Lords reject statelessness power

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 08 April 2014

Last night, quietly and without fanfare, the Lords delivered a victory for all who believe in democracy and human rights.

In a late amendment to the Immigration Bill, the Government tried to push through a provision which would have seen British nationals deprived of citizenship by the Home Secretary, even if this would make them stateless. The Commons had scant time to consider a power with huge implications for our security, our international standing and our commitment to countering the scourge of statelessness.

History is littered with barbaric examples of rogue states using statelessness as a weapon. As former Director of Public Prosecutions and Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Macdonald of River Glavenn said, it’s “a policy beloved of the world’s worst regimes during the 20th century”. 

And it’s hard to imagine any possible security benefits of this archaic punishment. Washing our hands of dangerous individuals is no way to tackle the threat. As former Conservative Shadow Lord Chancellor, the late Lord Kingsland said:

“It cannot be a proper response to the terrorist threat to refuse to deal with it ourselves.”

Last night saw impassioned speeches by Peers of all political affiliations and none. Tory peer Baroness Berridge spoke of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims rendered stateless in Myanmar. She told the House “I struggle to see how representations could be so forcefully made about them being entitled to citizenship if the Burmese Government are able to use similar language to that being outlined in the legislation.”

Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour lead on the Bill, demolished the security case for the measure: “the fight against terrorism is international and global, so what are the implications for national and international security in allowing terror suspects to be left loose and undocumented in whatever country they happen to be in when their citizenship is revoked?”.

Liberal Democrat, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, raised the case of the east African Asians who were effectively made stateless by this country in an action later judged racist and degrading by the European Commission on Human Rights. And fiercely independent Crossbench Peer, Lord Pannick, led the charge, persuading the House to back an amendment demanding that the offending clause be fully scrutinised by a Joint Committee of Parliament before it finds its way into law.

Forcing people into a modern version of medieval exile is the behaviour of despots not democrats. But there’s an even darker side to this power. Last night Labour Peer, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, raised the cases of those dual nationals deprived of British citizenship under existing powers, only to be kidnapped or killed in US drone strikes. It’s hard to avoid Lady Kennedy’s question: “is the purpose of this change of law, that we might be able to do things that make people vulnerable and deny them their rights, creating yet more black holes where no law obtains, but where we cannot be accused of complicity?”

Last night the Lords safeguarded our security and stood firm on our democratic values. Washing our hands of suspected terrorists would make for a more dangerous world for all of us.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager