My Lords, I thank the Minister for her letter to all Peers of
I have added my name in relation to Clause 9 standing part of the Bill, which was spoken to with such clarity and authority by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and will speak to that. No doubt there will be a need for some reflection on all the amendments in this group, as well as the stand part debate, as to what may or may not happen on Report.
Frankly, through Clause 9, the Government—metaphorically speaking, I stress—take no prisoners. They seek to amend the long-standing position, under the British Nationality Act 1981, that an individual must be notified if they are to be deprived of their nationality. That requirement of prior notice is removed by Clause 9
“if it appears to the Secretary of State that … the Secretary of State does not have the information needed to be able to give notice … it would for any other reason not be reasonably practicable to give notice … or … notice … should not be given … in the interests of national security … in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, or … otherwise in the public interest.”
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, made particular reference to that last part on the basis that it is so broad and wide-ranging.
Yet, as we know, the present rules already allow for citizenship deprivation letters to be delivered to an individual’s last known address. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out—this was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—the Government said that there have been no cases where the requirement to give notice stopped a deprivation of citizenship order coming into being. Of course, that begs the question: why do we have Clause 9 at all? I do not think that we got an answer to that in the letter from the Minister of
The number of people deprived of their citizenship, which the Government can now do on the basis that it would be
“conducive to the public good”,
has risen over the past 12 years. We have heard a variety of figures during this debate as to the extent of that deprivation and the numbers involved. I have a figure, too. It does not tally with some of the figures that have been given but the figure that I have is that, between 2010 and 2018, around 175 people were deprived of their citizenship on the grounds that it was conducive to the public good. A significant number happened in 2017, as has been said; the figures certainly seem to be on an upward trend.
“argued that notification had been given to D4, who has been detained in the … camp in Syria since January 2019, by simply placing a note on her Home Office file, relying on regulations introduced without parliamentary approval.”
Under Clause 9, we are faced with even wider powers being given to the Home Secretary. In the light of a note simply being placed on a Home Office file, relying on regulations introduced without parliamentary approval, how are we expected to have any confidence in the provisions of Clause 9 being applied fairly and objectively when this kind of thing is going on and has been brought to our attention? In how many cases has this been done, with a note simply being placed on the Home Office file? It certainly does not inspire confidence in giving the Home Office the kind of powers that are provided for in Clause 9. I know that the Minister will tell me that these powers relate only to the notification of a decision to deprive, but it is the criteria against which the conclusion can be reached to give notification of a decision without notice that are of concern.
If Clause 9 comes into effect, we can surely be in no doubt that the numbers will likely increase, because if the Government do not intend to use the additional power that Clause 9 gives them to deprive people without notice and without judicial involvement of their British citizenship, why are they seeking to include it in the Bill? It must be because they intend to do notices in this way, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has said about there having been no cases where the requirement to give notice had stopped a deprivation of citizenship, according to the information that he has been given. Assuming that they know the answer, in the light of what was said by the noble Lord, can the Government say what the number of people deprived of British citizenship would have been in each year since 2010 had this power to deprive citizenship without notice been available, compared with the actual number who had their citizenship withdrawn in each year since 2010?
The Bill says that a person so deprived of their citizenship without notice and without judicial involvement, and in secret, will be able to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal but, as so many other noble Lords have asked, how do you appeal against something that you do not know about? It could result in statelessness, yet the Government have decided not to tell you; they appear to have fairly wide-ranging criteria against which they can reach that decision and do not need to give you notification. Is not the reality that one of the key purposes of Clause 9, about deprivation of citizenship without notice, is to introduce measures that will in effect and in reality reduce rights to appeal? Is that not what it is all about? Will the Government be disclosing publicly the names of those from whom they have withdrawn citizenship without notice, so that we all know what was being done in our name and how frequently?
Other questions obviously arise in relation to Clause 9, but I am doing my best to stick to what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, wanted, which was to address the issue that is raised in Clause 9, although I agree with other noble Lords that all the points that have been made have been related to Clause 9. How and by whom will the definitions be determined of
“in the interests of national security” and
“in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country” and
“otherwise in the public interest” referred to in Clause 9? How and by whom will it be determined whether the Secretary of State has the information needed to be able to give notice and whether for any other reason it would be “reasonably practicable” to give notice? Who will make that decision? Will it be made by the Home Secretary? How hard will the Secretary of State be required to try to obtain the information needed to give notice to activate Clause 9? Against what criteria will the Secretary of State have to show that it would not be reasonably practicable to give notice to activate Clause 9? Where does that power live? Where does that decision-making rest?
As has been said, the consequences of this clause are likely to be felt most, but certainly not exclusively, by those from ethnic minority backgrounds. It is unlawful to deprive someone of their citizenship and leave them stateless. Even so, the Home Office is still on record as saying that British citizenship
“is a privilege, not a right.”
Yet without citizenship, people do not have rights. It has been estimated that nearly 6 million people in England and Wales could be affected and that, under this proposal, two in five British citizens from an ethnic minority background are eligible to be deprived of their citizenship without being told, since they have or may have other citizenships available to them. That compares with one in 20 characterised as white. That is a sobering consideration when looking at the merits or demerits of Clause 9.
It is time that we heard from the Government, but I say in conclusion that Clause 9 should not be in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, there are no safeguards, there is no accountability in respect of its powers, provisions and associated broad criteria and it is likely to increase feelings of discrimination and fear, apparently for no measurable or meaningful purpose at all.