Nationality

Part of Exiting the European Union (Transport) – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 2:05 pm, 23rd July 2019

The good character requirement has wrongly blocked children from registering for their right to British citizenship. We support the statutory instrument because it corrects a discriminatory and wrongful requirement. This requirement in relation to citizenship is highly controversial and, simply put, it is outdated in the present climate. British nationality law granted automatic citizenship by descent only to children born in wedlock to British fathers. Although previous changes have allowed children born to British mothers or fathers to become British citizens by descent whether their parents were married or not, discrimination remained because they were required to prove good character.

Concerns raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the courts, numerous organisations and young people themselves all indicate that it is inappropriate to apply the good character test to children who have a right to be British. The statutory changes proposed today would address those concerns by removing the requirement to prove good character. It is disappointing that the Home Office had to be taken to court to be forced to make this change. I hope the Home Office will not wait for another court ruling to address the other glaring problems with UK nationality law, especially in relation to children.

We believe that the good character requirement has led to serious discrimination. Children from BME backgrounds, as well as children in care, are much more likely to be denied citizenship because of unequal treatment in the criminal justice system. The root of the problem came about when the Government began blurring the distinction between registration and naturalisation. The original good character requirement was not defined, and it related to adult migrants applying to naturalise as British citizens. Since then, the requirement has been applied to children who were born and grew up in the country of which they wish to register citizenship, thereby wrongly denying them their rights to register British citizenship.