The fundamental duty of any Government is to protect the British public and maintain the security of the UK against a range of threats. There is a small but very dangerous number of individuals who, despite having taken an oath of loyalty to become a British citizen, seek to threaten the security of this country. Those same dangerous individuals seek to exploit a loophole in our legislation preventing us from removing their citizenship if it would render them stateless, even temporarily, while they reacquire their former nationality. This Government have sought to address that issue, in line with our international obligations to protect the security of the UK.
Our proposals, previously debated in this House on
Many of the debates on this issue have focused on the use of the existing powers in the UK and overseas. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that the Home Secretary has long-standing existing powers to deprive a British national of their citizenship where that individual acquired it using fraud or where she is satisfied that doing so is conducive to the public good. Where fraud has been used, a decision can be made to deprive, which leaves a person stateless. Our proposals have built on the non-conducive powers to target a narrow cohort of naturalised Britons who are a real threat to our national security.
Is the Minister able to clarify the numbers involved and how the Secretary of State and, indeed, her predecessors have used those powers? The Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly asked for those data, but has been unable to access them. I have asked similar questions and have also been unable to get the data, so could the Minister tell us how many people have had the power used against them?
It might be helpful if I explain that since the law was changed in 2006, 27 people have been deprived of their citizenship through different conducive powers. Twenty-six people have been deprived on the grounds of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact, and one further person has been notified of the intention to deprive on those grounds. Perhaps that gives my hon. Friend an idea of the context in which the power is used. It is used extremely sparingly: it is not undertaken lightly and the Secretary of State considers its use extraordinarily carefully.
I recognise that the proposals that were suggested when the Immigration Bill was last before this House have, rightly, provoked a great deal of debate and discussion. It is important that the House understands the significance of the measures and that the other place has had an opportunity to consider them after our debate on Report. There has been much debate, both here and in the House of Lords, about the impact of leaving a person stateless, and there are concerns about those who cannot acquire another nationality.
Although the Government are confident that our original proposals would have affected only a small number of people—given the pre-existing utilisation of the power and the high hurdle that needs to be cleared, most people would have been able to acquire their former nationality or another—we are now seeking to address the concerns expressed about leaving individuals permanently stateless and with no recourse to another nationality. Our amendment (a) provides that deprivation of nationalised citizens under clause 60 can take place only when the Home Secretary has reasonable grounds to believe that, under the laws of a country or territory, an individual is able to become a national of that country or territory.
Amendment (a) is certainly a helpful move on some, if not all, the concerns, but how will the provision be interpreted? For example, if somebody who is not a British citizen leaves another country and would otherwise have claimed asylum in this one, will that factor be taken into account? Will the Home Secretary be able to take into account the idea that a country may refuse to give citizenship because we had taken away their British citizenship? How will she make it work in practice?
It may be helpful if I say that the Home Secretary will consider the relevant nationality laws of a person’s country and that person’s circumstances, and she will make a decision based on whether, under those laws, the person is able to acquire another nationality. The test is whether there is a route under the law, but she will have regard to other considerations—for example, about practical or logistical arrangements.
Those considerations will obviously vary from case to case, but she will consider them in forming a view. We have reflected that in the concept of the reasonable grounds. The Home Secretary will need to be satisfied about those reasonable grounds in determining whether the proposed power can be utilised.
The hon. Gentleman clearly makes the point about what we are seeking to achieve in respect of the concerns highlighted in the House and elsewhere, which is that if the Home Secretary cannot satisfy herself on reasonable grounds that the individual can acquire the citizenship of another state, she will not be able to use the power.
In this context, we are seeking to address the specific issue highlighted by the Supreme Court in the al-Jedda case, with which many right hon. and hon. Members are familiar. The case showed that the existing law was well within our international obligations, but we are seeking to act on the Supreme Court’s statement in that case about how to address the issue appropriately. We judge that the proposed provision is an appropriate mechanism for guarding our national security. It will ensure that what appears to be a loophole identified as a consequence of the al-Jedda case is not open to abuse and, building on the existing deprivation powers, it will therefore ensure that our national security is properly protected.
I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying, and the House should realise that he is simply putting the law back to its position before it was changed by the previous Government. I listened carefully when we debated the issue on Report, and many of the concerns involved people who have no recourse to citizenship elsewhere being left permanently stateless. Government amendment (a) deals with the very real concerns of many hon. Members. It is a very welcome move that should be supported.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I pay tribute to him for his work on the Bill and for the steps he took, quite properly, to consider not only this issue, but the provisions more broadly. We will no doubt move on to those provisions in considering the Lords amendments. My hon. Friend highlighted the fact that the law was changed in 2002. In many respects, we are seeking to bring the law back more closely to the pre-existing position. The law was changed in 2002, and changed again in 2006. There is, therefore, a long history, with clear precedents to setting provisions that comply with our international and UN obligations on statelessness.
I want clarification about what the reasonable grounds are. Amendment (a) could be interpreted to mean that someone has to prove that no country or territory on the globe is willing to accept them as a citizen. That cannot be the interpretation of reasonableness in this amendment, can it?
The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that the particular concern—the gap that has been identified—relates to someone with dual nationality who surrenders their second nationality to prevent the deprivation provision from applying to them and to prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers as she can now do for dual nationals. The Home Secretary needs to consider such factors in considering whether she is satisfied that the relevant test set out in amendment (a) has been met. She would need to show such reasonableness, and that reasonableness might be tested in the courts, because whether her determination was reasonable would be justiciable or challengeable in the courts.
I want to follow up the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend Dr Huppert. The Minister said that the issue was about having a route in law to secure another citizenship, but he rather glossed over the practical barriers that many people face in obtaining another citizenship. Will he put on the record more information that might help those of us with concerns about amendment (a), as drafted, particularly about what constitutes an objection to the Home Secretary proceeding in relation to practical impediments to such people gaining another citizenship, rather than the provision necessarily being used as a route in law?
