Amendment 25

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 27th January 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 4:15 pm, 27th January 2022

My Lords, we are told that the provisions of Part 1 overall seek to remove historical anomalies and to remedy areas of historical legislative unfairness in British nationality law that have prevented citizenship being available to a range of people deemed to have the right to it.

Although we have already discussed some of the problems today, and possible improvements to Part 1, on the whole this part of the Bill is full of positive aspirations, and I welcome it. However, Clause 9 as presently framed stands out as jarring and negative, as it confers on the Secretary of State even more ill-defined and overreaching powers to make citizenship-stripping orders without notice and effectively without appeal, as we have heard. However, it builds on a prior problem of treating citizenship as contingent—a gift of the Home Secretary. We have a chance here to build on the theme of the intent of Part 1, which is to be able to remove historical injustice. That is why I have put my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, which strips back powers to the 1981 Act, as he explained.

I will not give as long a rendition of history as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, did—his was ever so interesting —but I want to go a bit further back to look at how we got here. Way back in 1870, William Gladstone proposed a plan to require the ability to revoke the naturalisation of any individual who

“acted in a manner inconsistent with his allegiance as a British subject.”

What is interesting is that this was vigorously opposed by Lord Houghton as a

“transcendental power—more than ought to be entrusted to any man.”

Lord Houghton added that not only was this to place too much power in the hands of the Executive but that the law would also be discriminatory in dealing

“differently with naturalized than with British-born subjects.”—[Official Report, 10/3/1870; cols. 1616-18.]

Parliament then agreed with Lord Houghton, and I hope that today’s Parliament will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

Parliament and Lord Houghton then rejected the proposal by arguing that citizenship is a right that should not be arbitrarily removed by the state—“Hear, hear” to that. Now, sadly, this Government and previous Governments enjoy far greater transcendental power than Mr Gladstone ever dreamed of. They are treating citizenship as a privilege, not a right, and they carry on apace.

Following some points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on 1918, I find it extraordinary that, in 2017, more Britons have had their citizenship revoked than in both world wars combined. Since 2010, more than 150 people have been stripped of their citizenship; although, as the previous speaker already described, it is entirely unclear why and when, and what explains different figures at any time. But of course this is not just about numbers.

This amendment is drafted to undo an increasingly used power, and it would prohibit the Secretary of State making anyone stateless, other than those who have obtained citizenship through fraud or misrepresentation. I note that anyone who has obtained citizenship through fraud or misrepresentation is not a citizen at all. In other words, this is about protecting people who are citizens.

Clause 9 and the present powers are justified by the Government and in popular discussion on this issue as reserved for those who pose a threat to the United Kingdom or whose conduct involves very high harm. They are associated especially with jihadists—key dates form around 9/11, 7/7 and the rise of ISIS—and violent criminals. That explanation seems dangerous, as it allows the state to use the withdrawal of citizenship as a tool of punishment.

I make the point that citizenship is a legal status for individuals in perpetuity, with no ifs and buts. It enshrines a set of rights and responsibilities. As always when we have this discussion about the control of national borders, there is a spotlight on those trying to cross them and get in, as it were, but we do not give enough attention to the virtues of national borders for those within them. They allow the creation of citizenry with rights and the foundations of social bonds and solidarity.

Any nation state is not just an arbitrary grouping of individuals or made up of members of an abstract entity of humanity; national laws are made on behalf of citizens within a given territory and they do not apply to citizens of other nations. Democracy makes sense only within a specific place. Politicians in the UK are accountable to British citizens, not French or Australian citizens or what have you. UK citizens are then treated equally to each other within the boundaries of that nation state. They are treated equally at the ballot box or before the law. Whether bishop or builder, corporate CEO or cleaner, whoever or whatever your parents are, before the law and as voters, you are equal. That equality between citizens of any nation state means that they have different rights and duties from non-citizens.

For these special citizenship rights to mean anything, that equal treatment is crucial. Even when some of our fellow citizens renege on their duties and break the law—sometimes committing the most heinous transgressions of national law—we still do not renege on their citizenship.

We should not be squeamish about punishing British citizens who, for example, join a barbaric army such as ISIS, any more than when punishing British citizens who are child murderers or rapists. What we do not and should not do is wash our hands of our citizens because we deplore the vile crimes they have committed. Does it not exhibit moral cowardice if the state pretends it has no responsibility for dealing with the reprehensible actions committed by some of our own citizens? That is true for Stephen Lawrence’s racist murderers, Sarah Everard’s murderer or Shamima Begum’s active involvement in a death cult committed to destroying western free societies. What they all have in common, whether we like it or not, is that they are British citizens.

If ISIS and Islamist terrorism are considered special cases, as some argue, the Government should bring special legislative solutions to Parliament. Instead, the Home Secretary is given a general power to outsource British criminals to third parties, such as countries they have never set foot in, while allowing a practice that undermines and damages the very precious citizenship that British jihadis so grossly betray.

The truth is that this power given to Home Secretaries does not keep citizens safe in the UK. Instead, it creates a citizenship framework in which some are second-class citizens, their rights contingent and provisional. To those who say, “Don’t worry. Trust the Home Office not to abuse these powers. They’ll be used in only a very narrow way, directed at very particular people”, I reply: Windrush.

How counterproductive all this is. It is inevitably racially divisive and has caused huge worries and anxieties, as we have heard, among millions of British citizens, or would-be British citizens, especially those from ethnic minorities. As we noted at Second Reading, Part 9 sends a message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. While so many of our own fellow citizens feel their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, to be precarious, it makes an absolute mockery of demanding of them the duties of citizenship, such as loyalty, law-keeping, obligation to the life of the national community, and taking responsibility for the democratic future of one’s own society.

To conclude, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, cited British Future’s excellent report, Barriers to Britishness, which notes that, at a time when society can feel fragmented and atomised, when there are new challenges to a unified citizenship in the form of, for example, divisive identity politics, or in the context of many institutions that once bonded us all as citizens together having a less powerful hold and, to be honest, a trust deficit, then surely the common bonds of secure citizenship are more important than ever. In preference to this, this clause’s message—that citizenship is a privilege and that many possess it only under sufferance, depending on what a particular Home Secretary of the day, of whatever party, considers acceptable or unacceptable behaviour—is very damaging.

Let us take the opportunity of this Bill to reset the narrative. I will support a later amendment proactively promoting a positive citizenship agenda, but this amendment is a good start to this endeavour. I am also sympathetic to Amendment 32 and anything radical that secures the rights of British citizens, whoever they are, whoever their parents are and wherever they are from, and not the power to the Home Secretary.