Clause 2 - Historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 19th October 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

There is no need to have a stand part debate on clause 2. There are no amendments to clause 2, but I do not wish to curtail debate if hon. Members have anything they wish to say.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have some remarks, which I will try and keep as brief as possible. As outlined in the Committee, opening clauses 1 to 5 seek to close the important loopholes in British nationality law. As we have already heard, British nationality law has discriminated against women and that will be corrected by clause 1 and the Opposition amendments. Clause 2 deals with children born out of wedlock, who have been prevented from deriving nationality from a British father if unmarried. That is another historical injustice and I am glad it is being considered in the Bill.

As Committee members know, before 1 July 2006, children born to British unmarried fathers could not acquire British nationality through their father. Registration provisions have since been introduced to rectify that issue for the children of British citizens through sections 4E and 4I of the British Nationality Act 1981, but that was not changed for children of British overseas territory citizens. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the impact of the inconsistency: a child has no control over its parents’ choices, yet British overseas territories children, now adults, have been discriminated against because their parents were unmarried. Due to a loophole in British nationality law, those children would not automatically acquire British overseas territory citizenship as the law failed to provide unmarried fathers with the ability to transmit citizenship. Therefore, through no fault of their own and without knowing why, that group of British overseas territories children did not acquire rights as British overseas territories citizens—rights they deserved and should have been entitled to, including, for example, holding a British passport or gaining consular assistance from the UK.

As we know, injustices that relate to nationality and citizenship span generations, and it is right the Government seek through clause 2 to correct the historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship. The clause will insert new sections 17B and 17G to the British Nationality Act to provide for registration as British overseas territories citizens for persons born before 1 July 2006 to British overseas territories citizen fathers, where the parents were unmarried at the time of their birth. The provisions provide an entitlement to be registered for those who would have become British overseas territories citizens automatically had their parents been married at the time of their birth and for those who would currently have an entitlement to registration were it not for the fact that their parents were not married at the time of their birth. As the clause creates a registration route for the adult children of unmarried British overseas territories citizen fathers to acquire British overseas territories citizenship, the Opposition welcome and support clause 2. It shows that the adults who have slipped through the cracks in UK nationality law over many years are no longer punished and, instead, are finally placed on an equal footing with mainland UK children born under the same circumstances.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Following clause 1, this clause also seeks to rectify a historical anomaly in British nationality law for people who would have become British overseas territories citizens. The purpose of the clause is to insert a new registration provision for people who, first, would have become BOTCs automatically had their parents been married and, secondly, would currently have an entitlement to registration as a BOTC but for the fact that their parents are not married. That has long been awaited. We are aware of people who would have become British had their parents been married and see citizenship as their birthright.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.