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Citizenship Status

Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat the response by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, to keep this country safe we must be prepared to make tough decisions. As I told the House on Monday, there must be consequences for those who back terror. More than 900 people travelled from the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria and Iraq. At least 20% have been killed in the region and around 40% have returned.

They have all been investigated and I can reassure this House that the majority have been assessed to pose no, or a low-security risk. Those who stayed include some of the most dangerous—including many who supported terrorism, not least those who chose to fight, or raise families, in the so-called caliphate. They turned their back on this country to support a group that butchered and beheaded innocent civilians, including British citizens; that tied the arms of homosexuals and threw them off the top of buildings; and that raped countless young girls, boys and women.

I have been resolute that where they pose any threat to this country, I will do everything in my power to prevent their return. This includes stripping dangerous individuals of their British citizenship. This power is used only in extreme circumstances, where conducive to the public good. Since 2010, it has been used around 150 times against people linked to terrorism or serious crimes.

We, of course, follow international law. An individual can be deprived of British citizenship only where it will not leave that individual stateless—where they are a dual national or, in some limited circumstances, have the right to citizenship elsewhere. It would not be right to comment on an individual case. But I can say that each one is carefully considered on its own merit, regardless of gender, age or family status.

Children should not suffer, so if a parent loses their British citizenship it does not affect the rights of their child. Deprivation is a powerful tool that can be used only to keep the most dangerous individuals out of this country. We do not use it lightly. But when someone turns their back on our fundamental values and supports terror, they do not have an automatic right to return to the UK. We must put the safety and security of our country first and I will not hesitate to act to protect it”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question asked in the other place today. I agree that there must be consequences for those who back and commit acts of terrorism. Where individuals are British citizens suspected of committing offences, particularly if they were born in the United Kingdom, it seems to me that we have a responsibility: to question them; to investigate their actions; where the evidential tests are met, to put them on trial; and, where a jury convicts, to punish them in accordance with the law.

I am sure that the Minister will tell me that the actions of the Government to deprive someone of their nationality have been done in a way that does not breach Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How will this assist in bringing someone who has committed serious crimes to justice?

I can confirm to the noble Lord that these decisions are compatible. All those deprived of citizenship have been deprived on the basis that such an action was compatible with Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR. On the point about bringing someone back and bringing them to justice, if someone is in Syria, we do not have consular support there, and one would question how we could do that. There is no infrastructure in place that makes it possible to go into Syria. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, he does not want to put Foreign Office or Home Office officials’ lives, or anyone’s lives, in danger by asking them to go out to Syria.

Does the Minister agree that it would be conducive to the public good—the criterion applied here—to bring back someone who could tell the authorities here how she was recruited? We could learn from her. The recently retired Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation today made the point that some people who have come back from terrorist activities have proved the best interlocutors in persuading young people away from radicalisation.

May I ask about the child? The Minister said—as was said on Monday—that an individual case cannot be discussed. However, that seems to be exactly what the Home Secretary has been doing. The Minister also said that the rights of the child will not be affected. What does that mean in practical terms?

My Lords, on whether it would be conducive to the public good if someone could be brought back and rehabilitated in this country, or could tell the British authorities what was going on and perhaps act as a conduit for good, without talking about a specific case, there are of course examples of people who have come back here and been rehabilitated through Channel programmes. That is absolutely correct.

Turning to the rights of the child, if any child is a British citizen, that child’s parents having been deprived of their citizenship does not affect the child’s citizenship.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the clarification of the legal status of any children of those deprived of their British citizenship. Will she clarify what exactly the duties of the Home Secretary are? If he is reviewing information that may be confidential but not classified, which reveals safeguarding issues in relation to the children of people who have been deprived of their citizenship, what are his responsibilities to refer information to other authorities so that the children can be protected in situations where their interests and safety are not the same as those of the parent who is having their citizenship withdrawn? It is important to know what the processes are for those children and what the safeguarding duty of the Home Secretary is.

My noble friend asks a very good question. Safeguarding is paramount when considering the rights of a child. It is a very difficult situation if a child is in a country where we do not have any consular access and therefore no means of helping them. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we absolutely have a serious obligation—and we take it very seriously. If a child is in a war-torn country, however, those obligations are very difficult to fulfil.

My Lords, I detest al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra and their backers as much as anyone in this Chamber or outside. Nevertheless, we must realise that the deprivation of citizenship is an executive act —a very severe penalty that can be imposed by a Minister without a careful court hearing and judicial decision. The Secretary of State may be tempted to appear tough and uninfluenced by his personal background, but will Her Majesty’s Government assure us that, in future, misguided volunteers and spouses will not be stripped of citizenship until they have returned home and received legal advice and representation to allow their case to be argued fully?

I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance; it is difficult to do so if someone insists on remaining in a country where we have no consular access. It is also very difficult to give a general assurance without knowing the details of an individual case. In making these extremely difficult decisions, the Home Secretary takes all the facts into account. I think I read yesterday that he had acted with the most robust legal advice in place.

My Lords, it is extraordinary that the Minister refuses to discuss the details of the case in question. In my opinion, the decision of the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to deprive Shamima Begum of her British citizenship is profoundly flawed. It is wrong from an ethical perspective, it flouts international law and it is the wrong decision from the point of view of expediency. International law decrees that a country cannot render its citizens stateless. The assertion that it is permissible to strip Miss Begum of her British nationality because she can inherit Bangladeshi nationality from her mother seems risible. What legal advice have the Government received on this issue? On expediency, it has been proposed that Shamima Begum’s presence in the UK would pose a danger to other citizens. That seems far-fetched; there are greater hazards in leaving her, and others, in Syrian refugee camps.

The noble Viscount’s assertion is absolutely correct. Under international law, someone cannot be rendered stateless unless they are a dual citizen with citizenship of another country. However, I disagree with his view that the Home Secretary’s decision was wrong in all sorts of ways. Clearly, anyone who goes out to Syria and voices their support for ISIS is a danger to the UK if they return home.

My Lords, what does the Minister make of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, on today’s “Today” programme? He said that rather than depriving subjects of their British nationality, we should take responsibility for our citizens; otherwise, other countries will start doing the same to us, depriving British dual nationals of their other citizenship and dumping their problems on us.

I agree with much of what the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation said. However, on taking responsibility for our citizens, if our citizens decide to take responsibility for themselves and go to one of the most dangerous parts of the world and engage with proscribed organisations, that is their decision. Therefore, given that we have no consular access in Syria, it is very difficult in any circumstances for the UK Government to take responsibility for one of our citizens who decides to travel beyond our reach.