Clause 8 - Requirements for naturalisation etc.

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 19th October 2021.

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

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

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

I think it is fair to say that, with all the Blair and Brown documentaries on television at the moment, it is perfect to be thinking about clause IV, for members of the Opposition.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I do not wish to interrupt the Minister, but he may find that clause IV was not dealt with in the depth that it should have been.

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

That is me told.

Clause 7 applies to three routes to British nationality: naturalisation as a British citizen, naturalisation as a British overseas territories citizen and registration as a British citizen for other British nationals. All these routes require a person to have been in the UK or an overseas territory for a continuous period immediately before applying. This is known as the residential qualifying period. These residence requirements exist to allow a person to show that they have a close and ongoing connection with the United Kingdom.

The residential qualifying period is five years, or three years for spouses and civil partners of British citizens or British overseas territories citizens who are applying for naturalisation. During the five-year period, the person must not have been outside the UK for more than 450 days, must not be subject to immigration time restrictions in the UK or a relevant territory, and must have been lawfully resident. There is discretion in the legislation to overlook excess absences and unlawful presence, but the requirement to have been in the UK or territory on the first day of the residential qualifying period is mandatory. There is no discretion in the current law to grant citizenship to someone who does not meet that requirement.

This means that, for example, a person who has lived in the UK for 10 years, but who was absent from the UK at the point five years before making an application because of a global pandemic, would not be able to qualify, despite their long-term connection with the UK. Under the current legislation, their only option would be to wait until they could meet the requirement.

Another example could be that of someone from the Windrush generation who had lived in the UK for many years but was prevented from returning and was able to do so only four years ago. Despite their long connection with the UK, this requirement creates a barrier to naturalisation. The clause rectifies this, and quite rightly so, enabling the Secretary of State to waive the requirement for a person to have been physically present in the UK or British overseas territory at the start of that residential qualifying period. It will allow us to grant citizenship in compelling circumstances. We will set out in guidance when we might expect to exercise discretion, as we do for other requirements in which there is discretion. This is a positive change that could benefit those who have close connections with the UK but were outside the UK five years prior to their application, particularly when the absence was down to circumstances beyond their control.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45 pm, 19th October 2021

The clause seeks to enable the Secretary of State to waive requirements for naturalisation as a British citizen under section 6, naturalisation as a British overseas territories citizen under section 18, or registration as a British citizen under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981. At present, there is no power to waive the requirement to have been present in the UK at the start of the qualifying period except in relation to applications for naturalisation as British citizens from current or former members of the armed forces, which presents a barrier in otherwise deserving cases.

The immediate necessity for the clause arises from the circumstances of people of the Windrush generation, many of whom were deprived of their rights to register their British citizenship by the Home Office’s failure to ensure that people were aware both of their rights and of the need to exercise them. It has since become necessary to use naturalisation without a fee as a means to put people in the position they should have been in all along as British citizens. However, since some people were wrongly exiled from the UK, the remedy has been inadequate for some people who were only recently able to return.

The main barrier stems from the requirement for naturalisation that a person must be present in the UK at a fixed point five or three years before the date of their application to naturalise. The clause therefore seeks to amend the 1981 Act to allow the Secretary of State to waive the requirement that the individual must have been present in the UK or relevant territory at the start of the qualifying period in the special circumstances of a particular case. The waiver will be introduced in relation to the requirements to naturalise a British citizen under section 6 of the 1981 Act, to naturalise as a British overseas territories citizen under section 18 or to register as a British citizen under section 4.

The clause would not have been necessary had the Windrush scandal not happened in the first place, and we wish to place on the record our concerns that it happened because of the hostile environment that was created by the Home Office. Although we welcome clause 8 and will support it, we wish that it had never been necessary because of the injustice of what happened to all those people.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to pick up on one thing the shadow Minister mentioned in his speech. He is right that the most profound implications of the clause relate to the correction of wrongs that were done to the Windrush generation, but I slightly disagree with him when he says that it would not have been necessary but for that.

