Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 7, 16 and 24. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal. I should also tell the House that Mr Speaker has selected the five manuscript amendments tabled today by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). Copies are available in the Vote Office.
Deprivation if conduct seriously prejudicial to vital interests of the uk
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 18.
The fundamental duty of any Government is to protect the British public and maintain the security of the UK against a range of threats. There is a small but very dangerous number of individuals who, despite having taken an oath of loyalty to become a British citizen, seek to threaten the security of this country. Those same dangerous individuals seek to exploit a loophole in our legislation preventing us from removing their citizenship if it would render them stateless, even temporarily, while they reacquire their former nationality. This Government have sought to address that issue, in line with our international obligations to protect the security of the UK.
Our proposals, previously debated in this House on 30 January, sought to extend the existing deprivation powers of the Home Secretary so that a naturalised British citizen who has conducted themselves in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK—I underline the high bar that has been set—can be deprived of their citizenship, regardless of whether it would render them stateless. We believe that is vital for the security of the UK and an important point of principle. It is not right that people who subvert our values and fight against our armed forces should invoke our protection and enjoy the privileges of British citizenship.
Many of the debates on this issue have focused on the use of the existing powers in the UK and overseas. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the Home Secretary has long-standing existing powers to deprive a British national of their citizenship where that individual acquired it using fraud or where she is satisfied that doing so is conducive to the public good. Where fraud has been used, a decision can be made to deprive, which leaves a person stateless. Our proposals have built on the non-conducive powers to target a narrow cohort of naturalised Britons who are a real threat to our national security.
Is the Minister able to clarify the numbers involved and how the Secretary of State and, indeed, her predecessors have used those powers? The Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly asked for those data, but has been unable to access them. I have asked similar questions and have also been unable to get the data, so could the Minister tell us how many people have had the power used against them?
It might be helpful if I explain that since the law was changed in 2006, 27 people have been deprived of their citizenship through different conducive powers. Twenty-six people have been deprived on the grounds of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact, and one further person has been notified of the intention to deprive on those grounds. Perhaps that gives my hon. Friend an idea of the context in which the power is used. It is used extremely sparingly: it is not undertaken lightly and the Secretary of State considers its use extraordinarily carefully.
I recognise that the proposals that were suggested when the Immigration Bill was last before this House have, rightly, provoked a great deal of debate and discussion. It is important that the House understands the significance of the measures and that the other place has had an opportunity to consider them after our debate on Report. There has been much debate, both here and in the House of Lords, about the impact of leaving a person stateless, and there are concerns about those who cannot acquire another nationality.
Although the Government are confident that our original proposals would have affected only a small number of people—given the pre-existing utilisation of the power and the high hurdle that needs to be cleared, most people would have been able to acquire their former nationality or another—we are now seeking to address the concerns expressed about leaving individuals permanently stateless and with no recourse to another nationality. Our amendment (a) provides that deprivation of nationalised citizens under clause 60 can take place only when the Home Secretary has reasonable grounds to believe that, under the laws of a country or territory, an individual is able to become a national of that country or territory.
Amendment (a) is certainly a helpful move on some, if not all, the concerns, but how will the provision be interpreted? For example, if somebody who is not a British citizen leaves another country and would otherwise have claimed asylum in this one, will that factor be taken into account? Will the Home Secretary be able to take into account the idea that a country may refuse to give citizenship because we had taken away their British citizenship? How will she make it work in practice?
It may be helpful if I say that the Home Secretary will consider the relevant nationality laws of a person’s country and that person’s circumstances, and she will make a decision based on whether, under those laws, the person is able to acquire another nationality. The test is whether there is a route under the law, but she will have regard to other considerations—for example, about practical or logistical arrangements. Those considerations will obviously vary from case to case, but she will consider them in forming a view. We have reflected that in the concept of the reasonable grounds. The Home Secretary will need to be satisfied about those reasonable grounds in determining whether the proposed power can be utilised.
The hon. Gentleman clearly makes the point about what we are seeking to achieve in respect of the concerns highlighted in the House and elsewhere, which is that if the Home Secretary cannot satisfy herself on reasonable grounds that the individual can acquire the citizenship of another state, she will not be able to use the power.
In this context, we are seeking to address the specific issue highlighted by the Supreme Court in the al-Jedda case, with which many right hon. and hon. Members are familiar. The case showed that the existing law was well within our international obligations, but we are seeking to act on the Supreme Court’s statement in that case about how to address the issue appropriately. We judge that the proposed provision is an appropriate mechanism for guarding our national security. It will ensure that what appears to be a loophole identified as a consequence of the al-Jedda case is not open to abuse and, building on the existing deprivation powers, it will therefore ensure that our national security is properly protected.
I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying, and the House should realise that he is simply putting the law back to its position before it was changed by the previous Government. I listened carefully when we debated the issue on Report, and many of the concerns involved people who have no recourse to citizenship elsewhere being left permanently stateless. Government amendment (a) deals with the very real concerns of many hon. Members. It is a very welcome move that should be supported.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I pay tribute to him for his work on the Bill and for the steps he took, quite properly, to consider not only this issue, but the provisions more broadly. We will no doubt move on to those provisions in considering the Lords amendments. My hon. Friend highlighted the fact that the law was changed in 2002. In many respects, we are seeking to bring the law back more closely to the pre-existing position. The law was changed in 2002, and changed again in 2006. There is, therefore, a long history, with clear precedents to setting provisions that comply with our international and UN obligations on statelessness.
I want clarification about what the reasonable grounds are. Amendment (a) could be interpreted to mean that someone has to prove that no country or territory on the globe is willing to accept them as a citizen. That cannot be the interpretation of reasonableness in this amendment, can it?
The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that the particular concern—the gap that has been identified—relates to someone with dual nationality who surrenders their second nationality to prevent the deprivation provision from applying to them and to prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers as she can now do for dual nationals. The Home Secretary needs to consider such factors in considering whether she is satisfied that the relevant test set out in amendment (a) has been met. She would need to show such reasonableness, and that reasonableness might be tested in the courts, because whether her determination was reasonable would be justiciable or challengeable in the courts.
I want to follow up the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). The Minister said that the issue was about having a route in law to secure another citizenship, but he rather glossed over the practical barriers that many people face in obtaining another citizenship. Will he put on the record more information that might help those of us with concerns about amendment (a), as drafted, particularly about what constitutes an objection to the Home Secretary proceeding in relation to practical impediments to such people gaining another citizenship, rather than the provision necessarily being used as a route in law?
As I have said, the primary consideration is for the Home Secretary to research various materials and determine whether the individual could reacquire their former nationality, because that is what we are largely talking about in the circumstances of considering such laws. I am sure that she would also have to consider practical issues and the other surrounding circumstances. It is difficult to be specific, as individual facts and cases will no doubt be relevant to the provision. She will, therefore, wish to consider those other practical or logistical arrangements as part of her determination about whether there are reasonable grounds for the individual to secure citizenship from another state.
I want to press my hon. Friend on justiciability. Is he now satisfied that amendment (a) deals with the convention issue about deprivation of citizenship not being exercised arbitrarily, but proportionately? Does the amendment meet such tests?
Yes. My hon. Friend rightly points to article 15 of the universal declaration of human rights, which makes a point about protection against the arbitrary deprivation of nationality. We are very clear that the provision is not arbitrary. It is a very focused and proportionate power that meets not only those requirements, but our obligations under the UN convention on the reduction of statelessness of 1961, and the declaration made by the UK when it ratified that convention in 1966. We have considered our international obligations very carefully. We believe that the provision absolutely complies with the obligations that we have set for ourselves.
All the examples that the Minister has used relate to cases in which he expects people to reacquire a nationality that they gave up to avoid having their British nationality taken away. If that is his intention, would it not have been better to table a much narrower amendment in which that was the circumstance in which the Home Secretary could consider withdrawing a person’s citizenship? That might have been more broadly welcomed in the House than amendment (a).
Amendment (a) was carefully framed and consideration was given to the comments of the Supreme Court in the al-Jedda case. Indeed, the amendment is more tightly framed than was suggested by the Supreme Court and is required by our obligations under the ratifying declaration that the UK signed in 1966. That speaks more widely about reserving the right in relation to statelessness, including where the person has conducted themselves in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK.
We have refined those broad terms in amendment (a) by requiring the Home Secretary to undertake the reasonableness test that I have highlighted. She must have reasonable grounds for believing that the individual whom we are seeking to use the powers on has the ability to obtain citizenship under the laws of another state. I argue that we have considered the matter carefully and framed the amendment appropriately to deal with the significant loophole that was created and that was highlighted by the al-Jedda judgment. We believe that it is important to close that off in the interests of national security.
I am very grateful to the Minister. This proposal is predicated on the fact that the Home Secretary will act rationally and reasonably, but—[Laughter.] No, I do not see that as funny at all. I want to know how the people of Britain will know that the action has been taken in a rational and reasonable way, when it is obscured from public view, and is therefore challengeable.
I will make two points in answer to my hon. Friend. First, the decision of the Secretary of State would be reviewable by the courts. It would, therefore, be open to the individual to challenge the decision and the reasonableness of the Home Secretary’s determination. Secondly, I point him to amendment (b), under which there will be an independent review of the power, which will report after one year and then on a rolling three-yearly basis. That will provide clarity about how the power is being used and give the reassurance that he has sought to exact.
Will the Minister clarify the point that he has just made? Is he suggesting that there will be a right of appeal against a ministerial decision, or will there only be a right to undertake a judicial review, which of course would relate to process and not to the facts of the case?
There is the ability to challenge deprivation decisions. Many cases have been brought before the courts that relate to the Home Secretary’s use of the existing deprivation powers. That will continue to apply for the power and the amendments relating to the specific circumstances in which someone may be rendered stateless, subject to the Home Secretary’s being satisfied of their ability to seek the citizenship of another country. The existing challenge, process and procedures will continue to apply.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) because I respect her opinions on home affairs matters. It would not be appropriate to narrow the scope of amendment (a) in the way that she suggested. She missed the point that the individuals concerned are not always compliant and helpful in seeking a second nationality. Indeed, they often try not to do so. That is why the Home Secretary has to take a reasonable decision, taking account of the laws of the countries involved and the behaviour of the individual. If the amendment were narrowed in the way the hon. Lady suggested, I do not think that we would succeed in closing the loophole.
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the point of an intervention is not to comment on a previous intervention, but to comment on what the Minister is saying. If he wants to challenge what the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, perhaps he will try to catch my eye.
Will the Minister comment on the time frame in which he thinks it is reasonable to expect somebody to obtain another citizenship? In the Government’s mind, would somebody be stateless for two years, five years or 10 years? Is there any sense of how long the process could go on for?
That is largely in the hands of the individual. When the power is exercised, it will be open to the individual to seek the citizenship of the other country. We are unable to compel them to act in that way. That goes to the heart of the problem that we have identified. It is open to the individual to seek the citizenship of the other country, so it depends on what action they take.
