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Rwanda Bill Faces Tough Lords Test Even If It Survives Commons Row


4 min read

Attention is on the House of Commons this week, as Tory rebels threaten to revolt over Rishi Sunak’s legislation designed to revive the plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, but even if it survives a row amongst MPs, it must still get past the Lords.

Many on the right of the party feel the legislation is not hardline enough, whereas self-styled moderate Tories have threatened to remove their support if legal protections are watered down. 

Although the Commons stages of the legislation could be completed in the coming days, the plans will still have to clear the Lords, where the Illegal Migration Act was subject to numerous amendments last year.

What could happen when the Rwanda legislation gets to the House of Lords?

What will happen when the legislation gets to the Lords? 

The remaining stages of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill have been condensed in the House of Commons, with all remaining steps scheduled to take place across two days, with a third reading vote possibly as soon as Wednesday. 

Lords, like MPs, will get the opportunity to vote on the legislation at a second reading, before getting the chance to scrutinise the bill in more detail and offer up amendments at the committee and report stages. 

Last November, PoliticsHome reported that the Lords would “probably” be the point at which the government runs into problems trying to get the plans over the line. 

Dr Alice Lilly, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, said that there has to be a “certain amount of political willingness” for legislation to get through quickly, and the fact that the plans are “politically so contentious” could slow things down. 

She pointed to emergency legislation that had to be passed during the Covid pandemic, where it made its way through both Houses quickly due to the urgency of the situation. 

“Obviously for this piece of legislation that might be a bit more complicated because it’s politically so contentious,” she said. 

The Commons could come back to the bill if it is amended by the Lords and ends up in a process known as 'ping-pong'. This is when legislation bounces between the Commons and the Lords being amended, and then often those changes are stripped out again by the other House.

This happened with the Illegal Migration Act, when the Lords made changes that MPs subsequently removed, before going through that process again. 

When will the Rwanda Bill come to the Lords?

For now, the precise timing on when the Rwanda Bill will come to the Lords is unclear. 

The Leader of the House of Lords, Lord True, is the peer responsible for the business of the house. A member of the Cabinet, and in charge of the teams of ministers and whips in the Lords, he will be the person to confirm when the Rwanda Bill will be up for discussion in the second chamber. 

So far there is no suggestion that the legislation could be condensed in the Lords in the same way it has been in the Commons. The different stages of legislation usually take place on different days, sometimes with numerous weeks between them. 

What happened last time the Lords discussed the Rwanda proposals? 

Last year, as the Illegal Migration Act, in which the original Rwanda proposals appeared, made its way through Parliament, it faced stiff resistance in the House of Lords. 

Peers put forward a number of amendments to the legislation, which would have forced the government to provide protections for unaccompanied children, and another which would have made them abide by international treaties, although these were eventually dismissed. The Bill ended up in the ping-pong process.

In December, ahead of the emergency legislation being published, Labour peer Alf Dubs told PoliticsHome that any attempt to breach international legislation would be seen as “pretty bad” by members of the Lords. 

Dubs said that “if [the government] try to bypass the European Convention on Human Rights or the Human Rights Act [...] I think the Lords will fight very hard”.

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