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Adoption and Children Bill

3.6 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 77, Schedule 1, Clauses 78 and 79, Schedule 2, Clauses 80 to 135, Schedules 3 to 5, Clauses 136 to 143, Schedule 6, Clauses 144 to 146.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

3.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received. In moving the Motion, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say that the usual channels have agreed that the Bill will be recommitted to deal with Parts 3, 5 and 8, in view of the government amendments. The major government amendments in question have been tabled and will be printed on tomorrow's Marshalled List; the Motion is on tomorrow's Order Paper. I will move it at the start of business tomorrow, and I shall then say a few more words about the precise procedure.

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Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Naturalisation: knowledge of language and society]:

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 2, line 19, at end insert—

"(1B) Before making any regulation pursuant to section 41(1)(ba) or (bb), the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) persons appearing to him to have a special interest in the matters dealt with by the regulation concerned, and
(b) such other persons as he considers appropriate."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should be most grateful if the Minister would allow me to deal with Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 separately, because they are entirely unrelated. I can deal with them quickly but more intelligently if they are degrouped.

The point of Amendment No. 2, which reflects an amendment that was moved in both the Commons and this place in Committee, is to make consultation an essential part of the process leading to the tests that, under the Bill, are to be taken by those seeking citizenship. There is no argument on these Benches with the notion of the new tests—advanced, as they are, in a constructive spirit and designed to improve the chances of those becoming citizens of finding their place in our society quickly and effectively. But the point made in June in the Committee of this House and in the Commons was that there must be consultation about the curriculum for the new tests.

The amendments moved in the Commons and the Lords were defective. If I may say so while causing no offence to my colleagues in the Commons, nor my noble friends here, who moved the amendments, they were defective in two regards. First, they specified three organisations that were to be consulted and no others. It was reasonably remarked by several of your Lordships that it was unsatisfactory simply to consult three organisations—however illustrious; I may say that I am president of the Citizenship Foundation, which was one of the three. I fully accept that. As your Lordships will see, the amendment merely requires the Secretary of State to consult,

    "persons appearing to him to have a special interest in the matters dealt with by the regulation concerned".

That was the first objection, and I accept it.

The second, even more forceful, objection by the Government was that the amendment would not have secured consultation because it required the agreement of the three named consultees to the matters in respect of which there was consultation. That was a proper point to be made by the Government. My amendment does not include that impediment and accepts that the Secretary of State shall consult and then deal with the results of the consultation as he or she thinks fit.

So why make the amendment at all? The answer is simple. The Government are doing the right thing in their consultation process. I am sure that the House

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has full confidence in Professor Sir Bernard Crick and his team and the work they are doing. I have no doubt that they will come up with something that is constructive and creative and will aid and abet the process of citizenship. However, it is wrong for us to make assumptions about the nature and capacity of future governments and future Home Secretaries.

We would not be doing our job if we did not insert a requirement for consultation which would bolt and bar the door to the prospect in the future of an illiberal government and a weak Home Secretary feeling inclined to respond to violent public reaction to this or that event by rushing immediately, without any need for consultation, to change the curriculum for those who seek citizenship. A statutory command to consult would in such circumstances act as a breakwater. I hope that the Minister recollects that when he last dealt with the amendment he said that he thought it "inconceivable" that there would not be consultation. The amendment would make sure that it was inconceivable. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, makes the case in his usual persuasive way. In a sense, he has anticipated part of what I shall say. The noble Lord paid great tribute to the Government for the way in which we have consulted extensively with NGOs, particularly on the White Paper. As he knows, we have received a fantastic volume of correspondence, most of which favours our proposals. The views of the organisations that responded to the White Paper will, of course, be taken into account as detailed proposals are developed. However, I wonder what further level of consultation required by the Bill could usefully be added.

It will come as no surprise to the noble Lord that we have sympathy with his view and with what he is trying to achieve. Having listened to his argument, I must say that any future government who did not wish to consult would simply remove any obligation on them to do so. All we can do is try to conduct ourselves in the best way possible in the circumstances and do what we can to ensure that consultation is woven into the approach of government for the future. We have tried to ensure that there is effective consultation on the detail of the proposals by appointing an independent advisory group. The noble Lord acknowledged that, and I am grateful to him for paying tribute to Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who, I am sure, would not mind my saying that he will guard his independence fiercely and in a forthright way and will ensure that relevant, properly interested bodies are fully consulted.

Noble Lords may wish to know that, in the proposed programme of work for the advisory group, there is a request that it should advise on how to monitor and report on the implementation of the arrangements relating to the test in its early years. It may be that, in the future, a less enlightened government would seek to overturn the group's good work, although that would indeed be the act of a foolish administration. They might wish to impose something less satisfactory, but I am not convinced

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that the noble Lord's amendment, however well spirited and well intentioned, would guard against that.

To commit the Secretary of State to consult,

    "persons appearing to him to have a special interest in the matters",

would be a bridge too far. After all, anyone who wanted to apply for naturalisation could describe himself or herself as having a special interest. Where would the consultation begin and end? I fear that, admirable though the noble Lord's intentions may be—they always are—he could be saddling us with a cumbersome and, arguably, unnecessarily bureaucratic burden. We have already undertaken, through the advisory group, to consult bodies that appear to us to have a special interest in the matters. If there are bodies that feel that they have been excluded from the process or have somehow been missed, we will be happy, as always, to receive representations from them. That is as far as we could go. The amendment is extremely well intentioned, but accepting it would not greatly advance our position.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I hope that the House will be as dissatisfied with the Minister's response as I am. The burden of the point that I sought to make was not that what is being done now is inadequate; plainly, it is adequate. I was talking of future circumstances. It is no good the Minister saying that a future illiberal government with a weak Home Secretary would simply change the statute so that they did not have to consult. They could not do it.

It is equally wide of the mark to complain that the amendment would create a bureaucratic monster and that every person being naturalised could expect to be consulted. The amendment refers clearly to,

    "persons appearing to him"—

the Secretary of State—

    "to have a special interest in the matters".

That is not a new formula. If the Minister examines the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, he will see that both have compulsory consultation provisions. The amendment would not open the door to any more consultation than the Secretary of State thought reasonable in the circumstances.

I am sorry that the Government do not see my point; it is important. However, at this juncture, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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