HL Deb 08 July 2002 vol 637 cc440-512
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


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

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

In calling Amendment No. 1, I should point out that, if the amendment were to be agreed to, I would not be able to call Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 inclusive because of pre-emption.

Lord Dholakia

moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 4, leave out subsection (1). The noble Lord said: I should like first to say how delighted we are that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will be dealing with this Bill in Committee in his new capacity as Minister. He has been very helpful to us in a number of ways which I shall mention later. I also know that he hopes that we will all follow the strict timetable that has been set: to enable us to complete our consideration in Committee within the next six Sittings. I should perhaps tell him now that many of our amendments are not so much amendments of substance as a means of clarifying the Government's intentions.

We are concerned about Clause 1 because of the Bill's lack of clarity on the issue of, Naturalisation: knowledge of language and society". On Second Reading, we generally welcomed the provisions in Part 1. Nevertheless, we have many concerns about the provisions which we seek to remedy with our amendments in this group. Amendment No. 1 is grouped with our Amendments Nos. 2, 6, 7, 9 and 11. The group also includes Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 which were tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns.

The combined effect of our Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7 and 9 is to remove the requirement to have, sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom", for nationality purposes. There are legitimate concerns that such knowledge cannot be tested. Moreover, the Government have nowhere provided their definition of the term, life in the United Kingdom". Reservations have been expressed about the meaning of that term. How can such knowledge be taught, and who will assess it? That concern has been expressed in various briefings from immigration agencies.

There are also fears that the criteria might operate as barriers to citizenship which are not imposed on those born in the United Kingdom. The Commission for Racial Equality, which the Government established to advise them on issues of race and community relations, has called for a consultation process on the issue and said that citizenship should be taught to all. Some of our amendments would remove the word "sufficient" from provisions requiring "sufficient knowledge". The amendments would not only lower the threshold of knowledge that an applicant must attain, but allow us to probe the Government on precisely what they regard as "necessary" and "sufficient".

Our last amendment, Amendment No. 11, proposes that implementation of Clause 1 should wait until such time as the Secretary of State indicates the requirements that individuals must meet to demonstrate sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

Viscount Bridgeman

I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 which were tabled by my noble friend Lady Anelay and myself. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for his very helpful letter following Second Reading. It was particularly helpful on the points which we raised in relation to Clause 1. I reiterate the support which I gave on that occasion on behalf of these Benches for the principle of ensuring that applicants for naturalisation have an understanding of the British way of life and all that goes with it. I think that we are coming from a slightly different direction on this matter from that pursued by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

With respect to Amendment No. 3, the Government currently refer only to knowledge of life in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister say whether the Government believe that applicants for naturalisation should have some appreciation not only of the nature of life in the United Kingdom as it currently is, but also of the history of our country? Do the Government believe that the word "life" is broad enough to include history? Like the Government, we would not wish to make the test too onerous. Equally, however, it might be thought that to have some understanding of the country's history would be useful as part of the preparation for naturalisation.

Amendment No. 4 seeks to probe what aspects of current life in the United Kingdom the Government wish to ensure that applicants for naturalisation have knowledge of. In Standing Committee in another place, the then Minister Miss Angela Eagle said: we envisage a fairly general view, rather than one that is restricted to the democratic process and constitution, but it would be wrong of me to stand here and say that we have a curriculum absolutely sorted out".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 30/04/02; col. 17.] Obviously, knowledge of the democratic process is important. However, it would be helpful if the Government could give some further indication of what general aspects of life in the United Kingdom they have in mind. The four criteria in Amendment No. 4 which we have mentioned—namely political, civic, economic and cultural life—are four broad areas which might be considered.

Miss Eagle also said in another place on 30th April that the Government were putting together a group of experts from the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office to determine the detail of the curriculum. In his letter to me of 2nd July, the Minister said that an announcement about the group would be made shortly. Perhaps he might be able to give us an update on the progress that has been made. Will the group consist only of civil servants or will there be outside experts on it as well? Do the Government intend to amend the Bill so as to make the group's position in determining the curriculum clear on the face of the Bill?

In respect of the amendments in the group tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury, I welcome the Minister's commitment in his letter to me, which was copied to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the requirement of sufficient knowledge will be interpreted so as to ensure that it is of practical benefit which actually helps people to feel more welcomed into United Kingdom society.

In relation to Amendment No. 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell the Committee when the draft curriculum will be published and whether the Government envisage a long period of consultation or whether, subject to the Bill becoming an Act, they intend to implement these provisions sooner rather than later. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Lord Avebury

I do not think that much divides the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and I on these amendments. We both agree that it is a good idea that people applying for citizenship should have access to the fullest possible knowledge of life in the United Kingdom, including the matters which are dealt with in his amendment. It would be excellent if all those people had knowledge of our electoral system, of the way in which democracy works in this country, of the rights of individuals, of how individuals access those rights and so on as they will need that knowledge if they are to play their full part as citizens. I share the doubts expressed in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Bermondsey who questioned the one-size-fits-all provisions in relation to the area of the country in which a person lives. As he pointed out, in his constituency of Bermondsey life is very different from that in Gloucester, which was the constituency of the honourable Member who spoke immediately before him.

There are also major differences as regards people's need to know about life in this country according to their professions or occupations. I think of my friends who have settled in this country over the years who come from all sorts of backgrounds: lawyers, doctors, photographers, police chiefs and an ex-brigadier. Each of them has sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom for their own purposes, as most of us do, but they might not be capable of passing a general examination of the sort that the Government have in mind.

I do not know whether the Minister ever watches "Big Brother" on television. If he does, he will have seen a person who thought that Cambridge was part of London, that the River Thames flowed through Cambridge and that East Anglia was somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tunisia. That person probably gets on admirably within her own milieu, but I think that she might have some difficulty with the examination proposed by the Government. Are we in fact requiring higher standards from applicants than many of our existing citizens could achieve?

I wish to mention another aspect of the matter which I do not believe was mentioned in the other place. According to the working group chaired by Claus Moser on improving literacy and numeracy, some 7 million adults in England alone are functionally illiterate. He gave as an example of that that they could not find a plumber in the Yellow Pages. However, one cannot find a plumber anywhere else either! He said that a staggering 30 to 50 per cent have numeracy problems. He gave as examples the fact that they would not he able to calculate the size of a room 21 by 14 feet even with the aid of a calculator and that if they tendered £2 for items which cost separately 68p and 45p, they would not know what they ought to expect by way of change.

I know that those estimates have been challenged but in some groups the picture is even worse. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, quoting a survey of 5,963 young people screened by the prisoners' learning support unit of the DfES in 2000–01, said that 37.6 per cent had the numeracy expected of a seven year-old and 31.4 per cent had a reading ability lower than that of a seven year-old. Those people would have great difficulty with almost any test that the Minister and his civil servants can devise.

Therefore, it is important that we should not only have the general assurances that were given in the letter that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, quoted, but should also see what the test is before we give approval to the proposal. That is why my noble friend and I in Amendment No. 11 have said that the test should be published before the order is laid bringing this clause into effect. I hope that the Government will accept this modest amendment.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Moser

I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 1 and to speak with qualms to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4. I should declare my involvement in this field as I am a member of the advisory committee of a new, important institution at King's College which deals with asylum and refugee issues. I refer to the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees. Our purpose is to throw light on this difficult field through statistics and research.

I should also declare a retrospective interest in that I was a successful asylum seeker about 60 years ago and have lived happily in this country ever since. I rather dread the idea that I might even now be asked to pass an examination on the institutions, the civics and the politics of this country. If I had been asked to do so in 1948, I would certainly have failed and missed the opportunity to become a naturalised citizen and possibly the opportunity to become a Member of this great Chamber.

I refer to the matter of acquiring knowledge about our country. I hope that the tone of the clause on requirements for naturalisation will not be typical of the tone adopted by the Government throughout discussion on this issue and throughout the Bill. What seems to me of enormous importance at all stages of the process—from that of first seeking asylum all the way through to naturalisation—is that the tone emanating from government and from public sources generally should be well informed by the latest correct figures. The general public should not, as now, have a false idea of the scale of the problem. The tone should be rational, well informed, positive and on the whole welcoming.

Throughout history—certainly throughout: this century—the various phases of refugees have brought great benefits to this country. I do not just think of the well-known contributions to the sciences, the arts and so on, but of those made at all levels of society. The public attitude and public comment should be, first, positive, welcoming, warm and conscious of the benefits that refugees can bring and, secondly, aware of the problems, the challenges and the risks that may be involved.

Those thoughts are relevant to Clause 1 and, indeed, to the whole of Part 1 of the Bill, although I am conscious that those are by no means the most controversial parts of the Bill, to which we shall come later. Clause 1 asks for knowledge of English and a knowledge of the society of this country. I have no problem as regards a knowledge of English. It is obviously desirable that at the point of naturalisation one should speak the language fairly well whatever one's accent and that one should have a good knowledge of English. I welcome the fact that the Bill encourages the provision of good quality English language teaching. That has constituted a great problem in the past.

I feel quite differently about the requirement to command sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom, let alone the amendment suggesting particular reference to history, political and civic institutions and so on. I realise that this matter is still in the melting pot and fairly vague but I dread the thought that a committee of curriculum experts at the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office may get together and create syllabuses, curricula and teaching arrangements and that future followers of my quest for naturalisation so many years ago will have that high hurdle to jump.

My preference is for the clause to disappear altogether and for the requirements be taken, as it were, in the good spirit in which they operated when I was naturalised. If not, we must take ultimate care in setting the height of the hurdles that applicants for naturalisation have to jump.

I say in passing as I conclude, that I find a curious mismatch between this requirement for knowledge in order to achieve true integration and a later provision in the Bill, which in my view deprives the children of refugees of the chance of really good integration through being part of our mainstream education system. The requirement is that such children should be educated in accommodation centres. For all of those reasons I strongly support Amendment No. 1.

Baroness Uddin

I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moser, who eloquently argued for everything for which all of us who have spoken on this issue wish. I was particularly touched by his statement that in an ideal world we should not have to deal with this clause at all. Given that we do have to, I support the proposal to eliminate "sufficient", which was advanced by the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury.

I want to discuss the clause in general and Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 11. Much has been said in this regard so I shall not delay the Committee for long. It worries me deeply that there is a requirement to learn English. All of us would wish every person in this country, whether new, old or established, to speak perfectly good English.

I have just come from a conference on children and ethnic minority attainments in our British education system. We discussed many problems, such as how to teach British children and ensure that they reach a good standard in English, citizenship, and so on. What efforts will be different as a result of the proposals? What provisions will be available for people who need assistance so that they are learnt before they seek the stamp of approval?

What standards are we setting with regard to understanding the life in and having knowledge about Britain? I agree wholeheartedly with the CRE suggestion that there should be consultation and, in Amendment No. 11, the suggestions about the time limit and the need to publish a draft before the Act is effective. That is critical.

Having spent nearly 25 years battling within the education system locally in places such as Tower Hamlets, I am not confident that citizenship classes or the curriculum will address the current nature of Britain, which is multi-faith, multi-racial and multilingual. How will the curriculum address that fundamental issue? For example, a whole host of nonsensical remarks have been made—my intelligence defies me to come up with a more appropriate word, but "nonsense" will do for now. They include comments about Muslim isolationists and arranged marriages—so-called forced marriages—not being an acceptable part of British behaviour. Such comments have preceded our discussions on the Bill. How will we ensure that a British standard is applicable across the board and that flexibility—the provision states that flexibility is allowed—will not be used to intervene and make harsher judgments? Who will decide who is right to be British and who is not?

There are many concerns in this regard. The Committee needs reassurance on those matters. The approach is well meaning and good but we should find a way effectively to monitor in some way those who will apply the laws. They will not have the benefit of enlightened discussions and they may not have the training that we desire.

Earl Russell

The questions asked by my noble friend Lord Dholakia need some answering. Nevertheless, I understand what the Home Secretary is driving at in the clause. We should be careful not to require of newly arrived people in this country a higher standard in terms of our institutions and customs than we have ourselves. It is easy to underrate the amount of ignorance that there is among ourselves. I recall one of my undergraduate pupils—by definition not one of the less educated people in this country—to whom I had set an essay on the Parliament of 1628. He came back with a lengthy discussion of the writ of "alias corpus".

That is an extreme case. However, I am yet to meet anyone outside political circles who knows how to go about registering to vote. Large numbers of people who I meet, in university circles and otherwise, do not appreciate that before a Bill can become law it has to be approved by both Houses except as required by the Parliament Acts. I hardly ever meet anyone who knows the distinction between civil and criminal proceedings in law.

If we are ignorant about such matters, is it fair to require new applicants for citizenship to know what we do not? I believe that one could already argue that immigrants and newly arrived people in this country tend to have higher standards of knowledge in such matters than we do because they realise that they need to find out whereas we, suffering as we do from an information overload, tend very often to have an extremely effective mechanism for cutting out.

I am sorry to say that I was tempted by the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, about requiring some knowledge of our history. However, the matter is a little more complicated than he suggests. The more general, brief and abbreviated one's picture of history, the greater the degree of variation and the more often it will need revision. Were I to be tested for citizenship by the standards of history that were current at the time that I sat my degree, I believe that I would be failed. Certain of my colleagues, I believe, would fail me at the moment, and I might fail some of them. After all, if one thinks of 1066 and All That—all the history that you can remember is in this little book—many of us cannot remember that now, although we can remember a very great deal else. Any tests of required knowledge in history would need to be upgraded at least once every five years and the selection of the people to do the upgrading would lead to an academic in-fight of an intensity that I dread to contemplate. This is not as easy as it looks.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, enunciated the anxieties of a number of people about the traps into which the Government might fall in terms of implementing the clause. Nevertheless, the Government have decided to do this; it is extremely important. They may be helped by the discussions that have just taken place. I hope that they listened in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Moser. As he said, he was a successful asylum seeker. He is perhaps one of the most successful citizens of this country whom any of us have had the privilege to meet. However, what he said was not based on that; it was based on a great understanding of the traps into which the Government could fall in relation to this matter.

I believe that the requirements must be set out in a very positive way. They must be based on what the asylum seeker will need to know in order to get on in this country. It should not be a question of being admitted but of getting on and succeeding. That is the point. If the requirements were set out in that context and were kept simple, flexible and capable of being adjusted according to circumstances, I am sure that that would help very much.

If people realise why they are being tested, it will not frighten them. It will help them to see that one must make an effort in order to succeed in a new country. That is the point, and people will understand that if the test is carried out properly. I believe that the Government have taken on a very difficult task, but I wish them well in it. It is very important.

3.30 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

I am very interested in the word "sufficient". I also want to draw the Committee's attention to Lord Bauer—an extremely distinguished Member of this House who died, I believe, three months ago. Lord Bauer was 19 years old when he came to this country. I know that he did not speak English. He applied to seven Cambridge colleges, was accepted by five, and went on to become Professor Lord Bauer. I wonder whether he would have passed this test.

Does the test mean that applicants must know about the heptarchy, which Mr Prescott is busily reinventing? Does it mean that they have to know about Canute or Trafalgar? Or does it mean that they have to know the details of the social security system or the difference between criminal and civil law?

I understand exactly what the Government are trying to do. But I suspect that they are reacting to a fairly sloppy tabloid headline: old people must know something about the country when they arrive here. I believe that it is reasonable to assume that those who make the effort to arrive here are those who have the greatest "get up and go". The first generation of West Indian immigrants were the go-ahead ones who wanted to come here to make a life for themselves. It has been much easier for them than possibly for some of their children because they have been caught, it has been said, between two stools.

We have only to consider the immense success of a large percentage of Ugandan-Asian and Asian people who have come to this country. They have contributed enormously to our civilisation and welfare. I have only to look around this Chamber. Many of its Members look like refugees from the bigger cock-ups of British imperialism. We are extremely grateful for their presence here because they add tone, as someone said of cavalry regiments in 1890, to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl. I know what the Government are doing, but let us try to bear those factors in mind because the situation is not nearly as easy as it appears.

Lord Greaves

These amendments relate to Clause 1, which is about knowledge of language and life in the UK. The first question that I want to ask the Minister concerns knowledge of language. Frankly, many people in this country are not literate. They may speak two or three languages, one of which may not be English. If they are asked to write a letter or read a newspaper, they will struggle. Therefore, will arrangements be made for people who are in that position and who are of an age at which it is not possible to become literate in a written language so that they can pass any tests or requirements in spoken English? After all, in terms of getting on in their communities and talking to people locally, spoken English is more important than written English.

My second point is that there appears to be an assumption that a large number of people are reluctant to learn English. I declare an interest in that my wife is an ESOL teacher. The evidence that I have from various places in the North West is that the demand for ESOL classes is greater than the current provision. That demand comes from people who have come to this country in a perfectly ordinary manner. Some have come in order to get married; some are refugees; and others have come to take up jobs. Are the Government aware that these provisions in the Bill, if enacted, will result in a considerable extra resource being required for the provision of ESOL classes? Who will provide them? How will the funding mechanism take place? And what will the Government do to ensure that such classes are provided? It would be unfair to impose requirements on people which they cannot fulfil because of a lack of provision within the education system.

I give two examples. At a conference in Bolton at the end of last week, it was reported that there are 900 refugee and asylum seeker students in FE in Bolton, but the number of requests for FE provision totals 1,500. Therefore, some 600 people who are desperate to learn English are waiting to go on courses. The idea that people will have to be forced to undertake such learning is, in many cases, a myth

. In my own area, some 10 or 12 people a week turn up at Nelson and Colne College and ask for basic English classes as a second or third language. If good practice dictates that classes should contain eight or 10 students, that means that an extra classful of students per week is waiting to be taught. Thus, the waiting list grows. This is an important issue. Perhaps it is not one with which the Minister will have to deal in relation to this Bill. Nevertheless, it is a vital issue which the Government will have to face, and I wonder whether some answers can be given to those points.

