British Citizenship Fees: Children — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:30 am on 4 September 2018.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 11:30, 4 September 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered fees for registering children as British citizens.

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I trust that you are feeling suitably refreshed after the summer recess. What better way to start the new term than by seeking to ensure that all children entitled to British citizenship can access it and not be prevented from doing so by an exorbitant Home Office fee?

I thank colleagues from the different political parties who supported the debate application, the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, and everyone who has come along to support it. I also thank the 69 MPs, from every political party in the House of Commons, who have signed early-day motion 1262. Finally, I thank all the campaigning organisations that have been working incredibly hard, including the Children’s Society, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Let Us Learn, the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens—PRCBC—and Amnesty International.

What we all seek is utterly reasonable and a very modest proposal. All we are asking the Home Office to do is to put in place a charging regime for registering children as British citizens that is fair and that allows them to access their right to citizenship, rather than one that leaves them to seek various forms of costly and precarious immigration status and sometimes with no status at all.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

The hon. Gentleman may have seen that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that he has asked for a review. Does the hon. Gentleman have an idea of what might come of that?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I hope good things come of the review, but I suspect that the Minister will be in a better position to provide us with answers.

We seek a system that reflects what Parliament intended when it passed the British Nationality Act 1981—that is, a system that makes it easy for kids with the requisite close connections to Britain to exercise their right to British citizenship, not one that makes money out of them by charging what the Home Secretary himself has described as a “huge” sum of money in order to fund other Home Office work. That is the case in a nutshell. In the remainder of my contribution, I plan to look at what Parliament intended for these children when it passed the legislation in 1981 and then to make the case that what the Home Office has put in place undermines rather than implements those intentions.

In 1983, Parliament scrapped the laws that meant that being born in the United Kingdom was in itself enough to make a person British. As well as being born in Britain, a person now also needs to have a parent who is settled or a UK citizen at the time of their birth. That was an understandable step. Many countries, although not all, have done the same. In a world in which people can live in several countries over their lifetime, place of birth is not necessarily the best way to identify a person’s true home country—the country that the person is most closely connected to and that should take them under its wing. However, in taking that step, Parliament was careful and mindful of the fact that it did not want to leave significant numbers of children for whom Britain is home deprived of that citizenship and the protections, security and stability that the anchor of citizenship can provide, which is precisely why it enacted provisions on registration.

British-born kids who were not automatically British at birth are allowed to register as British if they lived in the UK for the first 10 years of their life; either parent settles or becomes British before the kid turns 18; or if the kid was stateless at birth and lived for five continuous years in this country. Citizenship is their right. There is no discretion for the Home Secretary, although the 1981 Act rightly retained a discretion for the Home Secretary to allow other children to register, including those who came here at an early age and are to all intents and purposes British.

We could one day have a different debate on whether the rules are precisely the right ones and whether they draw the lines in the right place, but I think nobody could disagree that this type of rule was essential. The policy reasons behind them were quite right. In ending jus soli or citizenship by birthplace alone, it was vital to ensure that the thousands of kids for whom Britain was and is home should still enjoy that citizenship. The simple fact is that, by setting exorbitant fees, the Home Office is to all intents and purposes undermining Parliament’s intentions. Too many children cannot access citizenship because the Home Office charges what the Home Secretary has acknowledged is a “huge amount” of money.

When the British Nationality Act came into force in 1983, the fee set for registration applications was £30. In today’s money, that is almost exactly £100. For a quarter of a century, the fee simply represented the administrative cost of processing an application, but from 2007 the Home Office started charging more than the administrative cost. Accelerated increases mean that we have reached the “huge amount” of just over £1,000. The Home Office estimates the cost of processing an application to be £340, so it is creaming off £672 every time a child seeks to access their entitlement to citizenship.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

It does my soul good to hear a member of the Scottish National party speak in such praise of British citizenship. I concur with that, but the hon. Gentleman is making a very good point. Compared with the cost in other countries—for example, the fee is £250 in Germany, £500 in the United States, £160 in Australia and £300 in Canada—the costs in our country are far too high.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—I shall be very happy to champion the cause of British citizenship for the next few years at least. He makes the absolutely valid point that, on the basis of international comparisons, the amount that we charge children is exorbitant. It does not compare well at all.

