Amendment 184

Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (5th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 10th February 2022.

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Lord Moylan:

Moved by Lord Moylan

184: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—“Consultation on citizenshipWithin six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must issue for public consultation a review of its implications for the nature of British citizenship and national cohesion.” Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires the Government to consult publicly on the impact of the Act on citizenship and national cohesion.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for detaining the Committee, given the lateness of the hour. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for adding their names to the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, asked me to convey his apologies for being unable to be here this evening because of a commitment tomorrow morning in Sheffield.

Although it is late, this is an important topic. The amendment was meant to give us the opportunity for a leisurely debate on the meaning and value of British citizenship. I suspect that it will be a shorter debate than was originally hoped, but nonetheless it is a very important topic. The British Nationality Act 1981 was shaped by Britain’s new place in a post-imperial world. Previously, we were subjects of the monarch, and the monarch’s sway extended throughout a large part of the world. With the transition to a post-colonial world, thought was given in the late 1970s and early 1980s to the meaning of the bond that should exist between the citizen and the state. An important White Paper in 1980 or 1981 set out the new and alien concept of citizenship—we had never really used the word “citizenship” before—that would express the close bond that existed between people and the United Kingdom.

The question really is: are we living up to the ambition that there would be a citizenship that was more than just a piece of paper, or a particular travel document, but would represent a close sort of bond? It was assumed, I think, in the White Paper and the British Nationality Act, that anyone who had the status of citizen would be treated equally; they would have an equal citizenship. I regret to say that I do not think that is really true any more.

The first inequality, which was discussed much earlier in Committee, on an earlier amendment, concerns the power the state has increasingly taken to itself to deprive British citizens of their citizenship; a power that, since 2015, has extended to any British citizen about whom the Secretary of State believes or has reasonable grounds for believing might have not another nationality but a claim to another nationality. This includes an enormous number of British citizens: anyone with an Irish grandparent and all sorts of people of Commonwealth heritage. The Prime Minister, sadly, since he had the misfortune to be born in the United States, has claims in that regard. All these people now hold a sort of second-class citizenship which could be removed from them by administrative action, simply on the grounds of a reasonable belief held by the Home Secretary.

There is another class of impaired citizenship, which requires me to make a brief comment on how citizenship is actually acknowledged. For most of us, it is acquired by birth or descent—our British citizenship is manifest, if you like, from the time we are born. But there are others who are born where their citizenship is more obscure; they might have been born abroad or their circumstances might be different. Because of that, since 1948 we have allowed people who are British to register that citizenship so that it can be acknowledged. But nowadays, we impose huge, almost punitive fees on people who wish to register their citizenship—their right to citizenship. While I have no particular objection to the Home Office making money out of the rich, if that is what it wants to do, when that becomes a bar to claiming rights to citizenship, it is a genuine obstacle to the exercise of a right and there should be some alleviation of the fee for those who find it difficult to pay.

The third category which is somewhat impaired are those people who are naturalised citizens. Naturalisation is not like registration. Naturalisation is a concession by the state. Nobody has a right to be naturalised as a British citizen, except as provided for in statute, but once they are naturalised, surely they should be treated equally with every other British citizen. Sadly, that has not been true since 1918. It seems to me that it behoves a Conservative Government in a post-Brexit world to have a clearer idea of the meaning, value and equality of citizenship, and I hope they will start to develop one.

I also come briefly to the question of the Government’s view of the value of citizenship—the joy we have in our British citizenship, if you like. I use that word because I spoke on another amendment in Committee about the joy I had seen in people coming to be naturalised and going through the citizenship ceremony process that was introduced about 20 years ago; we never had such a thing previously. I talked about the fact that, when you see these people—in my case, I would see them coming to my town hall—they were very often coming in a spirit of family joy, as if they were going to a wedding; it was a great thing. They were wearing their best clothes and were proud of the event.