As I have said, the primary consideration is for the Home Secretary to research various materials and determine whether the individual could reacquire their former nationality, because that is what we are largely talking about in the circumstances of considering such laws. I am sure that she would also have to consider practical issues and the other surrounding circumstances. It is difficult to be specific, as individual facts and cases will no doubt be relevant to the provision. She will, therefore, wish to consider those other practical or logistical arrangements as part of her determination about whether there are reasonable grounds for the individual to secure citizenship from another state.
Yes. My hon. Friend rightly points to article 15 of the universal declaration of human rights, which makes a point about protection against the arbitrary deprivation of nationality. We are very clear that the provision is not arbitrary. It is a very focused and proportionate power that meets not only those requirements, but our obligations under the UN convention on the reduction of statelessness of 1961, and the declaration made by the UK when it ratified that convention in 1966. We have considered our international obligations very carefully. We believe that the provision absolutely complies with the obligations that we have set for ourselves.
All the examples that the Minister has used relate to cases in which he expects people to reacquire a nationality that they gave up to avoid having their British nationality taken away. If that is his intention, would it not have been better to table a much narrower amendment in which that was the circumstance in which the Home Secretary could consider withdrawing a person’s citizenship? That might have been more broadly welcomed in the House than amendment (a).
Amendment (a) was carefully framed and consideration was given to the comments of the Supreme Court in the al-Jedda case. Indeed, the amendment is more tightly framed than was suggested by the Supreme Court and is required by our obligations under the ratifying declaration that the UK signed in 1966. That speaks more widely about reserving the right in relation to statelessness, including where the person has conducted themselves in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK.
We have refined those broad terms in amendment (a) by requiring the Home Secretary to undertake the reasonableness test that I have highlighted. She must have reasonable grounds for believing that the individual whom we are seeking to use the powers on has the ability to obtain citizenship under the laws of another state. I argue that we have considered the matter carefully and framed the amendment appropriately to deal with the significant loophole that was created and that was highlighted by the al-Jedda judgment. We believe that it is important to close that off in the interests of national security.
I am very grateful to the Minister. This proposal is predicated on the fact that the Home Secretary will act rationally and reasonably, but—[Laughter.] No, I do not see that as funny at all. I want to know how the people of Britain will know that the action has been taken in a rational and reasonable way, when it is obscured from public view and is therefore challengeable.
I will make two points in answer to my hon. Friend. First, the decision of the Secretary of State would be reviewable by the courts. It would, therefore, be open to the individual to challenge the decision and the reasonableness of the Home Secretary’s determination. Secondly, I point him to amendment (b), under which there will be an independent review of the power, which will report after one year and then on a rolling three-yearly basis. That will provide clarity about how the power is being used and give the reassurance that he has sought to exact.
Will the Minister clarify the point that he has just made? Is he suggesting that there will be a right of appeal against a ministerial decision, or will there only be a right to undertake a judicial review, which of course would relate to process and not to the facts of the case?
There is the ability to challenge deprivation decisions. Many cases have been brought before the courts that relate to the Home Secretary’s use of the existing deprivation powers. That will continue to apply for the power and the amendments relating to the specific circumstances in which someone may be rendered stateless, subject to the Home Secretary’s being satisfied of their ability to seek the citizenship of another country. The existing challenge, process and procedures will continue to apply.
I listened carefully to Fiona Mactaggart because I respect her opinions on home affairs matters. It would not be appropriate to narrow the scope of amendment (a) in the way that she suggested. She missed the point that the individuals concerned are not always compliant and helpful in seeking a second nationality. Indeed, they often try not to do so. That is why the Home Secretary has to take a reasonable decision, taking account of the laws of the countries involved and the behaviour of the individual. If the amendment were narrowed in the way the hon. Lady suggested, I do not think that we would succeed in closing the loophole.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made his point. I am sure that he will make it again in the debate. He is right to underline the careful way in which we have framed the amendments.
Will the Minister comment on the time frame in which he thinks it is reasonable to expect somebody to obtain another citizenship? In the Government’s mind, would somebody be stateless for two years, five years or 10 years? Is there any sense of how long the process could go on for?
That is largely in the hands of the individual. When the power is exercised, it will be open to the individual to seek the citizenship of the other country. We are unable to compel them to act in that way. That goes to the heart of the problem that we have identified. It is open to the individual to seek the citizenship of the other country, so it depends on what action they take.
The Minister is being very generous; I am sure that there will be questions on later sections of his speech as well. It is possible for the Home Secretary to have reasonable grounds to believe something, but for it not to be the case. What will happen if somebody in the UK goes through the process, the Home Secretary believes that they are able to get citizenship from another country and they make a bona fide application for that citizenship, but it is turned down?
In those circumstances, the Home Secretary would obviously have exercised her power to deprive, so the case does not relate to the specific power under discussion. Obviously, we are able to deprive somebody of citizenship, whether they are in the UK or outside the UK, under the existing powers. That is an important mechanism for maintaining national security and ensuring that the actions of an individual who may be involved in terrorism are addressed by restricting their ability to become involved in terrorism-related activity and by preventing travel that might be a key component of terrorism-related activity. That underlines the importance of deprivation as a means of addressing the very small cohort of individuals who would seek to do us harm.
I want to press the Minister on the point that my hon. Friend Dr Huppert made. If the Home Secretary has every reason to believe that an individual could get the citizenship of another country, but the Government of that country turn around and say that they do not want them as a citizen, what will happen to that individual? Will he or she remain without citizenship?
If the individual is in the UK, which I think is the situation on which that comment is predicated, there is precedent for giving limited restricted leave to remain. That might impose specific conditions. It would also mean that an individual would not have the usual rights of a citizen to access public services and enjoy public benefits. In seeking to mitigate the risks, that of itself may be considered a significant and relevant factor.
I apologise for missing the Minister’s opening remarks, which I am sure were extremely important.
I and other Members have a lot of sympathy with what the Minister says and understand and support what he is trying to do, but we are concerned about the practicalities of what will happen if he takes citizenship away from someone and leaves them stateless. That was what upset the other place. Has he studied any other country that has a similar power, and what has he gleaned from that comparative study?
