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Shamima Begum

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications of the Court of Appeal’s judgment on 23 February depriving Shamima Begum of British citizenship, in particular with regard to whether she is now in effect stateless.

My Lords, we are pleased that the Court of Appeal 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 UK.

My Lords, I am sorry but that does not get us very far. Will the Minister confirm that Shamima Begum must still be regarded as innocent, although she has said that she is willing to come back to this country and face trial? Furthermore, will the Minister confirm that it is very likely that, at the age of 15, she was trafficked away from this country to Syria? Will he finally confirm that, in the wider context, many of our partners—the United States, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands—have all repatriated women and children.

My Lords, the Home Secretary’s powers to deprive an individual of their British citizenship are used sparingly, but they have existed in law for over 100 years. The British Nationality Act 1981 provides for the current deprivation power; Section 40(2) allows the Secretary of State to deprive any person of British citizenship should they deem it conducive to the public good to do so, but the law requires that this action proceed only if the individual concerned would not be left stateless. All decisions are made in accordance with the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. I cannot comment further on the specific case.

My Lords, Shamima Begum went to Syria as a child, but for several years as an adult she lived under the murderous, brutal, ghastly anti-Semitic regime of Islamic State. She may have had some coercion in her marriage, but she was married and had three unfortunate children, all of whom, sadly, have died. Does my noble friend think that the majority of people in this country believe that such a person, who has shown through her actions that she despises this country, its people, its values and its morals, should be given back her citizenship?

My Lords, I am afraid I go back to my earlier Answer: it would be inappropriate to comment further on this specific case given the potential for further legal proceedings.

My Lords, when I was Home Secretary, I was told on a number of occasions that I could not take such action if it left someone stateless. I think that was confirmed by what the Minister said in his qualification. I do not hold a candle for Shamima Begum, and have never been known as a sympathiser of Islamist practices or beliefs, but is it not inappropriate and illegal to remove someone’s citizenship if it leaves them stateless? I would like a yes or no answer, because I may have been told the wrong thing when I was Home Secretary.

The noble Lord is right. The Home Secretary has the power to deprive any British national of citizenship status on conducive to the public good grounds, providing that such action does not leave the individual stateless. In this case, the Court of Appeal found for the Government on all grounds.

My Lords, there is a strong impression that citizenship has now become a matter of judicial ping-pong, which is clearly unsatisfactory. My noble friend mentioned the British Nationality Act 1981; that is nearly 50 years old, and a lot has changed in this world since. Should we not have a fresh look at the meaning, rights and responsibilities of citizenship in this country, and is not this Chamber the best place for that debate?

My noble friend raises some very good points, which I am happy to take back to the Home Office. I reiterate that this power is used very sparingly and only in conducive to the public good circumstances.

To pick up on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about other British citizens in the Syrian camps, are the Government thinking of reviewing how other countries are taking back their citizens or do they refuse to consider it? If so, why?

The Government keep all these tragic cases under careful review. Where there are compelling circumstances, we will of course look at them again. Decisions on the return of British unaccompanied minors and orphans to the UK, where feasible, and subject to national security concerns, nationality and identity checks, and so on, are made on a case-by-case basis.

My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that one reason why there is a call for people to be brought back to this country to stand trial in our courts is that the alleged offender—in this case, she was an appellant—has access to her own advisers and expert witnesses have access to the alleged offender to assess matters such as trafficking? SIAC commented on the distinction between its position and that of the press, which somehow gained access to her.

I am grateful that the noble Baroness brought up SIAC—the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. It ruled that the legislation should be construed as requiring the Secretary of State to seek prior representations from an individual, but that in Begum’s case the failure to do so did not change the outcome or invalidate the deprivation decision. The Court of Appeal has ruled that, in fact, the legislation does not require the Secretary of State to seek representations prior to making a deprivation decision. I take the noble Baroness’s point, but SIAC’s ruling was clear.

My Lords, I wish to ask about the counter-extremism strategy. One in five people arrested for terrorism-related offences are now under 18, up from one in 25 in 2019. That is a worrying trend. The Government have failed to update their counter-extremism strategy for eight years now. Will they now commit to updating that cross-governmental strategy, with particular focus on preventing extremism in young people?

My Lords, we discussed that subject at some length last week, when talking about anti-Semitism, and of course the situation has evolved somewhat since then. I take the noble Lord’s points, but refer to some of the things that have been done and put in place by the Government on youth engagement and schools and education. For now, I will take his points back to the Home Office, but I cannot update him further.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the primary function of His Majesty’s Government is national security and the security of citizens in this country? In this case, Shamima Begum being of concern to national security was a point made as to why the decision went against her. Furthermore, while I have sympathy for her as an individual, I spent last week with Andrew Drury, a filmmaker who has spent much time with her; he has described her in detail as untrustworthy and as showing no remorse for what she has been doing in her time out there. As such, with the primary function here being national security, does my noble friend agree that this is the reason that British citizenship is being withheld from this individual?

My noble friend raises some interesting points. As I said earlier, the Secretary of State can deprive someone of British citizenship only where he considers that it is conducive to the public good to do so. That includes consideration of the need to protect all UK citizens, both in the UK and abroad. Once again, I will not comment on the specifics of this case.

My Lords, is the Rwanda scheme, which plans to export legitimate refugees, a natural extension of this scheme, which makes those accused of terrorism someone else’s problem by depriving them of their British citizenship?

My Lords, I would not use a term such as “export”. I point out to the noble Lord that the asylum seekers he is talking about have arrived in this country illegally from a safe country—a point that often gets neglected to be made by certain Benches. I have explained the justification. Do we expect other countries to take responsibility for UK-grown terrorist threats? No, we commit to working closely with our partners to reduce the risk that is posed to us, collectively, by foreign terrorists.

My Lords, I am not very good on the rules of your Lordships’ Chamber—I admit that—but I would have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ranger, raising gossip here in the House is not appropriate. Furthermore, Shamima Begum has been rendered stateless by this Government’s decision, simply because Pakistan says she has never lived there and never been a citizen—

I am afraid that I have to say again to the noble Baroness that the Court of Appeal found for the Government on all grounds.