So far as concerns the British way of life, whatever that may be, I heard a nice story this week about two British citizens. One was born in Pakistan and the other was her daughter, who was born and grew up here. At present, the daughter is in Pakistan visiting her family. The mother, in this country, reported that a few days ago she had a telephone conversation with her daughter in Pakistan. They were both in tears on opposite ends of the telephone. When asked why, they said, "Because England lost to Brazil in the football". I believe that stories such as that need to be told in order to balance some of the other stories that one reads in the tabloids.

I speak in support of the amendments tabled by my noble friends. I do not believe that I can support the amendment which states that a knowledge of history is relevant. If that were to be introduced, I can imagine suggesting that the Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Danish invasion should play a large part. Surely those invaders comprised the single largest influx of illegal immigrants ever to this country. I believe that I speak as someone who has several genes belonging to those groups in my blood, or wherever our genes appear.

I turn to the subject of the nature of the test. I notice that one option is attendance on a course without a test at the end of it. I believe that if the Government are not careful, they will be open to ridicule in relation to the nature of the test and the exact knowledge required. I am reminded of the present theory examination which forms part of the driving test. It consists of multiple choice questions. One may be asked to choose between four answers, one of which is correct; one of which may be correct, and the other two of which are ludicrous. That kind of test on fairly basic matters might jeopardise the whole issue.

Participation in discussions, on a course or on a citizenship programme, perhaps along the lines of that which exists in the United States, may be more appropriate than expecting people to write an essay or to answer stereotyped questions which inevitably would be the subject of detailed coaching within different communities.

Looking through the bookshelves in my house yesterday I found a book published two or three years ago entitled, Britain, the country and its people: an introduction for learners of English. Clearly, there will be a whole new industry and opportunity for people to make money when the curricula are published. The book is by James O'Driscoll. I suspect that with that name he is "taking the Michael" a little.

Page 96 is headed The House of Lords. It is a little out of date because it pre-dates the stage 1 reform. It reads: The House of Lords (like the monarchy) has little, if any, real power any more. It continues: Political parties are, in fact, especially keen to send their older members who once belonged to the leadership of the party to the House of Lords. It is a way of rewarding them with prestige while at the same time getting them out of the way of the present party leaders in the Commons, where their status and reputation might otherwise create trouble for party unity. Informally, this practice has become known as being 'kicked upstairs'. I can imagine a multiple-choice test which states, "When political parties want to get rid of MPs, are they: sent on holiday to Torremolinos; sent to the moon, or kicked upstairs to the House of Lords?" That is obviously a slightly exaggerated example. However, if we are not careful, that is the kind of banal level we shall reach. The Government must be careful on this issue.

Lord Dubs

The Government have this part of the Bill just about right. In my experience as head of the Refugee Council for seven or eight years, I found that asylum seekers were highly motivated individuals who picked up English and understood life in this country fairly quickly. Indeed, that was their main aim: to master enough of the language and the culture of this country in order to obtain jobs and make a contribution.

I have one brief story to tell. At that time the Refugee Council ran a young people's home for Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers aged between 13 and 16 or 17 years. They had not been here long when I went to meet them. I sat down and spoke to them and they said, "One of the things the Refugee Council should understand"—these were people who had been in the country only weeks—"is that it should select staff for this home who understand the psychological circumstances which gave rise to our coming to this country". That was not bad.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I rise briefly to commend both the nature of the clause and the debate which has occurred upon it. I have lived in the United States twice. My children when young lived there and were subjected in school to an introduction to citizenship within the United States. It is no bad thing that we are getting round to the same issues, even if it is a little late.

I pay tribute to my noble friends on the Front Bench for their amendment in the context of the spirit of the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, is agreeably disarming about his knowledge of history. Ten days ago I mentioned to him that I had no prior knowledge of the rising against Cromwell in 1655 and he enlightened me at some length, including considerable local detail in Nottinghamshire. He alluded to Canute. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to the Vikings. A Reader's Digest atlas, devoted to the United Kingdom, has one page which relates to the colour of hair, which shows a precise correlation to how far the Vikings managed to get. That is an index of the immobility which has occurred in this nation over 1,000 years. The immigration into this country in the second half of the last century has done a great deal to shake up such immobility and to get us moving.

I refer to lines 15 to 17 of page 1 of the Bill, to which no amendment in this group refers, but which we shall reach in Amendment No. 5. Other noble Lords have referred to the teaching and learning of English. Before the Bill was debated in the Commons I attended a briefing by a number of the outside relevant bodies. I said how important it is for there to be an improvement in the level of English, for a whole series of reasons in the interests of immigrants, quite apart from those of the economy. A representative from one of the bodies said that that was not the right thing for me to say and that the clause we were discussing on that occasion was harsh. I argued my case again. He said that the trouble was the inadequate provision for the learning of English—to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves referred—and said that there is great pressure for that to be improved.

I can only say as I said to him, that it is an ill wind which blows nobody any good. However, the pressure to which he referred, for more teaching of English to immigrants, was the first time the issue had been raised with me as a Member of Parliament in a quarter of a century. If the Bill has the effect of increasing pressure for classes to be provided for the learning of English, that will be a major step forward.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Bhatia

As an immigrant of 30 years ago, perhaps I may share with Members of the Committee some of my experiences of English language learning. I do not believe that we should impose conditions which are not at present imposed on the citizens of this country.

Perhaps I may relate an example which I faced 30 years ago when I acquired a business in the City of London. Thirty or 40 people worked in the company, of 'which I was managing director and chairman. A board of directors came with the company. We agreed that between us we would watch what happened and in one month's time review my role. The company, which had been around for 200 years, was involved in exports and imports, export financing, and so forth.

Four weeks later I met with the board. The first question I was asked was, "What would you like to contribute to what is already going on? What is the added value, as managing director, that you want to bring?" 1 imposed a condition on the staff of the company, and said, "I should like to see each and every piece of paper which leaves this company; that is, all the correspondence written by 30 people in the company to our clients, both in this country and abroad." I checked such correspondence for about four weeks. I commented to the board that one of the major things I found unacceptable was that the staff were unable to write good English. Over a period, the company realised that all important documents, important letters to clients or to government departments would have to pass across my desk for the English to be corrected and presented in the correct form.

Lord Filkin

I thank Members of the Committee for the courteous words spoken by both Front Benches, which are appreciated. The opportunity afforded by the amendments to discuss the new requirements relating to knowledge of life in the United Kingdom which the Bill proposes to introduce is useful. I believe most people would agree that it is not unreasonable to impose some requirement. Indeed, combined with the language requirement, there is potential value to the individual and to society if we get it right. I agree that we need to be careful about being over-prescriptive in that regard.

The Government's preference is to emphasise that applicants should have acquired knowledge of life in the United Kingdom, which is likely to be useful and will help them better to integrate. That is four square with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about accessing democracy and rights. However, we want to take expert advice on this and to consult widely on precisely what an applicant should be expected to know and what therefore would need to be covered in courses and in learning material.

The Home Secretary has asked Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who has advised the Government on the development of citizenship education in schools and for 16 to 18-year olds, to chair an advisory group of external people. That group will be asked to advise on the detailed content of a curriculum and how it might be delivered. We shall also want to consult more widely when we have some provisional proposals.

It would be a mistake if the Bill was too prescriptive about the requirement and, perhaps unintentionally, constrained subsequent thinking or the development of thinking over time. I believe, therefore, that it would be better to retain the admittedly broad wording rather than to attempt greater precision in the Bill.

I turn to the individual amendments. I have explained, in relation to Amendment No. 1, why the Government believe that this new requirement is reasonable and potentially useful to the individual and society.

In relation to Amendments Nos. 2, 7 and 9, I understand the concerns of noble Lords that the word "sufficient" is imprecise. I point out, however, that that parallels the existing requirement in paragraph 5(c) of Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act which requires an applicant to have, sufficient knowledge of the English language". In that sense, therefore, it is well precedented.

Perhaps more fundamentally, my concern is that if we omit the word "sufficient" it might imply a more onerous requirement than we intend. Clearly, we do not expect applicants to have a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of life in the United Kingdom. I do not think that any Member of the Committee could even claim that, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has clearly advised us. Including the word "sufficient" recognises that the requirement is comparative: it needs to be sufficient for the purpose of someone seeking naturalisation but no more. Quite what "sufficient" will mean in practice, we think can better be taken forward by seeking the advice of the expert group already mentioned and then by setting that out in the regulations to be laid before Parliament. However, we do not envisage anything onerous. It would be entirely counter-productive to put serious obstacles in the way of people who are keen to become British citizens.

Amendment No. 6 would remove the regulation-making power which enables the Home Secretary to determine how the test of sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom can be determined. If, as I hope Members of the Committee agree, the underlying requirement should be retained in the Bill then it clearly makes sense to have some means of testing whether or not it is met. That is the purpose of the regulation-making power.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of "one size fits all". That is a good question and a serious one for the advisory group and the Government to consider. People are citizens of the United Kingdom. Therefore, one would expect some commonality. On the other hand, how the Government works, for example, in Scotland and Wales is different. Therefore, those are issues which ought at least to be reflected on without expecting people to have a degree in constitutional law.

It was pointed out that accessing a plumber is difficult. That is a fairly general complaint for anyone who lives in London, irrespective of whether or not one has citizenship, but perhaps that is by the by.

Points were made about arithmetic, geography and history. Those are issues that the advisory group will relate to. But, in a sense, we are not seeking to test whether people have met GCSE standards in five grades or more but whether they have sufficient knowledge to get by in Britain. We shall keep returning to that matter. Clearly, there are issues about illiteracy and handicap which both the advisory group and the Government will be considering carefully.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, about the tone of the Bill. I think that its tone is right. I also believe that it is right subsequently. No doubt we can debate that issue later.

I have talked about flexibility in respect of numeracy and literacy. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised the issue of knowledge of language. We believe that is relevant because there is clear research evidence that people with some working knowledge of English have significantly increased chances of getting work and employment—if they are of an appropriate age and have an inclination to do so. Therefore, as was signalled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, one of the benefits of the Bill may be that, by citizenship requiring an extension of further teaching of English, a wide range of other benefits may be opened up by increasing literacy.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked whether there will be an adequate supply of courses. By and large we expect colleges of further education to develop courses relevant to the syllabus that is eventually identified. In terms of English language it is crucial that we get an adequate supply in place. We are aware of some of the supply problems and there is a mapping exercise under way to identify those shortfalls.

I turn to Amendment No. 11. It seeks to prohibit the Home Secretary from making a commencement order in relation to this part of the Bill until he has published a draft of the proposed citizenship curriculum. I can assure the Committee that there will be wide consultation on the content and form of the proposed curriculum before we implement this part of the Bill.

In the nature of things, it will take some considerable time to develop curriculum proposals and then to translate them into courses and learning materials. There will be plenty of opportunity for those with an interest to contribute to the process. It does not seem to me, therefore, necessary to include such a provision on the face of the Bill.

Earl Russell

Does the Minister understand that there is no distrust of the Government's willingness to consult; the problem is the tendency of those likely to be consulted to distrust each other?

Lord Filkin

I take the noble Earl's point. One does not expect by consultation necessarily to get a consensus, but it is important that everyone has had an opportunity to express their views. Therefore, the Government are aware of a diversity of views in that respect.

The Earl of Onslow

The noble Lord says that there will be a curriculum and there will be a test. Presumably there will be a pass mark. Let us assume that the test is simple and that the pass mark is 25 per cent. What happens if a young Moser clone appears at the door and—unlike the noble Lord—fails and only gets 24 per cent? Will he be told to go away and take another test? I can see enormous bureaucracy and fun arriving down this route. It will be complicated; it is going to be bureaucratic and difficult. I am sympathetic to what the Government are trying to do, but I do not much like the way that they are doing it.

The Countess of Mar

I follow up a point made by the noble Lord. First, I declare an interest as a member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I apologise for not having been here for Second Reading. That was due to circumstances beyond my control. I also declare an interest as one of the "cock-ups" of colonisation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Onslow: I was born in Kenya, my father was born in Karachi and my grandfather was born in Simla.

For many years the General Medical Council has required doctors from abroad coming to this country to pass an English test. Is it not the case that now that that has settled down it is not a problem?

Lord Filkin

On the last point, yes, indeed. However, I would caution the Committee against getting unduly apprehensive about this matter at this stage. Admittedly the terms "syllabus" and "pass" may have a dire tone to them, but the intent is to set out requirements about someone getting by and being a successful citizen in Britain rather than proving that they are academic, intellectual or that they have a deep understanding of the constitution.

If Members of the Committee wait to see the outcome of both the consultation process and the ensuing regulations, it should become clear that that is the commitment and the intent. The aim is to help people to become citizens. The course that will be provided will be the mechanism which raises them to the necessary standard and which certifies to the Secretary of State that they have achieved that standard.

Lord Avebury

I am reassured to some extent by what the Minister has said about Amendment No. 11 and the Government's intention to complete the consultations before they introduce this part of the Bill. Will the consultations that Sir Bernard Crick is embarking on with a wide range of organisations be held in public? Will Sir Bernard issue an open invitation to educators and others to come forward with their views so that the process can he seen by members of the public?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am almost certain that that is the case—in the absence of any confirmation, I am sure that it should be. Sir Bernard will want to hear the widest range of views, as would only be right in a proper reflective process. That process will take time, and it will take time for the necessary improvements in supply that we have discussed to be put in place.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, as I said, it would not he right to be over-prescriptive at this stage about the content of the curriculum. No doubt, we all have different views about the extent to which a knowledge of the history of the United Kingdom should figure in the curriculum. I should probably be biased in that respect, but I think that such provision would often fail the test of what one needs to get by as a successful citizen. I fear that at present plenty of successful citizens have a poor knowledge of history.

I therefore hope that, in the light of those positive assurances, the noble Lords who tabled the amendments will not press them and will actively participate with others in the consultation process on what we believe to be the positive development of citizenship and our intent to extend it more vigorously to more people in Britain, should they be prepared to take up that invitation.

4 p.m.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, will my noble friend assure the Committee that the advisory group will ensure that it contains the broadest of representation, including members 'who understand the full implications of the cultural, linguistic and other background on which it will be making judgments, with particular reference to the multi-faith, multi-cultural nature of Britain?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I do not at present know what may be the membership of the advisory group, but I should be extremely surprised if those viewpoints were not adequately represented on it.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I again stress that we ought not to lose sight of the fact that a substantial number of people from the minorities that we are discussing were born in this country as British subjects. They will not be subject to the language requirements, because they are part and parcel of this country. We are therefore talking of a small group of people for whom communication is difficult. None of us disagrees about the need for English: it is right and proper that people should be able to communicate. Although I do not necessarily agree with the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who mentioned tests for doctors, they caused problems in their early days, although they have now been sorted out.

The Bill is likely to be reported in October. Will it be possible between now and October for Sir Bernard Crick to state what he has in mind when we discuss life in Britain? That would give us some guidance on whether to pursue the matter on Report. The point that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made is important. Many solutions to problems of language and life in this country are to be found from within the relevant communities themselves. The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, cited the need for those minorities to be able to make use of available facilities. Until now, there has been no particular process by which to educate people. They have taken the matter into their own hands. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, is right.

When I first came to this country, I had a poor knowledge of English. Every time that someone asked me a question, I had literally to translate it into my own language and, like on satellite television, there was a gap before I gave a reply. The problem was that whenever I went to a comedy in a theatre, I always laughed last after everyone else had finished. I think that they thought that I was a bit foolish or that I must have discovered something. The greatest joy in my life occurred one day when I jumped out of the bath and said, "Eureka!" because for the first time in my life I had dreamt in English. I had made it.

Communities themselves have solutions to the problems. There is a serious problem of people who have culturally found it impossible to go to school in their homeland—many elderly people, and so on. They should be part of the process. I hope that we shall be gentle in considering the process. Any further information that the Minister can provide will be useful. We do not want a quick fix. We must bear in mind variation across the country and not simply devise policy on the basis of problems in the North of England. I hope that before Report the Minister will provide some explanation on the basis of which we can consider what needs to be done. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 not moved.]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 17, after "language" insert "or sign language The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment which, I hope, is uncontroversial, but which would assist profoundly deaf people if the Government were to accept it. I thank the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the British Deaf Association and the Immigration Advisory Service for their helpful briefing on the matter.

The amendment's effect would be to include sign language as a language the sufficient knowledge of which could enable a person to make a successful application for naturalisation. What will be the legal status of sign language under Clause 1? Clause 1(3) enables provision to be made by regulations to determine whether a person has sufficient knowledge about a language before he can successfully apply for naturalisation. We have just had an extensive and sensitive debate on that matter.

Will a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and who uses sign language be catered for in those provisions without discrimination against him/her? If so, how? The RNID and the BDA share my concern about that. The problem is that the working of the clause as drafted appears to be based on the idea that the only languages in existence are spoken languages and that the only indigenous languages in the UK are English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.

Will there be facilities for teaching people whose language is not English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic to learn sign language that is understood in the UK? Will those facilities be sufficient for the number of applicants wanting to use them? I listened with great care to the points made about current facilities for teaching English. The amendment takes us a stage further, because people will need even greater ability if they have to teach sign language as well.

For some deaf people. sign language is their first, or certainly their preferred, language. It is surely beyond dispute that British Sign Language—and, indeed, other forms of sign language—is a language in its own right, with its own vocabulary and syntax. We must also remember that sign languages vary throughout the world in the same way as spoken languages.

Is the Minister aware that the BDA has recently received a number of calls to its helpline asking for advice in cases of deaf people from overseas who are seeking asylum? Do the Government have figures for the number of people who are deaf or hard of hearing who currently seek naturalisation and who use sign language? I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say about the advisory committee to be chaired by Professor Crick. The Minister referred en passant to illiteracy and handicap as being within the committee's remit. Is the issue of sign language therefore swept up by the committee, or will the Government, as I hope that they will, consider it separately as a language in its own right?

