|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Simon Hughes: I, too, think that these are major issues, which the Under-Secretary has only partly
Column Number: 059addressed. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam and I will return to the matter on Report, but for the moment we will content ourselves with voting with the hon. Member for Woking on amendment No. 7. However, several matters still concern us.
The Under-Secretary said that the test was a reasonableness test. It is not. It is a lesser—''thinking being satisfied''—test, for which the Secretary of State will give reasons. That is different from a reasonableness test. In my experience of recent legislation, the House of Lords has required the Government to change such a position. If the Government do not change the Bill in the House of Commons, the Lords will require them to change it. I do not conceive for a minute that the Bill will be passed in the Lords without the ''reasonable grounds'' test.
I understand the Under-Secretary's point about there being few people whom the Government would consequently make stateless, and that that would be reserved for those who fraudulently obtained citizenship or nationality.
I make very strongly a point—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith made this point very well, not least from his personal experience—concerning the many people who have another nationality. Because they would not be made stateless, it might be tempting for the Government, who could ''get away with it'', to take the opportunity to say to those of dual nationality, ''We think that you have done things seriously prejudicial to the UK and therefore we are going to take away your UK citizenship.'' I have to say that in the current climate it looks pretty obvious that that could happen, and I am not the only one who has thought that. I accept that there is an appeal system, which we shall debate, but that is not as good as having adequate tests at the first stage.
Also unsatisfactory is the retrospective possibility of the legislation. I strongly believe that we should never legislate retrospectively. I have been aware of only one occasion while I have been in Parliament when an argument was put that we should override that principle. That was in relation to war crimes prosecutions, over which the reasons were obvious. I do not think that we should otherwise have retrospective legislation. The Government should think again on that.
Angela Eagle: Perhaps I can make another attempt to reassure hon. Members on a couple of points. I am sure that we shall come back to them on Report, and perhaps later, if they remain worried.
On the point about third party fraud, hon. Members must remember that deprivation is a discretionary act. It is hard to imagine a case in which we would wish to penalise by deprivation a person who obtained nationality as a result of a third party's fraud. However, we might well wish to do that if an individual were involved in fraud on their own account. The power is discretionary, and has not been exercised very often in the past.
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I am not arguing that because that power has not been used in the past it could not be used in the future, and I hope that hon. Members did not think that I was. It is in the Bill and clearly can be used. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned retrospectivity and said that retrospective legislation was good when it related to war criminals. In certain circumstances, war criminals might be a category of person whom we would wish to deprive of citizenship, if they had it, using the new powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith was worried about—I am sorry, can he remind me what he was worried about?
Mr. Lazarowicz: The fact that many people in this country have dual nationality and would therefore not be rendered stateless if UK citizenship were withdrawn.
Angela Eagle: I want to put on record that we do not want to go round rendering large numbers of people stateless. We are trying to modernise the way in which that can be done. I ask my hon. Friend to look at the serious nature of the things that new section 40A suggests would have to be proved against a person before they were deprived. They are not small acts or issues of no consequence, but involve serious issues prejudicial to the vital interests of this country. They are not things that one can do by accident one weekend.
I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that what we have in new section 40A is a power to deprive people of their nationality, in certain circumstances, if they have behaved in ways that amount to treason, problems for national security or interfering with the vital interest of this country. They are not trivial courses of conduct. We must get that on the record.
Mr. Allan: The Under-Secretary, trying to reassure us, has mentioned the draconian powers—I think that those were her words—that already exist in legislation. However, the distinction between the powers that are already there and those that she is proposing is that the existing powers are specific. She referred to a series of instances in which citizenship could be withdrawn. It is natural that there should be concern when we move to something general, such as the phrase ''vital interests'', against which we do not have a yardstick to judge.
Angela Eagle: That phrase is mentioned in the European convention on nationality, and it is in the Bill because it aligns us with that. Of course, behaviour has to be pretty appalling to come up for consideration under that.
On the reasonableness test, the clause introduces for the first time an appeal, which has never previously been the case. When the Secretary of State gives reasons for a deprivation, they will form the basis of the substance of the appeal. Again, it is only since 1997 that those reasons have had to be made public. The Secretary of State cannot make an order on a whim, and he will be subject to judicial oversight when he makes an order. He is not going to be making orders on whims, and whatever the view of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on the reasonableness issue, I assure him that there is a reasonableness test that will be significantly better than
Column Number: 061current circumstances and that an independent judicial authority will apply. We will return to that issue.
On amendment No. 7, I repeat the Government's view that there is no difference between the Secretary of State ''thinks'' and the Secretary of State
It is implicit in the way in which the appeal will work that the reasonableness test will take place.
Simon Hughes: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 7, in page 2, line 40, leave out 'thinks' and insert—
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.
Division No. 2]
Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 49, in page 2, line 41, leave out 'vital interests' and insert 'national security'.
I propose that instead of the vague phrase ''vital interests'', which has very little case law and does not come from British tradition, we use the phrase ''national security'' as the test in new section 40(2). It is well tried and tested, far clearer, more specific and much less general, and is therefore much less worrying. I hope that the Minister will accept it.
Angela Eagle: I am afraid that I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman again. The phrase ''vital interests'' comes from article 8 of the UN convention on the reduction of statelessness 1961 and article 7 of the European convention on nationality 1997. As I
Column Number: 062mentioned earlier, if we get the Bill through the Houses of Parliament in its current form we hope to be able to sign and go forward with the European convention on nationality.
National security does not necessarily cover some of the potentially prejudicial activities that are worthy of deprivation, such as those to do with infrastructure, vital economic interests or the general safety of the population. That is a wider definition but one that has an international meaning. It will have an increasingly international meaning as the conventions that I have mentioned, particularly the one on nationality, are recognised, signed and incorporated in international law.
Simon Hughes: I am not satisfied—
It being five minutes to Ten o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to sessional order D [28 June 2001] and the Order of the Committee [this day], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 1, in page 4, line 8, at end insert—
Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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