I wonder whether the Home Office shares that sense of pride and joy; I do not necessarily feel that it does. Rather, I hear Ministers and government officials speaking increasingly of citizenship as if it were a privilege or concession, rather than a right. That is wrong and insulting, because it is a right. That is also logically absurd, if you think about it, because you have to have citizens before you can have a Government. You can have citizens without a Government—we call that anarchy—but having a Government without citizens is an absurdity. The citizens come before the Government. Citizenship is not conferred by a Government; rather, Governments are acknowledged and created, so to speak, by the citizens.

I will not say any more for now, because the hour is late. I know that one or two others want to speak, so I will leave them to take up the argument. I hope the subject I have raised is not too abstruse. I know the Ministers are tired; I understand that. They have worked heroically. They have been worn down by having to deal with highly detailed, technical questions and are now being invited by me to embark on a broader subject that may slightly frazzle their brains. However, I hope they might be able to make some sort of fist of a response, and I look forward to hearing what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to this amendment. At the risk of frazzling the Government Front Bench even further, I did so with citizenship having been one of my main areas of research and scholarship as an academic—fear not, I will not wear your Lordships’ patience with a treatise on the subject—and also having served on the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots.

Although, as our committee’s report made clear, citizenship is not just about the legal question of who is a citizen, some of our debates during Committee have raised important issues about this aspect of citizenship. During the first day of Committee, noble Lords such as the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, spoke about how citizenship has been degraded in recent decades by successive Governments. Their focus was exclusively on deprivation powers, but it is not only in respect of those powers that this degradation has happened.

Important too is the exclusion from citizenship of children and young people who are required to register their entitlement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, because of the immigration status of their parents, even though they may have been born in and/or lived their lives in the UK. Aspects we debated on the first day of Committee were the failure to raise awareness of rights of registration, the requirement to show good character even for children as young as 10 and the introduction of well above cost fees, which were described as punitive by the noble Lord.

With regard to the last issue, the level of fees charged for registration, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, for his letter of 8 February. In particular, I appreciate its recognition that the best interests of the child review required by the Court of Appeal under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 is separate from the point appealed to the Supreme Court. The decision on the Supreme Court appeal was published on 2 February, as noted in the letter, yet the rest of the letter was written as if it had not yet been published, which I found rather puzzling. It was a disappointing result from my side but, as the letter acknowledged, it raised a separate issue from that of the earlier best interests appeal, the result of which the Home Office accepted.

I have to say that, in view of that, it is still not clear to me why the best interests review had to wait over a year for that judgment. But, now that the judgment has been given, can whichever Minister is replying give us some idea of when we can expect the outcome of the best interests review and an assurance that it will be published? I ask because we may well want to return to this issue on Report.

The theme of my academic work was how we can best develop inclusive citizenship that recognises the importance of citizenship to identity, security and belonging. While that raises much wider issues than those we have debated in this Committee, from the perspective of both the exercise of deprivation powers and the barriers to accessing citizenship registration rights, we have been addressing ways in which citizenship is all too often in practice more exclusive than inclusive, especially for people of colour. The amendment would facilitate a public debate on the implications of this legislation for citizenship and cohesion, which are vital in the face of the many divisions that risk tearing our country apart. I hope the Government will take it seriously.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 10:30 pm, 10th February 2022

My Lords, most of the Bill has focused on those who are trying to arrive in this country and whose status is uncertain and contested. However, this amendment is about our attitudes to British citizens whose status is agreed and lawful and should be uncontentious. Yet parts of the Bill seem to be ambiguous about the rights and status of some British citizens. I remind noble Lords that British citizens are from a range of ethnic backgrounds, with many from first, second and third-generation immigrant backgrounds. As a society, these factors are and should be irrelevant. We are all fully British, and it is what we have in common that matters.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that British society in 2022 is not endemically racist. It has changed over recent decades. When I was a young activist in Coventry, Newcastle and then Bradford, gangs of racist thugs regularly hunted down and beat up immigrants, and often the police turned a blind eye. Workplace discrimination was also widespread. It changed because British citizens, often workers, enacted the slogan “Black and white, unite and fight!” and changed the climate and atmosphere—and, indeed, laws and policies—in this country. In other words, people came together beyond racial differences and created a better society. Citizens came together.

