*** DEBUG END ***

Rwanda Bill is immoral and unworkable, bishops tell Government

30 January 2024

Proposals are ‘damaging’ to the rule of law, Archbishop of Canterbury warns

Parliament TV

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in the House of Lords on Monday evening

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in the House of Lords on Monday evening

THE Government’s attempt to clear a legal path for deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda is “damaging” — not only to those seeking protection in the UK, but to the country’s reputation and the rule of law, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

The Archbishop was contributing to a debate in the House of Lords on Monday evening on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, during its Second Reading.

The Bill, he said, “obscure[s] the truth that all people, asylum-seekers included, are of great value. We can, as a nation, do better.”

The Bill has been drafted by the Government in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling (News, 17 November 2023) that unanimously upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that the policy would leave people sent to Rwanda open to human-rights breaches (News, 7 July 2023). In 2022, the High Court had ruled that the policy was lawful (News, 23 December 2022).

The purpose of the Bill is said to be to “prevent and deter unlawful migration” — particularly by illegal routes — by “confirming” that the Republic of Rwanda is “a safe third country, thereby enabling the removal of persons who arrive in the UK under the Immigration Acts”.

The Bill is preceded by a statement from Lord Sharpe on the European Convention on Human Rights, however, in which he says: “I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.”

Archbishop Welby said that, while the Lords and Commons were “united . . . in agreeing that the boats must be stopped. . . The right way forward . . . is to enable the unity on ends to be translated into a unity on means, and that is not happening in the way these bills are successively brought to the house and brought before the country.”

Rwanda was a “wonderful” country, he said, but “the Bill continues to outsource our legal and moral responsibilities to refugees and asylum-seekers — when other, far poorer, countries are already supporting multitudes more than we are now — and to cut back on our aid.”

He refused, however, to vote against the Bill until the Committee Stage, to give a chance for revisions to be made.

Later in the debate, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that, based on his experience, Rwanda was not “truly capable of delivering the support and opportunities required for each of these refugees and asylum-seekers to rebuild their lives”, including through employment and language training.

He continued: “How can we ensure that Rwanda is safe for people of all faiths to practise their religion? Courts and decision-makers should not be compelled to treat Rwanda as safe without a commitment to ongoing scrutiny. Simply put, the Bill is not workable either in the UK or in Rwanda.”

Peers across the parties also expressed reservations about the Bill.

Lord Cashman (Labour) said: “The Bill is unacceptable, as we have heard, for many reasons — on legal, constitutional and moral grounds.”

Lord Clarke (Conservative), a former Cabinet minister, described Rwanda as a “dictatorship” with a “dodgy record” on human rights — a point that was widely picked up during the debate, by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, among others. She said: “The Bill decides who is and is not entitled to human rights. Has history not taught us the risk of that?”

Referring to Lord Sharpe’s preface, she continued: “It is illogical that the Government are disregarding international law while relying on Rwanda’s compliance with it to assure us it is safe. That is not a mark of global leadership.”

Lord Murray, a Conservative peer, argued, however, that the statement reflected the probability of a court upholding a legal challenge, and “does not mean that the minister is certifying that the measures in the Bill are incompatible with the human rights convention”.

The Bishop of Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, also touched on morality. “This continues to be a deeply immoral solution, treating victims as perpetrators and not providing a real, just, and sustainable plan for the rapidly changing global refugee situation,” he said.

He continued: “The use of Parliament as decision-maker in these circumstances is impractical and troubling. I see the Government’s approach as constitutionally inappropriate.”

Responding to the debate, Lord Sharpe, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, said that the Government valued the worth of individuals and that the Bill was based on a moral cause. He argued that the partnership with Rwanda was set in this new treaty, “binding in international law”, and was simply delivering the changes suggested by the Supreme Court. Support would be available for the vulnerable, he said.

The motion to move the Bill on to the Committee Stage was agreed.

During its First Reading, last week, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, had warned that any asylum-seekers who were sent to Rwanda would not be protected “by a few sheets of paper” — and that it was “remarkable” that the Government was asking Parliament to declare Rwanda safe on the basis of a single treaty that, it claimed, answered all the concerns of the Supreme Court (News, 26 January).

Peers had voted 214 to 171 in favour of Labour motions to delay its ratification.

The Archbishop of Wales and the Welsh Bench of Bishops were among those to criticise the Bill before its Second Reading this week. In a statement, on Monday, the Bishops said that, while the “complex” situation of increasing migration presented a “uniquely painful dilemma” for politicians and the country, they were deeply concerned by the proposals.

“We note the Supreme Court ruling that asylum-seekers sent to Rwanda would face a real risk of ill-treatment if sent back to their country of origin. We would further note that we also already award asylum status to refugees from Rwanda. We remain convinced that there is a strong moral argument that sending human beings to a third country abdicates responsibility.

“Our faith moves us to call on all those involved to ensure that the interests of those who are most in need are never overlooked. We urge the government to withdraw this legislation.”

The director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Sarah Teather, described the Bill as “cruel and risible”, and urged policymakers to “remember that this isn’t about party politics pantomime. If enacted, the Rwanda scheme will destroy the lives of people who have already lost everything.”

The United Reformed Church was among the ecumenical partners, charities, and civil society bodies to deplore what they described as a “constitutionally extraordinary and deeply harmful piece of legislation”.

In a joint statement, organised by the Save our HRA (Human Rights Act) Coalition, they said that the Bill undermined the universality of human rights, was an “attack” on the judiciary and rule of law, was in collision with the European Court of Human Rights, would breach the Good Friday Peace Agreement, and risked “violating the principle of non-refoulement”.

The statement concluded: “Either we all have human rights, or none of us do. The government must not be allowed to pick and choose when our fundamental rights apply, nor to undermine the ways that we can hold it to account.”

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)