12 December 2023
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Home Secretary James Cleverly opens the Second Reading debate of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I speak to the Bill, let me say that the House may well be aware that, tragically, there has been a death on the Bibby Stockholm barge. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House, like mine, are with those affected. The House will understand that at this stage I am uncomfortable going into any more details, but we will of course investigate fully.

This Government are stopping the boats. Arrivals are down by a third this year, as illegal entries are on the rise elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, small boat arrivals are up by 80% in the Mediterranean, but they are down by a third across the channel. The largest ever small boats deal with France, tackling the supply of boat engines and parts, the arrest and conviction of people smugglers, and a 70% increase in raids on illegal working are having an impact—a positive one. We have signed returns and co-operation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Georgia and Ethiopia. Fifty hotels are being returned to their local communities, and the initial asylum backlog, which stood at 92,000, is now under 20,000. We have sent back 22,000 illegal migrants, and the UK’s arrangement with Albania proves that deterrents work.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)


James Cleverly 

I will not give way yet, as I have just started.

Last year, a third of all those arriving in small boats to the coast of this country were Albanian. This year, we have returned 5,000 Albanians, and arrivals from Albania are down by 90%. But in recent years, some of the Government’s efforts to tackle illegal migration and deport foreign national offenders have been frustrated by a seemingly endless cycle of legal challenges and rulings from domestic and foreign courts.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)


James Cleverly 

I will give way in a moment. Of course, this Government respect court judgments, even when we disagree with them, but Parliament and the British people want an end to illegal immigration and they support the Rwanda plan.

Debbie Abrahams 

The Home Secretary points to deterrence. He has often used the Australian model of offshoring detention centres as a gold standard. What are his comments, then, on the fact that Australia has recently shut down its offshore centre because of the high financial and human costs?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Lady raises the case of Australia. It had 55,000 illegal migrations by boats and that has trended pretty much down to zero—deterrence works.

Mr Baron 

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the British are world champions at queueing. We do not like queue jumpers, which is why illegal immigration grates with us. Will he confirm that the Government will take all steps to ensure that we remain within international law, not just now but going forward? In that case, I will certainly be supporting the Bill tonight. Does he also agree that some colleagues in this place need to be careful what they wish for?

James Cleverly 

I am confident, and indeed the conversations I have had with the Government’s legal advisers reinforce my belief, that the actions we are taking, while novel and very much pushing at the edge of the envelope, are within the framework of international law. That is important because the UK is a country that demonstrates to the whole world the importance of international law. We champion that on the world stage and it is important that we demonstrate it.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I am going to make further progress. Judges of course play an important role, but they are not policymakers and they should not be policymakers. When the courts find a particular formulation of policy unlawful, it is the job of politicians to listen to their views, respect their views and find a solution.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I will make further progress. Thanks to the efforts on the part of the UK Government and the Government of Rwanda, that is exactly what we have done in response to the verdict from the Supreme Court. The new treaty that I signed last week with Rwanda and the Bill that accompanies it are game changing. The principle of relocating people to a safe country, to have their asylum claim processed there, is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that point.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)

My right hon. Friend was an excellent Foreign Secretary, so he will know the extraordinary tensions that exist between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses Rwanda of sponsoring the M23 terrorist organisation, which is violating Congolese women and killing Congolese soldiers. This week, the Congolese President named the Rwandan President as a Hitler-like figure. What is my right hon. Friend’s response to the concerns of our Congolese friends in that regard?

James Cleverly 

In my former role, I had extensive conversations with the Governments of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. We do not agree with that assessment of the Government of Rwanda. More importantly, other international organisations also rely heavily on Rwanda, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union. They would not do that if they believed that Rwanda was an unsafe country.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I intend to make further progress—this is Second Reading and there will be plenty of opportunities for colleagues to speak—but I give way to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

Just yesterday, I received correspondence stating:

“EU Council Directive 2005/85/EC is caught by Article 2(1) of the Protocol, therefore can be relied upon in NI (but not GB).”