I worry that elements of the Bill undermine those achievements and degrade citizenship. But I also worry that contributions opposing the Bill—I have listened to a lot more of the debates than I have spoken in, which is uncharacteristic of me but I wanted to listen and learn—have sometimes done British citizens a disservice, somehow dismissing perfectly reasonable concerns about, for example, the migrant boats or the lack of control over borders as a populist dog whistle, and implying that British citizens are driven by anti-foreigner or even racist sentiments.

One of the reasons I support this important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is that I am keen that we use the Bill to show a commitment to a positive citizenship agenda and, as has previously been argued by the noble Baroness, that we have a public debate and discussion on it in positive terms.

As I explained in relation to Clause 9 in Part 1 of the Bill, I am keen that we bolster the virtues of citizenship and I worry that part of this Bill undermines citizenship in a divisive way. This amendment allows us to check whether this Bill causes any unintended damage, but also more proactively encourages a public debate on the equal rights and duties of all citizens.

Under a range of circumstances, people can work, live and study in the UK without becoming citizens, but for those who actively chose to become citizens or have chosen legally to become citizens, surely our aims should be to ensure that they are fully welcomed and integrated into the social fabric of the UK. Indeed, the amendment mentions social cohesion and it seems to me that the common bond of citizenship is hugely important in 2022, as our society has rarely been more fragmented or atomised.

Despite this, aspects of this Bill and a range of government policies seem to indicate that it is uncertain whether British citizenship is even a good thing. We have heard how the cost of citizenship is prohibitively expensive—the highest cost in the western world, in fact. I am glad that is being addressed. The process is so complicated that most people need lawyers to help them to apply to be citizens.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out that citizenship ceremonies—one of the good ideas of recent years—were joyous occasions. I think they want to be, but they often take place in neglected, hidden-away local council offices, while other countries celebrate them in iconic historic buildings and involve local communities, school pupils and residents in welcoming new citizens. Those kinds of ideas, as suggested by British Future’s excellent report Barriers to Britishness, I think the Government should take up.

Then there are those soulless multiple-choice citizenship tests that reduce British values to a box-ticking exercise and hardly encourage serious discussions of, let alone commitment to, shared national values. One problem, I suspect, is that we as a society are no longer confident that we know what British values are. On that issue, one trend we must avoid is that often when we discuss immigration, citizenship and social coherence, there is an implication that immigrants becoming citizens leads to lack of social cohesion; that they fail somehow to integrate into civil society or identify with the nation state.

I dispute this. So much evidence shows—and anecdotally I know—that many of those immigrant citizens are more likely to identify with the UK and be patriotic than, for example, your average activist student or a decolonising academic in British institutions, from universities to museums. That might be a bit glib, but I think we might all agree that British values are highly contested at home and have got nothing to do with immigration.

I would argue that recasting the project of collective citizenry with an emphasis on what all citizens have in common is a very important and positive move. That requires treating all British citizens as equal. One challenge to this is the present fashion for identity politics which fuels divisions, viewing citizens through the prism of ethnic and cultural boxes. This has led to the de facto treatment of individuals from minority groups not as citizens in their own right but simply as members of a particular ethnic background. This has led to well-documented problems of parallel communities in many towns and cities, and more recently this identity ideology has morphed into the racialising of politics and, for example, the absolutely unhelpful accusations of white privilege promiscuously thrown at citizens just because of their skin colour.

Surely what we need is a model of citizenship that cuts across this insidious focus on ethnicity or skin colour. It is one reason that I fear that the controversial Clause 9 in Part 1 has doubled down on the notion of tiered citizenship, with many citizens feeling insecure and that they are being treated as second-class citizens. British citizens from immigrant backgrounds fear that this Bill itself is racialising their experience.

