keep my comments to this clause and the amendments.

These amendments are quite important, based on what I would call this candyfloss clause. It is a bit like candyfloss because the Government are trying to make it big, enticing and sweet but, the moment you touch it, it starts to disintegrate as you realise that it is built on nothing. Clause 1(3) says:

“The Government of the Republic of Rwanda has, in accordance with the Rwanda Treaty”—

these are the important words—

“agreed to fulfil the following obligations”.

They have not yet done that, nor given an indication of how they will. It is therefore important, before any person is sent to Rwanda, that those obligations are fulfilled. There also needs to be some form of independent assessment of how that is done.

In the normal course of the rule of law, the courts of this land would make an assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is trying to put in at least some form of independent assessment. People may argue about whether it is independent, but the UNHCR and its role in the legal understanding of refugees and safe countries is well understood. I have a slight problem with the amendment from the noble Baroness, as it involves just one set of evidence and, clearly, courts would normally look at a wider range of evidence. However, it is important that, in Amendment 34, there is a rebuttable presumption. I assume that it would, at some point, give some leeway and a doorway to the courts to test that, so the legality of the decision made by the Executive can be reviewed by the independent judiciary. It will be interesting to see that. That is the aim of the amendment from the noble Baroness.

I ask the Minister, when responding to these amendments, to pick up what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said regarding the incompatibility at times between Rwanda and the laws of this land, and the obligations and treaties that have been signed. Particularly, how will refugees’ claims be assessed in Rwanda? Where there is incompatibility between the laws or obligations of Rwanda and the UK, exactly how will those contradictions be dealt with?

I think the majority of those who have spoken have apologised for not being here at Second Reading. I am worried; I think I ought to apologise for having been here at Second Reading and for having spoken then and a week earlier on the treaty. I have spoken about the apples and pears, the rule of law and our international reputation, and I do not want to bore the Committee on that anymore.

I think the aim shared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of making the Bill, if not pointless, harmless—or harmless though still pointless—is impossible in Clause 1. We are dealing with a Bill that is very hard to make acceptable.

I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is hoping to do in her amendments and I share that. We need to take account of the fact that we voted in this House, on the report from the International Agreements Committee, that Rwanda is not yet safe. We did that not in an off-the-cuff way but on the basis of a reasoned report, which was written on the basis of a stack of evidence submitted to the International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member. The House voted that it is not safe; therefore, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is completely correct: how can we possibly now stand on our heads and say that it is the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is safe—as if we could do that anyway? We cannot legislate that apples are pears, or cats are dogs. We need to have some sort of triggering or commencement mechanism, which means that the Bill, when an Act, does not come into force until Rwanda can be seen to be safe. The International Agreements Committee set out the 10 areas in which change is required.

I am uneasy about conferring the role on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although I think that the Government have now accepted that one of his roles is supervising and monitoring the operation of the refugee convention. I am not sure that it is right to ask UNHCR to undertake this task; we are only one of the signatories of the convention, and so is Rwanda. He said in the memorandum that he submitted in relation to the treaty:

“UNHCR has continued to engage bilaterally with the Government of Rwanda on specific incidents of concern, and will continue to offer technical advice and support to the Government of Rwanda to strengthen its asylum system and the protection of all refugees, as part of its mandated responsibilities”.

For us to ask it to act as advisers to us might seem to UNHCR to be difficult—I do not know. I note that UNHCR did not want to give evidence to the International Agreements Committee. It seems to me that it may well feel, “This is something you have to sort out for yourselves—don’t drag me in”. But we need to have someone.

In later groupings, we can consider the proposals for an independent reviewer, or the proposal in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for using the monitoring committee set up in the treaty for that purpose. I am not sure about that—I am for an independent reviewer myself—but that is for later groupings. But for now I utter a word of caution as to whether this is really appropriate, and whether we would not be talking about a forced marriage. The Government certainly do not want to involve the UNHCR, and I am not 100% sure that the UNHCR wants to get involved either.

For me, the important amendments in this group are Amendments 5 and 6, which say that, instead of having the Bill say that Rwanda is safe, the Bill would say that Rwanda will become safe when the conditions for safety, such as those listed by the International Agreements Committee, are met. That would change the tense from “is” to “will be”—it would be forward-looking. That is where I feel most strongly about the amendments in this group.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests, in that I am supported by the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project. We have strayed very widely across the whole of Clause 1 in this debate. Of course, what we are here to do is to discuss the specific amendments before us. However, I start with the assertion that this Parliament finds Rwanda safe. I looked up in the Companion to see what the role is of resolutions of this House, and it is the resolution of this House that is the determination of this House—and the determination of this House at the moment is that Rwanda is not safe. That is the view on which the Government are trying to make us change our minds, so we need to bear that in mind first of all.

The second, broader point that has been drawn out, largely by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was the issue of offshoring versus offloading. We had that debate at Second Reading, and I think what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was talking about was offshoring, when you make the determination about whether people are right to come here, and then they come here. But this is not offshoring; this is offloading, whereby the Government hand over the responsibility to another country to be able to accept them, there is no way back, and it is a permanent situation.

No, they did not. I am sorry, but the facts are otherwise. The essential point is that they were doing this work—whatever the noble Lord thinks the situation was, it is not what I think, but we can check the facts—in order that people could be admitted to Australia. That was the point; they were doing it somewhere else in order that they could come to Australia.

Trying to clear that knowledge and understanding, which we did at Second Reading, on these amendments in particular, the first thing we can say is that introducing scrutiny of the safety of Rwanda is a necessary and essential point, given the resolution and determination of this House. If the Government want to proceed and get this House to change its mind, we have to find a route for ourselves that allows us to do so. The amendments acknowledge that in this House we do not have credible evidence in order to make a finding of safety; whether we should do so or not is another matter, which we will examine in group two. It is right that the evidence should be broadly based; that whoever makes that decision should look not in one corner but at the evidence of NGOs, civil society and working groups on the ground in Rwanda in order to find out exactly whether a decision is the correct one. So, we would not limit the advice to that of the United Nations HCR, even if it was prepared to give it, but we do take the advice it gives us.