It is difficult to make general comparisons with other states, because of the different natures of the threat that countries face, the court judgments that have been made there and the international conventions that apply to them. However, other states do have the ability to render citizens stateless, and some have made protocols and reservations to that effect. Some people have sought to portray those states as somehow despotic, or—[Interruption.] I know that Pete Wishart is eager for me to get to his point, and I am happy to do so, but I do not think anybody would regard countries such as Belgium or the Republic of Ireland as despotic, and those states have reserved powers to make citizens stateless. Although it is difficult to make generalisations, because of the different treaties and conventions to which each country is subject, other countries have reserved powers to make individuals stateless in certain circumstances.
As usual, I have asked a question and the Minister has given me a straight answer, and I am extremely grateful. He mentioned Belgium, but what are the practicalities of what it has done? I accept that the power in question is used in other countries, but what happens when a citizen of Belgium has their citizenship removed and is left stateless? Is not the truth that they cannot go anywhere else?
I would hesitate to provide commentary on the laws of Belgium, the Republic of Ireland or other countries that have reserved this power. I have explained to the House this afternoon what would happen in this country if someone were left in those circumstances, and I hope that I have provided clarity.
Although I was not present for the beginning of the Minister’s speech, I have been watching the debate assiduously in my office.
In my constituency, there have been cases in which an individual has rightly been threatened with deportation by Her Majesty’s Government, yet their home nation state has categorically refused to take them back. I have constituents who have automatically lost their nationality by making an application in this country not for citizenship but for asylum. As my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz asked, what are the practicalities? Do we wander the world trying to sell those individuals to some accepting nation state?
It is not about that at all. I am sorry that the hon. Lady may have missed some of my earlier comments, although I appreciate that she has been watching from afar. As I stated earlier, the provision is about dealing with a small cadre of individuals who may have waived or surrendered their previous citizenship as a means of frustrating the Government’s attempts to guard our national security by using our existing deprivation powers. The Home Secretary would need reasonable satisfaction in exercising the power to deprive. It would then be open to the individual in question to take whatever steps they needed to take to regularise their position. We are closing a gap that the Labour Government left us by virtue of the changes that they made in 2002 and built on in 2006. The Supreme Court highlighted that gap in the al-Jedda case. Our proposal is intended to guard our national security.
We recognise the comments that have been made here and in the other place, but Lords amendment 18 would prevent deprivation of citizenship from being pursued in the case of an individual who had no recourse to another nationality. Every country operates its own nationality law, and there are a range of requirements and eligibility criteria. As part of the “reasonable grounds” consideration, the Home Secretary will of course consider whether there are any legal points that would prevent an individual from regaining their former nationality. The individual in question will retain a full right of appeal, which will be to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The courts will be able to consider whether the Home Secretary was correct to conclude that there were reasonable grounds to believe that that person was able to become a national of another country or territory under its laws.
As the Government have stated in both Houses, the proposal to extend the Home Secretary’s powers to deprive citizenship is an important and timely measure to strengthen the security of the UK. It has rightly been subject to substantial debate, and to scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Members of both Houses. We do not agree that a small Committee from each House would be the right place to consider the matter. It would not have access to the appropriate closed material to make further assessments beyond what has already been discussed in the House. Having such a Committee would also cause unnecessary delay, leaving a loophole to be exploited and creating a barrier to effective action for a considerable number of months, if not years. It is important that we close the loophole in a timely way, which is why the Government have decided to proceed with a narrower measure than we had originally proposed in preference to allowing delays for a Committee to consider the issues.
My hon. Friend will gain satisfaction from the judgment that SIAC will make in each individual case. He will be familiar with debates that we have had on other legislation and with the challenge for any Government of how to handle sensitive material. He will also know the existing case law on the gisting of some material, and that is a matter of active consideration by the courts. I therefore think that the public, the House and the country can be satisfied that if SIAC has considered a matter, it will have done so appropriately and reached an appropriate outcome in respect of the actions by the Secretary of State.
Will SIAC have the information from the individual’s home Government? For example, will there be a requirement on the Chinese embassy—I cite China because it is the first example that comes to mind—to furnish evidence as to why it is refusing to allow its former citizen to regain their nationality, and will that information be furnished to SIAC?
It is difficult to comment on individual circumstances and cases. The Secretary of State will need to show that her judgment was reasonable in bringing forward and using the power that we are contemplating, if the amendment is accepted, and it would obviously be open to the individual to present evidence to SIAC in non-closed circumstances regarding their situation, and to challenge that decision. That right of challenge is obviously protected by provisions in the Bill.
On Report in the Lords, the Government tabled an amendment to provide for an independent review of the use of the new power to deprive. That was in response to concerns expressed in earlier debates that there should be independent scrutiny and that a report should be made to Parliament, and that provision is included in the measures we propose today. We recognise the importance of scrutinising the operation of the power at the earliest opportunity, and we have therefore proposed to review it after 12 months, with a subsequent 36-month review period. A report to the Home Secretary will be laid before Parliament alongside those reviews, which can then be debated in both Houses. We have not yet decided who will conduct those reviews. It may be appropriate, for example, to appoint the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation—currently David Anderson—to take on that additional task, but we are mindful that if the review of the deprivation power is added to the demands on him, that must not be to the detriment of his capacity to meet his existing important statutory reviews.
I will draw my comments to a close, as I have been generous to hon. Members across the House.
In conclusion, this power is narrowly drawn and aimed at addressing a real and current threat posed by a small number of individuals. The Government have taken steps to listen to the concerns of both Houses about statelessness. We are committed to taking proportionate action to protect the public and remove the privileges of British citizenship from those who abuse it. That is what these provisions do, and I commend them to the House.
I support the Lords amendments. Having listened to the Lords and to contributions from Members across the House, and having noted the keen interest there appears to be in this debate, I hope that the Minister will reflect on what he has said and support the Lords amendments in due course.
