Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Moved by
3: Clause 8, page 11, line 19, at end insert—
“(1A) Schedule 1 also amends the British Nationality Act 1981 to allow the Secretary of State to treat a person who has indefinite leave to enter or remain as meeting certain residence requirements in relation to an application for citizenship under those sections.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments to Schedule 1 in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I will aim to speak to all 11 amendments in my name, given that they touch on the same issue of requirements for citizenship applications. In doing so, I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, both for raising this issue in previous debates and her willingness to meet me, along with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to explain more fully her concerns. The noble Baroness has retabled her previous amendment on this subject, and I will set out how measures that we are proposing will, I hope, address her concerns.

As noble Lords will know, the British Nationality Act 1981 set out the requirements for persons wishing to become British citizens based on a period of residence in the UK, be that through naturalisation under Section 6(1) or Section 6(2), or registration under Section 4(2). All three of those application routes have a number of residential requirements designed to demonstrate sufficient ties to this country. One is commonly referred to as “lawful residence”—essentially requiring that the applicant was not in breach of the immigration laws during the requisite residential period prior to the application.

For the majority of applicants this requirement causes no issues. However, as highlighted previously by the noble Baroness, it can lead to frustration for some people. While not restricted solely to those who hold indefinite leave to remain—also known as settled status—under the EU settlement scheme, this group serves well to highlight the problem. In particular, those individuals who had previously been resident here as students or self-sufficient persons were required to hold comprehensive sickness insurance under the EEA regulations. That they had not done so did not preclude their being granted indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.

Many of that group understandably wish to progress to become British citizens. However, because they did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance, they technically were in breach of the immigration laws during their previous residence and fall to be refused in any application to become a British citizen. While the British Nationality Act allows for discretion around the lawful residence assessment, this can be applied only in the special circumstances of a particular case. Inevitably, that creates uncertainty for the applicant and may necessitate additional evidence to be supplied to justify the use of discretion.

The main thrust of these amendments is to resolve that impasse. Although not removing the lawful residence requirement itself, we aim to provide the Secretary of State with a much broader power to not even inquire into lawful residence for those who hold indefinite leave to remain. This is based on the simple fact that, for the vast majority of such individuals, any concerns about their immigration history will have been considered and addressed prior to any grant of indefinite leave. In other words, the immigration system, and reforms made since 1981, already demonstrate fulfilment of that requirement.

The amendments do not create an obligation to follow such an approach, but it is expected that it will be in only an exceptional case that we would not want to do so. An example of that might be where adverse information comes to light after indefinite leave has been granted and serves to cast doubt on the wisdom of that decision, but I stress that that would be an exception. The vast majority of people, to whom this does not apply—certainly those whom the noble Baroness has championed so ably—will be able to benefit from these changes.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, we support much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has just said and some of the questions she has put forward. No doubt, the Minister will respond to those questions. It has to be said that the Minister has come forward with some amendments that do improve the situation.

Can I just emphasise the important points the Minister made and clarify, in the light of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that she said it would apply to all residents, not just EU residents? That is an important point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made, and the House needs further clarification on what “all”—not to be pedantic—actually means in these circumstances for clarity of legislation.

Having welcomed the step forward the Minister has clearly made, I think that what “exceptional” means is also important—so that the Secretary of State will not use the power to prevent somebody without CSI gaining citizenship other than in exceptional circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, again, is right to ask for greater clarity about how “exceptional circumstances” will be defined and whether there will actually be guidance that any future Home Secretary will have to take into account in determining whether leave to remain should be changed to a full citizenship status in the particular circumstances with which this group of amendments is dealing.

I thank the Minister for coming forward with those amendments and trying to meet many of the concerns that were raised in Committee and before. I look forward, with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I am sure, to the answers to the important questions that have been raised, notwithstanding the amendments before us this afternoon.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for the points they have just made. I did refer to guidance in the points I was making in introducing. Yes, the guidance will make things clear.

In terms of “all”, “all” means all nationalities; the provisions will apply to all nationalities. I know the noble Baroness says this is a particular EU problem, but we are trying to make provisions that apply to all countries.

In terms of that point about “may” and “must”, “may” rather than “must” reserves the “may” for the most exceptional cases where it would not be appropriate to take that more generous approach. The provisions will be applicable to the vast majority of applicants, apart from those “may” applicants where a generous approach would not be appropriate—for example, criminality. I hope that explains it to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I do thank the Minister for that reply. I am not absolutely certain. It may just be that I did not follow the detail, but I am not sure I quite heard that the guidance, apart from in the exceptional case of criminality, will say that the Secretary of State will always exercise her discretion in favour of EEA applicants by not inquiring about the CSI record of the people that it affected.

