Nationality and Borders Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, to assist the House to move swiftly on to votes, we on these Benches will try to restrict ourselves to one speaker who will speak for us all, unless we are provoked by subsequent contributions. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that it is rather unfair to the Minister—particularly as he is a new Minister—to ask him to deviate from his script. However, we agree with my noble friend Lady Ludford and with all other noble Lords.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett has set out the background to and purpose of this amendment. As we know, currently only those born on the islands and the first generation born in exile have the right to British Overseas Territories citizenship and, therefore, to British citizenship. As a result, families have been broken up and communities divided. Some members have access to citizenship rights while others do not.

In the Commons, as has already been commented on, the Government accepted, on 4 November last year during the Committee stage of the Bill, that the Chagossians presented a unique case. By Report Stage in the following month, however, the Government seem to have decided that the Chagossians were no longer a unique case, because going down the road proposed,

“would undermine a long-standing principle of British nationality law … under which nationality or entitlement to nationality is not passed on to the second and subsequent generations born and settled outside the UK and its territories”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 258.]

The reason that the small number of Chagossians in question do not meet this condition is because they are descended from people who were evicted against their will from a British overseas territory. That is why they are unique, as the Government have already conceded. They did not leave of their own free will to settle elsewhere: they were kicked out—forcibly evicted. There would be no precedent set by agreeing to this amendment. In effect, the Government are using, in support of their case to deny these Chagossians the right to British citizenship, the cause of the very injustice which this amendment seeks to address. We support this amendment, and it would appear that we are far from the only ones in this House to do so.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for meeting my noble friend Lady Williams last week and for the opportunity to hear further about the issues impacting the Chagossian community. As has been said previously, both in Committee and when my noble friend met the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, last week, and as noted by my noble friend Lady Altmann, the Government empathise and sympathise with the Chagossians about how they were treated in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is, however, important to clarify who this amendment seeks to assist. It is not those Chagossians who were of the generations born on the British Indian Ocean Territory, as they have always been British nationals and have been automatically considered both British Overseas Territories citizens and British citizens since 2002. Similarly, it is not their children, the first generation of Chagossians born outside of British territory, who are also both automatically British Overseas Territories citizens and British citizens. It is also not those in the first generation of Chagossians born outside of British territory, who, as the Chagossian community highlights, have missed out on rights to British nationality due to historical legislative unfairness, and this Bill already seeks to rectify that issue.

This amendment is limited to those in the second and successive generations of Chagossians born outside of British territory who, like all children of British nationals by descent, face a different route to British nationality. For this generation, if they wish to acquire British nationality, it is right that they must establish a close, continuing connection with either the UK or a British overseas territory by lawfully residing and settling there, although I recognise that since the 1970s, it has not been possible to establish such a link to the British Indian Ocean Territory. This must be in line with either the UK’s or an overseas territory’s Immigration Rules. This has also been the case with Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas, who do not have a right of abode in British territory and must complete a period of residence in the UK before acquiring the permanent residence status that is required in order to naturalise as a British citizen.

The points raised by the descendants of Chagossians, who are members of the second generation born outside British territory and who are now seeking to settle in the UK under the Immigration Rules, are often very complex. As the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration has stated in the House of Commons, the Home Office is keen to consider what more we could do to support those families seeking to settle here under the current system.

The Home Office is actively engaging with the Chagossian community to identify practical proposals that would support the second generation born outside British territory in navigating the system. In addition, the Home Office is discussing with the FCDO how the £40 million Chagos support fund, referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, could be used to deliver further support for Chagossians seeking to settle here under the Immigration Rules. Those discussions are current and ongoing, and I had some this morning.

As the Government have consistently stated, allowing entitlements to—

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has reached agreement with the Government. I wish I could say the same.

I will speak to Amendment 21 to Clause 10, which requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that a child aged between five and 17 cannot reasonably acquire another nationality in order to be registered under the stateless child provisions. The Government allege that parents were deliberately not registering the birth of their children and acquiring citizenship of the parents’ home country to wrongly claim British citizenship, by falsely claiming their children were stateless. We believe this clause should be taken out of the Bill.