This amendment would allow a fresh and positive reassertion of the idea that citizenship in the UK, unlike in other countries, once legally and lawfully acquired, is a permanent and inviolable right. It is not a privilege and it is not provisional; all British citizens are equal. This will undoubtedly help us tackle the fraying of social solidarity. This seems especially pertinent when we think of the boost that British citizens gave to the British democratic system when they voted to take back control. National sovereignty, if it means nothing else, is about creating the real living bonds of a British citizenry who are proud to be part of the United Kingdom. I hope the Government will seize the positive aspects of this amendment to improve their Bill and ensure British citizenship for everyone.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I will listen with interest to the Minister’s reply, on behalf of the Government, to this amendment. The amendment states:

“Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must issue … a review of its implications”.

One will have to start pretty smartly, once the Act comes in, to carry out a review and put it out for public consultation within six months. I am not necessarily sure that the implications will be fully known within six months, but presumably the movers of the amendment feel that that could be addressed and it could be done within that timespan. Usually, the Government would argue that this is far too quick and that they need more than six months.

What also strikes me is that the review is not going to be independent, or at least, the amendment does not say it will be. It states that

“the Secretary of State must issue for public consultation a review”.

It could be independent or it could be knocked together by the Secretary of State herself, as far as the amendment is concerned. It may be done by members of the Government, but I am not sure Mr Johnson ever talks in negative terms about his own legislation. If it is going to be a government review, I do not think it will say that the implications are adverse in any way. If it does, it would be a remarkable change of stance from this Government.

The amendment also says that it is a review only of the “implications” of this Act

“for the nature of British citizenship”.

To take the wording strictly, it is not a general review of

“British citizenship and national cohesion”, but one purely related to the “implications” of this Act for

“the nature of British citizenship and national cohesion”.

Those were a few thoughts on the wording of the amendment. If the Government wish to accept it, fine. We will not stand here and demand they change their stance, but I will listen to the Government’s response with interest. I suspect they may not accept it, or they may tell us that they are already doing other work on the nature of British citizenship and national cohesion, and we should wait for that and that it will be available in due course—which may be some years ahead.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, so many of the points made in the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, appear in my briefing note that I am suspicious that the Bill team is leaking him material. Perhaps I should institute a security review. But I am grateful to the noble Lord. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, that, far from frazzling the brains of the Front Bench, noble Lords’ contributions to this debate in Committee have had a tonic effect.

I laughed when the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced his remarks by inviting us to look at the wording because, with all due respect to my noble friend Lord Moylan, it seemed there was a degree of pretext about the manner in which this amendment was tabled. I noted that many of the points my noble friend made this evening were foreshadowed in previous debates. I accept that his purpose was to introduce a debate on the nature and values of citizenship, but we lack the time and personnel. This is not to suggest that the noble Lords who contributed are not Members whose views are listened to with the utmost respect, but I think my noble friend wished for a fuller House before these topics were canvassed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, who is nodding in agreement.

My noble friend Lord Moylan spoke about “the joy of citizenship” in a manner which, to Conservatives, called to mind the writings of the late lamented philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. My noble friend spoke about the history of the expression “citizenship” and took us back to the 1981 Act and the circumstances nationally and politically in which it was framed, wondering whether the hopes behind the legislative change in that Act were fulfilled.

Undoubtedly, for many of us, in a British context the expression which “citizenship” replaced, that of being “a British subject”, carried with it, at least in poetic terms, a greater resonance—although that is not to say that “citizen” is not an exceptionally powerful expression in other contexts too, particularly in France and the United States of America, where to say that one is a citizen of those countries is an extremely powerful thing. If the Committee will indulge me, my noble friend’s remarks prompted reflection on the speech of Cicero in the prosecution of Verres, when he drew the jury’s attention to the conduct of the tyrannical despot in flogging a man to death. When strokes landed on his back, he punctuated the blows by exclaiming, “I am a Roman citizen! I am a Roman citizen! I am a Roman citizen!” That is the power which the word can take on.