The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens has done fantastic work in challenging the Home Office fees on behalf of kids and even in helping to secure financial support from generous donors willing to help kids to achieve citizenship through donations, although it is outrageous that kids should have to look to charity to secure their citizenship. That organisation is fantastically well placed to speak about the impact on British kids of being denied formal British citizenship. The kids grow up blissfully unaware that they are not, unlike their peers, British citizens. They do not realise that until they cannot join their peers on a school trip abroad or they apply for university and suddenly are faced with paying overseas fees. Without British citizenship—they are just like the Windrush generation in a sense—these children are made subject to immigration control and potentially the hostile or compliant environment, which means that they run the risk of being refused access to healthcare, employment, education, social assistance and housing. There is even the possibility of being detained, removed from and excluded from their own country altogether. In fact, that was mentioned in the most recent report by Stephen Shaw.

The PRCBC has provided a number of case studies—I suspect that hon. Members have access to them—highlighting individual stories. I will mention just one. May was brought to the UK when she was two months old and she has never left the country. She was first taken into care when aged five. A full care order was made later. She should have been registered as a British citizen under section 3 of the British Nationality Act while she was in care, but she was not, and she lost the opportunity when she turned 18. May gave birth to Heather and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, but Heather was not born British, because at the time of her birth her mother was neither British nor settled. Heather now has an entitlement to register as British under section 1 of the 1981 Act because of the settled status that her mother subsequently acquired, but her mother simply cannot afford the £1,012 fee to register her daughter as British. Heather was born and brought up in Britain. She knows no other country. She is to all intents and purposes British. She is entitled to British citizenship—she should not be required to pay more than £1,000 to access that entitlement—and cannot access it.

Tens of thousands of British-born children face similar issues. Surely that is contrary to the Government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and to the requirement that children’s best interests be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I congratulate my fellow member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on bringing up this very important issue. Is he aware of two things? First, the very expensive fees for all sorts of visa and citizenship arrangements in this country are having repercussions. For example, I have just had to pay out £465 for my daughter to study for a few months in Brazil—that form of visa is most expensive for UK citizens. Secondly, does he agree that, far from the Home Office making a substantial profit out of vulnerable children, there should be no fee at all in the case of children in the care system?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The hon. Gentleman has been a champion of this cause on the Home Affairs Committee. I agree that there should be no fee for children who have been in the care system. The early-day motion that I tabled referred to that and I will address it momentarily.

The Minister met me and representatives from PRCBC and Amnesty to hear our arguments. I am grateful that she was willing to listen. I want to address some of the arguments the Home Office continues to use to justify the current fees regime.

First, the Home Office asserts that the fee reflects the benefit received by the child in being able to register. That totally misunderstands the situation. Parliament has decided that these kids should formally be British citizens—it was not a benevolent act of the Home Office. It is not any more legitimate to charge these citizens for the benefits they obtain as UK citizens than it would be to charge anyone in this room or our own children. It seems the Home Office is conflating registration with the naturalisation of adults who choose to make the UK their home and ask for citizenship. That is totally different. Registration was put in place to compensate or to fill some of the gaps left by the end of citizenship by place of birth. The Home Office is subverting Parliament’s clear intentions by making it impossible to access those rights.

Secondly, the Home Office states that citizenship is not necessary—people can apply for leave to remain instead, which is an astonishing argument. How many hon. Members would be willing to give up their British nationality and settle for applying for leave to remain? There is no equivalence and it is outrageous to suggest that there is. That is particularly the case given that some of the kids affected would face a hellish path to settlement, which the Minister seems to be suggesting is a suitable alternative. Those not born here would require multiple applications at a cost of several thousand pounds on top of the cost to their wellbeing caused by the insecurity and stress of such a situation. It is not acceptable to say to someone whom Parliament says should be considered a British citizen, “Never mind, you can apply for leave to remain in your own country.”