I also follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. We anticipate that the Bill will be reported in October. Can the Government assure us that any regulations to be proposed to address concerns raised on languages and in general will be available to the House before Report, so that we are able properly to address those matters? I beg to move.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has raised a fundamental point to which we do not often adhere in discussion of nationality and immigration. In fact, I think that it may be almost the first time that it has been raised. I welcome the amendment and support what the noble Baroness said. I have nothing to add, except to say that it is critical that her concerns are taken on board. I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say, and hope that that information will then be relayed to those outside, because many disabled organisations work with disabled people. There is the issue not only of sign language but of the use of Braille and other systems. The principle is good and needs to be established, and the fears and anxieties that have arisen from the discussion need to be put out.

Lord Dholakia

We also support the amendment. We should look not only at what to include but also at exclusions from the provision; particularly whether people who suffer from mental illness should be allowed or expected to take the test.

Within the communities are people who are not part of the mainstream process within which they would receive the same benefits as indigenous people. We have to be careful in terms of their attainment of sign language and of other disabilities from which they may suffer. I hope that the Minister will look not only at what should be included but also at what should be excluded, particularly among people applying for citizenship who cannot comply because of their condition.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

The presence on the Front Bench of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, encourages me to think that the Government might accept the amendment or a variant of it. On the Homelessness Bill, which he piloted through Grand Committee, my noble friend Lady Hanham moved an amendment seeking that tenants should have read to them a particular document that was necessary as part of the procedure. Of course, that is the mirror case to what we are talking about. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, accepted the spirit of the amendment and I hope that his contiguous presence might cause the Minister to do so too on this occasion.

Lord Filkin

I am sure the Committee will recognise that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer's contiguous presence always has a benign influence on me.

The Government understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that those who use sign language should not be disadvantaged in any way in seeking British citizenship. It is our firm intent that the Bill should not have such an effect. The present nationality instructions and the relevant guide, both of which are public documents, make it clear that applicants can demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the relevant language through sign language. That will continue to be the case.

The debate is how sign language is to be tested. The exact requirements need to be considered further. As I am sure the noble Baroness knows, there are many forms of sign language. We would like to consider the matter in more detail and consult organisations with expertise such as the British Deaf Association, RNID and others. I hope that the noble Baroness will therefore be content to withdraw the amendment while we reflect and return to the matter on Report, recognising that it is unlikely that the consultation process through Sir Bernard Crick will have been completed by then and that regulations will not necessarily be ready, but no doubt we should be in a better position to share with the House the work carried out over the summer.

There are two interconnected issues: first, how people who need to communicate in sign language can be assessed in ways that do not disadvantage them; secondly, exemptions. As the Committee knows, the Bill gives the Home Secretary powers to make exemptions from some of the evaluation criteria for certain people. It was envisaged that a person of 65 or more might not be expected to comply, just as people with certain disabilities might not be expected to comply. There might be a debate as to whether a person who could communicate only in sign language should be exempt in certain circumstances, such as if he was older, or whether it would be in his interests if he was younger to be helped to communicate as well as he could to maximise his contribution to and benefits from his citizenship.

The issues require careful thought and we would like to use the summer for it, taking up some of the points on consultation that have been mentioned. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I thank the Minister for his reply, although I was disappointed with parts of it. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Brooke for their support. I am grateful that support came from around the Committee. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, said, it is important that organisations outside the House are not alarmed by the process being implemented. The House has an effective role to play in debates on the issues in Clause 1, particularly because so many of the amendments tabled in another place were not called because of programming Motions. This is one example of an important matter that could not be debated through lack of time. I am therefore grateful to Members of the Committee for giving their time to the debate.

I am disappointed that the close relationship on the Front Bench between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, did not bring forth fruit at this stage, but I accept that the summer provides proper time for reflection. My patience will not last for ever and I was disappointed to hear that the conclusions from the Crick advisory committee may not be ready for Report stage. I will consider carefully the amendments I table on Report to take account of how far that committee has reached in its deliberations and of whether the Government are prepared to bring forward regulations at that stage or by Third Reading.

Those people preparing to make applications for naturalisation need to know how to approach the application in a proper manner. Having heard the Minister's response, I am prepared at this stage to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale)

In calling Amendment No. 6, I must inform the Committee that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 7.

[Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]

Lord Dholakia

moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 1, at beginning insert— () No regulation shall be made under subsection (1)(ba) or (bb) without prior consultation with, and agreement from—

  1. (a) the Commission far Racial Equality,
  2. (b) the Citizenship Foundation, and
  3. (c) the Immigration Advisory Service."
The noble Lord said: I was delighted when the Minister mentioned Sir Bernard Crick and the consultations likely to take place. There was some resistance in the other place to the need to involve certain key organisations in the process, particularly when regulations have been made. That is why our amendment seeks that no regulation should be made without prior consultation with and agreement from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Citizenship Foundation and the Immigration Advisory Service.

In Second Reading brief, the Commission for Racial Equality pointed out to us that there had been no proper consultation with interested parties as to what constitutes citizenship and what defines a British citizen: values, rights, ways and so on. The amendment allows us to argue the case for full and frank consultation and to stress that the definition of those terms is not only a matter for the Government; others should be consulted.

The amendment is straightforward and follows logically from the previous one. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic. A number of those organisations have carried out useful work. The list I have mentioned is not exclusive, but they were not chosen accidentally. The Commission for Racial Equality self-evidently has an interest and would like to be consulted. The Citizenship Foundation has made it its business to think through these issues and is keen to be engaged in the debate. The Immigration Advisory Service sees the practicalities of these matters in large volumes all the time. They are crucial organisations.

There are varying opinions on what constitutes citizenship: is it our values, our rights, or our way of life? The proposition is that we should have full and frank consultation. If we are to succeed we need to have ownership of what is being proposed. That can best come by consulting those who have carried out valuable work.

My honourable friend Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, mentioned the commission for citizenship set up between 1987 and 1989 by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when he was Speaker in the Commons. I should remind the Minister that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was a member of that body. The other members were some extremely important people: John Monks, who was, at that time, only the deputy general secretary of the TUC, Ted Wragg, Ben Whittaker, Maurice Stonefrost, John Beishon, Rodney Bickerstaffe, and a number of others.

The concern then expressed was that much time was spent on deciding how "citizenship" should be defined. I do not want to start inventing the wheel in this particular matter, but it must be possible to bring these people into the consultation process, especially when the regulations have been made. It will be a tremendous help to use the expertise of those people who have knowledge of such matters, and who have been involved in such work.

It is not our intention that such organisations should exercise a veto over the regulations that the Government will make; this amendment is designed simply to ensure that they participate in the consultation process on the basis of their particular knowledge. This recommendation is nothing new. If one looks at the Government's strategies under the Crime and Disorder Act, there is a partnership approach within which a number of organisations have been brought together and on the basis of which policies are pursued. I hope that that approach will be possible as regards the key organisations in relation to the regulations and the consultation process. I beg to move.

Lord Borrie

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has made a good case for the inclusion of organisations such as the ones specified in the amendment. He will know in more detail than I—and, indeed, for the reasons that he gave—whether those organisations are the main bodies concerned, or whether there are others that should be consulted. Towards the end of his remarks the noble Lord said that it was not his intention that all, or any, of the organisations should have a veto on the regulations. However, I hope the noble Lord will agree that, as it stands, the amendment refers not only to "consultation with" but also "agreement" by each of those bodies. Therefore, on his own explanation of the purposes of the amendment, it must surely be deficient. I believe that it would be advisable to provide that such bodies should be consulted on these matters. However, it is a matter for the Minister to say whether or not that should be specified on the face of the Bill.

Lord Avebury

As far as possible, we wish to have agreement on such matters. That is why the word "agreement" has been placed in the text of the amendment. I well understand the objections made to this proposal when it was discussed in another place. However, we have moved on a little from that stage. We now have a committee under Sir Bernard Crick. I do not know whether the Minister is to nominate all the members of that committee, or whether advice will be taken from Sir Bernard on who his colleagues will be. The Minister was a little indefinite when questioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, in that respect. If the Commission for Racial Equality, the Citizenship Foundation, and the Immigration Advisory Service were asked to nominate individuals who could serve on the committee with Sir Bernard, that might be a good way to satisfy the requirement in the amendment that there should be prior consultation with such bodies, especially those, as my noble friend said, with almost unrivalled expertise when looking at the question of citizenship.

In that connection, can the Minister say whether Sir Bernard will start with a blank sheet of paper? The more we discuss the matter, the more Ministers lift the veil a little and say what they believe is meant by, sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom". The Minister was good enough to agree with me that there was perhaps a difference in this requirement as regards Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England, but that is not the only difference that might exist. As I tried to point out when we discussed a previous amendment, there are also differences between the nature of the person's life in the United Kingdom; for example, the occupation that he will take up, and the milieu in which he will live. The latter may vary enormously between one applicant for citizenship and another.

I believe, therefore, that it would be a good idea for the Minister to confirm in his response that he will ensure that the Commission for Racial Equality, the Citizenship Foundation, and the IAS are invited to give their views. I do not mean exclusively, because there will be more than four members of the proposed committee. I take the point made earlier about the necessity for drawing on the widest possible advice. With due regard to the necessity for making this an open process in which anyone can take part, priority must surely be given to the claims of organisations with particular knowledge in such matters when considering both the selection of the membership of Sir Bernard's committee, and the invitations to give evidence.

Perhaps I may also point out to the Minister that we have a similar procedure in this Chamber. I have in mind Select Committees, which invite evidence from members of the public. General invitations are sent out, to which anyone can respond. Oral evidence may then be required from particular witnesses with special knowledge. If Sir Bernard were to adopt a similar approach, it would be most useful. I hope that the noble Lord will give consideration to that suggestion.

Viscount Bridgeman

This amendment is identical to one that was tabled in Standing Committee in another place. As my honourable friend Humfrey Malins made clear, we support the thinking behind the amendment; namely, that there should be consultation with the appropriate non-governmental organisations on the nature and content of the tests that applicants for naturalisation will have to sit. Our only concern with this amendment is that, as has been mentioned, we do not believe that it goes far enough. The doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, about any question of a veto should, I believe, be properly addressed at a later stage of this Bill

The amendment names three organisations only, while there are many other organisations that ought properly to be consulted. I shall not detain Members of the Committee with a list. My honourable friend Humfrey Maims made some suggestions in Standing Committee in another place (Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 30/4/02; col. 22). I welcome the commitment made by the Government during the consideration of this amendment in another place to consultation with non-governmental organisations on the regulations. The Minister at that time, Angela Eagle, said in the Standing Committee that, when determining the contents of these regulations, the Government would, consult and listen to the best expert advice".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 30/4/02; col. 23.] I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that commitment this afternoon. I know that the noble Lord has spoken about the possible composition of this committee under Sir Bernard Crick, but anything that he can add as a result of this amendment will be most welcome.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

In speaking briefly to Amendment No. 8, perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee that I have a potential interest as I hold a chair in citizenship at Liverpool John Moore's University. I strongly support the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has laid before the Committee, although I do not believe that it is necessarily right in its detail. It would be better if it were framed in a more generic way. All of us have some reservations about putting long lists of organisations into primary legislation. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, just said, there are many other organisations apart from the three specified in the amendment that could also be included. I have in mind, for example, the Institute for Citizenship, which could stand alongside the three already mentioned in the amendment. Doubtless, there are many other such organisations.

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded the Committee, the principle of consulting with such groups, though not necessarily being held to ransom by any of them, is certainly the right way forward. Following up the questions that have already been asked as to whether or not there will be any requirement on Sir Bernard Crick's committee to call witnesses, can the Minster say when we may expect the report? It would be enormously helpful if an interim report on this particular subject could be issued before we meet again to consider such matters on Report.

As soon as September falls, we are all acutely aware that another set of Sir Bernard's recommendations are due. I refer to those that have been incorporated into the Education Bill, and which will be implemented in our schools. Indeed, for the first time ever in secondary schools, citizenship will be taught. Many of us also hope that that will not turn into a dreary round of dry-as-dust British constitutional civics. However, important issues that affect the whole population of the United Kingdom, not just incomers, are raised by the teaching of citizenship in schools and by Part 1 of the Bill. For instance, Part 1 raises the possibility of the removal of citizenship. That interests me. There may, sometimes, be good grounds for removing citizenship, as a way of showing someone that he has behaved in an unacceptable or anti-social way. That might make him take the matter rather more seriously than previously.

I strongly support what the Government are doing to encourage the celebration of citizenship. It is right to encourage such celebration, and the United States model is a good one. I am glad that that seen-is to be part of the Government's thinking.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has done the Committee a service by putting the amendment before us. We have had a useful discussion, and I hope that the Minister will address some of the issues raised.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I shiver slightly when the Minister talks about delivering a curriculum. That is a bad way of looking at things. Sir Bernard must decide what people must know; the people who teach will decide what the curriculum will be. I hope that the Home Secretary's carry-over from the Department for Education and Employment will not affect this issue. That would damage the exercise.

Baroness Uddin

I also support the amendment. The Government began on the principle of being open and of consulting as wide a group of people as possible. The amendment is entirely in line with that.

I agree with Members of the Committee who have said that we should not, at this stage, advocate the prescription of the different groups. In fact, advocacy is precisely what the amendment aspires to—advocacy by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Citizenship Foundation and, of course, the Immigration Advisory Service, whose work I know well. The community can have some confidence that such groups act as advocates on its behalf with powerful government institutions.

The amendment would give us some leeway to send out an important message. At a time when so many messages about nationality, immigration and asylum seem to have gone wrong, it is important that we leave the door open to public bodies that are supported and nurtured by ordinary folk. Many people depend on such organisations and vice versa.

Lord Filkin

I strongly agree with the central thrust of the debate. It is important that we get the regulations right and, in the light of the matters on which Sir Bernard is focusing, that we have processes that ensure that all those with interests and expertise can contribute. We consulted widely with NGOs on the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven, and the views of many of the organisations that responded were interesting and helpful.

The advisory group that Sir Bernard has been invited to chair is still at a relatively early stage of development. It is a little premature for us to debate the membership. No doubt Sir Bernard will put his thoughts on that matter to the Home Secretary, who will make the relevant announcements. The thoughts expressed in our debate will, no doubt, be of interest and of potential use.

Does Sir Bernard have a blank sheet of paper? He is expected to understand the policy objectives set out in the White Paper. We talked about those in some detail this afternoon. We want to have such an expert on the advisory group to give others with, we hope, varying but related expertise a free hand to come forward with their views. That is very much in the spirit of what has been said. We want people to succeed—or get by—as citizens, rather than expecting them to be academic or anything of that type.

As ever, there will be a tension between, on the one hand, openness, consultation and the opportunity for people to participate and, on the other, an early response. My view is that it is unlikely—and would, perhaps, be unwise—that we would try to get Sir Bernard to report by, say, early September, in time for the Government to give our considered view. That would, arguably, be too short a time in which to get the benefit of his expertise. That expertise will inform the regulations that the Government will make, and the House will have an opportunity to consider whether it is content with those regulations.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I am sure that the Minister will not mind if I interrupt him to point out that we are sitting not as the House but as a Committee.

Lord Filkin

I am grateful for that advice. I shall seek to recollect that we are in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, made a point about whether the group would call witnesses. That is a matter for Sir Bernard and the committee, and it will have a bearing on the speed with which he can report. He will decide whether he can fulfil his remit adequately with or without doing that. We should leave such issues to him.

I agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. If I talk about what people need to know and what organisations need to teach them, it might produce a less dire feeling than words such as "curriculum". That is the essence of what I meant. We must be clear about the competencies that people will be helped to achieve.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Would not it be better to express the whole thing in terms of outcomes and by referring to what people need to know? People may not need to go through a course, as they may know it all already. It would be an another way of putting it. That may not have sprung to the mind of the people who drafted the Bill, but it is an important point.

Lord Filkin

In essence, I was informally shaking hands with the noble Baroness on that point. We are talking about the skills and knowledge that are needed to allow someone to be a competent and effective citizen, in their own interest and as a participant in society. That is the issue that we seek to address with this measure.

The Earl of Onslow

I am a little confused by the concept of the test. Will it be a set test for everybody? If so, the answers to the test will be publicly known, and no one will need to do any work. Will there be a different test for everybody? How will it work?

I am in sympathy with the Government about this, and they know that. However, some practical problems will raise their ugly heads. If people know that one of the questions will be, for the sake of argument, "What is heptarchy?", will that be all that they need to know—nothing else? Will people need to know only the answers to six, eight or 10 questions? Will there be generic, general knowledge questions? Some people may say that the test set by an immigration authority in one part of the country is harder than that set by another. I see terrible problems, and the Government must take them into account.

Lord Filkin

We are slightly in danger of going back to the previous amendment. The Government recognise that we do not have a monopoly of wisdom on such matters. That is why we are forming an external advisory group to report to the Home Secretary and, no doubt, in public as well. Everyone will see the nature of the advice before we make regulations. It is as well to leave that process to take its course, informed, no doubt, by the contributions made in Committee.

I think that I have responded to most points raised in the debate. Respectfully, I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn at this stage.

Lord Dholakia

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I was not expecting a report to be produced in time for the Report stage of the Bill. However, it would be useful to our discussions on Report to have available an outline of the requirements. There is a fear among ethnic minority groups in this country about the demands to be made of them—it is not that they do not want to comply with them. They are concerned about what is expected of them in terms of the knowledge or the test under discussion. What better bodies are there in this country than the Commission for Racial Equality, the Citizenship Foundation and the Immigration Advisory Service to be involved? They have considerable knowledge of the community. Ultimately, the provisions must be sold to those who are affected by them and that can be done more easily if those bodies are involved in the process.

Lord Filkin

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord hut I failed to address that issue in my response. It is only proper that I do. In making regulations, we will consult widely, as we normally do. I find it inconceivable that we would not consult with those three bodies—we will want to consult with them and many others. We would not feel it appropriate for government ever to give a power of veto to an external body over such matters, while respecting that we want to consider properly comments that it makes. I hope that that reply is helpful.