In Committee the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, provided, at column 548, figures of five cases of this route being used in 2010, which peaked at 1,775 cases in 2018. The Minister concluded “I rest my case”, but this raised further questions: for example, were those 1,775 cases in 2018 the number of stateless children born in the UK who were granted British citizenship in total, legitimately or otherwise, or the number where parents had deliberately chosen not to register their child’s birth to take advantage of the system? The Minister assumed it was the latter but said that she would write, and she did so on Friday.

In Committee, I specifically asked the noble Baroness whether the 1,700 odd cases in 2017 that she referred to were the total number of stateless children granted UK citizenship, or the number of cases of deliberate abuse of the system that Clause 10 purports to tackle. The Minister replied:

“I assume … the latter, but I will write to the noble Lord with the details of the figures I have here”.—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 550.]

However, when the Minister wrote, the figures in the letter do not equate to those she gave from the Dispatch Box. Neither is there an answer to the question: of those cases, how many were a deliberate—or even a suspected—case of abuse of the system?

The letter goes on to talk about the sampling of over 200 stateless child applications received between 2015-2021, which on my calculations is about 1% of the applications received. It goes on to say that, in 96% of the sample, the parents were Indian or Sri Lankan and then:

“90% of Indian and Sri Lankan parents had been able to take steps to contact the High Commission to obtain a letter to show their child was in fact not a citizen of that country”

and, in brackets:

“(We do not have data on how many actually attempted to register the birth)”.

In summary, we have numbers in the letter that appear to be at odds with what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, we have a sample of only 1% of all applications and we do not know how that sample was selected. In the sample, in 90% of cases the relevant high commission confirmed the child was stateless and the Government have no data to show whether parents attempted to register the birth at the time. Despite this, the letter concludes:

“This demonstrates a clear and conscious decision by the parents not to acquire a nationality for their child for at least 5 years”.

That conclusion cannot possibly, in good faith, be drawn from the facts, whichever sets of facts presented by the Government that the House chooses to believe—either the facts the Minister gave from the Dispatch Box or the alternative facts contained in the all-Peers letter.

If the Government cannot now determine how many cases are genuine and how many are the result of attempting to inappropriately acquire British citizenship, on what basis will the Secretary of State exercise her powers under Clause 10 to decide whether the child in question is able to acquire another nationality? Specifically, if, as in 90% of cases in the sample, the relevant high commission confirms the child is stateless, on what basis will the Home Secretary decide not to believe the high commission, decide that the child could acquire the relevant nationality and deny the child British citizenship? What happens to the child denied nationality by the relevant high commission and by the Secretary of State?

If, as the Government suggest, this route is being used inappropriately by parents to acquire British citizenship for themselves, the Government should bring forward legislation to prevent parents acquiring British citizenship through their children by this route, rather than making innocent children, born in the UK, stateless. I was hoping the Minister would write in good time, with a clear and unambiguous answer to the questions I put to her in Committee on 27 January. She did not and she has not.

I am reluctantly left with two options: either the Minister addresses the apparent discrepancies and presents the House with a clear case for Clause 10 now or he agrees to take this away and address our concerns at Third Reading—otherwise I will be forced to conclude that the case is not made for Clause 10 and will divide the House. We cannot leave UK-born children stateless at the whim of the Home Secretary. Clause 10 should be taken out of the Bill.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, I will not say anything on the amendment addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in view of what he has indicated about the progress that has been made between Committee and Report, although of course we will listen very closely to what the Minister has to say and indeed read what is in the Minister’s letter, which I think is what the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, referred to.

As has been said, Clause 10 is intended to disentitle stateless children in the UK from their statutory right to British citizenship. Under our international obligations we have safeguards that mean that a child who was born in the UK and has always been stateless can acquire British citizenship after five years of residing here. Through Clause 10 the Government propose to restrict and amend that obligation. Clause 10 requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied a child was unable to acquire another nationality before being permitted to register as a British citizen. That, of course, creates an additional—and one would probably feel unjustified—hurdle to stateless children’s registration as British citizens which could be difficult for a child or those acting on their behalf to prove.

There is also the issue that the uncertainty created by Clause 10 could be highly damaging to a child’s personal development and their feelings of security and belonging, due to this exclusion and potential alienation being inflicted in their formative years. Indeed, the question was asked in Committee: how can this be in the best interests of the child?