I just want to mention the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, raised at the outset. He said that outsourcing a positive recommendation on an asylum case to the UNHCR would be unacceptable, and that we should not give this decision to another body. Yet, at the same time, as we speak, and as the Home Office report of 12 January showed clearly, the only remaining global resettlement scheme is the UK resettlement scheme, which relies exclusively on a positive reference from the UNHCR. So, the UK does not seek to influence the cases the UNHCR refers. The fact is that we have passed that responsibility to the UNHCR, or are ready to do so. It is clear that we need a much broader understanding of the new information and advice that we need.

Amendment 34, of course, would create a rebuttable presumption. It is essential that this not be seen as a rock that can never be moved if the situation were to change one way or the other, from safe to unsafe, in the future. It is also right that court jurisdiction be restored, recognising the rule of law and the separation of powers. More of that to come.

On Amendments 11 and 12, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the decisions taken on refugees seeking asylum with us who are being sent to Rwanda to have their cases heard should be subject to the rules we impose ourselves—the laws and rules we have in front of us. The amendments say that we recognise the UK’s laws and responsibilities in this matter, and we want Rwanda to use those because we want the standards we accept to be accepted in Rwanda.

These amendments give us some basis for thought and for some major proposals in the future, but at the moment they are signposts rather than a milestone.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to wind up on this group for His Majesty’s Opposition. The quality of the contributions has been truly outstanding. I start by saying to the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Howard, that whatever our views on the various amendments in this and the other groups, we are fundamentally and totally opposed to the whole Bill and have voted against it at all stages. That lays out our position fairly clearly.

It was helpful for the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to lay out as we start Committee that this debate is not about whether to stop illegal migration or reduce immigration, but how we do it. This Bill is not the way to do it, so he was right to remind us of that.

We support the thrust of Amendments 3 and 7, as did many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—I will come back to her lead amendment in a moment—because they go to the heart of the Bill. Clause 1(2)(b) replaces a judicial finding of fact with Parliament simply declaring that Rwanda is safe, irrespective of the Supreme Court judgment. I will not go into the legal niceties we have heard, but it seems remarkable to me that Parliament should make a judgment that the court has got it wrong and just change it without reference to the court.

There is a missing word in that paragraph which gives great credibility to many of the contributions made this afternoon:

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

As many noble Lords and the committees that have reported on this Bill have said, this paragraph says that Rwanda is safe now, not that it will become safe. The Supreme Court said that that is the point of difference between them. It has not said that the Government cannot act in this way—I would have thought they would be pleased and say, “Look, the Supreme Court says that what we’re doing conforms with international law”—but that they cannot say that Rwanda is safe now. The Government are saying: “Don’t worry about that; we’ll just pass a law saying that it is”. That is the point of conflict, as it flies in the face of the Supreme Court, the International Agreements Committee and many others.

The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was remarkable in its honesty and openness. He said that, as a member of the Conservative Party for decades—I apologise if I get his wording wrong—he was disappointed by the Government coming forward with legislation such as this, which he felt flew in the face of the party’s traditions. He said that Margaret Thatcher herself would have refused it because it flies in the face of her belief that Governments have to act in accordance with the law, or the constitution would be at stake. Many of these amendments seek to reassert the principle that this country has always operated on—that this Parliament operates according to the law. Parliamentary sovereignty is paramount and Parliament can pass what it wants, but as part of that, under our unwritten constitution, there is a belief that it will always operate according to the law even while recognising its sovereign power.

We broadly support much of my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s lead amendment. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Howard, my noble friend, in the spirit of Committee, said that if she has not got the amendment completely right, it might need to be changed. That is the whole point of Committee; she accepted that he might have a point and that making the UNHCR the sole body advising the Government or preventing them from acting might not be the best way forward.

Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, drew attention to a point in Amendments 1 and 2. This may be flowery language that Governments put at the front of Bills—I am sure that we did it in government and may well do it again when, I hope, we are in government in future—but Amendment 1 would add

“the purpose of compliance with the rule of law to that of deterrence”,

and Amendment 2 says:

“The second purpose is to ensure compliance with the domestic and international rule of law”.

That is the fundamental point. Any Bill we pass into law should be compliant with international law. That is why our country has such standing across the world. What on earth are we doing? The UNHCR has said that the Bill is not compliant with the refugee convention, and that is why Amendments 1 and 2 are so important. Do we not care that the UNHCR has said that? Is it of no consequence to us? Have we gone beyond caring? Are we not bothered? Are we saying it is simply an irrelevance? If that is so, I honestly cannot believe that that is the way we want our country to go.

What are we doing? Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and said, with respect to Putin and Ukraine, that we are not going to stand for someone driving a coach and horses through the international rules-based order. That is what the country has always stood for and what we are proud of. Therefore, we are going to continue that tradition. We are right to do so. Why are we taking action against the Houthis in the Red Sea? Last week, I heard the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, say that it was because are not going to allow a group of terrorists to hold the world’s trading system to ransom and break every single rule of the international rules-based order.

These are the rules we adhere to and conventions we have signed. As a sovereign Parliament, we took the decision that, in certain areas of international life, it is better to pool sovereignty and stand together; that is the way to overcome common problems, not to retreat into your own country. That is why the compliance with international law is important. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and others, seek to say—as a point of principle—that a Bill dealing with migration, refugees, asylum or whatever should comply with international law.

I am astonished and astounded and find it unbelievable that His Majesty’s Government have to be reminded that we want our Government to comply with international law. I would have thought that was a statement of the obvious. I would have thought it was something around which we could unite, no matter our party or faith. We could have stood together and said that is why we are proud of our country.

What are we going to say when we go to the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth, the EU—if we still have talks with it—NATO or any other part of the world where there is an international organisation? How on earth can we lecture those people about conforming to the international rules-based order when we are prepared to drive a coach and horses through it ourselves? That is why much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and many others have said in their amendments is so important. The Government may dismiss it, but they will not win the argument on this one.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The overriding purpose of the Bill is to ensure that Parliament’s sovereign view that Rwanda is a safe country is accepted and interpreted by the courts to prevent legal challenges which seek to delay removals and prevent us from taking control of our borders.

Amendments 3 and 7, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, suggest that the legislation is replacing a judicial finding of fact. The Government respect the decision of the Supreme Court in its judgment. However, the judgment was based on information provided to the court on Rwanda up until summer 2022. Their Lordships recognised, explicitly and in terms, that those deficiencies could be addressed in future.

In response, the Home Secretary signed a new, internationally binding treaty between the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, which responds to and resolves the concerns raised by the court. Alongside the treaty, the Government have also introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which buttresses the treaty, and supports the relocation of a person to Rwanda under the Immigration Acts.

It is our view that Parliament and the Government are appropriately equipped to address the sensitive policy issues involved in this legislation and, ultimately, tackle the major global challenge of illegal migration.

Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 34 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seek to include a second purpose to the Bill, which is to ensure compliance with the rule of law, by requiring positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before Parliament before individuals can be removed to Rwanda. It also requires the UNHCR to consult international experts before providing the advice to the Government and Secretary of State. We consider the terms of the treaty—which have been carefully agreed with the Government of Rwanda and will be binding in international law—to be sufficient to ensure that those relocated under the partnership will be offered safety and protection with no risk of refoulement.

The Government have conducted their own assessment as to the safety of Rwanda, reflected in the published policy statement and the comprehensive supporting evidence, including two detailed country information notes and accompanying annexes, which have been published online. This evidence draws on a wide range of sources in addition to the institutional expertise of the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as experts on the bilateral relationship between the UK and Rwanda. Indeed, annexe 2 to the country information notes is comprised entirely of UNHCR evidence, which has already been factored into the Government’s assessment. It is also the Government’s understanding that the UNHCR has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments. It is unclear what is meant by “international experts” or who bears the cost of such consultation.

The provisions in the Bill prevent challenge on the grounds that Rwanda is not a safe country generally, reflecting the Government’s confidence in the assurances of the treaty, and in Rwanda’s commitment and capability to deliver against these obligations. As I have set out, the Home Office has reviewed a wide range of sources, including evidence from the UNHCR, via an established process for assessing country safety. This is, therefore, the most appropriate assessment on which to rely.

It would not be right for our ability to deliver this policy—which is key to our commitment to stop the boats—to be left solely dependent on a further, independent assessment by an external body such as the UNHCR, which, we further note, has not been consulted or worked with Peers on these amendments.

On that point, would my noble friend consider a domestic assessor—for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If it were to advise, would he accept that?

My Lords, one of the groups that we are coming on to looks at the organisations and committees that are set up under the treaty. We will return to that discussion about the provisions of the treaty in respect of what my noble friend has just asked. As I say, it would not be right for the delivery of our policy, which is key to our commitment to stop the boats, to be left solely dependent on this.

Amendments 11 and 12 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, seek to ensure that individuals relocated to Rwanda must have any asylum claim determined and be treated in accordance with the UK’s international obligations. This is unnecessary in view of the comprehensive arrangements that we have in place with the Government of Rwanda. It is important to remember that Rwanda is a country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It works already with the UNHCR and hosts more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them to rebuild their lives.

We will get on to this again in a later group, but I remind the Committee that the UNHCR has signed an agreement with the Government of Rwanda and the African Union to continue the operations of the emergency transit mechanism centre in Rwanda, which the EU financially supports, having recently announced a further €22 million support package for it. Indeed, as recently as late December, the UNHCR evacuated 153 asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the international agreements that Rwanda has signed. That is dealt with at paragraph 25 of the policy statement. I will read it for convenience:

“Rwanda is a signatory to key international agreements protecting the rights of refugees and those in need of international protection. It acceded to the Refugee Convention, as well as the 1967 Protocol, in 1980. In 2006 it acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness. Regionally, it is a signatory of the Organisation of African Unity Convention on Refugees in Africa and the 2012 Kampala Convention”.

Paragraph 26 goes on to say that:

“Rwanda’s obligations under these international agreements are embedded in its domestic legal provisions. The Rwandan constitution ensures that international agreements Rwanda has ratified become domestic law in Rwanda. Article 28 of the constitution recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum in Rwanda”.

The presumption which appears to underpin this amendment is that Rwanda is not capable of making good decisions and is somehow not committed to this partnership. I disagree. Rwandans, perhaps more than those in most countries, understand the importance of providing protection to those who need it. I remind the Committee that my noble friend Lady Verma spoke very powerfully on that subject at Second Reading.

The core of this Bill, and the Government’s priority, is to break the business model of the people smugglers. That will not happen if we undermine the central tenet of the Bill, which is the effect of these amendments, and a point that was well addressed by my noble friend Lord Howard. We are a parliamentary democracy, and that means that Parliament is sovereign. Parliament itself is truly accountable, and I therefore invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, the noble Lord has rather disappointed me, because he declined totally to address any of the points that your Lordships’ House voted for a few weeks ago—in particular, the 10 criteria by which it would be possible to judge whether the Government’s statement that Rwanda was a safe place was actually true or not. Could he now stand up and deal with those 10 criteria? It would be quite interesting for the Committee to have his account of the Government’s view of those criteria and whether they have been met; if they have not, when they will be met; and what tests they will put them to.

My Lords, this is Committee, and I am speaking to the various amendments in this group. As I have just reminded my noble friend Lord Hailsham, we will get to another group which debates the clauses in the treaty—as regards the various committees and so on that are in place—later in the day.

My Lords, I know it is very boring, but could the Minister respond to my question about the legal status and the effect of Clause 1? I am still not clear what attention we should pay to it, were we to be in very formal proceedings rather than debating the situation broadly. In other words, if there is a breach of Clause 1—I do not know whether it can be called a breach; if there is no compliance with Clause 1—then what, in formal legal terms?

My Lords, it is simply the introduction to the Bill, so I am not entirely sure I get the drift of the question of the noble Baroness.

My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, can he say whether he will be formally responding to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, especially before we reach Report?

I have not yet had a chance to read the report, which I believe was published only today, but I will of course read it in due course and respond accordingly.

My Lords, the Minister seems to rely on the emergency transit mechanism on which Rwanda works with the UNHCR. Can he confirm that this mechanism—which has a maximum capacity of 700—is a temporary processing point for asylum seekers from Libya, and that none of the 1,453 evacuated to Rwanda has actually opted to stay in the country?

