(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on Shamima Begum, the death of her son Jarrah and other cases.
We estimate that over 900 people left the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Many have been killed fighting, some remain there, some have returned and others could still come back. Some irresponsibly took young British children with them, and some had children while they were there as part of their mission to expand the so-called caliphate. We have made it very clear since 2011 that no British citizen should travel to Syria. Those who have stayed until the bitter end include some of the most devoted supporters of Daesh. One of the ways we can deal with the threat that they pose to the UK is to remove British citizenship from those holding another nationality. Since 2010, this power has been applied to about 150 people of a range of nationalities.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details of an individual case—although, clearly, the loss of any child is a tragedy—but, if I may, I will address some of the issues that have been raised. First, these decisions are made very carefully. Where citizenship deprivation is being considered for national security concerns, decisions are based on advice and intelligence from the security services, counter-terrorism police, and specialist security and legal officials in the Home Office. When people dedicated to keeping our country safe give an informed recommendation, any Home Secretary should listen very carefully. Secondly, we are unable to provide support to British nationals within Syria as the UK Government do not have a consular presence there. Thirdly, the status of a child does not change if their parents’ British citizenship is subsequently revoked.
There are no easy answers. I must also think about future conflicts and the precedents that we set. I do not want any more children brought into a war zone because their parents think that they will automatically be bailed out, no matter what the risk. However, the UK is doing all we can to help innocent people caught up in this conflict. We have committed £2.8 billion to Syria since 2012—our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis—and we are on track to resettle 20,000 vulnerable refugees who have fled the country, with our national resettlement programmes resettling more than any other EU member state in 2017.
Of course, I understand the public interest, so I have asked my officials to expedite the publication of our next transparency report on disruptive and investigatory powers, including the most up-to-date annual figures on the deprivation of citizenship. This Government remain committed to protecting our citizens around the world, but I will not shy away from using the powers at my disposal to protect this country.
When she was 15, Shamima Begum made a very bad decision, and it is arguable that much of the tragedy that has engulfed her since then flows from it. It is also the case that she has recently made some reprehensible statements to the media. However, the Home Secretary will know that the Opposition believe that she and her baby should have been allowed to return home. Now we know that that baby is dead. We believed that she should have been allowed to return home because this schoolgirl, born and brought up in Bethnal Green, was Britain’s responsibility. As it happens, that is also the general view of the President of the United States. Above all, bringing the mother and baby home would have given the baby a chance of life.
Instead, the Home Secretary, in the face of a media outcry, chose to strip Shamima of her citizenship. He knows that many authorities contend that that was done illegally, because she was not a dual national. Article 15 of the United Nations declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has a right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the child was British? Does he further accept that the British legal system does not hold children responsible for the wrongdoing of their parents? Does he also accept that, despite what Ministers have said about the dangers of sending officials into the refugee camp, aid workers, doctors and journalists go backwards and forwards to and from those camps all the time?
Does the Home Secretary further accept that, by stripping Shamima of her nationality, he made it impossible for her to fulfil her duties as a mother and bring her baby home to a safe place? Will he confirm that, as he said earlier, as well as taking legal advice, he took advice from the police and security services about the desirability or otherwise of bringing Shamima home? Can he explain why he deemed this 19-year-old, with a baby that was not quite three weeks old, more dangerous to Britain than the hundreds of foreign fighters who have already been allowed to return?
We now know that there are other British women in those camps who have been stripped of their nationality by the Home Secretary’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). Can he assure the House that he will work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see how best those British children’s rights can be protected?
The Home Secretary’s decision in this case has caused widespread concern and alarm. We understand the issue of keeping British people safe, but this was a British baby, who is now dead. No Opposition Member condones—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Wallace, please, I respect your governmental responsibilities and the seriousness with which you take them, but I appeal to you just to listen to the exchanges. You can always look wise—that is not difficult for you—but it is best for you just to listen. As for the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Mr Hoare, you are a junior Member of the House, trying to come to terms with your responsibilities as a PPS. Your role is just to sit there and nod or shake your head in the appropriate place. It is not for you to give a running commentary on the shadow Home Secretary’s performance. I have not the slightest interest in what you have to say, and you will say no more in the course of these exchanges or I shall have to ask you to relocate yourself.