I have some understanding for what she said about people with a criminal record but, that apart, I should like to hear—perhaps I will not get this today—that the guidance will say that, in normal cases, for EEA nationals, there will always be a good outcome in disregarding a CSI gap. I am not sure that I have quite heard that. I do not know whether the Minister wants to clarify that now, or whether I should just accept—

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I cannot make an absolutist comment, but I was trying to explain to the noble Baroness that anyone in the normal run of things—other than, for example, serious criminality—would be caught by the government amendments.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that further clarification. I think I have got as far as I am going to get—

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Moved by
4: Clause 8, page 11, line 22, at end insert—
“(b) in section 41(4), for “that section” substitute “section 41 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (regulations)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a minor clarificatory amendment which is consequential on the amendments to the 2009 Act made by Clause 8(2).
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Moved by
5: Schedule 1, page 86, line 6, leave out from beginning to “in” in line 7 and insert—
“(1) Section 4 (acquisition by registration: British overseas territories citizens etc) is amended as follows. (2) ”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 16.
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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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I think I am right in saying that until the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke, all those speakers who had spoken against Clause 9 were noble Baronesses. I am not sure what the significance of that is, and I do not say that in any wrong way; I think it is a great credit to them. Like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I hope they will forgive me for intruding on their space.

Although we appreciate that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, are certainly an improvement on Clause 9—I, too, would like to express my thanks to the noble Lord for all the work I know he has put in—as it stands, we do not feel the case has been made by the Government for why Clause 9, and deprivation of nationality without prior notice to the individual concerned, are actually necessary. That is what we are talking about: not whether nationality should be removed but whether it should be possible for the Secretary of State to remove it without prior notice.

Currently, under the British Nationality Act 1981, an individual must be notified if they are to be deprived of their citizenship. So what is the problem when, for example, the present rules already allow for citizenship deprivation letters to be delivered to an individual’s last known address, or to a parent, or to a parent’s last known address? I say that against the background that the Government have already said there have been no cases where the requirement to give notice has stopped—prior to the recent High Court decision—a deprivation of citizenship order coming into being. It is also against a background where the number of people deprived of their citizenship has risen considerably over the last 12 years—an upward trend with a peak, I think, in 2017.

One thing we can be sure of is that if the Government have the powers under Clause 9, even with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, we will see deprivation of citizenship orders being made without prior notice, because if it is not the Government’s intention to take advantage of the powers to deprive a person of their citizenship without prior notice, why are they seeking them? Against that scenario, we need to be satisfied that there is a real and overriding necessity for this additional power now, when it has not been deemed necessary before, beyond it being perhaps more convenient or helpful on occasions not to have to go through the procedure of giving prior notice to the individual concerned. The lack of a compelling and meaningful government response on that point, and there having been no cases where the requirement to give notice has stopped the deprivation of citizenship order coming into being, is significant.

If a proven national security need does arise for the power not to have to give prior notice of a deprivation of citizenship notice coming into being, the Government can get such necessary legislation through Parliament, as we know, with remarkable speed. In the absence of such a case being made for this power—and the lack of it clearly has not caused a serious difficulty until now—we should be wary of agreeing to Clause 9, even as amended, remaining in the Bill.

I suggest that the situation has not been helped by finding out from information in the Court of Appeal decision that in the D4 case the Home Secretary

“argued that notification had been given to D4 … by simply placing a note on her Home Office file, relying on regulations introduced without parliamentary approval.”

That ought to make us very wary about giving the Secretary of State and the Home Office the additional powers in Clause 9, now that we know how existing statutory powers and requirements on notification have been interpreted and implemented in the D4 case.

The consequences of the clause are likely to be felt most—but certainly not exclusively, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said—by those from ethnic minority backgrounds. It is no surprise that it is in this area that the Bill, particularly Clause 9, has caused most concern about how the new powers might be applied and interpreted and what the evidence is that they are needed now and have not been needed before.

It is unlawful to deprive someone of their citizenship and leave them stateless. Even so, the Home Office is still on record that British citizenship

“is a privilege, not a right”.