The Minister is being very generous; I am sure that there will be questions on later sections of his speech as well. It is possible for the Home Secretary to have reasonable grounds to believe something, but for it not to be the case. What will happen if somebody in the UK goes through the process, the Home Secretary believes that they are able to get citizenship from another country and they make a bona fide application for that citizenship, but it is turned down?
In those circumstances, the Home Secretary would have exercised her power to deprive, so the case does not relate to the specific power under discussion. Obviously, we are able to deprive somebody of citizenship, whether they are in the UK or outside the UK, under the existing powers. That is an important mechanism for maintaining national security and ensuring that the actions of an individual who may be involved in terrorism are addressed by restricting their ability to become involved in terrorism-related activity and by preventing travel that might be a key component of terrorism-related activity. That underlines the importance of deprivation as a means of addressing the very small cohort of individuals who would seek to do us harm.
I want to press the Minister on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) made. If the Home Secretary has every reason to believe that an individual could get the citizenship of another country, but the Government of that country say that they do not want them as a citizen, what will happen to that individual? Will he or she remain without citizenship?
If the individual is in the UK, which I think is the situation on which that comment is predicated, there is precedent for giving limited restricted leave to remain. That might impose specific conditions. It would also mean that an individual would not have the usual rights of a citizen to access public services and enjoy public benefits. In seeking to mitigate the risks, that of itself may be considered a significant and relevant factor.
I apologise for missing the Minister’s opening remarks, which I am sure were extremely important.
I and other Members have a lot of sympathy with what the Minister says and understand and support what he is trying to do, but we are concerned about the practicalities of what will happen if he takes citizenship away from someone and leaves them stateless. That was what upset the other place. Has he studied any other country that has a similar power, and what has he gleaned from that comparative study?
It is difficult to make general comparisons with other states, because of the different natures of the threat that countries face, the court judgments that have been made there and the international conventions that apply to them. However, other states do have the ability to render citizens stateless, and some have made protocols and reservations to that effect. Some people have sought to portray those states as somehow despotic, or—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is eager for me to get to his point, and I am happy to do so, but I do not think anybody would regard countries such as Belgium or the Republic of Ireland as despotic, and those states have reserved powers to make citizens stateless. Although it is difficult to make generalisations, because of the different treaties and conventions to which each country is subject, other countries have reserved powers to make individuals stateless in certain circumstances.
As usual, I have asked a question and the Minister has given me a straight answer, and I am extremely grateful. He mentioned Belgium, but what are the practicalities of what it has done? I accept that the power in question is used in other countries, but what happens when a citizen of Belgium has their citizenship removed and is left stateless? Is not the truth that they cannot go anywhere else?
I would hesitate to provide commentary on the laws of Belgium, the Republic of Ireland or other countries that have reserved this power. I have explained to the House this afternoon what would happen in this country if someone were left in those circumstances, and I hope that I have provided clarity.
Although I was not present for the beginning of the Minister’s speech, I have been watching the debate assiduously in my office.
In my constituency, there have been cases in which an individual has rightly been threatened with deportation by Her Majesty’s Government, yet their home nation state has categorically refused to take them back. I have constituents who have automatically lost their nationality by making an application in this country not for citizenship but for asylum. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked, what are the practicalities? Do we wander the world trying to sell those individuals to some accepting nation state?
It is not about that at all. I am sorry that the hon. Lady may have missed some of my earlier comments, although I appreciate that she has been watching from afar. As I stated earlier, the provision is about dealing with a small cadre of individuals who may have waived or surrendered their previous citizenship as a means of frustrating the Government’s attempts to guard our national security by using our existing deprivation powers. The Home Secretary would need reasonable satisfaction in exercising the power to deprive. It would then be open to the individual in question to take whatever steps they needed to take to regularise their position. We are closing a gap that the Labour Government left us by virtue of the changes that they made in 2002 and built on in 2006. The Supreme Court highlighted that gap in the al-Jedda case. Our proposal is intended to guard our national security.
We recognise the comments that have been made here and in the other place, but Lords amendment 18 would prevent deprivation of citizenship from being pursued in the case of an individual who had no recourse to another nationality. Every country operates its own nationality law, and there are a range of requirements and eligibility criteria. As part of the “reasonable grounds” consideration, the Home Secretary will of course consider whether there are any legal points that would prevent an individual from regaining their former nationality. The individual in question will retain a full right of appeal, which will be to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The courts will be able to consider whether the Home Secretary was correct to conclude that there were reasonable grounds to believe that that person was able to become a national of another country or territory under its laws.
As the Government have stated in both Houses, the proposal to extend the Home Secretary’s powers to deprive citizenship is an important and timely measure to strengthen the security of the UK. It has rightly been subject to substantial debate, and to scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Members of both Houses. We do not agree that a small Committee from each House would be the right place to consider the matter. It would not have access to the appropriate closed material to make further assessments beyond what has already been discussed in the House. Having such a Committee would also cause unnecessary delay, leaving a loophole to be exploited and creating a barrier to effective action for a considerable number of months, if not years. It is important that we close the loophole in a timely way, which is why the Government have decided to proceed with a narrower measure than we had originally proposed in preference to allowing delays for a Committee to consider the issues.
Is the Minister saying, then, that the person deprived of their citizenship will not know the reasons for that, and that the only course of court action will be through SIAC, which is a secret court? We will therefore never know whether the deprivation was justified.
My hon. Friend will gain satisfaction from the judgment that SIAC will make in each individual case. He will be familiar with debates that we have had on other legislation and with the challenge for any Government of how to handle sensitive material. He will also know the existing case law on the gisting of some material, and that is a matter of active consideration by the courts. I therefore think that the public, the House and the country can be satisfied that if SIAC has considered a matter, it will have done so appropriately and reached an appropriate outcome in respect of the actions by the Secretary of State.
Will SIAC have the information from the individual’s home Government? For example, will there be a requirement on the Chinese embassy—I cite China because it is the first example that comes to mind—to furnish evidence as to why it is refusing to allow its former citizen to regain their nationality, and will that information be furnished to SIAC?
It is difficult to comment on individual circumstances and cases. The Secretary of State will need to show that her judgment was reasonable in bringing forward and using the power that we are contemplating, if the amendment is accepted, and it would obviously be open to the individual to present evidence to SIAC in non-closed circumstances regarding their situation, and to challenge that decision. That right of challenge is obviously protected by provisions in the Bill.
On Report in the Lords, the Government tabled an amendment to provide for an independent review of the use of the new power to deprive. That was in response to concerns expressed in earlier debates that there should be independent scrutiny and that a report should be made to Parliament, and that provision is included in the measures we propose today. We recognise the importance of scrutinising the operation of the power at the earliest opportunity, and we have therefore proposed to review it after 12 months, with a subsequent 36-month review period. A report to the Home Secretary will be laid before Parliament alongside those reviews, which can then be debated in both Houses. We have not yet decided who will conduct those reviews. It may be appropriate, for example, to appoint the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation—currently David Anderson—to take on that additional task, but we are mindful that if the review of the deprivation power is added to the demands on him, that must not be to the detriment of his capacity to meet his existing important statutory reviews.
I will draw my comments to a close, as I have been generous to hon. Members across the House.
In conclusion, this power is narrowly drawn and aimed at addressing a real and current threat posed by a small number of individuals. The Government have taken steps to listen to the concerns of both Houses about statelessness. We are committed to taking proportionate action to protect the public and remove the privileges of British citizenship from those who abuse it. That is what these provisions do, and I commend them to the House.
I support the Lords amendments. Having listened to their lordships and to contributions from Members across the House, and having noted the keen interest there appears to be in this debate, I hope that the Minister will reflect on what he has said and support the Lords amendments in due course.
I will start with a quote:
“If we identify someone as a person proposing to commit a serious terrorist offence, for example, surely the obligation is on us to deal with that person. If we simply deport him, we shall be handing on—in my submission, irresponsibly—this terrorist problem to another state which may not have the same capability of dealing with it as we do. It cannot be a proper response to the terrorist threat to refuse to deal with it ourselves”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 October 2002; Vol. 639, c. 277-78.]
That was the late Lord Kingsland who spoke in October 2002 as Conservative shadow Lord Chancellor when these matters were debated in relation to nationality. At that time, the then Labour Government determined that statelessness should not be part of the legislative framework, and that prompts the question why have the Government brought forward this proposal at this time?
I think the Lords did a service to Parliament in providing it with an opportunity to discuss this proposal again, and I remind the House that the Lords voted by 242 votes to 180 to ensure that the amendment was accepted in another place. Among those who voted were a large number of Labour peers, and it is fair and proper that I report that to the House. There were also many others, both Cross-Bench, from the Government Benches and among the Bishops, who voted to ask this House to consider the matter again. Those included Lord Judge, a former Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Hannay, a former senior diplomat, as well as such Liberal Democrat notaries as Lord Lester, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Lord Oakeshott and Baroness Neuberger, and also the notable former Foreign Secretary Lord Howe of Aberavon. That group of peers did not vote for the amendment to cause trouble for the Government; it is a group of peers who take an interest in this matter and have reflected on the Government’s approach. Whatever else can be said, the Home Secretary did not convince the other place that her measures were right and proper. In fact, the charitable view is that the Home Secretary has made a mess of this matter. She has tried to rush the proposals through.
The Minister says no, but the Home Secretary brought forward the proposals on 30 January on Report, after they were tabled on 29 January. We had to table a manuscript amendment on Report, which we withdrew because we wanted to take legal advice. That legal advice led to a cross-party Lords amendment, moved by Lord Pannick, to ensure proper consideration of the proposals in Committee.
The Lords amendment is reasonable. It asks for the establishment of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider and report on the complications of the removal of citizenship and the issues raised by Members across the House. From discussions I have had with the Minister, I know he is concerned that that would lead to delay, but I hope I can reassure him. Through agreement outside this House, we could, if the Lords amendment was accepted, give a time scale to that consideration to ensure that we have detailed examination and, effectively, pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposal, so that we can take the concerns raised in another place seriously, look at what points are being made even today by Members of this House and come to a consensus on this extremely serious issue—the removal of citizenship from individuals.
I think we can come to an agreement whereby a proposal is considered and completed perhaps, dare I say it, by the summer recess. I do not want to pre-empt the Gracious Speech in a couple of weeks’ time, but it will undoubtedly include a criminal justice Bill. Measures could be introduced at that stage and looked at in detail.
The shadow Minister is talking about the process and that is very interesting, but can I press him on the Labour party’s view on the policy principle? Some of us, including some Labour Members, voted against the measure on principle. He says that it may be a positive thing to have this sort of deprivation. His party abstained, with Whips quite forcefully stopping people voting. What is the Labour party’s position on the principle at stake?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come on to that point in a moment. We abstained on 30 January because we wanted to ensure that we gave proper consideration to this matter, and we supported the amendment in another place to ensure that we did consider this matter. My noble Friend Baroness Smith of Basildon signed the amendment before the House today. We want to support the amendment today and return it to the Lords.