I will start with a quote:
“If we identify someone as a person proposing to commit a serious terrorist offence, for example, surely the obligation is on us to deal with that person. If we simply deport him, we shall be handing on—in my submission, irresponsibly—this terrorist problem to another state which may not have the same capability of dealing with it as we do. It cannot be a proper response to the terrorist threat to refuse to deal with it ourselves”.—[
Official Report, House of Lords,
That was the late Lord Kingsland who spoke in October 2002 as Conservative shadow Lord Chancellor when these matters were debated in relation to nationality. At that time, the then Labour Government determined that statelessness should not be part of the legislative framework, and that prompts the question why have the Government brought forward this proposal at this time?
I think the Lords did a service to Parliament in providing it with an opportunity to discuss this proposal again, and I remind the House that the Lords voted by 242 votes to 180 to ensure that the amendment was accepted in another place. Among those who voted were a large number of Labour peers, and it is fair and proper that I report that to the House. There were also many others, both Cross-Bench, from the Government Benches and among the Bishops, who voted to ask this House to consider the matter again. Those included Lord Judge, a former Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Hannay, a former senior diplomat, as well as such Liberal Democrat notaries as Lord Lester, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Lord Oakeshott and Baroness Neuberger, and also the notable former Foreign Secretary Lord Howe of Aberavon. That group of peers did not vote for the amendment to cause trouble for the Government; it is a group of peers who take an interest in this matter and have reflected on the Government’s approach. Whatever else can be said, the Home Secretary did not convince the other place that her measures were right and proper. In fact, the charitable view is that the Home Secretary has made a mess of this matter. She has tried to rush the proposals through.
The Minister says no, but the Home Secretary brought forward the proposals on
The Lords amendment is reasonable. It asks for the establishment of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider and report on the complications of the removal of citizenship and the issues raised by Members across the House. From discussions I have had with the Minister, I know he is concerned that that would lead to delay, but I hope I can reassure him. Through agreement outside this House, we could, if the Lords amendment was accepted, give a time scale to that consideration to ensure that we have detailed examination and, effectively, pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposal, so that we can take the concerns raised in another place seriously, look at what points are being made even today by Members of this House and come to a consensus on this extremely serious issue—the removal of the citizenship from individuals.
I think we can come to an agreement whereby a proposal is considered and completed perhaps, dare I say it, by the summer recess. I do not want to pre-empt the Gracious Speech in a couple of weeks’ time, but it will undoubtedly include a criminal justice Bill. Measures could be introduced at that stage and looked at in detail.
The shadow Minister is talking about the process and that is very interesting, but can I press him on the Labour party’s view on the policy principle? Some of us, including some Labour Members, voted against the measure on principle. He says that it may be a positive thing to have this sort of deprivation. His party abstained, with Whips quite forcefully stopping people voting. What is the Labour party’s position on the principle at stake?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come on to that point in a moment. We abstained on
The Labour party and my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper will not do anything that puts the security of the United Kingdom at risk. I want to ensure that we do not remove citizenship without a proper right of appeal. I want to ensure that people know the grounds of that removal of citizenship and that the consequences are considered. I want, with the Minister, to tighten up how the Government intend to exercise that power. How do the Government intend to ensure that what is “reasonable” is deemed to be reasonable? I want to give the Minister the opportunity to explain that. This is a serious matter that needs proper parliamentary scrutiny. We have had a very short time in another place and one day in this House to consider this matter. We need to look at it in much more detail and we need to take evidence. A large number of people outside this place have raised concerns and we need to ensure, and not just in one-and-a-half hours, that the Minister justifies the opportunity and practice over a period of time.
The more the right hon. Gentleman speaks, the more confused I am about his position. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tabled the amendment in January, so more than three months have passed since she put this provision before Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has now said, notwithstanding the fact that the amendment says the Committee will serve for the duration of the Parliament, that it could all be sorted out before the summer recess, which is only two months away. What does he expect to learn in the next two months that he has not learnt in the past three?
I think both Houses of Parliament should have an opportunity to take evidence, as happens during pre-legislative scrutiny, and I am not the only person who thinks that. Moving the amendment in the House of Lords, Lord Pannick said:
“A Joint Committee is required because Clause 64 was added to the Bill very late in the passage of the Bill through the other place—that is, 24 hours before Report and Third Reading…so there was no pre-legislative scrutiny of this proposal, no consultation and no opportunity for consideration by the Public Bill Committee of the other place. The absence of pre-legislative scrutiny and proper consultation is especially unfortunate in a context such as this.”—[
Official Report, House of Lords,
Mr Harper may want to steamroller the Bill through, but I think it important that we get it right.
There is a great, gaping hole in the Government’s argument. However much the Minister may speak about the powers of the Home Secretary, no British Home Secretary in the House of Commons has ever had the power to impose on a sovereign nation state laws governing whom it should or should not take back, and to whom it should or should not give a passport and citizenship.
My hon. Friend has anticipated some of my own arguments. Like Dr Huppert, I think we need to examine important issues relating to both the deprivation of citizenship and the impact on terrorism prevention. The Minister is seeking to delete the amendment in order to prevent potential terrorist action. I want to test him on that, potentially during scrutiny in the Committee, but also in the House today.
If citizenship is removed from an individual who happens to be outside the country, we shall have given up all jurisdiction over that individual, who could be returned to the United Kingdom by a third-party country that did not recognise him as having citizenship of that country. As Lord Kingsland said in 2002, he will not be the responsibility of the United Kingdom, but will still be potentially able to undertake activity that the Minister would not support, as a result of the Minister’s own actions.
I am somewhat confused by what the right hon. Gentleman is now saying. Does he not support the Government’s existing use of the deprivation powers to deal with counter-terrorism?
The Minister should reflect on that. He will know that the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 specified just two grounds on which citizenship could be removed: it could be removed from those who had gained it through fraud, and it could be removed
“if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of…the United Kingdom”,
provided that the revocation of citizenship did not render the person stateless. That is the point, and that is the position that was taken by the Labour Government in the 2002 Act, about nine to 12 months after the horrendous events of 9/11. Surely, if we made that judgment in 2002, at the height of concern about the impact of 9/11, the Minister will be able to back it up in 2014. If he cannot, let him justify that to a Joint Committee. Lord Pannick said in another place:
“The Joint Committee will also want to consider whether the benefits, if any, of the proposed new power justify the… international implications.” .”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1169.]
How can the British Government lecture others, or promulgate international law, when the Bill proposes the establishment of circumstances which, in my view, would break international requirements across the board? The Minister says that that is not the case, which is a view that we need to discuss.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend has just said, but is not one of the fundamental problems the fact that what the Government are doing has about it more than a whiff of Executive decision making on major issues to which there is no simple legal remedy? The Government are trying to avoid a court process, and to give powers to an elected politician over an independent judiciary.
I am grateful for that because my hon. Friend anticipates the concerns we had and that we raised in the debate on
Like my hon. Friend Sir Richard Shepherd, when I hear phrases like “review by SIAC” I shudder on the question of process, but I am interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman would say to my constituents who want us to move quickly on all immigration issues—who say we are not moving fast enough, we are not making change quickly enough. What is the relative merit of his proposal to support Lords amendments that would delay enactment as opposed to the Government proposal to see and review the impact after enactment?
That is a legitimate question, and it is one that deserves an answer. The point I would make is that we are legislating. If we legislate for this and if it goes back to the other place in the form the Minister has brought forward, it will be enacted: it will have Royal Assent within a matter of, presumably, days. We will therefore have one year of operation between May or June 2014 through to May or June 2015. That is fair enough. We will then review it and make changes. All the concerns raised by Members today would potentially be applicable in that 12-month period. The argument I would make is that if we accept the amendment that has been considered by the Lords, we can look at this, get it right and ensure that the concerns that have been raised not just here today but by Members in another place are dealt with. The measures that are taken will then have the full confidence of both Houses of Parliament. At the moment, given the vote that was taken in the other place—242 in favour and 180 against— the proposals the Minister brought forward previously do not have the support and confidence of both Houses. The removal of citizenship is such a challenging and extreme measure to take that it must have the confidence of both Houses of Parliament.
I listened with interest when the right hon. Gentleman talked about his fear that the UK would be in breach of its international obligations in relation to statelessness if the Government’s proposals went through. Which particular international obligations does he think the UK would be in breach of?
I am trying to ensure that we propagate good practice. There are many states that currently remove citizenship from individuals. It has happened in Iraq and it has happened in other countries before, and we have been critical of that. We are trying to ensure that any action taken by a Government, particularly when it is one of Executive power by the Home Secretary, is supported by both Houses of Parliament.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman the opinion of international lawyer Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, who says:
“any state that admitted an individual on the basis of his or her British passport would be fully entitled to ignore any purported deprivation of citizenship and as a matter of right return that person to the UK.”
That was the point made by my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson. We need to consider this in considerable detail.
The shadow Minister did say that this was in breach of our international obligations, but he now says it is only a matter of good practice. He has quoted another international jurist and many Members from the other place, but we are the elected Member. Some of us have come to this debate to try to make up our minds. If we could hear more of what the right hon. Gentleman thinks of the principle of the Bill and the arguments around it, we could make a decision today, and I for one would enormously appreciate that.
I could do worse than to cite what Lord Deben, a Conservative peer, has said—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman looks as though he lacks concern about this, but I am expressing a number of concerns that have been expressed, both in this House and in—[Interruption.] My view is that we need to ensure that if we take this step, we do it in an effective and appropriate way that does not damage the credibility of the anti-terrorism case. Removing someone’s citizenship is an extreme measure and it has to be done in a way that is appropriate. The Minister has not made it clear to me that the “reasonable” judgments of the Home Secretary—[Interruption.] If the Parliamentary Private Secretary would like to join in the conversation, he could go to the Back Benches and do so. For the past three months we have received wodges of legal advice and wodges of views saying, “This is not practical, it will not be effective and it will damage our attacks on terrorism.” The Minister is asking us to take things on trust, but the other place has determined that it wants to examine these issues in detail, argue them and test the Minister on them, and that is a fair proposal.
Lord Deben, a Conservative colleague of Mark Reckless, has said that
“to take away someone’s citizenship, it is not reasonable to say that you assume that they can get another country’s citizenship. It is only reasonable to say that you know that they have another citizenship; anything less than that is wrong. It may not be convenient, but it is not right.
We have been the signatory to and the driver of much of the international law that seeks to reduce statelessness to its minimum. I fear that in this particular case, we may, for very good reasons—in seeking to close loopholes…do something which will do great injustice to a very small number of people.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 March 2014; Vol. 753, c. 213.]
That is what we need to test by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and that is what we need to test over the next few weeks and months, which is why the other place has given its support. Justice, Liberty and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, among others, have made cogent arguments as to why we need to consider this in detail. We need to examine it, and I support the retention of the Lords amendment and hope the House will do so.
I am greatly concerned about this measure, and I will just make some observations. The Minister referred to the power that the Home Secretary used to have in relation to something being not conducive to the public good. Its removal created a real difficulty for Governments, but my concern is not the difficulty for Governments; my concern is for the British common law system. This is not about the European Court of Justice—its rulings or anything else. The issue of concern to me is: what is our process?
I believe, and this was fundamental to our legal system, that a person should know the reasons why they are to be aggrieved, but that is not possible under the Bill. He or she will not know the reasons why they are being deprived of citizenship, so they can make no case that can be held to be valid, because they do not know what they are challenging—or they will claim they do not know what they are being challenged with. We do not know and the public do not know, so this violates one of the first principles of our legal system—our common law system. I want the House always to remember that our common law system in England has been absolutely essential to our liberties, freedoms, standing and our sense of who we are.