Lord Dholakia

I am grateful to the Minister. On the basis of his comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

The Earl of Sandwich

moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2, line 15, at end insert— () make provision for the Secretary of State to make payment to provide specified courses for these purposes and to make payment for travel and childcare costs for those attending. The noble Earl said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Hylton, and on his behalf, I rise to move Amendment No. 10. Its purpose is to secure funding to enable asylum seekers who are required to do so, but who do not have adequate means, to learn the English language and acquire knowledge about life in the UK so that they are not further disadvantaged.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who laid the groundwork for the proposal in the previous group of amendments. I listened to the Minister's reply and was a little troubled when he mentioned problems and shortfalls relating to colleges of education. Perhaps he would elaborate on that.

A sufficient knowledge of English is recognised by every Member of the Committee but it requires access to facilities for asylum seekers which they may not enjoy in induction or accommodation centres, especially if they are dispersed to areas away from language teaching centres or colleges of education. What provision is intended and will the Government undertake to meet travel and perhaps childcare costs where necessary? If not, those will have to be met from the limited funds of non-governmental organisations. That is why many such organisations, including the highly respected Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, support the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I rise to support what has been said by the noble Earl. It is important that the Government should answer the point and I am sure that my noble friend will do so. Where the Bill is silent on this matter, it is important that the Government should make payments to enable people to attend the courses. If the Government have not specified that either in the Bill or in the regulations, they should do so.

Lord Dholakia

I, too, rise to support the amendment. The reasons are clear; in many parts of the country there is a considerable amount of unemployment and people do not have adequate resources. In many cases, women go to work and support the family. If they are expected to benefit by such provision, it is right and proper that facilities and finances are available to enable them to undertake the task. We shall be delighted if the Minister can say that those facilities will be available.

Baroness Uddin

I support the amendment. Numerous members of Government. have often talked about the isolation of women and their participation in British life. It is important that we put the money where our mouth is.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Filkin

I thank the noble Earl for raising these important issues. However, for reasons which I shall explain, I do not believe that an amendment to the Bill is required. Although final decisions have yet to be made about precisely how courses will be delivered, it seems likely that it will be done mainly by further education colleges on the basis of funds allocated to them by the Learning and Skills Council as part of DfES's "Adult Basic Skills" programme and similar programmes in the devolved administration.

In those circumstances, there is no need for the Bill to provide a specific regulation-making power to enable the Secretary of State to make a payment for courses. However, as was said in discussions on earlier amendments, there was concern about the adequacy of supply, for example, in English language teaching in all parts of the country. That is why I signalled that a tracking exercise was being undertaken by the department with the DfES to identify whether there were any shortfalls and to ensure that action was taken to address them where possible.

The noble Earl rightly drew attention to the difficulties that people, in particular those with childcare responsibilities, might have in attending courses and he was supported by other Members of the Committee. That is a much wider issue and could apply to attendance on many other courses, not simply those relating to the matters we are discussing today. However, a specific regulation-making power is not needed in respect of travel or childcare costs. Learner support funds are available to those who are eligible for free-course provision, which should include most of those we envisage would need to attend citizenship courses. Learner support funds can be used to help individuals with the cost associated with, for example, transport, books and equipment, childcare provision and even residential charges.

While respecting the reasons for arguing the amendment in Committee, for the reasons I have given I do not believe that it is needed. I respectfully request that it be withdrawn.

The Earl of Sandwich

The Minister has been most reassuring but I do not believe that this is quite the end of the matter. I shall confer with my noble friend because I believe that further explanation is required before the Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Lord Avebury

moved Amendment No. 12: Page 2, line 15, at end insert— () Any person aggrieved by a decision of the Secretary of State made under this section may appeal to a county court judge. The noble Lord said: The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 87, although the two are concerned with completely different issues, as the Minister will have realised. The first amendment is concerned with the right of appeal of a person who fails the test imposed by Clause 1. As the Bill stands, anyone who does not pass the knowledge test on life in the United Kingdom will automatically be refused citizenship and he will have no right of appeal. I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree that that is not satisfactory.

Without knowing anything about the decisions that will be made as a result of Sir Bernard's committee, we ought to include a provision in the Bill ensuring that people who fail have some kind of right. We suggest that it should be to the county court. I am open to any suggestions that the Minister may have, provided that he accepts the principle.

Amendment No. 87 is of a different order of magnitude because it concerns the refusal of an application for naturalisation. I note that in Clause 7 the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981, which prevent anyone making an appeal to a court if he is aggrieved against the refusal of such an order, are repealed. Perhaps that means that the person has a right now to go to court or some other tribunal and contest the decision of the Secretary of State to refuse him citizenship.

It is not an academic point. Over the years I have had a number of cases where citizenship has been arbitrarily refused; and with a great deal of persistence it is sometimes possible to overturn that decision. I mention a recent case which occurred during the regime of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. A friend of mind who has been resident in this country for 28 years was refused his application for citizenship. After a great deal of discussion the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, told me that it was because of adverse information given to the Home Office by the Foreign Office about his activities in connection with his home country. On 6th January, I finally obtained an interview with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, at which he was unable to give me the details of the information that he had received from the Foreign Office but said that he would investigate the matter further and come back to me. In due course, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, overturned the decision that he himself had made and granted my friend citizenship.

In the absence of any right of appeal, it needed a lot of work to get through the bureaucracy to establish to the satisfaction of the Minister that my friend had been wrongfully refused citizenship on the basis of false information which had been supplied by another department. Are we to say that in those circumstances the only remedy a person has is to come to a Member of Parliament or of this House and, after months of work, finally to get the decision overturned? It is surely more satisfactory to provide for appeal on the face of the Bill so that everyone can take advantage of the provision and it is not simply those who happen to know a Member of this House or another place who can act. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I fail to understand the amendment. New Section 40 provides for an appeal where there has been deprivation of citizenship. Every point made by the noble Lord is answered by that provision.

Lord Filkin

I agree with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to table Amendment No. 12 to ensure that naturalisation applicants should he treated fairly when it comes to testing the requirements relating to knowledge of a relevant language and of life in the United Kingdom. But the Government are opposed to introducing a right of appeal against nationality decisions. That is partly because in practical terms there are limited consequences stemming from a refusal to grant nationality. More importantly, however, no one has a right to acquire citizenship of another country. In the United Kingdom such matters are usually discretionary. Granting appeal rights against discretionary decisions would in effect be transferring that discretion from the Secretary of State to an appellate body while decisions can, if necessary, be challenged through judicial review or making representations, as has been indicated, through a Member of Parliament.

The intention is that when an applicant applies to the Home Office he or she will provide evidence that he meets the necessary requirements in the form of some certificate or similar indicating that he has reached a certain standard or attended a particular course. The Home Secretary will not normally look behind that evidence unless, of course, he has some sound reason to think that the evidence may be false.

So it would not be appropriate in our view to provide for a right of appeal against the Secretary of State's decision in these matters. If an individual is dissatisfied with the assessment of his or her competence in a particular language or of his knowledge of the citizenship curriculum this could no doubt be taken up in the usual way with the relevant body.

I accept that there is also a broader concern about the lack of appeal rights in the context of applications for British citizenship. To some extent the case for an appeal is met by existing procedures and by new provisions contained in Part 1 of the Bill. That refers to Clause 7 which enables the Secretary of State to give reasons for his decision and removes the bar on a full judicial review which currently exists. Clause 7 would repeal the Secretary of State's statutory exemption from the common law obligation to give reasons for his discretionary decisions under the Act. In practice, however, reasons are already being given in all cases and there is a long-standing policy of re-examining and, where this seems justified, reversing contested nationality decisions. Caseworkers have been given clear instructions on that.

Furthermore, where maladministration is alleged, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration may be asked to investigate. Clause 7 removes the limitation on the power of the courts to review discretionary nationality decisions by enabling the decision to be subject to a normal judicial review, as I have indicated. That will include consideration of the reasonablenesss of the Secretary of State's decision.

In general, however, no one has a right to acquire another country's citizenship. In the UK it is for Parliament to lay down the conditions for the acquisition of British citizenship and the various rights and privileges that go with it. As I indicated previously, the introduction of a full right of appeal would result in the transfer of that necessary discretion to the appellate body. The tradition has always been, and I think rightly, that it sits with the Secretary of State.

However, it is proper to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, a decision not to grant citizenship–I indicated that that does not have severe penalties–and on the other a decision to withdraw citizenship already acquired or granted, which we shall consider later in Committee. After careful consideration the Government have decided that they are justified in conceding a full right of appeal against deprivation of citizenship because the burden of that is so much more painful than the non-award of citizenship, which in most cases would be because a person had not demonstrated through the processes we have indicated—an external assessment body, a college of further education—that he had met the necessary competence. In the light of those comments, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

As I understand, the Government want a fair and open system of assessment of someone's right to apply for citizenship. The Minister, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, says yea or nay. If the Minister has acted wrongly or capriciously I cannot understand why there should not be an appeal to a body. That seems fair. Ministers occasionally, not often, make mistakes.

Lord Filkin

I indicated that in the circumstances suggested by the noble Earl—that the Minister had acted capriciously—there is exactly the remedy he seeks through judicial review.

Lord Avebury

I am not sure that that gives an adequate remedy to the person aggrieved by the refusal of his application for citizenship. He has to demonstrate for the purposes of judicial review that the Secretary of State made a decision which was manifestly unreasonable. That is a pretty stiff hurdle to surmount. If the person can go to the courts, other matters could be argued: for instance, that the Minister has assessed incorrectly his character under the good character requirement.

Many years ago there was an argument about someone who was driving in this country on an international driving licence. In answer to the question, "Have you ever thought of taking the test in this country?" he replied that he had thought of taking the test but was absent when the test date was given to him and, therefore, did not take it. The Secretary of State refused him citizenship on the ground t hat he had given a misleading answer. The best I could get out of the Secretary of State at that time was that he would review that person's citizenship application if he applied again after two years. He did so and then sailed through despite the argument about the driving test and whether he was entitled to drive in this country on an international driving licence. So there can be completely frivolous reasons why the Secretary of State believes that the good character requirement has not been met.

As I mentioned when introducing the amendment, certain facts were alleged against that person 'which proved to be quite wrong, as the Secretary of State admitted. He was not manifestly unreasonable in relying on the advice given to him by the Foreign Office and my friend may not have succeeded in an application for judicial review under those circumstances. It seems a very heavy hammer with which to crack the nut of wrong decisions by the Secretary of State. We shall return to this matter on Report.

As regards the failure of the examination under Clause I, we shall need to see a little more of how Sir Bernard gets on with the job he has been given by the Government. We may also come back to that matter in October.

5 p.m.

Lord Ackner

Will the Minister indicate from where the material on which to base an application for judicial review is to come? As I understand it, there is no obligation on the Minister, when refusing an application, to give his reasons. I do not follow quite how it will be shown that the Minister has acted wholly unjudicially.

Judicial review is not a process of appeal. It is only there to ensure, to put it in round phrases, that there has been fair play. It does not go to the merits of the decision. That is its inadequacy.

Lord Avebury

Perhaps I may help the noble and learned Lord. In the case that I am talking about the applicant did not know what exactly had been alleged against him until I went to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He was very frank when I went to see him on 6th January and he told me precisely what the Foreign Office had said against this person. But up until that time he had no way of knowing the reasons for the refusal.

Lord Filkin

As I sought to make clear, Clause 7 will repeal the Secretary of State's statutory exemption from the common law obligation to give reasons. Put in plain English, the Secretary of State will give his reasons for refusal. Therefore it would be more open for an aggrieved person, if they so wished, to make a challenge.

However, before anyone rushes away thinking that they will have to go to court, there are obvious alternative processes. Perhaps I may focus on an area where there clearly is a discretion for the Secretary of State—that is, the relevant clause in regard to good character—and put to one side the colleges of further education issues. There has never been an appeal process up to now and, to the Government's knowledge, there has not been any significant number of problems. I do not say no problems.

It is important that the Home Office has in place, as I believe it has, processes by which, if someone did appeal against a refusal by the Secretary of State, the case can be reconsidered by a different official from the one who made the original recommendation and gave advice and at a higher level in the Civil Service than the level at which the original decision had been made. So there would be a fresh pair of eyes looking at the issues and seeing, in the light of representations that had been made in response to the reasons given by the Home Secretary, whether or not the original decision was justifiable.

Lord Avebury

That is not the same as a proper judicial hearing in which all the facts can be thrashed out in the open. A different set of civil servants looking at the issue behind the scenes is not a satisfactory remedy. We will come back to this matter on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Naturalisation: spouse of citizen]:

Lord Dholakia

moved Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 17, after "paragraphs" insert "2, The noble Lord said: The Minister will breathe a sigh of relief that we have passed from Clause 1 to Clause 2. These amendments concern the issue of citizenship by naturalisation, which we wish to probe further because we did not get an adequate reply when the matter was raised in another place.

In moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 14 and 15. The amendments address a very simple point, which was referred to us initially by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. Clause 2(1) extends the existing language requirement to include those who are applying for naturalisation as the spouses of a British citizen or British Overseas Territories citizen. Under the Bill, spouses will have to comply also with the knowledge of the UK requirement.

As we have been told, it will continue to be possible for the Secretary of State to waive the language requirement on grounds of age or physical or mental condition, but there is as yet no provision to allow the Secretary of State to waive the knowledge of the UK requirement in such circumstances. The argument is that it should be possible to waive that requirement for those who come and apply on residence grounds and for those who come on marriage grounds.

The logic is fairly clear. Some people, perfectly reasonably and lawfully, meet someone and decide to marry them. It may not take them six years to make a decision. We cannot expect people suddenly to fit in to those arrangements the learning of the language and so on. The person from this country may speak the other language, or a couple may not have a language in common. Sometimes this does not prevent people from deciding that they love each other and want to get married. We must be sensible about this.

What is the minimum residency requirement, if any, that the Government have in mind before any residence in Britain by virtue of marriage can be turned into a citizenship entitlement? When people apply as spouses they usually get a conditional right to be here. The period has traditionally been a year but the Government have talked about it being two years. Would that apply in the context that we are discussing in the amendment? If someone married a UK citizen and wanted to be naturalised, would it be assumed that there would be a minimum of two years before they could put in their application? The clause would be more sensible if it were amended in the way that we suggest.

Amendment No. 15 is slightly different and concerns the current nationality law which allows a spouse to apply for naturalisation after three years of having been living legally in the United Kingdom. The amendment would allow a spouse who has been in the United Kingdom for three years exemption from the language test as it is as present. This is on the basis that after such a time it is expected that a spouse would be sufficiently integrated into the community of the spouse who is the existing British citizen. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland

I should inform the Minister that we shall not be promoting our amendment in this group.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, but I am slightly confused. My understanding—I may be wrong—is that this group contains Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15, all of which stand in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury, not the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. So what appeared to be a helpful remark has left other Members of the Committee rather bewildered.

Lord Dholakia

I would not mind if the noble Lord cared to join with our amendments.

Lord Kingsland

This was an amendment that we pursued in another place. I suppose that I have rather come to espouse it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The essence of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in support of these three amendments is, first, that there should be a discretion to waive the requirement; and, secondly, that in certain cases it should not apply at all to spouses.

The first two amendments seek to provide for the exercise of a discretion in special cases to waive the Government's proposed knowledge about life in the United Kingdom requirement. We share that aim with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. This is achieved by Clause 1(2), which we inserted into the Bill by way of amendment in the Commons. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in regard to Amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

The third amendment in the group would provide a complete exemption for the language and knowledge about life in the United Kingdom requirements for people applying for naturalisation as British citizens on the ground of marriage to British citizens. We find such a proposal unacceptable. We believe that it is in the best interests of all concerned that, irrespective of marital status, all naturalisation applicants should have the knowledge and linguistic skills necessary to play a full part in society. As, however, with unmarried naturalisation applicants, there would be a discretion to 'waive the knowledge requirements for the spouses of British citizens where age or medical grounds justify that. I hope that my response gives the noble Lord some comfort in respect of his amendment.

Lord Dholakia

I am glad that Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 have seen some consent from the Minister. We shall certainly consult the organisation that brought this matter to our attention on Amendment No. 15. It may be necessary to return to it on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Avebury

moved Amendment No. 16: After Clause 2, insert the Following new clause—


  1. (1) A person within this section shall be entitled to register as a British citizen so long as an application is duly made within a period of five years from commencement.
  2. (2) A person is within this section if—
    1. (a) he was born after February 1961 but prior to 1st January 1983; and
    2. (b) at the time of his birth he would have been a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies under section 5 of the British Nationality Act 1948 (acquisition by descent), had the reference therein to "father" been a reference to either parent; and
    3. (c) as a result he would immediately prior to 1st January 1983 have had the right of abode in the United Kingdom.
  3. (3) A person registered under subsection (1) shall be a British citizen by descent."

The noble Lord said: This amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 88, which aims to achieve the same objective but by a slightly different route. The main difference between the two is that in Amendment No. 16 the cut-off date of February 1961 is retained from the British Nationality Act, whereas in Amendment No. 88 it is removed entirely.

The point of this proposal is that, when the Government partially removed the general discrimination in the British Nationality Act 1981, having previously done it by administrative discretion in 1979, so as to allow the children of a British mother who were born abroad to be registered as British citizens, provided it was done while they were still minors, that obviously applied only to children born after 1961 because, by definition, they would not have been minors at the time of the 1981 Act. That was the reason for the cut-off date. There is no logic in it. If we say—as the Government did by implication—that we are going to remove the gender discrimination that existed prior to 1981 by allowing the children of British mothers to be registered as citizens just as much as the children of British fathers, it should have made no difference that they had already reached the age of majority, because they could have been given the right to apply in their own right. So Amendment No. 88 removes the 1961 date, but Amendment No. 16—which is by far the lesser of the two demands that we are making—would retain that provision from the 1981 Act. We believe that if you are removing gender discrimination, you should do it entirely and not in part, and that the second solution is much the better if we can persuade the Government to accept it.

How did it come about that there are still people who were not registered even though their mothers had the right to register them? In many cases it was simply because the mothers were unaware of the 1981 provision and therefore did not take advantage of it until it was too late.