This is a very serious matter and it is unfortunate that Members on the Treasury Bench do not seem to take it with the seriousness it deserves. I say to the Home Secretary that no Opposition Member condones what Shamima Begum did—the choices she made and the things she said. But if it was his 19-year-old daughter, however badly she had behaved and however reprehensible or near criminal her choices, would he want her to bury three babies in the course of a year? The Home Secretary of course has a responsibility to protect the British public, but he also has a responsibility to appear just and fair in the eyes of the British public. This decision, which has led, as night follows day, to this less than three-week-old baby dying, does not appear just or fair to the majority of the British public.
First of all, the one thing I do concur with the right hon. Lady about is that the death of any child is a tragedy, wherever it takes place in the world. It is not something that anyone—any Member of this House—would want to see.
The Government are committed to protecting British citizens, but it is very different when it comes to a war zone where there is no consular presence. That is a fact not just under this Government; it has been a fact under successive Governments and it is true for many other European countries. For the same reasons that we do not have a consular presence, they do not have a consular presence. Whichever British citizen in that war zone in Syria the right hon. Lady might be referring to, whether a child or an adult, if there is no consular presence there is no way for British authorities—as much as someone might want to, especially in the case of a child—to provide any type of assistance.
The right hon. Lady is trying to make this issue about British citizenship. It is not about British citizenship. One confirmation I can give to one question she asked is that it is the case that if a child is born to someone who is a British citizen at the time the child is born, that child is a British citizen, even if the parent’s citizenship is subsequently removed. This is not about citizenship; it is about the ability of the British state to help. For the British state to send officials, whether Foreign Office officials or others, into Syria in a war zone would risk the safety of those officials. That is why the Foreign Office has been very clear, ever since 2011, that no British citizen should travel to Syria in any circumstances, because it is incredibly dangerous. That is the view taken on Syria by almost every other liberal democracy, even when it comes to children from their own countries and their own citizens.
The right hon. Lady suggested, on citizenship deprivations, that the Government are somehow making decisions that are making people stateless. She rightly stated that that would be illegal under international law. That means that no such decision can be made, whether by this Home Secretary, my predecessors, or previous Labour Home Secretaries. Under international law, no decision can be made unless the Home Secretary is satisfied, based on expert advice, that that individual will not be left stateless.
The death of any British child, even one born to a foreign terrorist fighter, is of course a tragedy, but the only person responsible for the death of that child is the foreign terrorist fighter.
I think it is well established international law that one does not take away the citizenship from even one’s most unpleasant fellow citizens if it will leave them stateless. I thought it was policy not to take away citizenship unless someone had substantial citizenship of and some connection with another country. I had not previously heard it described as some sort of punishment for past misbehaviour.
May I ask the Home Secretary to address the security implications for our safety? There are thousands of European nationals who are jihadists. They are now scattering over the middle east, in camps and elsewhere, trying to get out. Does he not agree that if each European country desperately tries to turn away its own in the hope that they will go to some other country, we will actually expose ourselves to considerable danger? Is it not preferable that everybody who gives up and wants to return to their own country comes back to that country, where they can be put in the hands of the police, prosecuted if necessary, and kept under surveillance by the intelligence services for as long as is necessary?
The first point that my right hon. and learned Friend raised was on citizenship. Again, to make it clear, under international law it would clearly not be possible for the British state to remove British citizenship from anyone unless the Home Secretary who is making that decision is satisfied, based on expert advice, that that individual will not be left stateless, so he is right to make that point about international law.
On the security implications that my right hon. and learned Friend asked about, clearly there is a balance that needs to be met. The primary objective should be the safety and security of all those who live in the United Kingdom. That should be the overriding concern, based on expert advice and expert intelligence about what is necessary to protect British citizens. There is a case for more co-operation with our international partners because, as I mentioned earlier, they face many similar challenges. It is something that I discuss regularly, especially with our European partners—I discussed it just last week in Brussels with some of them—and that we are trying to get better co-ordination on so we can better manage some of the joint threats that we face.
