Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: Let me get on to other aspects of the clause, and perhaps when I have dealt with them, hon. Members will be able to calm down a little.

We have dealt with the ability to deprive in relation to the Government believing that there should be no distinction between those who are born with British nationality and those who have acquired their nationality by naturalisation. The current grounds for deprivation will be replaced by two new grounds, which are in new section 40. These reflect the provision made in this respect by the 1997 European convention on nationality, which the UK was instrumental in negotiating and we wish to ratify and sign. If the Bill is enacted, we will be able to sign it, so we are working to modernise and restructure our system to bring it in line with that convention. That is a wholly non-sinister approach.

The new grounds in new section 40 are that a person obtained their nationality by fraud or that they engaged in activity that was

    ''seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of . . . the United Kingdom, or . . . a British overseas territory.''

That wording is from the European convention on nationality.

Under new section 40A, a right of appeal against deprivation, which replaces the existing inquiry procedure, will lie with an adjudicator in the first instance. If sensitive information might otherwise be disclosed—we reach the apposite point made by the hon. Member for Upminster, but this is the appropriate place in the argument—it would lie with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The new section slims down the number of reasons from four to two and modernises them. The vital interest point is in the international convention.

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We are introducing a right of appeal for the first time. An adjudicator would hear the appeal in certain circumstances, but if there were issues of national security or things that could not be raised in public, it would go to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

The new right of appeal includes a challenge to the reasonableness of the Secretary of State's decision-making process, in addition to compliance with the law. The idea behind the European convention on nationality is that if nationality is conferred or removed, that is done according to law and with the right of appeal. A further factor that motivated those who drafted the convention on nationality, who included people from the Home Office, was limiting statelessness. Those two principles lie behind the clause. I hope that I can reassure members of the Committee that we are not trying to deprive people of their birthright.

9.30 pm

Simon Hughes: Will new section 40(2) allow some people to be stateless on the seriously prejudicial to the vital interest test? I understand that the Home Office is trying to reduce statelessness but the measure could leave people stateless, although there had been no fraud.

Angela Eagle: We will not be able to deprive UK-born citizens of their nationality if that would leave them stateless, and as I understand it, we will not be able to deprive anyone else of their nationality if that would leave them stateless. We have dealt with the separate point on fraud. No international conventions offer protection to those who acquired their nationality status by fraud. I hope that we would not want to go down that road.

I shall return to the reasonableness test because it deals with points that were made about the phrase

    ''the Secretary of State thinks''.

We cannot see a distinction in law between ''thinks'' and ''is satisfied that''. The new right of appeal will include a reasonableness test. In 1997, the then Home Secretary announced that the Secretary of State would give reasons for making a decision on nationality cases, although the law did not require that. Those reasons are being given. The measures in the Bill ensure that the law catches up with the practice that has occurred since 1997. An individual will be entitled to an independent appeal and a reasonableness test. There is no difference in law between ''thinks'' and ''is satisfied that''.

We will be able to deprive in the circumstances that I discussed, although such circumstances are fairly unusual and we do not anticipate that they will arise in vast numbers of cases. The measures in the British Nationality Act 1981 that the Bill will replace were never used. There has been only one case of deprivation since 1948. I shall not say that there will not be cases of deprivation in future, but the Bill modernises the new procedure in terms of national security threats and non-state threats, such as those from organisations that are organised globally but are not states. The idea is that we can come out of the Committee and sign up to the European convention

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on nationality, including its element of appeals and so forth.

We have roamed over some of the amendments that have not yet been moved but, given everything that I have said, I hope that Committee members will feel more reassured than they were at the beginning of the debate about the intention behind the rewriting of section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, and its replacement by new section 40A. That will bring us into alignment with new and more modern international thinking with regard to nationality law: it will create a right of appeal for those who are facing deprivation that will include a reasonableness test on the Secretary of State's decision and the understanding that no one will be deprived for reasons of vital interests and so forth, if they would be rendered stateless as a result.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I am still a little concerned about the explanation that the Minister has given of the operation of clause 4 with regard to people who have acquired citizenship by birth in the UK or by descent. That point was raised by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. I raise it because the number of people who might fall into the category that could be affected by this power are much more substantial than has, perhaps, been suggested.

Many people in the UK have dual citizenship. Sometimes they have dual nationality. Sometimes they have nationality of another state against their will: millions of people in the UK still have Irish nationality under that country's laws, and that is also true of some citizens of other European countries. I confess that I have a nationality of another state.

I welcome the Minister's assurances that this measure will not be used lightly—and I am sure that there is no intention that it should be used lightly. Nevertheless, it is important to consider not just the way that a liberal Home Secretary would apply the rules, but how—perhaps, in a future Government formed by another party—rules might be applied differently. The full implications of clause 4 might not yet have been thoroughly explored, and perhaps in due course the Minister could consider some way of ensuring that certain categories of people—and in particular those people who have, as it were, acquired UK citizenship automatically—would not be at risk of deprivation in the way that has been suggested. It appears that this measure could apply to people who have been born in the UK, and whose families have had a connection with the UK for several generations.

I do not think that that is what is intended, but as the legislation is currently drafted, that is a possibility, and perhaps the Minister could think again at a later stage about the wording of the clause.

Mr. Malins: The Minister has rejected my amendment No. 11, which was part of the first group that was debated. However, you, Mr. Hurst, have said that amendment Nos. 7, 9 and so forth are included in this debate, and with your leave, I would very much like a separate division on amendment No. 7, which might have been possible if it had been debated as part of a separate group.

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I have to look at what the Bill says. The Minister might try to impress me by saying that the Home Secretary has to do this or that on appeal, that the court will take into account such matters, and so forth, but the reality is what the Bill says, which is that the Home Secretary may deprive a person if

    ''the Secretary of State thinks''.

That is what the Bill says. Amendment No. 7, which I am keen to press to a Division if the Government will not accept it, would replace the word ''thinks'' with

    ''has reasonable grounds for believing'' .

What is wrong with that? I am sure that we will get the necessary support from Government Back Benchers to carry that through.

The word ''thinks'' is too wide a discretion for the Secretary of State, who might act on uncorroborated information from a foreign Government's intelligence service without further inquiry about its veracity. The danger of not amending the clause is that the word ''thinks'' is likely to be interpreted purely subjectively in any judicial scrutiny of the Home Secretary's discretion. The review in court might have to be satisfied that the Home Secretary had reached the stage where he thought it appropriate to take the decision, and not assess whether his decision was based on reasonable grounds. The power is uncontrollable, which I am unhappy about. Any Government should accept the substitution of the words

    ''has reasonable grounds to believe''.

If the Home Secretary did not have reasonable grounds to believe, he would have no business depriving anyone of their citizenship. Amendment No. 7 is not a problem for the Government, and I urge them to accept it. If they do not, I shall ask my colleagues to join Government Back Benchers and me in a vote.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. I confirm that I shall call a separate Division on amendment No. 7.

Mr. Gerrard: I ask the hon. Member for Woking not to raise his hopes too high.

It always concerns me to be told that powers are wide-ranging and draconian, but that I should not worry, as they have hardly been used. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) made the point that one cannot always guarantee who will use the powers or that those who do will take the benign approach that has been used in the past. We should be careful to ensure that everything hangs together. I take the Under-Secretary's point that a reasonable test would be applied, but I have some doubts about whether the clause makes that clear. We know that we will be dealing later with amendments that make significant differences to the appeal system and perhaps to the status of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, to which the clause refers as the body to which one might appeal. We must ensure that whatever decision the Secretary of State takes will be subject to proper scrutiny in an appeal.

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