Yet without citizenship people do not have rights, and we are talking about significant 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—I think that was the basis of the comment about two classes of citizenship—compared with one in 20 characterised as white. That is a sobering consideration for the Government, or should be, when looking at the merits or demerits of Clause 9, not least in the light of how the Secretary of State and the Home Office in the D4 case interpreted and implemented the requirement to give prior notice under the law as it exists at present. What would be tried if Clause 9, even as amended by the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, gave the power not to have to give prior notice?

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised the issue of trust, or rather the lack of it, among society groups. The Government ought to reflect very carefully on that in considering whether Clause 9, even as amended, should remain in the Bill. I have to say that as far as we are concerned the case has not been made for Clause 9, even as amended, to remain in the Bill, and we shall certainly be looking for an opportunity to vote against it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, especially the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who has tabled these amendments; I am very grateful for his expertise in this matter. I also acknowledge Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and Amendment 22, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

The House will recall that we debated this matter at length in Committee. I say now, as I said then, that inaccurate and irresponsible media reporting continues to fuel fear and concern about how Clause 9 is to operate. I will repeat what I said then, starting with my noble friend Lady Verma: the deprivation power itself is not altered. Clause 9 does not alter the reasons why a person is to be deprived of British citizenship and we are not stripping millions of their citizenship.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and others, Clause 9 does not target dual nationals, those from ethnic minorities or particular faiths, or indeed women and girls; there is no secret decision-making, and law-abiding people have nothing to fear from Clause 9. It is simply about the mechanics of how a deprivation decision are conveyed to the individual concerned.

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We now have a clause and a Bill under which individuals who have been recognised as refugees will be given inferior treatment based on the way they came to the UK. That is contrary to the UK’s obligations under the refugee convention, and inconsistent with the right to a private and family life and the prohibition against discrimination under the ECHR. Clause 11, with its two-tier system, should be removed from the Bill.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke to these amendments. At the outset, I will dispel one widespread misapprehension about this clause. Under Clause 11, those who meet the terms of the refugee convention will be granted refugee status. There is no question of this clause making it harder to be a refugee or otherwise enabling the Government to refuse refugee protection to those who need it. That is simply not true. What the clause does is enable the Secretary of State to distinguish between refugees based on whether they came directly and claimed without delay, but anyone considered under this policy will be a refugee.

The status of Clause 11, as a deterrent, is closely tied to secondary movements and the first safe country principle. In Committee it was claimed that, for a number of reasons, the UK must allow people to choose to come here from other safe countries to claim asylum, if they wish. This is not sustainable. It has also been posited that requiring refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country would undermine the global humanitarian and co-operative principles on which the refugee system is founded. I categorically reject this. In fact, it would strengthen them, because more countries would have the capacity for resettlement via safe and legal routes. Quite simply, if spontaneous intake falls, our ability to bring over refugees from regions of origin increases.

I will also reiterate at this stage that the first safe country principle is itself internationally recognised. Not only does it underpin the Common European Asylum System but there is a long-standing safe third country agreement between the USA and Canada which means that, barring certain exceptions, anyone arriving at the Canadian border is ineligible to make a claim. As my noble friend Lord Horam might have mentioned, Norwegian legislation similarly sets out that an application for asylum may be refused where a person has travelled to Norway after having stayed in a place where they did not face persecution. Australia—much mentioned this evening—also has those statutory powers to designate countries as safe, with the effect that anyone from that place will be barred from claiming asylum. In Australia, they have almost entirely stopped small boat crossings.

The evidence on which such policies are based is not only the fact that certain safe countries are clearly more popular than others as a destination for asylum seekers but comes from academic analysis. To be clear, I am going to talk about the reasons for secondary movements from one safe country to another, not why people leave their countries of origin in the first place. The two are clearly not the same. Secondary movements were assessed in a comprehensive analysis by Takle and Seeberg in 2015. An important part of their conclusion was that “future possibilities” play a crucial role in explaining secondary movements:

“For the individual migrant, it makes sense to ask: ‘If I make it through the waiting period and if I gain protection in this country—will I have the means to survive here? Will I be able to work, to find adequate housing, to fulfil my family obligations, to complete my education, to find friends, to belong: will I have a life? If not, where might I be better able to build myself a new life?’”

These are entirely sensible and understandable things to ask oneself. However, every last one of those things can be found in France and other safe countries without the need for a dangerous journey to the UK.

