June 14th 2018: Why Safe Havens Need To Be Created On The North African Coast
My Lords, while I strongly welcome what the Minister said about tackling root causes, perhaps I might press her to revisit suggestions made in your Lordships’ House about the creation on the north African coast of internationally guaranteed safe havens where people can live in security, develop livelihoods and build homes, as well as look at the root cause of human rights violations—egregious ones in many cases—in countries such as Eritrea and Sudan, from which people are fleeing in their hundreds of thousands.
As I said earlier, the United Kingdom is in close communication with Libya and has actively supported measures there to address some of the principal issues confronting migrants. The United Kingdom will continue to review and assess that position. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made a number of interesting suggestions; I will certainly have a further look at them.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) June 12th 2018
My Lords, with her usual combination of conviction and eloquence, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has rightly returned to a policy which, as she said, we both contested in 2016 at the Committee stage of the Immigration Bill and again on Report. She has done so with her customary forensic skills and I am in agreement with the arguments that she has put forward. She was also right to pay tribute to Let Us Learn and Coram. I was struck by one of the cases that they drew to my attention—that of Regina, a 22 year-old woman who has lived in the United Kingdom all her life. They say:
“She was taken into the care of the local authority as a child. Despite repeatedly asking the local authority for her documents, and several commitments from them that they would assist her in applying for her British nationality, she left care with no citizenship, or any form of immigration status. She is now homeless, and unable to find the fee to secure her rights. The only fee waiver available is for an application for time-limited leave to remain and without any proof of her status, Regina cannot work, or rent a property. She is pregnant, and desperately needs documentary proof to prevent her being charged for health-care. Without further action, her child will also be born without citizenship, or a right to stay in the UK”.
That is why this regret Motion is so important. It is about this generation but, as the noble Baroness said, it is about future generations as well.
Two years ago, on 21 March at the Report stage of the Immigration Bill, I mentioned that the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and I had been in correspondence about the fees required for a child to be registered as a British citizen. Along with the noble Baroness, I argued that Amendment 145A, which bears the attention and interest of noble Lords who might like to know the background to this evening’s debate, would have prevented the Secretary of State using the money of these child applicants for profit. The only matter to which he could have had regard would have been the cost of processing the application.
The amendment also provided that fee regulations—the matter before your Lordships’ House tonight—would have required fees to be waived where a child was in care or otherwise assisted by a local authority, and it provided for discretion to waive the fees in other cases on the grounds of the means of the child, his or her parents or his or her carers. The amendment, of course, was not accepted by the Government, although some of the arguments clearly struck a chord.
In our correspondence and in debate, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to the importance of children in the care of local authorities having their status regularised and registered. This was no doubt because of the importance that the Home Office—and, I dare say, all of us—attached to drawing a clear line between those who are here legally and those who are not. But this was also bound up with the so-called hostile environment, referred to by the noble Baroness, a doctrine promulgated by Amber Rudd and others.
As the noble Baroness and I argued two years ago, the then fee of £936, as of 18 March 2016, was the reason why undesirable non-registration had occurred. As I said then, in many cases, the reason why no registration had taken place was precisely because of the size of the fee. Where the child and/or the parents cannot afford to pay, or the local authority will not pay, this money is simply beyond their means. I pointed out that the cost of registration in 2016 was calculated by the Home Office at £272, having risen from £223 in 2015—that is £272, compared with a charge of £936, which is an indefensible discrepancy. There is an old adage that it is the profit that makes things so expensive. Profit may not, in many circumstances, be a dirty word, but profiteering by government on the backs of vulnerable children is a stain that brings no credit on any of us.
That was 2016: let us fast-forward to 2018. We now have a new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. On 15 May, he said that the fee—now up from £936 to £1,012—is a “huge amount of money” to ask children to pay for citizenship. He is right. Let us look once again at the discrepancy between the now £372 attributable to administrative costs and the £1,012 taken by the Home Office. Yes, it is a “huge amount”. As for Amber Rudd’s “hostile environment” policy, Mr Javid says he will review it in the wake of the Windrush scandal, to which the noble Baroness referred in her remarks. He says he regards the phrase as,
“a negative term, a non-British term”,
and that there were lessons to be learned from the controversy. He has said that he wants to replace the term “hostile environment” with the term “compliant environment”, which distinguishes between illegal and legal immigrants. Speaking to the BBC, he said:
“I am going to look at how it’s being implemented. I want to review aspects of the policy. I’ve already made some changes”.
The noble Baroness’s Motion, which calls—modestly, as she said—for the fee increase to be withdrawn until the Government have published an impact statement and established an independent review, gives Mr Javid the opportunity to make another change and to do so right away. Failure to do so, and, as things stand, means that many children with a statutory entitlement to British citizenship will continue to be excluded because of what Mr Javid says is a “huge amount of money ” to ask children to pay. Incidentally, some of these children have no memory of any country other than this. Like yesterday’s Windrush children, they simply assume that they are as British as their school friends. What a cruelty it is when they discover they are not and that they do not have the resources to do anything about it.
In 1981, I was a Member of the House of Commons and I participated in proceedings on the British Nationality Act. It was always Parliament’s intention, and that of the Government of the day, to entrench the concept and reality of citizenship. It was never the intention that the Home Office should impede or prevent full integration of children by levying prohibitive fees. That Act recognised that some children would be born here and grow up here without parents who were themselves British. The law categorically states that they,
“shall be entitled to be registered as a British citizen”.
In other circumstances, the Act also retained the discretion from the British Nationality Act 1948 enabling the Home Secretary to register a child as British where, for instance, parents have become estranged or deceased and status is problematic.
The 1983 fee for registration was £35. Today, as I have said, it is £1,012. That is inflation on quite some scale. As the noble Baroness said, the opportunity to make a profit was taken in 2007 and the fees have risen inexorably since then. This statutory right was never supposed to have been about income generation or supporting Home Office officials. We are talking here about British citizenship, not the National Lottery or a nice little earner on the side. The argument put forward by the Home Office, that a child can apply for leave to remain instead of citizenship, is flaccid and insulting. That is not what Parliament intended and it is not a tenable substitute.
In 2016, the Minister said that the money needed to go into the general pot to,
“achieve a self-funded border, immigration and citizenship system by 2019-20”.
He asked why resident taxpayers should,
“be the ones who have to pay”.
He went on to say:
“Citizenship can never be an absolute right, nor is it necessary in order for a person to reside in the UK and access our public services”.—[Official Report, 21/3/16; cols. 2217-18.]
But this is like Don Quixote inviting us to tilt at imaginary windmills. These children should not be categorised in the first place as migrants: children born here are not migrants. For them to be used to subsidise the UK immigration system is an affront and an injustice.
The opportunistic conflation of adult naturalisation and children’s registration is not what the law intended. Worse, it makes us derelict in our duties under the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and our duty to protect children’s best interests. Some would argue that we are technically in breach of the letter of the convention; it is certainly true that we are in breach of its spirit. Mr Javid should ask his officials to provide him with a copy of the convention and a copy of Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. He should ask why his officials have failed to undertake a children’s best interest assessment—as advocated by the noble Baroness tonight—before hiking up these fees yet again. Officials should be asked how they justify the conflation of vulnerable British children with adults from overseas seeking citizenship and how they square this with the charter obligations that this Government have affirmed.
The noble Baroness is right to have tabled this Motion tonight, and I hope that Mr Javid’s promise of change will lead to a rapid change in this policy.