Sat. Feb 24th, 2024
alert-–-archbishop-of-canterbury-wades-into-rwanda-row-saying-britain-must-‘do-better’-than-rishi-sunak’s-new-bill-as-peers-bid-to-kill-the-planAlert – Archbishop of Canterbury wades into Rwanda row saying Britain must ‘do better’ than Rishi Sunak’s new Bill as peers bid to KILL the plan

The Archbishop of Canterbury waded into the Rwanda Bill row today despite Rishi Sunak warning peers not to frustrate the ‘will of the people’.

Justin Welby insisted Britain must ‘do better’ than the government’s crucial legislation as it was debated in the House of Lords for the first time.

He cited the teachings of Jesus as he rejected calls for religious leaders to stay out of the issue. 

But the Archbishop did said he will not be supporting a Lib Dems motion that would stop the Bill in its tracks tonight – an unusual step at second reading stage.

Instead he made clear he would be looking to amend the Bill and take a view at third reading. 

The attempt to crash the proposals immediately is almost certain to fail as Labour is set to abstain. 

Justin Welby insisted Britain must 'do better' than the government's crucial legislation as it was debated in the House of Lords for the first time

Justin Welby insisted Britain must ‘do better’ than the government’s crucial legislation as it was debated in the House of Lords for the first time

The House of Lords has started debating the government legislation this afternoon

The House of Lords has started debating the government legislation this afternoon

Peers will bid to kill the Rwanda Bill today despite Rishi Sunak (pictured in Darlington today) warning them not to oppose the 'will of the people'

Peers will bid to kill the Rwanda Bill today despite Rishi Sunak (pictured in Darlington today) warning them not to oppose the ‘will of the people’

A file photograph of migrants about to be picked up in the Channel

A file photograph of migrants about to be picked up in the Channel 

The Safety of Rwanda Bill’s second reading in the Lords this afternoon is the first time peers have had the opportunity to debate the measures.

The Bill aims to declare Rwanda a safe country and overcome objections raised by the Supreme Court, which declared the scheme unlawful in November.

Earlier this month the PM warned peers not to ‘frustrate the will of the people’, urging them to ‘do the right thing’ and pass the Bill ‘as quickly as possible’. 

But the Bill was booed as it was formally introduced to the House. 

And last week Lords defeated the Government in a separate vote on a treaty signed with Rwanda which will introduce a number of safeguards for asylum seekers sent to the east African nation.

They backed a ten-point plan that would mean removals could not take place until all the safeguards have been fully introduced and ‘bedded in’. 

Ministers are not bound by last week’s vote, but in the next stage the Lords can attempt to water down the legislation.

Some 71 members of the upper chamber were down to speak at the second reading debate of the draft law this afternoon.

Mr Welby said: ‘We can, as a nation, do better than this Bill.

‘With this Bill the Government is continuing to seek good objectives in the wrong way, leading the nation down a damaging path.’

He added: ‘We need a wider strategy for refugee policy which involves international co-operation and which equips us for the far greater migration flows, perhaps 10 times greater in the coming decades, as a result of conflict and climate change and poverty. Instead this Bill offers only ad hoc one-off approaches.

‘Rwanda is a country I know well, it is a wonderful country and my complaint is not with Rwanda, nor with its people. It has overcome challenges that this House cannot begin to imagine.

‘But this Bill continues, wherever it does it, to outsource our legal and moral responsibilities for refugees and asylum seekers, with other countries far poorer already supporting multitudes more than we are now and to cut back on our aid.’

Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the former Tory chancellor, said – despite having backed previous legislation on the Rwanda plan – he could not support the Government’s new Rwanda Bill unless it was ‘substantially amended’.

He said Parliament overruling the courts on Rwanda’s safety set a ‘very dangerous constitutional provision’.

‘They have decided to bring an Act of Parliament to overturn a finding of fact made by the Supreme Court of this country,’ Lord Clarke told peers.

‘And if we pass this bill, we are asserting as a matter of law that Rwanda is a safe country for this purpose, that it is always going to be a safe country for this purpose until the law is changed, and the courts may not even consider any evidence brought before them to try to demonstrate that is not a safe country.

‘This is a very dangerous constitutional provision.’

Lord Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, told peers the Rwanda plan was merely ‘virtue signalling’ to the public and would not solve the small boats problem.