I understand the difficulties that Governments face, as there are a lot of wicked, evil people out there, but the answer has always been to prosecute. We are told, “Oh we can’t prosecute because in a prosecution we may have to reveal our sources.” This is the nightmare situation that the world in which we now live is facing: we are not to know, we cannot know and we cannot challenge. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission is one of the most monstrous extrusions on the national scene, as not even the solicitor representing the accused or the person who loses their citizenship knows the reasons why their client is there. Gisting? Well, all those rules that have been put in place essentially deny open justice using the argument of national security.
I have been a Member of Parliament for 36 years, and I look back over the decline of our sense of who we are, what our system is, and our freedoms and liberties, which are concentrated in the concept of the common law. I did not invent it—we did not invent it—it came from the movement of the people of this country over hundreds of years and the development of our legal system. Year after year, in a way that one could never assume would happen, Governments have gone out searching for new measures to conceal the openness of what justice should be. We, as citizens of this country, have a right to know why people are charged. That is why we have an open court system, so that we can judge whether the measures are competent, reasonable or truthful to the purpose of our nation. That is why I cannot support the very notion that so much power should be concentrated in one individual—a Home Secretary—whether good or bad, that they may make decisions of this nature without our being able to challenge whether they are valid, true or right. I want the House to stand up for who we are and what our system of justice is—and it is not secret justice.
It is always a pleasure to follow Sir Richard Shepherd. What a powerful case he has made about the closed process of justice, which has become a feature of the Government as they proceed on issues of national security.
When the Government first came to power, I cheered them on, as they practically went around deconstructing Labour’s anti-civil libertarian state, which we all remember: identity cards; the national database; pre-charge detention. I cheered the Government on when they did that, but they have now constructed a closed process with a lack of justice—all the things that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills powerfully expressed. We have created a new anti-civil libertarian state, helped by the Liberal Democrats. This is not the type of justice, society, country and community that we want. We are better than that. Yes, we need to balance national security and civil liberties, but this is another Government who have got it wrong.
The plans were roundly monstered in the House of Lords, as they deserved to be. If one looks at how many lords supported the amendment and spoke against the measures, we find one former Director of Public Prosecutions, a former Supreme Court judge and even 23 Liberal Democrat peers. The measure was defeated by 242 to 180 votes in the House of Lords, which demonstrates wide-ranging opposition and great concern about proceeding in this way.
The Lords amendment does not even seek to delete the clause. I wish that it did. I do not have a vocation like Labour spokespeople. I think that this is a bad measure, and I voted against it in principle because it is fundamentally wrong to remove the citizenship of people of this country just because they are suspected of being terrorists. That is absolutely wrong—I make no bones about that—and I wish that the amendment deleted the entire clause. However, it does not do so; all that it seeks to do is to set up a Committee of both Houses to look at the implications of the measure and see whether we are doing the right thing.
We have not had a chance to look at the measure properly in the Commons. It was introduced on Report without our having any opportunity to consider its value or implications and what it meant in the context of the Bill. The Lords had a little more time; we have an hour and a half to consider what the Lords said, to look at the measure again and, I hope, to make the right decision. The amendment does not ask us to reject the measure; it just asks us to look at it again.
Panicked by the Lords defeat, the Government have introduced their own amendments, which would provide a review once the measure had been implemented. That is closing the stable door after the horse has left without its passport, having been deprived of its citizenship. It is too late to do anything then. We have to take a look at how the measure would impact on what we are trying to achieve and secure before we effect any legislation rather than afterwards.
Under the Government amendments, before depriving people of their British citizenship, the Home Secretary would be required to have
“reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able” to acquire another nationality, and a review of the measure after one year and then again every three years would also be required. There are so many difficulties with the Government’s suggestions, however. The principal power would still be exercised by the Home Secretary, who would subjectively assess whether another nationality was theoretically available. We have just heard the Minister’s desperate attempts to answer the many points paraded before him during this debate. How will this work in practice? We were looking for answers when this proposal was first promoted on Report, and we are looking for answers today, but nobody knows how much of a limbo effect this will have on people who are suspects and will be subjected to this attempt to deprive them of their citizenship. We have had no clear answer on how it will impact on the individual.
The Government review will allow the Home Secretary a veto on the information put before Parliament, thus compromising both the independence and the transparency of the process. If the Government are so confident of their proposals, surely they have nothing to fear from making the case to a parliamentary Committee in a timely, considered and evidence-based manner. This contempt for the legislature and this rushed approach to law-making is no way to produce the type of outcome that we want. This measure is so draconian that it must be looked at before it is implemented, and we must have a pre-legislative look at it rather than a post-legislative review.
Of all the things said in the Lords debate, the words of Lord Pannick were the most powerful, when he said:
“There are, regrettably, all too many dictators around the world who are willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon…and we should do nothing to suggest that such conduct is acceptable.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1169.]
It seems as though the Government message has been listened to already, when we have heard Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National party in France calling on the French Government to implement the Home Secretary’s plans. That just shows what a bad international example we are setting—a dreadful example around the world. This is a policy for despots, not democrats and for “liberal strippers”, not liberals. The UK’s reputation as a country that values the rule of law will be put at risk if MPs do not oppose the Home Secretary’s plans for citizenship-stripping. People need only to be suspected of terrorism to be deprived of citizenship, and we have still not heard any satisfactory answer on what will happen to these people.
This measure is unfair, possibly unlawful and unlikely to make the UK any safer. It is also a feature of the type of democracy that we are beginning to see here in the United Kingdom, with the rise of UKIP and a grotesque race to the bottom between this Government and UKIP to see who can be the toughest on immigration measures and who can be the best at stripping off our citizens’ civil liberties. Let me tell the Government that they will never beat UKIP on this. It is an absolute certainty that UKIP will always triumph when it comes to this appalling race to the bottom.
The Lords amendments would provide time for further reflection; the Government amendments are no substitute. Let us make sure that we support the Lords amendment; let us make sure that we look at this issue properly before going down this appalling road.
Let me first remind the House what we are asking it to do today—to disagree with the Lords in their amendment. I have a reason for saying that. I listened carefully to what Mr Hanson, the shadow Minister said, as he carefully avoided setting out his party’s view and quoted lots of other people back at us. His proposed solution was to spend the next two months before the summer recess coming to a rapid conclusion. I think that he accepts that there is a legitimate national security issue here, but what he said does not reflect what the amendment says.