Perhaps I may give an example. It relates to the leader of a new NGO called CAMPAIGNS—I shall not read out what the acronym stands for, but it is an ingenious usage. He was born in the United States in 1967 to a British mother and a US father. At the time, his mother made inquiries at the British Consulate in the US and was told that he could not obtain UK nationality. That was presumably because the correct information had not been fed across to our Consulate in the US. Additionally, while his mother was in Britain she approached the Home Office directly—so she told her son—in an attempt to get recognition of the right to pass on her UK nationality to her children. She was told that, because she was a woman, she could not pass on her nationality, in spite of the fact that the 1981 Act was then in force.

Mr Turberville, the leader of the CAMPAIGNS organisation, has two siblings who were born in the UK with the same parents and both of those children have UK nationality. He also has three siblings born outside the UK and outside the Commonwealth. They are in the same boat as he is. They are not entitled to UK nationality under current legislation because they have already reached the age of majority.

Mr. Turberville is resident in this country and has been here for eight years as an over-stayer. He was served with a deportation order—or so the Home Office said—but he did not receive it. He went to court and a date was set for the hearing, but in the meantime the Home Secretary revoked the deportation order, then issued another one three days later. That action delayed the process for another two years. A hearing with an adjudicator finally took place on 27th June to determine the legitimacy of the reissuing of the notice by the Secretary of State. A decision on the case is expected in about six to eight weeks' time.

What is all this for? It is to deprive someone who has a British mother of the right to citizenship on the same basis as if his father, instead of his mother, was the basis of the claim. I do not think that anyone would defend that situation now. If anyone did, I suggest to the Minister that it is likely that Mr Turberville and the 50 other people of whom he knows who were in the same boat would have a right to go to court under the Human Rights Act. But let us hope that the case does not get to that point. I am sure that the Minister, being a reasonable person, will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comment regarding my reasonableness. I hope that what I say will further persuade him that, although there are clearly some difficulties, the Government's approach is reasonable.

It is perhaps worth reminding the Committee that the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on 1st January 1983. Prior to that date, the law on nationality was contained principally in the British Nationality Act 1948. There are many similarities between the 1981 Act and the 1948 Act, but, as one might expect, some significant differences.

Both Acts placed a general limitation on the ability of one generation to pass on citizenship to the next, subject to a few exceptions the nature of which has varied over time. Citizenship has traditionally not been transmissible beyond the first generation born outside British territory. Both Acts achieved this by dividing people into citizens "by descent" who, because their own UK connections are not particularly close, cannot pass on citizenship to any children born abroad and citizens "otherwise than by descent" who can so transmit.

The rationale for all of this is that, by the time a second generation is born abroad, the link with the United Kingdom is too remote to justify the automatic conferral of citizenship. Instead, provision has usually been made for the second generation to obtain citizenship on application provided certain criteria relating to UK residence have been satisfied. This seems to us to be entirely reasonable. We see no reason to interfere with the arrangement in respect of those born abroad before 1983 or subsequently.

Where the 1981 Act and the 1948 Act take a different approach is on the ability of women to transmit their citizenship. Under the 1948 Act a female citizen could not pass on citizenship, even if she was a citizen otherwise than by descent. The 1981 Act reversed that position and now allows women to transmit on equal terms—quite rightly in our view—with men. But for a number of reasons this change was not made retrospective. In other words, those born abroad before 1983 derive no automatic nationality benefit from a UK connection in the maternal line.

Since 1979, such people have been able to rely on the Secretary of State's discretion to register any minor as a citizen, but an application has to be made for that purpose and the person concerned must be under 18 when he or she applies.

I accept the limitations of that approach, but we would not be justified in conferring on those who are now adults an unconditional entitlement to register as citizens. Some may have spent their whole life in another country and acquired the citizenship of that country. That is a telling point in the argument. Those who have come to the UK since birth will have been able to qualify for naturalisation as a citizen. It is right that as adults they should be able to demonstrate connections with this country—we believe that to be a very important criterion—beyond those based on parentage.

That is the rationale behind our thinking, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, there can be difficulties in some circumstances. The Secretary of State's discretion is an important issue. It has been valuably exercised in many cases.

I hope that with those comments the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Russell

The Minister over-simplifies a little by suggesting that those affected by the amendment do not have a particularly close connection with this country. I declare an interest. I have a pupil who is directly and squarely within the words of the amendment. He has just completed his degree at the college and been awarded the History Today prize for the best dissertation by any candidate in the whole of history finals. He wishes to do postgraduate research in this country. His father is a New Zealander. His mother is British. Three of his four grandparents are British. His father and mother intend to settle in Cambridge on their retirement. He has not been permanently resident in this country because his father is a lecturer at the Free University of Berlin. He is therefore ineligible for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board for postgraduate research. That is a severe handicap to him, which would not he the case if the genders of his two parents had been reversed, if I may make such an Irish suggestion. The situation does not seem fair, reasonable or in the interests of this country.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Earl has picked out a bad case. I shall not commit myself to suggesting that it would translate itself into good and effective law, but we shall read through with great interest what the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have said and take those points into consideration. I have not heard anything today to persuade me that our general approach is wrong.

Lord Avebury

I am obviously not going to persuade the Minister to agree to the amendment this afternoon, but I am grateful for his assurance that he will take the matter away and consider it. Perhaps he will confirm that he would be prepared to meet me to discuss the problem with members of CAMPAIGNS, of whom there are about 50. The concession would not affect a vast number of people and make a difference to the immigration figures.

I do not see how people can comply with the requirement of having to live here and demonstrate the connection if, like the leader of CAMPAIGNS, they are treated as overstayers. He comes here intending to reside permanently in the United Kingdom, but he has no right to do that and after eight years he is up against the possibility of being deported. Does the noble Lord consider that members of the organisation are in a Catch-22 situation? Maybe they have lived overseas for many years and therefore cannot demonstrate the connection with the United Kingdom that the Minister demands. On the other hand, if they come to the United Kingdom in an attempt to establish their connection with this country, they become illegal entrants and the noble Lord and his minions will throw them out. That does not make sense.

The noble Lord has already admitted that there is gender discrimination, which was only partially corrected by the 1981 Act. He did not answer my question about the Human Rights Act. Does he think that the gender discrimination that is incorporated into our nationality law, without the amendment, will land the Government in severe trouble?

Those are the matters that I would like to discuss with the noble Lord. On the basis that we shall have an opportunity to talk about them with those who are aggrieved by the rejection of the amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it at the moment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Schedule I [Citizenship Ceremony, Oath and Pledge]:

Lord Dholakia

moved Amendment No. 17: Page 80, line 9, leave out "citizenship" and insert "nationality The noble Lord said: The amendment is grouped with a large number of others. The purpose is to seek clarification, because there is confusion in the early part of the Bill, which continues to refer to citizenship when it really means nationality. Will the Minister explain that? There is a legal definition of nationality, whereas there is not yet a legal definition of citizenship.

The amendment follows a discussion that we had with the Citizenship Foundation, which explained that not much thought has been given to the distinction between the legal understanding of nationality and the social and philosophical understanding of citizenship. Many of us who have applied for a visa to travel to other countries know that we are frequently asked not about citizenship, but about nationality. That is where confusion occurs between the two expressions.

In part, this is a probing amendment. However, there is also an underlying question of whether it would be more consistent for legislation to deal with the well-understood legal concept of nationality rather than muddying the water by adding citizenship, the meaning of which is nowhere properly defined. It would be helpful if the Minister would clarify that. Should we substitute "nationality" for "citizenship"? I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for raising this issue. Some legal systems and treaties consistently use the term "nationality", whereas others consistently refer to "citizenship" while trying to convey the same meaning. Our understanding is that both expressions a re in current usage in the UK. They have been used interchangeably and still are to a large extent. Nationality has tended to be used in the narrow, more technical sense of a person's international identity, belonging to a particular state. It may be evidenced in the use of a passport. Citizenship is more about the various rights, duties and opportunities that define one's place and conduct in a society. It has an internal complexion to it. We talk about active citizenship within a society. Nationality is a concept primarily of international law for inter-state purposes such as diplomatic protection.

In the context of the oath, pledge and ceremony that the Government have in mind, we prefer the term "citizenship" because of the wider implications with which it is associated.

We have made it clear in earlier debates that we see the acquisition of British citizenship as a significant life event. We are seeking to enhance the process of becoming British. As a sign of the importance that we attach to the matter, we want to encourage that feeling. The use of "citizenship" is therefore more appropriate. I think that, linguistically, other countries conduct themselves in a similar way. We think that, in seeking to persuade us to reverse our position, the noble Lord may have it the wrong way round, as "citizenship" means rather more and "nationality" rather less in these circumstances.

I understand the debate which the noble Lord is trying to stimulate. We recognise that it is a very important debate. However, we believe that our term is not only more user friendly but perhaps more relevant in achieving our policy objectives. With that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I did not intervene earlier because I wanted to hear the Minister's reply. Having heard it, I am now as much confused as enlightened by it. He said that citizenship is more about rights and opportunities. However, he also said that the terms "citizenship" and "nationality" tend to be interchangeable—although they tend to be used for different purposes. That seems a very unsatisfactory basis for legislation, where words need a precise meaning and not simply to tend to mean one thing or another according to the whim of the person using them.

I think that the Minister said that the terms are not synonymous in this legislation. If that is so, I think that we will need to know the difference. The process of naturalisation is quite clearly intended to confer both nationality and citizenship. If they are different, what is the difference?

This debate all comes down to the difficulty we have in this country in defining "citizenship" and a "British citizen". A few days ago, we heard a very eloquent exposition from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who gave us a very traditional view of the British constitution and the role of the people of Britain within that constitution. I think that he said that sovereignty rests with the Sovereign in Parliament and under God. In such a traditional view, the people of this country are clearly not citizens but subjects. That is the position in England, although it may be different in Scotland. I have no idea of the position in Wales. Scots have told me, however, that the position is definitely different there, where there is a tradition of citizenship which we do not have.

Citizenship is referred to very specifically and clearly in the part of the legislation dealing with the oath and the pledge that people will be asked to take during the citizenship ceremony. The Bill proposes the words, 1 will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen". I think that anyone asked to take such a pledge will have to know what the duties and obligations of a British citizen are. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us. If he cannot do so now, perhaps we can be told later.

Lord Dholakia

I think that the Minister is rather reluctant to get into this argument.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am not reluctant. I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but I do not think that they added much more to the debate. I am actually slightly surprised about where he is coming from. I think that the term "citizenship" as used here is rather broader than the rather more narrow meaning that "nationality" would connote in this circumstance. It is certainly our intention to encourage and foster a broader sense of citizenship and a more welcoming approach. I was therefore genuinely surprised by some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Lord Dholakia

If the term citizenship is broader, is the Minister prepared to give a legal definition of it? Does he know whether there is a legal definition of nationality?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Tempting though it is, I think that I would probably be a bit barmy to try to achieve that at the Dispatch Box on an afternoon when we are trying to examine some of the broader concepts in the legislation.

Lord Dholakia

I do not want to prolong the discussion. However, I do not think that the Minister would be barmy to try to do that, because there is no such legal definition. I do not think that he needs to worry about that. However, in relation to Clauses 1 and 2, I think that he should bear in mind that all naturalisation relates to the process of immigration and gaining nationality rather than to citizenship. Later, we shall discuss the issue of the deprivation of citizenship. How are we to deprive someone of something for which there is no legal formula or definition? I think that the Minister will find himself in considerable difficulty there. My advice is that, even at this late stage, he should take this back, consult civil servants and other authorities, and decide whether nationality is a better expression than citizenship. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 18 to 24 not moved.]

Viscount Bridgeman

moved Amendment No. 25: Page 80, line 25, leave out "thinks it" and insert "is satisfied that it is The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment, I should like also to speak to Amendments Nos. 26, 105, 106, 107, 112, 113 and 114.

Amendment No. 25 would replace the word "thinks" with the words "is satisfied". As noble Lords will be aware, the word "thinks" is one that is not often, if ever, used in legislation. This was the subject of some debate in another place in relation to Clause 4 which, as it was then drafted, proposed to allow the Secretary of State to remove someone's citizenship on that test. Members of another place were concerned during the debate in Standing Committee, on 30th April, at cols. 50 to 61 of the Official Report, that the word "thinks" set the threshold for deprivation of citizenship far too low. At that stage, the Minister's opinion was that there was no difference in law whatsoever between "thinks" and "is satisfied". However, at Report stage, the Government amended the Bill to remove the offending word "thinks" from Clause 4, replacing it with the term "is satisfied".

Amendments Nos. 25, 105 and 114 seek to replicate that piece of redrafting in other areas of the Bill where the Government have retained the word "thinks" in relation to the giving of support and assistance to asylum seekers. The Government have already accepted this point in relation to Clause 4, and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, has tabled Amendments Nos. 189 and 190 to Clause 65 to remove the phrase "the Secretary of State thinks".

Amendments Nos. 106, 107, 112 and 113, which are two pairs of alternatives, use the terms "believes" and "has reason to believe" rather than "thinks" or "is satisfied". I should be grateful if the Minister would explain whether the Government's view is that these forms of words differ in the legal meaning from "is satisfied", and particularly whether the words "reason to believe" put the test higher than "is satisfied". That was a matter of some controversy in another place, and it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the issue. The point raised by these amendments might seem a small one, but it is none the less important to get the terms of the statute right so that the appropriate test is applied. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept some of the amendments in this group.

Amendment No. 26 is a probing amendment relating to the disapplication of the requirement to take part in the citizenship ceremony and make the citizenship oath and pledge. The Secretary of State will be empowered to do this, because of the special circumstances of a case". I wonder whether the Minister, in responding to the amendment, could tell us what the Government have in mind as the sort of "special circumstances" in which the new test might be disapplied. Could these circumstances relate to the applicant's religious beliefs in terms of the oath or pledge, or perhaps to any difficulty the applicant might have in attending the ceremony? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer this small point. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I wish to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Bridgeman in speaking to his two amendments. They are both drafting amendments, but we have to be very careful about our drafting. The expression "thinks" is too vague for these circumstances in which important matters are at issue. I think it much better that the Secretary of State should be "satisfied". It is best to leave out the expression, because of the special circumstances of a case as that makes what the special circumstances are a matter of controversy. If the matter goes to court, the lack of a definition of "special circumstances" will be a disadvantage. My noble friend is right to move the two amendments. I hope that the Government will accept them.

Earl Russell

I hope that the Minister will listen to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, whose expertise on draftsmanship is well known. To put the point in a nutshell, if the Minister says that he "is satisfied that", he may in legal proceedings be asked why. If he says that he "thinks", and he is asked why, he can simply reply, "Because I do". The difference is important.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

During the time I have spent in your Lordships' House I have learnt to listen carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, particularly as regards drafting matters. I am sure that the noble Earl and the noble Lord will not be disappointed when I say that we shall of course consider carefully their comments on those matters.

I shall try to meet the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. As has been said, the amendments seek to replace the use of the word "thinks" where it appears in Clauses 15 and 22 with a selection of alternatives: "has reason to believe", "believes", or "is satisfied". As I made plain, we understand the concern to be that using the word "thinks" would mean that there would be a less rigorous examination of the facts than would be the case if one of the alternative words or phrases were adopted. The use of the word "thinks" was part of a drive to encourage the greater use of plain English in law making. I realise that that is a rather bold claim. However, I always thought that your Lordships' House rather favoured that approach. That is our genuine intent.

We are content that there is no difference in substance between the various words and phrases in question. Therefore, from our perspective the amendments are unnecessary as the practical result is exactly the same—a subjective test. "Thinks", as with all of the three alternatives suggested, is a subjective test. Enforceable principles of administrative law import a requirement that the discretion be exercised reasonably. I am sure that the Committee will be aware that we brought forward amendments in another place in respect of Clause 4—as has already been mentioned—where particular concern was expressed at the use of the word "thinks" in respect of deprivation of citizenship. We were happy to try to allay those specific concerns, particularly in the context of ensuring consistency with the relevant parts of the British Nationality Act 1981.

This matter raises an interesting point. I emphasise that we do not accept that "thinks" involves a lesser examination of the facts than the other alternatives put forward. However, let us assume for a moment that we accepted that proposition. As regards Clauses 15 and 22, that would mean that the Secretary of State would be more rigorous in his assessment of who qualified for support with the consequence that fewer people might be eligible to be supported. I should be surprised if that was the intention behind the noble Viscount's amendments. I am not aware of any concerns that we have been supporting people who are not really destitute.

As I said, both "thinks" and "is satisfied that" are subjective and are legal equivalents.

Earl Russell

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I do not think that the question concerns rigour but rather reason. One may have reasons for giving or refusing support which may make one more generous as well as more rigorous.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Earl makes a fair point. Our argument is that to transpose one term for the other would have little effect on the provision in Schedule 1, which is sought to be amended by Amendment No. 25. However, the term "thinks" is consistent with the way other similar discretions are currently expressed in the British Nationality Act 1981. At present, the Secretary of State has discretion to waive certain naturalisation and registration requirements if the circumstances of a particular case demand it. We wish to ensure simply that the Secretary of State also has discretion to waive certain requirements in regard to citizenship ceremonies and the citizenship oath and pledge. The language of the discretionary provision set out in Schedule 1 of the BNA is consistent with that which already appears in other parts of that legislation.

I was asked a specific question on the use of the term, special circumstances of a case". That matter was raised in another place. The intent in introducing a special circumstances test is that the Secretary of State would have the discretion to disapply certain requirements in respect of citizenship ceremonies and the citizenship oath and pledge on a case by case basis. It is envisaged that the circumstances under which the Secretary of State might exercise that discretion would be exceptional; for example, when there are national security implications or when an applicant cannot attend due to chronic illness or disability. I hope that those examples will reassure the Members of the Committee who raised that concern.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that I may ask him to explain something. He used the word "disapply" just now in relation to special circumstances. Does that mean that the Secretary of State would be entitled to ignore particular facts?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I do not think that it would mean that the Secretary of State would ignore certain facts. However, he has discretion to disapply the provision. That is the important point. I hope that the examples that I have given clarify that matter to the noble Lord's satisfaction.

