My Lords, I support what has been said so far. The Minister rightly pointed out that this is a remedial order to Parliament to correct incompatibilities in the British Nationality Act 1981 with the European Convention on Human Rights as identified by the courts in recent cases.
The question remains as to how we got into this mess in the first place. So deeply entrenched has been the Home Office in keeping people out of the United Kingdom that previous policies lacked basic concern about the rights and values of people wishing to settle here. Common sense would have told the Government that they were entitled to the incompatibilities being removed at the earliest possible occasion. There are no ifs and buts in this matter: it has taken 28 years to recognise this anomaly and the sooner it is put right, the better.
None of us are surprised that, as the British and British overseas citizenship rights campaign tells me, once again the Home Office is stalling and wants to push for a better legislative opportunity, for which the Home Secretary must look. Meanwhile, children of BOT descent born to unmarried BOT fathers remain shunned and left out in the cold, preventing them being officially embraced by their unmarried BOT fathers’ homelands. It is plainly wrong and should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.
Recent information has revealed areas of serious concern regarding immigration and nationality issues. We were concerned about the scandal of Windrush settlers who were denied proper documentation when they arrived here. This week, we read about the treatment of immigration detainees by private contractors who inflicted misery in our detention centres. They made millions of pounds’ profit from the services they provided. For this to happen at a time when we took great pride in promoting antislavery legislation in the United Kingdom shames all of us who are keen to promote dignity and respect for detainees.
This weekend, the Sunday Times reported on cash for British passports for those who can afford to pay millions of pounds into government coffers. You may ask what this has to do with the order before us. The aim for each of the above group is to obtain British nationality so that they can lead a decent life in the United Kingdom. Why is it taking us so long to rectify an anomaly identified by our courts?
We accept that a number of the recommendations are outside the scope of the remedial order before us. There is no need to wait for another opportunity to revisit nationality laws. We should be actively promoting new legislation to rectify anomalies identified by the JCHR. This order gives us the opportunity to bring forward sooner rather than later legislation that would remedy the deep hurt and sense of rejection felt by the affected children, who are now adults. They simply want to be respected and treated fairly. It is unacceptable that discrimination in acquiring British nationality persists. We should also use this opportunity to consolidate all immigration and nationality issues and proof these against anti-discrimination legislation. We welcome a wider consultation and ask the Minister to set up a timetable for this exercise.
A number of issues that have been identified in the debate so far need to be considered. One such is the “good character” requirement in the context of seeking British nationality. This applies to those aged 10 or over, as that is the age of criminal responsibility. Is the Minister aware that my Private Member’s Bill on this matter has gone through all stages in your Lordships’ House and will be dealt with by Wera Hobhouse MP in the other place? I ask the Minister to await the outcome before specifying that the Government do not consider it appropriate to adjust the “good character” policy so that certain acts become inadmissible when assessing a minor’s suitability for British citizenship. No one would wish to ignore some heinous crimes, but great care must be taken to look at the proportionality of the crime and its impact, so that applicants are less likely to meet the threshold for refusal of citizenship.
My final point relates to the fees issue, which was also identified by previous speakers. My noble friend Lady Hamwee—she would have loved to speak today as she was a member of the JCHR, but she is at a Select Committee meeting and is unable to be here—told me that the size of the fees can mean that a family is able to pay for one child but not stretch to the other. When is the Minister going to look into this? Does she accept that citizenship is not something to be granted on a discretionary basis but an entitlement when all the conditions are met? I look forward to the Minister’s comments.