House of Lords
Monday 28 February 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what regular conversations they have with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and how this relationship informs (1) their policy on the interpretation of the Refugee Convention, (2) day to day operational policy for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and (3) their legislation.
My Lords, the Home Office has regular and routine engagement with UNHCR on a number of matters, including through its quality protection partnership and as a standing member of the asylum strategic engagement group and decision-making subgroup. There are also additional ad hoc meetings to discuss individual policies and issues.
I am grateful to the Minister for that. She will appreciate that due to tragic events in recent days, our defence of the refugee convention is now totally inseparable from our defence of the Ukrainian people. Can the Minister comment on reports over the weekend that relatives of Ukrainians here in the UK have been denied visas? Can she assure us that the widest group with connections to this country will be welcome here and that no one—no one—will be turned back or criminalised on account of their means of escape?
I can absolutely assure the noble Baroness that everything that we do will be aligned with the refugee convention. The Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary have made a number of statements this weekend to that very end: that we will do everything we can to help our friends in Ukraine.
As we speak, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is outlining some of the further things we will be doing to help our colleagues and friends in Ukraine, as has the Prime Minister over the last 24 hours. This Question is about the UNHCR in relation to the refugee convention, and we do not think that anything in what we do breaches the convention.
My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that although it is very welcome that she says that the Government will be sticking by their obligations under the convention, it is not terribly convincing when they are simply marking their own homework? What does she have to say about the extremely detailed and well-argued views put forward by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the legislation we will be considering later today? Why should we accept her word rather than the UNHCR’s word? Surely, they know about their own convention?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will have seen the reports over the weekend that maybe as many as 5 million people will become refugees from Ukraine. The UNHCR has estimated that maybe 1 million will go to Poland alone. She will have seen pictures of three-mile long queues of people trying to get out. I thank her for what she said already about the British Government’s response. Does she not agree that the Home Secretary should now call on all Interior and Home Office Ministers across the whole continent of Europe to come together to speak to one another about how they will deal with this unfolding crisis, which is adding to the more than 82 million people already displaced in the world today?
I agree with the noble Lord that the crisis that is unfolding is horrifying in the extreme. Poland has been generous to a fault to its neighbours. We will assist with some of the humanitarian assistance in Poland and other places. Of course countries should come together to decide the best way forward for what is yet another humanitarian crisis.
My Lords, the EU has said that Ukrainian refugees, who do not need visas to get into the Schengen zone anyway, can stay for three years without having to regularise their situation. I thought that the UK took back control in order to regulate better than the EU. Can the noble Baroness tell me what the UK will do better than the EU for Ukrainian refugees?
Can the noble Baroness offer us any other examples of alternative interpretations of the refugee convention worldwide? If not, on what basis does she believe the Government are entitled to do so in reference to Clause 11 of the Bill we will discuss later?
It is up to states to interpret the refugee convention for themselves in line with the Vienna convention, which is a crucial part of it. There are examples across the world of states having interpreted in different ways but, as I said, it always has to be in line with the Vienna convention.
My Lords, we heard from various Cabinet members over the weekend, including the Prime Minister, about the Government’s willingness to help Ukrainian refugees and all that sort of thing, but that is totally not what is happening. How come they can say that, which sounds like a blatant lie, when in fact the Government are doing everything they can to make it harder for refugees, including Ukrainian refugees, to come in?
The crisis is about 72 hours old, so I cannot say. I really do not know the answer so I will not pretend, but I am sure that, as the hours and days go on, the Government will have in place a system for helping refugees here and, do not forget, back in their home country. Ukrainians want to go back to Ukraine, and the best thing we can do for the whole global effort is to ensure that the war in Ukraine comes to an abrupt end.
What did the Government mean by the assurance that I believe was given to my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti? The assurance given in relation to Ukraine was that, whatever the Government did, it would be aligned with the refugee convention—I think those were the words. Is that aligned with the refugee convention in the same way the Government think the Nationality and Borders Bill is aligned with the refugee convention?
My Lords, amid all the distressing news about what is happening in Ukraine and the movement of people across Europe, can the Government be particularly sympathetic to any children who get separated from their parents? We have seen some awful photographs of children who are really very disturbed and distressed already. Can the Government make sure that they care for children who are separated from their parents?
My Lords, in an earlier answer the Minister asserted, no doubt rightly, that the Government had consulted with the UNHCR, and by implication with other people, before bringing forward the legislation we are to consider later today. Can she give the House any examples of ways in which the Government’s original intentions for this legislation were changed or modified as a result of those consultations?
My Lords, the evidence of the horror unfolding in Ukraine on our TV screens over the last several days must surely put to bed once and for all the Government’s grotesque assertion that it is pull factors that attract refugees to seek asylum in Britain or anywhere else. Surely the Minister sees that the Government must do the decent thing and pull the abominable Clause 11 from the Nationality and Borders Bill, because they will be defeated when it comes to a vote in this House.
My Lords, certain crypto assets offering new ways to transact and invest are part of a trend of rapid innovation in financial technology. However, these developments also present new challenges and risks, including risks to consumers and the financial system. In 2018 the Government established a Cryptoassets Taskforce, which is responsible for assessing developments in the crypto asset market. Her Majesty’s Treasury and UK authorities have taken a series of actions to support innovation while mitigating risks to stability, market integrity and consumers.
I am grateful to my noble friend. While blockchain technology has much to commend it, with the UK being a world leader in financial technology, should not cryptocurrencies be subject to the same rules as other currencies? While many law-abiding citizens may have modest holdings of bitcoin, have not cryptocurrencies greatly facilitated the operations of blackmailers, drug dealers, fraudsters, tax evaders and terrorists, with crypto-based crime reaching an estimated $14 billion last year, as against nearly $8 billion the year before? What plans does my noble friend have to tame the beast?
My Lords, we are taking action to manage the most pressing risks from crypto assets. That includes including crypto assets in the most robust standards for money laundering and countering terrorist financing, and moving to regulate crypto asset promotions to ensure that they are held to high standards for fairness, clarity and accuracy.
My Lords, crypto assets are used extensively for money laundering, as the Minister implied and the noble Lord, Lord Young, made clear. Since January 2020, crypto asset businesses in this country have had to comply with money laundering regulations and to be registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. Helpfully, the FCA has a list of approximately 30 businesses that are compliant and registered, but for some bizarre reason it also has a list of 200 or more companies that are non-compliant and not registered. Whatever the original reason for that, it seems to me to be a directory for kleptocrats, drug dealers and criminals to access some business that will not comply with the regulations. What are the Government doing about it, and about these businesses?
My Lords, if I understand the noble Lord correctly, he may be referring to the transition arrangements that were put in place following the inclusion of crypto assets into the anti-money laundering regime. That transition regime is due to expire on 31 March 2022, when all companies will need to be registered.
My Lords, financial education is something that the Department for Education looks at and, I believe, is supportive of. The noble Lord is right that more and more people are getting involved in crypto assets. That is why the Government took the decision to bring crypto assets into the financial promotions regime. One of the proposals in there is to limit the amount that any individual can hold in crypto assets.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Corporate Responsibility Group, which last week heard evidence that the blockchain technology used to power cryptocurrencies is increasingly being used to ensure both security and transparency in the supply chain. What steps are the Government taking to encourage research and investment in blockchain technology, which would mean that the UK could be a world leader in this area?
The noble Baroness is right that we should not forget the opportunities that the underlying technology for crypto assets present for businesses in the UK. The Government are very focused on that; for example, in financial services, we have announced a financial market infrastructure sandbox to support technological innovation in financial markets using that technology. That is something we want to learn from and build on.
My Lords, the financial sanctions on those supporting Putin may well lead to a flight to crypto among those trying to squirrel away their assets. Can my noble friend the Minister please reassure us that the regulations due shortly that will oversee these sanctions will have in them provisions for crypto?
My Lords, the FCA advice to customers, last updated on 18 June 2021, says:
“Before you invest in cryptoassets you should be aware of the following … cryptoassets are considered very high risk, speculative investments … if you buy these types of cryptoassets, you are unlikely to have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if something goes wrong … if you invest in cryptoassets, you should be prepared to lose all your money”.
It is quite clear that this whole area of activity has the potential to go wrong. In going wrong, it could be very big—indeed, it could be so big as to impact on financial services in a systemic way. Which Government Minister is responsible for the monitoring and development of crypto assets tracking? What resources does that person have, and when can we expect appropriate reports and legislative proposals?
My Lords, that work would fall to the Cryptoassets Taskforce, which was set up by the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority to look at the regulation of crypto assets as well as, for example, their implications for financial stability. Day to day it is the Economic Secretary to the Treasury who takes responsibility for these areas.
My Lords, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, the Ukrainian Government announced that they could receive donations in bitcoin, Ether and Tether to help with their efforts, and raised over $10 million in the first 24 hours; it is a much larger sum now. So will the Government be slightly careful in what they do around closing down the crypto area? The Government of Ukraine have asked that all major DeFi—decentralised finance—exchanges are blocked to Russian-based transactions; something that is rather easy to evade. Will the Government support those exchanges in trying to put in place those blocks?
My Lords, I will take the noble Baroness’s latter point back to the Treasury. On her first point, she is absolutely right that, while we take steps to regulate the use of these assets, we also need to avoid unintended consequences or the stifling of innovation.
My Lords, will my noble friend help the House understand the advantages of cryptocurrencies? I confess that I see plenty of disadvantages; this does not seem to be about investing but pure gambling, and the technology is based on anonymity and untraceability, unlike the banking sector. The environmental damage associated with the so-called mining of bitcoins itself undermines some of our COP 26 objectives. I would very much welcome the understanding that the Government have of why this is in any way positive rather than wholly negative for the economy and society.
It is probably worth trying to distinguish between different forms of crypto assets: unbacked crypto assets such as bitcoin can be highly volatile and speculative, and are therefore being regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in terms of promotions; stablecoins tied to a reference asset could be used as a widespread means of payment and potentially deliver improvements in cross-border transactions; and the underlying blockchain technology could have a number of benefits, improving the efficiency of the settlement processes and reporting and enabling greater automation. So, it really is a question of a having a slightly more nuanced view of these different assets and regulating them appropriately.
In one part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party cannot make up its mind even on the existing currency and—if it were, unfortunately, to move towards independence—whether to accept the pound, move to the euro or go back to the groat. Is that not an extra reason why we should all be saying to Ms Sturgeon and her mob that they should concentrate on delivering services in the devolved areas and forget about their independence campaign?
Public Health: Media Advertising
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to assess (1) the impact on public health of advertising in the media, and (2) whether the tax system regarding such advertisements could be restructured to improve both physical and mental health outcomes.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government do not have plans for a comprehensive assessment of the impact of advertising on public health but are committed to assessing its impact in a proportionate way and in response to emerging evidence. For example, we will use a post-implementation review to assess the impact of forthcoming restrictions to the advertising of less healthy food and drink products on television and online. There are no current plans to review the tax treatment of advertising but the Government keep all taxes under review.
I am disappointed that the Government are not extending the review of the effects of advertising on health over a wider front; I hope that might be reconsidered. It is important that we take from the Chancellor’s move to a variable taxation on alcohol—in which the highest taxes are placed on those drinks with the highest element of alcohol and incentives are offered for lower taxes on those with lower alcohol—that advertising will be looked at in a similar way, particularly where advertising damages people, such as in the case of gambling and so on. Why do such advertisers not pay higher rates of tax than the present standard rate, which applies to all advertising? This is a way in which revenue could be increased and we could also seek to get behavioural change, which would be positive for the country.
On gambling specifically, as the noble Lord will know, we are reviewing the Gambling Act and looking specifically at advertising issues as part of that. More broadly, we recognise that advertising can have an impact on public health, which is why we continue to keep that impact on all aspects of public health under review and will assess any emerging evidence in a proportionate and measured way. That is why, for instance, we are responding to evidence that children’s exposure to less healthy food-and-drink product advertising can affect what and when they eat. DCMS will of course continue to work with other departments, and the regulators as necessary, to keep the impacts of advertising on public health under review.
My Lords, just 2.5% of all food and soft-drink advertising in the UK is spent on fruit and vegetables. Despite Change4Life and the 5 A Day campaign, obesity rates have risen sharply. Yet the relatively simple and extremely cost-effective act of banning advertising of HFSS food on the London Underground has, according to a report published just 10 days ago by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, on 17 February, led to households buying 1,000 calories less a week of HFSS food—6.7% less than would have happened. Will the Government look at expanding schemes of this type and banning adverts for HFSS food? Will they also agree not to water down the excellent proposals in the forthcoming Bill to ban HFSS adverts in prime time on children’s TV?
The Health and Care Bill introduces new UK-wide restrictions for the advertising of less healthy food and drink products, which are due to come into force from 1 January 2023. The noble Baroness referred to the recently published evaluation of the advertising restrictions introduced by Transport for London, which we note were limited to outdoor advertising. We intend to look at and analyse that evaluation in more detail.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. The Minister made reference to gambling just a few seconds ago and will be aware that the gambling industry spends in excess of £1.5 billion a year on advertising and associated marketing. Does he believe that that improves or damages public health?
As the noble Lord will know, I cannot pre-empt our review of the Gambling Act, which is looking at all these issues and taking evidence from many, including Peers for Gambling Reform. It is a thorough and evidence-led look at gambling regulation; advertising is an important part of that, and we will set out our response in a White Paper in due course.
My Lords, the Government remain committed to banning junk-food advertising as part of their drive to introduce more and more regulation. Can my noble friend assure me that he will have a discussion with his colleagues in the health department about the timing of implementing this ban, which is coming in at breakneck speed? It will be very damaging to the public service broadcasters, which of course his department supports very vigorously.
My Lords, there is good evidence that advertising that presents idealised and unrealistic bodies can drive negative body image and trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions, including eating disorders. Will the Government support the call for advertisers to be required to make it clear where images are digitally altered for commercial purposes?