Certain nationality applications always have caused some awkwardness. In the dim and distant past, when I was one of these wicked immigration lawyers, I would have people come to me who were applying to register, and the requirement that they had been in the country five years ago at the start of the residency period would sometimes cause problems. I do not know what I was doing five years ago today, and sometimes it would require a hell of a lot of checking to work it out.

There were the odd occasions where the Home Office kindly returned the applications, because it was going to have to refuse them as the person had perhaps gone abroad for a couple of weeks five years ago. If the Home Office had not done that, it could have just banked the fees and refused the application. The most profound implication is in relation to Windrush, but I think overall that this is a good thing to do anyway and a slightly broader discretion is welcome.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I want to acknowledge the people who were caught up in the Windrush scandal and their tenacity in hanging on in there and sticking it out. I also want to recognise all the different campaign groups, activists and supporters, friends and families of those who suffered so much because of the scandal. I want to take every chance I get to put that on the record.

I regularly talk about feeling frustrated in this place when I passionately argue the case for something or someone but almost never get anywhere—sitting here today, it is of course always going to be nine Members on the Government side and seven on the Opposition side—but I underestimated the importance that people place on MPs speaking up for them and acknowledging their injustice, and I never will again. I did not think it would make such a difference, but it really does make a huge difference to people. That is why, as the SNP’s immigration spokesperson, I take any opportunity to say that what happened to the people who came here as part of the Windrush generation was utterly wrong. Even the solutions went wrong, and there were delays and complications. This clause, today, is good, but that is only right.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Does the hon. Member share my slight disappointment that it does not go further? Other countries bestow naturalisation on citizens, in particular those who worked for health and social care services throughout the covid crisis. We have non-UK nationals who have worked in health and social care services who could have had their service acknowledged by the Government. The Government have chosen not to do that, despite multiple requests from many MPs of different parties.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I very much agree, because the people we are talking about came here because they were invited. My partner’s family were among them. Thankfully, they were not caught up in this scandal.

We needed people to come here and help rebuild after world war two. People living in the Caribbean were well used to having white people in charge of their country, but what they were not so used to was the racist abuse that would meet them when they reached these shores. They assumed they would be welcome because they were part of the Commonwealth. They fought in our wars. They were invited here. It must have been a huge shock when they got here and somehow that narrative changed.

The narrative is still being used—it is still being used by some people elected to this place—that somehow the gratitude in all of this should be their gratitude to us and that we are somehow doing them some sort of favour. In fact, lots of our wealth was built on the backs of the people we enslaved on those islands. I cannot remember what it is called, but there is such a thing as the collective, inherited trauma that people suffer from. Their descendants were then invited over here to do what we needed done and they were treated the way they were treated, and then they were treated by this Government in the way they were treated in the Windrush scandal.

In the first years, about 5,000 Jamaican nurses came here. We have heard about all of those people from overseas territories who came and supported our health service. Many of them have suffered greatly. Some died during the pandemic, because they put themselves at risk. We needed those 5,000 nurses who came from Jamaica in the first years for our health system, but Jamaica needed them as well. We took them out of the Jamaican health system. We should have been thanking them. We should have been on our knees with gratitude. I do not like the narrative that they are somehow supposed to be grateful to us. So, yes, I would have liked these measures to have gone much further, but I will say that taking away the five-year rule is at least doing something to hold our hands up and say, “We did something wrong, and you don’t deserve to have to wait the five years when you are not the ones at fault.”

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

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East speaks for the whole House in saying that immigration has made an enormously positive contribution to this country over decades. As elected Members and in our communities across the country, we should continually make mention of that and constantly reflect on it—I am certainly very conscious of it.

Equally, I am conscious of the importance of righting the wrongs of what happened in relation to Windrush. There is an absolute commitment at the Home Office to do just that: follow up on Wendy Williams’s recommendations and make sure that they are delivered. As the SNP spokesman said, the clause has benefit beyond Windrush. I am really pleased that it seems the Committee can come together and support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.