My Lords, I do not rely on that at all. As I tried to explain, a variety of aspects of the UNHCR’s work are included in our safety assessment—and that is just one of them.

I apologise for interrupting, because I know that my noble friend the Minister wants to sit down for good. When he spoke to Clause 1(2)(b), was he speaking for Parliament or the Government?

Can the Minister indicate when the Government will respond to the report on the Bill by the Constitution Committee of this House?

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee from around the Chamber for the constructive manner and tone with which these proceedings on the first group have been conducted. Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention every excellent contribution; they will understand that is not a discourtesy to Members of the Committee, but, I hope, a bit of kindness to those who have amendments to follow this evening.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, for following immediately, because he was able to crystallise some key issues between us, on my suite of amendments as well as on all the others in the first group. In essence, he had two points: one that I can embrace to some extent, and another that I cannot. I think that he was the first to point out that, in the way that I have formulated my suite of amendments, I have given perhaps too determinative a role for the UNHCR. I explained the reason for that: it was because the Prime Minister said that he was going to assuage the concerns of the Supreme Court. None the less, I take the noble Lord’s point—which was echoed by subsequent speakers, if less robustly—so I hope not to create a determinative role for the UNHCR in the next stage of proceedings, although I also note that many Members of the Committee, including the Minister, referred to the important part that the UNHCR plays in the world on refugees and the convention.

However, the second crucial point—

Before the noble Baroness goes to the point where she disagrees with me, I thank her for her response to the first point I made. Of course, I do not speak for the Government, but no doubt we will consider the matter further when we get to Report.

My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Lord. However, his second central point was the big constitutional one: that Parliament is sovereign—that is pretty much it—and that the Supreme Court’s decision on 15 November was mere opinion rather than a determinative finding of fact in our system. I am afraid that I must disagree with him on that, in essence for the reasons outlined later in the debate by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. He in turn echoed some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, at Second Reading about the dangers that lie in the future should it be possible, in our country, for Governments with large majorities, of whatever stripe, to use legislation to change not only any old finding of fact but a finding of fact that was made recently by our highest court. That is not only silly, to echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, but very dangerous in a democracy that is built, fundamentally and first, on the rule of law. Parliamentary sovereignty follows, but Parliament, and the Executive in particular, must have a little respect for the independent referees of our democratic system.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for making the international point that follows from that: that the domestic rule of law is the bedrock of our system, but a quarter of the way into the 21st century, so is the international rule of law. All sorts of terrible consequences come when we do not respect that. She cited wars of aggression and war crimes that, in turn, drive a displacement of people that is leading to the refugee crisis that Governments around the world are trying to respond to. Therefore, she is a great proponent of the international rules-based order, as we know from her other work.

I am also very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for speaking on behalf of his Benches. He reminded us of our duty of care to refugees. Like me, he and the Church are uncomfortable with offshoring at all. None the less, they are engaging with the process—not a wrecking process but a constitutional compromise. That is the spirit with which I have tried to address the objections from the noble Lord, Lord Howard.

Therefore, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for asking what, ultimately, is the Government’s problem when what we are trying to do is to make sure that there will be further factual assessments to meet, for example, the tests of your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee, to make sure that Rwanda has become safe, per the terms of the treaty, before we deem it so. These are not wrecking amendments, but an attempt to do our duty.

On the contribution from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I hope that he will not be cross with me for suggesting that he has really done his father proud today. That famous speech that so many of us read as students about the “elective dictatorship” was in itself an answer to his noble friend Lord Howard, although it was made in 1976. Parliament is not just the House of Commons. Whether we like it or not, and whether we would all vote ourselves out of business, Parliament is both Houses in the current system. Parliament is not interchangeable with the Government of the day, however large their majority. We need to have checks and balances, and, at the moment in our system, for all our defects in your Lordships’ House, we are one of the Houses of Parliament, and Parliament is not interchangeable with government.

The noble Viscount went on to talk about how facts must be examined by the due process of law. I know that this might irritate the Minister, but he was right to flag future groups of amendments, because they are all so interchangeable in the scheme of what is a very short, but hugely controversial, Bill. If it is not to be the UNHCR, there must be some other process of examining the facts on the ground before Parliament just signs up with the Government of the day and says that dogs are cats. That is also what I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier.

I think that most, if not all, Members of the Committee would agree that the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, was incredibly powerful and poignant. I repeat the point from Second Reading that this is a very un-Conservative Bill. Whatever one thought about the late Lady Thatcher, she was committed to the domestic and international rule of law. Despite politics that we would find controversial on our Benches, she was committed to the rule of law. Those who served her as Attorneys-General said that that was their experience, too.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton represented the Constitution Committee with great precision and not a bit of passion. He spoke of the 70-year commitment that this country has had to non-refoulement, which many of us now believe is part of customary international law rather just one treaty or another. He echoed your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee in saying that a lot more needs to be done before the Rwanda treaty can be the safeguard that the Government rely on. That is a lot of administrative and cultural change on the ground that does not happen overnight; it does not happen overnight in our own Home Office, let alone in the Republic of Rwanda.

I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for representing the Joint Committee on Human Rights, with its own similar—and further—criticisms of the Bill in its current form. His response to my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick was also important in acknowledging the violence that we may be doing to that precious settlement in Northern Ireland every time we violate international law, and the ECHR in particular.

I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, for the way in which he engaged—which was similar to the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, did so—and for his rather honest reflection that we have unsatisfactory safe legal routes to this country at the moment and the Bill does not address any of that. He said he would like to prioritise refugees over economic migrants, and I listened to his comments carefully.

I think I may have dealt with the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in what I said about the ECHR.

I am so grateful for my noble friend Lord Coaker’s support for the broad thrust of this suite of amendments. In particular, it is so comforting to know that any incumbent Labour Government will be committed to the international and domestic rule of law.

Finally, I say to the Minister, if the Rwanda treaty is, as he said, binding and sufficient, was not the refugee convention of 1951 binding and sufficient as well? It is a slightly circular argument to rely on one and not so much on the other.

