My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in her usual style, has once again taken the wind out of my sails, so I will sail in her slipstream. My commiserations to the Minister, as she has the second instalment of the “Lister and Russell show” today.
The Minister commented that the JCHR had gone slightly outside its brief in its comments on this draft order. I would like to suggest to her why that might have seemed the right thing to do. The subjects, conclusions and recommendations it raises on pages 23 to 25 of the report, if you bother to read them, are fairly sobering and somewhat shocking. They are not new; they are issues that have been raised repeatedly in a variety of fora. They will not go away, because again and again we see and hear evidence of what I assume and hope are the unintended consequences of the Home Office’s multifaceted approach to trying to constrain, manage and discourage non-UK nationals and their dependants, including large numbers of children—some of whom have the absolute right to be British citizens—from becoming British citizens. The reason the JCHR has commented on that is that it feels, as many of us do, that that is shocking and simply unacceptable.
While I suspect that the immune system of the Home Office is in a demoralisingly parlous state, I also observe that the cumulative layers of scar tissue it has acquired over the last few years seem to have rendered it incapable of remembering above all that its activities which impact on children are prescribed under British and international law, which say very clearly what the rights of those children are. They make it very clear that those rights have to be first and foremost in every thought and action of the Home Office on our behalf as citizens of this country.
It is unacceptable that the immigration status of parents, whether it is up for argument or not, should have such a material and, in many cases, negative effect on their children, who have done nothing to deserve such treatment. Under international law and the European convention on the rights of the child, and the UN version, they have an absolute right to be protected. I cannot understand why the Home Office seems incapable of recognising this and putting it at the forefront of all it does.
I have three questions for the Minister, and if she is unable to answer them this afternoon, I should be delighted if she had the time and courtesy to write to me. The first is on the subject of citizenship. Do the Government recognise that British citizenship and indefinite leave to remain are simply not the same in terms of the entitlements and security they bring, and that having British citizenship for those entitled to it is a fundamental part of a child’s right to an identity?
Secondly, to return to the perennial issue of citizenship fees and the lack of fee waivers, the Government have, I am glad to say, committed to ensure that the issues highlighted in the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report on the charging for services will be addressed. They said that the recommendations will be,
“factored into spending considerations on fees”,
and undertook to conduct further consultation. Will the Government commit to completing that review even if, as I suspect is entirely possible, the comprehensive spending review is confirmed as being delayed? These children cannot and should not wait.
Thirdly, on local authority duties, do the Government not recognise that local authorities have a duty as corporate parents to support children in care and to secure the most permanent status for which they are eligible? If so, do they accept that to charge children in care for citizenship applications is a cost shift from the Home Office to local authorities that creates extra financial pressures on already cash-strapped local authorities? It is robbing Peter to pay Paul and it is simply unfair.