It added that article 7 of the directive

“confers the right to remain in the territory”

while a claim is being processed, which

“creates additional ‘rights’ in NI”

that do not apply in GB and

“expressly frustrates the core intent of the Rwanda Bill from applying in NI”.

Has the Home Secretary had the opportunity to look at that?

James Cleverly 

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about differential treatment in different parts of the United Kingdom is one that we are conscious of. As the Bill progresses, he and others will have the opportunity to raise concerns about specific details. We will, of course, listen to his concerns and those of others. When passed, the Bill will address the practical implications. At the moment, the challenge of the number of refugees is not as significant in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the UK, but, as the hon. Gentleman has heard me say before, we are always conscious to make sure that all parts of the UK are, and feel that they are, in the thinking of the Government as we move forward.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I will make further progress. As I say, the principle of relocating people to a safe country to have their asylum claims processed is entirely consistent with the terms of the refugee convention. The High Court and the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that, and the Supreme Court did not dispute those findings in own findings three weeks ago.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is clear in international law and in relation to the question of the rule of law that in this country, with our unwritten constitution, a clear and unambiguous use of words, clearly establishing the intention of Parliament in the enactment of a law, takes precedence over international law, in accordance with the judgments of Lord Hoffmann, as well as judgments and statements by Lord Judge, Lord Denning and other very distinguished jurists, including in paragraph 144 of the judgment made last month?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that when the wording of a Bill is clear and unambiguous—where there is a deeming clause—that is the express will of Parliament, that Parliament is sovereign, and that that thinking must be adhered to through the legal process.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I am going to make some progress.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, meaning that we cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda. That is because of concerns that it expressed that relocated individuals might be refouled. I am sure the House knows that that means that those individuals might be re-deported to a third country. The Government disagreed with that verdict, but, as I have said, we respect the verdict of their lordships. It is important to understand that the Supreme Court’s judgment was based on the facts as they existed 18 months ago and that the Court said the problem could be remedied. As I told the House last week, we have worked on and found that very remedy. Our asylum partnership with Rwanda sets out, in a legally binding international treaty, the obligations of both the UK and Rwanda within international law.

Sir Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As he says, international law and domestic law are both important, but they are different. The Bill seeks to give this House the power to deem Rwanda a safe country. Can he confirm for me that what it does not seek to do is suggest that this country, or this House, has the power to deem itself in compliance with international law? My worry stems from clause1(5) of the Bill, which, of course, reflects the Government’s intention to deem Rwanda a safe country, but then goes on to describe the safe country as one

“to which persons may be removed…in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”.

Will he confirm that it is not the Government’s intention to suggest that it falls to any country to deem itself in compliance with international law—he does not need me to explain what the consequences of that might be elsewhere in the world—and that he will look again at the language and whether it needs to be changed to clarify that point?

James Cleverly 

I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that that is absolutely not the intention of the Bill. The deeming clause is specifically about the safety of Rwanda, because of our response to their lordships’ position at the Supreme Court hearing. We are not seeking to redefine through domestic legislation international law.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

If the right hon. Gentleman is right and the treaty with Rwanda meets the concerns of the Supreme Court, why is this Bill necessary? If Rwanda is now a safe country as a result of the treaty, why is this highly controversial Bill, which is clearly causing great problems in his own parliamentary party, necessary?

James Cleverly 

We are putting forward legislation that will be clear and unambiguous, so as to support the treaty. The treaty addresses the concerns raised by their lordships.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

With the indulgence of the House, I intend to make some progress. I want to make sure that others have a full chance to speak in this debate.

The Bill sets out to Parliament and to the courts why Rwanda is safe for those relocated there. The treaty that I signed last week puts beyond legal doubt the safety of Rwanda. It provides the basis to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have second-guessed the will of Parliament and frustrated this policy, this House, and the desire of the British people.

Rwanda will introduce an even stronger end-to-end asylum system, stronger still than the one that underpins its relationship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It will have a specialist asylum appeals tribunal—

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Since we last spoke in this House, it has been confirmed that the Government have given the Rwandan Government £240 million, with a further £50 million to come in April—all independently of anybody be being sent to Rwanda. Will he now confirm that the Government’s deal also means a further £50 million in 2025 and a further £50 million on top of that in 2026?

James Cleverly 

The right hon. Lady is asking me to confirm figures that we have put in the public domain. Unsurprisingly, I am totally comfortable confirming what I have already said. Rwanda will introduce an even stronger—

Yvette Cooper 


James Cleverly 

The right hon. Lady has the chance to make a speech in just a few moments.

The system of specialist asylum tribunals to consider individual appeals against any refused claim within Rwanda will have one Rwandan and one other Commonwealth co-president and will be made up of judges from a mix of nationalities, selected by the co-president. To the point the right hon. Lady is making about the money spent by the British Government, as is the case with many countries around the world, the Government spend money capacity building with our international partners, and we have been working extensively with Rwanda to build capacity too.

The treaty makes clear that anyone relocated to Rwanda cannot be removed from Rwanda to another country except back to the United Kingdom. It is binding in international law and enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee, which will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring. The committee will have unfettered access to monitor the entire relocation process, from initial screening to relocation and settlement in Rwanda. Relocated individuals and legal representatives will be able to launch confidential complaints directly with that committee. It is that treaty and the accompanying evidence pack that enable the Government to conclude with confidence that Rwanda is safe. We will need to be certain that domestic and foreign courts will also respect the treaty, and that is why we have introduced this Bill.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)

On that point on foreign courts, clause 5(2) says:

“It is for a Minister of the Crown…to decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure.”

Is the advice from the Attorney General that it will be compatible with international law for a Minister to refuse to comply with such an indication?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend, who is an expert proceduralist in this House, will know that advice from the AG to Government is privileged, and I am not going to share it at the Dispatch Box, but he will also know that the Government’s position is clear and unambiguous that this is in accordance with international law. He can rest assured of that.

Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as a matter of law, an interim measure under rule 35 is directed not to the courts of the UK, but to the Governments of the member states? Therefore, what the Bill says simply restates what is the position anyway: it is the member state that it applies to, not the courts.

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Dame Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

James Cleverly 

I will give way one more time, and then I will make more progress.

Dame Meg Hillier 

The Home Secretary says he will not reveal to the House the Attorney General’s advice, and that is fine, but on the issue of the money, his permanent secretary was in front of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday and told us that, as well as the payment of £50 million due next year, there are payments planned for years four and five. Is he willing to share with the House how much will be paid to Rwanda in years four and five of the programme?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Lady will know that we have committed to a reporting schedule that is completely consistent with other Government Departments and with the reporting schedule of the Home Office in other areas. We intend to commit to doing that.

This Bill builds on the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and complements all other measures that this Government are employing to end illegal migration. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill makes it unambiguously clear that Rwanda is safe and it will prevent the courts from second-guessing the will of this sovereign Parliament.

Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly 

I have to make progress.

The Bill gives effect to the judgment of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country, notwithstanding UK law or any interpretation of international law. For the purposes of the Bill, a safe country is one to which people

“may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all of the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law”—

I hope that will reassure my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright)—

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

It means that someone removed to that country will not be removed or sent to another country in contravention of any international law, and that anyone who seeks asylum or who has had an asylum determination will have their claim determined and be treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I am going to make progress. I have been generous, but I want others to have the chance to speak.

Anyone removed to Rwanda under the provisions of this treaty will not be removed from Rwanda except to the United Kingdom, in a very small number of limited and exceptional circumstances. Should the UK request the return of any relocated person, Rwanda will return them. Decision makers, including myself or the holder of the post of Home Secretary, an immigration officer and the courts must all treat Rwanda as a safe country. They must do so notwithstanding the relevant UK law or any interpretation of international law by courts or tribunals. That includes the European convention on human rights; the refugee convention; the international covenant on civil and political rights; the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings which opened at Warsaw on 16 May 2005; customary international law; and

“any other international law, or convention or rule of international law, whatsoever, including any order, judgment, decision or measure of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The Prime Minister has been crystal clear that he, and the Government he leads, will not let foreign courts destroy this Rwanda plan and curtail our efforts to break the business model of the evil people-smuggling gangs.

Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)

My right hon. Friend makes the point about foreign courts, but what about domestic courts? Is there not a danger that, in pursuing quite stringent measures in this Bill, we are really testing the principle of comity to breaking point? This House and this Parliament are sovereign, but we also have the independence of the courts and the rule of law to bear in mind, and restraint on both sides—by the judiciary and by this place—is essential if we are to maintain the balance of our constitution.

James Cleverly 

My right hon. and learned Friend knows I have a huge amount of respect for him, not just as a friend and an individual, but for his experience at the Bar at a very high level. He raises an important point, and I want to give him complete reassurance that we have looked very carefully at that balance he speaks about and we respect the importance of that. We genuinely believe this Bill gets the balance right, although, because of the growing nature of this extreme and perverse trade in human misery, we have to take firm action. We are therefore acting in a way that maintains that balance. It is novel. He says it is contentious, and that is true, but we are doing it because we have to break this business model. We have to do this.

When the European Court of Human Rights—this speaks to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) just a moment ago—indicates an interim measure relating to the intended removal of someone to Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of the Immigration Act, a Minister of the Crown alone, not a court or tribunal, will decide whether the UK will comply with that interim measure.

In order to further prevent individual claims to prevent removal, the Bill disapplies certain relevant provisions from the Human Rights Act 1998 in particular circumstances, including sections 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9. This is lawful, this is fair, this is necessary, because we have now addressed every reason that has been used to prevent removal to Rwanda. We have blocked asylum claims from being admitted with legislation that has already passed through this House: when the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is enforced, modern slavery disqualification provisions will assist with speedy removal.

The only possible blocking of removal is if an individual can demonstrate, with compelling evidence, that there is an immediate risk of serious and irreversible harm to them in particular under their individual circumstances. That sets the bar rightly very high, so that the chances of that happening are rightly extremely small. The only way to deter people from coming here illegally is to convince them that if they do, they will be unable to stay. Instead, they will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe third country, or their home country, if it is safe to do so.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I will conclude, as I have been on my feet for a while.

This is how we will save lives at sea. This is how we will deter illegal migration. And this—the House should take note—is how we will break the business model of the most evil and perverse trade that we currently can see: the trade in vulnerable people. The people smugglers are not humanitarians; they are vicious criminals, and we must take action to stop them. This is how we restore confidence in our immigration system and assert full control over our borders.

Several hon. Members rose—

James Cleverly 

I am nearly done; let me conclude.

This is how we will overcome the intolerable pressure on taxpayers, public services and local communities that illegal immigration creates. That is how we will ensure that the system is fair: fair to those who play by the rules and fair to the British people, who are rightly sick of people arriving here from France in small boats—from France, a safe and wonderful country. Rwanda stands ready to welcome those new arrivals. It stands ready to work with us to find a solution on this global issue, rather than being part of a problem, and for that, I believe, it should have our thanks and admiration. This is an innovative and humane solution to a growing global problem. Other countries are looking at what we are doing and making similar plans of their own. A new treaty and this Bill make it clear in law that Rwanda is a safe country to which to relocate illegal migrants.

I want to extend an offer to the whole House. Colleagues across this House must know how much this matters to our constituents. Our voters, no matter which party they vote for, are warm and welcoming people to those in genuine need. We have seen that in the way in which people across this country have opened their homes to many of the half a million people who have come here via safe and legal routes in the past decade. But the British people rightly expect everyone to play by the rules, and they expect us in this House to do what it takes to stop the boats. That is what voting for this legislation means. Our voters are horrified when they see images of people drowning in the channel. They are horrified when they see people smugglers taking advantage of people. They want an end to illegal migration. This Government have a plan that will provide an alternative home for illegal arrivals to the UK and deter others from coming here illegally. I commend the Bill to the House.