The Labour party and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will not do anything that puts the security of the United Kingdom at risk. I want to ensure that we do not remove citizenship without a proper right of appeal. I want to ensure that people know the grounds of that removal of citizenship and that the consequences are considered. I want, with the Minister, to tighten up how the Government intend to exercise that power. How do the Government intend to ensure that what is “reasonable” is deemed to be reasonable? I want to give the Minister the opportunity to explain that. This is a serious matter that needs proper parliamentary scrutiny. We have had a very short time in another place and one day in this House to consider this matter. We need to look at it in much more detail and we need to take evidence. A large number of people outside this place have raised concerns and we need to ensure, and not just in one-and-a-half hours, that the Minister justifies the opportunity and practice over a period of time.
The more the right hon. Gentleman speaks, the more confused I am about his position. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tabled the amendment in January, so more than three months have passed since she put this provision before Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has now said, notwithstanding the fact that the amendment says the Committee will serve for the duration of the Parliament, that it could all be sorted out before the summer recess, which is only two months away. What does he expect to learn in the next two months that he has not learnt in the past three?
I think both Houses of Parliament should have an opportunity to take evidence, as happens during pre-legislative scrutiny, and I am not the only person who thinks that. Moving the amendment in the House of Lords, Lord Pannick said:
“A Joint Committee is required because Clause 64 was added to the Bill very late in the passage of the Bill through the other place—that is, 24 hours before Report and Third Reading…so there was no pre-legislative scrutiny of this proposal, no consultation and no opportunity for consideration by the Public Bill Committee of the other place. The absence of pre-legislative scrutiny and proper consultation is especially unfortunate in a context such as this.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1168.]
The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) may want to steamroller the Bill through, but I think it important that we get it right.
There is a great, gaping hole in the Government’s argument. However much the Minister may speak about the powers of the Home Secretary, no British Home Secretary in the House of Commons has ever had the power to impose on a sovereign nation state laws governing whom it should or should not take back, and to whom it should or should not give a passport and citizenship.
My hon. Friend has anticipated some of my own arguments. Like the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), I think we need to examine important issues relating to both the deprivation of citizenship and the impact on terrorism prevention. The Minister is seeking to delete the amendment in order to prevent potential terrorist action. I want to test him on that, potentially during scrutiny in the Committee, but also in the House today.
If citizenship is removed from an individual who happens to be outside the country, we shall have given up all jurisdiction over that individual, who could be returned to the United Kingdom by a third-party country that did not recognise him as having citizenship of that country. As Lord Kingsland said in 2002, he will not be the responsibility of the United Kingdom, but will still be potentially able to undertake activity that the Minister would not support, as a result of the Minister’s own actions.
The Minister should reflect on that. He will know that the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 specified just two grounds on which citizenship could be removed: it could be removed from those who had gained it through fraud, and it could be removed
“if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of…the United Kingdom”,
provided that the revocation of citizenship did not render the person stateless. That is the point, and that is the position that was taken by the Labour Government in the 2002 Act, about nine to 12 months after the horrendous events of 9/11. Surely, if we made that judgment in 2002, at the height of concern about the impact of 9/11, the Minister will be able to back it up in 2014. If he cannot, let him justify that to a Joint Committee. Lord Pannick said in another place:
“The Joint Committee will also want to consider whether the benefits, if any, of the proposed new power justify the… international implications.” .”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1169.]
How can the British Government lecture others, or promulgate international law, when the Bill proposes the establishment of circumstances which, in my view, would break international requirements across the board? The Minister says that that is not the case, which is a view that we need to discuss.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend has just said, but is not one of the fundamental problems the fact that what the Government are doing has about it more than a whiff of Executive decision making on major issues to which there is no simple legal remedy? The Government are trying to avoid a court process, and to give powers to an elected politician over an independent judiciary.
I am grateful for that because my hon. Friend anticipates the concerns we had and that we raised in the debate on 30 January. The proposal then from the Minister was that the Home Secretary could determine, on reasonable grounds, the deprivation of citizenship. There was no judicial oversight promised. The Minister has today brought forward amendments (a) and (b) which would provide for a review. I do not happen to think they go far enough. I think we need to stick to the original idea of an examination by a Joint Committee. The Minister, however, has brought forward those amendments which move slightly from his original proposal of some six or seven weeks ago. Why has he done that? He has done so because he has been roasted in another place and, this proposal having been considered by Members of that other place, has lost the vote quite considerably. Yet today we find that, rather than listening to those concerns, the Minister wishes to vote down this amendment and has brought forward proposals that, again, I think do not go far enough.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd), when I hear phrases such as “review by SIAC” I shudder on the question of process, but I am interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman would say to my constituents who want us to move quickly on all immigration issues—who say we are not moving fast enough, we are not making change quickly enough. What is the relative merit of his proposal to support Lords amendments that would delay enactment as opposed to the Government proposal to see and review the impact after enactment?
That is a legitimate question, and it is one that deserves an answer. The point I would make is that we are legislating. If we legislate for this and if it goes back to the other place in the form the Minister has brought forward, it will be enacted: it will have Royal Assent within a matter of, presumably, days. We will therefore have one year of operation between May or June 2014 through to May or June 2015. That is fair enough. We will then review it and make changes. All the concerns raised by Members today would potentially be applicable in that 12-month period. The argument I would make is that if we accept the amendment that has been considered by the Lords, we can look at this, get it right and ensure that the concerns that have been raised not just here today but by Members in another place are dealt with. The measures that are taken will then have the full confidence of both Houses of Parliament. At the moment, given the vote that was taken in the other place—242 in favour and 180 against— the proposals the Minister brought forward previously do not have the support and confidence of both Houses. The removal of citizenship is such a challenging and extreme measure to take that it must have the confidence of both Houses of Parliament.
I listened with interest when the right hon. Gentleman talked about his fear that the UK would be in breach of its international obligations in relation to statelessness if the Government’s proposals went through. Which particular international obligations does he think the UK would be in breach of?
I am trying to ensure that we propagate good practice. There are many states that currently remove citizenship from individuals. It has happened in Iraq and it has happened in other countries before, and we have been critical of that. We are trying to ensure that any action taken by a Government, particularly when it is one of Executive power by the Home Secretary, is supported by both Houses of Parliament.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman the opinion of international lawyer Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, who says that:
“any state that admitted an individual on the basis of his or her British passport would be fully entitled to ignore any purported deprivation of citizenship and as a matter of right return that person to the UK.”
That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson). We need to consider this in considerable detail.
The shadow Minister did say that this was in breach of our international obligations, but he now says it is only a matter of good practice. He has quoted another international jurist and many Members from the other place, but we are the elected Members. Some of us have come to this debate to try to make up our minds. If we could hear more of what the right hon. Gentleman thinks of the principle of the Bill and the arguments around it, we could make a decision today, and I for one would enormously appreciate that.
I could do worse than to cite what Lord Deben, a Conservative peer, has said—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman looks as though he lacks concern about this, but I am expressing a number of concerns that have been expressed, both in this House and in—[Interruption.] My view is that we need to ensure that if we take this step, we do it in an effective and appropriate way that does not damage the credibility of the anti-terrorism case. Removing someone’s citizenship is an extreme measure and it has to be done in a way that is appropriate. The Minister has not made it clear to me that the “reasonable” judgments of the Home Secretary—[Interruption.] If the Parliamentary Private Secretary would like to join in the conversation, he could go to the Back Benches and do so. For the past three months we have received wodges of legal advice and wodges of views saying, “This is not practical, it will not be effective and it will damage our attacks on terrorism.” The Minister is asking us to take things on trust, but the other place has determined that it wants to examine these issues in detail, argue them and test the Minister on them, and that is a fair proposal.
Lord Deben, a Conservative colleague of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), has said that
“to take away someone’s citizenship, it is not reasonable to say that you assume that they can get another country’s citizenship. It is only reasonable to say that you know that they have another citizenship; anything less than that is wrong. It may not be convenient, but it is not right.
We have been the signatory to and the driver of much of the international law that seeks to reduce statelessness to its minimum. I fear that in this particular case, we may, for very good reasons—in seeking to close loopholes…do something which will do great injustice to a very small number of people.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 March 2014; Vol. 753, c. 213.]
That is what we need to test by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and that is what we need to test over the next few weeks and months, which is why the other place has given its support. Justice, Liberty and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, among others, have made cogent arguments as to why we need to consider this in detail. We need to examine it, and I support the retention of the Lords amendment and hope the House will do so.
I am greatly concerned about this measure, and I will just make some observations. The Minister referred to the power that the Home Secretary used to have in relation to something being not conducive to the public good. Its removal created a real difficulty for Governments, but my concern is not the difficulty for Governments; my concern is for the British common law system. This is not about the European Court of Justice—its rulings or anything else. The issue of concern to me is: what is our process?
I believe, and this was fundamental to our legal system, that a person should know the reasons they are to be aggrieved, but that is not possible under the Bill. He or she will not know the reasons they are being deprived of citizenship, so they can make no case that can be held to be valid, because they do not know what they are challenging—or they will claim they do not know what they are being challenged with. We do not know and the public do not know, so this violates one of the first principles of our legal system—our common law system. I want the House always to remember that our common law system in England has been absolutely essential to our liberties, freedoms, standing and our sense of who we are.
I understand the difficulties that Governments face, as there are a lot of wicked, evil people out there, but the answer has always been to prosecute. We are told, “Oh we can’t prosecute because in a prosecution we may have to reveal our sources.” This is the nightmare situation that the world in which we now live is facing: we are not to know, we cannot know and we cannot challenge. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission is one of the most monstrous extrusions on the national scene, as not even the solicitor representing the accused or the person who loses their citizenship knows the reasons their client is there. Gisting? Well, all those rules that have been put in place essentially deny open justice using the argument of national security.
I have been a Member of Parliament for 36 years, and I look back over the decline of our sense of who we are, what our system is, and our freedoms and liberties, which are concentrated in the concept of the common law. I did not invent it—we did not invent it—it came from the movement of the people of this country over hundreds of years and the development of our legal system. Year after year, in a way that one could never assume would happen, Governments have gone out searching for new measures to conceal the openness of what justice should be. We, as citizens of this country, have a right to know why people are charged. That is why we have an open court system, so that we can judge whether the measures are competent, reasonable or truthful to the purpose of our nation. That is why I cannot support the very notion that so much power should be concentrated in one individual—a Home Secretary—whether good or bad, that they may make decisions of this nature without our being able to challenge whether they are valid, true or right. I want the House to stand up for who we are and what our system of justice is—and it is not secret justice.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd). What a powerful case he has made about the closed process of justice, which has become a feature of the Government as they proceed on issues of national security.
When the Government first came to power, I cheered them on, as they practically went around deconstructing Labour’s anti-civil libertarian state, which we all remember: identity cards; the national database; pre-charge detention. I cheered the Government on when they did that, but they have now constructed a closed process with a lack of justice—all the things that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills powerfully expressed. We have created a new anti-civil libertarian state, helped by the Liberal Democrats. This is not the type of justice, society, country and community that we want. We are better than that. Yes, we need to balance national security and civil liberties, but this is another Government who have got it wrong.
