Clause 5 - Disapplication of historical registration requirements

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 19th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

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

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

This clause seeks to amend British nationality law to remove historical registration requirements and to reflect recent case law. As we have already heard, before 1983 women were unable to pass on British citizenship, and before 1 July 2006 unmarried fathers were unable to pass on citizenship. Under the previous legislation, the British Nationality Act 1948, citizenship could normally only be passed on to one generation of children born outside of the UK and colonies.

However, section 5(1)(b) of the 1948 Act permitted transmission through a father to a further generation if the child was born in a foreign country and their birth was registered within a year at a British consulate. The period could be extended at the Secretary of State’s discretion. An example of this might be where the child’s grandfather was born in the UK and their father was born in the United States of America: the child’s birth could be registered at the British consulate in the United States and they would have become a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies as a result. However, a British mother or unmarried British father could not register their child’s birth at a consulate, because they were unable to pass on citizenship at that time.

There are already measures in place for people to register as a British citizen if they would have been able to acquire that status automatically if women and unmarried fathers had been able to pass on citizenship under the 1948 Act. This clause means that a person will not be prevented from registering under those provisions if the only reason they cannot qualify is that their parent was unable to register their birth at a consulate.

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

As we move through part 1 of the Bill, we turn to British citizenship in clause 5. This clause again seeks to correct historical problems in British nationality law concerning discrimination against women. The current statutory language has caused significant problems in implementation. Under the 1948 Act, citizenship could normally only be passed on for one generation to children born outside the UK and colonies, but section 5(1)(b) of the Act permitted it to be passed on to a further generation if the child was born in a foreign country and the birth was registered within a year at a British consulate. The child of the British mother or unmarried British father could not be registered because they were unable to pass on citizenship at the time.

British women, therefore, although able to inherit their fathers’ nationality when born abroad, have historically been denied the right to pass it on to their own children in the same circumstances. Although when it came into force on 1 January 1983 the British Nationality Act 1981 equalised the rights of men and women as regards the nationality of their children, it did nothing to remedy the discrimination against women that had persisted up to that point. That discrimination was demonstrated in the Supreme Court on 9 February 2018, in the Advocate General for Scotland v. Romein. Ms Romein was born in the USA in 1978 and her father was a US citizen. Her mother was born in South Africa to a Scottish mother and a Welsh father, from whom she inherited her British national status. Despite her family’s connections to the United Kingdom on both sides, as a result of the discrimination inherent in British nationality law—specifically, at that time, section 5 of the British Nationality Act 1948—she was unable to pass her British national status on to her own child, despite wishing to do so.

Clause 5 therefore amends eligibility requirements for registration under section 4C and 4I of the British Nationality Act 1981, to disapply the requirements for a birth to have been registered at a British consulate within 12 months. In effect, it will tidy up the language of British nationality legislation to make clear the Supreme Court’s judgment in Ms Romein’s case, which confirmed the right of British women to pass their nationality on to their children born abroad. The Opposition support the clause, which creates no new rights, but rather makes clear the existing rights in UK law. We welcome that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.