Amendment 83

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 8th March 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 12:30 pm, 8th March 2022

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for tabling these amendments. I welcome her to the noble band of terriers who have been snapping at the Home Office’s heels on the issue whenever the occasion arose.

In Committee, the Minister, who to be fair is new to the issue, tried some of the old, discredited arguments. Notably, he referred to the

“sustainability of the system and fairness to the UK taxpayer.”

When challenged, he acknowledged that the system to which he referred was the migration and borders system. Once again the Home Office is conflating citizenship with immigration. We still await a convincing reason as to why children who were born or who have grown up in this country should be subsidising the migration and borders system. Moreover, the distinction between this group and taxpayers is simply not valid, as the children’s parents are already taxpayers and the children will be in future and may already be paying indirect taxes.

The Minister also tried to reassure us that there are a number of exceptions to application fees which protect the most vulnerable, including young people who are in the care of a local authority and applying for limited or indefinite leave to remain. However, the exceptions apply only to leave to remain, and when challenged he accepted the distinction between citizenship and leave to remain, saying:

“There is no arguing about that at all.”—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 469.]

When challenged again later, he assured me that he would not try the argument again today. Now that both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, have accepted that that argument will not wash in this House, and the importance of citizenship has been a thread running through the debates on the Bill, I hope he will not attempt to use the argument again this evening.

In Committee, the Minister also promised to write in response to a number of questions on the best interests review, for which we have been waiting, like Godot, for a good year since the Court of Appeal ruled that the current fee is unlawful because of the failure to take account of the best interests of children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act. I am grateful to him for the letter, although I found it a bit confusing. However, as the noble Baroness said, at least we now have the Supreme Court judgment, which did not dispute the best interests finding, and the Minister’s letter confirmed that the best interests Section 55 review will be published. My understanding is that it will be published by early May. Can he confirm that and say whether it will include a race and disability equality assessment? Can he also give an assurance that Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate the review report?

It is difficult to believe that a fee of over £1,000 is in the best interests of any child who has to pay it, given the evidence of the insecurity, alienation, exclusion and isolation it can cause, as noted by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court judgment found that, best interests aside, as the noble Baroness said, it is for political determination to limit the Home Secretary’s discretion in setting the fee level. The Bill gives us the opportunity to so determine politically.

Noble Lords have frequently cited the former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who described the fee as “huge”. Less well known is that, just shortly before becoming the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel also questioned the level of the fee, according to a Times report, and indeed the Minister accepted that it is “a lot of money”. We have an opportunity this evening—or rather, this morning—to end the long-standing injustice created by this huge fee that has served to exclude thousands of children from their right to register as citizens. I hope we will take it.