The plans were roundly monstered in the House of Lords, as they deserved to be. If one looks at how many Lords supported the amendment and spoke against the measures, we find one former Director of Public Prosecutions, a former Supreme Court judge and even 23 Liberal Democrat peers. The measure was defeated by 242 to 180 votes in the House of Lords, which demonstrates wide-ranging opposition and great concern about proceeding in this way.
The Lords amendment does not even seek to delete the clause. I wish that it did. I do not have a vocation like Labour spokespeople. I think that this is a bad measure, and I voted against it in principle because it is fundamentally wrong to remove the citizenship of people of this country just because they are suspected of being terrorists. That is absolutely wrong—I make no bones about that—and I wish that the amendment deleted the entire clause. However, it does not do so; all that it seeks to do is to set up a Committee of both Houses to look at the implications of the measure and see whether we are doing the right thing.
We have not had a chance to look at the measure properly in the Commons. It was introduced on Report without our having any opportunity to consider its value or implications and what it meant in the context of the Bill. The Lords had a little more time; we have an hour and a half to consider what the Lords said, to look at the measure again and, I hope, to make the right decision. The amendment does not ask us to reject the measure; it just asks us to look at it again.
Panicked by the Lords defeat, the Government have introduced their own amendments, which would provide a review once the measure had been implemented. That is closing the stable door after the horse has left without its passport, having been deprived of its citizenship. It is too late to do anything then. We have to take a look at how the measure would impact on what we are trying to achieve and secure before we effect any legislation rather than afterwards.
Under the Government amendments, before depriving people of their British citizenship, the Home Secretary would be required to have
“reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able”
to acquire another nationality, and a review of the measure after one year and then again every three years would also be required. There are so many difficulties with the Government’s suggestions, however. The principal power would still be exercised by the Home Secretary, who would subjectively assess whether another nationality was theoretically available. We have just heard the Minister’s desperate attempts to answer the many points paraded before him during this debate. How will this work in practice? We were looking for answers when this proposal was first promoted on Report, and we are looking for answers today, but nobody knows how much of a limbo effect this will have on people who are suspects and will be subjected to this attempt to deprive them of their citizenship. We have had no clear answer on how it will impact on the individual.
The Government review will allow the Home Secretary a veto on the information put before Parliament, thus compromising both the independence and the transparency of the process. If the Government are so confident of their proposals, surely they have nothing to fear from making the case to a parliamentary Committee in a timely, considered and evidence-based manner. This contempt for the legislature and this rushed approach to law-making is no way to produce the type of outcome that we want. This measure is so draconian that it must be looked at before it is implemented, and we must have a pre-legislative look at it rather than a post-legislative review.
Of all the things said in the Lords debate, the words of Lord Pannick were the most powerful, when he said:
“There are, regrettably, all too many dictators around the world who are willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon…and we should do nothing to suggest that such conduct is acceptable.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1169.]
It seems as though the Government message has been listened to already, when we have heard Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National party in France calling on the French Government to implement the Home Secretary’s plans. That just shows what a bad international example we are setting—a dreadful example around the world. This is a policy for despots, not democrats and for “liberal strippers”, not liberals. The UK’s reputation as a country that values the rule of law will be put at risk if MPs do not oppose the Home Secretary’s plans for citizenship-stripping. People need only to be suspected of terrorism to be deprived of citizenship, and we have still not heard any satisfactory answer on what will happen to these people.
This measure is unfair, possibly unlawful and unlikely to make the UK any safer. It is also a feature of the type of democracy that we are beginning to see here in the United Kingdom, with the rise of UKIP and a grotesque race to the bottom between this Government and UKIP to see who can be the toughest on immigration measures and who can be the best at stripping off our citizens’ civil liberties. Let me tell the Government that they will never beat UKIP on this. It is an absolute certainty that UKIP will always triumph when it comes to this appalling race to the bottom.
The Lords amendments would provide time for further reflection; the Government amendments are no substitute. Let us make sure that we support the Lords amendment; let us make sure that we look at this issue properly before going down this appalling road.
Let me first remind the House what we are asking it to do today—to disagree with the Lords in their amendment. I have a reason for saying that. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), the shadow Minister said, as he carefully avoided setting out his party’s view and quoted lots of other people back at us. His proposed solution was to spend the next two months before the summer recess coming to a rapid conclusion. I think that he accepts that there is a legitimate national security issue here, but what he said does not reflect what the amendment says.
Paragraph (2) of Lords amendment 18 talks about nominating a Committee that would serve
“for the duration of the present Parliament”,
with no deadline to reach a conclusion. I repeat what I said in my intervention on the right hon. Gentleman. I accept his point that there was not much time between tabling the amendment and the Report stage in this House. It is a perfectly fair point that we had discussions before the issues were discussed in the House of Lords. However, three months have elapsed and these matters have been considered in the other place, and I really do not understand what we are going to learn in the next two months that we have not been able to learn in the past three months.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the proposal is that the Committee shall serve for the duration of this Parliament. I was trying to be ever helpful by offering the Minister the opportunity that we could, through the usual channels, determine to examine these matters in a reasonable time. We could set that time informally even if the Committee did serve for the duration of the Parliament.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but that is not provided for. The Committee regulates its procedure. Nothing here talks about the balance of party members on the Committee. The Chairman of Committees in the other place will nominate the members from the House of Lords, and the Speaker of the House of Commons will nominate those from this place. There is no provision in the amendment to do what the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
If a Committee of members of both Houses considers the matter at length, it will produce a report. If we accept for the sake of argument that it manages to agree on the right outcome, it will only produce a report that will inform a further debate in this House. Members of this House will still be required to take a decision. We will still be required to weigh up the arguments that my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration so ably laid out before the House today and the Home Secretary did in January. We will still be required to consider the arguments that the shadow Minister did not put before the House; he simply recited the views of others. We will not be freed from the responsibility of taking a decision. It is the “kick the can down the road” amendment, which allows the House to avoid taking a decision.
These are difficult issues. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd), whom I respect hugely on these matters, but there is a balance to be struck between defending the liberties of our citizens and protecting us from terrorism. I do not reach easily for the national security argument. I was pleased when I was elected to the House to vote against the provisions for 90-day pre-trial detention. But this is a proportionate and limited proposal. I supported the previous measure. The Home Secretary has listened to the debate on 30 January in this House and to the debate in the other place. Amendments (a) and (b) do two things. First, they ensure that we are not left with a situation of someone left unable to seek citizenship. She has to have reasonable grounds for believing that they are able to, and that addresses many of the concerns raised previously by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who set those out on 30 January.
A review mechanism is now in place, whether by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation or another independent person, which will enable the House to look quite quickly, after an initial one-year process, and then every subsequent three years, at the actual implementation of the legislation in practice, so enabling us, if there are issues, if some of the concerns set out by my hon. Friend for Aldridge-Brownhills or others come to light, to enable the House to amend the legislation. The concern that the Home Secretary set out with the al-Jedda judgment leaves a gap in our legislation, which leaves us vulnerable to those who would do us harm.
My hon. Friend the Minister set out how many individuals had been deprived of their citizenship on non-conducive grounds, so not using this power, since 2006, and it was 27. It is not possible to know in advance, but we are talking about very small numbers. We are talking about people who conduct themselves in a way that is seriously prejudicial to our national interests. It is a small number of people, but it is a small number of people who mean to do us serious harm, but whom we are not able to prosecute.
This is a proportionate use of the Home Secretary’s power. It is reviewable by the independent judiciary, so there is a check and balance in place. We have to ask ourselves whether we want to leave ourselves open to this vulnerability, exposed by the Supreme Court. We are, as I said, only putting the law back to what it was before 2002. I do not think that any of the scenarios set out by Members happened before 2002. I urge Members to disagree with the Lords in their amendment and to put amendments (a) and (b) on the statute book when we vote this afternoon.
I will be brief. I spoke in 1997 in the debate on the formation of SIAC, and I was wrong. I thought that the changes that were being made from the previous system were sufficient to protect people who are accused of terrorism. I reminded the House then that the previous arrangements had been used against not just people who wanted to blow up our country but journalists and others such as Mark Hosenball. One reason why we need to have a publicly accountable system, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd), is that, without it, there cannot be a guarantee that a Home Secretary will not end up doing the same again.
I said in the debate about the formation of SIAC that transparency is the most effective protection against terrorism. I am really concerned that this arrangement not only risks creating statelessness but depends on a grossly untransparent system. I think that we should adopt the route that the Lords has offered us: yes, it is kicking the can down the road, but it is stopping and thinking so that the can is not mashed, thus destroying the reputation of our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I pay tribute to her for her acceptance that SIAC was an error and a big problem. Indeed, it is rare in this place for any of us to admit making a mistake. The encroachment of secret justice started with that commission and has continued in a number of other ways.
In the interests of time, I will not go through all my concerns. I have expressed them on a number of occasions in debates in the main Chamber and in the Home Affairs Committee and in discussions with the Minister. The reasons for my concerns remain the same, which is why I was proud to oppose the measure when we discussed it previously, and acted as a teller for the other side. It is a shame that more people did not join us, and I pay tribute to those who did, especially those Labour Members who braved the wrath of their Whips to fight their way into the Lobby, where we saw some interesting rows. It is also interesting to see people who voted for it on that occasion now opposing the principle. I still oppose the principle. There has been much more debate, both in the other place and on the Home Affairs Committee, which has helped to clarify how the measure might work. The Select Committee’s report on counter-terrorism is due out shortly, and I hope the Minister will look carefully at what it says. Obviously, I cannot presage its comments on anything, but I am sure that he will be interested to see it.
There are many issues relating to what happens if somebody is stateless in this country. If we end up leaving someone stateless because they cannot get the passport that we thought they could apply for, we have taken somebody who is apparently dangerous to us and prevented them from leaving the country. That does not seem a great success to me. There is also the issue about what happens if they are overseas. It also fosters the idea of two classes of citizen—people whose citizenship can be taken away without them being convicted of something and those who cannot have it taken away. It is about how the legal process works and much, much more.
In the interests of time, let me talk about the Government concessions, which I welcome. They are a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough for me. There are two of them. I welcome the concession about the independent reviewer, and I was pleased to hear the Minister imply that it may be the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, for whom I have huge respect. I would be more encouraged if he, rather than others, was taking on the role. I understand that no decision has yet been made. Will the Minister clarify whether the reviewer will look at specific cases, or just the overall process? Will they be able to trigger a review if a particular case has gone wrong? Will they have full access to all the information that SIAC has? If the independent reviewer does not have all that information, it will be hard for them to make a proper judgment.
Let me turn to the other amendment about reasonable grounds for belief. I welcome this step, because it addresses the key issue of avoiding statelessness. We should all be very concerned to avoid anything that will leave people stateless. My concern is about how certain we are. It was helpful to hear the Minister say—I ask him to correct me if I misquote him—that if someone wanted to claim asylum from a country, that would be deemed to mean that the Home Secretary could not act. If it was not possible to get the citizenship without travelling and the person was stuck in this country, that would be an issue.
