My Lords, I am very pleased to speak at this time of day in favour of this amendment, which was so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I have spoken at earlier stages, so I do not need to detain the House for very long this evening. I have spoken not just on earlier stages of the Bill but over the years about the injustice of this extraordinary sum of money being charged in citizenship fees, especially in the case of children, as we have just heard. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I was struck by Sajid Javid’s own remark about the huge cost of placing such a large amount of money on the right to become a British citizen—over £1,000.
I gave a witness statement to the High Court about what the intentions of the 1981 legislation actually were. I served in another place then and I spoke in the debates in the House of Commons at that time. The Government of the day—a Conservative Government—rightly wanted to ensure that every person in this country saw themselves as a British citizen and gave them routes to achieve that status. I think that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister of the day would be horrified at the idea that we would try to make money out of this process and thereby exclude people who ought to become British citizens from being able to do so. I particularly draw the attention of the House to proposed new subsection (2)(c)(i), as inserted by Amendment 83, which deals with the costs of exercising the function.
Whatever it costs the Home Office to administer, these fees will still be reclaimable. What will not be reclaimable is the excess which is being made in what some have described as a “nice little earner”. That cannot be appropriate—not in the case of citizenship. The largest group of people excluded by these fees are thousands of people born in the United Kingdom who have grown up and lived here all, or nearly all, of their lives. Some people in the group are living in the UK in their twenties and thirties, still excluded from the citizenship rights which have been theirs from at least the age of 10. The impact, in some instances, is passed on when their children are in turn born without citizenship and face the same exclusion by the same fees. Those people are entitled to citizenship by registration, but the fees have undoubtedly excluded them.
I like what the Government have said about the importance of citizenship. It has been alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. It is something which I have cared about a great deal, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, knows. I have shared with her some of the work I did for over 20 years holding a chair in citizenship at the University of Liverpool. I passionately believe that we must integrate people fully into our society. This includes everything from the teaching of language to the teaching of patriotism: the duty and belief that it is worth being a citizen of this country and upholding its values. All of us who were privileged to sit today in another place when President Zelensky addressed both Houses of Parliament really had it brought home to us how fortunate we are to live in a country like this with the rights, freedoms and liberties which we enjoy here. To adapt a phrase which was once used by an eminent citizen of the Roman Empire,
“we are citizens of no mean country”.
We are citizens of a great country, and others should be able, and entitled, to become so as well.
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty International UK have brought together an impressive coalition of support from the community and children’s and legal organisations for Amendment 83, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
The director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland said:
“The Law Society of Scotland supports Amendment 83. It is important that registration fees do not present a barrier to people who want to be British citizens. We particularly support subsection (3) of the amendment which requires that no fee is to be charged for the registration of any child who is looked after by a local authority, or the registration of any person to correct a historical legislative unfairness.”
As we have heard, the Supreme Court has batted this one back to us and said that this is now a matter for Parliament to decide. This is our opportunity in this Bill. I will greatly regret if it is not passed this evening. However, I am certain that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, alongside her new-found ally, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, will recruit many more “terriers”—as she puts it—to the cause to ensure that we will continue chomping away at the ankles of the Minister until something is done to put this injustice right.