Deprivation of Citizenship Status Debate

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Department: Home Office

Deprivation of Citizenship Status
Sir Edward Davey Excerpts
Wednesday 20th February 2019

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2019, 1:35 p.m.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on his use of the power to deprive a person of citizenship status.

Sajid Javid Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sajid Javid) - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2019, 1:36 p.m.

To keep this country safe, we must be prepared to make tough decisions. As I told the House on Monday, there must be consequences for those who back terror. More than 900 people travelled from the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria and Iraq, At least 20% have been killed in the region. About 40% have returned. They have all been investigated, and I can reassure this House that the majority have been assessed to pose no or a low security risk.

Those who stayed include some of the most dangerous, including many who supported terrorism, not least those who chose to fight or to raise families in the so-called caliphate. They turned their back on this country to support a group that butchered and beheaded innocent civilians, including British citizens; tied the arms of homosexuals and threw them off the top of buildings; and raped countless young girls, boys and women.

I have been resolute that, where those people pose any threat to this country, I will do everything in my power to prevent their return. This includes stripping dangerous individuals of their British citizenship. This power is used only in extreme circumstances, where conducive to the public good. Since 2010, it has been used about 150 times for people linked to terrorism or serious crimes.

We of course follow international law. An individual can be deprived of British citizenship only where it will not leave that individual stateless, where they are a dual national or, in some limited circumstances, where they have the right to citizenship elsewhere.

It would not be right to comment on any individual case, but I can say that each one is carefully considered on its own merits, regardless of gender, age or family status. Children should not suffer, so if a parent does lose their British citizenship, that does not affect the rights of their child.

Deprivation is a powerful tool that can be used only to keep the most dangerous individuals out of this country, and we do not use it lightly. However, when someone turns their back on fundamental values and supports terror, they do not have an automatic right to return to the UK. We must put the safety and the security of our country first, and I will not hesitate to act to protect it.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2019, 1:38 p.m.

I thank the Home Secretary for his reply. On the legal grounds to remove citizenship because it would be

“conducive to the public good”,

can he set out the criteria he must use to make such judgments on the public good?

As the Home Secretary knows, the law prevents him from making someone who is British by birth stateless. In November, the Home Secretary lost a case before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on a similar decision made by his predecessor to strip two terror suspects of their British citizenship. Then, as now, the Home Office contended that the two had Bangladeshi citizenship by descent, but the court ruled that that was not the case and that stripping them of British citizenship was therefore unlawful. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what changes have been made to the decision-making process since that case to give him confidence that he is acting lawfully now?

In removing British citizenship, the Home Secretary is essentially saying, “She’s somebody else’s problem”, but in the words of the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne:

“Which other country is supposed to look after her on our behalf?… Can you imagine the fury here if we took a French or Italian citizen who joined Islamic State?”

Surely a British citizen, born in Britain, is a British responsibility. The Home Secretary mentioned national security in his answer. Can he explain what evidence he used to conclude that this 19-year-old mother and her new-born baby would be a threat to national security? Will he confirm that the evidence required to prosecute Ms Begum for supporting terrorism is readily available from the media? Will he explain why he is so unwilling to bring her to justice?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House what he expects to happen to Ms Begum’s new-born baby boy? This child is an innocent British citizen, and we have a clear responsibility to ensure his wellbeing. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to uphold that important responsibility?

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Parliament Live - Hansard

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions, which I want to go through. But let me say to him and the House that these decisions are never taken lightly, and I am not just speaking for myself.

The power has been in place for more than 100 years. It was set out properly in the British Nationality Act 1981, since when it has been used by successive Home Secretaries. Although I will not know every decision that every Home Secretary made in the past, I can be certain that none would have taken decisions on deprivation of British citizenship lightly. There are a number of things to weigh up: national security, moral issues and legal issues all need to be carefully taken into account. No decision of this type—as serious as this—can be taken lightly.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the grounds for a citizenship decision. As I have said, I cannot talk about an individual case, although I am happy to try to answer his questions. Almost all these decisions, depending on how far back one goes, are made on what is called the “conducive test”: conducive to the public good. The test can apply to a number of issues—to the case prominent in the papers now, but also to many recent cases, including the ones that he mentioned, to do with terrorism and national security. In each of those cases, I would look at the evidence put in front of me: some of that would be secret intelligence and some would be more publicly available information. That would be used to determine the threat that the individual might pose to the country. Alongside that, officials from the Home Office, working with other partners and partner agencies, would put together a case, including a legal case, to look at a number of issues but of course absolutely to make sure that if we went ahead and took the decision to deprive someone of their British nationality, that person would not be left stateless.

In every decision that I am aware of—I cannot think that any of my predecessors would have taken a different decision—that has been applied, every single time. Our lawyers are expert in this field and would look carefully at judgments in previous cases—the right hon. Gentleman referred to those—if they have been challenged, to see whether there are lessons to be learned. Those would be taken into account. When a decision then has to be made, I have to be, in every case, absolutely confident that it is not only conducive to the public good, but legally proper and correct, and compliant with both international and any relevant domestic law.

The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that Lord Carlile, an individual whom he will know well, has already made a public comment—I can refer to public comment—about the case in the press at the moment and other such cases that he has been familiar with. He is worth listening to on how this practice has taken place in the past.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about minors. Again, I cannot talk about any particular individual or case, but in the case of a minor, clearly even more care must absolutely be taken. It is absolutely paramount in all cases to take into account the welfare of minors. I cannot refer to any particular case, but that is also in domestic legislation: in any immigration decision, including about deprivation, the welfare of a child is taken into account where that is relevant.

Finally, I say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that he was a senior member of the previous Government. He was not only in the Cabinet: for almost three years, if I remember correctly, he was a member of the National Security Council. He would have discussed counter-terrorism issues in that council on countless occasions, and it would be hard to think that the issue of deprivation never came up. Not only was he a member of a Government who made decisions on deprivation, many on terrorism grounds, but he even voted for the Immigration Act 2014, which extended the powers of deprivation. Now he stands here pretending that he knows nothing of that and trying to play politics with such an important issue. He should reflect on that.