Amendment 11

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 27th January 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 3:00 pm, 27th January 2022

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope that, at the end of my response, they will feel that I have at least given a partly positive response. I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, did not refer to this at Second Reading, but I am very grateful for the discussion we had—I think only yesterday—about this and other matters. I found it very helpful.

I, too, understand the strength of feeling being expressed. I both sympathise and empathise with the residents of the Chagos Islands about how they were treated back in the 1960s and 1970s. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that return and citizenship are two different matters in relation to the Chagossians.

We recognise that some former residents of what is now the British Indian Ocean Territory missed out on rights to British nationality when legislation was last passed in 2002 to address the nationality of the Chagossians. Section 6 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British Overseas Territories citizenship and British citizenship status by descent to any child born on or after 26 April 1969 and before 1 January 1983, where the mother was a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies by virtue of her birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory. This measure reflected the removal of the Chagossians from the British Indian Ocean Territory and the fact that the mother of a British Overseas Territories citizen could not pass on her citizenship to a child born outside of the UK or a UK territory. The Chagossian community, however, has criticised this provision because it did not provide for circumstances where women left the BIOT before 26 April 1969 in anticipation of being required to leave, nor did the provision allow children to inherit citizenship from an unmarried BOTC father.

Here is the partly positive response to these concerns. I am pleased to say that the Nationality and Borders Bill currently makes provision to extend BOTC and British citizenship rights to any second-generation Chagossians who were not able to acquire citizenship through their mothers or unmarried fathers, due to discrimination in nationality law.

The issues are complex. As one noble Lord pointed out, some family members in the same generation hold British nationality while others do not. I agree with my honourable friend the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, who stated in the other place that the Government are keen to consider what more we can do to support families seeking to settle here under the current system. Minister Foster has said that he is open to considering how we might use the FCDO £40 million fund package to support the Chagossians settled in the UK.

I must point out the position that successive Governments have expressed on this point. Amendment 11 would undermine the principle in our nationality law that applies to all other descendants of British nationals. Second and subsequent generations, born and settled outside the UK and its territories, do not have a right or entitlement to register as British nationals. I know that the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, seeks, as she said, to limit the right to register as a British national to current generations who must apply within a limited timeframe. This does not alleviate the Government’s concern that offering this right is contrary to long-standing government policy. It goes further than the rights available to many other descendants of British nationals settled elsewhere around the world.

The noble Baroness requested that I meet her and others interested in this matter. I always follow up on requests from noble Lords and I am very happy to meet her. We will consider the point raised by my noble friend Lord Horam about what more we can do to address concerns about the Immigration Rules. My noble friend Lady Altmann raised a point about citizenship. Of course, those without citizenship become overstayers. These are complex issues. As I said in reply to my noble friend Lord Horam, we are happy to consider what more we can do through the immigration system.