We are not traducing Rwanda. We are just honouring the recommendations of committees of this House, and of our Supreme Court. That is why we must have in the Bill a commitment to compliance with the law; we must substitute “is” safe with “may become” safe, because that is the truth; we must have some kind of independent fact-finding assessment before we say that Rwanda is safe; safety must be only a rebuttable presumption, as in keeping with prior statutes—including Conservative asylum statutes; and the courts must not be ousted from their proper role in our constitution, which is fact finding and rights protecting. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out “Parliament” and insert “the Secretary of State”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, along with Lord German’s amendments to Clause 2, page 2, line 33; Clause 2, page 2, line, 39; Clause 2, page 3, line 3; and Clause 9, page 6, line 38 provide that it is the Secretary of State’s judgement that Rwanda is a safe country and for this judgement to be linked to commencement of the Act. This suite of amendments provides criteria for how that judgement may be made, including compliance by the UK and Rwanda of their obligations under the Treaty in furtherance of the rule of law.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4, I will speak also to a suite of amendments which go throughout the Bill. Perhaps that indicates the way in which all these things are interconnected, because this suite of amendments will deal with a lot of the concerns that were raised in the Committee in the course of group 1 and will be relevant to any changes that we might pursue on Report.

In summary, these amendments remove the absolute nature of the declaration that Rwanda is safe; enable the courts to consider the safety issue; require the Secretary of State, not Parliament, to judge when Rwanda is safe; and ensure that all the measures this House has considered in its resolution of the treaty are operational and functioning according to our international obligations before the Secretary of State can lay a commencement order before Parliament.

As we have heard, the Bill deems Rwanda to be safe regardless of whether it is in fact safe, and this House has already determined that it is not yet safe. Unlike the use of deeming clauses in domestic legislation, this deeming subclause is being used alongside an international obligation. However, as the Bar Council, among others, points out in its evidence to the JCHR, deeming Rwanda to be safe in order to meet the UK’s international obligations under the ECHR and the refugee convention steps outside the domestic use of deeming clauses. This is particularly so when you take into account the conclusions reached by the UNHCR that the Bill, as well as the treaty,

“does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law”.

If the arguments which the Government put forward about it being in the context of international laws are true, why do they not let the courts have their say, finally, about this matter?

Some on the government side are comfortable about overriding our international obligations, maintaining that it is perfectly acceptable to be incompatible with international rules, laws, commitments and obligations of which we are part. I am not a lawyer, but, having read all the evidence given to committees of this House and the other House, and from all the people who have put evidence before us, it seems they represent a minority of legal opinion, and we have witnessed incredible displays of legal acrobatics, most of it on the head of a pin.

Fundamentally, based on Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, no rule of a state’s internal law can be used to justify a breach of an international obligation. Further, as our own Constitution Committee states, to legislate in this way could undermine our constitutional principle of the rule of law. Back in 2020 and again recently it said that

“respect for the rule of law requires respect for international law”.

Today we have that view expressed by the report of the JCHR.

We will hear much more on the rule of law and the words of Dicey. However, this suite of amendments, taken as a whole, will ensure adherence to the rule of law, reinstate the role of the courts, protect human rights, and meet our international obligations. Fundamentally, these amendments seek to safeguard and uphold the UK’s constitution and the rule of law. It is deeply problematic that the terms of the UK-Rwanda agreement have not yet been met, especially as the Government have deemed it as the basis for the declaration in the Bill that Rwanda is in fact safe. In fact, in their own policy statement the Government refer to “assurances and commitments”—those are not things that are happening at this moment.

Through these amendments we seek to ensure that the final arbitration on the safety of Rwanda lies ultimately with the judiciary and not with Parliament. The Secretary of State would come to a decision on the safety of Rwanda but the legality of this decision can be reviewed by the judiciary. This would enable the proper role of the independent judiciary—our domestic courts and tribunals—to review the legality of the Secretary of State’s actions and decisions. The amendments in this suite would mean that the Secretary of State should deem Rwanda safe only if it is safe for every person of every description: women, people of all ethnic minorities and religions, LGBTQI+ people, those in power, those whose political opinion differs from those in power, and every nationality. In coming to their conclusion, the laws of Rwanda and how they are applied should be scrutinised, together with evidence from international bodies and civil society organisations.

The Act could come into force only when the steps set out in Amendment 84 had been met—the Minister spoke of that amendment earlier; we have reached it already. In replying, can the Minister tell the Committee— I think this was a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as well—which of the matters listed in Amendment 84(1A)(c) are currently in place, which of them will be in place soon, and which will be operational on the date the Government think the Bill will be enacted? For those who have Amendment 84(1A)(c) in front of them, it is the 10 issues raised by the committee which reported to this House on the treaty.

As this House has determined in its resolution on the treaty, it is critically important for the safety of those concerned that any assessment of safety is completed before this Bill comes into force. The judgment on whether Rwanda is safe could be one of life and death. The Supreme Court has already made a factual assessment. Parliament should not be legislating to reverse the Supreme Court’s factual assessment while tying the hands of the judiciary and requiring them to ignore facts placed before them.

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He has said repeatedly that the Supreme Court has held as a fact that Rwanda is an unsafe country. If one looks at the judgment of the Supreme Court, in paragraph 105 the noble Lord will see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, said that Rwanda was unsafe at the time that the Divisional Court was considering the evidence. As my noble friend the Minister said on the last group, the short point is that the question which this Parliament is determining as to the safety of Rwanda is in light of the new arrangements.

As the noble Lord will know, the other clause in the Supreme Court judgment, which he did not refer to, said that it will take a considerable time for those matters to take place. That is why I have asked the Minister in this Chamber, having heard the views of the treaties committee of this House and the matters which it raised after taking evidence last month, whether the provisions in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c) are in place now. Are they operational? Which ones will be in place, and by when? If we follow the noble Lord’s remarks, that is the judgment that we are trying to make now.

It is not only a question of whether they are in place but whether Rwanda is compliant and remains compliant, and whether there are any other reasons to doubt the safety of Rwanda.

Indeed. That is why, in this suite of amendments, the Secretary of State has to take the advice of a number of organisations—not one in particular but a number of organisations. The Secretary of State must produce the evidence to show that the requirements are in place, operational and working according to the decisions that were originally in place as wanting to see this thing through.

