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Bishops back further attempts to amend Rwanda Safety Bill

17 April 2024

Parliament TV

Bishop Faull speaks in the Lords on Tuesday

Bishop Faull speaks in the Lords on Tuesday

SEVEN bishops were among peers who supported four new amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill which were passed in the Lords this week in defiance of the government majority in the House of Commons.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, was the only bishop to speak during the debate on Tuesday afternoon. She was in support of an amendment from the Labour peer Lord Coaker, which sought to include a requirement to have “due regard” for international law and three Acts of Parliament: the Children Act 1989, Human Rights Act 1998, and Modern Slavery Act 2015.

“The Modern Slavery Act is a world-beating piece of legislation that we disregard at our peril,” Bishop Faull said, “yet it is being undermined in many changes to other legislation. In this case, there will be not only a negative impact on victim-care but significant law-enforcement issues in not paying due regard to the Act.

“Not identifying victims, or sending them to another country before their claim has been properly assessed, will set back our efforts to bring the perpetrators of modern slavery to justice. Victims are often the only witnesses to this crime, so perpetrators will be more likely to escape detection and conviction.”

Bishop Faull has supported previous amendments to protect existing and potential victims of modern slavery under the Government’s plans (News, 8 March; 23 February).

A government amendment to the Rwanda Bill — that the Government should report to Parliament on modern-slavery considerations in its implementation of the Bill — was, she told peers on Tuesday, “a concession that I hope will make it easier for Members of both Houses to scrutinise the effects of this legislation on some of the most marginalised people in our society; but it does not go far enough.

“There must be a general exemption for people who are suspected or confirmed victims of modern slavery. That is the very least we should do for survivors of a terrible crime.”

In his opening remarks, the Conservative peer Lord Stewart disparaged the amendment, saying that the Government were “satisfied that removals to Rwanda will be implemented with due regard to international and domestic law. It is therefore not necessary to set this out in the Bill.”

The motion, as amended, was none the less agreed by 258 votes to 233 in the first of four divisions.

The second amendment, from Lord Hope, concerned how the safety of Rwanda was judged, and inserted that the Secretary of State should acquire a statement from the independent Monitoring Committee on this. It was carried, 266 to 227.

A third amendment from Baroness Chakrabarti sought to replace a clause in the Bill to ensure that, where evidence suggested that Rwanda was not safe, courts were not prevented from considering a review or appeal for an individual. Among other changes, the amendment also disapplied a section of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 which states that a “court or tribunal may not grant an interim remedy that prevents or delays” deportation from the UK. It was carried 253 to 236.

A fourth amendment, moved by Lord Browne, concerned the protection of armed forces and government personnel and their families from being deported under the Bill. It was carried 275 to 218.

The Bishops of Bristol, Gloucester, Manchester, Newcastle, and Worcester voted in all four divisions, and the Bishops of Oxford and St Edmundsbury & Ipswich joined them for the final vote.

The Bill, as amended, was returned to the Commons, where the amendments were rejected by MPs on Wednesday afternoon. It was then returned to the Lords that evening, where two further amendments were passed, backed by the Bishops of Oxford and Worcester.

The first, again from Lord Hope, was another attempt to involve the independent Monitoring Committee in judging the safety of Rwanda. This passed 245 to 208. The second, from Lord Browne, again attempted to exclude armed forces and government personnel and their families from the Bill, and was passed 247 to 195.

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