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British Citizenship: Children

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 10 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to review the access to legal redress and humanitarian protection of children whose parents have been deprived of British citizenship.

My Lords, if a parent is deprived of British citizenship, this does not affect the citizenship status of their child nor a British child’s ability to access legal support or humanitarian protection.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. The story begins for all these British children with their parents—such as the parents of nine year-old Sara—taking them out to join IS. My noble friend has not explained why these British children, who cannot make their own way home or access consular services, do not benefit from a decision-making process in the Home Office on whether it is in their best interests to remain with that parent, potentially in a refugee camp, or to return home. Nor, as far as I am aware, has the inherent wardship jurisdiction of the family courts been exercised on behalf of these children, which would relieve the Home Secretary of that legal conundrum. Will the Minister please agree to meet with concerned Members of your Lordships’ House? I am grateful that there is concern on all Benches about the situation of British children finding themselves in refugee camps.

I share my noble friend’s concerns about children who find themselves, in many cases through no fault of their own, in Syria. She is absolutely right to point out that there is no consular access, which is why the FCO advises against all travel to Syria. There is humanitarian protection out there in the region—it is not an ideal place for a child to be—and the UK has provided £40 million towards that protection in Syria. I would be very happy to meet with my noble friend, and I am grateful for the meeting I had with her and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to discuss this matter previously.

I wrote to the Minister about this some time ago. My concern is not just the humanitarian side, which is very important, but also security. The longer those children and their mothers are in those camps in eastern Syria, the more likely they are to be brought back into ISIL. I appreciate that action has to be international and not just by the UK, but this is both a humanitarian issue for the children and a security issue for the UK and other countries.

The noble Lord raises two very vital points about the whole crisis in Syria, both the humanitarian issue and the security issue of anyone who might come back to this country after engaging in activity out there. This is, of course, of international concern, as the caliphate disintegrates. As international partners, we must all discuss with each other what the best way forward is. In the humanitarian area, the UK is providing, as I said, a lot of assistance.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the lack of clarity indicated by this Question might have been resolved much better if the Government had not delayed for nearly five months appointing a new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, who would have been on hand to give expert advice as to the proper resolution of the important issues raised?

I agree with the noble Lord and thank him for all he does in this area. The sooner that appointment is made, the better.

My Lords, families are key to the prevention and deceleration of radicalisation. Does the Minister not think that to allow foreign fighters to return from the so-called Islamic State to face justice, deradicalisation and reintegration is far more likely to make the UK safer, rather than depriving them of British citizenship, which runs the risk of maintaining or increasing hostility towards the UK?

Obviously, people do return, and those who return face the most robust force of the law on why they have travelled to Syria. On deprivation, these decisions have been made 150 times since 2010, and the Home Secretary does so with the most robust information and advice before him.

My Lords, as the Minister has said, the Home Secretary has had to face this kind of decision on a number of occasions over recent years. Given the legitimate reaction there has been to the most recent decision that we have discussed in your Lordships’ House, is it not time for the Government to introduce a system whereby mothers and children who are located elsewhere in the world, in a refugee camp or anywhere else, have some form of advocacy, legal or otherwise, in the Home Office at the time the decision is made, rather than having to appeal afterwards? Surely we would not tolerate that in a situation which might separate mothers and children if they were living in this country. If British citizens are living elsewhere, surely they have the right to advocacy, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, suggested, before the Home Secretary makes a decision on citizenship in the future.

Of course, when people travel to countries like Syria, when, as I have said, the FCO advice is that under no circumstances should people travel there, and they do so knowing that there is no consular access, what the noble Lord suggests is very difficult. After decisions are made, they may be appealed, but one cannot appeal a decision before it has been made.

My Lords, what will the Government do about young children with British citizenship whose parents have been deprived of British citizenship? It will be extraordinarily difficult to look after the children if you do not also look after the mother.

The noble and learned Baroness is right to point out the issue of the needs of children. If a child finds itself in, say, al-Hawl refugee camp, that is a difficult situation to be in, and quite often their parents have put them in that situation. As I said, humanitarian assistance is available, and we have put a significant amount of money into providing that assistance.