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Lords Will Focus On Safety Guarantees With Rwanda Amendments


4 min read

Lords amendments to the government's flagship Rwanda legislation will focus on a treaty to ensure Rwanda is safe is enacted, and will also seek safety assurances from the UN.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is among those who has put his name to a number of proposed amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which came back to the House of Lords on Monday.

He has signed on to changes also proposed by Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti, and Baroness Hale, the former president of the Supreme Court who found Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful. 

Among their suggested changes are revisions that would mean – if they are accepted – "positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda" should be "laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda". 

Other amendments, backed by the same trio, would ensure that “proper regard” is given to any interim injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights, and give domestic courts more powers to prevent individuals from being sent to Rwanda. 

On Monday, the Archbishop told peers that “we can, as a nation, do better than this bill”. 

Speaking during the legislation’s second reading, he said that ministers are “continuing to seek good objectives in the wrong way, leading the nation down a damaging path".

A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace told PoliticsHome that the amendments the Archbishop has supported "ensure that our immigration policy complies with the rule of law. The amendments also create a path for legally accepted asylum cases to return from Rwanda to the UK.

"This is consistent with his conviction that our nation cannot outsource our responsibility to the most vulnerable and abandon those that need our help the most."

The proposed changes are likely to be discussed when the legislation returns to the Lords at committee stage, expected next month. 

Unlike the Commons, all suggested amendments can be discussed at committee stage in the Lords, and no time limit on the length of the discussions can be imposed. 

Labour’s shadow home office spokesperson in the Lords, Lord Coaker, has also suggested changes, including making sure that the monitoring committee promised in the Rwanda treaty is in place before the act comes into effect.

There are also four amendments backed by crossbencher Lord Hope of Craighead, relating to ensuring that the Treaty underpinning the legislation has been fully implemented, and Parliament then being able to declare Rwanda safe. 

Earlier this week, PoliticsHome reported that a Lords committee report which said that the treaty with Rwanda should not be ratified until further guarantees about the country’s safety are in place, could be the “path” for any “revision” of the bill by peers.

Baroness Chakrabarti said that “a very noble path to reasonable revision was lit by the cross-party International Agreements Committee earlier this month”.

The committee had said ministers should provide Parliament with more information to prove that the “legal and practical” steps needed to ensure Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers have been taken, before the treaty is agreed to by Parliament.

Among the changes suggested by Lord Hope are removing the statement that Rwanda “is a safe country” from Clause 1 of the legislation, and replacing it with text that says it “will be a safe country” only when the treaty has been implemented and is working. 

The first list of amendments for the committee stage were published on Tuesday evening, one day after the bill passed its second reading in the Lords. 

More are likely to be published in the days before it is back for committee stage. 

Any of these changes accepted by the House of Lords will be sent back to the Commons, who can approve them or strip them out, before going back once again to the Lords, as part of the process known as 'ping-pong'. 

After the plans cleared the latest Commons hurdle earlier this month, Sunak warned peers against opposing the legislation, describing it as the “will of the people. 

Speaking the morning after he managed to avoid a rebellion from his own backbenches, the Prime Minister said that getting the plans on to the statute book is “an urgent national priority”.

The legislation, which deems Rwanda a safe country, has been passed unamended in our elected chamber,” he added.

“There is now only one question, will the Opposition in the appointed House of Lords try and frustrate the will of the people as expressed by the elected House, or will they get on board and do the right thing?”

At the time, one peer told PoliticsHome: "It’s not clear to me that the so-called 'will of the people' is to send all asylum seekers (who arrive by irregular means) to Rwanda and keep them there, even if their asylum claim is valid.”

They added: "Whatever the 'will of the people' is, it has to be achieved within the rule of law, both domestically and internationally. Our role in the Lords is to ensure the rule of law is upheld."

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