Earned Citizenship

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary 12:31 pm, 20th February 2008

Let me respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman's specific points. First, he is right to say that there is an important link between the proposals and the work of Lord Goldsmith, on which we expect a report in the next month or so. His work, like the work that I have outlined, clearly embeds the importance and expectations of British citizenship, to which, as the right hon. Gentleman says, many people around the world aspire. We are introducing the proposals to ensure that our immigration system reflects the shared values that are part of British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the legal simplification that we propose. It builds on a series of Acts since 1971. It is right to consider now the way in which we can bring them together in one simple set of principles and law, which will make life easier for those who come to this country and those who make decisions about them. It is a bit rich of the right hon. Gentleman, whose Government were responsible for ending the practice of counting people in and out of this country, to start criticising us, when we are reintroducing the ability to count people in and out. If he is genuinely worried about the identity of people who come to this country, perhaps he will change his position and support our policy of identity cards for foreign residents.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will examine in more detail our proposals for probationary citizenship. However, I can confirm to him that it is a period prior to full British citizenship, so some of his legal points are wrong. That period of time is necessary to earn the right to British citizenship or permanent residence. He made a point about timing, but probationary citizenship lasts for a minimum of one year. It will build on a period of temporary residence of five years for economic migrants or two years for families and dependants. Even the one year depends on those who take the path to citizenship demonstrating an active contribution to British life. Without that contribution, the period of probationary citizenship would be three years. The minimum is therefore six years for people to demonstrate their commitment to the UK and earn the benefits of full British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman commented on the fund that I propose. The Government have already, through £900 million-worth of extra funding for local government next year alone, £50 million of funding for community cohesion and specific education funding for the impact of changes in numbers on school rolls, made an important contribution— [Interruption.]