PM's Rwanda Bill faces onslaught of defeats by Lords triggering more debates

The government's Rwanda plan encountered more obstacles in the House of Lords on Wednesday, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan has been hit by a further delay after defiant peers dug their heels in and inflicted a fresh defeat against the controversial policy.

The government's Rwanda Bill faced it's next hurdle in Parliament on Wednesday, as peers in the House of Lords voted on a number of changes to the legislation.

By the end of voting, the Lords inflicted seven - out of a possible seven - fresh defeats on the Bill.

They voted to press ahead with their demand the legislation has “due regard” for domestic and international law, and to state that Rwanda is only safe for as long as the provisions of the UK’s treaty with that country are in place.

Peers also backed a linked amendment regarding the monitoring of Rwanda’s safety and a move to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts and allow individual immigration decisions to take into account the safety of Rwanda.

It would mean that a person facing removal to Rwanda could appeal on the grounds that the country is not safe for them specifically or a group they belong to, and allows courts to intervene to prevent or delay their removal.

The fifth defeat saw peers back a change to the Bill regarding the age assessment of unaccompanied children, while the sixth called for a bar on the removal of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking to Rwanda.

In their final division, the House of Lords voted in favour of exempting agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas from being removed to Rwanda.

The voting in numbers

First amendment: peers voted 271 to 228, with a majority of 43;

Second amendment: peers voted 285 to 230, majority 55;

Third amendment: peers voted 276 to 226, majority 50;

Fourth amendment: peers voted 263 to 233, majority 30;

Fifth amendment: peers voted 249 to 219, majority 30;

Sixth amendment: peers voted 251 to 214 , majority 37;

Seventh amendment: peers voted 248 to 209, majority 39.

The Bill came one step closer to becoming law on Monday after MPs rejected all 10 amendments sent by the House of Lords.

As part of the legislative "ping-pong" between the two houses, the Bill has now returned to the Lords after they tabled a new set of changes.

Because the Lords have voted amendments through, the Bill has to return to the Commons, and could be delayed further until after Easter recess.

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper described the Rwanda scheme as a "failing farce" on Wednesday evening.

"It is clearer than ever that Rishi Sunak knows this plan won’t work and only sees it as a political gimmick to get what the former Immigration Minister described as ‘symbolic flights off just before an election’", she said in a statement.

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The Bill declares Rwanda to be a "safe" country, and was put forward after the Rwanda policy was ruled unlawful by the highest court in the UK, the Supreme Court.

The legislation also gives ministers the power to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

The House of Lords can't block or vote down legislation, but it can encourage the government to think again, urging it to compromise where there is disagreement between the two chambers.

On Tuesday Downing Street said the Lords will lack "compassion" if they fail to pass the controversial legislation.

Back in January the PM warned the Lords against frustrating “the will of the people” by hampering the passage of his Bill.

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker accused the government of flouting constitutional convention in rejecting “carte blanche” changes made by the Lords to the Bill.

"It's come back without a single word changed, not a single comma moved, not a single full stop inserted", he said.

“It is not our intention to block the Bill but it is also part of constitutional convention that the other place (the Commons) reflects on what the Lords has said and doesn’t just carte blanche reject them which is what has happened now.

“Who’s not respecting constitutional convention now?”.

Lord Vernon Coaker is a Labour member of the Lords, and was an MP from 1997 to 2019

Labour peer Lord Lipsey said the Bill was "just a device by Number 10 in a desperate attempt to pull a lost election out of the fire".

Government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton argued criticism of the Tory administration over the Rwanda Bill was “fundamentally misconceived”.

He said: “We cannot allow people to make such dangerous crossings and we must do what we can to prevent any more lives from being lost at sea.

“Neither can we allow our asylum and legal systems to be overwhelmed, our public services to be stretched or the British taxpayer to continue to fund millions of pounds spent every day on hotel costs.”

Senior Faith leaders have been vocal critics of the Rwanda legislation, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who on Monday backed proposals for a major shake-up of Britain's "broken" asylum system.

Sir Keir Starmer attacked the prime minister over the Rwanda policy at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

"When they first announced this gimmick they claimed it would settle tens of thousands of people, the Home Office then whittled it down to a mere 300, four times that number have already arrived this month", he said.

The PM responded saying "while we're committed to stopping the boats, the Labour party would keep them coming."

The government's Rwanda policy has faced a number of legal challenges after it was first announced by Boris Johnson nearly two years ago.

The prime minister says his goal is to get flights off the ground by the spring, but The Times has reported flights could be delayed because of commemorations for the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, and demands from the Rwandan government that the first flights don't take off until mid-May at the earliest.

A report by the government's spending watchdog on Wednesday found that housing asylum seekers in flagship sites - such as the Bibby Stockholm barge - will cost the government tens of millions of pounds more than using hotels.

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