Another study concerning secondary movements of Eritreans between Italy and Norway by Brekke and Brochmann in 2014 noted the following:

“National differences in the quality of the reception system, in welfare policies, and in labour market opportunities motivated the secondary migration of asylum seekers and refugees in Italy.”

They also observed:

“The UK, Norway, and Sweden stood out as attractive destinations for the Eritreans. One informant stated: ‘There you get everything if you are accepted: housing, pocket money, education and work.’”

Again, this is totally understandable. The notion, as I have heard repeated in this House, that people are motivated by singular and discrete “pull factors” unrelated to economic considerations is therefore reductive and misleading. In fact, commonly cited pulls, such as language, family, and diaspora links, are not only intrinsically valuable but instrumentally valuable to improving future possibilities, including work and education. I repeat: France offers perfectly good future possibilities. There is no need to take a dangerous journey across the channel to improve future possibilities. We must do everything within our powers to stop this, including putting Clause 11 into law.

Briefly, the “without delay” element of Clause 11 is intended simply to deter other unwanted behaviours that we see in the asylum system. This includes making late claims without reasonable excuse, often in response to a negative immigration decision to delay removal. This is intended primarily to improve operational efficiency, enabling us to focus resources on those most in need and to carry out quick and cost-effective returns of those who have no right to be in the UK.

Distinguishing between different refugees forms part of the refugee convention itself. For example, the entire structure of entitlement under the refugee convention rests on different levels of attachment, with physical presence and lawful presence distinguished for the purposes of various entitlements. Article 31 does not contain a blanket prohibition on the imposition of penalties on refugees who enter or are present illegally. Article 31 prohibits penalties only in respect of refugees who either are coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened or present themselves without delay to the authorities, and who show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

We think that differentiation is not a penalty, taking into account that the convention does not explicitly define “penalty” and the fact that there is no unanimity on the definition of penalty. In any event, the convention does not prohibit differentiation and the clear implication of Article 31 is that states are entitled to impose penalties on refugees who enter their territory illegally when the three conditions are not satisfied. I have already spoken at length about the broad and flexible nature of the powers under Clause 11, which I have consistently argued enable the Secretary of State to exercise sensitive and compassionate discretion in each and every case.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham stated that nobody would be in group 1. That is not true. Those who could not be reasonably expected to claim in another safe country may well be in group 1 if, for example, they were trafficked. This goes to my noble friend Lady Stowell’s point: despite a number of misleading media and NGO reports, there is a vanishingly low risk that anyone who has, for example, suffered sexual or gender-based violence, is coming to terms with their sexuality or is the victim of trafficking will face differentiated entitlements.

Our definitions of concepts such as “come directly” and “without delay” are drafted in a manner that is responsive to those who may have legitimate reasons for being unable to comply with the standards set out and, as per my noble friend’s amendments, as drafted already enable us to use reasonable discretion when considering imposition of differentiated entitlements—again, a point that my noble friend Lady Stowell made. Indeed, there is no obligation to impose any particular condition on group 2 refugees. There is ample room for people to show that they could not reasonably have been expected to claim asylum in another safe country or that they could not claim as soon as reasonably practicable.

Group 2 refugees will still be protected and receive relevant entitlements in accordance with the refugee convention so that the object and purpose of the convention are upheld. Accordingly, Clause 11 is considered a good faith, compatible interpretation of the refugee convention.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering lamented the diminution of safe and legal routes. We have not diminished such routes; I have set them out and distributed them to noble Lords. Some of those routes are not capped—for example, the BNO and refugee family reunion routes. On that note, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary stated today the ability of Ukrainians to come fee-free via the family reunion route. Potentially 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will come here, and we will be very glad to see them. On the point about visa waivers, I think it is very important that we continue to have the simple security checks that my right honourable friend talks about, because there is evidence that people who would do us harm are masquerading as Ukrainian refugees.

Just to finish, I have a point on Jordan, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, mentioned. The standards of housing, recourse to public funds, education and healthcare in Jordan are not comparable with the UK. I shall say no more about that, but it is a difficult one to compare the UK with Jordan in terms of the infrastructure and facilities for Jordanians.

I think that every concern from noble Lords thus far has been met with a very clear and reassuring answer. This clause strikes a robust balance between firmness and fairness, with a firm policy response to the evidential picture about secondary movements and upholding the first safe country principle, but fair in its acknowledgement that we absolutely must be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of certain asylum seekers. I hope that, on that note, noble Lords do not press their amendments.