Save the Children said that the death of this innocent, newborn baby was an “avoidable tragedy”, and I still have not heard any satisfactory explanation from the Home Secretary as to why the Foreign Secretary said that it would be too dangerous to have brought this baby to safety, when many journalists have visited the camp that the child was in on numerous occasions. I also gently say to the Home Secretary that I am sure that some of these women who were “married” to jihadi fighters did not have much choice in the decision about whether to have children or not. I do not think those fighters were too interested in a woman’s right to withhold consent to sex, never mind women’s reproductive rights.
Last time I raised this matter, the Home Secretary was very stung by my criticism and suggestion that revoking Ms Begum’s citizenship might have been contrary to law, but in the meantime, many other lawyers, in addition to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), have pointed out that the basis of his decision is questionable, because it seems quite clear that Ms Begum has no right to Bangladeshi citizenship. There are claims that the Home Secretary did not consult either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General before making his decision—something that could leave him vulnerable in the event of a legal challenge. Will he tell us whether these claims are accurate, and will he refrain from retreating behind the argument that the case is sub judice, as you have already explained to him, Mr Speaker, that that is not the case?
Other countries, including the Republic of Ireland, that are faced with this situation are not depriving their citizens of citizenship, but are taking responsibility for citizens radicalised on their watch, rather than dumping them on poorer countries whose security arrangements are already strained to the nth degree. Finally, in the camps and hospitals of northern Syria, there are many more innocent children who are not British citizens. The Kurdish authorities need more help to deal with these families and these innocents fleeing Daesh. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with his Foreign Office counterparts in respect of that humanitarian aspect of the situation?
The hon. and learned Lady suggests that because journalists are getting into Syria—into some of the camps—that it is perfectly safe, then, for British officials to enter. She will know, first, that that is a decision for journalists to make. She will also know that, thankfully in most cases—even in war zones—journalists have some degree of protection. If it was a British official, it would be a very different category of risk, and I know that she would recognise that.
The hon. and learned Lady also made a reference to women foreign terrorist fighters. All I would gently urge is that no one should make a judgment on the threat that a foreign terrorist fighter poses to our national security based on their gender. That would be entirely wrong.
The hon. and learned Lady has also questioned the legality of such decisions. As I have said—I am happy to repeat it—these decisions are never taken lightly and are based on both expert security advice, intelligence advice and legal advice. As to the last part of her question, the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), will be making a statement later in which he will cover that point.
Of course, the Home Secretary must decide on what is in the best interests of British public safety on the basis of information that we have not seen, and he is entirely right that it would be wrong in these circumstances to put British officials and personnel in harm’s way, as has been suggested by some on the Opposition Benches. Further to the point made by the Father of the House and former Home Secretary, however, is Britain, with its rule of law and governance structures, not wrong to leave people in ungoverned space who would then be prey to terrorists and their recruiters? Has he noted that Ms Begum was 15 when she was radicalised in London— indeed, groomed by bad people—and that her family, who want her back, and her local community have repudiated her acts and disagree with what she has said and done?
I always listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend says, and he was right in his opening comment. Much has been said about this case—many accusations and insinuations and much so-called detail—that people could not possibly know because, for security reasons, No. 1, but also for other reasons, it is not possible for the Government to share the details of any such case. It would not be appropriate. It has never been so in the past and would not be appropriate now, and as I have said, the decisions would always be taken on expert legal advice.
On the second part of my right hon. Friend’s question about the security risks posed, whether it is our security or that of others, we need to look carefully at the security threats, but first and foremost I must be concerned about the safety and security of all those who live in the United Kingdom, and, where threats remain after we take action, we will work with our international partners to minimise them.
I asked the Home Secretary about the vulnerability of this little baby, who has now tragically died, at the Select Committee session. Can he confirm that Shamima Begum’s son was a British citizen? I see no reason not to confirm that, rather than make generic statements. He also told me that he had considered the interests of the child. That is a bit hard to understand, given what has happened to this little baby. Was he advised by his officials that there would be a greater risk to this child’s life if he made this citizenship decision about the mother?
