Clause 3 - Sections 1 and 2: related British citizenship

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 19th October 2021.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 2:00 pm, 19th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 59, in clause 3, page 8, line 17, leave out “under this section” and insert “on an application under subsection (1)(a)”.

This amendment means that the requirement in s.4K(3), that a person is registered as a BOTC, only applies to applications under subsection (1)(a). It is not needed for applications under subsection (1)(b), which are made by persons who are already BOTCs, and as previously drafted could have prevented registration of persons naturalised as BOTCs rather than registered.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

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

The amendment remedies a drafting issue. The clause as a whole creates a route to register as a British citizen for people who have registered as a British overseas territories citizen under the new routes introduced by clauses 1 and 2. The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 made BOTCs British citizens as well, so it is right that we allow those who missed out on British overseas territories citizenship to become British citizens as well. However, we also want to cover those who have already taken steps to become a British overseas territories citizen, such as through registration or naturalisation in a territory. The amendment introduces the wording of section 4K(3). As that section is currently worded, it means that only those who have been registered as a BOTC can register as British citizens using this clause. The amendment will mean that people who have naturalised as a BOTC will also qualify.

More broadly, on clause stand part, this is an important change aimed at giving British citizenship to those who become British overseas territories citizens under the provisions introduced by clauses 1 and 2. As we have heard, two groups missed out on becoming BOTCs because of anomalies in British nationality law: people born to BOTC mothers before 1983, and people born to unmarried fathers before 1 July 2006. Clauses 1 and 2 will correct this, giving them the opportunity to acquire the BOTC status that they should have had.

We also recognise, however, that changes to the law in 2002 mean that they should also have become British citizens. Under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, on 21 May 2002 all British overseas territories citizens who had that citizenship by connection with a “qualifying territory” became British citizens. For children born in a qualifying territory after 21 May 2002, British citizenship is acquired automatically if either parent is a British citizen or settled in that territory. This means that this group have missed out on both BOTC and British citizenship, so we need to create a route for them to acquire both.

We recognise that some people who did not become BOTCs automatically may have already taken steps to acquire that status by applying for registration or naturalisation in a territory. Some may also have applied to become a British citizen under existing provisions, but for those who did not, this clause allows a person who would have become a British citizen, had women and unmarried fathers been able to pass on status at the time of their birth, to register as a British citizen if they are now a BOTC.

Home Office officials are working with territories to develop the process for these applications, including in respect of whether this can be a done as a “one-stop” approach, with a person being able to apply for BOTC and then also opt in to apply to be a British citizen at the same time.

We regularly receive representations on this issue, from individuals and governors, and so understand the strength of feeling. We are aware of families where cousins have different statuses because women and men could not pass on citizenship in the same way, or because a child’s parents did not marry. Those in this position understandably feel that they have been unfairly prevented from holding a status that they should have acquired by birth. It is therefore important that we make this change, and I commend clause 3 to the Committee.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh.

Opposition Members will not oppose amendment 59, and I will speak primarily to clause 3 stand part. The clause refers to the creation of the new statutory entitlement for British overseas territories citizens who have been affected by the injustices that we have heard about this morning in relation to clauses 1 and 2 to become citizens by registration. While all those with BOTC status additionally became British citizens in 2002, by virtue of section 3 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, we know of the loopholes that have existed due to the fact that women could not pass on citizenship, or because their parents were not married, and as a result many were unable to become British citizens under the 2002 Act. I am pleased that the Government are committing to new routes for adult children of British Overseas Territories Citizen parents to be registered as BOTCs and, in turn, as British citizens.

Clauses 1 to 3 would benefit people born to BOTC mothers and BOTC unmarried fathers who could not pass on citizenship to their child due to nationality laws at the time of the child’s birth, which, as we have heard this morning, is deeply unfair and is rightly being addressed in this legislation. Clause 3 creates a route to becoming a British citizen for people who registered as a BOTC under the new routes introduced by clauses 1 and 2.

However, we must also discuss the implementation of clauses 1 to 3. Accessibility is all-important and while we welcome the changes made to British nationality law outlined earlier today, I have concerns about rights being inaccessible, which we have seen time and again in the UK, with devastating consequences. If we take perhaps the clearest and most heartbreaking example of the Windrush scandal—one of the most shocking and contemptible episodes in the UK Government’s history—I am sure colleagues across the Committee will agree that the Windrush generation were treated shamefully after a lifetime of working hard, paying their taxes, bringing up their families and contributing to our society. They were left facing uncertainty about their legal status in the UK and lost access to their homes, jobs and healthcare, through no fault of their own.

As last year’s “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” highlights, changes made to British nationality law in the 1980s

“progressively impinged on the rights and status of the Windrush generation and their children without many of them realising it.”

Therefore, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, the rights that are to be established for British overseas territories citizenship must be accessible. The Home Office must provide assurances as to when and how these rights will be made public and widely publicised for those affected. I make the point around accessibility now as we discuss clause 3, and I hope we can return to it later on, as I believe it is very important.

Overall, the Opposition none the less support clause 3 as it provides the framework to tidy up inconsistencies in British nationality law and acknowledges those who have suffered under UK law due to loopholes outlined in clauses 1 and 2.

Amendment 59 agreed to.

Amendment proposed: 10, in clause 3, page 8, line 18, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”—

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee for British citizenship applications by certain British overseas territories citizens.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.