Amendment 25

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 27th January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee 5:00 pm, 27th January 2022

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt narrowed the debate to the issues that are in the clause, but the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, has widened it again by discussing broader powers. I do not have my name to any of the amendments, but I have been listening carefully to the speeches; indeed, we have been listening for the last hour and a quarter. Like other Members of your Lordships’ House I have had a volume of briefing, some of it arriving very late—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, earlier in our proceedings. It is quite hard to take it on when it arrives the morning before you are due to participate. Some of that briefing seems to be fairly hyperbolic, and I am not sure it is in terms that help a calm discussion of what has at its core the really serious point that my noble friend made about keeping people safe. Phrases such as “two-tier citizenship” do not help us to establish in a calm way what the underlying effect, impact and purpose of the clause is as presently drafted.

That said, when you pick up the Financial Times of 21 January and see that the president of the Law Society has the lead letter with the headline,

“Legal changes will put UK rights culture in peril”,

while other submissions suggest that the rule of law is being undermined, one has to sit up and take notice. I am not a lawyer, as the House will be aware, but I absolutely, comprehensively and unequivocally support the rule of law as a cornerstone of our society. So, in the couple of minutes that I have, I would like to try to pierce the fog of claim and counterclaim to see if one can reach any sort of firm ground. My respect for the rule of law stems from a lecture that I heard 50 years ago. It is our fate in this House to listen to an awful lot of speeches and an awful lot of lectures, and many of them disappear from one’s mind almost as soon as the speaker sits down, but this lecture from 50 years ago rings as true to me today as it did then. It came about because for a time after I finished university I went to live in the United States and Canada, and nearly stayed there. I went to do an MBA at the Wharton School of finance in Philadelphia. The school used to arrange for outside speakers, eminent people in various fields, to come and talk about their experiences.

One such person was a Cambridge University professor called Peter Bauer, later a member of your Lordships’ House as Lord Bauer, of Market Ward in the City of Cambridge. Peter Bauer was Jewish, born in Budapest in the closing years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, 1914-15, and his great contribution was looking at the role of development economics and how we manage to deal with it. That afternoon, he explained how no country could hope to survive without two things: the rule of law and respect for property rights. He went on to say that the rule of law was not an absolute; it was relative, and it depended on what he called the informed consent of a population—that is, if a large proportion of the population, having heard the arguments, had an informed position and did not agree with it then the rule of law was not assisted but undermined. In his view, to use an oft-quoted phrase, the law is too important to be left to the lawyers. In considering the difficult issues raised by the speeches and by Clause 9, I would like to test them against the Bauer “informed consent” test. In that sense, I have drawn certain conclusions but I am not on the Front Bench, so I hope my noble friend can reassure me that the interpretation I have made of the clause is in fact in accordance with reality.

Let us assume that we are on the lower deck of the Clapham omnibus. The passengers on the Clapham omnibus are our fellow citizens. They are a questioning crowd. They do not think the Government always have a lot to offer, and they think political parties of all persuasions probably have rather less. If we were to begin by explaining to them that our wish was to discuss the issue of the deprivation of citizenship, they would begin by asking, “Are the Government proposing to change the basis on which citizenship can be removed?” As I understand it, the answer is no. “If there is no change to that,” they would say, “then what is the change going to be?” The answer would be that if, after reasonable effort, the person who had done terrible things to our country could not be found, citizenship could be removed without notice being given directly to the person affected.

The people on the bus might then ask us, “If this change were not made, would people be able to hide themselves away to evade justice?” The same question might be asked about people who happened to live or ended up in war zones or areas of conflict. We would have to tell them that that would mean that they could not have their citizenship removed, because we could not reach them. Because they are suspicious of the Government, the travellers on the bus would ask, “Could the new procedures be appealed against, or are they just a fiat, without any appeal?” I understand that they can be appealed against. Because it is a Clapham omnibus, there will be people from all parts of our community, minority as well as majority, and they would want to be reassured that this was not going to be used, as my noble friend Lady Warsi suggested, against one particular part of our community. There is no evidence that I have seen that it is so designed.

Finally, I think they would say, “How big a problem is this?”. In particular, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, “How many people have had their citizenship removed on the grounds that it was not conducive to public good?” That is a big catch-all. I understand that fewer than 20 people on average have had their citizenship removed in recent years. Will my noble friend confirm that? If we had informed consent of what was planned on the Clapham omnibus—if Peter Bauer’s test was used—I think people would understand why this was being done.

We have heard a lot about the important moral case for protecting the position of everybody in our society, including that very small number of people who set out deliberately to do us terrible harm. However, as we struggle to balance the conflictive needs of freedom and security, we must not overlook the moral case for the silent majority—the millions of our fellow citizens who look to the Government to keep them safe and who do not expect offenders to be able to evade the consequences of their actions.

Could some of the sharpest corners in this legislation be smoothed off? I do not know, but it is because of those millions of silent majority who would see many of the objections to Clause 9 to be perverse, unfair, unreasonable or possibly all three, that I think the Government have so far got the balance right in what they are seeking to achieve in Clause 9 and why I support it.