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Rwanda scheme is paper-thin, Bishop of Gloucester tells peers

26 January 2024

Peers back motion to delay ratification of latest scheme

Alamy

The Prime Minister visits the passport-control unit during a visit to Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, on Thursday of last week, an event staged to mark the Commons vote in favour of the Safety of Rwanda Bill

The Prime Minister visits the passport-control unit during a visit to Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, on Thursday of last week, an event staged to mark ...

ASYLUM-SEEKERS will not be protected in Rwanda by a “few sheets of paper” in a single treaty, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said this week, as the House of Lords debated the deportation scheme.

Bishop Treweek told fellow peers: “The role of Government is indeed to create law, but it is not to create injustices.” She backed a motion urging the Government to delay ratifying the treaty until asylum procedures were improved in Rwanda.

She said that traffickers and small boats had to be stopped, and immigration, “of course”, had be controlled, but the debate was whether sending people to Rwanda was both safe and humane.

She said 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.

“If Parliament does proceed, and effectively substitutes its judgment for that of the Supreme Court, I would ask where that leaves the constitutional principle of the separation of functions. And what precedent is this setting,” she said.

“Future assurances, however sincerely offered, are not on their own a strong enough basis to legislate a country as safe.

“The Prime Minister has called on peers to ‘get on board and do the right thing’, but I fear that it cannot be right to assure ourselves that asylum-seekers will be protected by a few sheets of paper.”

Parliament TVThe Bishop of Gloucester spoke in the debate in the House of Lords

Delay motions were introduced in the Lords by the Labour peer Lord Goldsmith, who chairs the chamber’s International Agreements Committee. The committee had presented a report identifying ten issues in which “significant legal and practical steps are needed in order to implement the protections the treaty is designed to provide.”

Lord Goldsmith said: “We are not saying the treaty should never be ratified, but we are saying that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise the treaty and its implementing measures in full before it makes a judgement about [whether] Rwanda is safe.”

The UK’s former permanent representative to the UN, Lord Hannay, said that the scheme broke international commitments, including the refugee convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the convention against torture, and possibly the European Convention on Human Rights.

“You cannot hope to be a credible champion of the rules-based international order — as the Government, rightly in my view, aspire to be — and, at the same time, pick and choose which of those rules you yourself will continue to honour.”

The motion urging delay was backed by peers by 214 votes to 171. It is not binding on the Government, but is a firm indicator of the difficulties that the Government is going to encounter in getting its Rwanda legislation past the Lords.

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