HL Deb 06 March 1996 vol 570 cc296-9

2.55 p.m.

Lord Spens asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will reconsider their decision not to grant British nationality to the A1 Fayed brothers.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we have no plans to do so.

Lord Spens

My Lords, now that it is no longer a serious offence to mislead, and given that that allegation is at the centre of the refusal of the Home Secretary to grant British nationality to those two gentlemen, does the Minister feel that it is time to put aside past prejudices and revisit this application, bearing in mind the enormous contribution made to the economy of this country and to charities by the A1 Fayed brothers?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I must take issue with the implied criticism that my right honourable friend acted improperly. The courts found that he acted lawfully in all aspects of this case.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I do not wish in any way to suggest that the Home Secretary has acted at all improperly in this matter. But can the Minister say, in considering the position of Mr. A1 Fayed, whether any evaluation has been placed upon his activities. 11 years ago, when he acted as an intermediary between the Government and the Sultan of Brunei—the Sultan of Brunei decided to support the British pound, which at that time was standing at 99 cents—and whether all that can be taken in the balance? Is she aware that that action avoided having the Government run cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund at that time?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it would be improper for me to give reasons as to what was taken into account in this case. Indeed, my right honourable friend has no obligation at all to do so. Charitable works and goods works can be taken into account. All that is contained within Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act; namely, residency requirements, knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic languages, restriction under immigration laws, intention to make principal home in the United Kingdom and whether or not a person is of good character. But it would be improper for me to go into any further detail.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Fayed brothers have been described by the DTI as—

Noble Lords

Order, order!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sure that none of your Lordships would ever want to see a Speaker introduced into our proceedings. I am in the hands of the House. As we have plenty of time, I wonder whether the House will allow the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, to speak next and other noble Lords will come in later.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Fayed brothers have been described by the DTI as having cheated and lied their way into buying Harrods, at which point they also cheated the Sultan of Brunei, although he is not willing to engage in a public controversy about it? Should not those two people be deported as undesirable aliens?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I must repeat what I said earlier. It would be improper for me to respond to that kind of comment or question. I think that it would be improper of this House to discuss any individual in that way.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, not wishing in any way to follow the line of discussing the merits of this application, does not the grant of British nationality lie within the discretion of the Home Secretary, subject to limited control by the courts under judicial review? If that is so, and leaving aside the merits, can my noble friend say how may the Government reconsider, looking at the Question, a decision that was never made?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, Section 44(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 says, among other things, that, The Secretary of State…shall not be required to assign any reason for the grant or refusal of any application under this Act the decision on which is at his discretion". That is the point made by my noble friend. The decision of whether or not to grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation as a British citizen is at the discretion of the Secretary of State. I can also say that Section 44(2) is lifted from Section 26 of the Nationality Act 1948. The Secretary of State was first exempted from having to give reasons for granting or refusing certificates of naturalisation in the Nationality Act 1870. So it is a very long and well-established tradition.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Baroness note that, if these two brothers come to Wales and open a couple of shops like Harrods, we shall give them the Order of St. David?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is noted.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, if we now believe in open government, is it not time that the provisions which the noble Baroness read out were reviewed? On the one hand, if the reasons why the Secretary of State does not have to explain why he has refused nationality are to do with embarrassment to the applicant if the reasons were revealed, could not the reasons be revealed by agreement with the applicant? If, on the other hand, the Home Secretary declines to give reasons due to the fact that he does not wish to open a front for possible litigation by the aggrieved person, is that not a very bad ground for maintaining secrecy?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have given the history of this piece of legislation. I can say that almost all governments have visited and revisited this aspect of it and have decided that the discretion should be the Home Secretary's and that reasons can be withheld. If the noble Lord believes that the law should be changed, then it would be up to Parliament to consider that. I believe that there are very good reasons why that discretion should be left to the Home Secretary. There are often very good reasons why the reasons are not made public.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that British nationality is a privilege to be cherished and that it is not something to be obtained either by bullying, blackmail or endeavouring to interfere with British processes?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I agree absolutely with my noble friend. The granting of nationality is an extremely serious issue. It is right that it should be considered properly and that there should be an appeal system which allows the decision to be challenged. It has been challenged and my right honourable friend has been found to have acted lawfully in this case.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, accepting that the Home Secretary can use the British Nationality Act as a reason for not explaining why a particular grant of nationality has been refused, what are the reasons for not explaining to the people themselves why they have been denied nationality?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there may be many. It may be the way in which the information about them has been sourced; it may be about protecting other people or national security. There may be all kinds of reasons. But the fact that the law, as it has been visited and revisited, has allowed it to be a discretion on the part of the Home Secretary, and as it states quite explicitly in the Act that reasons need not be given, I believe that my right honourable friend has exercised his right under the law.

Lord Richard

My Lords, of course one accepts that the Home Secretary exercised his right under the law. The question is whether or not he will reconsider it and exercise his right under the law again. Is the Minister aware that the refusal of the Government to reconsider this matter is viewed by many people as verging on the spiteful against these two men and that the Government should think hard about it?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I profoundly disagree with what the noble Lord has just said. An application was made; it was rejected; it has been challenged, and my right honourable friend has been found to have acted lawfully. We have no plans and indeed no reason to reconsider the matter. It is of course open to the two Mr. A1 Fayeds to reapply. We normally recommend that at least two years should elapse since the last application. If they wish to reapply nothing that has happened hitherto will impede proper consideration of their application.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in his first supplementary question, the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said that "misleading" had been legitimised. I can only presume by that that he meant that the rejection last week by a vote in the House of Commons of the Scott report, which found that the Government had misled Parliament, effectively legitimised "misleading"—or, as someone described it, telling porkie pies. Can the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to correct that impression that may have been conveyed to the British people?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that was a thorough distortion of what the Scott report said and has absolutely no relevance to this matter. The court has found that my right honourable friend acted lawfully, and that is an end to it.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, of what was meant by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, could be quite a time-consuming and perhaps wasteful exercise?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am attracted by the notion put forward by my noble friend. Perhaps I may also say that there was an implicit criticism that my right honourable friend had been dishonourable, and I take issue with that.

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