Is it right that what the noble Lord perhaps had in mind when referring to the Supreme Court judgment was its words that the problems in Rwanda were not a lack of good faith on the part of Rwanda but

“its practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term, in the light of the present deficiencies of the Rwandan asylum system, the past and continuing practice of refoulement … and the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”?

The noble Lord, Lord German, might also have had in mind that the Supreme Court identified

“a culture within Rwanda of, at best, inadequate understanding of Rwanda’s obligations under the refugee convention”.

Would it be the case that the noble Lord, Lord German, might also have been rather worried that simply having to agree that “We won’t refoule” from a date which I assume would be about a month or two from today sits rather unkindly against that assessment by the Supreme Court? Am I also right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord German, would have been very heartened by the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who said that he accepted all that the Supreme Court had said?

My Lords, I am loath to say “yes” to a leading question from a leading lawyer, but he is absolutely right, of course. For those words added to what I said earlier and paragraph 104, which we have already had referred to, the

“necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

If you read the Supreme Court judgment, you will know what we have to test in order to prove Rwanda’s safety. That is what the committees of this House have been trying to do.

This suite of amendments turns it all around. It says that it is the judgment of the Government, which they would have to bring forward in an order for the House to accept, but before that they would have to address all the issues in Amendment 84 which are proposed for new Clause 84(1)(c). They would also have to consult and be certain that they had made the case. If, at the end, Parliament approved the order that the Government had put before it, the courts could intervene and test it on the basis of fact. That is our current procedure for dealing with issues of this sort. I am loath to say that this is back to the future, but it is keeping in track where we stand as a Parliament—how we make decisions, where they are tested and whether they can be tested in the courts.

We cannot allow a dangerous precedent to be set with this overreach of Parliament’s role. The courts need to remain as the check and balance on the exercising of the Secretary of State’s power. Parliament cannot be allowed to overturn the evidence-based findings of fact made by the highest court in the UK, given that this Bill is there for ever and does not look at what happens in the future. We need to stand firm against the Government’s attempt to subvert the separation of powers in this country. Today, this is about asylum seekers; tomorrow, this precedent will be applied to the next group who find themselves as the latest scapegoats of the Government.

I end with the words of the late Lord Judge in this Chamber. I sat here listening to him and I hear those words echoing in my head now. He said:

“the rule of law is a bulwark against authoritarian incursion, and even the smallest incursion threatens it”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1286.].

Those are wise words. This suite of amendments seeks to uphold the principle that he espoused so powerfully. I beg to move.

My Lords, I regret that I was not able to take part in discussion on the previous group because I was on the train as it began.

The point that has been made here is an important one, which I did not hear elaborated on during the debate on the first group. Without wishing to disparage Rwanda in any way, countries in that part of the world do have a habit from time to time of changing their regimes, and those regimes often have very different characteristics. If you are approaching this problem, which seems to me entirely reasonable in normal circumstances, that the country where the asylum seekers end up should be safe, it does not follow that once it has been ruled to be safe it then continues to be safe. The problem with Clause 1(2)(b) is that, if the wording remains as it is now, even if you go through the procedures that the noble Lord, Lord German, is discussing, once there has been a ruling that the country is safe then there is no means to return to the question if circumstances fundamentally and damagingly change.

I commend to my noble friend the concept of the rolling sunset, which he will find in Amendments 81 and 82.

I am very interested in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German. On one view, it is saying that the Secretary of State makes his or her decision only after properly considering all the relevant factors. It may be that what he has in mind is that, thereafter, there can be appropriate review of that by the courts. I assume that he has in mind judicial review. Therefore, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State that was judicially reviewable. It is worth thinking about whether, once that decision had been made and then upheld by the courts because there was a proper basis on which a Secretary of State could reach that decision, in general terms the question of whether the country was safe would not thereafter be open to consideration by the immigration office.

I would not be in favour of that as a matter of principle, but if one is looking for a compromise—this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, touched upon, and it may be dealt with in later amendments—I would be very interested to hear what the view of the Government is in relation to a situation where, in effect, the Secretary of State had to make a proper decision addressing the proper considerations and that decision was then open to judicial review. Could that be a compromise?

My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this group, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has just raised an extremely interesting point. He suggested that a decision by the Secretary of State, having considered the factors referred to by the noble Lord, Lord German, should be subject to judicial review. The principles of judicial review are clear: the court does not substitute its own view of matters; it assesses whether the Secretary of State came to a reasonable decision.

Departing somewhat from the Government’s view, one of the problems that I have with the Supreme Court decision is that it was not based on the principles of judicial review. The Divisional Court did approach it on that basis and the Supreme Court said that that was wrong. The Supreme Court, relying on precedents that had never received the authority of Parliament or statute, decided that it should not apply the principles of judicial review, but should decide these matters for itself. That is a very important distinction between what happened in this case, which gave rise to this legislation, and the procedure now being proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

My Lords, I rise with some hesitancy, in the middle of a rather technical debate, but I would like to make a couple of points on this group. The Committee has already heard from my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb who, in her inimitable way, made it very clear that the Green Party remains utterly opposed to the entire Bill and greatly regrets that we gave it a Second Reading—but we are where we are.

From listening to the debate on the first group, a word that came up again and again, which might be surprising to people listening from outside the Committee, was “silly”. Of course, what we are talking about is deadly serious, but the definitions of “silly” are interesting, if you look them up. One is “showing a lack of common sense or judgment”. Common sense and judgment are two things that this group of amendments seeks to introduce to the Bill, so I commend the noble Lord, Lord German, for introducing it so clearly and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his excellent assistance in presenting the argument.

It is a statement of the obvious that Parliament, and certainly your Lordships’ House after our vote on the Rwanda treaty, does not believe that what the Bill states is common sense. It is not based on the evidence and has been disproved. More than that, these amendments are making a person, the Secretary of State, responsible for making a judgment. If we are to have the rule of law, a person has to be identified and held responsible for making that judgment. We are introducing a sense of responsibility and evidence here, which would at least be a step forward.

My Lords, I speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord German. It has been a short debate, in comparison to that on the first group, presumably because some have now given their Second Reading speeches on this Bill and that is sufficient for them. We will just have to go through the grind. It has, nevertheless, been an interesting debate.