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made reference to the figures which were given by the Government in their response. He also referred to the question which was asked as to whether the figure of 1,175 was the number of stateless children born in the UK who were granted British citizenship, or whether it was the number of cases where parents deliberately chose not to register their child’s birth in order to take advantage of the system. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the letter that was received on behalf of the Government, and to the apparent discrepancies between what was said in Committee and the figures which appear in the letter.

I wait with interest to hear the response of the Government, because we, too, asked the question about what the case for Clause 10 was. I think I am right in saying—I recall it being said—that the Government felt that the figures that they gave at Committee were a fairly conclusive argument in favour of abuse of the system, and therefore that this was the case for Clause 10. On the basis of the letter which has been received, and the comments which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, there is some doubt as to whether the case has been made.

The noble Lord has asked a number of questions and asked for a number of assurances. The answers he receives will clearly influence the decision he then makes in respect of Clause 10 standing part, and will influence what we, as the Official Opposition, do if the matter is put to a vote.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, although at first glance it would seem reasonable for the Home Office not to have to give notice to a terrorist overseas that they were being deprived of their British citizenship, it of course means that there is no effective right to appeal, as the subject would be unaware of the decision. We have also seen cases where the Home Office could have given notice, even to the last known address or by email, and chose not to. The increase in the use of this power needs to be reversed.

The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, seek to introduce a range of judicial oversights, would remove the subjective element of the decision and tighten the grounds on which a deprivation of citizenship order may be made without notice to the person concerned. Others would strengthen the test for making such a decision; ensure, if the person concerned contacts the Home Office, that he is told what has happened and that he has a right of appeal; and allow the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal to oversee such decisions. Any time limit on appeal would start when the subject is notified.

I understand that a government Minister would have signed these amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, had they not been out of time—the deadline for tabling government amendments being several days before that for other amendments. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for the time, effort and ingenuity he has brought to bear in bringing forward such a comprehensive suite of amendments that could arguably halt, if not throw into reverse, the current practice by the Home Office increasingly to use this power to deprive citizenship without notice. We wholeheartedly support these amendments.

However, were the House to divide on taking Clause 9 out of the Bill, we would, along with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, support that Division. At the end of the day, the Government should be taking ownership of the actions of British citizens, including terrorists overseas, ensuring, wherever possible, that they are extradited to the UK to stand trial, rather than depriving them of British citizenship, preventing them returning to the UK, and making them some other country’s problem, whether with notice or not. However, while therefore agreeing with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has said, we are unable to go so far as to support her amendment, as there could be exceptional cases where, as a last resort, citizenship should be removed.

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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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, those who heard the Minister outline the position of the Government earlier today with regard to the plight of Ukrainians must have been dismayed by his response. None the less, I make no personal criticism of him at all.

Some of us have in mind the cavalier attitude of Mr Johnson to treaties that he recently signed, such as the Northern Ireland protocol. When I consider many of the suggestions which come out of the Home Office as to how to deter migrants from coming to this country, I have no confidence that this Government will always comply with the letter—far less the spirit—of the convention. I do not suppose that the new clause proposed by Amendment 24 will be a complete remedy. However, it is a very useful statement of an important principle, and I shall vote for it.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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Not surprisingly, there is nothing I could add to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said. We shall certainly be supporting this amendment if it ends up being put to a vote.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches, I told the noble and learned Lord that we will be supporting him. He said that that was the right answer.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, under the rules of Report stage, one is allowed to speak only once during the debate.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, as has been said, Clause 11 is about differential treatment of recognised refugees. There is the distinction that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to between refugees and immigration generally. We believe that Clause 11 contravenes the 1951 refugee convention: it sets a dangerous precedent by creating a two-tier system—group 1 refugees and group 2 refugees—and, frankly, it is also inhumane.

Under the Bill, the Home Secretary will be given sweeping powers to decide asylum cases based on how someone arrives in this country and their mode of transport, not on the strength of their claim, contrary to the 1951 refugee convention, of which Britain was a founding member. The different ways those two groups could be treated is not limited in any way by the Bill, although Clause 11 provides examples: those who travel via a third country, who do not have documents or who did not claim asylum immediately will routinely be designated as group 2 refugees.