Westminster update: Lords vote against ratification of Rwanda treaty

Your weekly update on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall. This week: the Rwanda treaty, mandatory mediation, wrongful convictions and trade strategy.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

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As the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill continues its passage through parliament, our briefing outlines amendments to ensure we adhere to international obligations and our own constitutional separation of powers.

Read our briefing on the Safety of Rwanda Bill

What you need to know

1. Rwanda treaty: Lords vote against ratification

The government was defeated in the House of Lords as peers voted in favour of delaying ratification of the treaty with Rwanda that seeks to enable the government to proceed with its policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda.

A motion brought by Lord Goldsmith (Labour) declining to ratify the treaty until all its provisions are fully implemented was passed by 214 votes to 171.

Much of the debate focused around the recommendations of the International Agreements Committee’s report on the treaty, which took aim at provisions relating to Rwanda’s ability to fulfil its asylum care and processing commitments.

While the treaty compels Rwanda to “take all steps that are necessary or appropriate to ensure that their obligations can both in practice be complied with and are in fact complied with”, the committee concluded this does not provide any proof that Rwanda can fulfil these obligations.

We briefed in support of the committee’s conclusions, and our briefing was cited by Baroness Lister (Labour) as adding weight to the argument for delaying ratification.

Many peers echoed Lord Goldsmith’s initial emphasis on the importance of the separation of powers between parliament and the courts.

He concluded it would be “constitutionally inappropriate for parliament to seek to overturn through statute a finding of fact by the Supreme Court, especially when the bill includes an ouster clause excluding judicial review”.

Proceedings were a one-sided affair with few Conservative peers speaking in support of the bill. Even amongst those, Lord Howell still conceded that standard protocol on ratification must be observed.

The vote presages a tough fight for the government on its related Safety of Rwanda Bill, but ultimately it will not be enough to delay ratification of the treaty unless the government chooses to comply with the Lords’ motion.

Elsewhere, the government has made clear that it will not provide time for specific debate and vote on the treaty in the Commons.

2. Government U-turns on mandatory mediation

We have welcomed the Ministry of Justice announcement that it will no longer go ahead with mandatory mediation for separating couples.

We raised concerns in a consultation last year about these plans as they could impact dispute resolution while adversely affecting domestic abuse victims.

The government has also announced a new pilot of early legal advice for separating couples, echoing another of our recommendations. It will be targeted at parents facing challenges agreeing arrangements for their child.

We are pleased this will mean families can use early legal advice to find the right solution, whether that is mediation, litigation or non-court dispute resolution.

While extensive backlogs and delays remain a feature of the family court system, we believe these reforms will take a step towards reducing stress for families seeking justice.

3. Further questions for the Post Office minister

The Post Office minister, Kevin Hollinrake, was pressed for more detail on the incoming legislation to overturn wrongful convictions by the Post Office.

On Thursday 25 January, at business and trade questions, the shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, David Davis (Conservative) and Jeff Smith (Labour) all used the question time to ask for clarity on timelines and offer cross-party support for the measures.

The minister shared that he had met the justice secretary this week to make sure that plans are on track, and he hopes to bring forward the legislation as soon as possible.

He added that he was concerned that sub-postmasters who used the pilot version of Horizon have faced similar abuses and urged victims to come forward and access compensation.

Reynolds noted the proposals will have to be imperfect and highlighted concerns over setting a precedent for government intervention in the justice system.

As a solution to this concern, he offered that cross-party agreement be established as an essential provision for the exercise of powers of this kind.

There were also questions in the Lords from all parties over charging Post Office directors for breaching statutory duties under the Companies Act 2006, or for conspiracy to pervert justice.

The minister in the Lords, Lord Offord, deferred to Sir Wyn William’s inquiry, making it clear that the government will be waiting for its conclusion before acting.

He stressed that the government needs to understand the role of directors, ministerial oversight and the role of Fujitsu and the auditor, EY.

4. Kemi Badenoch faces the Business and Trade Committee

On Wednesday 24 January, the secretary of state for business and trade was back in front of the committee charged with scrutinising the work of her department.

The session focused on trade strategy and the UK’s accession to the CPTPP.

This week Singapore became the second country to ratify the UK’s accession to the agreement, after Japan finalised its domestic ratification process last year.

The Trade (CPTPP) Bill has finished its passage through the Lords, marking the halfway point to the UK formally joining the agreement.

Badenoch and her civil servants noted that they expect accession to be achieved by April this year.

Members of the committee were keen to understand the trade strategy that Badenoch’s department is following.

While it is clear that there is no formal strategy, the secretary of state stressed that all trade agreements that her department pursues are driven by objectives in the government’s integrated review.

Despite currently negotiating several free trade agreements, the secretary of state acknowledged that the UK is not on track to reach its trade target mainly because of the USA’s decision not to sign any FTAs. She added that the UK is however on track to hit the target of £1 trillion exports by 2030.

When asked for her opinion by the chair, Badenoch would not give a view on whether China should be allowed join the CPTPP.

She only noted that: “We need to look at the country’s history with international agreements, whether it meets its obligations and other countries’ relationships with it. If there are some CPTPP countries that have difficulty with perhaps an aspirant economy, we must take that into account.”

Coming up:

The chancellor of the exchequer will give his spring budget on 6 March.

We have made a submission to the Treasury outlining steps the government can take to unleash the economic potential of legal services.

We are working on a number of bills in parliament:

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