Paragraph (2) of Lords amendment 18 talks about nominating a Committee that would serve
“for the duration of the present Parliament”,
with no deadline to reach a conclusion. I repeat what I said in my intervention on the right hon. Gentleman. I accept his point that there was not much time between tabling the amendment and the Report stage in this House. It is a perfectly fair point that we had discussions before the issues were discussed in the House of Lords. However, three months have elapsed and these matters have been considered in the other place, and I really do not understand what we are going to learn in the next two months that we have not been able to learn in the past three months.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the proposal is that the Committee shall serve for the duration of this Parliament. I was trying to be ever helpful by offering the Minister the opportunity that we could, through the usual channels, determine to examine these matters in a reasonable time. We could set that time informally even if the Committee did serve for the duration of the Parliament.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but that is not provided for. The Committee regulates its procedure. Nothing here talks about the balance of party members on the Committee. The Chairman of Committees in the other place will nominate the members from the House of Lords, and the Speaker of the House of Commons will nominate those from this place. There is no provision in the amendment to do what the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
If a Committee of members of both Houses considers the matter at length, it will produce a report. If we accept for the sake of argument that it manages to agree on the right outcome, it will only produce a report that will inform a further debate in this House. Members of this House will still be required to take a decision. We will still be required to weigh up the arguments that my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration so ably laid out before the House today and the Home Secretary did in January. We will still be required to consider the arguments that the shadow Minister did not put before the House; he simply recited the views of others. We will not be freed from the responsibility of taking a decision. It is the “kick the can down the road” amendment, which allows the House to avoid taking a decision.
These are difficult issues. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend Sir Richard Shepherd, whom I respect hugely on these matters, but there is a balance to be struck between defending the liberties of our citizens and protecting us from terrorism. I do not reach easily for the national security argument. I was pleased when I was elected to the House to vote against the provisions for 90-day pre-trial detention. But this is a proportionate and limited proposal. I supported the previous measure. The Home Secretary has listened to the debate on
A review mechanism is now in place, whether by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation or another independent person, which will enable the House to look quite quickly, after an initial one-year process, and then every subsequent three years, at the actual implementation of the legislation in practice, so enabling us, if there are issues, if some of the concerns set out by my hon. Friend for Aldridge-Brownhills or others come to light, to enable the House to amend the legislation. The concern that the Home Secretary set out with the al-Jedda judgment leaves a gap in our legislation, which leaves us vulnerable to those who would do us harm.
Given my hon. Friend’s expert knowledge on this subject, can he give the House some indication of how many people this treatment might be applied to? Are we talking about very few people?
My hon. Friend the Minister set out how many individuals had been deprived of their citizenship on non-conducive grounds, so not using this power, since 2006, and it was 27. It is not possible to know in advance, but we are talking about very small numbers. We are talking about people who conduct themselves in a way that is seriously prejudicial to our national interests. It is a small number of people, but it is a small number of people who mean to do us serious harm, but whom we are not able to prosecute.
This is a proportionate use of the Home Secretary’s power. It is reviewable by the independent judiciary, so there is a check and balance in place. We have to ask ourselves whether we want to leave ourselves open to this vulnerability, exposed by the Supreme Court. We are, as I said, only putting the law back to what it was before 2002. I do not think that any of the scenarios set out by Members happened before 2002. I urge Members to disagree with the Lords in their amendment and to put amendments (a) and (b) on the statute book when we vote this afternoon.
Order. Before I call anyone else to speak, let me say that we have a very short time in this part of the debate, so I urge Members to be brief in consideration of their colleagues.
I will be brief. I spoke in 1997 in the debate on the formation of SIAC, and I was wrong. I thought that the changes that were being made from the previous system were sufficient to protect people who are accused of terrorism. I reminded the House then that the previous arrangements had been used against not just people who wanted to blow up our country but journalists and others such as Mark Hosenball. One reason why we need to have a publicly accountable system, as mentioned by Sir Richard Shepherd, is that, without it, there cannot be a guarantee that a Home Secretary will not end up doing the same again.
I said in the debate about the formation of SIAC that transparency is the most effective protection against terrorism. I am really concerned that this arrangement not only risks creating statelessness but depends on a grossly untransparent system. I think that we should adopt the route that the Lords has offered us: yes, it is kicking the can down the road, but it is stopping and thinking so that the can is not mashed, thus destroying the reputation of our country.
It is a pleasure to follow Fiona Mactaggart. I pay tribute to her for her acceptance that SIAC was an error and a big problem. Indeed, it is rare in this place for any of us to admit making a mistake. The encroachment of secret justice started with that commission and has continued in a number of other ways.
In the interests of time, I will not go through all my concerns. I have expressed them on a number of occasions in debates in the main Chamber and in the Home Affairs Committee and in discussions with the Minister. The reasons for my concerns remain the same, which is why I was proud to oppose the measure when we discussed it previously, and acted as a teller for the other side. It is a shame that more people did not join us, and I pay tribute to those who did, especially those Labour Members who braved the wrath of their Whips to fight their way into the Lobby, where we saw some interesting rows. It is also interesting to see people who voted for it on that occasion now opposing the principle. I still oppose the principle. There has been much more debate, both in the other place and on the Home Affairs Committee, which has helped to clarify how the measure might work. The Select Committee’s report on counter-terrorism is due out shortly, and I hope the Minister will look carefully at what it says. Obviously, I cannot presage its comments on anything, but I am sure that he will be interested to see it.
There are many issues relating to what happens if somebody is stateless in this country. If we end up leaving someone stateless because they cannot get the passport that we thought they could apply for, we have taken somebody who is apparently dangerous to us and prevented them from leaving the country. That does not seem a great success to me. There is also the issue about what happens if they are overseas. It also fosters the idea of two classes of citizen—people whose citizenship can be taken away without them being convicted of something and those who cannot have it taken away. It is about how the legal process works and much, much more.