My Lords, we are aware of evidence which demonstrates a link between poor body and poor mental health, which can cause people anxiety, depression and many other harms. It is not currently the Government’s intention to legislate on body image in advertising. We want to make sure that any government intervention makes a real and positive difference. We intend to consult on this issue and the harms created by it as part of the online advertising programme, which will allow us further to develop our evidence base on this issue.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, wrote to Peers saying that the Government intend to consider platform liability for ad content as part of the online advertising programme, which the Minister has just mentioned, but the consultations will not start until spring. HFSS advertising on television has been under consultation since 2017. Why are the Government only now discussing platform responsibility for this ad content? Surely, they are just kicking this important issue into the long grass.
My Lords, the advertising on television is a matter in the Bill before your Lordships’ House, which introduces a 9 pm watershed for advertising of less healthy food and drink products on TV and on-demand programme services which are under the jurisdiction of the UK and regulated by Ofcom. On advertising in other media, the Government intend to review how online advertising is regulated through the online advertising programme, as I say, but they are happening in different timeframes.
My Lords, while many adverts for tobacco products are banned in the UK and the EU, such restrictions do not apply in the same way to products containing nicotine. Can the Minister comment on why the McLaren Formula 1 team cars are able to carry the logo of the British American Tobacco Velo product range at the British Grand Prix when similar products cannot be promoted in other host countries, including Austria and France? Does the Minister feel that this is appropriate?
The advertising and promotion of tobacco products was banned through the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002. As the noble Baroness rightly alludes to, products and technology have moved on a lot in the intervening 20 years. An independent review into tobacco control, led by Javed Khan, is currently under way. This will help us ensure that future policies will be effective in meeting the Government’s smoke-free ambition.
International Development: Sexual and Reproductive Health
My Lords, the Government will publish a new international development strategy this spring that will guide our work for the coming decade and beyond. It will align our development work with the aims and objectives of the integrated review and will continue to prioritise women and girls through support to educate girls, empower women and end violence, including by strengthening sexual and reproductive health and rights and working to end female genital mutilation.
My Lords, UK investment in sexual and reproductive health not only promotes health and well-being across the whole of life but also leads to improvements in education, gender equality, political stability, economic development and, indeed, environmental sustainability, so it is a very worthwhile investment. Sadly, SRHR and family planning programmes are extremely disproportionately impacted by the cuts to UK aid. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me that we will retake our place as a global leader on this issue, that SRHR will be an explicit priority in the upcoming strategy and that funding will be returned to previous levels of around 4% to 5% of ODA as part of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to restore funding to women and girls?
I thank the noble Baroness for her campaigning on this issue. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are central to achieving the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to end the preventable deaths of mothers, babies and children by 2030 and our ambitious commitments on girls’ education and Covid recovery. The Foreign Secretary has been clear that we will restore funding to women and girls. The UK plays a vital role in global partnerships and funds to support and strengthen the ability of countries to deliver life-saving maternal reproductive and child health services. We certainly regard ourselves as a world leader in this area and we will continue to be.
My Lords, global donor support for reproductive health fell in 2020 by $100 million to the 59 low and middle-income countries. That cut was driven by the UK cuts. The place on earth that is the most unsafe for mothers and babies is South Sudan, which I have asked the Minister about before, where one in 10 babies dies before the age of five, but the Government are discussing a new round of cuts for health support for women and babies in South Sudan. If the Government are proposing to restore funding, why are they proposing to cut further in South Sudan? Will the Minister please intervene to make sure that this does not happen?
My Lords, as I said, the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we are restoring funding to women and girls. I am not able to answer region-specific questions at the moment because that work is being done and until it has been completed and our spending review settlement translates into programmes on the ground, I am afraid I cannot go into the specifics.
My Lords, we know that the cuts this year have resulted in 9.5 million fewer women and couples receiving services. The noble Lord keeps repeating the assurances of the Foreign Secretary in terms of devoting resources to women and girls, but how much of that will be devoted to sexual and reproductive health? We want to know the answer.
My Lords, we will know the answer, but we will not know it until the IDS is published and the allocations are made and the programmes are chosen. As a principle, the Foreign Secretary has made clear that we are restoring funding and this House and the other House will be able to hold the Government to account against that promise.
My noble friend has said that this is important in order to carry through the Conservative Party manifesto. In that manifesto we committed ourselves to 0.7% for overseas aid. We have cut that, contrary to both morality and our manifesto. When can we expect that to return and us to have the shame removed?
My Lords, I start by saying something I have said many times: no one welcomes the cut from 0.7% to 0.5%. Notwithstanding that cut, we will have spent more than £10 billion on ODA in 2021. We will return to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal situation allows. Based on 2020 OECD data, the UK will be the third largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI. We will spend a greater percentage of our GNI on ODA than the US, Japan, Canada or Italy, and forecasts fortunately suggest that government will be able to return to 0.7% on aid in the final year of this spending review.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister fully understands the impact of sexual and reproductive health in many parts of the world. There are large areas of the world where, if a woman is infertile, she does not have a roof over her head or a meal to eat; she has to abandon the family and is left completely without support. That is common and it is not just a matter of children and girls, but the education of a whole population and better infrastructure.
My Lords, we fully understand the importance of this area. That is why the Foreign Secretary has made the commitment that she has, and why it appeared in the manifesto. SRHR means that women and girls can have control over their bodies and if, whether and when to have children, giving them the choice to complete their education and take up better economic opportunities. In turn, the children will likely be healthier and better educated. It is central to the effective delivery of a country’s universal health coverage. Good quality maternal and newborn health services and survival outcomes are often used as a proxy for the strength of an entire health system, so we fully understand the importance of this area.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that many countries have very inadequately staffed maternity services and pregnant women who have HIV can get stigmatised? Can the global fund help and make the situation better? Can the Minister ask it to do this?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. Every year nearly 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes, 2.5 million newborns die in their first month and 2 million babies are stillborn. Most of these deaths are avoidable with access to better health services to help mothers and newborns through pregnancy and delivery. The UK supports maternal and newborn health through global and country programmes, often integrated with wider work to strengthen health systems.
My Lords, last week I met young people who had been working on programmes on reproductive and sexual health with the International Citizen Service and VSO. That programme was pulled by the Government, meaning that hundreds of young people, here and in the developing country working with them, have now lost that opportunity to work on those issues and make a real difference in local communities. Will the Government commit to refunding that programme and making sure that VSO is able to continue the very valuable work it has been doing in this area?
My Lords, funding levels for individual programmes across the FCDO will be confirmed after the departmental planning process taking place over the coming months has concluded. I am afraid that is the only answer I can give, but I will take the noble Baroness’s comments back to the FCDO, where I am absolutely certain they will be met with a nod of agreement.
My Lords, when I joined the Foreign Office in 1982, I learned that there were only two seasons in government: spring and autumn. The curious thing is that each can last for longer than six months. Once again, the Minister has said that the international development strategy will appear in the spring. Can he at least give us a month?
My Lords, improving sexual and reproductive health and rights is among the most cost effective of all development investments and would give personal, social and economic benefits, as well as helping to stabilise population growth and reduce poverty. I ask the Minister the same question as the previous noble Lord: when will the international development strategy be published and the Minister’s promises fulfilled?
Ukraine: Visa Restrictions for Refugees
Private Notice Question
My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of your Lordships’ House are with all those in Ukraine. This Government stand with Ukraine. However, a visa waiver is not the solution to the challenges faced by Ukrainians. Visas are an important security tool. In addition, there are now no direct travel routes from Ukraine to the UK. The safest route for people to leave Ukraine is via neighbouring countries to the west. We have made changes to the immigration system to support both British nationals and their families in Ukraine, and Ukrainians in the UK. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced additional support measures today.
My Lords, that is a very disappointing response to the critical position which so many people face in Ukraine. Last week, the Prime Minister said that this country would do what it has always done and receive those who are in fear of persecution. So far, however, all that has been done is to allow immediate family members or fruit pickers to apply for visas. It has been a shameful response.
I believe that the Refugee Council spoke for the British people when it made a plea for the Government to immediately establish safe routes and to work with the EU and others. Will the Government take in those refugees without their having to apply for asylum?
I think it might be helpful to refer to some of the things that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced earlier today. She said:
“Ukrainian nationals on an existing points-based system route … can extend their leave in the UK … Ukrainian nationals on an existing visitor visa can exceptionally switch into a points-based system immigration route without having to leave the UK … Ukrainian nationals on an existing visitor visa can apply under the family route for further leave without meeting the immigration status requirement, provided they meet the requirements for leave based on exceptional circumstances … Ukrainian nationals on an existing seasonal worker visa will have their leave in the UK extended to 31 December 2022.”
The noble Lord also referred to some of the measures which have been taken with regard to families. I apologise for the long answer, but I will also say that we have surged staff to visa application centres in neighbouring western countries.
My Lords, how is it that our Government keep talking about unwavering support for Ukraine, and how it is possible that we pride ourselves on doing more than any other European country? We are doing less to accept those people who are in crisis. Will the Minister do something to help them?
Objectively, they have. I also think it is important to emphasise again that visas are an important security tool. There are, unfortunately, a small number of people who, due to their connection to Russian intelligence services, for example, may represent a threat to UK national security. Security checks related to the visa application process assist in addressing this threat. I of course accept that there is a humanitarian crisis, but the appropriate route is via the visa application centres in neighbouring countries.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said at the Dispatch Box in an answer on the first Oral Question that it is about playing our part. Telling people fleeing Putin’s bombs to apply for a fruit-picker visa is not playing our part. What has stopped the UK Government acting with the same speed and compassion as the 27 EU countries in granting Ukrainians fleeing war asylum for three years without having to apply for a visa?
My Lords, I do not think it is fair to talk about fruit-picker visas. I would also point out that, as I have just said, there are no direct travel routes from Ukraine to the UK at the moment. The safest route for people to leave Ukraine is via neighbouring countries to the west. We have, as I say, searched after visa application centres. Dependents of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can apply through new temporary locations in Lviv or through a visa application centre in nearby countries, including Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We are setting up a new pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow in Poland next week.
My Lords, while my noble friend must surely agree that we may be a world-leader in supplying defensive armaments to the people of Ukraine, and no doubt a world-leader in supplying defence forces to train the defensive forces of Ukraine, he must also agree that we are now not a world-leader in looking after the people of Ukraine. We must allow those people to come here, without the bureaucracy that the visa system would add. These are genuine people, fleeing what is only to be described as terror in their own country. These are not economic migrants, spies or traitors. These are relatives of the people already living in this country, and we should make sure they can get here quickly and uninterrupted.
My Lords, does the Minister remember that the reason we have a refugee convention in the first place is because we have been here before, with ships of Jewish refugees not being allowed to stop at any safe port? The Minister has said now at least twice that people should go west and claim in the first safe country. The Government repeatedly tell us that that is where they should claim asylum and that is where they should stay. How does that involve us doing our part?
My Lords, might I suggest to the Minister that it is not very difficult to get from Poland or Slovakia to England? Why cannot the Government, if they insist on using visas, set up an entirely separate system wherever anybody is trying to get to this country, so that they can be fast-tracked and not go through the main system?
My Lords, I have every sympathy for the Minister trying to defend the indefensible. He has to do that; that is his job. However, what are we going to say to Poland and Moldova and all the other neighbouring countries about how we will take our share of those who will arrive in the first instance into their country but who they cannot support entirely on their own because they will need the support of other countries to the west, including ourselves?
My Lords, I think most people in this country will be baffled by the response of the Minister and upset by the fact that the Government have not got a grip of the refugee crisis that faces Europe. We have been proud of the way our Government have acted to support Ukraine, but hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing across the border and the Minister has simply turned round and said that there is no safe route for them to get here. It is not good enough. Families need a reunification programme, and we should set an example to the rest of Europe—the way we have done with the rest of the Ukraine crisis. It is not good enough. The Government need to get a grip and give us something to be proud of.
I thank the noble Lord for that. On the family side, we are allowing Ukrainian family members, settled persons or British nationals to come to or remain in the UK where they would otherwise not meet the core requirements of the family rules. We will make applications under the family rules fee-free for this cohort. This will mean applicants will be exempt from the immigration health surcharges, as well as visa fees. There will be a pathway to settlement if they are unable to return to Ukraine when their leave expires, and department officials will be reaching out to the Ukrainian diaspora in the UK, seeking their support to house and support Ukrainian family arrivals. This is one of the most generous family reunion offers that we have ever made to any country in the world, demonstrating our firm commitment to the people of Ukraine.
My Lords, the Minister says that visas are an important security tool. Can he say whether, if I was a Ukrainian settled in the UK and I had elderly parents—say, in their 90s—in Ukraine right now, they would have to apply for a visa to come to the UK in the normal way? Yes or no.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister’s answers, but last night the Prime Minister joined a mass at a Ukrainian church in London and said that thousands of refugees would benefit from the suspension of normal visa rules in the light of the humanitarian crisis developing in Ukraine. How does that square with the answers the Minister has given this afternoon?
I answered partially that question earlier, when I talked about the announcements that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made. I will not run through those again, but I think it does square with them. I appreciate the points the noble Lord was making.
My Lords, the First Minister of Wales has said that Wales should be a country of sanctuary. What discussions are the Government having with Wales to allow Welsh people who can vouch for somebody coming from Ukraine to come in, particularly when those families in Wales are prepared to provide financial support for travelling and so on?
My Lords, will the Minister remind the House of the figures that were given to your Lordships during consideration of the Nationality and Borders Bill about the number of people who are currently in our system and whose asylum claims have not yet been settled, and how long it normally takes for a visa to be processed and expedited through our system?
My Lords, I want to follow on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about Ukrainians who are settled here with elderly parents. I think there is a lack of clarity about this. There seems to be some provision if those parents need care, but of course a technical provision of needing care under some kind of medical provision is different from a confused older person who is extremely unsafe and just needs their family. Will people in that situation be allowed to come to the UK and stay in the UK? Will their families be able to go and pick them up from wherever they are in Europe and bring them here safely?
My Lords, the Minister will have noted the general dissatisfaction of the House with the answers he has given to all the questions. Some questions he did not know the answer to; to others, he has given very sparse answers. Will he undertake to report back to his colleagues and try to come back next week to give us more satisfactory responses, after the wide range of discomfort and dissatisfaction there has been with his answers today?