Viscount Bridgeman

I am grateful for the Minister's reply on Amendment No. 26. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton and to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for supporting my comments on Amendment No. 25 and on the other amendments in the grouping we are discussing. If I may say so, those remarks were made more impressive by their brevity.

However, given that the Government think that the word "thinks" needs to be changed, as we have seen in regard to Clause 4 and in the proposed government amendments to Clause 65, we are disappointed that they have not given a rather more positive and immediate response to our concerns. I feel that I must test the opinion of the Committee.

5.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents, 121.

Division No. 1
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Jopling, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Kimball, L.
Astor of Hever, L. King of Bridgwater, L.
Attlee, E. Kingsland, L.
Biffen, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Blackwell, L. Lucas, L.
Blaker, L. Luke, L.
Blatch, B. Lyell, L.
Bledisloe, V. Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Boardman, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mar, C.
Bridgeman, V. Marlesford, L.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Brookeborough, V. Monson, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Moynihan, L.
Burnham, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Byford, B. Noakes, B.
Caithness, E. Northbourne, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. O'Cathain, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Onslow, E.
Chorley L Palmer, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Colwyn, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Cope of Berkeley L [Teller] Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Crickhowell, L. Plumb, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Rees, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Renton, L.
Elton, L. Rogan, L.
Erroll, E. Sandwich, E.
Flather, B. Seccombe, B.[Teller]
Gardner of Parkes, B. Selborne, E.
Glentoran, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Stewartby, L.
Hanham, B. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hanningfield, L. Strathclyde, L.
Hayhoe, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Henley, L. Trefgame, L.
Higgins, L. Vivian, L.
Holderness, L. Waddington, L.
Howe, E. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Warnock, B.
Howell of Guildford, L. Weatherill, L.
Acton, L. Bassam of Brighton, L.
Ahmed, L. Berkeley, L.
Alli, L. Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Amos, B. Blackstone, B.
Andrews, B. Blease, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Brett, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Bach, L. Brookman, L.
Barnett, L. Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L. Judd, L.
Carter, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Chan, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Christopher, L. Lipsey, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Lockwood, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
Craig of Radley, L.
Crawley, B. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Davies of Coity, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Desai, L. Maclennan of Rogart, L.
Dixon, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Dubs, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Eatwell, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Elder, L. Morgan, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Morris of Aberavon, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Moser, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Orme, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Ouseley, L.
Filkin, L. Parekh, L.
Gale, B. Patel of Blackburn, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Paul, L.
Golding, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Goldsmith, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Radice, L.
Goudie, B. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Rooker, L.
Greengross, B. Sandberg, L.
Grocott, L.[Teller] Sawyer, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Harrison, L. Serota, B.
Haskel, L. Sheldon, L.
Hayman, B. Simon, V.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B. Temple-Morris, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Thornton, B.
Hoyle, L Turner of Camden, B.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Uddin, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor) Walker of Doncaster, L.
Warner, L.
Islwyn, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Whitaker, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. Wilkins, B.
Jeger, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jones, L.
Jordan, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.57 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 26 to 34 not moved.]

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

moved Amendment No. 35: Page 81, line 31, leave out "the Second The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Anelay, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 37, 39 and 40, which are concerned with the same point.

These are probing amendments; under no circumstances would I divide the House on the matter. They follow up a question that I asked the Minister on Second Reading and a helpfully detailed reply that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was kind enough to send me. I emphasise that I am making a political, not a legal, point.

The amendments relate to the oaths of allegiance for new British citizens, which are proposed in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. The wording as it stands styles the Queen as "Queen Elizabeth the Second". I am suggesting that in the Bill Her Majesty should simply be entitled "Queen Elizabeth".

I understand why the Government carried over into the Bill the same wording as that used in the oaths employed under the British Nationality Act 1981. That is logical and legally correct. "Elizabeth the Second" was the title that Her Majesty adopted under the Royal Titles Act 1953. When that title was challenged in that year in the Court of Session in Scotland, the challenge failed and the matter was settled.

Her Majesty's legal title as Queen Elizabeth the Second is well known and accepted. At the same time, the sensitivity of the people in Scotland has been increasingly taken into account over the years in a number of ways. The pillar boxes in which we post our letters in Scotland, for example, have long borne the initials "ER" rather than "EIIR", as they do south of the Border, recognising that there has been no previous Queen Elizabeth of Scotland. At the recent Scottish Jubilee service in Glasgow, the Queen was named throughout as either "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth" or "Her Majesty the Queen".

The Minister points out in his letter that, so far as the Government know, no one taking the present oath of allegiance has ever objected to its formulation. I suggest that that is hardly surprising. Someone who is keen to become a British citizen is unlikely to quibble at that particular detail. But the day may come when there is a problem. We have a Scots Parliament now. There is a growing sense of Scots identity, happily within a growing understanding of Scotland's place as a nation within a nation and as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Nationality matters are reserved under the Scotland Act to the Westminster Parliament. But I suggest that this Westminster Parliament cannot and must not ignore what is going on north of the Border. All of us who believe in the Union must constantly remind the Government of that.

The Government are right legally in the oath that they propose. But I suggest, with diffidence, that they look to their politics. In fact, there is clearly no need to refer in the oath to "Queen Elizabeth the Second". I have discovered that the oath which Members of Parliament and Peers take at Westminster happens, for no other reason than precedent, to be simply one of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth. "Queen Elizabeth II" is not mentioned in our oath. Why do we not follow suit in this Bill?

The Government appear to be alienating enough voters at present for their comfort. I suggest that a little more sensitivity in relation to this matter would be wise. If they pay no heed to this suggestion, they may well regret it.

I want to ask the noble Lord one other question. It has been drawn to my attention by a noble Lord that the oaths included in the schedule to the Bill do not include an affirmation for those who wish to swear allegiance to the Queen but do not believe in God. Is that an omission or is there a reason for it? It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us. I hope that the Government will listen to what I am saying. I believe that they would be very wise to do so. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I put my name to the amendment and rise briefly to support the points made so ably by my noble friend. It is certainly my practice to listen to my noble friend, who has a finger on the pulse when it comes to detecting points that need to be debated in relation to matters in Scotland.

I certainly do not claim to have a great knowledge of history—certainly none that would match that of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. My days of teaching history were more than a quarter of a century ago. However, even I am aware that it would perhaps be legally correct to refer to Queen Elizabeth II, although I would think twice before doing so in Scotland.

Earl Russell

I believe that the need for the amendment is proved by the fact that it did not occur to me to table it, although this is a subject to which I have given a great deal of thought and on which I have done a considerable amount of professional work. The first reason for the amendment is that the present form of the oath north of the Border is simply and plainly wrong.

I turn to the second reason. Earlier this afternoon we all heard the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talk about the fact that we are a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multifaith society. The moment when that hit us was 24th March 1603. The English have put a vast amount of effort into trying to hide from what has happened. It is only now, on the verge of the 400th anniversary, that we are beginning to realise that that is what happened to us—that is, we have not been a sovereign nation state since 24th March 1603. The fact that even I needed reminding of that suggests that we need to pay some attention to this amendment, and I hope that it will be accepted.

Lord Desai

I want to raise one point in relation to the oath. The Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill makes a modification to the oath that judges must take in order to serve as judges in Northern Ireland. We debated the matter. In that oath, the words relating to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II are not used at all. I simply want to point out that there is much flexibility and that we can shape the oath in a variety of ways. In respect of our multicultural, multifaith society, perhaps we should have two or three different versions of the oath and allow people to choose one of them.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I shall start at the end and thank my noble friend Lord Desai for his very helpful comments. While the parliamentary oath uses the designation "Queen Elizabeth" rather than "Queen Elizabeth II", we have been unable to find any evidence to suggest that the intent of the designation was to take account of the fact that Queen Elizabeth I of England did not reign over Scotland. Indeed, it appears more probable that the use of this designation, rather than the Queen's official title, is simply the result of a transposition in identical form of "Queen Victoria" in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.

Schedule 5 to the British Nationality Act 1981 uses the style adopted by the Queen under the Royal Titles Act 1953. We see no difficulty in carrying that forward into proposed Schedule 5 to the British Nationality Act 1981 as amended by Schedule 1 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. So far as we know, no one who has taken the present oath has ever objected to the formulation "Queen Elizabeth II".

One is always at one's peril when debating with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, matters relating to Scotland. I recognise that point most emphatically. But we believe that we have this matter right. The issue is, after all, one of British citizenship and it is a reserved matter. The title used by Her Majesty is very much a matter of constitutional law. Indeed, as I indicated, the Bill simply maintains and continues the wording used in the 1981 Act. That Act was made not under our watch but under the watch of noble Lords and noble Baronesses opposite. Therefore, it is a matter which they themselves brought about in the past, and I am reminded of that fact in this debate.

We believe that the wording continues a tradition. It is part of our history and heritage and it is a matter of constitutional law. Obviously, we must be sensitive to issues of concern raised by the new devolved Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. But this is not specifically such an issue. The Bill has obviously been drawn to the attention of the Scottish Parliament. Although we did not specifically draw the attention of the First Minister to this aspect of the oath, we have not received back any comments in regard to this matter.

Of course, we should be sensitive at all times to representations on these matters. So far as we are concerned, there has never been an objection to the current formulation and we see no reason to depart from it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, raised a specific point as regards affirmation. New Section 42(7) as proposed under Schedule 1 applies Sections 5 and 6 of the Oaths Act 1978 which allows for affirmations to be made. I am sure that the important and valuable point raised by the noble Baroness is answered by that provision, and I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I thank the Minister for that last point. Had there been more time since the point was raised with me by the noble Lord, I should probably have followed that through. I apologise to the Minister for perhaps unnecessarily asking the question.

The rest of the reply given by the Minister is not satisfactory. He simply has not taken my point. I have said all the things which he said. I understood them before I received the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and they were reiterated in that letter. My point is that the Government are unwise to do this.

The Minister is right about the oath which we swear here in Parliament. I asked the Clerk of the Parliaments to research the matter, which he kindly did. Following the reign of Queen Victoria, with all successive monarchs the oath has been to George V, Edward VIII and George VI; and so to Elizabeth, without the nomenclature. It is completely by chance that we have such an oath. However, when the row happened in Scotland at the time of the original Act when the Queen's name became Queen Elizabeth II, which it is in law, the Lord President of the Court of Sessions in Scotland wrote to the Clerk of the Parliaments here to ask what was the oath here. It was of interest to him and was taken into account in the exercise. That is interesting; there is a history to the matter.

I simply point to the oath here to show that there is no need for the Government to name the Queen as Queen Elizabeth II in the oath taken by new citizens of this country. They are legally correct. As part of her prerogative the Queen can call herself anything she likes. Her name was decided in the original Act. Everyone—including everyone in Scotland—knows her name. However, it is a matter of sensitivity. I simply warn Government that if an asylum seeker or a new citizen is taking the oath in Scotland and will live in Scotland, there may be trouble in future. Certainly, the name of Her Majesty in an oath should not be a matter of political controversy or a political football.

Nevertheless, the Government should take the matter seriously. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will take the matter back to the department and consider my comments. I tabled the amendment with care. It is important that the Government should do this. However, I shall not raise the matter again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 50 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden)

Before calling Amendment No. 51, I must inform the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 52 and 53.

Viscount Bridgeman

moved Amendment No. 51: Page 83, leave out lines 7 to 9. The noble Viscount said: Amendments Nos. 51, 52, 54 and 55 relate to the role of local authorities in the citizenship ceremonies. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 enables the Secretary of State to require local authorities to provide facilities and exercise functions in relation to citizenship ceremonies.

In the White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven, the Government stated at paragraph 2.21 that: we envisage that ceremonies will be conducted by registration officers in Register Offices and other suitable places. These might include venues associated with community activity such as schools. Paragraph 7 of the schedule grants broad powers to the Secretary of State in that respect to require local authorities to make arrangements in connection with citizenship ceremonies. Members of the Committee will observe that the power to make regulations does not just allow the regulations to require local authorities to provide facilities, but will allow the Secretary of State to be given the power to direct local authorities to provide facilities and to impose functions on local authorities and registrars.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that the Government have consulted local authorities and registration officers throughout the United Kingdom; that they are content with the proposals and that they do not foresee any problems with them. Obviously, as many applicants for naturalisation may have to come to Britain to work in our towns and cities, there may be a particular burden on local authorities in London and other urban areas in that respect.

Can the Minister also comment on the "other suitable places" at which the Government envisage citizenship ceremonies will be held? Will they include such buildings as town halls, places of worship or venues already approved for the celebration of civil marriage ceremonies? Will the applicant for naturalisation have a choice of venue, or will it be up to the registration officer to decide? I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for raising the issues through the amendments, which is valuable.

The purpose of paragraph 7 of Schedule 1, which proposes amendments to Section 41 of the British Nationality Act 1981 is to provide for the activities for which the Secretary of State may make regulations in order to enable citizenship ceremonies to take place. Among those activities is the ability to require local authorities to provide specified facilities and to make specified arrangements for citizenship ceremonies.

The Government have tried to make clear that if citizenship ceremonies are to be meaningful and fitting, it is essential that they have an important local dimension so that new citizens can be welcomed into the communities in which they live. Therefore, it is proposed that local authorities and registrars should be responsible for the delivery of this new service in a localised context.

Local authorities already have a key role in the delivery of the services associated with the registration of births, deaths and marriages. The Government decided that they could build on that role by widening it to include citizenship ceremonies. We see that as the continuing development of an issue about which there is well-established policy which has had cross-party agreement. I know that because in another life I was responsible for ensuring that it happened, so I take great delight in this.

In order to ensure that local authorities are able to discharge that new function, it is necessary for the Secretary of State to be able to require them to provide certain facilities. In particular it will be necessary—I believe it will be essential—for local authorities to provide suitable premises for the conduct of ceremonies; to arrange ceremonies at frequent intervals so that applicants are able to meet the prescribed time limits for attendance; and to determine the suitability for other venues, which is an important part of their current work.

The amendments would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to make regulations that would require local authorities to provide specified facilities and to make specified arrangements for citizenship ceremonies. The Government believe that it is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should specify such matters in regulations. It is appropriate that a standard is set out and made plain.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 54 and 55. Registration officers can undertake functions only if enabled to do so by primary legislation. Due to the proposed changes in the registration service announced by the Government earlier this year, it was not felt appropriate to include this statutory duty in the registration Acts. As such, the legislation had to be free-standing and will be included in the British Nationality Act.

The proposed changes to the registration service will result in local authorities assuming statutory responsibility for the delivery of face-to-face services including citizenship ceremonies. When that occurs and registration officers become local authority employees, the statutory duty to conduct citizenship ceremonies will be transferred to the local authority.

There has been consultation with the Local Government Association. In general, it is happy with the developments that are taking place. It recognises the importance of the citizenship ceremonies. Local authorities see it as a natural development of their work.

My understanding is that the consultation has been wide and welcome. The registration officers are content with the progress that has been made.

As to the venue of citizenship ceremonies, applicants may have a choice of venues. Of course they need to be prepared to pay any additional costs over and above the standard facilities. It is expected that venues will be dignified and considered suitable by the local authority. They will undoubtedly apply a test.

I think back to the introduction of legislation in this field. When I was the leader of my local authority we had the choice of providing for marriage ceremonies in the Royal Pavilion. I was keen to champion and promote that. Because of the history of that fine building, these are suitable and appropriate premises in which to conduct such citizenship ceremonies. Many local authorities will rattle through their property portfolios to try to come up with something as excellent. It is within that kind of framework that we see this as a positive and progressive development. I hope that with those explanations the noble Viscount feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Bridgeman

I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive explanation of the arrangements. It is particularly useful always to have his experience of carrying them out. We are grateful that this matter has been put on the record. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 52 to 55 not moved.]

Viscount Bridgeman

moved Amendment No. 56: Page 83, line 31, leave out "may" and insert "shall The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 56, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 57. This follows on from the debate on the previous group of amendments. The Committee will see that paragraph 8 of the schedule enables the Secretary of State to make payments to local authorities in connection with the costs they incur in relation to citizenship ceremonies.

The paragraph uses the word "may" rather than "shall". Therefore, as the Secretary of State is not obliged to reimburse local authorities, I hope that the Minister can reassure the Committee that the Secretary of State will, as a matter of course, ensure that local authorities do not suffer any significant financial burdens as a result of conducting citizenship ceremonies. As I said during the previous debate, it may be that some local authorities face more costs than others in this respect simply because of their geographical position. I look forward to a positive response from the Minister such as he gave on the previous group of amendments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I have great respect for the spirit with which the amendment has been moved by the noble Viscount. I make plain by putting the matter on the record that it is not the Government's intention that local authorities should bear any of the financial burden of providing citizenship ceremonies.

As I made clear on the previous group of amendments, the cost of a standard citizenship ceremony will be met in its entirety by the applicant as part of a composite fee collected by the Home Office. It has been decided that the Home Office should pay the local authority a set fee-still to be agreed, I might add-for each applicant. The amendment therefore is not, strictly speaking, necessary.

The amendment may also limit the opportunity for concessional rates. That would be unfortunate. For example, married couples currently pay one joint fee if they apply for naturalisation at the same time. Similar concessional rates may be considered when the fee structures are considered.

With regard to Amendment No. 57, it is important that administrative costs are kept to a minimum and that this scheme is efficient in that regard. A complex system of individual fees would be cumbersome and inevitably would have to be passed on to the applicant.

It will also be open to the local authority to recover costs directly from the applicant for an enhanced ceremony, as I made clear earlier. As I also made clear, those enhanced ceremonies will be able to take place at venues other than—if you like—the bog-standard ones provided by local authorities.

The noble Viscount made a good point about there being a burden on specific authorities and that that would perhaps be a reflection of where people settle or choose to settle. However, because of the way in which this scheme is designed and will be introduced, there should not be an unnecessary burden placed upon the local authorities. Of course, we shall continue with the important dialogue with the service providers to ensure that that is the case.