Returning to the more mundane, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for anticipating my point. The amendment does not and could not provide sufficient clarity without the leisurely debate that my noble friend has called for about what it wants the Government to do. It calls for public consultation and a review of the implications for the nature of British citizenship and national cohesion, but it does not say what the terms of reference should be for the review, nor who should lead it—to adopt again, gratefully, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am therefore concerned at the wide scope of the expressions “nature of British citizenship” and “national cohesion”. The scale of the questions likely to be posed were hinted at in a short but thoughtful contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, which alone could provide the House with material for a week’s-worth of debate.

The second reason why I cannot accept the amendment is that the call for public consultation—again, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was, as they say, bang on the money—to start within six months of Royal Assent is unworkable. Some measures in the Bill will not be fully in effect six months after Royal Assent. Many will, but some will take longer to operationalise, if your Lordships will pardon the neologism. Those measures that are fully in effect will, by definition, have been so for less than six months, so it is very doubtful that any such review could say anything meaningful about the impact they may be having.

However, I assure the Committee that as part of our work to start operating the Bill’s measures, we are drawing up plans to monitor and evaluate its impacts, and to develop the evidence base to support further work. For these reasons, and anticipating—

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 10:45 pm, 10th February 2022

That is a very helpful answer. I understand the technical difficulties of accepting the amendment, but monitoring is only one aspect. I supported this amendment because of its commitment to a public debate. On who might lead the inquiry, it could be the Minister, who actually understood the points about the importance of citizenship, whether he was referring to Cicero or the French meaning of citizenship. Might the Government come back with a better-worded version of this to ensure that the public have the kind of debate that we are not quite having tonight but is being hinted at? The amendment’s intention is to give the Government the opportunity to launch a positive discussion about British citizenship.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her intervention. I cannot promise that any such debate will take place within the framework of this Bill, but I merely reiterate my thanks to her, along with other contributors to this short and late debate, for focusing the Committee’s attention on these extremely important and significant matters.

In conclusion, and with thanks again to all who have contributed, I invite my noble friend Lord Moylan

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

I asked some very specific questions on the Section 55 review, partly because I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, would be responding. Even if he cannot respond now, could he write a follow-up letter?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

I am obliged to the noble Baroness, and I apologise for not raising the matter before I went to sit down. We will write to her to answer the point that she raised. Unless there are any other matters with which I can assist the Committee, I propose to take my seat, in the hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment at this stage.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, I think that, if the House divided now, we might win on this, but let us not pursue that thought. I will just say that I am extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Fox of Buckley, for their contributions to this debate. I am overwhelming grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for missing the point entirely and doing the Government’s work for them so effectively. However, I will look to him for support if I come back on Report, having changed the amendment to allow a more ample period for the review to be carried out and possibly even to specify who might carry it out. We could appoint the noble Lord himself in statute to lead it. If that were the case, perhaps he would come round to supporting it.

I much preferred the response of my noble and learned friend the Minister, not least because he brought Cicero into it. If the Committee will indulge me for a moment—I know that it is very late—I have to say that I once asked the current Prime Minister, when he was in a different role, for a reference for a particular purpose. One of the questions was, “Could you give an account of his speaking skills and abilities?” In the large box beneath it, in which he was expected to write several paragraphs, he simply wrote, “Ciceronian”. So my noble and learned friend will know that he is on the right side of power at the moment in his insight, and he should cling to that position for as long as it lasts.

On substance, I cannot do better than repeat the intervention made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. She said what I think the three of us wanted to say: there is a role for a debate about what citizenship and nationality mean. In my view, it is incumbent on the Government, especially in the new circumstances in which we have found ourselves since leaving the European Union, to initiate such a debate and have views on what the answers to those questions are.

I will not elaborate further on that because the noble Baroness said it very clearly. Temporally, noble Lords will be relieved to know that I shall not divide the Committee just now, despite the favourability of the numbers. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 184 withdrawn.

Amendments 185 and 186 not moved.