I am still concerned about the appeal rights and about what will happen if the Home Secretary makes an error. What will happen if she acts reasonably, but it turns out that she is wrong and someone cannot get citizenship? That would be very alarming and I hope that the Minister will consider the issue and perhaps even tighten this up in the other House.
It is a disgrace that we are talking about civil liberties and yet we have only nine minutes left, the debate in the Lords ended only 18 hours ago, and the amendments land before the House when it is likely to rise early next week because of insufficient business. Our job is responsibly to look after our constituents’ interests, which means both their human rights and their protection and security. Not one of the amendments we are considering is capable of doing that as a result of this bouncing of the House. I have been in this place only 17 years now and the worst civil liberties violations have occurred when the House has been bounced into urgent decisions. That is what is happening today and I resent that.
I resent it on behalf of my constituents. The practicalities of the provisions mean that we will deprive some of their citizenship and, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) has said, we will do so in a way that will not even allow them to answer the charges themselves. That is the SIAC process, which I voted against all those years ago.
What are the practicalities of depriving someone of their citizenship when they are a threat, particularly if they are abroad? In the other House there was a discussion about the comity of interest between individual states. What are we to do? Will we deprive a suspected terrorist of their citizenship and leave them as the responsibility of another state? Will that protect our citizens’ interests, if that person can then roam free to take action against this country? That is not fair, just or based on human rights, and it does not practically tackle the issue of security.
Their lordships want time to set up a Joint Committee to give this difficult area of policy the detailed consideration it needs. The Minister referred to the Government’s proposed review as independent, but the amendment makes no reference to independence. The reviewer will be appointed by the Government, not by an independent process. In addition, the Secretary of State will have a veto over what is reported to the House and that applies not just to national security but, as the amendment says, to public interest. Public interest has been used in this House by successive Governments to avoid embarrassments and to avoid providing the House with information on which we can make considered judgments.
The Government’s amendments are not acceptable. I do not think they resolve the concerns that the other House has raised and I hope that that place holds firm so that we can negotiate a proper process. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) that we need a reasonable process within a limited period of time to allow us to return to the House to consider proper proposals that protect civil liberties while, just as importantly, protecting the security of our constituents.
I feel like I am in an episode of “Just a Minute”, Madam Deputy Speaker, but here goes.
I support the Government’s amendments, as we must focus on the issue. This is not some descent into despotism; all we are talking about is a return to the law as it stood before 2002. We are not even talking about the principle of statelessness, because the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 allows for a person to be stateless when that nationality has been obtained by fraud. We are talking about only a very small cohort of people who pose a serious threat to the safety of the citizens we represent.
It is important that the Government ensure that they do not end up with decisions being made in an arbitrary or disproportionate way, which is why the provision about reasonable grounds is important and goes a long way towards answering that point. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a Member, correctly said that the decision to deprive people of their state per se does not breach any international conventions. That is the case that was not properly answered by the Opposition.
In the seconds I have left in which to speak, all I can say is that the Government have moved a significant way and that that allows me and others to support their amendments and reject the Lords amendment.
It is worth outlining again at the outset the purpose of the Government’s amendments, which is to close a gap that has been highlighted by the Supreme Court, to guard our national security and to deal with a very small number of individuals who put this country’s security at risk. It is only to deal with those very serious cases of people whose conduct meets the requirement of being
“seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK.”
It is important to understand the context and how the Home Secretary, in exercising the power based on the amendments, must have reasonable grounds to believe that under the laws of a country or territory an individual is able to become a national of that country or territory. We have listened to the points that have been made about statelessness, and the amendments address and significantly close the issues that have been highlighted in the other place.
On scrutiny, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) said, the matter has been considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as in the other place, so it is not correct to say that it has not been subject to careful consideration in the other place and by Members of this House, or considered in detail. That was incorrectly suggested by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who spoke for the Opposition. He has made various assertions that in some way the provisions are not compliant with our conventions and obligations to the United Nations. I reject that. We do not accept that in some way the provisions that are contemplated in the amendments do not comply with our conventions. Indeed, we believe that they adhere more closely to our obligations.
I am afraid that I do not have time to give way.
We have reflected on the need for oversight and have provided for periodic independent reviews. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) asked whether David Anderson is an appropriate person. He is certainly someone we are examining and we want to have discussions, if the amendments are accepted, to consider his role in that context.
We take our obligations on statelessness extraordinarily seriously and in terms of common law the House has considered these matters in the recent past. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) has consistently made that point. There are challenges for the Government in what we are able to do to ensure that evidence can be provided appropriately in guarding our national security, and that gisting of facts and information remains available. It is important that the right of challenge exists, but it is also important that we guard our national security, which is why I commend the amendments to the House.
Ninety minutes having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 18.
The House proceeded to a Division.
Lords amendment 18 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 18.
I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to the draft Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Conditions) Order 2014. The Ayes were 313 and the Noes were 205, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
Before Clause 60
Child trafficking guardians for all potential child victims of trafficking in human beings
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 24, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 1 to 5.
Lords amendment 6, and manuscript amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendment 7, and manuscript amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 8, and manuscript amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendments 9 to 15 and 17.
Lords amendment 19, and manuscript amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 20 to 23 and 25 to 36.
This group covers the remaining aspects of the Bill. I will focus on Lords amendments 16 and 24 at the outset, which, as has been highlighted, infringe financial privilege.
Lords amendments 16 and 24 require the appointment of a guardian to represent the interests of children when there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are the victims of cross-border trafficking. The Government wholeheartedly share the noble Lords’ intention to protect and support that incredibly vulnerable group of children. Supporting victims, including children, is at the heart of everything that we are seeking to achieve through the draft Modern Slavery Bill. That Bill aims to tackle the appalling crimes of human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude. Those crimes are quite separate from the matters that are dealt with in the Immigration Bill. In our judgment, it would be wrong and unhelpful to conflate the two.
Before I came to this place, I spent nearly a decade working with trafficked children. These matters are not separate at all, because many trafficked children come through the immigration system, and often the only state official they come into contact with is a member of the UK Border Agency. These matters are as one and the Immigration Bill is a fitting place to provide support and protection for such children.
I agree with the hon. Lady that immigration can be a relevant factor and that it relates to a number of the issues that are involved in trafficking. From visiting charities and meeting victims of trafficking, I understand the compelling stories and issues that they raise. However, at its heart, trafficking is organised crime. Sometimes, when it is viewed simply in the context of immigration, significant aspects of the level of organisation and criminality involved can be missed, as can trafficking within the UK. That is why we judge it important to recognise the broader context so that the solutions that are provided are comprehensive and address all the issues involved. The Government’s approach of seeking to understand that broader context and the organised criminality involved has gained support from non-governmental organisations, charitable organisations and others.
Consensus is also being gained across the House, because we recognise that victims of child trafficking need specialist and dedicated support and that the current provision of support for those children can be patchy and inconsistent. That was why I announced in January our intention to trial specialist independent advocates for victims of child trafficking. The trial was due to start on 1 July across 23 local authorities, to test how those advocates might improve the experiences of those extraordinarily vulnerable children.
The Government consider that the role of our specialist independent advocates is almost entirely aligned with that of the guardian set out in Lords amendment 16, with two important deviations. First, the Lords amendment would extend the provision of guardianship to adults up to the age of 21, whereas our advocates will instead focus on the needs of children, including those who may be involved in an age-related dispute.
Secondly, the Lords amendment would apply only to victims of cross-border trafficking. The evil of child trafficking extends not only to those who are trafficked across our borders but to children who are trafficked within the UK, as the horrific sexual exploitation of girls in Rochdale and Oxford has shown. That is why our specialist independent advocates will offer support to all victims of child trafficking, not just those trafficked across our borders. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) is making her point from a sedentary position, but I genuinely do not think that there should be a difference between us on this point. There is a genuine desire to address the issue in its broadest sense and understand it effectively and properly. I know that members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill are here this afternoon, and they have made an enormous contribution to the consideration of these matters. I do not want to get drawn into a broader debate this afternoon—I hope there will be plenty of further time for that—but I believe that there is a growing unity of view across the House on the need to act and the way in which we should approach this issue.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is trying to look at broader issues of children’s welfare; perhaps I would welcome that even more from the children’s Minister.
There is a particular issue for children who come into this country from overseas concerning their immigration status. Quite often, the reason we do not get trafficking prosecutions and do not really tackle this awful crime is that we do not treat the victims properly. Children who are accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 do not have anybody with parental responsibility to instruct their lawyer, which is why this debate really matters.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and for her genuine passion and concern for the welfare and well-being of an incredibly vulnerable group of children. We are taking forward our pilots of child advocates so that we can ensure that there is support for those children, and we must not take lightly our responsibility for protecting them. However, having tested the model of advocacy, we do not want to risk putting in place a model that would fail to deliver safety for that group in a practical way.
I am not sure there is a dispute between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on the issue. If the model that the Minister advocates were to go ahead, it would cover both trafficked children and those who are not technically trafficked but are pushed around and sold in this country. For many of us, the nub of the debate is whether the Government will meet the spirit of the Lords amendment, which is not only to give permission for the Government to go ahead with the pilots but to see whether the scheme will be rolled out universally when the results of the pilots are known.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention, for his work in chairing the Joint Committee and scrutinising the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and for the report that has been produced. The Government are considering that report carefully and will respond in due course.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there should not be dispute on this issue. There might, however, be a difference of emphasis—perhaps I might characterise it like that—between me and the hon. Member for Wigan on why I believe the Immigration Bill is the wrong place to deal with this issue in a broad sense. We are, of course, reviewing work on that initial assessment of when children present to different agencies, and the fact that EU children and non-EU children are dealt with differently in the system. We are examining that carefully and scrutinising the way the system operates at the moment. I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady by recognising that we should consider carefully issues such as initial identification and the way in which different agencies highlight children through that system, as well as the way the system operates and responds, and the different times taken to make an initial determination. It is important that such work is conducted, and it has been commenced by the Government.
In a practical sense, it is important to bring agencies together and to shine a light, as I characterise it, on crimes that have largely been in the darkness. Vulnerable individuals have not been highlighted and brought to attention, and we need greater recognition of the serious criminality involved, and the appalling exploitation and trade in human misery that underpins so many of the dreadful actions we see.
We believe that Parliament has already considered the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and that when the full Bill is presented that will be the right place to address the issues highlighted by the Lords. The full Bill will include an enabling power to ensure that we have the opportunity to test and assess fully the child trafficking advocate role through a trial, before setting in stone its specific functions. By taking that approach we will achieve what is essentially our collective ultimate aim: to give children who have been subjected to this appalling crime the best chance of dealing with the trauma of their experiences.