Accurate forecasts of numbers and spread of applicants will enable local authorities to plan to comply with their proposed duty. We do not think that that should lead to any additional incurring of costs over and above the current operation of registration.

Viscount Bridgeman

The Minister once again has given a most helpful reply for the record. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Deprivation of citizenship]:

Lord Dholakia

moved Amendment No. 58: Page 2, line 43, at end insert "provided the citizenship was obtained by registration or naturalisation The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 58 relates to one of the most contentious clauses in the Bill. Clause 4(2) gives the Secretary of State power to deprive even UK-born nationals of UK citizenship, except where it leaves that person stateless. The proposed amendment ensures that such persons cannot be deprived of citizenship regardless of the statelessness issue.

The Government will no doubt say that the provision of not allowing someone to be made stateless addresses the issue, as most UK-born citizens will, if deprived of UK citizenship, be made stateless. The amendment seeks to change the deprivation of citizenship. We believe that the Bill gives the Secretary of State excessive powers. I hope that the Bill does not reflect what the Government plan to do.

We rely very much on briefs supplied to us by people qualified to comment on such issues. We received one such brief from the Immigration Law Practitioner's Association, in which Laurens Fransmann QC makes a strong case. He states: The proposed new section 40(2) of the 1981 Act"— that is the Act that will be amended by Clause 4— provides a sweeping power to deprive a person of British nationality not just where that nationality was acquired by grant in response to an application but also where it was acquitted automatically by birth in the UK by descent. This draconian new power arises as presently drafted wherever the Secretary of State just 'thinks' that the person has done something 'seriously prejudicial to the vital interests' of the UK or an overseas territory, he may remove that person's citizenship. ILPA [the organisation] is concerned that these expressions are far too vague, that a requirement only to 'think' there is prejudice lays down an unacceptably low threshold for the Secretary of State to attain in invoking the power". The proposed amendments go some way to rectify this situation.

We know from a number of cases that have arisen in the past on other Bills that the "seriously prejudicial" test is poor and can cover a multitude of sins. The "vital interests of the United Kingdom" test is a general test which allows the Home Secretary vast discretion. We also know that under the Bill the Home Secretary will have the power to deprive even UK-born nationals of UK citizenship, except if that leaves a person stateless. We want to ensure that such people could not be deprived of citizenship, even if it would not render them stateless. This is a strong point because many written constitutions declare that citizenship is a fundamental identity right.

There is a real worry about the retrospective deprivation of citizenship—a point made to us by several organisations, including the Immigration Advisory Service, which deals with cases of that nature. We hope that the Minister will seriously consider this amendment to remove the draconian powers that the Home Secretary is expected to exercise. The clause is dangerous and I hope that the Minister has a better explanation of why it is required in the Bill. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Avebury

The power to deprive people of their British citizenship contained in Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 applies solely to people who have acquired citizenship by registration or naturalisation, not to those who acquired it by birth. So we are considering a novel concept in the Bill. Someone who has been born and brought up here may nevertheless be deprived of his citizenship on the fiat of the Secretary of State on the grounds, as my noble friend said, that he has done something "seriously prejudicial". I do not know what that means—no doubt, the Minister will explain it to us later—but at present, the grounds on which someone can be deprived of the citizenship under Section 40 of the 1981 Act are precise. They are that he, has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected towards Her Majesty … has, during any war in which Her Majesty was engaged, unlawfully traded or communicated with an enemy or been engaged in or associated with any business that was to his knowledge carried on in such a manner as to assist an enemy in that war … has, within the period of five years from the relevant date, been sentenced in any country for imprisonment for a term of not less than 12 months". Those are tests that can be evaluated, and if the person concerned does not think that they are satisfied, that is a matter of fact, whereas what is "seriously prejudicial" within the meaning of the clause is anyone's guess.

So we are being asked enormously to extend the powers of the Secretary of State: first, to cover everyone born in the United Kingdom; and, secondly, in relation to conduct of which people may or may not have been guilty. That will be entirely a matter for the Secretary of State. That is a draconian power, and I hope that on reflection—the matter was raised in another place, so the Minister has had time to consider it—further and better advice will be given to the Minister and that he will accept the amendment.

Earl Russell

The title of "worst clause in the Bill" is one for which there is considerable competition. I shall not claim it for this clause, but it must certainly be placed on any shortlist, not only for its content but for the extreme vagueness and gross uncertainty of its drafting. My noble friend Lord Greaves hit the nail on the head with precision earlier, when he asked the Minister what was the difference between citizenship and nationality. The Minister clearly did not have an answer. If we do not know what exactly what it is of which we are depriving people, that deprivation must be at least a little uncertain.

In Calvin's case of 1608, which began the right of reciprocal citizenship between England and Scotland, being a citizen was simply defined as being the King's subject. Is it proposed that Mr Blunkett, by personal order, is to have the power to stop people being the subjects of Queen Elizabeth II? Does he propose to exercise that power under the Royal prerogative? If so, we have a rather curious hybrid mixture of powers. Such a power has not before been used against people born in this country. A power that was not used against Guy Fawkes is one that we should indeed regard as draconian. Indeed, I can think only of one case in which the lesser penalty of banishment was inflicted. That was on Henry Bolingbroke, who later returned as King and may well have been responsible for the death of the person who inflicted the sentence on him. So the precedents are not good. The Secretary of State is to do this, which one would have thought might have been regarded as a judicial act, by order. This is not a mere statutory instrument; this is not the old, familiar argument. "By order", if I understand this correctly, appears to be a purely executive act.

That has a faint whiff about it of iudex in propria Carta, judge in his own court. For anyone takes the trouble to supply the Minister with advice on that point, I know that in the opinion of Sir William Wade, there is a long line of authorities against that interpretation. Where the Secretary of State is thought to be the only person who can take the decision, he is not normally regarded as iudex in propria carta. But there is an older tradition to the contrary effect, from the days before Ministers accepted the rule of law as much as they have done in the recent past.

For example, there is a splendid case in the 15th century yearbook, which I think is aimed at the burgeoning jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal, which says that if the King, without due process, utters the words, "Off with his head!", an action of murder lies against the executioner. Indeed, there was a case under King John, shortly before Magna Carta, when the King deprived someone of his land and gave as his official reason for so doing, "Because we were cross with him!" That is all that the record states.

We do not want to go back in that direction. Were the courts to perceive the Secretary of State as heading back in that direction, they might be tempted to revert to the older line of precedent and treat such cases as examples of iudex in propria Carta.

We do not know exactly of what the person will be deprived. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which, together with the Select Committee on the Constitution, has been much concerned by the clause, raised the question of deprivation of benefit. If the clause gives that power, it is by a particularly backdoor way. I should like to know now whether it does.

I should also like to know whether deprivation of citizenship deprives people of the right to vote. Imagining a Secretary of State from a party not presently represented with the power arbitrarily, by order, to deprive people of the right to vote, I view that power with some misgiving; or, to take the smooth with the rough—or the rough with the smooth, as the Home Office would probably see it—does the deprivation of citizenship have any effect on the obligation to pay taxes? The House should have answers to those questions before it happily agrees to put the clause on the statute book.

I know that there is a reservation that that may not in any case be done where it makes the person stateless, but that clause is, as they would have put it in the 17th century, felo de se; it is self-destructive. When the Secretary of State exercises that power, he presumably deprives the person of the right to have a passport. Without a passport, the person will probably be unable to travel. The Secretary of State cannot know when he exercises the power whether the person's other country will recognise his nationality, or whether it will regard the Secretary of State's decision as depriving it of the right to do so. So either that restriction prevents the power from being used at all or it is nugatory. Either it is useless or it is pernicious—a phrase that I hope is familiar in this Chamber.

We do not have much explanation as to the grounds on which the power will be exercised. It is to be exercised if the person has done anything prejudicial to the vital interests of … the United Kingdom, or … a British overseas territory". Has the Home Office so soon forgotten Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which stated that something was an offence if it was done for a purpose prejudicial to the safety of the state? In the case of R v Randall 1962—a Committee of 100 case which I read with care because I was interested in the issues it raised—the defendants alleged that they were acting for purposes conducive and not prejudicial to the safety of the state. The question arose of how it should be tried. The trial judge said that it was a matter of fact and should go to the jury. It then went to the Court of Appeal, where Lord Chief Justice Parker said that it was a matter for the Royal prerogative. And so it proved.

This is a very uncertain ground on which to decide whether someone is guilty of something. That clause and that Act have since been repealed, and this is one of the important reasons why. There is a right of appeal and of judicial review, but only on the grounds of Wednesbury unreasonableness. That is both a steep and high fence. It reverses the burden of proof. It forces the appellant to prove that he has not done anything wrong rather than forcing the Secretary of State to prove that he has. That is back to front.

It also authorises a case to be refused appeal if it concerns national security. I appreciate that there is a problem with giving national security evidence in public. but the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who took a distinguished part in the proceedings, will remember that we considered the issue at great length on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill and arrived at a remedy through a hearing in camera which did honour to all parties. I do not see why that remedy cannot be adopted here.

The appeal may be refused for any other matter "of a political kind"—because we were cross with the appellant? I fear that we are slowly on the way back to a world where the executive is freeing itself from legal control and working its way back to the world before Magna Carta. That is not something I would welcome.

The Countess of Mar

I listened closely to what my noble friend Lord Russell had to say. I heartily endorse every word. I am extremely concerned about this clause.

Lord Kingsland

We have tabled Amendment No. 70, which is in many ways similar to that tabled by the Liberal Democrats. We have also tabled a number of probing amendments.

I share the concerns so eloquently expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I should like to add one or two thoughts of my own. The first concerns Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says that no one shall be subject to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I can think of no worse punishment, apart from the death penalty, than being expelled from one's country of birth with all its associations of home and family, institutions, landscape and other things. Have the Government considered whether that penalty on those born in the United Kingdom falls within Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Article 7 is also relevant. It requires that offences should be sufficiently specific so that, if one contemplates an offence before carrying out a certain course of conduct, one should know, or be reasonably certain, whether that course of conduct would fall within the terms of the offence. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, the offence here is cast in extremely vague terms: seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom and its dependent territories.

How can a citizen of the United Kingdom know in advance whether what he is about to do falls within these two definitions—especially since, as the noble Earl said, the individual who decides whether the conduct falls within these provisions is the Secretary of State deciding on purely subjective grounds?

Surely the proper forum for dealing with someone thought to have committed an offence under the new sections in Clause 4(1) is the criminal court where the burden of proof is clearly on the prosecution. It is for the Government to demonstrate to your Lordships' House why someone who is thought to have acted in a seriously prejudicial manner against the vital interests of the UK should not be tried in the criminal courts.

Finally, I turn to statelessness, of which there appears to be no definition in the Bill. I hope that the Government will enlighten us on what that means; for example, does it mean that a citizen of this country has no passport issued by another state, or has no right to a passport issued by another state, or do the Government have other criteria in mind in determining whether an individual is stateless?

Many people have dual nationality as a consequence of a set of circumstances over which they had no control. I know that one of the Government's arguments is that it is wrong to make a distinction between birth and naturalisation. But these situations seem so distinct that I wonder why the Government believe that is a cause for concern. In any event, surely the Government are introducing another form of discrimination between those born without another nationality and those born with dual nationality.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I, too, do not understand how the Government can make no distinction between birth and the acquisition of citizenship by naturalisation. We all know in our bones that they are two different things. In his letter to the Select Committee on the Constitution, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, says, on page 6 of the report, that such a distinction is, inconsistent with Article 7 of the European Convention on Nationality, which we hope to ratify in due course". It would be interesting to know how much this decision has to do with the Government's intention to ratify that convention.

I agree with what my noble friend Lord Kingsland and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said. I am very concerned about the ability to deprive people born British of their nationality in this way.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

At Second Reading I presented the views of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights on this and other provisions. I do not intend to repeat anything I said then. But there is one point I want to mention to the Committee that is not a lawyer's point; it is far more important. It is about the concept of British citizenship which is threatened with devaluation by the Bill. The Home Secretary has rightly spoken about the need for British citizens to understand what citizenship means: the positive content of citizenship and the duties that flow from it; the notion of allegiance to this country as well as the civil and political rights of citizens.

Until the law was amended we had a muddled concept of citizenship in this country. Citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies was one concept; a strange, complicated, hybrid concept. We had the notion of Commonwealth citizenship. But we did not have the notion of British citizenship—that is to say, citizenship of this country. In that respect, we differed from other independent Commonwealth countries. It was, therefore, possible for a previous government in 1968 to take away the rights of entry of one group of British/Asian passport holders from East Africa. Indeed, that is the worst thing that I believe Parliament has done since the Second World War. It was held to be "degrading", in breach of Article 3 of the convention by the European Court of Human Rights in a case where I acted for the complainants.

There are some parts of the Bill that I believe to be admirable, but I have one worry about this part of the Bill. If, on subjective grounds where the material, if it is political, cannot be shown to an adjudicator but only to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and then not shown to the individual concerned but to the special advocate—an attenuated form of appeal without judicial review—citizenship can be taken away on political grounds however sincere the motivation of a future Minister, that would send a message that the precious notion of "citizenship", which should be the right of people born in this country and of those who come to this country, can be taken away by a Minister of the Crown for reasons that he may regard as serious but which are not accompanied by full judicial process of law.

Leaving aside all the legal objections, it seems to me that the message that would go out to people is that British citizenship is some kind of commodity, not a matter of birthright, that Ministers can take away on political grounds, provided that there is no violation of the statelessness convention. That is not a sensible message to send to the new citizens of this country when other parts of the Bill are seeking to persuade them that equal citizenship, equal rights, and equal obligations are to be shared by all of us.

Therefore, when he replies, I hope that the Minister will not simply stand pat on the position that he took in a letter that he has kindly sent to me and other Members of the Committee, based on what the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said by way of criticism. This goes to a matter of political judgment about what "citizenship" means, and how precious it ought to be for all of us.

Lord Filkin

Clause 4 is one of the most important clauses for debate. As Members of the Committee have rightly said and as the Constitution Committee remarked, this clause touches on very important issues both to the state and to its citizens. There is no space for a full response to the thoughtful points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, but the summary response is that the Government believe that citizenship is something of very significant meaning and value. During our previous discussion on Clause I, we sought to try to make it have more meaning and to help more people come into citizenship with the ability to exercise the rights and responsibilities that flow therefrom.

In essence, the Government's position on those points is as follows. Because citizenship is a thing of value as well as something that confers rights, it also confers obligations. It is conceivable that there are circumstances in which a citizen has, by his actions, deprived himself of his entitlement to his rights. Therefore, it is right for citizenship to be denied. The latter is nothing new; indeed, it has been going on throughout the past century, albeit infrequently, as one would expect. Citizens have had their citizenship taken away from them by the government in the past.

Lord Avebury

When the matter was discussed in Standing Committee in another place, can the Minister confirm that Angela Eagle said then that there had been one case only where someone was a victim of a deprivation of citizenship under Section 40 of the 1981 Act?

Lord Filkin

I believe that I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on this point. From my recollection, the last case was in 1973. However, there have been several hundred cases since 1915 when citizenship has been taken away from a citizen.

One of the debates is about whether there should be a distinction between the types of citizenship—in other words, whether people who have acquired citizenship as of birth should never be open to having it deprived, or whether the circumstances in which they might be open to having it deprived to them should be different from those applied to people who have acquired it through other means than birth.

In the White Paper we indicated our intention to modernise the provisions relating to citizenship. We saw this as a corollary of the importance now being attached to citizenship. The current law was drafted more than 20 years ago and, in many respects, is little different from that contained in earlier legislation

Earl Russell

The Minister is distinguishing between the case of citizenship acquired and citizenship by birth. However, does not subsection (3) of this clause provide the basis for a perfectly logical distinction?

Lord Filkin

If the noble Earl will bear with me, I shall seek to develop my argument as I go through my response.

The present law discriminates against those who have acquired citizenship by registration or naturalisation. As such, it tends to devalue these processes by marking out people who became citizens in either of these ways as, potentially, second-class citizens compared with those who have acquired it by birth. It enables deprivation of citizenship to be applied as an additional penalty to that provided by the criminal law for any misdemeanour that has resulted in a sentence of imprisonment, in any country, of 12 months or more.

In the Government's view, that is out of step with the practice in those countries that have ratified the European Convention on Nationality of 1997. It seems to us to be an entirely inappropriate response to acts of a general criminal nature, however serious. Finally, it imposes a check on the Secretary of State's power to deprive—the "conducive" test, the exact nature of which has always been somewhat difficult to pin down. This uncertainty has acted as a disincentive to the commencement of deprivation proceedings in the past.

For those general reasons, the Government believe that it is time for change. We see no good reason for maintaining the present distinction between natural-born and naturalised citizens, especially where the actions of the person concerned have caused significant harm to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, or a British Overseas Territory, and where the removal of British nationality seemed likely to prevent or deter the individual from engaging in such activity in the future.

We do not consider that deprivation—

The Countess of Mar

The terminology in the Bill is "British citizenship", but the Minister has just referred to "British nationality". I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made the distinction between the two. Can the noble Lord make it clear whether he is speaking about the removal of British nationality or of British citizenship?

Lord Filkin

It would probably take several hours to give the noble Countess a full legal answer on the exact distinction between "nationality" and "citizenship". For most of the purposes of this clause about which we are talking, I believe that there is no substantial difference. However, if she wishes me to do so, I think the best way to answer this question would be to write to the noble Countess subsequently in more detail.

We do not consider that deprivation of citizenship should in future be applied as a penalty for acts of a general criminal nature. We shall continue to regard deprivation as a serious step, albeit one that we are prepared to contemplate in any case where someone has been granted citizenship while concealing a material fact—such as an involvement in war crimes, in terrorism, or where, as a British citizen, the person has conducted himself in a manner that is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, or of an British Overseas Territory.