My Lords, can the Minister explain the Government’s stance on preparing accommodation for those whom we will eventually allow to come from Ukraine, after the rather unsatisfactory approach to accommodation for those who have come from Afghanistan?
Will my noble friend confirm that, under the provisions of the Nationality and Borders Bill before us this afternoon and later this week, the Government will not seek to arrest and prosecute Ukrainian refugees who may happen to arrive on boats from northern France?
One of the answers the Minister struggled with before was confirming that it is relatively easy to get from Poland to the United Kingdom at the moment. There are more than 670 flights a week from Poland to the UK; a simple check on Skyscanner can confirm that. Will he please confirm one thing: that Ukrainian people fleeing—even to join their family, as my noble friend said—will not be charged £95 and will not have to wait in a long process? Please can he confirm that there will be an expedited process and it will not cost a penny?
The noble Lord has obviously had better access to Google in the past few minutes then I have, so I apologise for being unable to answer the earlier question on flights because I did not know the answer, but I have said that under the family reunion rules, that will be fee-free for this cohort.
Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Pension Schemes (Conversion of Guaranteed Minimum Pensions) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Tax Credits, Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Regulations 2022
Social Security (Contributions) (Rates, Limits and Thresholds Amendments and National Insurance Funds Payments) Regulations 2022
Motions to Approve
Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2022
Motion to Approve
Nationality and Borders Bill
Report (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 7th and 9th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 11th Report from the Constitution Committee, 18th and 19th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
1: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision for Chagos Islanders to acquire British nationality
(1) Part 2 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (British overseas territories citizenship) is amended as follows.(2) After section 17H (as inserted by section 7), insert—“17I Acquisition by registration: descendants of those born in British Indian Ocean Territory(1) A person is entitled to be registered as a British overseas territories citizen on an application made under this section if they are a direct descendant of a person (“P”) who was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of P’s birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory or, prior to 8 November 1965, in those islands designated as the British Indian Ocean Territory on that date.(2) An application under this section must be made before the date specified in subsection (3).(3) The specified date means—(a) in the case of a person aged 18 years or over on the date of coming into force of this section, five years after the date of coming into force of this section, or(b) in the case of a person under the age of 18 years on the date of coming into force of this section or born within 4 years of that date, before they reach the age of 23 years.(4) A person who is being registered as a British overseas territories citizen under this section is also entitled to be registered as a British citizen.(5) No charge or fee may be imposed for registration under this section.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as a British overseas territories citizen. They may also register as a British citizen at the same time. Both applications would be free of charge. The application must be submitted within 5 years, or in the case of a minor born before the date of coming into force or born within 4 years of that date, before they reach 23 years old.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I am grateful to my fellow signatories; to BIOT Citizens and Chagossian Voices for their assistance; to the APPG on the Chagos Islands, of which I am a member; and to all those noble Lords from across the House who supported a similar amendment in Committee. The breadth and strength of that support reflected the recognition that this amendment is about rectifying a long-standing injustice in citizenship law, just as earlier, welcome clauses in the Bill do.
The injustice that Amendment 1 addresses concerns the descendants of Chagossians, who were all evicted from their homeland by the British Government to make way for a US airbase back in the 1960s and early 1970s, and who remain exiled. Those descendants are now denied the right to register as citizens, which they would have had were they still resident in their homeland. The reason they are denied that right is because they are no longer so resident, but that is because they have been exiled from that homeland by the British Government.
The amendment would simply end the “appalling injustice”, as Conservative MP Henry Smith put it. To allay government concerns about the open-ended nature of his Commons amendment, which received considerable support, this one applies a five-year time limit for registration. The consequences of the injustice include broken families, divided communities, insecurity for those living here who are undocumented, hardship and the aggravation of the trauma associated with exile.
To give one example, provided to me by Chagossian Voices, S, born in Mauritius, is the son of a Chagossian who is British by descent and is now in exile in Crawley. S has lived in the UK since the age of eight. When he turned 18, his mother used her meagre savings from her job as a cleaner to apply for his British citizenship; this was rejected, but he was then granted a limited visa, which has now expired. She cannot afford to reapply and fears that her son could be deported at any time. “I am terrified of my family being split up”, she says. This cannot be right.
What this means to Chagossians has been made painfully clear to me in emails I received following Committee, and I think, too, to the Minister, who very kindly met some of us, including Rosie Lebeck of BIOT Citizens last week. In Committee, the Minister expressed her sympathy and empathy, and I believe that she genuinely understands what is at stake here, but that has not yet been translated into the actions needed to remedy this injustice. Instead, she pointed to how some second-generation Chagossians would benefit from the earlier clauses in the Bill, which address discrimination in nationality law. When questioned, neither she nor her officials could say how many that would be—I suspect not many.
The Minister has also spoken about how the Government are looking at what more can be done to help Chagossian families seeking to settle here, but we have been given no details of what that might mean and, in any case, that is to ignore once again the importance of citizenship—a theme running through many of our debates in Committee. She also talked about a willingness to consider how the £40 million fund set up to support Chagossians settled in the UK might be used, but that fund was announced more than five years ago and, to date, I understand that only £800,000 has been spent. Certainly, some of the fund could be used to defray any costs associated with this amendment, but it is no substitute for it.
We come to the nub of the matter. In Committee, the Minister reiterated the Government’s concern that the amendment would be contrary to long-standing government policy and warned that it goes further than the rights available to many other descendants of British nationals settled elsewhere around the world—but how many of those other descendants are settled elsewhere because they have been forcibly exiled by the British Government? None, I would suggest. As a junior Minister in the Commons acknowledged, the Chagossians’ case is unique, yet the Government appear terrified that to concede on this amendment would create a precedent, despite there being no other group in this situation. Why can they not follow the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine? In Committee, the noble Baroness suggested that the Minister needs to make it clear in the response today—it may not be her response; it may be his response—that he or she
“does not intend this Act—a humanitarian Act—to set a precedent”.—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 494.]
In conclusion, no one knows for sure how many Chagossians would avail themselves of the right contained in this amendment, but the best estimate, based on a census carried out by BIOT Citizens, is no more than 1,000. That said, this is not a question of numbers but of finally putting right what everyone accepts is an injustice. I hope that we will take the opportunity provided by the Bill to end this injustice. If the Minister does not accept the proposed new clause or offer to come back with an alternative at Third Reading, I shall beg to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on the Chagos Islands, I will add one brief point to the amendment so persuasively moved by my noble friend. If resettlement had taken place following the High Court ruling of November 2000 that the ordinance banning the Chagossians’ return was unlawful, it would have much reduced the need for an immigration route to the UK. Her Majesty’s Government should lift that ban immediately, in addition to accepting my noble friend’s amendment. The recent Mauritian expedition helpfully showed that there is no reason why the Chagossians should not return to their homeland. Some will probably want to do that rather than come to the UK, which would much diminish the apparent problem that the Government have.
My Lords, I sat as a judge in one appeal on the Chagossians and learned about the disgraceful behaviour of successive Governments of all political views—not, I have to say, the Lib Dems because they were not in power, but certainly the Conservatives and Labour have each left the Chagossians to their fate. One appalling thing they did was take an agreement from them whereby they signed away their rights for some paltry sum, such as £1,500. It is time that at least some of these Chagossians got some rights. As the noble Baroness who moved the amendment pointed out, this situation is unique. Therefore, the Government really should be generous and understanding and do something to repair the appalling damage done in the past by this Government, as well as the previous Labour Government.
My Lords, I recognise that the Bill removes discrimination against those, including some descendants of Chagossians, unable to claim previously through their mothers or unmarried fathers. But with this amendment we are talking about a limited number of people, in the hundreds—maybe 800 to 1,000—who, as descendants of Chagossians evicted from the islands, will still have no rights to British overseas citizenship and, in due course, British citizenship even with Part 1, even though they would have that right if they had not been evicted. In Committee, the Minister’s only answer was that
“offering this right is contrary to long-standing government policy.”—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 497.]
That position does not take into account the exceptional nature of what happened to the Chagossians. No other British Overseas Territories citizens suffered this fate. Chucking out colonial subjects in the modern age was also, I hope, contrary to good government policy. If an exception could be made for the Chagossians then, one can be made now.
My Lords, in Committee there seemed to be some representations from noble Lords who did not know about the plight of the Chagos Islanders; they were hearing about it for the first time. There is so much injustice in the world that it is very difficult to keep track of all the consequences of British and American imperialism, but it is one of the beauties of your Lordships’ House that any of us can table amendments that can be debated and discussed. I say a big thank you to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for debating this issue and for her powerful speeches on this cause. Having had the issue raised in Committee, and now again on Report, no one can claim ignorance of this real injustice. We have to take action. It is time for the United Kingdom to make reparations for forcing changes on the Chagos Islanders. This amendment is the beginning of that process and the Greens support it completely.
My Lords, I commend the Government, in that this Bill seeks to remedy some long-standing injustices and discrimination in British nationality law. That is why I am so sad that there has been a refusal so far to accept this amendment. The Chagossians are the only category of British Overseas Territories citizens who were expelled and excluded from the British territory in which they lived by the British Government themselves in modern times. I commend the BIOT Citizens group, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my honourable friend Henry Smith in the other place, who called this an “appalling injustice”. He is right.
As others have said, this is a unique case and it sets no precedent, but unfortunately the Government seem to be relying on the cause of the injustice to refuse to remedy that same injustice. I know my noble friend is sympathetic and has empathy with the situation that these good people find themselves in. In his response, could he explain why the Government are refusing, without simply saying that this sets a precedent? Clearly, it does not. There is no other group in this situation. If there is, could the Government enlighten us as to who that group might be? Knowing that this situation arose as a result of Britain wanting to support the United States in the Cold War, and, at this time, as we face global perils, today would be a timely opportunity to remedy this injustice. It is an enormous injustice in terms of the Chagossians’ lives, but tiny in the scope of this Bill. Action would show that we recognise our responsibilities to people we have wronged in the past.
This amendment is wholly reasonable. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has tried again and again to change the wording to include stricter time limits, accommodate the Government’s concern and reach some kind of compromise. So I hope my noble friend will be able either to accept it or commit to coming back with the Government’s own amendment at Third Reading. Otherwise, I shall, in good conscience, vote in favour of this important amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 1, to which I have added my name. I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) All-Party Parliamentary Group. How do the Government have the neck to condemn others for far less, while at the same time standing condemned by both the International Criminal Court and the General Committee of the United Nations for refusing to allow the Chagos Islanders and their descendants citizen rights to return to their homeland, despite promises that they would be allowed to do so after 30 years? I remember, as long ago as 2013, reading out a letter from a Pentagon Minister to the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister saying that the Pentagon had no objection to the return of the islanders to Diego Garcia, being used to having indigenous people living alongside island military bases in the Pacific.
My Lords, I must correct the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in one regard: the Lib Dems could have done something about this when they were part of the coalition Government. I am not particularly pointing to the Lib Dems: we are all guilty of the shame of what has happened to the Chagos islanders. All three parties, I am afraid, have done nothing to deal with the dreadful situation the Chagos islanders find themselves in as a result of successive Governments of all parties. I hope that my noble friend the Minister—he is having a hard time today, now having to answer this question as well as previous ones, and I really do feel sorry for him—can offer us some hope in this matter today.
My noble friend Lady Williams explained when we discussed this issue previously that the problem is that what we are asking for runs counter to long-standing government policy. However, the truth is that we ourselves created this situation. Surely, long-standing policy should be flexible enough to deal with a problem which we ourselves created. There is no group of people other than the Chagossians in this situation, and that is why we have to be flexible. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has looked again at this amendment and drawn it ever more tightly, so that fewer additional problems can arise. I commend her on that effort.
We know from events such as the Windrush scandal that issues such as this are a matter not just of law but of how individual cases are handled in Home Office administration. I do not criticise that administration because I know from my own experience as a Member of Parliament how difficult such cases can be to deal with, and I often sympathise with it regarding the decisions it has to make. However, I would like the Chagossian community to be given some particular form of access to government. Perhaps an officer should be allocated to deal with their problems on a regular basis, so that there is a point of contact in the Home Office whom they can go to as a matter of course. I found during my previous experience as a Member of Parliament that this can make a huge difference to those who often simply want to contact in an easy and friendly way people who understand their problems, having been long versed in them.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister can give us some succour on this administrative issue, as well as on the legal matters. This issue is not going to go away.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. This would be absolutely the right thing to do at this time, in order to demonstrate UK leadership. When it comes to long-standing government policy, we are a democracy and we should evolve, and policies should evolve with it. These people deserve our support in being given the right to go back to their homes. If we are to have any standing in the world, let us show that leadership today.
My Lords, this is a unique situation. These islanders were forced out of their homes not because of any objection to them, but to facilitate the development of bases desirable, perhaps, rather than necessary, in war. They have done nothing wrong and would be entitled, were they still there, at this level, to the citizenship which the Act gave them. The only reason they are denied it is that they are not now living where they would be, had they been left at home. That cannot in any way be imputed to their blame or against them in desiring to get what they would have otherwise had.
I want to understand what this long-term government policy is. Is it that people who have been damaged by activities of that kind should not be recompensed, or is it some other policy? Unless and until this extended government policy is explained, it is hard to see what sort of policy worthy of the name could be applied to making a refusal in this situation. It is difficult for those of us who are old enough to carry responsibility for what the Government did, but more difficult still to carry responsibility for what the Government are now apparently refusing to do.
If there is anything wrong with the drafting of the amendment—I am not conscious of it, but it may be pointed out—I see no reason why the Government should not extend this until Third Reading and correct any mistake. As I say, I do not see anything wrong with it, but I am always subject to being corrected and therefore I leave that open for my noble friend the Minister to deal with.
The real essence of it is that these people were put out of their homes for reasons that had nothing to do with any deficiency, damage or ill-considered action on their part. Nobody has suggested that they did anything wrong, and I find it very difficult to see why they should not get the benefit of what they would have had if they had not been wronged.
My Lords, I rise very briefly to say a few words in tribute to one of the most remarkable parliamentarians I have ever known and one of the best friends I have had in my time in Westminster: the late, great Tam Dalyell. He was on to this before anybody. He campaigned publicly and in the House of Commons. If he is looking down on your Lordships’ House as we debate this afternoon, I think he will have a thrill of satisfaction having heard the speeches we have just heard, particularly that of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
It is never too late to put right a wrong. It is never too late to offer justice to those to whom it has been denied. It is incumbent on any Government who value their own self-respect to put right this wrong. I had to hear my noble friend’s other answers from the Bar of the House. I sympathise with him; he has drawn not one but two short straws today, and he is a new Minister, but he will earn enormous credit from your Lordships’ House if he is able to get up and say, “Yes, this is an overwhelming moral argument. Yes, I accept the justice of it. Yes, I will take it away, talk to my ministerial colleagues and come back with something satisfactory”—although, in my view, this is satisfactory—“at Third Reading”. If he does that, I know the noble Baroness who moved the amendment will be satisfied; she is indicating that she will. If he cannot do that, I hope she divides the House and I will be with her.
My Lords, I hold my hands up: I am one of those who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned earlier, did not know much about this issue before we started this debate. However, I followed it and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for the way in which she has led this. It is quite clear that it is completely unjust and needs to be dealt with. I hope that the Minister has noted that, while in most debates, many of us around this House and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, will not agree, we agree on this one completely—100%. There is no justification for anything other than accepting this amendment.
My Lords, to assist the House to move swiftly on to votes, we on these Benches will try to restrict ourselves to one speaker who will speak for us all, unless we are provoked by subsequent contributions. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that it is rather unfair to the Minister—particularly as he is a new Minister—to ask him to deviate from his script. However, we agree with my noble friend Lady Ludford and with all other noble Lords.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett has set out the background to and purpose of this amendment. As we know, currently only those born on the islands and the first generation born in exile have the right to British Overseas Territories citizenship and, therefore, to British citizenship. As a result, families have been broken up and communities divided. Some members have access to citizenship rights while others do not.
In the Commons, as has already been commented on, the Government accepted, on 4 November last year during the Committee stage of the Bill, that the Chagossians presented a unique case. By Report Stage in the following month, however, the Government seem to have decided that the Chagossians were no longer a unique case, because going down the road proposed,
“would undermine a long-standing principle of British nationality law … under which nationality or entitlement to nationality is not passed on to the second and subsequent generations born and settled outside the UK and its territories”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 258.]
The reason that the small number of Chagossians in question do not meet this condition is because they are descended from people who were evicted against their will from a British overseas territory. That is why they are unique, as the Government have already conceded. They did not leave of their own free will to settle elsewhere: they were kicked out—forcibly evicted. There would be no precedent set by agreeing to this amendment. In effect, the Government are using, in support of their case to deny these Chagossians the right to British citizenship, the cause of the very injustice which this amendment seeks to address. We support this amendment, and it would appear that we are far from the only ones in this House to do so.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for meeting my noble friend Lady Williams last week and for the opportunity to hear further about the issues impacting the Chagossian community. As has been said previously, both in Committee and when my noble friend met the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, last week, and as noted by my noble friend Lady Altmann, the Government empathise and sympathise with the Chagossians about how they were treated in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is, however, important to clarify who this amendment seeks to assist. It is not those Chagossians who were of the generations born on the British Indian Ocean Territory, as they have always been British nationals and have been automatically considered both British Overseas Territories citizens and British citizens since 2002. Similarly, it is not their children, the first generation of Chagossians born outside of British territory, who are also both automatically British Overseas Territories citizens and British citizens. It is also not those in the first generation of Chagossians born outside of British territory, who, as the Chagossian community highlights, have missed out on rights to British nationality due to historical legislative unfairness, and this Bill already seeks to rectify that issue.
This amendment is limited to those in the second and successive generations of Chagossians born outside of British territory who, like all children of British nationals by descent, face a different route to British nationality. For this generation, if they wish to acquire British nationality, it is right that they must establish a close, continuing connection with either the UK or a British overseas territory by lawfully residing and settling there, although I recognise that since the 1970s, it has not been possible to establish such a link to the British Indian Ocean Territory. This must be in line with either the UK’s or an overseas territory’s Immigration Rules. This has also been the case with Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas, who do not have a right of abode in British territory and must complete a period of residence in the UK before acquiring the permanent residence status that is required in order to naturalise as a British citizen.
The points raised by the descendants of Chagossians, who are members of the second generation born outside British territory and who are now seeking to settle in the UK under the Immigration Rules, are often very complex. As the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration has stated in the House of Commons, the Home Office is keen to consider what more we could do to support those families seeking to settle here under the current system.
The Home Office is actively engaging with the Chagossian community to identify practical proposals that would support the second generation born outside British territory in navigating the system. In addition, the Home Office is discussing with the FCDO how the £40 million Chagos support fund, referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, could be used to deliver further support for Chagossians seeking to settle here under the Immigration Rules. Those discussions are current and ongoing, and I had some this morning.
As the Government have consistently stated, allowing entitlements to—
I thank my noble friend for giving way. Can I ask him to confirm that, had the grandparents of these individuals not been expelled against their will from their islands, these people would now be entitled to the citizenship we are currently denying them?
I think I have already answered that question. It is to do with the generations born outside British territory, so yes.
As the Government have consistently stated, allowing entitlements to citizenship to be passed on beyond the first generation born outside the British territory, bypassing requirements to reside and settle here by those who do not have a continuing connection with the UK, would unfortunately undermine a key principle in British nationality law that applies to all other descendants of British nationals born abroad.
I recognise that the noble Baroness’s amendment has sought to limit the right to register as a British national to current generations who must apply within a limited timeframe. However, this does not alleviate the Government’s concern that offering this right is contrary to long-standing government policy and goes much further than the rights available to many other descendants of British nationals settled elsewhere around the world today.
I finish by saying that I have listened very carefully to this debate, and I realise I am something of a lone voice.
I apologise to the Minister, but could I ask him to deal with this unique position? There is, as far as we know, no other group of people who have been evicted as they have and have not been allowed to go back. They are in a special position, but the noble Lord is not even dealing with that point.
I can only deal with it by extension, which is to say that it would be contrary to long-standing government policy to even deal with it.
I have listened very carefully to this debate. I have taken on board what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has said about broad agreement—of course I have, and I will take it back to the Home Office. I will also take my noble friend Lord Horam’s suggestion back to the Home Office about dedicated support within the department, which strikes me as a very sensible suggestion. I am afraid that I am going to earn no credit with my noble friend Lord Cormack, because I invite noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I think it is unusual to have more support from the Government Benches than from any other Benches—and very strong support it has been.
The two interventions really put their finger on how the poor Minister—I am afraid he is making a face—did not address the fact that this is a unique case, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, if their grandparents had not been forcibly evicted and kept in exile, these people would probably still be living on the Chagos Islands and be entitled to British citizenship. It is citizenship that they want. Certainly, the Chagossians who have been in touch with me are desperate to be seen as citizens; they do not want to come through some intricate way of dealing with the Immigration Rules—that is not what they are seeking.
I am sorry that the Minister has not addressed the key issues here. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, described successive Governments as demonstrating “disgraceful behaviour”. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said, we all, in terms of our political parties—not the Green Party, but all the others—have responsibility here. This is our opportunity to put this injustice right. I wish to seek the opinion of the House.
Clause 7: Citizenship: registration in special cases
2: Clause 7, page 9, line 36, at end insert—
“(1A) In section 1 (acquisition by birth or adoption), in subsection (5)—(a) in paragraph (a), for “minor” substitute “person”, and(b) after paragraph (b), for “that minor shall” substitute “that person or minor (as the case may be) shall”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to bring British nationality law in line with adoption law in England and Wales. In those nations, an adoption order made by a court may be made where a child has reached the age of 18 but is not yet 19. Yet such an adoption order currently only confers British citizenship automatically where the person adopted is under 18 on the day the order is made.
My Lords, your Lordships will be delighted to know that I will be extremely brief in moving Amendment 2. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who moved this amendment in Committee in my absence when I was laid low by some lurgy that has thankfully now gone. I declare that I am a governor of Coram, the children’s charity; this includes the Coram Children’s Legal Centre and CoramBAAF, which has been quite involved in briefing for this amendment. I am pleased to tell the House the good news that, amazingly, we have made some progress between Committee and Report.
The amendment highlights an anomaly in that British nationality law is not in alignment with adoption law in England, Wales and Scotland. A very small number of children have fallen foul of a Catch-22 situation whereby the automatic right to UK nationality has been denied them. This is because, while the adoption proceedings began before their 18th birthday, the adoption was not ratified until after. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Edward Timpson from the other place, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, the two parts of Coram that I referred to earlier and I have been working with the Minister and her colleague in another place—Kevin Foster, the Minister with responsibility for this area—and we are pleased to be able to say that we seem to have found a way through this situation. This was outlined in a letter sent to Edward Timpson and me this morning. We look forward to the Minister replying in as much detail as possible when winding up.
The Government are proposing to deal with these cases through using Clause 7 in the Bill, putting in place detailed guidance—I quote from the letter—to
“help caseworkers assess applications fairly and consistently and to provide applicants with guidance when applications are likely to be granted.”
The letter continues:
“We are still in the process of developing guidance but, given that you would understandably want assurances on this, I will place a copy of this letter in the Library of the House confirming this intention.”
I am most grateful to the Minister and his Home Office colleagues for their co-operation and at least their willingness to listen. However, I have some questions arising from the letter, to which I would be grateful for answers, either at the Dispatch Box or, if that is not possible, in writing as soon as possible hereafter.
First, in Clause 7, would adopted children—the examples in subsection (2) do not include adoption—come under
“(a) historical legislative unfairness” or
(b) an act or omission of a public authority, or
(c) exceptional circumstances”?
Would the Government consider putting adopted children over 18 in primary legislation as an exceptional circumstance? This would be more secure than guidance, which could be changed without parliamentary scrutiny.
The letter mentions any delays that were beyond the parent/child’s control. If this means delay of the adoption, it seems to suggest that there is an obligation to adopt before the 18th birthday. This is not in line with current adoption law. The letter says that new guidance will be
“subject to there not being any adverse factors”.
While I understand that this is meant to cover situations where, for example, the individual might have a history of offending, what about a real-life example where the child being adopted has no immigration status? This is in no way, shape or form the child’s fault. Would this be held against them as an adverse factor? Surely not, so clarification on that would be appreciated.
I expect that I am primarily going to leave this debate open to those noble Lords discussing Amendment 21. I hope that the Minister will be able to give as full and comprehensive an answer as possible when he winds up. We shall listen to, and subsequently read, what he says with great care. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not want to take the time of the House other than to say, with thanks for the letter, that I hope the Minister will accept that discretionary registration is qualitatively different from automatic citizenship, which is what we have been seeking, and understand my concern that the letter uses terms such as addressing
“exceptional cases in a flexible and proportionate way”.
This is vaguer than one would wish to see and a situation which I am sure is nobody’s fault but one of those unintended consequences of legislation not aligning.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has reached agreement with the Government. I wish I could say the same.
I will speak to Amendment 21 to Clause 10, which requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that a child aged between five and 17 cannot reasonably acquire another nationality in order to be registered under the stateless child provisions. The Government allege that parents were deliberately not registering the birth of their children and acquiring citizenship of the parents’ home country to wrongly claim British citizenship, by falsely claiming their children were stateless. We believe this clause should be taken out of the Bill.
In Committee the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, provided, at column 548, figures of five cases of this route being used in 2010, which peaked at 1,775 cases in 2018. The Minister concluded “I rest my case”, but this raised further questions: for example, were those 1,775 cases in 2018 the number of stateless children born in the UK who were granted British citizenship in total, legitimately or otherwise, or the number where parents had deliberately chosen not to register their child’s birth to take advantage of the system? The Minister assumed it was the latter but said that she would write, and she did so on Friday.
In Committee, I specifically asked the noble Baroness whether the 1,700 odd cases in 2017 that she referred to were the total number of stateless children granted UK citizenship, or the number of cases of deliberate abuse of the system that Clause 10 purports to tackle. The Minister replied:
“I assume … the latter, but I will write to the noble Lord with the details of the figures I have here”.—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 550.]
However, when the Minister wrote, the figures in the letter do not equate to those she gave from the Dispatch Box. Neither is there an answer to the question: of those cases, how many were a deliberate—or even a suspected—case of abuse of the system?
The letter goes on to talk about the sampling of over 200 stateless child applications received between 2015-2021, which on my calculations is about 1% of the applications received. It goes on to say that, in 96% of the sample, the parents were Indian or Sri Lankan and then:
“90% of Indian and Sri Lankan parents had been able to take steps to contact the High Commission to obtain a letter to show their child was in fact not a citizen of that country”
and, in brackets:
“(We do not have data on how many actually attempted to register the birth)”.
In summary, we have numbers in the letter that appear to be at odds with what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, we have a sample of only 1% of all applications and we do not know how that sample was selected. In the sample, in 90% of cases the relevant high commission confirmed the child was stateless and the Government have no data to show whether parents attempted to register the birth at the time. Despite this, the letter concludes:
“This demonstrates a clear and conscious decision by the parents not to acquire a nationality for their child for at least 5 years”.
That conclusion cannot possibly, in good faith, be drawn from the facts, whichever sets of facts presented by the Government that the House chooses to believe—either the facts the Minister gave from the Dispatch Box or the alternative facts contained in the all-Peers letter.
If the Government cannot now determine how many cases are genuine and how many are the result of attempting to inappropriately acquire British citizenship, on what basis will the Secretary of State exercise her powers under Clause 10 to decide whether the child in question is able to acquire another nationality? Specifically, if, as in 90% of cases in the sample, the relevant high commission confirms the child is stateless, on what basis will the Home Secretary decide not to believe the high commission, decide that the child could acquire the relevant nationality and deny the child British citizenship? What happens to the child denied nationality by the relevant high commission and by the Secretary of State?
If, as the Government suggest, this route is being used inappropriately by parents to acquire British citizenship for themselves, the Government should bring forward legislation to prevent parents acquiring British citizenship through their children by this route, rather than making innocent children, born in the UK, stateless. I was hoping the Minister would write in good time, with a clear and unambiguous answer to the questions I put to her in Committee on 27 January. She did not and she has not.
I am reluctantly left with two options: either the Minister addresses the apparent discrepancies and presents the House with a clear case for Clause 10 now or he agrees to take this away and address our concerns at Third Reading—otherwise I will be forced to conclude that the case is not made for Clause 10 and will divide the House. We cannot leave UK-born children stateless at the whim of the Home Secretary. Clause 10 should be taken out of the Bill.
My Lords, I will not say anything on the amendment addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in view of what he has indicated about the progress that has been made between Committee and Report, although of course we will listen very closely to what the Minister has to say and indeed read what is in the Minister’s letter, which I think is what the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, referred to.
As has been said, Clause 10 is intended to disentitle stateless children in the UK from their statutory right to British citizenship. Under our international obligations we have safeguards that mean that a child who was born in the UK and has always been stateless can acquire British citizenship after five years of residing here. Through Clause 10 the Government propose to restrict and amend that obligation. Clause 10 requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied a child was unable to acquire another nationality before being permitted to register as a British citizen. That, of course, creates an additional—and one would probably feel unjustified—hurdle to stateless children’s registration as British citizens which could be difficult for a child or those acting on their behalf to prove.
There is also the issue that the uncertainty created by Clause 10 could be highly damaging to a child’s personal development and their feelings of security and belonging, due to this exclusion and potential alienation being inflicted in their formative years. Indeed, the question was asked in Committee: how can this be in the best interests of the child?
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made reference to the figures which were given by the Government in their response. He also referred to the question which was asked as to whether the figure of 1,175 was the number of stateless children born in the UK who were granted British citizenship, or whether it was the number of cases where parents deliberately chose not to register their child’s birth in order to take advantage of the system. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the letter that was received on behalf of the Government, and to the apparent discrepancies between what was said in Committee and the figures which appear in the letter.
I wait with interest to hear the response of the Government, because we, too, asked the question about what the case for Clause 10 was. I think I am right in saying—I recall it being said—that the Government felt that the figures that they gave at Committee were a fairly conclusive argument in favour of abuse of the system, and therefore that this was the case for Clause 10. On the basis of the letter which has been received, and the comments which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, there is some doubt as to whether the case has been made.
The noble Lord has asked a number of questions and asked for a number of assurances. The answers he receives will clearly influence the decision he then makes in respect of Clause 10 standing part, and will influence what we, as the Official Opposition, do if the matter is put to a vote.
I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
I turn first to Amendment 2. As has been acknowledged, there are differences in adoption law in various parts of the UK. This is why we do not think that amending Section 1(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 would be the answer. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 applies only to England and Wales, whereas the territorial reach of the British Nationality Act 1981 includes the whole of the UK. This means that this amendment could have different results in a person’s ability to acquire citizenship, according to where they were adopted. For example, Scotland permits adoptions for those over 18, but differs from England and Wales as there is no upper age limit. Northern Ireland does not currently permit adoptions to happen after the age of 18. Therefore, the effect of this amendment would be to create differences across the UK in who can acquire British citizenship. This should not and could not be right.
Within nationality legislation, automatic acquisition of citizenship is generally reserved for minors. Granting automatic citizenship to adults could result in unintended consequences, possibly affecting another nationality which they hold. Where other countries do not allow their nationals to hold dual nationality, there are often exemptions for children which do not apply for adults. We normally offer adults a registration route so that the person can make a conscious choice about becoming British and take into account any potential implications of doing so.
While we do not want to amend Section 1(5) as proposed, we could use Clause 7 of the Nationality and Borders Bill in these cases. Clause 7 creates a route to British citizenship for those who missed out on acquiring it because of historical legislative unfairness, an act or omission of a public body, or exemptional circumstances relating to that individual. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, has noted this, and I will come to his specific questions in a moment. Registration would allow a person to acquire citizenship without causing unintended consequences as a result of the different legislation in devolved regimes and the overarching nationality law framework.
We will set out in guidance how we intend to use the adult discretionary registration provision created by Clause 7. The discretion must be considered on a case-by-case basis, but we can give examples of where it would normally be used. We think it would normally be reasonable to grant citizenship to an applicant where, for example, an application for adoption is made before a child’s 18th birthday but the adoption order is made afterwards for reasons beyond the control of the parent or child, or where the adoptive parent is a British citizen and the child would have become a British citizen under Section 1(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981, if they had been 18 at the time when the adoption order is made.
This is, of course, subject to there not being any adverse factors, which might include a history of offending or concerns about the genuineness of the relationship with the adoptive parent. But we think registration in such cases will normally be appropriate given that these young people would have become British but for their exceptional circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, asked which of the three limbs inserted by Clause 7 this would fit into. Obviously, while each case would need to be considered individually, we anticipate that most applicable cases would fall under C—the exceptional circumstances limb. However, there may be scenarios where, for example, the second limb—B—is relevant, if the child was under the care of a local authority. In answer to the very specific question about whether immigration status would be an adverse factor: it will not adversely affect the child. My noble friend Lady Williams has placed a letter in the Library confirming this intention and, therefore, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to Amendment 21. Clause 10 amends the existing provision for registering a child as a British citizen or as a British Overseas Territories citizen, where the child was born in the UK or a territory and has been stateless since birth. As was explained in Committee, Clause 10 is being introduced in response to a growing trend of parents choosing not to register their child’s birth and so acquire their own nationality for their child. There are a small number of countries where a child acquires citizenship only if the parent registers the birth at the high commission in the UK, rather than it being acquired automatically by descent.
Previously in these debates, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has talked about the children of refugees, and we understand that while many children of refugees automatically acquire their parent’s nationality at birth, they can be prevented from being able to apply for a passport to the authorities of their country of origin. However, such children are not stateless because they already have a nationality, so would not qualify under the stateless child provisions, as they do not now. They will therefore not be affected by this change.
Most parents applying for their children under this route are not refugees. Home Office sampling, which is being referred to, reflects trends identified by caseworkers. Of over 200 cases sampled of children applying on this route, 96% of applicants had parents with nationalities that require birth registration, and 90% of those parents had contacted the high commission to obtain a letter to show that their child was, in fact, not a citizen, so fear of approaching their authorities was not an issue. Just to anticipate a possible question, I am afraid I do not know how the sampling was arrived at—or the sample. Many of the sampled cases did show parents with poor immigration histories who went on to gain leave to remain as a result of the child being registered. Only 16% of parents had permission to be in the UK at the time of the child’s birth. In 67% of the cases, the parents had gone on to gain leave to remain in the UK as a result of the child’s registration.
In the other place, the Minister gave the example of Child X, which I think is worth retelling.
“At the time of X’s birth, both parents were in the UK without lawful leave. Steps were taken to remove X’s parents, who absconded at one point. However, an application was made to register X as a British citizen, under the stateless minor provision, a few days after their fifth birthday. While they had not approached the Indian high commission to register X’s birth, the parents provided letters … from the Indian authorities stating that there was no record of the birth having been registered, so they clearly had no fear of approaching the Indian authorities.
“X was registered as a British citizen … The parents then made an application to remain in the UK on the basis of family life, which was granted because it would have been harsh for the British child to leave the UK.”—[Official Report, Commons, Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, 19/10/21; col. 205.]
Noble Lords have also raised concerns about children being kept stateless as they grow into adults, and that is not an accurate reflection of this provision. Where a child is born in the UK, they will have an entitlement to registration if their parents become settled, or they live here until the age of 10. The Home Secretary also has discretion to register any minor, providing they are of good character and are aged over 10, under Section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981, and guidance sets out when that discretion will normally be used.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raised the best interests of stateless children born in the UK. Having a nationality is not only about identity and belonging; it allows many children to acquire a passport or identity document and therefore facilitates travel overseas, such as to see family. Having the same nationality as their parents would surely benefit a child—to promote a sense of belonging and identity and allow them to obtain that documentation, and for the family to travel together as a family unit.
Where a child does not have citizenship from birth and is technically stateless, we recognise that it would be of benefit to a child to gain a nationality. However, whether that needs to be British nationality, rather than that of the parent, needs to be balanced against the wider need to maintain an effective immigration and nationality system. Encouraging parents to take steps to acquire their own nationality for their child will not preclude the child from applying for British citizenship under another route at a later date if they meet the relevant criteria.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, queried some of the stats given in the letter and from the Dispatch Box. I can clarify that those given from the Dispatch Box were the overall stats, so the total number of cases in 2018 was 1,775. It has continued to grow at a similar rate on an annual basis.
I reiterate that citizenship is not the only option. There are also provisions in the Immigration Rules for a stateless person to apply for permission to stay in the UK, for which they do not have to wait five years. Equally, their parents are able to apply for immigration leave if they believe they have a valid basis of stay here.
I hope your Lordships will agree that, while it is not a child’s fault that their parents have not registered their birth, it is not fair that in choosing not to acquire a nationality for their child they leave them stateless for five years, without the ability to travel urgently if needed and without the benefits and protections that follow from having a nationality. It is equally not fair to other children who follow the normal routes to British nationality.
Genuinely stateless children will still be able to benefit from this provision. However, where it is possible for parents to acquire their own citizenship for their child through a straightforward administrative procedure, with no risk or significant difficulty, we would expect them to try to do so before relying on the stateless provisions for British nationality. Given the disadvantages of statelessness that noble Lords have referred to, we would expect a child’s parents to take steps to secure a nationality for them.
Children who cannot qualify under the stateless provision will be able to apply for citizenship once their parent becomes settled, or otherwise if they reach the age of 10. They will be in the same position as other children born in the UK to non-settled parents. I therefore invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I will not deal directly with Amendment 21, whose time will come in due course, but will respond on Amendment 2.
I understand that, given the current Government’s slightly prickly relationship with the Government north of Hadrian’s Wall, issues to do with the extent of UK legislative authority, when it comes to possibly clashing with Edinburgh’s idea of what its own jurisdiction should be, are a tricky area. I understand why they do not wish to tread there too much. It is a pity, though, because we are talking about the interests of a small group of children rather than the niceties of bouts between the devolved Administrations and Westminster. I take the point.
I thank the Minister for confirming that Clause 7 will be used and guidance produced. In addition, I understand that Edward Timpson found out that apparently—it was a surprise as much to the Home Office as to anybody else—in its office in Liverpool there is a specialist adoption unit whose remit is to look specifically at adoption issues. Kevin Foster said that the unit will be involved under this guidance and that any of the types of cases we are talking about that are flagged up will be brought to the attention of this adoption unit, which I hope will have enough expertise, experience and specialism to be able to really understand the situation and to avoid any mistakes of the kind we have evidenced in the past happening in future. When the guidance is forthcoming, I would be grateful if that could be made clear.
I am also grateful for the confirmation that a child’s immigration status would not be considered an adverse factor when it comes to considering their case. I thank Edward Timpson very much for all the work he has done and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, among others, for their support.
I do not know how quickly the draft guidance will be available—does the Minister think it might be available before Third Reading? Clearly, it would be very helpful if it were, and rather unhelpful if not, so could the Minister come back to me as quickly as possible with confirmation on when it will be ready? Will he and the noble Baroness commit to a meeting with those of us most directly concerned, including Edward Timpson, to review this and perhaps help guide the draft guidance in the right direction? That would be much appreciated. If we are unable to resolve this situation satisfactorily before Third Reading, we shall be back, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 8: Requirements for naturalisation etc
3: Clause 8, page 11, line 19, at end insert—
“(1A) Schedule 1 also amends the British Nationality Act 1981 to allow the Secretary of State to treat a person who has indefinite leave to enter or remain as meeting certain residence requirements in relation to an application for citizenship under those sections.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments to Schedule 1 in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford.
My Lords, I will aim to speak to all 11 amendments in my name, given that they touch on the same issue of requirements for citizenship applications. In doing so, I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, both for raising this issue in previous debates and her willingness to meet me, along with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to explain more fully her concerns. The noble Baroness has retabled her previous amendment on this subject, and I will set out how measures that we are proposing will, I hope, address her concerns.
As noble Lords will know, the British Nationality Act 1981 set out the requirements for persons wishing to become British citizens based on a period of residence in the UK, be that through naturalisation under Section 6(1) or Section 6(2), or registration under Section 4(2). All three of those application routes have a number of residential requirements designed to demonstrate sufficient ties to this country. One is commonly referred to as “lawful residence”—essentially requiring that the applicant was not in breach of the immigration laws during the requisite residential period prior to the application.
For the majority of applicants this requirement causes no issues. However, as highlighted previously by the noble Baroness, it can lead to frustration for some people. While not restricted solely to those who hold indefinite leave to remain—also known as settled status—under the EU settlement scheme, this group serves well to highlight the problem. In particular, those individuals who had previously been resident here as students or self-sufficient persons were required to hold comprehensive sickness insurance under the EEA regulations. That they had not done so did not preclude their being granted indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.
Many of that group understandably wish to progress to become British citizens. However, because they did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance, they technically were in breach of the immigration laws during their previous residence and fall to be refused in any application to become a British citizen. While the British Nationality Act allows for discretion around the lawful residence assessment, this can be applied only in the special circumstances of a particular case. Inevitably, that creates uncertainty for the applicant and may necessitate additional evidence to be supplied to justify the use of discretion.
The main thrust of these amendments is to resolve that impasse. Although not removing the lawful residence requirement itself, we aim to provide the Secretary of State with a much broader power to not even inquire into lawful residence for those who hold indefinite leave to remain. This is based on the simple fact that, for the vast majority of such individuals, any concerns about their immigration history will have been considered and addressed prior to any grant of indefinite leave. In other words, the immigration system, and reforms made since 1981, already demonstrate fulfilment of that requirement.
The amendments do not create an obligation to follow such an approach, but it is expected that it will be in only an exceptional case that we would not want to do so. An example of that might be where adverse information comes to light after indefinite leave has been granted and serves to cast doubt on the wisdom of that decision, but I stress that that would be an exception. The vast majority of people, to whom this does not apply—certainly those whom the noble Baroness has championed so ably—will be able to benefit from these changes.
The amendments will provide the certainty that people ask for, end any potential confusion over differing requirements, reduce the evidence required to be supplied with an application, end the need to repeat inquiries already made in earlier applications, and aid the processing of cases fairly and sensibly. Additionally, the approach will apply to all applicants, not just those with EU settlement scheme indefinite leave, and demonstrates our commitment to creating a modern and simple nationality system to reflect our customer base. The change will bring such people into the warm embrace of citizenship.
I reassure noble Lords that these amendments operate only in the area of lawful residence and, by definition, an individual’s personal immigration history. More serious matters, such as criminality, will not be affected and will still be assessed. Equally, requirements around having been here without excess absences will also need to be met. Should the amendments be adopted, we will, of course, update both the guidance and the application forms to ensure that the benefits can be understood and delivered. This will include references to personal immigration history within the good character guidance.
In addition to changes to how British citizenship may be considered, the amendments also make parallel changes to how naturalisation applications for British Overseas Territories citizenship under Section 18(1) and (2) of the British Nationality Act may be assessed. Those familiar with the Act will be aware that the requirements largely mirror those for naturalisation as a British citizen, with minor differences to reflect the territories within which residence may occur.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that we do not intend to commence the British Overseas Territories changes at the same pace as those for British citizenship. This is due to the late introduction of the amendments and a lack of opportunity to discuss them in more depth with our overseas territories, and is partly a recognition of the workload that the overseas territories might already face with the changes we have proposed to address historical discrimination matters. But if the early clauses of this Bill have shown us anything it is that we should take the opportunity to legislate when we can and not create another disparity just as we are removing others. We would rather have the powers and not need them immediately than not have them at all. At a slower pace, and with the benefit of being able to see how the amendment has worked for British citizenship, we can look at commencement for those overseas territories that believe it would be of benefit.
On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 23, consistent with the citizens’ rights agreements and the relevant EU case law, a so-called Lounes dual EEA/British national can currently sponsor relevant family members under the EU settlement scheme where that dual national was living in the UK in accordance with free movement law—including any requirement for CSI—before they also acquired British citizenship. However, as I was pleased to confirm to the noble Baroness in Committee, the Government have decided that, as a matter of fairness, they will amend the Immigration Rules for the EU settlement scheme and the EUSS family permit as soon as possible to disapply the requirement for a Lounes dual national to have held CSI in order to sponsor applications by relevant family members. This will mean that such family members will, in practice, be treated in the same way as an EEA national or their family member in applying to the EU settlement scheme or for an EUSS family permit. Their eligibility will not be affected by any past lack of CSI on the part of their sponsor.
I have explained to the noble Baroness that we do not want to treat EEA nationals differently from other nationals who are required to meet the same requirements for naturalisation in terms of lawful residence. The government amendment we have tabled on lawful residence will benefit EEA nationals and their family members, as well as others who have acquired indefinite leave to remain in the UK, as previous residence will not be reassessed. For the reasons I have set out, I imagine the noble Baroness will be pleased and happy not to press her amendment.
My Lords, I very much thank the Minister, who has taken a very welcome personal interest in this matter, which is very encouraging. The government amendments are interesting and represent some progress, but they are unspecific for EEA citizens, and there is still that discretion, not certainty, that the Secretary of State “may” but not “must” do this.
As I said in Committee, I was grateful for the concession, announced by the Minister and which she has just talked about, to the effect that the Government would
“amend the Immigration Rules … to disapply any requirement for a Lounes dual national”—
this area is littered with technical terminology—
“to have held CSI in order to sponsor applications by relevant family members”
for settlement. I would be very grateful, as we asked in Committee, to know whether there is any further knowledge of what progress there is on that change to the Immigration Rules.
So far, so good—but on the other two arms of my amendment, on registration of children as British citizens and naturalisation as British for an EEA settled person, both without looking at past CSI history, as my amendment asked for, the Minister said in Committee that
“it would not be right to single out EEA nationals”,
and she has repeated that. We are slightly in the same territory as we were on the Chagos amendments, whereby the Government say that they cannot do something specifically for this group. The Minister also said in Committee that
“it would not be right to treat certain nationalities differently”—[Official Report, 1/2/22; col. 794-95]
and she is maintaining this approach.
However, EEA nationals are being treated differently. They have resided previously in this country, often for a long time; a large chunk of an international treaty, the withdrawal agreement, is devoted to them and to their counterparts, British citizens in the EU, and legislation specifically covering them; and there are various arrangements for monitoring and supervising how they are treated. So they are a special case. I would just mention that some children who should have been born British were not, and now have to be registered at a cost of more than £1,000 because of the specifics of the situation of EEA nationals.
After the meeting of the UK-EU joint committee last week—the committee on the withdrawal agreement—Vice-President Šefčovič recalled that
“it was a commitment from both of us that we will do our utmost for the UK nationals in the EU and the EU citizens staying in the UK.”
An EU official was reported as saying that the Commission would consider whether to launch consultations on citizens’ rights, and could ultimately trigger an arbitration process. I am not saying that those remarks were targeted at this specific problem, but that reminds us that there is an oversight mechanism for the fate of EEA citizens.
The CSI issue affects only EEA citizens, nobody else, so removing it entirely from being a virus—I called it “snakes and ladders”—in our immigration regime, would simply bring EEA citizens into line with all other migrants, who do not have a CSI problem. When Prime Minister, Theresa May said:
“The requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance is an EU requirement, and as long as we are members of the EU, it will continue to be there. Once we leave, we can indeed remove it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/6/2017; col. 315.]
It is true that the Government removed it for applicants for settled status but, as I hope I have explained through the passage of this Bill, the problem is that it pops up later. You do not get rid of it; that is why I call it a virus. You do not get rid of it—it sort of comes back.
What is not to like about removing red tape? I suggest that while the new government amendments represent some progress—again, I thank the Minister—they still rest on discretion and do not treat EEA citizens on the fair, legally secure basis that I believe they deserve under the withdrawal agreement. I hope that the Government can do more and ward off any possible action from the European Commission and enforce a slightly more secure basis.
If I cannot get what I really want—acceptance of my amendment—I ask the Minister to confirm at least that, when implemented, the guidance will be updated to always state that the Secretary of State will always exercise her discretion in favour of applicants by not inquiring as to whether they had CSI and by treating self-sufficient persons, students and their family members as not having breached immigration laws. That should be in guidance as a firm commitment. Otherwise, I would like to hear the Minister further.
My Lords, we support much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has just said and some of the questions she has put forward. No doubt, the Minister will respond to those questions. It has to be said that the Minister has come forward with some amendments that do improve the situation.
Can I just emphasise the important points the Minister made and clarify, in the light of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that she said it would apply to all residents, not just EU residents? That is an important point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made, and the House needs further clarification on what “all”—not to be pedantic—actually means in these circumstances for clarity of legislation.
Having welcomed the step forward the Minister has clearly made, I think that what “exceptional” means is also important—so that the Secretary of State will not use the power to prevent somebody without CSI gaining citizenship other than in exceptional circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, again, is right to ask for greater clarity about how “exceptional circumstances” will be defined and whether there will actually be guidance that any future Home Secretary will have to take into account in determining whether leave to remain should be changed to a full citizenship status in the particular circumstances with which this group of amendments is dealing.
I thank the Minister for coming forward with those amendments and trying to meet many of the concerns that were raised in Committee and before. I look forward, with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I am sure, to the answers to the important questions that have been raised, notwithstanding the amendments before us this afternoon.
I thank both noble Lords for the points they have just made. I did refer to guidance in the points I was making in introducing. Yes, the guidance will make things clear.
In terms of “all”, “all” means all nationalities; the provisions will apply to all nationalities. I know the noble Baroness says this is a particular EU problem, but we are trying to make provisions that apply to all countries.
In terms of that point about “may” and “must”, “may” rather than “must” reserves the “may” for the most exceptional cases where it would not be appropriate to take that more generous approach. The provisions will be applicable to the vast majority of applicants, apart from those “may” applicants where a generous approach would not be appropriate—for example, criminality. I hope that explains it to the noble Baroness.
I do thank the Minister for that reply. I am not absolutely certain. It may just be that I did not follow the detail, but I am not sure I quite heard that the guidance, apart from in the exceptional case of criminality, will say that the Secretary of State will always exercise her discretion in favour of EEA applicants by not inquiring about the CSI record of the people that it affected.
I have some understanding for what she said about people with a criminal record but, that apart, I should like to hear—perhaps I will not get this today—that the guidance will say that, in normal cases, for EEA nationals, there will always be a good outcome in disregarding a CSI gap. I am not sure that I have quite heard that. I do not know whether the Minister wants to clarify that now, or whether I should just accept—
My Lords, I think I should put the Question.
Amendment 3 agreed.
4: Clause 8, page 11, line 22, at end insert—
“(b) in section 41(4), for “that section” substitute “section 41 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (regulations)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a minor clarificatory amendment which is consequential on the amendments to the 2009 Act made by Clause 8(2).
Amendment 4 agreed.
Schedule 1: Waiver of requirement of presence in UK etc
Amendments 5 to 13
5: Schedule 1, page 86, line 6, leave out from beginning to “in” in line 7 and insert—
“(1) Section 4 (acquisition by registration: British overseas territories citizens etc) is amended as follows. (2) ”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 16.
6: Schedule 1, page 86, line 16, at end insert—
“(3) After subsection (4) insert—“(4A) Subsection (4B) applies where, on an application for registration as a British citizen made by a person to whom this section applies, the applicant has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.(4B) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of subsection (2) treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement specified in subsection (2)(d), without enquiring into whether or not the applicant was in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws in the period there mentioned.(4C) The reference in subsection (4A) to having indefinite leave to enter or remain is to be construed in accordance with the Immigration Act 1971.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide that, for applications for citizenship under section 4 of BNA 1981 where the applicant has indefinite leave, the Secretary of State may without further enquiry treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement not to have been in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws.
7: Schedule 1, page 86, line 27, at end insert—
“(ba) after that sub-paragraph insert—“(1A) Sub-paragraph (1B) applies where the applicant has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.(1B) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of paragraph 1 treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement specified in paragraph 1(2)(d), without enquiring into whether or not the applicant was in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws in the period there mentioned.(1C) The reference in sub-paragraph (1A) to having indefinite leave to enter or remain is to be construed in accordance with the Immigration Act 1971.”;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide that, for applications for citizenship under section 6 of BNA 1981 where the applicant has indefinite leave, the Secretary of State may without further enquiry treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement not to have been in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws.
8: Schedule 1, page 86, line 28, at end insert—
“(2A) In paragraph 4, in paragraph (a)—(a) for “the reference” substitute “the references”;(b) for “a reference” substitute “references”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 27.
9: Schedule 1, page 86, line 30, at end insert—
“(za) the existing text becomes sub-paragraph (1);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 38.
10: Schedule 1, page 86, line 31, after “(a)” insert “of that sub-paragraph”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 38.
11: Schedule 1, page 86, line 36, after “(a)” insert “of that sub-paragraph”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 38.
12: Schedule 1, page 86, line 38, at end insert—
“(c) after that sub-paragraph insert—“(2) Sub-paragraph (3) applies where the applicant has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the relevant territory.(3) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of paragraph 5 treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement specified in paragraph 5(2)(d), without enquiring into whether or not the applicant was in the relevant territory in breach of the immigration laws in the period there mentioned.(4) The reference in sub-paragraph (2) to having indefinite leave to enter or remain is to be construed as a reference to any status formally granted under the immigration laws in force in the relevant territory which is broadly equivalent to the status of having indefinite leave to enter or remain under the Immigration Act 1971.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide that, for applications for citizenship under section 18 of BNA 1981 where the applicant has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the relevant territory, the Secretary of State may without further enquiry treat the applicant as fulfilling the requirement not to have been in the relevant territory in breach of the immigration laws.
13: Schedule 1, page 86, line 38, at end insert—
“(4) In paragraph 8, in paragraph (a)—(a) for “the reference” substitute “the references”;(b) for “a reference” substitute “references”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the other amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 86, line 38.
Amendments 5 to 13 agreed.
14: After Schedule 1, insert the following new Schedule—
“SCHEDULE 1A DEPRIVATION OF CITIZENSHIP WITHOUT NOTICE: JUDICIAL OVERSIGHTThis is the Schedule to be inserted after Schedule 4 to the British Nationality Act 1981—“SCHEDULE 4A Section 40(5E)DEPRIVATION OF CITIZENSHIP WITHOUT NOTICE: JUDICIAL OVERSIGHTDeprivation without notice: application to Special Immigration Appeals Commission1_(1) If the Secretary of State proposes to make a conducive grounds deprivation order without notice, the Secretary of State may apply to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under this paragraph.(2) If the Secretary of State makes a conducive grounds deprivation order without notice, the Secretary of State must apply to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under this paragraph within the period of seven days beginning with the day on which the order is made (unless an application has already been made under sub-paragraph (1)).(3) The function of the Commission on an application under this paragraph is to determine whether, in respect of each condition in section 40(5A) on which the Secretary of State relies, the Secretary of State’s view is obviously flawed. (4) In determining that question, the Commission must apply the principles that would be applicable on an application for judicial review.(5) If the Commission determines that the Secretary of State’s view is obviously flawed in respect of each condition in section 40(5A) on which the Secretary of State relies—(a) if the order in question has not been made, section 40(5) applies in relation to the order (notwithstanding section 40(5A));(b) if the order has been made, the Secretary of State must, within the period of 14 days beginning with the day on which the Commission made the determination—(i) give late notice in respect of the order,(ii) revoke the order, or(iii) make an application under sub-paragraph (6).(6) The Secretary of State may (at any time) make an application to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for fresh consideration of a decision the Secretary of State has made under section 40(5A) where—(a) in the opinion of the Secretary of State, circumstances have changed materially since the determination mentioned in sub-paragraph (5), or(b) the Secretary of State wishes to provide further evidence to the Commission.Sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) apply to an application under this sub-paragraph.Deprivation of citizenship without notice: review2_(1) Sub-paragraphs (2) to (5) apply if—(a) the Secretary of State makes a conducive grounds deprivation order without notice, and(b) the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has not made the determination mentioned in paragraph 1(5) (Secretary of State’s decision obviously flawed).(2) The Secretary of State must, at least once in every review period, review the circumstances of the person in respect of whom the order was made (so far as known) and decide whether to give late notice in respect of the order.(3) On such a review, the Secretary of State must decide to give late notice to the person unless it appears to the Secretary of State that any of the conditions in section 40(5A) is met (reading any reference in those provisions to notice under section 40(5) as a reference to late notice).(4) If the Secretary of State decides at any point to give late notice in respect of the order—(a) the Secretary of State must give the notice as soon as reasonably practicable, and(b) once the notice is given, sub-paragraph (2) ceases to apply in relation to the person.(5) If on the expiry of the final review period the Secretary of State has not given, or has not decided to give, late notice in respect of the order, the Secretary of State must make an application to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission within the period of seven days beginning with the day after the final day of that review period.(6) Sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) of paragraph 1 (except sub-paragraph (5)(a)) apply for the purposes of an application under sub-paragraph (5) as they apply for the purposes of an application under that paragraph.(7) For the purposes of this paragraph, each of the following is a “review period”— (a) the period of four months beginning with the day after the day on which the Special Immigration Appeals Commission first determined an application in relation to the order under paragraph 1, and(b) each of the next five successive periods of four months.Interpretation3_(1) In this Schedule, references to making a conducive grounds deprivation order without notice are to making an order under section 40(2) without giving notice under subsection (5) of that section (in reliance on subsection (5A) of that section).(2) In this Schedule, “late notice”, in respect of an order under section 40(5), means written notice to the person in respect of whom the order was made specifying—(a) that the Secretary of State has made the order,(b) the reasons for the order, and(c) the person’s right of appeal under section 40A(1) or under section 2B of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts a new Schedule into the British Nationality Act 1981, to make provision for judicial oversight of decisions to deprive a person of their citizenship status without notice on grounds that the deprivation is conducive to the public good.
My Lords, the circumstances in which British citizenship may be removed were keenly debated in Committee. This group concerns a narrower issue: whether it should be possible to remove someone’s citizenship without giving them notice of it at the time and, if so, in what circumstances. Clause 9 struck me as so problematic that, in Committee, I tabled a stand part notice; that is echoed today by Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. In Committee, I asked the Minister to take Clause 9 away and challenged her, if she could make the case for such an extraordinary power, to come back with a version of it that is far more limited in scope and subject to proper safeguards and accountability.
The Minister responded to that challenge as positively and wholeheartedly as I could have hoped. I pay tribute to her, to her fellow Minister, Tom Pursglove, to the Bill team and to those at the Home Office and in agencies with whom I have discussed these issues—and I pay no less tribute to the NGOs and individuals who have impressed on me the dangers of Clause 9. The result, after what I think I can fairly describe as very considerable movement on the part of the Government, is the first six amendments in this group, together with Amendment 85, which concerns commencement. They have been pulled into proper shape by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, and I hoped that they could be tabled last Monday as government amendments, with my support, but an extra day was needed to conclude our discussions, so they appear under my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for adding their support.
These amendments achieve four important things. The first is a far more restricted range of circumstances in which notice can be withheld. The original Clause 9 would have allowed the Secretary of State to withhold notice whenever that appeared to her to be in the public interest. Amendments 15 and 16 remove the subjective element and provide that notice may be withheld only if the Secretary of State does not have an address for service, or if she reasonably considers it necessary on one of the four exceptional grounds specified in Amendment 16.
Let me illustrate my understanding of how those exceptional grounds could arise in practice. A terrorist may be living in a safe house here, or more likely abroad, without realising that his whereabouts are known to the authorities. To require a notice of citizenship deprivation to be served on him at that address would reveal to him that he is the object of covert surveillance, contrary to the interests of national security: proposed new sub-paragraph (i). The same may be true of a participant in “organised or serious crime”—the phrase being taken from Section 1 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which defines the remit of the National Crime Agency: proposed new sub-paragraph (ii). If intelligence as to location was supplied by a foreign liaison partner which does not wish its cover to be blown, notification at that address could jeopardise our intelligence relationship with that country: proposed new sub-paragraph (iv). The person in question might be, for example, with a dangerous armed group in a failed state. To require a courier to travel to such places to serve notice, at great personal risk, would be wrong: hence proposed new sub-paragraph (iii).
I do not believe that these grounds will be commonly advanced—it seems that, with a degree of ingenuity, workarounds have been found in the past—but neither, I suggest as a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, should they be dismissed as fanciful. It may be relevant that the laws of two of our closest allies are, if anything, more broadly drawn than this amendment. The New Zealand Citizenship Act 1977 allows for notice of deprivation to be dispensed with if it would be for any reason “not practicable” to serve it on the subject. The Australian Act of 2020 allows the Minister to determine that notice should not be given if it could prejudice the security, defence or international relations of Australia or Australian law enforcement operations.
The second feature of these amendments is to introduce powerful safeguards for conducive grounds deprivations that were entirely absent from the original Clause 9. In New Zealand, they have judicial scrutiny of these decisions. In Australia, they have regular ministerial review. Elements of both those safeguards are contained in the new Schedule 4A, which is set out in Amendment 14 and referred to in Amendments 17 and 19.
The judicial safeguard is in paragraph 1 of the schedule. If the Secretary of State wishes to withhold notice, she must apply to a superior court of record—the Special Immigration Appeals Commission—in advance or within seven days. SIAC will examine her reasons and decide, applying judicial review principles, whether her assessment is obviously flawed. That is the same test that is applied to the making of terrorism prevention and investigation orders under the TPIM Act 2011. SIAC will no doubt develop similar rules to deal with it, which might, in an appropriate case, provide for the appointment of a special advocate. If she does not succeed on her first attempt or on a subsequent application, which must be based on material change of circumstances or further evidence, the Secretary of State must either give notice in the normal way or revoke the deprivation order altogether.
The review safeguard is in paragraph 2 of the schedule. The Secretary of State must consider, three times a year for two years, whether the reasons for non-notification remain valid. If, after the sixth review, she still resists notification, she must make a further application to SIAC, which will, once again, give independent scrutiny to her decision.
The twin requirements of judicial approval and regular review will place a significant burden on the Secretary of State in any case where she wishes to exercise this power. I make no apology for that. Under the Immigration Rules, as they stood between 2018 and 2021, it was easy—far too easy—not to give notice but simply to record it on the file. That path was taken in no fewer than 29 of the 45 conducive grounds deprivations, mostly related to national security activity abroad, that were made in 2019, 2020 and 2021. These amendments not only require non-notification to be a last resort on paper; they make it hard work in practice. They should ensure that, in its own interests, the Home Office will take this exceptional course only when there really is no possible alternative.
The third feature of these amendments relates to appeals. Of course, a subject cannot appeal against a notice of deprivation until he has become aware of it. But Amendment 18 provides that time for appeal will begin to run only once notice has been given. It will not, therefore, be necessary to rely on the discretion of the court to extend time for appeal in cases where deprivation has not been notified at the time.
The fourth and final feature is in the proposed new subsections 5(c) and (d) inserted by Amendment 18. Any person whose citizenship was removed without notice must be informed of that fact, with reasons and information about appeal rights, as soon as they make themselves known to the Home Office, whether within the two-year review period or thereafter; for example, this might be by seeking consular assistance or a fresh passport.
Amendment 18 has another significant and, I would suggest, highly beneficial effect. The point has been well made by other noble Lords that upstanding citizens of this country, notably dual citizens, may be anxious about the removal of their citizenship without their knowledge. Amendment 18 provides such people with a means of reassurance. They have only to contact the Home Office to be told whether this has happened or whether, as will almost always be the case, it has not.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, challenged the House to
“find a way forward on Report that takes away the genuine fear from millions of people who believe—erroneously, but they believe it—that Clause 9 as drafted and the implementation of further measures will put them and their families at risk”.—[Official Report, 27/1/2022; col. 518.]
These amendments rise to that challenge. They should ensure that non-notification is confined to those rare cases where it is truly necessary, and they are subject to strong safeguards, including regular review, judicial scrutiny and a right to be informed on request.
I come finally to subsections (5) to (7) to Clause 9, which seek to limit the effect of the D4 case by providing that an unlawful failure to notify a pre-commencement deprivation order should not affect the validity of that order. I will listen carefully to my noble friend Lady D’Souza develop her manuscript amendment to remove those clauses, but in the meantime, to assist our deliberations, I ask the Minister to give two assurances relevant to that amendment. First, will she confirm that anyone subject to a pre-commencement deprivation order will be informed of that fact if they contact the Home Office, by analogy with proposed new subsections (5C) and (5D), as inserted by Amendment 17? They would then be in a position to proceed with any substantive appeal. Secondly, will she confirm, by analogy with Amendment 18, that the Home Office will not suggest that any of these people are out of time for appeal as a consequence of the interval between the decision to remove their citizenship and the giving of notice?
If my amendments are accepted, and those assurances given, I believe that we will have played our part as a revising Chamber and achieved a broadly acceptable balance. Opinions on citizenship removal will, of course, continue to differ, but the aggravating factor of removal without notice will be strictly confined and properly safeguarded for the future, as it was not in the Immigration Rules as they stood prior to the D4 judgment of last year, and as it was not under Clause 9 as it was passed by the Commons. I beg to move my amendment and, if necessary, I will test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her support in drafting these amendments, and I hope that she will give an assurance that the Government do, indeed, support these amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for addressing many of the concerns that I raised in Committee, particularly those expressed to me by the Law Society of Scotland, which was extremely dissatisfied that, in the original Clause 9, the Government had not fully justified the removal of citizenship without notifying the affected person. It asked that this clause be reconsidered, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for doing so.
Equally, in Committee, I raised the concerns expressed to me by the European Network on Statelessness in its briefing. It was very concerned that Clause 9 as drafted would
“have severe impacts on the rule of law and on a person’s fundamental rights”,
and that, as drafted, Clause 9
“disregards many of the UK’s international obligations, including the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality, the obligation to avoid statelessness, and the right to a fair hearing.”
In its view, the UK Government
“has not provided any justification as to why such a restriction on fundamental rights is needed.”
I pay tribute to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich; many of my concerns have been addressed. I support the amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and support the reasons that he has given. The restrictive range of circumstances has been greatly reduced in which a citizen’s rights could be taken away. I support the powerful safeguards he set out as to why a citizen could be deprived of their citizenship, the rights of appeal, the provision that a citizen must be informed that their citizenship is going to be removed and the reassurance that he set out that could be given by condition C at that time. I support the amendments.
My Lords, powers to deprive British citizens of their citizenship have historically been very tightly drawn under UK immigration law for obvious reasons. However, I reminded the Committee that in 2003, 2006, 2014 and 2018, these powers were very considerably expanded, so that now they are exercisable against any British citizen who has dual nationality, where the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good. The breadth of this power is perhaps best understood by the Supreme Court’s conclusion in the Begum case, that this includes situations where the individual is unaware that they hold dual nationality and even where that individual has little or no connection with their country of second nationality.
I reminded the Committee of the words of the leading immigration law silk, Raza Husain QC, who said:
“This progressive extension over the last two decades has meant that it is no longer necessary to demonstrate that someone is a terrorist or a traitor before stripping them of British citizenship. Individuals may be deprived of citizenship on general public interest grounds of the sort usually invoked to justify deportation, rather than on the basis of their severing the bonds of allegiance that are the hallmark of nationality.”
The drastic nature of this power was well described by the United States chief justice Earl Warren, a Republican, put on the court by President Eisenhower, who said that the loss of nationality amounts to
“the total destruction of the individual’s status in organised society… the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.”
He was channelling Hannah Arendt there.
Deprivation of citizenship is such a drastic and far-reaching power that it must be accompanied by proper procedural safeguards. That much is obvious. This is a power that has been beloved of some of the worst regimes in history. If we are to permit this power to a Secretary of State, it must be accompanied by procedural safeguards. In its original form, Clause 9 went in precisely the opposite direction, removing the most basic safeguard of all—the safeguard of notification —really at the Secretary of State’s whim. That was not good enough and, like my noble friend Lord Anderson, I am grateful to the Government for having listened to the debate in Committee and for having changed course. Again, like him, I am satisfied that serious movement has been made and that some of our most serious concerns about the clause as originally drafted have been responded to appropriately. For that reason, I will be supporting this amendment and am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for moving it.
My Lords, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, add hugely important safeguards to Clause 9, but subsections (5) to (7), which are set out on page 12 at lines 13 to 19, would remain in place and appear to make lawful what is clearly unlawful. The secret power to deprive citizenship without notice and/or appeal threatens our cherished British values of fair play and the rule of law. It would also risk unduly affecting ethnic minority communities. Subsections (5) to (7) seek to instruct the courts to treat past unlawful deprivations as if they were lawful, even where the courts have found that these actions failed to comply with statute at the time when they were made.
Parliament, it seems to me, is being asked to condone a disregard for the law by those Ministers who took away British national citizenship when it was illegal to do so. If these provisions remain in the Bill, a series of unlawful deprivation orders made against young women from minority ethnic communities will not be subject to any scrutiny whatever. This cannot be right.
It seems clear from what has been said so far on this clause that the most profound concerns still relate to Clause 9 as a whole and—although the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, alters the whole tenor of the Bill and grateful thanks are due to the Minister for enabling this—the concerns remain. These clauses would create a secret power. Clause 9 goes well beyond cases where the Government cannot provide notice. According to the Policy Exchange think tank, at no point in the last century has it been thought that national security called for depriving British citizens of their citizenship without notice. We cannot see the case for this now, at a time when our closest allies, such as the US, are warning that depriving individuals of citizenship is not an effective way to fight terrorism.
