Earned Citizenship

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 12:31 pm, 20th February 2008

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement. My I begin by asking her what has happened to the report on citizenship by Lord Goldsmith that was promised in Queen's Speech? How does that fit in with what she has announced today?

In the Green Paper, the Government are proposing yet another immigration Bill—the seventh under this Government. The Home Secretary says that the current system is too complicated. Who does she think is to blame for that? If merely passing new immigration laws made our borders secure, we would already have the safest borders in the world, which we clearly do not.

I shall start with the issue of citizenship. The Home Secretary now says that she wants to restrict citizenship to those who have earned it. But it was her Government who relaxed the requirements in the first place, when, in 2004, they removed the requirement to provide a passport to support the application. They dropped the standards so far that they awarded citizenship to Muktar Ibrahim after he had spent three years in prison for violent crime, and had been arrested for disseminating extremist literature. He then used his British passport to travel to Pakistan to train as a would-be suicide bomber. At least, I suppose, these new rules—limited and late as they are—would have presumably denied him citizenship. But can the Home Secretary explain how her new system would have stopped Abu Hamza gaining citizenship? He became a citizen through his British wife. Under the new system he might have to wait two years before he became a probationary citizen, then another year if he could demonstrate "active citizenship". The proposed system would not have stopped him gaining that citizenship.

I would like the Home Secretary to address a serious unresolved issue. In many cases, the granting of UK citizenship, probationary or permanent, will result in the loss of original nationality under the laws of the country that the individual comes from. Does the Home Secretary understand that that could make British citizenship permanent? Under international law, it is not possible to render a person stateless. It is not possible to take away British citizenship from a person if they have lost their original nationality—it is not like a probationary driving licence. Such action could be irreversible and irrevocable under international law and therefore under UK law.

Any period of probation must be a prior condition of citizenship, not a part of it, and I would like the Home Secretary to explain that. Moreover, that period should be much longer than one year; five years would be more appropriate. For a foreign citizen, we should always remember that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

Much of what the Home Secretary has said is an attempt to talk tough without taking effective measures, but she has at least finally admitted, for the first time, that public services are affected by large-scale immigration. It is the Government's first admission of that. She proposes a Government-run fund, paid for by another tax on new arrivals. But let us consider the numbers. It is reported in the Green Paper that the fund will raise tens of millions of pounds. The original Green Paper—last Friday's version—referred to £15 million. Will she clarify how many tens of millions will be raised? In any case, the amount will not even be enough to pay the policing costs of immigration, an issue raised by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire only a few months ago. It is barely one tenth of the cost to the national health service of immigration, little more than one twentieth of the costs to local government of immigration and it barely scratches the surface of the full public services cost of immigration. It is, in short, a gimmick.

Why not take the very obvious step of limiting the numbers of new arrivals instead? Yet again, the Home Secretary has reached for a complicated and bureaucratic solution when a simple and cheap one is available. Talking of bureaucracy and incompetence, I cannot believe that, today of all days, she had the cheek to stand there and talk about—I think that I am quoting her correctly—working "with EU partners to tighten our provisions on criminality". Does even she believe, after the catastrophe of the Dutch criminal records being lost by her Department, that such a promise convinces anyone any more?

The fundamental flaw in the Green Paper is plain: it constructs a complicated, expensive and bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of immigration that is out of control. We have been warning about those consequences for years. The sensible approach is simple: we should deal with the original cause of the problem, put a limit on immigration and bring it down to much more manageable levels. That is simpler, cheaper and better for Britain, and will preserve Britain's excellent history of good community relations, which is being put at risk by an incompetent and irresponsible immigration policy.