I turn now to some of the more specific issues. I shall do my best to respond to all the points that have been raised, but there were many of them. It may require a period of reflection to do them all justice. First, there is the question of what Clause 4 is intended to achieve. As the Committee knows, Clause 4 will replace existing Section 40. It has two main effects. First, liability to deprivation is extended to all British nationals, irrespective of the means by which that nationality was acquired.

The removal of the distinction is justified because the issue is whether the actions concerned cause significant harm to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, irrespective of the route by which the citizen acquired nationality. That seems to us to be right and clear. It is the nature of the threat created by the citizen's actions that should determine whether there should be deprivation, not the mechanisms by which they got citizenship.

Several Members of the Committee asked whether it was right that a person could be deprived of citizenship on the subjective view of the Secretary of State. It is a tough issue, and I make no bones about that. The idea that it is appropriate for the deprivation of nationality to be based on the view of the Secretary of State has a long history. The current provision, in the British Nationality Act 1981, refers to the need for the Secretary of State to be satisfied of certain matters before a deprivation order will be made. That follows on from similar provisions in the British Nationality Act 1948 and the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914.

It is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should be able to act on his view that a particular set of circumstances amounted to, for example, conduct seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK or of a British Overseas Territory. There is room for a good deal of argument on the issues, but it would place an unreasonable burden on the Secretary of State if he were unable to proceed unless absolutely certain in all respects. In some cases, the individual may have fled the country after committing a terrorist act. The certainty of conviction—using conviction as a route to certainty—would not be attainable. It would be 'wrong to be unable to act in such circumstances.

The Court of Appeal, endorsed by the House of Lords, has stated that, in matters relating to national security, the Secretary of State is undoubtedly in the best position to judge what national security requires. The relevant case is Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Shafiq Ur Rehman from 2001. The fact that the Bill would facilitate deprivation of nationality on the subjective view of the Secretary of State does not mean that the power would be exercised arbitrarily.

The Secretary of State is compelled by new Section 45 to give written reasons for the intended deprivation order. The person against whom it was proposed to make such an order would be free on appeal to raise any issue bearing on the legality or the merits of the decision. The Secretary of State would be prevented from making a deprivation order until such time as the appeal had been determined finally or, if there were no appeal, until such time as the deadline for bringing an appeal had passed. That requirement, coupled with proposed Section 45B, which requires that reasons must be given with the notice of the decision, provides adequate safeguards against arbitrary deprivation.

I was also asked whether the words "seriously prejudicial" were vague.

7 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker

Before my noble friend the Minister concludes the point about deprivation, could he clarify the force of Clause 7? As I read the Bill, the requirement not to give reasons and the absence of a right of appeal will now disappear. Does Clause 7 mean that the Secretary of State is under a requirement to give reasons for a discretionary decision and that there is a right of appeal in a case of deprivation of nationality?

Lord Filkin

My noble friend is exactly correct in both respects.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Can the Minister confirm that the position at the moment is that someone who is born in this country and acquires citizenship by birth has a right to citizenship and to a passport? The big change that is being made, in the guise of equality of misery or non-discrimination, is that the Bill takes that right away from people—such as most of us here—who were born here. They will be treated with wide subjective discretion—in the same way as people who acquire their citizenship by naturalisation—rather than as having an entitlement. Is that right?

Lord Filkin

I would like a little more space to examine the noble Lord's words more carefully, but I can say that, in essence, he is right, for the reasons that I gave. Because we think that there is no fundamental reason for treating British citizens differently, we believe that it is right that citizens—regardless of how they came to their citizenship—should be open to the possibility of deprivation in certain defined circumstances, such as their having acted treasonably against the state.

I do not think that the noble Lord asked for particular detail about passports. I shall not give any further detail on that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I would be grateful for that at some point. As the Minister knows, many groups, including Justice, the NGO, have campaigned for years for the right to a passport, knowing that previous governments censored the right to travel by arbitrarily taking away passports. That happened during the Korean War, for example. It would be helpful to know the consequences for the right to a passport.

Lord Filkin

I shall, as far as I can, address that issue now, if that would be helpful. The general position is that there is not, as some believe, any right to a United Kingdom passport or to British consular protection; such things are better described as privileges. United Kingdom passports are issued at the discretion of the Home Secretary, exercising the royal prerogative. In practice, refusal is limited to people who have no claim to British nationality; minors whose journey is known to be contrary to a court order, for example; persons for whose arrest a warrant has been issued in the UK; persons repatriated at public expense who have not repaid the debt; or, in rare cases, persons in respect of whom the issuing of a passport would be contrary to the public interest for some other reason. That information may be of some interest, even if it is slightly tangential to the thrust of the noble Lord's question.

I think that I have dealt with the question of why we felt that issues of a general criminal nature did not go to the heart of citizenship, regardless of how a person had achieved that citizenship. I was also asked about vital interests. Of course, that includes national security, but it also covers economic matters, as well as the political and military infrastructure of our society. After the events of 11th September, it is not difficult to see why that should be so; it touches on the general well-being of citizens.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights raised several issues. We reflected seriously on those issues and will continue to do so as the Bill proceeds. We recognise that deprivation has serious consequences, including the loss of the right to a passport or, rather—I should qualify that—the loss of the privilege of a passport. It affects the ability to travel, removes British consular protection and bars the person from participation in the democratic process, a subject to which I shall return. However, it would not be a routine act; it would be confined to the most serious cases. There is a full right of appeal against any decision to remove nationality.

The ability to deprive on the grounds listed reflects the provisions made in that regard by the Council of Europe in the 1997 European Convention on Nationality. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is right to say that the changes are necessary if we wish to sign up to the policy of the Council of Europe in that respect. We do, but we think that the changes would be right even if there had not been a proposal from the Council of Europe on the table.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised the issue of the burden of proof. I have explained the Government's view of the fact that it is the exclusive province of the Secretary of State to make the first decision that deprivation is justified. However, the question on appeal for, for example, obtaining citizenship by fraud, would be whether the citizenship was obtained by fraud rather than whether the Secretary of State was satisfied that it was. In that respect, we come to the same point.

I turn to what is implied by the powers. At present, the broad nature of the appeal right is implied by the lack of provision for certain matters to be excluded from consideration by the appellate body. We could have, although we did not, set that out clearly on the grounds on which an appeal will lie. That might have made it easier for the JCHR by confirming that the appeal right granted is a formal one. However, in our view the legal position was clear: it was implied that there was a broad right of appeal in this respect.

Lord Dholakia

Am I right in believing that according to the protection afforded under the Terrorism Act, those appearing before SIAC would be entitled to some of the sensitive information, whereas in this case anyone who appeals against the Home Secretary's decision will not be entitled to know about politically sensitive information at the appeal?

Lord Filkin

In circumstances in which the Secretary of State has exercised his power to move to deprive someone of citizenship on grounds of a threat to the state in some way, he would have to give reasons. He may give reasons on the generality to the effect that it is a threat to the security of the state, but say that he does not feel able to give the full details of those in public. In those circumstances, the person would have the right of appeal to SIAC and, as I understand it, in the privacy of SIAC would be expected to give fuller details in camera so that the person would not be deprived of challenging the allegations made by the Secretary of State.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Is not the position that under the Bill the Minister is entitled not to make public the grounds relating to, for example, matters of a political kind? In new Section 40A(2) there is a right of appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, but the procedure in such an appeal—it caters for cases such as terrorism—is such that if the material is sensitive, it does not have to be disclosed to the appellant. It is disclosed instead to an independent special advocate, who may see the material but may not show it to the individual.

Let us suppose, for example, that I or Arthur Scargill were regarded as sufficient trouble-makers because we had seriously been damaging the economy by our strike or other militant action, and that there was a Home Secretary like those of the 1920s who chose to deprive me or the militant trade unionist of our citizenship. He could then refuse to disclose the material but would have to show it to a special advocate who could then do his best for me or the militant trade unionist. However, we would not be able to see it. Is not that the effect of applying the antiterrorist procedure to a deprivation of citizenship in this wider area?

7.15 p.m.

Lord Filkin

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is correct in that respect and that I went further than was right.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also asked how, when citizenship is so vague, we can deprive someone of it. In relation to citizenship and deprivation, subsection (4) of new Section 41 defines citizenship status for the purposes of this provision on deprivation and sets out exactly who is liable to deprivation under the proposals. We do not believe that there is vagueness in this respect.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also asked about the loss of voting rights. It is a complicated matter. Few rights flow directly and exclusively from British citizenship. The right to vote depends partly on Commonwealth citizenship and partly on residence. For example, on a loss of British citizenship a dual British/Japanese citizen would lose the right to vote; a dual British/Jamaican citizen would not. The Bill changes nothing in that respect. Furthermore, taxes are liable irrespective of citizenship, as one can well understand and imagine.

The noble Earl also asked about the method or legal basis of deprivation. We do not believe it is important to exercise the prerogative. The Bill would give Ministers the statutory power to remove citizenship in closely defined circumstances. The order would merely be the instrument of deprivation, as it has been in successive statutes since at least 1915. The deprivation decision is evidenced by the deprivation order.

Lord Avebury

I do riot believe that right of abode was mentioned, but will someone coming from a country from which an entry certificate or visa is required automatically lose the right to live in the United Kingdom if he is deprived of his citizenship? How would he acquire a right of abode, if at all?

Lord Filkin

The deprivation of citizenship does not automatically mean that one has lost ones right to reside here. A separate action must be taken by the Secretary of State to deprive of residence and to deport the person. The two are separate actions.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested that the only appeal is a judicial review. We do not believe that that is the case. The appeal against deprivation is a full appeal on the merits. We believe that perhaps the JCHR does not have that clearly in sight or perhaps we have not made it as clear as we could have done.

The appellate body will be able not only to remove the legality of the Secretary of State's decision, but also to hear arguments at his discretion on whether or not the right to deprive should have been exercised differently. The Bill proposes no restrictions on the issues which might be raised in an appeal either to an adjudicator or, where that body has jurisdiction, to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The appellate body will be able to hear argument not only that the Secretary of State has failed to observe the statutory requirements, but also that his discretion whether to deprive should have been exercised differently.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, raised the relevance of Article 3 of the ECHR. Deprivation of citizenship is separate from deportation. Deportation does not necessarily follow from the former. It is a separate matter for a separate decision against which Part 5 of the Bill provides separate appeal rights. It will be an appeal against deportation which would engage ECHR Article 3 rather than the citizenship issues.

Lord Kingsland

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. My point about Article 3 was simply that being excluded from the country of one's birth is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment. It is was as simple as that.

Lord Filkin

Undoubtedly, it is an extremely serious act but the Council of Europe, most other European countries and the British state, which have the powers to deprive people of citizenship, have acted in such ways previously. Clearly, states have acted in that way subsequent to the passage of the ECHR.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Would the noble Lord accept that there are situations in which depriving someone of his citizenship, for example, on racial grounds would be inherently degrading, as found by the ECHR looking at some American cases of the Supreme Court? In other words, there are extreme cases, which one hopes will never happen again, where to deprive someone of his citizenship on the basis of his skin colour, for example, would, among other things, breach Article 3 of the convention?

Lord Filkin

For several reasons, in particular the severity of the challenge, I am extremely reluctant to give an immediate answer to that question, and to say that I do not think so. I would like to look into the matter for reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will understand.

I was asked also about the meaning of "statelessness". Statelessness is at present undefined in the British Nationality Act 1981. The definition is set out in Halsbury's Laws of England and is currently understood to mean that a person is stateless if no state exists according to the municipal law of which he is its national. That is a slightly convoluted way of expressing the concept. It is similarly described in the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked about British nationality or citizenship. In Clause 4, the proposed new Section 40(1) employs as a drafting device the term "citizenship status". The draftsman might equally have said "nationality". There are some six types of British nationality or citizenship status itemised in proposed new Section 40(1), each of which might be subject to deprivation orders.

I do not pretend that I have answered every question for reasons that the House may understand. Those I have not answered, I shall either give further serious consideration to and/or write to the relevant noble Lords who raised the issues.

Earl Russell

I listened to the Minister with considerable care. It has been a much considered answer. He did not answer my question about entitlement to benefit. I understand why not; it is a technical question. If he could write to me on that before Report stage I should be grateful.

The centre-piece of his argument was the case for equality between citizenship by birth and citizenship by acquisition. That is a serious argument and deserves to be met seriously. But I do not see why we should not say that neither of those citizenships can be taken away as a penalty, although in cases where either of them has been acquired fraudulently they could be considered as having been void ab initio. If the Minister asks how a citizenship from birth can be void ab initio, the answer is surely in a forged birth certificate. Such things have been known.

The deprivation of citizenship was never even proposed in the list of penalties people threatened against Roman Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the whole thrust of the argument against them was that they were foreigners, the fact that no one ever considered depriving them of their citizenship is a point of some weight. They did not know that they had the option. If we are to have equality, let us not have what my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill described as an equality of misery. Let us have an equality of rank giving a proper value to the concept of citizenship, taking it away only where it is void ab initio because it is obtained by false pretences.

The other central point of the Minister's argument was the claim that there is a long tradition that the Secretary of State decides these things in his individual capacity. There was a long tradition for the death penalty. There was a long tradition for the exclusion of women from Parliament. Long traditions perfectly properly come to an end. I think that this particular long tradition began to totter with the judgment of Lord Reid in Ridge v Baldwin. I think that it died with the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Incidentally, the Minister is wrong about the passport issue being entirely a matter of discretion. There is a clause in the Magna Carta—I think that it is No. 41 but I would not argue from memory—which states that all His Majesty's subjects shall be entitled to free entry to and egress from the realm save in time of war. That was cited in the United States Supreme Court against the denial of a passport as recently as 1955. So it is a living tradition on the other side of the Atlantic, even if not on this side. But it is the common fact between Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act. The point has been made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that they are both attempts to bring the executive under the rule of law. I congratulate the Government on making that attempt. I hope that they will keep it up.

Lord Filkin

Perhaps I may respond in part to the points raised by the noble Earl, and touch on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I shall write to the noble Earl with details on how and in what circumstances the loss of citizenship would touch on a person's right to benefits in civil society. I shall copy that to the Front Benches. That needs to be clear and on the record.

At heart this is a debate about whether there are any circumstances in which the state is entitled to act to deprive a British citizen of that citizenship, howsoever he obtained his citizenship. In short, it is an argument about view. The view of the Government is that such circumstances should be extremely rare. It is hard to contemplate that they would occur frequently. One would expect that citizens would not act so massively against the interest of the state.

However, at heart the Government's position is this. We can conceive of situations in which a citizen, howsoever he obtained his citizenship, so breached the behaviour that one would expect of a citizen that it is reasonable to take that citizenship away from him. We may differ on that but at heart that is the Government's position.

The second issue to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, rightly pointed is the process by which such a decision should be exercised and the way it is challenged. The argument that one has done something for a long time is not an automatic argument that it is right in the future; nor that it is wrong. In essence, the exercise of the Secretary of State's prerogative in such a position is still caught under the rule of law. It is inconceivable in most circumstances that a citizen who had his citizenship taken away from him would not exercise his right to legal aid and so challenge the Secretary of State. Therefore, the merits of that will be tested through the appropriate processes about which we have talked.

I add one qualification about whether the right of abode was lost with the loss of British citizenship. The formal answer is this. With the loss of British citizenship the right to reside in the United Kingdom also falls away. But the person then becomes subject to control under the immigration legislation and, therefore, the Secretary of State is entitled to act under the immigration legislation to remove him by proper process of law.

Lord Kingsland

Before the Minister sits down, with respect to the Home Secretary's constitutional powers, I was intrigued by the noble Lord's appeal to long traditions. Respect for tradition has not been a conspicuous ingredient in the reforms by the Government of the British constitution over the past five years. So it is curious that, in this one respect, an appeal to one of the—I would say inadequate—traditions of our constitution should be used to support these measures.

I asked the Minister in what respect our criminal law was deficient so as to lead the Government to table this clause. We have recently passed an anti-terrorism Act. Why is that Act not capable of doing the things the Government seek to do under Clause 4? In effect, under Clause 4 the Government are exporting our security problems to other parts of the world. Surely it would be better for us to deal with them here.

Lord Filkin

I shall hazard one illustration in respect of the second question of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. As in much of this debate, I shall reflect further on the issue and, if necessary, come back with a fuller answer. One circumstance would be where a British citizen, either by himself or in concert with others, had taken actions against the interests of the British state and its citizens in ways that were clear and blatant while not resident in the United Kingdom. In that situation, I cannot see that the British criminal law could be used against them if their acts were committed abroad, even if their acts were against the interests of the British state from abroad.

As to the noble Lord's second point about tradition, it is not possible to give a full, serious answer. I shall merely give the response that we are in favour of tradition when it is appropriate for the future.

7.30 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

In order that I may get this clear in my head, is the noble Lord suggesting that people such as Philby, Burgess and MacLean, all of whom did a hunk when they were found out, would be suitable for having their British citizenship taken away from them.

Lord Filkin

I am reluctant to go back into history and to speculate about Burgess, MacLean, Philby and others. But one can conceive of situations where a British citizen was found to have acted quite blatantly and seriously against the interests of British society and the British state but was no longer in the United Kingdom for action to be taken against him in other respects. In such a case, deprivation of citizenship would at least be open to consideration.

Lord Dholakia

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the clause. He said that the heart of the debate was whether there are any reasons why the Secretary of State should not have such powers. Basically the answer is that there are existing laws under which we could exercise deprivation of citizenship without adding the proposed draconian measure.

I have yet to hear a single speech in support of what the Minister proposes. It would appear that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee are seriously concerned about this measure. I genuinely never expected a Labour Government to introduce a draconian measure of this nature which could deprive an individual of the fundamental right of citizenship.

I give advance warning to the Minister that this issue will not die away. The Report stage will not be until after the Recess and perhaps the Minister will give further thought to this matter. Failing that, I give him advance warning that we will divide the House on this issue. If we were to succeed in winning that vote, it would at least give the other place the opportunity, which it has not so far had, to consider the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That may give a different picture from the one with which we have been presented. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In doing so, I propose that we return to this business not before 8.33 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.