House of Lords Grapples with Morality and Legality in Heated Rwanda Bill Debate

In a spirited debate within the hallowed halls of the House of Lords, a deep chasm of opinion was revealed over the government’s controversial Rwanda Bill. The bill, which has sparked widespread discourse, proposes the deportation of asylum seekers arriving by small boats from France to Rwanda, where their claims would be processed and, if accepted, they would be expected to settle there.

Lord Clarke, a seasoned political figure and former Home Secretary under John Major, voiced his staunch opposition to the bill. With the weight of his experience, he questioned the bill’s representation by the Commons, emphasising the constitutional risk of a parliamentary act declaring Rwanda safe when the judiciary had previously found to the contrary. Five High Court judges had considered extensive evidence before deeming Rwanda unsuitable and unsafe for refugee processing – a decision that Lord Clarke suggests should not be so easily set aside by legislative fiat.

The moral fibre of the bill was also called into question by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, who condemned the bill as “extremely immoral and inadequate.” His words, undoubtedly heavy with moral authority, echoed through the chamber, challenging the ethical foundations of the proposed legislation.

Adding a voice of seasoned diplomatic insight, Lord McDonald, a crossbench peer and former Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, offered a nuanced perspective on Rwanda’s safety. He highlighted that safety in Rwanda is selective, conditional on one’s alignment with the ruling regime. He painted a picture of a nation where safety is not guaranteed for political opponents or the LGBTQ+ community and described Rwanda as a dictatorship under President Kagame, whose prolonged grip on power is likely to continue unchallenged in the upcoming elections. Lord McDonald’s sobering analysis questioned the stability and depth of Rwandan institutions, which, in his view, could not be considered safe for vulnerable refugees based solely on a treaty promise.

The Lords’ debate was a chorus of concern, with many expressing similar reservations about the bill, which now faces another hurdle following Prime Minister Sunak’s apparent attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision. The upper chamber’s resistance reflects a broader contention with a policy seen by some as a breach of international obligations and by others as a necessary measure to control immigration. The legislative process is thus not only a matter of law but also one of conscience, and the Lords have not shied away from this dual responsibility.