I can confirm that if a child is born to a British citizen anywhere in the world, as long as that British citizen is not a naturalised British citizen, that child is British, even if the parent’s British citizenship is subsequently removed. I have mentioned before in the House, and I am happy to repeat it, that these decisions are never taken lightly—I believe that to be true of all my predecessors—but they are based on expert advice by officials. Where a child is involved, the interests of that child are taken into account.
Can I follow the logic a little further about what is necessary to keep British society safe? I am sure that people on both sides of the House believe that the best way to deal with something such as this would be for each country to take people back, put them through the court process, prosecute them and, if necessary, imprison them. The problem is: what do we do when we do not have an offence for which a person can be prosecuted? We now have a new offence of entering a designated area. What is the maximum prison sentence that someone would serve if convicted of that offence? If it is a very short period, will the Home Secretary consider upgrading the law on treason—as was done temporarily during the second world war—to ensure that anyone who comes back will serve a very long sentence? It takes between 20 and 25 security service operatives to cover a single suspect 24/7, and that is simply impossible when there are hundreds of such suspects.
My right hon. Friend has made a number of good points. He is, of course, absolutely right: someone who returns can be prosecuted for an offence only if the relevant laws exist. He alluded to new counter-terrorism legislation that is included in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, and to the “designated areas” offence. I believe that the maximum sentence that can be received for that offence is up to 10 years. It was precisely to try to secure more tools with which to prosecute returning fighters that I made that amendment to that Bill. We are constantly considering what further improvements can be made, and what further tools can be introduced to prosecute returning foreign fighters. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is time to look at the laws on treason, and to modernise them.
Did the Home Secretary seek advice on whether a charity already active in the Syrian camps, such as Save the Children, could have helped the British Government to remove this British baby to safety?
As I have said, these decisions are never taken lightly. A number of factors would be considered, on a case-by-case basis, and we would look at what is in the best interests of defending our national security and act on the basis of the advice that we received.
The Home Secretary faces a daily set of choices and decisions to keep the citizens of this country safe which no other member of the Government faces, and he has the support of Conservative Members in doing his very difficult job. Does he agree, however, that there is still a huge amount of work to be done for us to understand why so many British children and young people from British homes chose to go and be part of Daesh, and that we need to build trust in those communities and invest in them so that more young people feel that they have a greater stake in a liberal and free society such as ours?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Much work has been done when the UK has suffered some terrible terrorist attacks, and the Government have been required to consider sensibly what more can be done to help us to understand what motivates individuals either to commit acts of terrorism here or to go and join foreign groups abroad.
My right hon. Friend rightly talked about communities and community relations. It should be borne in mind that many members of the British Muslim community do not want foreign terrorist fighters to return to this country, because they fear both the precedent that that will set for future potential foreign fighters and the radicalism of vulnerable young British Muslims by those returning foreign fighters.
Shamima Begum was my constituent. She fled to Syria in 2015, along with two other girls, after being groomed and radicalised—mainly online—and influenced by a former classmate who had left earlier. As the Home Secretary will know, the police were working in enormously difficult circumstances, but one of the errors made was their sending letters about interviewing the girls to the girls themselves instead of their parents. The police subsequently apologised for the error. The girls were minors then, and they had not committed crimes at the time when Shamima Begum fled.
I recognise, especially given what she has said in the media, the abhorrent views that Shamima Begum now holds and the fact that she has been radicalised, but, that said, no child should face punishment for the sins of its parent, and in this case that child is the child that died. I disagree with the Home Secretary’s decision to rescind her citizenship, because doing so makes her stateless, given that the Bangladeshi authorities do not recognise that she has citizenship of their country.
That said, national security and the protection of our communities are paramount. I want to flag up some of the issues that my constituents have raised, because we need to think deeply about how we deal with them. My constituents are concerned about the fact that the case has gained the oxygen of publicity, and about the abhorrent views that have been allowed to be peddled in our media day in, day out. My constituents are worried about the repercussions and the possibility of a backlash from far-right groups. I have already had cases of innocent people, who happen to be Muslim, being attacked. Those are the issues that we have to reckon with and deal with.
My constituents are concerned to ensure that if people are returned—as they should be, given the debates about nationality—they should be prosecuted and face the full force of the law. If those people are returned into their communities, we face the massive challenge of dealing with backlashes in those returnees’ localities. Our constituents become vulnerable to attacks from the far right and other religious extremists, and they may face unhelpful media attention while they are trying to get on with their lives.
I ask the Home Secretary this, once again: will he please work with the Foreign Secretary and our allies in other countries to come up with a long-term solution? We must address the problem of people who go to conflict regions, to ensure that they do not find clandestine ways to return to our country, create more insecurity and pose a greater danger to people’s lives.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said. As she said, sadly, a number of her constituents are known to have gone to Syria to join Daesh and other terrorist groups. I understand the concerns that have been raised in the community, and she touched on some of them. She might be interested to know that I recently visited a Prevent panel in Tower Hamlets to see some of its excellent work with many members of the community. It safeguards vulnerable young people not only against groups such as Daesh but against far-right extremism, which she mentioned.
The hon. Lady has said a lot, and I have listened carefully. If it would help, I would be very happy to meet her later and discuss some of those issues in more detail.
The problem is that not enough British nationals who return from Syria are being prosecuted. We know that 900 British nationals have gone to aid Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Some 180 have been killed in theatre, 360 have returned and another 360 are likely to return in the near future. Of the 360 who have returned, just 40—10%—have been successfully prosecuted. I say to the Home Secretary that that is simply not enough.
I absolutely understand my hon. Friend’s point. He has pointed out, quite correctly, the challenges of prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters who return to the UK. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), one challenge is having the right laws in place—we are making some changes to that—and another is collecting battlefield evidence. These individuals are returning from a war zone. Collecting evidence in the battlefield is incredibly difficult, but we have done, and continue to do, a lot of work through the MOD and with our defence allies and Five Eyes partners to try collect more such evidence, so that we can use it in the courts for more successful prosecutions.
We now know that some 100 Daesh terrorist fighters have returned to the United Kingdom, and it seems that only 40 of them have been prosecuted. Meanwhile, a number of women who have given succour and support to Daesh—ISIS—have been stripped of their British citizenship. Several of them are mothers and their children are British citizens, to whom the Government, like it or not, have a duty because they are under the age of 16. The Home Secretary tells us that those young women are such a threat to our country’s security that they have had to have their British citizenship taken away from them. On what possible basis does the Home Secretary take the view that they are fit and proper people to care for children who are British citizens in refugee camps?
My right hon. Friend raises a number of points. First, there is no British consular presence in Syria, so it is incredibly difficult for the British Government to intervene directly or to provide help for any British citizen there, whether a child or an adult. That is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been making it very clear since 2011 that no British citizen should enter that war zone. She also seems to question the dangers that might be posed by female terrorists. One public case that I can refer to went through our courts in June 2018. Safaa Boular, aged 18, was convicted of planning to travel to Syria and to engage in terrorist acts. Soon after, her mother, her sister and her female friend also pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. They were going to set up a female terror cell, and had they succeeded, there would have been deaths in this country. No one should make a judgment on the threat of a terrorist based on their gender.
So how lethal are female terrorists?
My right hon. Friend asks a good question. It has been well documented that female terrorist fighters who have gone to join Daesh have engaged in murder, recruitment and radicalisation, including of British citizens through online means. They have assisted in rape and helped to keep sex slaves, and they have also prepared suicide vests and carried out suicide attacks themselves.
The Home Secretary is at pains to tell us that there is no consular presence in Syria. However, the aid agencies have a presence there. The International Rescue Committee tells us that the al-Hol camp in Syria is at “breaking point” because 12,000 women and children have arrived there since last Wednesday. Since then, 100 children have died, two thirds of whom were under the age of five. The Home Secretary has been quick to talk about his power to strip someone of their citizenship without due process, but can he tell us how quickly he has acted with the aid agencies to identify whether there are other British children in that camp who need our help? Surely standing up and speaking out for them represents the best of the British values that we want to uphold.
We should be very proud of what we are doing as a Government to help those who have been hurt or displaced in that conflict. The UK Government have committed more than £2.8 billion since the start of the conflict, which is more than almost any other country. As we will hear shortly in the Foreign Office Minister’s statement, we have committed a further £400 million this year. We are also leading a donor conference, and we resettled more vulnerable refugees through national resettlement programmes than any other country in the EU last year.