I will pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. Of course, members of the Supreme Court are not here to answer questions, but I understand that they considered whether the Divisional Court was correct in deciding whether Ministers had followed an incorrect process, under law. The Supreme Court’s view was that the question to answer was whether issues of fact on refoulement, which was the origin of the appeal, were to be determined. That is why the Supreme Court made the decision that it did, and that is the relevant part of judicial review. I do not think that the relevant part of judicial review for the Bill is the Supreme Court’s judgment, but that judicial reviews of the process that decision-makers had followed in deciding to relocate anybody to Rwanda can no longer be carried out. That will now be prohibited which, if I may say so, is a major constitutional step, which the Bingham Centre and many others have warned against. I suspect we will hear that in other groups of amendments and, for me, that is the important part of judicial review.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray—who is not in his place to listen to the Minister’s closing speech, even though he spoke on this group—referenced the Supreme Court in an intervention on my noble friend, in regard to when the Supreme Court made its decision and whether that decision could be taken as only a snapshot view of its position on Rwanda then. That seems to be what Ministers have said: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the Advocate-General, said that at Second Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, referred to it in the debate on the first group. It seems to be a fundamental part of the Ministers’ case that we can look at the Supreme Court judgment only in the context of the evidence and information that it took up to the point of its judgment.

However, paragraph 104 of the Supreme Court judgment said categorically and clearly that:

“The necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

Paragraph 102 of the Supreme Court’s judgment referred to

“the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

So changes will be necessary in scale, as well as to attitudes, effective training and the current approach. However, we know from the UNHCR—to which the Supreme Court gave considerable weight—and its report from this January that those factors are still not in place. That is a major reason why this House declined to state that Rwanda is currently a safe country.

When the Minister winds up on this group, if he is to persuade us that the Supreme Court’s view should now be addressed because of the time lapse, what has happened between then and now has to be evidenced. That is what my noble friend is asking of the Minister, so I hope that he gives a clear, detailed response to Amendment 84. That lays out the 10 things that a committee of this House identified as needing to be done before we can consider whether Rwanda is a safe country.

At this point, I raise my challenge about “we”. The “we” here is Parliament, the legislature not the Executive, which will make a determination about a relocation or a safe country. We know it has long been the practice for there to be lists of countries to which someone could be relocated, either because we have a relocation or resettlement agreement with them or because the Minister has stated in secondary legislation, which subsequently has not been vetoed but has been approved by Parliament, that an individual may be sent back to those countries. Sometimes these schemes are voluntary, or they could be forced removals, but this is a long-standing practice. It is difficult and controversial, but there is consensus to that approach.

This is a world away from a system in which the Executive state that they consider a country safe, and that decision is approved by Parliament and can then be judicially reviewed. We are a world away from that when it comes to one country uniquely—Rwanda. It is the reversal of Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind—what do you do, sir?” It seems that, when Ministers change their minds, they want to change the facts.

So what are we going to do now? I do not think we should approve it, because we would now—on the statute book and unique among our legislation—have legislated in perpetuity, in primary legislation, defining a country’s asylum procedures in accordance with our standards. If that country changed them in any way, we would have to change statute in this country to follow what it does.

I know I am going slightly outside the ordering of clauses, but Amendments 81 and 82 to Clause 9 address the very difficulty that the noble Lord has identified. Circumstances can, and almost certainly will, change. We need to put rolling sunsets in place so that the Bill is never in force for more than, let us say, two years, and that each time it is extended there is a proper assessment of the safety of Rwanda, its compliance with treaties and, incidentally, whether the policy itself is succeeding.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I listened carefully to what he said, including at Second Reading, and when he comes to make the case I will also listen carefully for that. If he will forgive me for saying so, we will be into the categories of plan C, D, E and F to try to make the Bill a bit better. I refer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on the first group. These are all silk purse amendments, are they not? We are desperately trying to make something better that, in our hearts, we know cannot be better. We are trying to just take the rough edges off it slightly.

Our approach in this group is to revert the Bill to long-standing common practice for asylum laws that Ministers on those Benches have regularly said is the proper procedure, because it includes executive decision-making, parliamentary approval and then judicial review. That is what we are saying should be the case, because that is what, for years, Ministers have said is the case. We are seeking to restore that. Amendment 84 requires Ministers to report on these areas.

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary in December asking a whole series of questions regarding the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, gave me the courtesy of a substantive reply, and I am grateful for it. I asked specifically about when some of the mechanisms of the treaty would be in operation—for example, on the capacity for decision-making processes in Rwanda, for us to determine whether it would have the capacity and therefore be able to be safe. The noble Lord replied: “Some of the newer mechanisms will be finalised before operationalisation”. I want to know when. The Government are clearly working on it. They must have a working assumption of when they will be in place—so tell us. If the Government are saying that we are the determining body, tell us when those procedures will be in place. They cannot have it both ways and say that we are the determining body but they have the information—that does not cut it any more. If we are the determining body, we must have the information.

This is why I asked about when the judges will be in place. Under the treaty, judges who are not Rwandan nationals will have to be trained on Rwandan law, not UK law. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, who is not in his place, was completely wrong in the debate on the first group about this being similar to the Australian processes. The people who will be relocated will be processed under Rwandan law, not British law, so the judges will have to be trained on it. I asked when that will be complete, because we are obviously not going to relocate an individual where there will be a panel of judges to process them who are not sufficiently trained in Rwandan law. I am sure everybody will agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, replied: “The proper procedures, facilities and support for relocated individuals, with regard to the judges’ training, will be in place before they are relocated to Rwanda”. The Prime Minister, who bet Piers Morgan that the flights will leave, obviously knows when the judges will be trained—so what is the working assumption of when they will be trained?

I am desperately trying not to make this a silk purse exercise. We are fully in an Alice in Wonderland situation here. In the debate on the earlier group, the Minister said that because things have changed, we should now look at the new country note. The new country policy and information note version 2—and version 2.1 in January, which he was referring to—supersedes the summer 2022 country note. The Minister is saying that the old note should not be taken into consideration because there is a new note—and, if we want to refer to the UNHCR’s up-to-date position we should, as we heard him say, look at annexe 2 of that report. Not only have I read the country policy notes front to end, I also clicked on the annexe 2 links—anybody can do it now on their smartphone. A box comes up with a note that the publication was withdrawn on 11 December 2023. The publication the Minister referred to, which was withdrawn, was from May 2022, which the Supreme Court used as its evidence for the UNHCR.

