An inquiry has been launched into the handling of a controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda amid accusations of Parliament being bypassed. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who chairs the International Agreements Committee, lamented how the deal had not been debated or approved by Parliament before it was signed. The House of Lords heard this was because the type of deal, known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), is not legally binding. However, peers argued that MoUs should not be used as a way around parliamentary scrutiny. Labour’s Lady Hayter told the Lords: “Perhaps more importantly and certainly more urgently is the issue of deals being signed by way of Memoranda of Understanding rather than by treaty. “This means they do not even have to be disclosed to Parliament, let alone laid and debated here. “I raised this in a private notice question on April 25 in regard to the Rwanda deal – deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. “That was done by MoU without any debate or approval by Parliament.
“And I can tell the House that just today, this morning, the committee has launched an inquiry on this and we will have a call for evidence on the MoU on our website shortly.”
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The government’s deal with Rwanda has been subject to much criticism, with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) urging both countries to reconsider the arrangement. Under the scheme, for which Kigali is set to be paid £120 million, migrants arriving on small boats across the English channel from France will immediately be transferred to Rwanda, where their paperwork will be processed. Labour peer Viscount Stansgate, the son of the late left-wing firebrand Tony Benn, argued the Rwanda asylum deal was a major political policy development, but the upper chamber “could exercise no scrutiny except to ask a few supplementary questions”. “That is not good enough,” he said. He added: “I do think that there is a risk that if governments continue to find ways to evade proper parliamentary scrutiny then we are going to get into trouble. “I hope in future years a future government will make the proper provisions that are necessary. “If we are going to be a meaningful democracy then this House has to play its full part in it.” Meanwhile, Lady Hayter argued that bypassing Parliament with the use of Memoranda of Understanding “flies in the face” of the Ponsonby rule, a 1924 convention whereby significant international agreements are brought before Parliament.
Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said the MoU with Rwanda built upon wider collaboration with the country, including on climate change and more effective aid delivery.
He said: “A non-legally binding arrangement in the form of an MoU is, the government believes, the most effective vehicle as it allows the partnership to change and the technical details to be adjusted quickly if required and with the agreement of both partners.” Intervening, Liberal Democrat Lord Purvis of Tweed said the home secretary and her ministerial colleague in the Lords needed “to correct the record”. He said: “They have actively misled Parliament by saying these are binding obligations. “He has now absolutely contradicted what Priti Patel told the House of Commons and what Baroness Williams told this chamber. “Both cannot be correct.” Lord Goldsmith said he was not aware an error had been made and pointed out an MoU on international migration was not uncommon.