I have two questions for the Minister on this important point. I do not think anyone disputes that it might be better for such provision to be part of the Modern Slavery Bill, but the question is about what the Government will transfer to that Bill. The measure passed by their lordships was not to interrupt the Government’s pilots—they are all in favour of those—but to ensure that once the results of those pilots are through, there will be a statutory basis on which to make the service universal when public expenditure allows that movement to occur. Can the Minister give the House that assurance?
As I have indicated, our intention is to introduce an enabling power. We will provide a statutory basis for the child trafficking advocate role in the Modern Slavery Bill, which we will be in a position to inform through the trials that are due to start in July. Our concern is that the Lords amendment as currently framed would put those trials at risk—we do not see how the trials could commence if the current provisions are maintained. I hope that by assuring the right hon. Gentleman about the Government’s intention to provide that statutory basis, he will understand that that enabling power will provide the underpinning for further work, which can properly be informed by the results of the trials that will start in the summer.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because this issue is so important. He is proposing that, if we do not oppose their lordships’ changes, he is offering in return the trials and, when we have learnt from the trials, a statutory basis for the service. Is that what the Government want to be in the draft Modern Slavery Bill?
Clearly, having announced the trials at the end of January, I want to see them proceed. It is important that we test the service and the system, which is patchy and not as consistent as I want it to be. Equally, some local authorities provide good services and it is important that we recognise that and learn from them. We want an enabling provision in the draft Modern Slavery Bill to be the bedrock that provides the mechanism, which can be informed by the trials that I want to happen, that can be acted on and be the statutory underpinning that allows it to be developed through the experience of the trials. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will find that helpful in underlining the Government’s commitment not simply to provide a statutory mechanism through that enabling provision, but to deliver practical action. The most important thing is that we provide support, advice and guidance for this extraordinarily vulnerable group, and that we ensure they are supported through the system. That is what matters most.
The trials are intended to be conducted in 23 areas, commencing at the beginning of July. We have not, at this stage, set an end point for the duration of the trials, but I want evidence and feedback that can inform the consideration of an enabling power in any modern slavery Bill that comes forward. A statutory mechanism will ensure that the trials can commence and that we can learn and benefit directly from them, enabling a statutory underpinning of the optimum provision.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again on such an important issue. The statutory underpinning for advocates is welcome. I want to check that they will be provided for children who are suspected of being victims of trafficking before they have to go through the very difficult process and jump through those hoops to be deemed a victim of trafficking. It is that process that children find very hard to get through. Will advocates be provided at the point at which concerns are raised that the child may be a victim of trafficking, rather than at the point when they have been deemed by the system to be a victim of trafficking?
Under the arrangements, each child victim is to be allocated a person with specialist training and expertise in trafficking. They will provide dedicated support and guidance to ensure that the child’s voice is heard. That is often the biggest challenge when there are so many different obstacles, such as language and the trauma the child has gone through. It is intended that the advocates will provide a single point of contact through the care and immigration process and will be responsible for promoting the child’s safety and well-being. That is particularly important in relation to the risk of children being re-trafficked, which is a significant concern. Children have disappeared and the worry is that they have been re-trafficked into slavery.
The scope of the work is being developed further. I note what the hon. Lady has said about initial identification and support throughout the subsequent process. I would expect the trials to involve thorough and appropriate tests, in accordance with the optimal periods during which interventions can take place. I would also expect appropriate support to be provided for children who have come forward and are waiting for an initial assessment of the prima facie evidence relating to whether or not they have been trafficked. I recognise the genuine concern that has been expressed by Members and others about the provision of support, and I hope that my assurances will enable the House to support the Government in disagreeing with the Lords amendments.
If a child was brought into this country and an immigration officer suspected that the child was being enslaved, could the child be referred to the advocate at that point so that the advocate would have a chance of separating the child and a slavemaster?
Let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Member for Wigan, that all children who are dealt with by means of the national referral mechanism—with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar—will be provided with advocates as soon as they are identified as suspected victims of trafficking. We intend appropriate support to be provided as soon as children have been referred.
Let me now deal with Lords amendments 1 to 4. When the Bill left this House, clause 1 provided for regulations specifying, first, who would count as a family member for the purpose of removal and, secondly, the arrangements for giving notice of removal. The power to make regulations is exercisable by statutory instrument following the negative resolution procedure.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights asked why the original clause gave discretion over whether family members should be notified of removal when we had clearly stated during a debate that they would always be notified. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee believed that the definition of a family member should be in the Bill, and that delegation was inappropriate. The Lords amendments are designed to address all the concerns raised by the two Committees: they would insert in the Bill the definition of family members, the requirement always to notify them of removal, and the effect of the notice.
The Government have transformed the approach to returning families with children, in line with their commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Lords amendments 5 to 9 and 29 to 34 give legislative effect to our current policies on family returns by putting key elements of the new process into primary legislation. That will guarantee that the fundamental elements of the approach cannot be changed without parliamentary oversight and debate.
First, the amendments prevent families from being removed for 28 days after any appeal against a refusal of leave has been completed. That will ensure that they will always have an opportunity to consider their options and avoid enforced return. Secondly, we are placing the independent family returns panel on a statutory footing: its advice must be sought on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in every family returns case in which return is enforced. Thirdly, we are providing specific legislative protection for unaccompanied children so that they are not held in immigration removal centres when we are trying to return them. Finally, we are providing a separate legal basis for pre-departure accommodation, independent of other removal centres. It will be used only for holding families with children and only within the existing maximum time limits.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) and others have tabled some manuscript amendments to Lords amendments 6, 7 and 8, which were debated in Committee and again on Report in the other place. I am sympathetic to her intentions and the intentions of those who have supported her manuscript amendments. However, although I understand the motivation, her amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment 6 and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 7 would widen the definition of families in the family returns process and apply the 28-day period during which a child, relevant parent or carer may not be removed or required to leave the UK to parents who do not live with the child as part of a family unit. They would also stipulate that we could only separate a child from their parents for child protection reasons.
These amendments do not reflect the Government’s returns process. We will always seek to ensure that families remain together during their return, but there are exceptional circumstances in which temporary separation may be necessary. For example, where there is a public protection concern or, indeed, a risk to national security, a dangerous individual might not be considered a threat to their own children but could be a risk to the wider public and we would therefore need to remove them as soon as possible, which might require a family separation.
Manuscript amendment (a) to Lords amendment 8 would mean no unaccompanied child could be detained under Immigration Act powers. Lords amendment 8 reflects the operational reality that unaccompanied children may need to be held for short periods in transit to a port of departure or at the port awaiting removal. These types of removal are rare, but if we do not hold children safely in very limited circumstances while they are travelling unaccompanied in and out of the UK, we increase the risk that they may come to harm by falling prey to traffickers or even absconding. Lords amendment 8 will ensure that detention is for the shortest possible time.
Lords amendments 10 and 11 deal with appeals, and the Government have reformed appeal rights in this Bill to reduce complexity and provide the most effective and appropriate remedy for all cases. Administrative review will provide a faster and cheaper way of correcting caseworking errors, but Lords amendment 10 provides further assurance. It requires that the Secretary of State commission the independent chief inspector within a year of clause 11 being commenced to prepare a report on administrative review. That report must address the specific concerns raised about the effectiveness and independence of administrative review. Lords amendment 11 makes a technical correction to clause 11(5), which provides that the tribunal may not hear a new matter that the Secretary of State has not considered unless the Secretary of State consents to its doing so.
On the question of administrative review, is it not really a way of avoiding the inconvenience —from the Home Office’s point of view—of a proper appeal where the individual can be properly represented and the whole case be considered? Is it not just another example of trying to get rid of the impediments of any legal appeal system on behalf of the individual?
The administrative review process is already effective in identifying and correcting caseworking errors. From April to December 2013, 93% of these administrative reviews were completed within 28 days, and 21% of the administrative reviews requested resulted in the original decision being overturned. This shows that the review process can provide an effective way of correcting errors, and it does so in a speedy and efficient manner, so that periods of uncertainty are addressed. I do not think it does anyone any good to have long and protracted periods of uncertainty. Indeed, we are in the perverse position of having 17 rights of appeal, which are being reduced to four, to ensure that matters are dealt with effectively and appropriately, supplementing the administrative review process outlined in the Bill.
The Bill also requires landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. That is dealt with in Lords amendments 12 to 15. The scheme includes statutory codes of practice giving the technical detail of how it operates. Lords amendments 12 to 15 address concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to ensure that those codes have parliamentary oversight.
Lords amendments 25 to 28 deal with student accommodation. The Bill already excluded some student halls of residence from the proposed landlord checking requirement. We concluded that there was scope to go further and broaden the exemption for student accommodation. Educational institutions already have a duty to check the immigration status of their international students, and we do not want there to be double-checking of these persons. The changes therefore strike a sensible balance and minimise regulatory burdens on higher education institutions.
Lords Amendments 17, 35 and 36, which were proposed by Lord Avebury in the other place, correct an historical anomaly relating to the treatment of illegitimate children. Nationality law is complex, and anomalies arise, particularly as aspects of family life have changed since the time of the British Nationality Act 1981. In 2006, amendments to the 1981 Act enabled illegitimate children to inherit nationality from a British father in the same way as a legitimate child. Those amendments were not made retrospective. To have done so could have itself caused problems for individuals who were now adult and had made a life for themselves in a different nationality. These amendments enable illegitimate children born to British fathers before 2006 to register as British if they choose to do so, correcting a historical anomaly by providing a route to citizenship for those who want to take it.
I thank the Minister for the Government’s support for these amendments, which I tried to put in the Bill but encountered some technical difficulties. Will he join me in paying tribute to those who campaigned for many years to get this injustice changed? People such as Tabitha Sprague, Antonia Fraser Fujinaga and Maureen Box tried very hard, and the many thousands affected by this will be delighted that the Government are now fixing it.
I recognise those who have made the case for this change for some considerable time, and I am pleased that the Government have been able to support these amendments in the other place. I hope that this House will be equally able to support them here. It is important to recognise that they have addressed an historical anomaly and now allow that opportunity to the individuals affected of a route to citizenship that was not available to them before.
The Minister rightly says that we are dealing with an historical anomaly, and that makes the case for introducing this part of the Bill and commencing it as early as possible. I hope that he can assure the House that he will put his foot on the accelerator to do that, because my constituent whose case prompted Lord Avebury to table these amendments is still stuck in limbo and, like other people, he would like to be able to remedy his situation.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that and I have certainly heard the points she has made.
I know that others wish to speak to their manuscript amendments, but let me just say that Lords amendment 19 clarifies that the Bill does not limit the duty regarding the welfare of children imposed on the Secretary of State or any other person by section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. Under section 55, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for ensuring that her functions in relation to immigration, asylum and nationality are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK. That duty continues to apply, and nothing in the Bill impinges on it.
Lords amendment 20 relates to some technical changes concerning the bank accounts measures. Lords amendments 21 to 23 respond to recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, ensuring that, where appropriate, affirmative procedure processes apply in respect of certain notices and certain aspects of the sham marriage provisions contained in part 4 of the Bill. I believe that the Lords amendments, with the exception of Lords amendments 16 and 24, improve the provisions, making them clearer and more workable in practice.
