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Lords Diary – Lord Kirkhope

Image by: Avpics / Alamy Stock Photo

4 min read

From Conservative infighting over Rwanda to chairing webinars on AI regulation and UK-EU co-operation

Christmas and New Year now seem like a distant memory. The House returned from recess a few weeks ago, and we are now back in full swing. Currently, the government’s Rwanda policy is the focal point of discussion. Despite amendments and threats of rebellion from some members of my party in the other place, the bill successfully passed through the Commons and has now entered our House.

It appears that Rwanda has become a litmus test for the Prime Minister’s leadership, revealing a worrying level of discord within the Conservative ranks. Such infighting is counterproductive.

As a lawyer and former immigration minister, I view the government’s approach to this bill as problematic. It walked into a trap of its own making. While robust immigration policies are vital, and the desire to “stop the boats” is shared by many, the proposed Rwanda strategy presents significant challenges. It jeopardises our international reputation, potentially puts our courts in a precarious position, and exacerbates divisions within the Conservative Party. Even if enacted, this policy is unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to the issue.

Addressing illegal migration requires a multifaceted strategy that restores public confidence in our immigration system, prevents sea crossings, and disrupts human trafficking networks. In the upcoming debate on the Rwanda Bill, I will encourage the government to further utilise the full array of available tools, which have already yielded some results, rather than rigidly adhering to a single policy.

We should reallocate further resources for quicker and stricter processing of asylum applications. Surprisingly, the United Kingdom has one of the highest asylum acceptance rates in Europe. I am sure this needs careful examination. The government should also prioritise the creation of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers through UK embassies and consulates. Building on recent successes with Albania, the government should pursue additional return agreements with other third countries.

The government has walked into a trap of its own making

I recently participated in the “Learn with the Lords” programme. This is a really positive initiative that connects peers to young people. I strongly encourage my colleagues to get involved in this programme if they haven’t already.

Learn with the Lords makes Parliament more accessible and understandable to school children, deepening their understanding of our democracy and the crucial role played by the Second Chamber. I had the opportunity to speak to both a sixth form college and a primary school. I was particularly impressed by the depth and variety of their questions. Discussions spanned a range of topics, from the intricacies of the legislative process and the ceremonial aspects of the State Opening of Parliament to my favourite cheese – which is, of course, Yorkshire Blue!

As I write, I am set to chair a webinar with Axel Voss MEP, focusing on AI regulation and the European Union’s stance. The field of AI is rapidly evolving, introducing a spectrum of new challenges and opportunities. For the UK to effectively leverage its potential, it is essential that we collaborate closely with international partners. I know Axel from my time as a Member of the European Parliament. We served together on the justice and home affairs committee and collaborated on data protection issues, including GDPR and Passenger Name Records – all crucial areas for UK-EU co-operation, especially in policing and judicial matters.

Following this theme, I will be calling for the UK to maintain standards close to GDPR during the committee stage of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. This is critical to safeguard the EU’s adequacy decisions, which are fundamental for the uninterrupted flow of data. I have previously highlighted, at the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly last year and in my discussions with the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, the need for active engagement with the EU as a strategic partner to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of data protection and digital innovation in a rapidly evolving global landscape. We really must stick with international standards if we are to benefit from these exciting new developments.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate is a Conservative peer

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Kirkhope - The House of Lords deserves some respect