Clause 2 - Naturalisation: spouse of citizen
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
6:30 pm

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move amendment No. 98, in page 2, line 12, after 'paragraphs' insert '2'.

Photo of Mr Eric Illsley

Mr Eric Illsley (Barnsley Central, Labour)

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 99, in page 2, line 13, leave out 'spouse of citizen'.

No. 100, in page 2, line 14, at end insert—

'( ) In paragraph 2(e) for 'the requirement specified in paragraph 1(1)(c)' substitute 'the requirements specified in paragraph 1(1)(c) and (1)(ca)'.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

I shall be brief. It took us an hour and a half to deal with only four groups of

amendments under clause 1, so we are clearly beginning to get into difficulties and I shall press on.

Anyone reading the amendments would not understand them, but they all address a simple point. The idea was not mine; it came from the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. The amendments make a point to which I think the Minister may be sympathetic. 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 also have to comply with the knowledge of the UK requirement.

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 of that is 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. In fact, it may not even take six months; some people in this country get married perfectly properly after six days, three weeks or whatever. 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 might speak the other language, or a couple may not have a language in common. Sometimes that does not prevent people from deciding that they love each other and want to get married. We must be sensible about this issue.

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? If someone married a UK citizen and wanted to be naturalised, would it be assumed that there would have to be a minimum of two years before they could put in their application? The clause would be more sensible if it were amended in that way. I am grateful for the fact that such matters were brought to our attention, and that the Minister may be sympathetic towards the amendment.

Photo of Ms Angela Eagle

Ms Angela Eagle (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Wallasey, Labour)

I am glad to have said in advance that we consider that amendment No. 17 tabled by the hon. Member for Woking should be made to the Bill. Our original intention was to deal with appropriate parts under secondary legislation, but the fact that the waiver for the language test is contained in primary legislation makes it sensible for the waiver in respect of the knowledge test, which we are inserting into the British Nationality Act, to be included in the Bill. It is a tidying up exercise and I am grateful to those who brought it to our attention.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked about minimum residency requirements for spouses. No period of marriage is required. The three years' residence can be before or after marriage. Residency rather than marriage is the determining factor.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

I wish to check what the Minister said. Let us suppose that a person had been here for only a year, and that he was a spouse. Would he have to wait a little longer before applying for naturalised status?

Photo of Ms Angela Eagle

Ms Angela Eagle (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Wallasey, Labour)

Yes.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

If we could proceed as we have done so far for the remaining clauses, I am sure that you, Mr. Ilsley, and everyone else will be pleased. I look forward to the revised and no doubt hugely improved version of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Humfrey Malins

Mr Humfrey Malins (Woking, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—

'(1A) These requirements shall not apply to a person married to a British citizen and who is settled and has been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom continuously for three years immediately preceding the application for naturalisation'.

Photo of Mr Eric Illsley

Mr Eric Illsley (Barnsley Central, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 48, in page 2, line 23, at end insert—

'(3) These requirements shall only apply to a person married to a British citizen and who is settled and has been ordinarily resident in the UK continuously for the three years immediately preceding the application for naturalisation.'.

Photo of Mr Humfrey Malins

Mr Humfrey Malins (Woking, Conservative)

We are on similar territory to that dealt with by the previous amendments. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I am grateful to the Immigration Advisory Service for its help with the amendment. We shall not press it to a Division. Current nationality law allows a spouse to apply for naturalisation after having lived legally in the United Kingdom for three years. The amendment would allow a spouse who has been in the United Kingdom for three years exemption from the language test—as at present—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 a British citizen. My question concerns the evidence to show that spouses of British citizens have not integrated. The amendment is a somewhat convoluted way of keeping the status quo for spouses.

Photo of Ms Angela Eagle

Ms Angela Eagle (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Wallasey, Labour)

I am sorry that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The run of good luck that started under clause 2 has come to an abrupt end. We cannot accept the amendment, because it would disapply the clause that requires the inclusion of spouses in the English test and the test of knowledge of life in the United Kingdom. Thus, it would disapply the provision for some spouses of British citizens, but not others. It would be divisive, and some spouses of British citizens would be subject to the requirement while others would not. It would also be anomalous, because it would leave spouses applying for naturalisation as British overseas territory citizens subject to the language requirement, but not those who were married to British citizens.

We do not consider that there is a justification for continuing to exclude the spouses of British citizens from the knowledge of English requirement or from making them subject to the knowledge of the United Kingdom society requirement, which will apply to non-spouses. The clause is a genuine attempt to be helpful, not to say that spouses of British citizens have not integrated or that there is a problem with them. It is intended simply to give them the same opportunities as everyone else has to do the courses intended for their benefit. That is the principle behind the changes in the clause, which for the first time covers spouses. It is not one from which I or the Government want to walk away, but one to which we are committed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is the Government's position and withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

My point is prompted by the European Union-non-European Union anomaly. I accept the Minister's point and understand the argument, but something strikes me as slightly odd. Let us imagine that the EU is widened to include the applicant countries, and that someone from Romania to take an example at random where the culture has a different tradition, marries someone from this country. They would not have to go through the process because they would have freedom of movement, whereas someone from Australia, Canada or New Zealand, which might be regarded as the places in the world that are the most similar to here, would. Have the Government reflected on the differences that will arise as a result of our European Union obligations?

Photo of Ms Angela Eagle

Ms Angela Eagle (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Wallasey, Labour)

I make the same point as I made before. If the Romanian party to the marriage wanted to naturalise, they would have to take the tests. They are, like others who do not have to pass the tests, in some circumstances subject to our immigration controls and would be allowed to live and work here. However, the key point is that the tests come into play when people apply for naturalisation. It is not our intention to force people who live and work here to apply for naturalisation. Therefore there is an equivalence, despite the European Union obligations. Everyone has to pass the tests when applying for naturalisation.

Photo of Mr Humfrey Malins

Mr Humfrey Malins (Woking, Conservative)

As I said, it is a probing amendment. I have heard the Government's response, and in the circumstances, I do not propose to press it to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

Have the Government thought through their policy on non-married long-relationship partners, whether heterosexual or same sex? I ask only because the Government have changed their policy on immigration, which is welcome, and have recognised people who have been together for a long time as constituting a couple. What is the policy on nationality? It is obviously illogical that someone who has been married for two minutes and who has

known the other person for a week can qualify for British nationality, subject to the tests, whereas someone who has been living with someone for 30 years cannot enter on that basis.

Photo of Ms Angela Eagle

Ms Angela Eagle (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Wallasey, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have considerable sympathy with his point. However, the Bill does not amend, combine or modernise our nationality and immigration processes. I am afraid that we did not have time for such consolidation. Therefore, it is not complete in removing the anomalies that some of us would like removed. There is still a point of policy about when and whether in immigration terms we should equalise unmarried partnerships and give them the same recognition in the rules as is currently given to marriage. The Bill does not deal with that issue, which we shall have to continue to make representations about, consider and discuss.

Photo of Mr Simon Hughes

Mr Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey, Liberal Democrat)

I am grateful for that answer. It was not intended to be a trick question. I wanted to find out whether the Government had applied their general desire to modernise and bring things up to date in this area. I accept the Minister's point. My noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill has introduced a Civil Partnerships Bill in the House of Lords. I hope that in due course people will apply logic throughout Government policy, and I look forward to progress in that area.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.