In the interests of time, let me talk about the Government concessions, which I welcome. They are a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough for me. There are two of them. I welcome the concession about the independent reviewer, and I was pleased to hear the Minister imply that it may be the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, for whom I have huge respect. I would be more encouraged if he, rather than others, was taking on the role. I understand that no decision has yet been made. Will the Minister clarify whether the reviewer will look at specific cases, or just the overall process? Will they be able to trigger a review if a particular case has gone wrong? Will they have full access to all the information that SIAC has? If the independent reviewer does not have all that information, it will be hard for them to make a proper judgment.
Let me turn to the other amendment about reasonable grounds for belief. I welcome this step, because it addresses the key issue of avoiding statelessness. We should all be very concerned to avoid anything that will leave people stateless. My concern is about how certain we are. It was helpful to hear the Minister say—I ask him to correct me if I misquote him—that if someone wanted to claim asylum from a country, that would be deemed to mean that the Home Secretary could not act. If it was not possible to get the citizenship without travelling and the person was stuck in this country, that would be an issue.
I am still concerned about the appeal rights and about what will happen if the Home Secretary makes an error. What will happen if she acts reasonably, but it turns out that she is wrong and someone cannot get citizenship? That would be very alarming and I hope that the Minister will consider the issue and perhaps even tighten this up in the other House.
It is a disgrace that we are talking about civil liberties and yet we have only nine minutes left, the debate in the Lords ended only 18 hours ago, and the amendments land before the House when it is likely to rise early next week because of insufficient business. Our job is responsibly to look after our constituents’ interests, which means both their human rights and their protection and security. Not one of the amendments we are considering is capable of doing that as a result of this bouncing of the House. I have been in this place only 17 years now and the worst civil liberties violations have occurred when the House has been bounced into urgent decisions. That is what is happening today and I resent that.
I resent it on behalf of my constituents. The practicalities of the provisions mean that we will deprive some of their citizenship and, as Sir Richard Shepherd has said, we will do so in a way that will not even allow them to answer the charges themselves. That is the SIAC process, which I voted against all those years ago.
What are the practicalities of depriving someone of their citizenship when they are a threat, particularly if they are abroad? In the other House there was a discussion about the comity of interest between individual states. What are we to do? Will we deprive a suspected terrorist of their citizenship and leave them as the responsibility of another state? Will that protect our citizens’ interests, if that person can then roam free to take action against this country? That is not fair, just or based on human rights, and it does not practically tackle the issue of security.
The Lords want time to set up a Joint Committee to give this difficult area of policy the detailed consideration it needs. The Minister referred to the Government’s proposed review as independent, but the amendment makes no reference to independence. The reviewer will be appointed by the Government, not by an independent process. In addition, the Secretary of State will have a veto over what is reported to the House and that applies not just to national security but, as the amendment says, to public interest. Public interest has been used in this House by successive Governments to avoid embarrassments and to avoid providing the House with information on which we can make considered judgments.
The Government’s amendments are not acceptable. I do not think they resolve the concerns that the other House has raised and I hope that that place holds firm so that we can negotiate a proper process. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson that we need a reasonable process within a limited period of time to allow us to return to the House to consider proper proposals that protect civil liberties while, just as importantly, protecting the security of our constituents.
I feel like I am in an episode of “Just a Minute”, Madam Deputy Speaker, but here goes.
I support the Government’s amendments, as we must focus on the issue. This is not some descent into despotism; all we are talking about is a return to the law as it stood before 2002. We are not even talking about the principle of statelessness, because the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 allows for a person to be stateless when that nationality has been obtained by fraud. We are talking about only a very small cohort of people who pose a serious threat to the safety of the citizens we represent.
It is important that the Government ensure that they do not end up with decisions being made in an arbitrary or disproportionate way, which is why the provision about reasonable grounds is important and goes a long way towards answering that point. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a Member, correctly said that the decision to deprive people of their state per se does not breach any international conventions. That is the case that was not properly answered by the Opposition.
In the seconds I have left in which to speak, all I can say is that the Government have moved a significant way and that that allows me and others to support their amendments and reject the Lords amendment.
It is worth outlining again at the outset the purpose of the Government’s amendments, which is to close a gap that has been highlighted by the Supreme Court, to guard our national security and to deal with a very small number of individuals who put this country’s security at risk. It is only to deal with those very serious cases of people whose conduct meets the requirement of being
“seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK.”
It is important to understand the context and how the Home Secretary, in exercising the power based on the amendments, must have reasonable grounds to believe that under the laws of a country or territory an individual is able to become a national of that country or territory. We have listened to the points that have been made about statelessness, and the amendments address and significantly close the issues that have been highlighted in the other place.
On scrutiny, as my hon. Friend Mr Buckland said, the matter has been considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as in the other place, so it is not correct to say that it has not been subject to careful consideration in the other place and by Members of this House, or considered in detail. That was incorrectly suggested by Mr Hanson, who spoke for the Opposition on the Front Bench. He has made various assertions that in some way the provisions are not compliant with our conventions and obligations to the United Nations. I reject that. We do not accept that in some way the provisions that are contemplated in the amendments do not comply with our conventions. Indeed, we believe that they adhere more closely to our obligations.
I am afraid that I do not have time to give way.
We have reflected on the need for oversight and have provided for periodic independent reviews. My hon. Friend Dr Huppert asked whether David Anderson is an appropriate person. He is certainly someone we are examining and we want to have discussions, if the amendments are accepted, to consider his role in that context.
We take our obligations on statelessness extraordinarily seriously and in terms of common law the House has considered these matters in the recent past. My hon. Friend Sir Richard Shepherd has consistently made that point. There are challenges for the Government in what we are able to do to ensure that evidence can be provided appropriately in guarding our national security, and that gisting of facts and information remains available. It is important that the right of challenge exists, but it is also important that we guard our national security, which is why I commend the amendments to the House.
Ninety minutes having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.
The House having divided: