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Shamima Begum

Volume 829: debated on Monday 27 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, on the grounds of compassion and morality, to reconsider their decision to refuse citizenship to Shamima Begum.

We are pleased that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has found in favour of the Government in Shamima Begum’s appeal against the decision to deprive her of British citizenship. It would be inappropriate to comment further, given the potential for further legal proceedings. The Government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered response. I think we all know the circumstances: Shamima Begum was a 15 year-old child when, seduced by a perverted ideology, she ran away from home and ended up as the consort of an ISIS terrorist and, eventually, the mother of three dead babies. Now 25 years of age, her situation has changed since she was deprived of her British citizenship in 2019. Her provisional Bangladeshi citizenship lapsed when she reached the age of 21 and she is now stateless. I would like to ask two questions. First, what consideration has been given to her present situation, as of today? Secondly, does the Minister’s response suggest that security fears trump our moral responsibilities?

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his questions. The answer is that in relation to Shamima Begum, as I indicated in my earlier Answer, due to the fact that the litigation may continue I am unable to comment specifically on the facts of that case. However, I can answer more generally that the power to deprive an individual of their British citizenship, as happened in this case, has existed in law for over 100 years. The British Nationality Act allows for the deprivation power to be exercised in two circumstances: first, where the Secretary of State considers that it is conducive to the public good to deprive that person of their British citizenship, generally on national security grounds; and, secondly, in relation to Section 40(3), if British nationality has been obtained by fraud. This power is exercised sparingly and obviously, given the national security nature of these decisions, the content of them is the subject of closed proceedings. It is therefore a matter for particularly careful consideration by the Secretary of State and that was certainly done in the instant case.

My Lords, may I press my noble friend on the security aspect? If we continue to refuse citizenship and refuse to put on trial alleged UK terrorists here in this country, are we not just passing the buck to other countries? If every country pursues the same policy, are we not just going to build up vast and insecure camps full of potential terrorists—the breeding ground for the terrorists of tomorrow?

I thank my noble friend for that question. Of course it is not the case, as the noble and right reverend Lord put in his Question, that Shamima Begum’s citizenship was refused. In fact, her citizenship was deprived from her by reason of the decision of the Secretary of State, which was reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and upheld. I do not agree with my noble friend that there is a risk of large camps of people being accrued who had been deprived of their nationality. If I might provide the figures, in 2019 some 27 people were deprived of their nationality; in 2020, it was 10; and, in 2021, it was eight.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked a Question last week relating to the British Government’s position over the use of capital punishment. Widespread comments from all sides of the House indicated that we had no truck with it whatever; quite right too. Since the Minister is not able to comment on a current case—and I respect that—could he ask himself, and assure the House, whether statelessness is not a form of capital punishment, in the sense that it deprives somebody of status forever? If it is for the rest of their lives, is that not just the breathing dead, so should we not be opposed to it on moral grounds and let circumstances dictate what might happen to her if she were brought back? Leaving her where she is is surely inhumane.

Clearly, the Secretary of State for the Home Office has to evaluate the balance of competing interests. Surely the principal interest and the principal duty of government is to keep the people safe. I can reassure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom takes very seriously its obligations under the UN statelessness convention. Decisions to deprive individuals are taken in circumstances where they would not be left stateless. This applies in all cases where decisions to deprive are made. In all cases, there is further detailed consideration as to the applicability of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to deprivation decisions. The Government are satisfied that all those deprivations have been actions which are compatible with our obligations under that convention.

My Lords, would my noble friend reflect that, if a 15 year-old child commits a murder in this country, they remain anonymous? We do not know the name of the person, and he or she is dealt with appropriately. Is that not rather in contradiction to the line that has been taken in this case?

The slight difficulty the noble Lord has is, obviously, the incomplete picture of information, which is, unfortunately, the consequence of the nature of these types of decisions. The evaluation is made at the time of the deprivation decision, which in this case was in 2019. At that stage, the subject of the decision was not a minor, but obviously I cannot venture further into the facts of the case.

The reform of the Prevent strategy is clearly an important priority, as discussed on a previous occasion. I do not believe that this particular case has any direct impact on the reformulation of the policy. If the litigation continues, I will come back and address the House further on that.

My Lords, I wonder if noble Lords remember the expression “compassionate conservatism”. Those halcyon days seem long gone, sadly. Shamima Begum has been variously described as a vulnerable, trafficked 15 year-old from Bethnal Green and an ex-IS recruiter. Is the point not, however, that she is our vulnerable, trafficked girl or our ex-IS recruiter? Should she not be brought home to face the music in a British court of law?

Again, I am afraid I cannot comment on the specific facts of Ms Begum’s case. However, I remind the House that the purpose of deprivation proceedings under Section 40(2) of the 1981 Act is to protect the country in relation to issues of national security.

My Lords, the difficulty the UK had being able to prosecute British people who went to Syria to support ISIS led in part to the counterterrorism Act 2019 and its provisions to prohibit people going to designated terrorist hotspots. Are the Government confident that future circumstances similar to Shamima Begum’s would fall under the provisions of that Act and enable prosecution in the UK?

Clearly, it is a very fact-sensitive evaluation on what is an appropriate matter for prosecution. The issue as to whether to deprive someone of British nationality arises in very limited circumstances, as seen in the numbers I cited earlier to the House. I would hope that all the relevant factors are taken into account when making such decisions.

My Lords, Shamima Begum admitted on the BBC podcast that she willingly chose to join a barbaric, nihilistic, Islamic death cult, so I am not sure about compassion. However, the Minister said that the responsibility is to keep citizens safe. Is he suggesting that the Government cannot keep people safe when there is radicalisation happening in the UK? One reason why the public do not want Ms Begum here is that, after the Manchester Arena bombing report, it seems that the Prison Service and the secret services are not able to keep us safe. Would he say that that is our problem and we should bring her home and not wash our hands of her, not because of compassion but because of moral responsibility on our part to keep people safe, even if there are terrorists among us?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The answer is that, obviously, the primary duty of government is to keep the people safe. Parliament has seen fit to afford to the Secretary of State the power of deprivation of nationality on dual nationals, and that power has sensibly been exercised in the cases to which I have referred and on which I have given the numbers to the House. I do not believe that there is any greater moral equivalence in returning people for trial. The question that arises on the exercise of this power is the issue of national security.