The main issue in this group of amendments is whether Clause 9 should remain part of the Bill. My suggestion is that it should be removed to create certainty and clarity. It seems to me that the optimal solution would be to remove this clause altogether, not only because, as it stands, it is contrary to British law and indeed to parts of the UN refugee convention, but because this clause—as well as new subsections (5) to (7) proposed by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—seem to enable further restrictive orders, something that we as a scrutinising Chamber should avoid at all costs. Therefore, while I will of course support the noble Lord’s amendment, I will also seek to move my amendment, which would leave Clause 9 out.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and I agree with what she said and that, although the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, have made Clause 9 less bad, it is still a bad clause that should disappear from the Bill. When introducing this group, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that these amendments were all about Clause 9. I would rather say that my Amendment 22, to which I will speak, was provoked by Clause 9. One thing revealed in public debate—and there has been an enormous amount of public debate around Clause 9—is the fact that so many people had not realised that what the Minister described earlier as the “warm embrace of citizenship” can be taken away, and that there is profound discrimination in the way that this can happen.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, talked in Committee talked about two-tier citizenship; I talk about it as two classes of citizenship. I regret that I was not able to take part in Committee; I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb for very ably speaking for me. However, there are about 6 million Britons—I declare an interest as I am among them—who, because of another citizenship or their descent from people who came to Britain and chose to be Britons, have second-class citizenship. It can be taken away by the Government and, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, just outlined very clearly, we have seen a very rapid and considerable escalation of the ways in which that power can be, and has been, applied.
My Amendment 22 makes one exception. If someone attains citizenship by means of fraud or misrepresentation, obviously, the power should remain for that citizenship to be taken away, but if that citizenship has been acquired honestly, my amendment says that it cannot be taken away. I suggest to your Lordships’ House that this is the only way that we can ensure that every British citizen is the same class of citizen and treated in the same way. Given that people who have, or have access to, alternative citizenships come from migrant backgrounds, the discrimination in how this is applied is very obvious. I note from having read the Hansard report of Committee very carefully that the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, expressed support for this. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for also expressing support in principle for the idea that there should be only one class of citizenship and the Government should not be able to take it away.
I can imagine the response I might hear from the Minister: what about someone who is a security threat? If we have given millions of people British citizenship, we have benefited from the contributions, of all kinds, that they have made to the UK. Should we be able to say, “This person’s a problem so we’re going to get rid of them”, and make them someone else’s problem? If a person is a security threat to the UK, they might well be a security threat to the country that they hold citizenship for and that we send them to. Why should we be able to dump our problems on someone else?
I find myself torn. I aware of the desire in your Lordships’ House to take away some of the worst elements of the Bill, but I also find myself supported by many people in civil society who say that they want to ensure that there is one class of citizenship. I have said to all the relevant authorities that I will reserve the right to call a vote on this, because I find it a matter of principle on which it is very difficult simply to withdraw the amendment. I would really like to hear everyone’s position on this, particularly the Front-Bench speakers—I hope one of the Lords spiritual might contribute—and everyone’s explanation of whether they believe there should be two classes of British citizenship. Having heard that debate, I will make a decision about whether to push Amendment 22 to a vote.
Thank you. My Lords, I am grateful for the suggestion that the House might like to hear from the Lords spiritual. I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, which proposes that Clause 9 should not stand part of the Bill. We debated this at some length in Committee. It is somewhat disappointing that the Government have not taken the opportunity to reconsider more fully. I will not delay the House by repeating the arguments, but I will briefly speak about trust.
The Government seem genuinely confused by the level of opposition that the clause has triggered, but this should not have been surprising because I am afraid that it is symptomatic of a serious breakdown in trust between the Home Office and society groups, particularly minority ethnic groups, as we have heard. The response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review promised a new culture in the Home Office—one that was more compassionate, that saw faces behind the cases and would rebuild and enhance
“public trust and confidence in the Home Office”.
The Bill as a whole does not do much to create the impression that this new culture has been embedded. Trust is hard to build and very easy to lose. On the issue of deprivation of citizenship and the treatment of minorities, trust is sufficiently low that any new changes to these powers must surely come with a compelling and overwhelming demonstration of a serious and widespread problem that needs to be solved.
I remain unconvinced that the Government have demonstrated that there is a sufficiently major problem that existing powers do not address. I am quite convinced that the impact this clause will have—indeed, already has had in continuing to undermine trust between the Home Office and civil society—is serious enough that the Bill would be greatly improved by Clause 9 being removed in its entirety. Having said that, I have heard the words of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He provided a compelling and informed case for his saving amendments. I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for my lack of control over my new varifocals, and to your Lordships for entering the debate at this late stage. I have been listening to the debate in the context of my concerns about the majority judgments in the D4 case, which has already been mentioned. I read my noble friend Lord Anderson’s amendments and listened with enormous care to his very clear—indeed, brilliant—opening. I support his amendments. My view is that they go further than is absolutely necessary in terms of proportionality between the duties and rights of citizens and the setting of safeguards to ensure that this equation is well balanced. Overbalancing in favour of protections is a good fault in the circumstances, hence my declared support for my noble friend’s amendments.
I will just say a word in relation to Amendment 22, which I am afraid I find rather befuddling. I am befuddled by the notion that somebody should be able to lose their citizenship for committing an offence of fraud but not for being a terrorist treacherous to and betraying their own country. That is absolutely what that amendment says. It may not have been intended as such, but that is how it reads. I suggest that, far from people with dual nationality being second-class citizens, they are advantaged citizens. We have been talking a good deal about oligarchs in recent days, and I can tell the noble Baroness who tabled Amendment 22 that expensive law firms have been expending large sums of oligarchs’ money on obtaining dual nationality so that those people can have the advantage of being able to hedge their bets in more than one country. I am not a dual national, but if I were a citizen of Ireland or the United States, for example, I would consider it a privilege and an advantage, not some kind of second-class citizenship.
I turn to the principle behind this. I listened with interest to my noble friend Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who is a distinguished former Director of Public Prosecutions. There seems to be some kind of presumption among some commentators, and possibly one or two Members of your Lordships’ House, that the Home Secretary will deprive everyone of their citizenship if they have gone to Syria and married a terrorist, simply because they have done that. But as my noble friend Lord Macdonald will know, there are many cases in which the Director of Public Prosecutions—he did this with great distinction—makes a decision on public interest grounds as to whether a case should be pursued. In this situation, particularly in the light of the amendments by my noble friend Lord Anderson, the Home Secretary would have exactly that kind of discretion and would not make a decision in every single case. Under the architecture that my noble friend Lord Anderson has set out, if a decision was made and was disproportionate, on judicial review principles it would be subject—as he said very clearly—to come before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. So this is not simply lumping a large number of people into being deprived of citizenship. We can assume, at least in our country, that we do not operate like Mr Putin and that in fact rational decisions are taken and are tested in a rational way before the courts.
I have three examples of cases in which it is proportionate not to serve notice, even if there is some knowledge of whereabouts. I think I should state them briefly for the record. First, let us take a case relating to new subsection (5A)(c)(i) of Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, on national security grounds. If the Home Office holds sensitive intelligence that details an individual’s whereabouts so that they could cause notice to be served on that person, but the sensitive source of the intelligence means they cannot use it without revealing and risking the life of the sensitive source, and in so doing causing damage to national security, that is a clear example where non-service to file is entirely justified—particularly with my noble friend Lord Anderson’s architecture, as I have called it.
The second example relates to new subsection (5A)(c)(ii), inserted by Clause 9, relating to
“the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country”.
Let us suppose the Home Office holds sensitive intelligence obtained from a third country, as to an individual’s address or whereabouts such that the Home Office could—if it relied upon this intelligence—cause notice to be served on the person. Such intelligence sometimes comes from countries with which we do not have close intelligence relationships for particular reasons. So, using the address that has been given may not cause damage to our national security, but it might be damaging to the national security interests of the third country and even cause damage to the UK’s relationship with that country if the Home Office relied upon it. Without that intelligence, the Home Office would not know the individual’s whereabouts in order to effect service. Clearly, that is a situation in which it is reasonable not to serve.
My third example, which relates to new subsection (5A)(c)(iii)—not in the public interest—inserted by Clause 9, is an example where the Home Office holds an address for an individual that, if relied upon, could be used to cause notice to be served on the individual, but there is no functioning postal system where the individual is living. There is, however, the prospect of delivering the notice to the address via a courier. But doing so would expose the courier to risk—either due to prevailing circumstances in the region or due to the threat posed by the individual to be served if the courier encounters them. This is a very real example. I have seen this illustrated in a country—which I will not name in this debate—where civil servants doing other functions would be in a position to deliver such notices. Surely it would not be right for the Home Office to expose the courier to such risk and, indeed, to danger to their life.
So I come back to the balance between rights and duties. Most of the cohort we are discussing absolutely know the risk they take if they go and fight as terrorists, betray this country and put it in danger. Most of those people—not all, and I refer to what I said at the beginning about the Home Secretary’s discretion—will know if they are able to have the nationality of another country. If they do, those are the cases in which the Home Office should, in my view, be allowed to make such orders, and it would be foolish of us to stand in the way of that. Indeed, in making such orders, that is entirely proportionate to a judgment between the duties of the citizen not to betray their country and the rights of the citizen not, in certain circumstances, to have their citizenship removed.
Removing Clause 9 from the Bill leaves the unattractive proposition that, even where an alternative nationality is available, individuals should have a free run to betray this country and be terrorists against this country’s interests. I am against that, and I am absolutely certain that most reasonable people are against that.
The noble Lord has displayed a very touching faith in the Home Office, which I do not think reflected the view of your Lordships’ House in an earlier debate in terms of how we are approaching Ukrainian refugees. Is he aware of the case of the gentleman known as E3, who was deprived of his British citizenship for many years, was eventually able to appeal that, has never been arrested or charged, and has finally—on 11 February—returned to the UK and is now back with his family after many years of separation.
I am not aware of the details of that case, but I would say to the noble Baroness that the architecture that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, set out would protect such a person in a much better way than was the case before.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, on the detailed measures that he has brought forward. I really appreciate the time that he has given to the discussions and debates that he and I, and other Members of this House, have had over the last few weeks and months. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Williams for her work and her calls, and for the way in which she has dealt with this issue, reaching out to try genuinely and sincerely to find a compromise. That is what this is—it is a compromise, and compromise is good, but fairness, justice and equality are better. Therefore, despite the fact that these amendments go some way to making what was really bad legislation slightly less bad, they are simply papering over the cracks.
Once again, we are being asked by the Government to keep incrementally changing this law from the early 1980s—each time it has been changed with one case law or one individual situation—so that more and more people in this country, from a wider and wider scope, with more and more different offences, are now included in a space where their citizenship can be stripped. Therefore, we have an opportunity in this House to, once again, incrementally, make a bad law slightly less bad—or we can take a position and say that the underlying law itself is so bad that we are no longer prepared to keep making these incremental changes.
This takes the bad law a little further. If we go back to what this law actually does, first, it strips citizenship from those who were born and raised here, know nowhere else and whose family have been here for generations, but who are deemed to have—they do not actually have—another citizenship through some tenuous link to a country that their grandfathers or great-grandparents may have come from. Secondly, under this law, in our courts in the United Kingdom we punish two people convicted of the same crime differently based upon their heritage—not on the crime committed, but on their heritage. That is what the underlying law does.
I take issue with the idea that these people are not second-class citizens; they are. Let me give an example. My grandfather came here in the 1950s; my father came in the 1960s. I was born here; I have no other citizenship. My children were born here; they have no other citizenship. My grandchildren have been born here; they have no other citizenship. However, if my grandchildren—we all bring our children up well, not to commit crime, but we can never predict how their lives will turn out—were to commit not just a terrorist offence but a criminal act such as a sexual offence or an offence involving fraud, they could, in court, be punished for the crime but also have their citizenship stripped. That is fact. That makes me a second-class citizen. It makes my children second-class citizens. It makes their children second-class citizens. How far back do we go before we say to people that they are as equal as anyone else in this country?
Today, by supporting the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, we can say, from this House, that despite all the assurances and the changes, we believe in equality for all in this country. My noble friend mentioned New Zealand and Australia, and I accept that changes have been put in place there; safeguards have been put in place where it is deemed not fit to serve notice. But we also have allies, such as the United States and Canada, who simply do not even have the law—they do not believe that we should be stripping our citizens of their citizenship.
The current law has been used throughout two decades of the war on terror, during the rise of ISIS, and while terrorist fighters from the United Kingdom have been going overseas. Over the years, we have managed to use the law, without this additional incremental change, to ensure that we have stripped people who we consider to be dangerous of their citizenship. We have managed under the current law; this further change is not required.
In conclusion, we may not have taken this moment to put right the wrongs of the past—many noble Lords, including many noble friends from my own Benches, stood up and asked for the original law to be considered. However, the least we can do is to stop a bad law becoming worse. If the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, tests the opinion of the House, I urge Members to vote for it because I will be voting for it, too.
My Lords, I shared the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady D’Souza about Clause 9 as it was originally drafted. However, I am very satisfied with the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Anderson, particularly as the exercise of these powers is subject to the control of the independent Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that this is not to have trust and faith in the Home Office. Whether or not that is justified, I have trust and faith in the independent Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, that this is not a compromise or papering over the cracks. Rather, this is a great tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and to the work done by the Minister: it is to achieve the protection of both the public interest and the rights of individuals. This is what this House should be aiming to do.
My Lords, I had the honour, with the then Leader of the House, to present to this House the 1981 Bill which became the Act. We certainly understood that it was a very drastic power which enabled citizenship to be taken away. Therefore, it was only right that notice should be required, and provided for, in Section 40(5) of that Act. It included the need to make clear to the person affected that the application was on. It used the last known address as a possibility. However, the more that difficulties arise, the more it is seen that something further is required. Therefore, it is right that Section 40(5) should be amended. I think that the amendments, as now proposed—and subject to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, if, as I hope, the Government will accept them—are an acceptable way of dealing with this very delicate matter.
I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, that the real and ultimate protection is in the independent judicial review by the special court for that purpose. It is essential that, as this nation is subject to many different ways of being attacked, we should be protected as much as possible. This is a very sensible way to do it, provided that the Government are prepared to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich.