British Nationality Act 1981 (Remedial) Order 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 5:00 pm, 23rd July 2019

I thank the Minister for explaining the content and purpose of this draft order, which we support as it corrects a discriminatory and unlawful requirement. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has also recommended that the draft order be approved. I will say, before I go any further, that I have nothing new to say that has not been said already. Nevertheless, I still have a determination to say it.

British nationality law granted automatic citizenship by descent only to children born in wedlock to British fathers. Changes have allowed children born to a British mother or father to become a British citizen by descent, irrespective of whether their parents were married, but there remained a requirement to prove “good character” in cases where the applicant is 10 or older. Following the expression of concerns about this continuing requirement—and, probably more decisively, court judgments of incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights—this draft order finally removes the “good character” test for young people seeking their right to British citizenship. Can the Government confirm that they consider this draft order to be compatible with human rights?

While approving this draft order, the Joint Committee on Human Rights made a number of other recommendations in its second report on the order, published on 9 July, which in my view fully justifies our referring to the content of the JCHR report when discussing this order and expecting a government response, either now or later, to what is in that report. It would be helpful if the Government could indicate what their response is to the conclusions and recommendations set out in the second JCHR report on this draft order, published on 9 July.

As has already been said, the JCHR’s conclusions and recommendations include the following:

“The Government should review the application of the good character test to children with a right to British citizenship who have grown up in the UK”,

particularly in the light of the,

“obligation to consider the best interests of the child”.

The JCHR has also expressed the view that the Home Office is leaving itself open to successful legal challenge by requiring from children against whom it has previously discriminated additional requirements, such as good character, that would not have applied had they been able to apply as young children when they were under the age of 10. The committee recommended that the Home Office reconsider its position in respect of children it had previously discriminated against, so that they can obtain British nationality without discrimination or superfluous requirements.

Again, as my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and other noble Lords highlighted, the committee also said that the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981 relating to British Overseas Territories citizenship contained the same discrimination that is the object of the draft order we are now discussing, and that the Government should not wait to consult on this at some unspecified date in the future but should take action to consult and actively seek to remedy this human rights issue—it has been described as a violation—as swiftly as possible.

The JCHR recommended that the Government should not charge an application fee to those who had previously been discriminated against. Can the Government confirm that this is now their intention and indicate when the fees regulations will be amended accordingly? As has already been pointed out, application fees for children are three times more than the cost of the service. The JCHR has commented that disproportionately high fees should not exclude children from more vulnerable socioeconomic backgrounds from accessing their rights to British citizenship. Will the Government now set the fee for citizenship at cost price? Will they ensure that full-fee waivers are available to any child who cannot afford it?

Referring to local authorities, the JCHR said that they should ensure that children in their care with an entitlement to British citizenship should be registered as British to ensure that they maintain their status and rights on leaving care. It is not obvious, though, that we have a clear idea of the immigration status of all children in the care of the state. What are the Government doing in conjunction with local authorities to identify those children with insecure immigration status and to ensure that they receive proper legal advice?

As I said earlier, we support the draft order, but I hope that the Government will provide a response to the associated issues raised by the JCHR in its report and which have been referred to by other speakers in this debate.