If we are to be the decision-making body, how on earth are we going to be making decisions when the Government do not tell us even the basic information of when they—not us—think Rwanda will be a safe country?

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, there is a suite of amendments in this group that, in many ways, cover the same ground as the first group. It is clear from this short debate, as well as the first, that this debate—approaching the Bill by ensuring that the terms of the treaty are being properly adhered to; essentially, we are debating the mechanism for how best to do this—will dominate the whole Committee stage. I hope colleagues can work together to return the best possible solution on this issue.

In the same way that the Opposition do not wish to delay the Bill’s passage, we do not want to create barriers for the scheme to start. Our focus should be on how we monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what should happen if Rwanda is judged not to be a safe country for those being removed to it.

The noble Lord, Lord German, introducing Amendments 4 and 17, said there should be no commencement of the Act until Rwanda is deemed a safe country. A number of noble Lords spoke at length on proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84, which are the 10 issues raised by the committee of this House about how that might be achieved. The noble Lord looked at how that might be done, how many of those elements are in place, which are operational and—perhaps more fundamentally—whether Rwanda has the practical ability to fulfil the undertakings in a more long-term way. That is really the point that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made in his brief contribution to this group.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer speculated that the Secretary of State could, after making a decision, be open to judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that the Supreme Court did not use the principles of judicial review when it made its decision, but decided the case on first principles. Both my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord are well above my grade in legal matters, but it seems to me that this is another example of possible compromise as we move forward—as there were possible areas of compromise discussed in the debate on the first group.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, gave his customarily extremely articulate speech on the various provisions in proposed new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 84. He spoke of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and went through various ways in which that might be achieved—although he made his reluctance to do so very clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spoke about his Amendments 81 and 82, on the rolling sunsets, as he described them, which we will get to on a subsequent group.

So, really, this whole group is trying to make sure that the Government are properly held to account. As I said in my introduction, our focus will be on how to monitor and judge the safety of Rwanda, who monitors it, and what Parliament’s role is in that, rather than putting up a barrier against the Bill itself.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord German, for opening. I acknowledge the spirit across the Committee of approaching this matter by looking to see what can be amended and not setting out to wreck the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said on the first group.

I accept that and I did hear the noble Baroness make that point from the Benches opposite.

Since summer 2022, when judicial review proceedings in relation to the migration and economic development partnership began, the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda have worked to refine and improve that partnership. This has strengthened not only the operational readiness of Rwanda to receive and support migrants relocated under the partnership but the legal footing of the agreement and the commitments both sides undertake to ensure that national and international obligations and standards are met, having scrutinised closely and carefully all the circumstances of the country and information from appropriate sources.

Rwanda has a long history of supporting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees in the region. It has also been recognised internationally for its general safety and stability, strong government, low corruption and gender equality. I quote from what the Kigali-based comprehensive refugee response officer, Nayana Bose, of the UNHCR said in December 2021—mark the date:

“Rwanda has done an excellent job integrating refugees in the national education system, including urban refugees in the national community-based health insurance plan, providing them with national ID cards and offering them livelihood opportunities”.

As the Committee is aware, the Bill is underpinned by the treaty, Article 10 of which in particular sets out the assurances for the treatment of relocated individuals in Rwanda, including abiding by the refugee convention in relation to those seeking asylum. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 3 of the treaty, the parties agree that the obligations therein

“shall be met in respect of all Relocated Individuals, regardless of their nationality, and without discrimination”.

Under this commitment, Rwanda will treat all groups of people fairly. We have assurances from the Government of Rwanda that the implementation of measures within the treaty will be expedited. The treaty will follow the usual process with regard to scrutiny and ratification. I note that amendments tabled by noble Lords on this topic will be debated in the group to follow.

Amendment 17 would also oblige the Secretary of State to consider Rwanda safe only if it was deemed so for every descriptor of person as set out in Section 7(3) of the Illegal Migration Act. In relocating individuals to Rwanda, decision-makers will make a case-by-case decision about whether there is compelling evidence that the particular circumstances of each case would mean an individual would be at risk of serious and irreversible harm were they to be relocated to Rwanda. This means that each person’s circumstances are considered before relocation. We therefore consider the amendment unnecessary.

Amendments 24 and 27 relate to the roles of courts and tribunals. It is important that we recognise that these are considered decision-makers in relation to relocating individuals to Rwanda, and they may have a say in it.

Amendment 27 in particular would place an obligation on courts and tribunals to consider any claim that Rwanda may breach its international obligations by removing an individual to a country that was unsafe for them; that an individual may not receive fair and proper consideration of their asylum claim; and that Rwanda will not act in accordance with the terms of the treaty. This obligation is unnecessary. Rwanda is as committed to this partnership as we are. We have worked closely together to build this partnership and have trust that the commitments in the treaty will be upheld. That is why we have introduced the Bill, which reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the treaty, allowing Parliament to confirm the status of the Republic of Rwanda as a safe third country.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—I speak to his later contribution, rather than when he was assisting the noble Lord, Lord German, with legal analysis—posed the question of whether judicial review might be applicable. My noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne took up that point as well. On that aspect, I refer noble Lords to the terms of Article 22 of the treaty, which provides:

“In the event of a dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity, termination, interpretation or implementation, the Parties shall refer the dispute to the Joint Committee which shall meet within 14 … Working Days to discuss and seek resolution to the dispute by consultation”.

Therefore, the process by which matters will be addressed, if there is some shock to the operation of the system once it is operational, is set out in the terms of the treaty and operates on the level between the two countries.

I thank the noble and learned Lord for answering the question, but I am not sure that answers the point. Suppose the position were that the UK said, “You haven’t implemented it properly”; the effect of this Act would be nevertheless that a Minister and every single deciding body would have to decide that Rwanda was a safe country. I am not quite sure how Article 22 responds to the suggestion that I think the noble Lord, Lord German, makes in his amendment that judicial review should be available—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, said, it would be the decision of the Secretary of State as to whether it was a safe country. Could the noble and learned Lord address that suggestion?