The Secretary of State has mentioned figures relating to the last couple of months. He said that about 900 British citizens had been in the caliphate, of whom 400 had returned, 10% had been prosecuted and between 100 and 150 had died. That leaves about 300 people still out there. Can he give us any further information now? Are those people meeting and gathering in any particular part of Syria? Are they intending to try to return to the UK? Will he listen to the voices of Conservative Members who think that the current treason laws are insufficient and need to be reviewed?
My hon. Friend is right to suggest that these are approximate figures. It is impossible to get the actual number of people who have gone to Syria and remain there, but he is right to suggest that there are possibly about 300 with British connections. We have received some information through the security services and through some of our allies, but it would be inappropriate to share that publicly. I can say, however, that many of those individuals remain active and very dangerous, and we are continuing to work with our allies to see what we can do to maintain our national security.
I have had a lot of contact with my constituents regarding this case and others, and they have shown absolute compassion and believe that it is a tragedy. However, they are also extremely mindful of the risk posed by individuals who have been radicalised coming back to the United Kingdom, and they want me to ask the Home Secretary to confirm that such decisions are based on evidence and clear risk assessments, not ad-hoc judgments, as has been described.
I am happy to give the hon. Lady that confirmation. Due process needs to be followed in all such decisions. As I have already said to the House, the powers are used rarely. They have been in existence for over 100 years after being set out by Parliament and put in place by this House. The last time that the House updated them was relatively recently in 2014, and they have been used by successive Home Secretaries of different political colours. On each occasion, such decisions are based on detailed expert advice, including national security assessments, intelligence and advice from lawyers.
The Home Secretary discharges his duties with diligence and care in the interests of British nationals, but in removing the citizenship of a suspected terrorist in the middle east and thereby passing the responsibility on to a less-developed nation, possibly with fewer resources, are we not potentially putting British nationals overseas at risk? As we leave the European Union, should we not be setting an example in how we take responsibility for people we consider to be a threat not just to British citizens, but to the world in general?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point and draws out the fact that each decision must be made on a case-by-case basis. There is sometimes a fine balance to be struck about the best way to protect the national security and citizens of this country, and such decisions are never easy. There should be no suggestion that citizenship deprivation is always used whenever it is considered, and it is sometimes not used because we try to balance out the best way, based on expert advice, to protect British lives.
Section 66 of the Immigration Act 2014 requires the Home Secretary to commission a review of the use of deprivation powers. That was done for the first year, but it has not been carried for the period between July 2015 to July 2018, and the Library confirmed to me that there is no requirement for that to be done by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. I am pleased that the Home Secretary mentioned the review today, but how has it taken me asking a written question and receiving an answer from the Immigration Minister that a review will not be commissioned until we have a new independent reviewer of terrorism legislation for the Home Secretary to confirm that one will happen? What is the timetable for the review? This House needs to see how the deprivation powers have been used, and the letter of the law in the 2014 Act needs to be carried through.
First, we are in the final stages of appointing the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, so I will come back to the hon. Lady to on the specific point about the 2014 Act. Secondly, in my opening remarks, I referred to the fact that we make regular transparency reports on the use of such powers to protect the country. The last such report was published in May 2018, and it is appropriate for us to publish another report soon, which is why I have asked my officials to expedite the preparations so that I can place a report in this House as soon as possible.
When the Home Secretary refers to working with allies in respect of managing the threat from British citizens now in captivity having been working or living in the ISIS area, will he confirm whether the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria is one of those allies? What help are we giving or intending to give to the DFNS to best oversee the British citizens now in its charge?
My understanding is that we do not officially recognise the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria but that British officials may deal with individuals who are themselves affiliated with the federation. When I refer to allies at the Dispatch Box, I specifically have in mind our European allies and our Five Eyes allies.
As a father and grandfather, my heart aches for any mother who loses a child, but that does not change my support for the Home Office’s decision, just as it does not change the heartache and loss for every victim of ISIS terrorism, including children across the world and especially here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the safety of our citizens must always be the priority of the Home Secretary?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the loss of any child, whether the child of a terrorist or any other child. All children, especially babies, are innocent in every way, and such a loss is a tragedy for us all. Everyone would have sympathy with that.