I, again, thank the Minister for his helpful introduction to the Government’s position on the Lords amendments. I am here to maintain Her Majesty’s official Opposition’s support for them and wish the Government to reflect on that again during today’s debate. I pay tribute to Baroness Butler-Sloss for tabling her amendments in the other place. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for scrutinising the evidence for the draft Modern Slavery Bill. I have heard what the Minister said about the proposals on a pilot and the enabling power in such a Bill, but I remain unconvinced that that will lead to the action that we want and, indeed, the action that the other place has proposed for consideration.
The House of Lords voted by 282 votes to 184 for the proposed new clause, which received cross-party support. The measure was introduced by Baroness Butler-Sloss and seconded by Lord McColl, who is a member of a Government party. I remind the House that the House of Lords took that action because there were grave concerns that we should take immediate action. The measure had cross-party support and has been cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead.
Child trafficking remains a serious issue. If a relevant child has arrived in the United Kingdom and is a potential victim of trafficking, it is important that, once they are identified, an independent individual can monitor and represent the child’s best interests and support them in a defined role. The Lords amendment details a number of key functions for the child trafficking guardian. Those functions could be tested by the pilots that the Minister is examining, and they would give statutory legal backing to a range of issues, including responsibilities to advocate that all decisions relating to the child are made in the child’s best interests, to look at the statutory role to ascertain the child’s wishes and to ensure that the child receives appropriate care, safe accommodation, medical treatment, psychological assistance and education, translation and interpretation services. Those are all positive and, in my view, necessary requirements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough spoke about legal access and representation, which are equally important. Advice on legal rights is extremely important, as is keeping the child informed of relevant immigration, criminal, compensation, community care and public law proceedings. We must ensure that we contribute to the identification of a durable plan to safeguard and promote the child’s best interests. We must provide a statutory link between the child and a number of agencies, including immigration services, the police, local authorities and the national health service, to ensure that the child’s best interests are safeguarded.
It is important that someone has a statutory responsibility for the child who has arrived in the United Kingdom, perhaps with a trafficker but without family, so that contact is made with their family to establish what is in the child’s best interests in the longer term. It is important that that person has a statutory role to liaise with the immigration service in handling the child’s case and that they accompany the child to police, immigration and care proceedings. If a child appears before the courts, it is important that somebody is there to advise them.
I am approaching my 57th birthday, as I think you are, Mr Deputy Speaker. If I faced all those trials, even with the life experience that I have, I would it find it difficult to deal with all those issues. A child in a strange country needs the statutory protections provided by the amendment tabled by Baroness Butler-Sloss. It is important, as the Lords amendment makes clear, that a child trafficking guardian should undertake training in a number of things. They should probably be, as the amendment suggests, an employee of a statutory body such a local charity or council, or a volunteer with a charitable organisation.
We are debating whether we accept giving statutory underpinning to those issues, or whether we accept the Minister’s proposal of 23 pilots to commence in July, without a date for completion, with an enabling power—whatever that means in real life—to do some or all of those things. But we need to press the Minister more on the detail of his alternative. The proposal from Baroness Butler-Sloss sets out clearly what is expected of a potential guardian for any trafficked child or any child who is subject to potential trafficking. Even though my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has done good work in the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, there is a template that we could agree today and which could return to the other place very shortly, with Royal Assent within a matter of days.
I hope that what the Minister has said does satisfy the other place, but if we vote against the Government motion tonight, it can decide. That is the advantage. I think that the Minister has satisfied us, but I would not want the other place and those who moved the amendments not to have the possibility to consider when they read Hansard whether they are satisfied.
My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. As I said at the beginning, the vote was 282 to 184 in favour of the proposal. If we reject the proposal today, we are left with no proposal. We are left with a promise of a pilot and a Bill after the Gracious Speech, following the scrutiny rightly given to it by my right hon. Friend.
A few of us are slightly confused about the procedure, and the right hon. Gentleman has been here longer than I have, so perhaps he could help us. If the House were to accept the Lords amendment, the Lords would not discuss this again; whereas, if we rejected it, the Lords would have the chance to discuss it. Regardless of merit, is that not the right way round?
That is the right way round. The Lords expressed a clear view on the matter. The Lords will be able to examine the Government’s proposal when the Modern Slavery Bill comes forward. But we have a clear template today, and I want to see that enacted. If the Government accept this today, the proposal is a clear template. We have a number of proposals from Baroness Butler-Sloss, and I have gone through them today.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to accept the Lords amendments because he feels that they are right, but that if he does so, it would not allow any further consideration by the Lords in terms of reflecting on what I have said from the Front Bench.
Their lordships have expressed their view clearly, and what the Minister has said today is known already. He announced that he had said in January that he would have pilots on the matter. The draft Modern Slavery Bill has been scrutinised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, and there is a template that we should support, and that is why I reject the Government’s proposal.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is missing the fact that the amendments are narrowly framed. They deal only with children who come to the UK from abroad. On trafficking and modern slavery, I have constant representations about not just focusing on people who come from outside the UK. The Minister has set out a sensible point. If we reject the amendments, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) has said, the other place has the option of sending them back to us again, and we can consider them again if it does not think that the Minister’s representations hold water. That is the right course of action.
There is clearly a common interest but a disagreement on procedure. If the Minister has a view about the impact of children being trafficked in the UK, such as in the case in Rochdale that he mentioned, he has the draft Modern Slavery Bill to contribute to those matters. But there is a clear will from the other place, which was supported on a cross-party basis, and I would wish to see that as the template for discussion today.
One thing that would not be helpful is to put these measures in place and have a procedure that deals with foreign national children when the draft Modern Slavery Bill, expertly scrutinised by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, will put in place yet another process for children who happen to be UK nationals. It would be much more sensible to have one process that deals with all children who are victims of slavery. We should not make the system more complicated than it need be.
Imperative action is needed now. I have dealt with a number of Bills over the past few years and seen the Government bringing back amendments and amending their own legislation not six months after they introduced it. There is potential here today for a clear statement and clear action on the international trafficking of children. The pilots that the Minister brings forward can be undertaken.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Minister gave a commitment, which he has not done, that this comprehensive amendment, with all the powers for advocates included, would be in his proposed Modern Slavery Bill, we would not feel the need to press this to a vote? However, the Minister has not yet given that promise.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, correct. I have not yet had, following my intervention on the Minister, a closing date for his proposed pilot. We do not know what the outcome of that pilot will be. We have taken a principled position on the amendments from Baroness Butler-Sloss that there is scope for that to be done immediately. I am talking about not just us here, but UNICEF, Anti-Slavery International, Barnardo’s, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Amnesty International. An EU directive, which may not find favour with everyone in the House, says that we should consider that step. I understand that position, because 5.5 million children globally are trafficked each year. The UK Human Trafficking Centre identified 549 child victims in 2012. The national referral mechanism recognises 349 victims. A number of trafficked children face being sold into the sex trade and being exploited through work, cannabis farming, forced begging and sexual exploitation.
There is a need now to send out a strong signal that we want to take action on that in England and Wales. Trafficked children who arrive in Scotland value the care and support that they receive from their appointed guardians. That system works in Scotland, yet constituencies such as mine and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends still face real difficulties in that regard. Such a system operates not just in Scotland, but in many western European states, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. There are templates for a system and it is time that we put in place a legislative framework for it. I wish to see that undertaken and supported today.
In passing, may I say that I welcome the changes on residential accommodation that the Government have accepted from the other place? In particular, I welcome the changes on student accommodation. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is in his place today, as he has pressed over the past weeks and months, in Committee, to me personally and to the Minister, a very strong case to ensure that all student accommodation was included in the Bill. It is good that, following the discussions in Committee and the representations from members of Sheffield university’s students union whom my hon. Friend brought to London, the Minister has accepted that point. The Minister will have our support on those Lords amendments that have been accepted on residential landlords, students and other areas, because they are important issues.
I look forward to hearing what the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) has to say on her manuscript amendments. The Lords amendment has our support, and I hope that it will have the House’s support in due course.
I have tabled a series of manuscript amendments today to seek clarification from the Minister. I hope that he will have an opportunity to respond to my points at the end of the debate.
Let me deal first with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 8, which is my principal concern. The ending of routine detention of children in the immigration system is one of the areas of which I am most proud in my record in government. The Government can be extremely proud of that and it has made a significant difference to many children’s lives. Many thousands of children used to be detained in the immigration system and there is significant evidence of the harm that that causes to children’s mental health.
It was very hard work to get to the 2010 agreement, which followed a painstaking process of negotiation, but it has made a significant difference. Trying to enshrine it in legislation is an extremely positive step and it is important that what happened before can never happen again, but with these issues the devil is always in the detail. I am not yet persuaded that the amendments, which we have not had an opportunity to debate as they were tabled in the Lords, have the detail correct.
I have a number of questions, which I have not been able to get answers to in private, so I hope that the Minister might be able to answer them today. I tabled amendment (a) because I do not understand why we would reasonably need powers to detain unaccompanied children in this way. As drafted, the Government amendments afford less protection to unaccompanied children than to those who have a claim as part of a family. If they are with their family, the family returns panel process is enacted. No such protection applies to unaccompanied children.
If a family needs to be held prior to deportation for a short period of time they are held in Cedars, which has Barnardo’s and specialist social workers working with it and has a carefully designed process to ensure that the welfare of children is paramount. An unaccompanied child who needs to be held for a short period of time will be held in a holding facility, and at the moment they do not have any rules for best practice. Successive Governments have held that question in abeyance and my colleague Lord Avebury has managed to drag out of the Government a commitment finally to try to bring forward some rules. I am very pleased to see that, but the conditions are very different from those in Cedars.
The amendments, as drafted, do not quite meet the Government’s guidelines. I acknowledge that there is currently no time limit for the detention of unaccompanied minors, so the 24-hour limit in the Government’s amendments is at least a step forward, but chapter 31 of the immigration and nationality directorate instructions states that
“detention will occur only on the day of the planned removal to enable the child to be properly and safely escorted to their flight and/or to their destination.”
Although the amendments imply that people could be held overnight, the rules do not suggest that, so I would appreciate the Minister’s response on that point. I see that he is dealing with a matter of whipping, so I do not know whether he heard me. Perhaps he can be refuelled from the Box to ensure that that point is answered.
Chapter 45 of the enforcement instructions and guidance states:
“Unaccompanied children (i.e. persons under the age of 18) must only ever be detained in very exceptional circumstances, for the shortest possible time and with appropriate care”.
The new clause inserted by Lords amendment 8 also contains the power for unaccompanied children to be removed without removal directions already being in place so long as the decision whether or not to give such directions is likely to be positive from the Home Office’s point of view. That does not seem to me to be very satisfactory.
The serious question is: why do we need to detain unaccompanied children at all? I have asked officials about particular cases in which this might apply, and they gave me the example of a Japanese student who wanted to come to the UK to study but found that the institution they were going to study at had suddenly been dissolved. We would need to put them on a plane rapidly, so we would have to hold them for a short period of time. The Minister gave the example of someone who might have to be detained for their own safety to prevent them from being trafficked. That makes me sigh, because it is a typical Home Office response. The Home Office always assumes that the natural reaction to any problem is enforcement, but our duty in this case is protection rather than enforcement. We tend to mistake those two things and it is a psychological trait of the Home Office always to assume that the answer is enforcement and that is precisely why it cannot always be trusted to come up with policy in this area.
I am sorry that the Minister is upset, but it means that he has heard me.
If an unaccompanied, vulnerable child turns up at a police station, the police do not put them in a cell, but get in touch with social services. Why can we not do the same for unaccompanied children who come here as migrants or to apply for asylum? Why do we need to detain them? Surely our duty is to protect them. There is plenty of legislation that allows us to do that, and I have not heard an example of detention being required as opposed to protection with appropriate powers of social services.
What really bothers me is whether this is a preamble to a more significant change in policy on the forced removal of unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children. Currently, the United Kingdom does not routinely remove unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children, but it is probably the worst kept secret that the Home Office wants to be able forcibly to remove more unaccompanied children, particularly to Albania and Afghanistan. My concern is that the Government’s amendment leaves wide open the possibility of a drastic expansion of forced removal of children. Instead of moving towards the ending of detention of children for immigration purposes, the clause could allow more unaccompanied children to be detained for the purposes of removal. I am desperately hoping that the Minister will tell me that my fears are ill founded, and I will be delighted if he does so. I hope that he can answer my other specific points about why we cannot simply involve social services and protect children in the small number of such cases instead of detaining them using enforcement powers.
My amendments to Government amendments 6 and 7 also relate to child detention and essentially ask for clarification and strengthening of our 2010 commitment not to split families to achieve compliance with the immigration process. The Minister will be aware that Barnardo’s, which works closely with the Government at Cedars, has produced a report stating that family splits are, unfortunately, sometimes used to effect enforcement of immigration provisions. We agreed in 2010 that we would not do that, and my amendments seek to strengthen that commitment and to make it clearer. In particular, there are sometimes cases when a parent lives away from the family temporarily. The obvious case is when they are in immigration detention, but similar cases are when someone has been sectioned, is in hospital or is in prison. I am worried that the legislation as drafted does not capture such cases or consider the best interests of children, and is not in the spirit of the agreement that we negotiated in 2010.
Finally, I tabled an amendment to Lords amendment 19 to clarify that the best interests of the child should continue to be a primary consideration in all cases involving children. The Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the Government, saying that they have
“not explained how in practice the provisions in the Bill are to be read alongside the section 55 duty. Without such explanation there is a danger that front-line immigration officials administering the legal regime will be unclear about the relationship between the children duty in section 55 and the new tests introduced by the Bill which use different and unfamiliar language.”
Lords amendment 19 goes some way to meeting that concern, and I explored some of the issues in amendments tabled on Report. It confirms that it is necessary to take into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK, but I am worried that it does not go far enough because the section 55 duty applies only to the Home Secretary and not to the courts. My amendment makes it clear that consideration of children’s welfare should always be the primary concern. That is necessary because there is growing evidence that recent immigration rules are negatively impacting on decision makers’ understanding of what factors should be taken into account when considering the best interests of children. For example, research last year by Greater Manchester’s immigration aid unit into unaccompanied, asylum seeking children found that, in seven of 10 cases analysed, the Home Office failed to carry out any determination of the child’s best interests. Similarly, last year’s audit of Home Office procedures by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted the lack of any systematic collection or recording of information necessary to determine a child’s best interests. That includes the lack of a process to obtain the view of the child. This proposal simply tries to make sure that the Government do the things they say are their priority. At the moment, the Bill still leaves some confusion.
I want briefly to seek clarification in relation to international students and the changes that have been made to the Bill in relation to landlord checks. I pay tribute to Lord Hannay and others who have pressed this point in the House of Lords. I regret that students are included in the Bill at all, and I know that many Members on both sides of the House feel that they have no place in this debate.
The point relates to the changes that have given powers to universities to nominate students to occupy accommodation. That is a welcome move, and I am glad that the Government have accepted it. Speaking for the Government, Lord Taylor said in the other place that
“nominating is just the naming of an individual as being a student at a higher education institution…It is a form of vouching for the genuineness of the student’s immigration status. That is all.”
Baroness Warwick asked whether it would be
“legal and proper for the landlord to enter into that arrangement even though at that point, because of the time involved and so on, the potential tenant has not actually got their visa?”
This is crucial, because there is a brief period between being accepted into an institution and being enrolled during which many students sort out their accommodation. In response to Baroness Warwick, Lord Taylor said:
“Yes, absolutely: that is the case.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 April 2014; Vol. 753, c. 1056-1057.]
That involves a potential contradiction.
Will the Minister confirm in his closing remarks, or in intervening on me now, that an institution can nominate a person who has accepted a university place and has been given a confirmation of acceptance to study, but is awaiting a visa, so that they can confirm their accommodation before they have been issued with their visa?
I am grateful to be called to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will make sure that I leave the Minister sufficient time to respond to the points that have been made. I will keep a close eye on you, and if you think I am not leaving adequate time, I am sure you will indicate firmly that I should sit down.
I support what the Minister said in rejecting Lords amendments 16 and 24. I very much want us to deal with those who have been trafficked and victims of modern slavery, but I want us to implement a system that will apply to all children who have been trafficked, and a system that works. I want that decision to be informed by the pilots that the Minister is conducting. That is because in England and Wales the local authority has the legal responsibility to look out for the best interests of those children. In some local authorities, that system works very well, but in many it does not. The legal position is clear, but what is important is not what the law says, by itself, but how it is implemented.
That is why I want to make sure that the Minister runs those pilots and looks at their results. He has clearly stated that he will make sure there is an enabling power in the draft Modern Slavery Bill and that the detail of how we bring these powers into effect can be informed by the pilots. He gave a very clear commitment at the Dispatch Box to use what is learned from the pilots to bring that into force. That is a sensible procedure. I agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field): I think there is no disagreement in the points made by him, by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who has long experience of these matters. We all want to achieve the same thing, and I want to make sure that it is done in the most practical way possible.
I welcome the moves in amendments 5 to 9 and 29 to 34 to put on to the Statute Book the Government’s current policy on the family returns process. I previously gave some commitments at the Dispatch Box when this matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and when the Bill was going through Committee, in saying that the Government would bring forward those amendments in the House of Lords. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleague, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, were able to do so. That is a great step forward that locks these provisions into place.
The manuscript amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) are not helpful. The issue of an individual living in a household with the child is important. Otherwise, those who have no right to be in the United Kingdom but who happen to have a child here for whom they have no parental responsibility and with whom they have no contact will use that child as a legal tool to avoid being removed from the UK. What is worse, it would encourage people who have no right to be in Britain—a judge set this out clearly in his legal judgment on a specific case in which he jailed the relevant couple—to have children for the specific purpose of avoiding removal from the country. That is not in the interests of children or of the proper working of the immigration system, so I urge the House not to support the manuscript amendments.
My hon. Friend also addressed the provisions in Lords amendment 8 on the detention of unaccompanied children. I can think of a clear example. She mentioned the need to put children in contact with social services, but relevantly qualified officials are not always immediately available if a child turns up. If there is a delay of a few hours while waiting for a social services person to turn up, the child will, for their own protection, be detained by a Home Office official. That is, technically and legally, detention. If Home Office officials did not have the power to do that, there would be nothing to stop the child leaving the port of entry and potentially coming to harm. I do not think the Minister would be carrying out his duty to protect such children if he allowed that. It is a common occurrence. If Members talk to staff at ports, they will realise that social services officials are frequently not available immediately when unaccompanied children turn up. Technically, therefore, those children are detained. There is a limit on that detention and I think the proposal is sensible.
Overall, the bulk of the Lords amendments are sensible and I hope they will be accepted. I think that the Minister has good reason for wishing us to reject two of the Lords amendments, and I do not think the manuscript amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central would improve the Bill. In fact, I think they have the potential to damage the interests of children and I hope the House will reject them.
This has been a useful opportunity to touch on a number of important issues. In some ways, we have strayed from the strict provisions of the Bill—understandably, I think—particularly with regard to trafficking and the protection of children.
On the pilots and the point of referral, I reassure the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) that the intention is to refer all children suspected of being victims of trafficking to the national referral mechanism. They will be allocated a child trafficking advocate at the point of identification. The advocate will be able to provide support as soon as the child is identified in those first crucial hours. I think that is the point the hon. Lady made. In other words, the child advocate will be available when a child has been identified and the intention is to make a referral to the NRM. I hope that gives the hon. Lady the assurance she seeks. I recognise that, during the initial hours in which a child is identified, they will be very vulnerable and questions will be asked about what should happen to them, so they will need an advocate to support them during that early phase. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to provide that clarification.
In response to the Opposition’s Front-Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), I have clearly set out our approach to the enabling power. It is important that we crack on with the trials and get those pilots under way, so that effective support can be provided quickly—that children will benefit and that we have the statutory underpinning. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not satisfied by that and that he supports Lords amendment 16, although it deals only with cross-border cases and covers those up to the age of 21. There is clearly a difference between us. I hope that the House of Lords will consider the points made by the Government and recognise our clear intent and commitment to seek to provide such support.
I want to address head-on the point about student accommodation made by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who I know takes a close interest in the issue of support for students and in the sector generally. A tenancy can be offered on a conditional basis when the visa is processed, and we will deal with that point when making the necessary codes and regulations to implement the scheme. I am sure that he will take a close interest in that further detail when it is published after the passage of the Bill. I hope that that clarification will help him and the sector at this time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) highlighted several points, particularly about unaccompanied children. My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) commented on the short-term need—the period in which social services should respond to the arrival of an unaccompanied minor in the UK—and the provision is intended to cover precisely those circumstances. I echo the hon. Lady’s comments about the tremendous work done by Barnardo’s, and she was right to draw attention to the support it provides at Cedars, but that support is intended for a longer period. In relation to unaccompanied children, we are talking about hours, rather than any longer period. Cedars can obviously provide support for a period of days in certain circumstances, as she knows. No unaccompanied child can be detained, but the operational reality is that unaccompanied children may need to be held for short periods in transit to a port of departure or while waiting after their arrival.
We will always seek to ensure that families remain together during their return, although temporary separation may sometimes be necessary to ensure that a family can return safely. We would not separate a family solely for a compliance reason; it will be done only when it is considered to be in the best interests of children for them temporarily to be separated from their parent or when the presence of one of the parents or carers is not conducive to the public good.
On the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central on Lords amendment 19, the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 16.
Lords amendment 16 disagreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F)
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 24.
Lords amendment 24 disagreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 7, 16 and 24.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 16 and 24;
That James Brokenshire, Stephen Gilbert, Mr David Hanson, Anne Milton and Phil Wilson be members of the Committee;
That James Brokenshire be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee;
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Claire Perry.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.