‘This is nothing to do with finding solutions, it is everything to do to virtue signalling, as you might in quotes put it… to a particular part of the electorate and to find scapegoats for Government failure,’ he said.

‘The scapegoats are of course the Opposition, the courts themselves, and this House.’

Lord McDonald of Salford, the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, branded the Rwanda Bill ‘fundamentally flawed legislation’.

‘Rwandan institutions depend on [President] Paul Kagame. What happens when he goes is uncertain,’ he said.

‘A country whose institutions are only 30 years old and one-man deep cannot be said to be safe for vulnerable refugees simply because it signs a treaty promising to treat those asylum seekers well.

‘But such a country can provide reassurance by proven good performance over time.’

Lord Carlile of Berriew, who earlier this month warned the Government is moving towards ‘totalitarianism’ in its handling of the policy, claimed ministers were attempting to ‘legislate a lie’ with the Rwanda Bill.

The crossbench peer referred to reports in the Observer newspaper which suggested Rwandan refugees had been granted asylum in the UK at the same time ministers were attempting to legislate for their country’s safety.

He said: ‘We have the spectacle in the teeth of the evidence of His Majesty’s Government telling us Rwanda is safe, asking us to legislate a lie. I hope we will not legislate that lie.’

Lord Carlile has previously suggested the Lords would seek to undo what he described as politicians ‘meddling’ in the independent courts.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the former Tory chancellor, said he could not support the Government's Rwanda Bill unless it was 'substantially amended'

Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the former Tory chancellor, said he could not support the Government’s Rwanda Bill unless it was ‘substantially amended’

Lib Dem Lord German has tabled a 'fatal' motion that would decline the second reading, arguing that the legislation would put the UK 'at risk of breaching its international law commitments', undermine the courts and heap costs on the taxpayer

Lib Dem Lord German has tabled a ‘fatal’ motion that would decline the second reading, arguing that the legislation would put the UK ‘at risk of breaching its international law commitments’, undermine the courts and heap costs on the taxpayer

Lib Dem Lord German has tabled a ‘fatal’ motion that would decline the second reading, arguing that the legislation would put the UK ‘at risk of breaching its international law commitments’, undermine the courts and heap costs on the taxpayer.

Baroness Patience Wheatcroft told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night that the mood in the Lords is ‘absolutely opposed to the Rwanda scheme apart from some of the Tories’.

She said she knew of Conservatives who were voting with the government out of duty, but felt ‘absolutely distraught’ about what was being planned.

Praising the dismissal motion being tabled by the Lib Dems, Lady Wheatcroft denied that the Salisbury convention – which suggests the Lords does not meddle in flagship government measures. 

‘I will certainly be voting in favour of that because I think it is not covered by the Salisbury convention… that being the case it seems to me that this is desperately flawed legislation,’ she said.

‘No amount of amending it will ever turn it into a respectable piece of legislation. It goes against the Supreme Court, it leaves the way open to breach international law and it deprives individuals of rights that we have always thought they should have.’

Lady Wheatcroft said she did not want to spend an ‘interminable amount of time, many late nights, trying to amend it to turn it into something reasonable’.

One leading peer last night said that he expected a number of amendments that would attempt to make fundamental changes to the Bill. 

Top barrister and crossbench peer Lord Carlile KC said: ‘I think there will be a head of steam in the House of Lords to ensure that the ten-point plan – in a legislative framework – is satisfied before anybody can be removed to Rwanda.’

Lord Carlile said ‘the Bill can go through as long as this is done’, adding: ‘The Government has been very laconic in its attitude so far and has attempted to brush aside opposition, pretending it is not an issue. But it is a huge issue.’

A Liberal Democrat and Green Party attempt to kill off the Bill with a ‘fatal motion’ in the Lords today will not win the support of Labour, meaning it will almost certainly fail.

Church of England bishops are also expected to voice their opposition to the Bill.

In last week’s debate, the Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek said it was ‘remarkable’ that the Government was asking Parliament to state that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers.

Bishop Treweek added: ‘The Prime Minister has called on peers to get on board and do what is right, but I fear it cannot be right to assure ourselves that asylum seekers will be protected by a few sheets of paper.’

More than 70 peers are due to speak during today’s debate, with individual amendments voted on at a later stage.

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