As the hon. Gentleman says, our duty is to prevent further loss of innocent life, including of children in Britain. The Home Office’s paramount responsibility is to keep this country safe.
Sadly, there is plenty I could disagree with on the justification for this decision, which I do not think was the right one. As we all realise, this baby was British. The papers were not served on the mother until after the baby was born. Did the Home Secretary seek any guidance on infant mortality rates in that refugee camp or, indeed, in any other refugee camp in northern Syria? Did he speak to any international aid organisations via the Department for International Development? Did he seek for any notes to be produced by his private office to that effect? Finally, on the difficulty of removing this woman from this refugee camp, did he inquire at all, via various sources, with Kurdish authorities about whether it was possible to deliver this mother and her child to a border at which civil servants could collect the child in safe circumstances?
It is worth reminding the House that there is no British Government consular presence in Syria, which is why we have made it very clear since 2011 that no one should enter Syria. Syria is incredibly dangerous, and what the British Government can do to help or protect any British citizen is very limited.
My hon. Friend refers to a particular case, but where a child is in a camp or anywhere else in Syria who happens to be a British citizen, it is not possible for our officials, without risk to their own lives and their own safety, to enter Syria. To do so would be to provide that consular presence, which cannot happen. That is why we have been very clear in our approach.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, whenever a decision is taken to carry out a citizenship deprivation and a child may be affected by that decision, it is taken into account.
The Home Secretary knows I have immense respect for him, but I disagree with his judgment on this case. He has just said that he is working closely with international partners and our EU partners to ensure that we keep our citizens safe here, across Europe and around the world. What is the difference between that and the policy applied by France, which is taking back all its Daesh fighters? France had the largest number of Daesh fighters who went to Syria, and they are now coming back. What is the difference between France’s policy and the United Kingdom’s policy?
As I have previously raised with the Home Secretary, 900 British nationals went and 400 have come back, and 40 of those have been prosecuted, with some receiving heavy sentences. The United Kingdom stands for the rule of law and justice. What is the difference between those cases and this case in depriving a person of their citizenship? We need to apply our laws fairly, justly and consistently.
First, let me say that I have respect for my hon. Friend, too. I say gently to him that, although he is absolutely entitled to his view, he could not possibly know the facts of each of these cases, including the one he is referring to. He has asked me what the difference is between a case and potentially another case, and this is why we take a case-by-case approach; each case has to be balanced and a judgment has to be made about what is in the best interests of the UK and protecting its citizens. That has to be balanced against all other concerns, and that is what is done. He has also referred to France, suggesting that it somehow has a policy of taking back all children. I do not believe that is France’s policy.
I have three children, and I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose one baby, let alone three. But the tragedy surely is that there are millions of people, including millions of children, in Syria today who are surviving only because of humanitarian aid. We know that people went off to fight with ISIS from not only the UK, but France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and many other western countries. So what more do we need to do to prevent our young people from being radicalised? Clearly, there is a concern about more fighters coming back and more radicalisation taking place. Is the Prevent strategy working well enough? What lessons can we learn from other countries?
First, my hon. Friend reminds the House that, sadly, many children have died in Syria because of the conflict, with many having died because of the acts of Daesh and its terrorist supporters. She has asked what we are doing on de-radicalisation. A number of programmes have been in place for many years. One of the key programmes is the Prevent programme. Last year, there were, I believe, approximately 7,000 references to the programme, and some 400 people were put into the Channel programme—they are the ones we would have the most concerns about—and the vast majority are coming out successfully, with no further concerns. We are also finding that there is an increase in the number who have been subject to far right extremism, so this is about all types of extremism. The heart of these programmes is about protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people, often young people.
Ultimately, is it not the case that any Home Secretary has to make very difficult decisions, such as this, based on information that they are simply not able to share in the public domain?
That is right, and it is as true for me as it has been for my predecessors. As I have said before, it has been the case for predecessors of all political colours. This whole power of citizenship deprivation has been set by this Parliament—by parliamentarians—and it has been given to Home Secretaries to use in cases where there is good reason to do so. Ultimately, the purpose of the power is to protect our country.