House of Lords vote to delay Rishi Sunak's controversial Rwanda Bill

This is the first time the House of Lords has voted against the ratification of a treaty, ITV News' Anushka Asthana reports

Protections must be up and running before Parliament can judge Rwanda safe to send asylum seekers to, the House of Lords has heard.

Inflicting a defeat against the government, the House of Lords backed by 214 votes to 171, majority 43, an unprecedented move seeking to delay a treaty with the east African nation that paves the way for the divisive asylum scheme.

The call was made by Labour peer Lord Goldsmith, the chairman of the House of Lords International Agreements Committee (IAC), as he spearheaded an unprecedented move at Westminster to delay a treaty with the east African nation – a key plank of Rishi Sunak’s controversial deportation plan.

The government agreed the legally-binding pact with Kigali in December, saying it addressed concerns raised by the Supreme Court about the possibility of asylum seekers deported to Rwanda then being transferred to a country where they could be at risk.

But the cross-party committee said promised safeguards in the agreement are “incomplete” and must be implemented before it can be endorsed.

The accord underpins the government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill which compels judges to regard Rwanda as safe.

Former attorney general Lord Goldsmith said: “In total our report identifies at least 10 sets of issues where on the basis of the government’s evidence significant additional legal and practical steps are needed in order to implement the protections the treaty is designed to provide.

The difficulty is that the government has already presented a Bill to Parliament asking it to make a judgment that Rwanda is safe now.“

And yet on the Home Secretary’s own evidence it cannot be so because the measures are not in place and have not been shown to be effective.

The treaty is held up by the government as the justification for the measures in the Bill and yet the treaty cannot at present provide a basis for Parliament to judge that Rwanda is safe while so many aspects of the treaty remain unimplemented and untested.”

Lord Goldsmith added: “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 judgment about Rwanda is safe.”

Conservative former Cabinet minister Lord Howell of Guildford warned over the “rather patronising tone one hears in some comments about Rwanda and its judiciary and legal system as though it could not possibly have high enough standards”.

Pointing out the country was a member of the Commonwealth, he said: “I can understand the Rwandan government’s exasperation and that of senior legal figures at the implication that their system somehow has got to be reinforced, made over and renewed to bring it up to scratch and be called safe.”

The Bill got through the House of Commons on January 17 with 320 approving it and 276 rejecting it.

The Bill was introduced in a bid to satisfy the Supreme Court which ruled last year that asylum seekers could not be deported to Rwanda because it was not considered safe.

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He added: “What does safe mean? It is an entirely subjective concept and always will be.“In our own judicial system, is that safe? I don’t know. I am not sure all our postmasters would agree about the safety of our own judicial system.”

This was a reference to the hundreds of branch managers in the UK wrongly convicted because of a faulty accounting IT system in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Lord Howell warned no amount of monitoring, training or appeals bodies would convince those “who don’t want to be convinced that Rwanda is safe”.

Independent crossbencher and former diplomat Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a member of the IAC, said: “The considerations of international law and national reputation… convince me that it wouldn’t be right to ratify this treaty at any time. Arguments from history suggest that it would be very reckless to do so any time soon. But these are my personal views.

“The IAC read its remit rather narrowly. What we did was to consider whether the treaty can be said now, today, to meet the Supreme Court’s concerns. And our unanimous answer, based on the overwhelming weight of the evidence we received was no, not today, not yet.”

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