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Labour confirms it will not block Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill despite further defeats inflicted by the Lords


Lord Coaker reaffirms Labour's position that it will not use second chamber to stop controversial Bill passing

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The Government's Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill suffered a further five defeats in the House of Lords yesterday, following on from the five defeats inflicted on the Bill on Monday.

House of LordsImage credit: UK GovernmentThe Bill will have its third reading in the Lords next week (on Tuesday, 12 March) before returning to the Commons. It is expected that the amendments voted for by the Lords will be swiftly rejected by the Government in the Commons.

Among the amendments voted for in the House of Lords yesterday was one by former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss that gives greater protection against removal to Rwanda for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

During Monday's debate in the Lords, Baroness Butler-Sloss called the Bill "utterly shocking". She said: "I do not believe that the need to stop people crossing the Channel in a dangerous situation is any reason to pass an utterly shocking Bill. It is constitutionally incorrect and does not look at genuine victims, such as those victims of modern slavery. … The Government are ignoring the plight of this most vulnerable group of people. I hope that, at this last moment, they will think again about victims of modern slavery."

Despite the strong opposition to the Bill in the House of Lords, Labour confirmed yesterday that they will not seek to block the passage of the Bill.

Speaking for the Opposition, Labour's Lord Coaker criticised the Government for its intention to ignore and reject the Lords' amendments, but he restated Labour's clear and consistent position that it will not use the Lords to stop the Bill passing.

"I think the constitutional proprieties of this place needs restating again. As much as we accept that, as His Majesty's Opposition, we will not block the Bill, the constitutional quid pro quo is that the Government in the House of Commons, through their elected mandate, accept that we have a right to demand that they think again and revise legislation in view of what is said here," Lord Coaker said.

While the former Conservative minister Lord Clarke suggested the Lords could use a rarely invoked power to block a bill in a single Parliament, Lord Coaker disagreed and said: "I take what the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, says about the Parliament Act. We have said that we will not block the Bill. I understand the point the noble Lord is making—he is basically saying that because the Government know that we are not going to block the Bill they will just do what they want. Of course, that is the danger—perhaps, the reality—but I am saying that we have said we will not block the Bill, but we demand of His Majesty's Government that they respect the proper role of this House of Lords, and that they respect our right to say that we believe that certain things in the Bill are wrong. It may be the rule of law, or the compliance with international law, or other things being moved—but, if the Government simply turn around and say that, it will prove not only what I think party political-wise—that the Government are at the fag end of their existence—but will show that they are morally bankrupt as well."

Earlier in the debate, Labour's approach drew strong criticism from Conservative peer and former Conservative MP Lord Deben, an opponent of the Bill. He said Labour will have failed in its duty as the Opposition if it does not turn the Bill into one that conforms with international law.

Lord Deben told the House of Lords: "Earlier on, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, rightly said that the Government have addressed the world to say that whatever we say, they have no intention of changing the Bill. That is unacceptable. It is an insult to the House, and it is constitutionally improper.

"However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the Opposition also have a responsibility in this. We all know that, so far, the Opposition are not prepared to pick one of these amendments, which are about our acceptance of international law, and to press it to the point at which the Government have to give way or lose the Bill. I say to the Opposition that the responsibility of opposition is as great as the responsibility of government. In the hands of the Opposition is the ability to make this Government turn the Bill into one that conforms with international law. If they do not do that, they will have failed in their duty and in the way they treat this House.

"As the Opposition may become the Government, this, in my view, undermines their position, because the world knows why they do not want to do it: for electoral reasons. I find that unacceptable in the party I support; I find it just as unacceptable in the party with which I disagree."

Sunder Katwala, director of the think tank British Future, said on X/Twitter on Monday that it is widely understood and assumed across groups in the Lords that Labour has made a tactical decision to let the Government push the Bill through.

According to Katwala, Labour has calculated that they need to allow the Government to pass the Bill to avoid the risks of giving the Government a 'get Rwanda done' campaign if the Bill is delayed or blocked.

Garden Court barrister Colin Yeo said in response: "From a purely political point of view I'm starting to think this might be a mistake. If the Bill goes through it looks like the government will be able to begin removals and then call an election before the serious, fundamental problems with the scheme really emerge. Then it's the next government that has to abandon the scheme rather than the current one facing up to the consequences of their actions."