Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Malins: I support a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. My amendment, No. 11, is designed as a safeguard against a potentially very dangerous aspect of the Bill. I do not feel easy in my mind about the deprivation of citizenship, which is basic to one's life. A person born in the UK, even someone who was not a citizen at birth but who has subsequently been naturalised or registered as a British citizen, should not have their citizenship taken away from them. If I were such a person and I committed a bad crime, I would expect to be prosecuted for it in the Crown Court or at the Old Bailey and serve my sentence if found guilty, but still come out with my citizenship.

The measure worries me. The ability to take someone's citizenship away in those circumstances is a draconian power to give to a Home Secretary. I would have thought that many on the Government Benches would agree with me and have some real concerns about it. Is it not troubling that the clause states that the Home Secretary can deprive a person of their citizenship if he thinks that they have done anything seriously prejudicial? The issue is whether he thinks—reasonably or unreasonably—or has reasonable cause to think. We should examine that carefully.

I am conscious that I am not putting this in quite the erudite way in which the members of ILPA did, but I have an uneasy feeling about the power to take away citizenship in such circumstances. I never thought that I would see it happen in this country—a Bill allowing the Secretary of State to so act if he thinks that a person has done something seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK. Can anybody think of something that a person might do that would be seriously prejudicial to our interests but is not a crime? If they can, I will listen to their argument. However, if the act constitutes a crime, why should the person not be charged with that crime and punished for it? Goodness knows people do some heinous things in life. They are charged and punished, but their citizenship remains intact.

I am worried that the measure gives too much power to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary would do well to ensure that no order is made under the power if the relevant person was born in the United Kingdom. Such a person could justifiably feel very aggrieved at such a draconian power. There is time for the Minister to take this away, have a think about it and come up with some more suitable wording. There is time to rethink generally this aspect of the Bill, which my heart tells me is not fair. The Government should take that on board.

The Chairman: With the Committee's leave, I propose to group the next set of amendments with this one. The debate has been wide-ranging and has strayed into the next group, and with the group currently under discussion it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

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No. 7, in page 2, line 40, leave out 'thinks' and insert—

    'has reasonable grounds for believing'.

No. 9, in page 2, line 40, leave out 'thinks' and insert 'is satisfied'.

No. 33, in page 2, line 40, leave out 'thinks' and insert—

    'has reasonable grounds to believe'.

No. 8, in page 3, line 4, leave out 'thinks' and insert—

    'has reasonable grounds for believing'.

No. 10, in page 3, line 4, leave out 'thinks' and insert 'is satisfied'.

No. 34, in page 3, line 4, leave out 'thinks' and insert—

    'has reasonable grounds to believe'.

No. 36, in page 3, line 22, leave out 'thinks' and insert—

    'has reasonable grounds to believe'.

Angela Eagle: I hope that I shall be able to calm people down, and satisfy them over some of the worries that they have. Some of the worries that were expressed, quite legitimately, are misguided. I hope that I will be able to persuade hon. Members of that as we go through the issues.

The existing plans to withdraw citizenship by deprivation order are contained in section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981. Under that Act, liability for deprivation is confined to those who acquired British citizenship, British overseas territories citizenship or the status of British national overseas through registration or naturalisation. The potential grounds for deprivation that exist currently are that the person obtained the nationality by fraud—I hope that there would be no worries about our depriving someone of citizenship if it had been obtained by fraud—has shown himself to be disloyal or disaffected towards Her Majesty, has unlawfully traded or communicated with an enemy in time of war and, provided that deprivation of nationality would not make him stateless, has been sentenced within five years of becoming British to at least 12 months' imprisonment.

Those, particularly the last, are quite draconian provisions in terms of deprivation for those who are naturalised. In each case, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that it is not conducive to the public good for the person to retain British nationality. A person against whom it is proposed to make a deprivation order has the right to have his case referred to a committee of inquiry. That is the current law. The powers in that law have never been used. That is the first thing that I hope will calm everyone down a little: such things do not happen often. The last deprivation order to be made was made in 1973 under the British Nationality Act 1948, and related to one person.

Clause 4 replaces the existing section 40 and introduces a new section 40A to the 1981 Act. The new section has two main effects, the first of which is that the liability to deprivation is extended to all British nationals, including British protected persons,

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irrespective of the means by which their nationality was acquired. In other words, people who were born British, as well as those who have acquired their nationality subsequently can in theory—provided that they are not going to be made stateless—be deprived of their nationality if they behave in ways that I shall describe in a minute.

We think that deprivation is a way of demonstrating extreme displeasure at the way that someone has behaved, and it has certain implications for certain people in certain categories. It has more implications for those who have another nationality, or dual nationality, but less for those who will be made stateless if they are deprived. The provision does not allow a deprivation if that person would be made stateless.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): In an effort to be helpful on that point, when a person has done something seriously prejudicial to the vital interest of the United Kingdom, might the power be extended to the Secretary of State under circumstances relating to intelligence information that could not be made public?

Angela Eagle: If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will come to that in due course, because it is part of a process. It is certainly the case in some circumstances.

I want to say a little about how new section 40A changes the circumstances that I just described, remembering that none of the powers under the 1981 Act were ever used. The new section has two main effects. It applies to all British nationals regardless of how they acquired their nationality, whether they were born here or naturalised. However, people must bear in mind that if an individual were rendered stateless by a deprivation, we cannot deprive. That would apply to the vast majority of people born in this country.

Mr. Allan: Will the Minister clarify that under subsection (3), when there has been fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact, the statelessness provision does not apply, and the person could be made stateless? I know that the situation is difficult if the person has obtained their citizenship by fraud.

Angela Eagle: Yes. I think that such action is reasonable if a person has acquired their citizenship by fraudulent means. I do not want to deal with that circumstance yet, but acquiring a nationality by making fraudulent and false declarations is an appalling thing to do, and I do not see why any country should maintain that nationality decision. No international conventions to which we are signatories include the right to keep one's citizenship if it has been fraudulently acquired. I do not apologise for that. I do not think that there is an issue between us on fraud.

Mr. Gerrard: I understand the argument that my hon. Friend is making: if someone has obtained citizenship by fraud, why should we feel any responsibility whatever towards them? However, that still leaves the question of the level of proof of fraud and the proof being someone's thinking. Will she address that point?

Angela Eagle: I shall come on to address that point.

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Simon Hughes: My understanding is that the definition could allow the reason to be fraud or concealment by someone else. The applicant does not have to be guilty: the Bill could allow deprivation of citizenship if a third party carried out the fraud. I have certainly had constituency cases in which people's immigration status, innocently as far as they were concerned, was fraudulently altered by someone's arranging it for them. If a third party is the fraudster, it is wrong for an innocent person to suffer as a result.

Angela Eagle: We must consider each individual case as it comes along, but as a general principle—I am sure that no one will disagree—the country that granted a nationality should have the right to take it away if it was fraudulently acquired. As I said, none of the international conventions on nationality or statelessness has ever sought to include protection for those who acquire a different status by fraudulent activity. I hope that we will not seek to do that in this Committee. The Government certainly do not intend to protect fraudsters.

Mr. Malins: What about the concealment of a material fact if that is not by the applicant? What is a material fact? Is it a fact that the Secretary of State thinks is material? Should he have reasonable grounds for thinking that it is material?

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