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Lords Eye Up Significant Revisions To Rwanda Bill


5 min read

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, a Labour baroness has said.

The controversial Safety of Rwanda bill, which underpins Rishi Sunak’s plans to send asylum seekers to the African country, is due before the House of Lords on Monday afternoon for its second reading, with dozens of peers having entered their names to speak in the debate. 

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti pointed to the report from the International Agreements Committee earlier this month, that 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.

While the treaty “might in time provide the basis” to be able to declare Rwanda safe, “as things stand the arrangements it provides for are incomplete,” their report said. 

The treaty is separate to the legislation that is back before peers this afternoon, but former shadow attorney general Chakrabarti believes the sentiment of that report could be a basis on which revisions to the legislation are suggested by peers. 

Chakrabarti told PoliticsHome: “Today is an important first debate on the greatest executive threat to the UK rule of law that I can remember. 

“However, if this repugnant bill gets a second reading, a very noble path to reasonable revision was lit by the cross-party International Agreements Committee earlier this month.”

She said that the government should agree to safeguards being tested in order to properly address the concerns with the plans raised by the Supreme Court last year. 

There is belief among the Lords that, although amendments could be accepted by the upper house, the desire is to alter the bill, rather than block it entirely. 

Tory peer and former education secretary Nicky Morgan told PoliticsHome that “clearly there will be amendments put down and lots of debate” over the plans in the Lords, and she believes “ultimately the Bill will go through and I think that it will get through second reading and back to the Commons. 

“Ultimately the Lords will not want to oppose what the elected House of Commons has approved and peers are very very aware of that, she added. 

It is understood that issues such as the legislation’s compliance with international law and the rule of law, and concerns over the UK’s international reputation and the rights of vulnerable people could be areas where amendments are considered when the bill gets to its later committee and report stages later in the spring. 

Similar issues with the Illegal Migration Act which contained the first iteration of the Rwanda plans saw that legislation end up in ping-pong, where bills are bounced between the Commons and the Lords with amendments being accepted by one house and then rejected by another. 

With the belief of an inevitability that the bill will eventually pass, some Lords sources have also expressed an attitude of the government being left to get on with their plans and being left to deal with the consequences should they not work, after warnings from peers and others of the potential pitfalls. 

Ahead of today’s debate, Liberal Democrat peers have tabled a fatal motion, which would stop the bill from progressing any further in the Lords. 

Although unlikely to be approved, the motion, which will be moved by the party’s immigration spokesman Lord German, who has said that the Lib Dems “have no faith in the Conservatives’ failing Rwanda scheme.” 

He told PoliticsHome: “Our country cannot deserve to waste any more time or money on this white elephant of a policy. 

“That’s why we have opposed the bill every step of the way, voting against it at every stage in the Commons. It should be no surprise that our strategy is the same in the Lords.”

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 saw off 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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