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Lords cause further delay to Rwanda Bill

21 March 2024

Alamy

An actor wearing a Rishi Sunak face mask spins a Rwanda Bill “Wheel of Misfortune” outside Parliament last week, before a vote on the Rwanda Bill. The stunt was staged by Amnesty UK

An actor wearing a Rishi Sunak face mask spins a Rwanda Bill “Wheel of Misfortune” outside Parliament last week, before a vote on the Rwanda Bil...

SUPPORT from bishops in the House of Lords for amendments to the Government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill has delayed the legislation, which now won’t be reconsidered until after Easter.

On Wednesday afternoon, peers voted against the Government on seven amendments to the Bill, including one put forward by the Labour Party requiring that any legislation should have “due regard for domestic and international law”.

The Bishops of Chelmsford, Manchester, Worcester, and Southwell & Nottingham took part in Wednesday’s votes, but none spoke in the debate.

All four bishops voted in favour of the amendment requiring the Government to ensure compliance with the law, as well as further amendments, including one specifying that Rwanda can only be considered a “safe country” when certain arrangements laid out in the Rwanda Treaty have been made, and only so long as those arrangements remain in place.

The Government was also defeated on an amendment to preclude the removal to Rwanda of children undergoing age assessment, which was passed by 249-219, and on one to prevent the deportation of victims of modern slavery, which was passed by 251-214.

On Monday, the Commons had rejected proposed changes from the Lords (News, 8 March, 15 March), and sent the draft back to the Upper Chamber for further consideration in a legislative game of “ping pong”.

But Opposition MPs, together with peers, sought assurances that Rwanda was a safe country and would guarantee the human rights of new arrivals. The House of Lords is also asked for migrants to have increased rights under domestic law to appeal, and tighter protection under international law.

Speaking to the Church Times about the amendments before Wednesday’s debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, said: “None of these would obstruct the Bill’s passage, but would help reduce some its harmful effects. It isn’t the job of the Lords to block Government Bills but to improve them, and if the Lords backs these amendments I hope Government uses the opportunity to reflect carefully on them.”

A number of the proposed changes had been sponsored by the Bishop, including an amendment moved in her name at the committee stage, questioning “a permanent judgement on the safety of Rwanda”.

“As well as raising important questions about the rule of law, the Lords are asking the Commons to think again about whether we should be sending to Rwanda victims of modern slavery, unaccompanied children, and those who may have helped the UK’s armed forces overseas in places such as Afghanistan,” she said.

The welfare of child migrants was of particular concern; Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani was keen to see safeguarding embedded in the Bill and avoid the risk of sending unaccompanied children to Rwanda in error.

“Good intent is no basis for safeguarding, and sending children before the Treaty is fully implemented would be a dereliction of our duty to them,” she said, in one of the debates.

The Government has been pushing the deportation initiative as a flagship policy for two years. The 280 Conservative members of the Lords have been requested by Conservative whips to be present and vote the legislation through, in effect to defeat the proposed amendments. In total, 220 voting Conservative peers are required to offset the combined forces of Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, alongside bishops sitting as Lords Spiritual.

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