Nationality

Part of Exiting the European Union (Transport) – in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 2:10 pm, 23rd July 2019

First, I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Minister and colleagues for my late arrival in the Chamber. I have learnt a lesson on not overestimating how long previous debates will take. My apologies to everybody.

The order is not controversial. I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for all its work on the draft order and the order proposed today. It recommended that the order be passed, and I fully agree. It seeks to put right discriminations that still exist in nationality law and that is something we all support. I will make a couple of brief points on that. The Joint Committee report, in chapter four, points out that as it stands the order will not fix the apparent discriminations highlighted in the Committee’s first report, and leaves the Home Office open to potential legal challenge. Specifically, it raises that issue in relation to children who were discriminated against solely because their parents were not married and adults who were discriminated against when they were children. The Home Office will have to look at that again.

The Committee flagged up, in chapter six of the report, that the very same discriminations are still being faced by British overseas territories citizens. If they face the same discriminations, why are they not being provided with the same remedies? It is time for the Home Office to look at that issue again, too.

The Joint Committee also raised two more general points. First, there is a serious question about whether it is even remotely appropriate to ever apply good character tests in many of these situations at all, especially in relation to children. Personally, I find the whole notion of testing good character in children troubling and pretty awful. Attempting to wash our hands of “problem kids” via nationality law is disturbing. It seems to me that the Home Office has lost its grasp of, and become confused by, the different types of nationality applications. I think few Members would argue that having such a test apply in naturalisation applications, for example, is perfectly reasonable. Nobody would quibble with that, but since changes were introduced in 2006 and 2009 successive Governments have presided over the application of a good character test way beyond its appropriate use. In particular, it has even been applied to kids over 10 who otherwise have an entitlement to British citizenship.

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with what the shadow Minister said about fees. In 1981, when there was a radical reform of British nationality law, this place was extremely protective of the rights of kids who, although not born here, had an entitlement to become British citizens afterwards. They have been denied that entitlement because of exorbitant fees for applications. We need radical reform on that by the Home Office.