Thirdly, the Home Office argues that it is fair for those using the immigration and nationality system to pay a contribution towards the broader costs of the immigration and nationality system, so that British taxpayers more generally do not have to. In some circumstances, I accept that that is true, but not here. The sum of money is not fair. As we have heard, it is huge and prohibitive, and we are talking about children. More fundamentally, these children are not migrants who chose to come in, but people entitled to citizenship. They were either born here or came here and grew up here without having had a choice.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I have a young constituent who has been refused citizenship after applying and her family paying that £1,012, despite the fact that her father is Scottish, she was born in Scotland and she has never lived anywhere else. Does my hon. Friend agree—developing the points he has been making—that it is difficult not to see this as profiteering by the UK Government to fund their hostile policies?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I absolutely agree that it is profiteering. The Home Office tends to deny it is profiteering because it spends the money elsewhere, but the fact that profits are reinvested does not mean that they are not profits in the first place. It is outrageous to take the approach that the Home Office is suggesting. It is also contradictory, because it is saying that kids entitled to British citizenship should pay more so that other British citizens get to pay less. Both groups are British citizens. There is equivalence between them. The Home Office argument almost suggests that one form of citizenship is superior to another.

In conclusion, the Home Secretary has to all intents and purposes deprived far too many kids of their right in law to register as British by setting a fee for registering citizenship, which he has described as,

“a huge amount of money to ask children to pay”.

There are not even any fee waivers for those kids brought up in care, never mind a broader opportunity to apply for a reduction where the fee is unaffordable.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I have been approached by the London Borough of Hounslow, which has a large number of people who were born all over the world. The local authority has many children in care whose parents were not born in the UK, so they have to apply for British citizenship. The local authority has to pay this extortionate fee, which means tens of thousands of pounds coming out of the children’s services budget, which is already terribly overstretched. The lead member and the officers have told me that they resent their overstretched budget being used to subsidise national Government. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with them that it is unacceptable?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I agree entirely. It makes no sense. In short, I am asking—I think most hon. Members are asking—that the cost of the application be no more in any case than the administrative cost to the Home Office; that where there is an inability to meet the financial cost, there should be the opportunity to apply for a fee waiver; and that no fee should be applied in instances such as the one the hon. Lady suggested—when children are in the care system.

In conclusion, if the Prime Minister is serious about remedying “burning injustices” and if the Home Secretary genuinely wants a fairer system of fees, this is a clear and obvious place to start. I hope the Home Office and the Immigration Minister look at this again.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. The debate can last until 1 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 12.27 pm. There will be 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. If the Minister would be kind enough to leave three minutes for Mr McDonald to sum up at the end, that would be great. There are four or five Members seeking to speak and we have until 12.27 pm for contributions.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 11:46, 4 September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Stuart C. McDonald on securing this debate, which allows us to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about our immigration system. We both serve on the Home Affairs Committee, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I know that he has pursued this issue with great vigour. He only confirmed what he is asking for in the last few sentences of his speech. The early-day motion that he tabled, which has received cross-party support, speaks about the cost being prohibitive. I think he has now confirmed that his proposal would be for the cost to be roughly £400, rather than £1,000. The early-day motion also mentions that some people are simply

“unaware of the requirement to register”.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would say more in summing up, but I am not sure what more can be done to improve people’s knowledge, to ensure that they know they have to register for these entitlements, as British citizens. I think that was missing from his remarks. I know why he focused on the financial element, but if awareness is a problem, it is important that we discuss that.

There has been a lot of debate about our immigration system in recent months. For most people coming to make a life for themselves in this country, the immigration system will be their first interaction with our Government. For others, such as children who have been brought here by their parents, it is a gateway to making a life for themselves in a country that we are all proud to call home. It is vital, therefore, that the system is fair and efficient and always has people—not abstract policies—at its heart.

I understand many of the concerns that have been raised. When children are brought to this country, it is often because their parents have decided to move here. For many of them, their life in the UK is the only one they have ever known. We have a long history of welcoming, as children, people who go on to make exceptional contributions to British life, science and culture, and who are as British as you or I. I want that to continue to be the case.

It is right, however, that those who benefit from our immigration system are, where they can, the ones who pay for it. As the hon. Gentleman alluded to, he believes they should pay the cost recovery. Let us not forget that citizenship fees are not something new. They were introduced, not by this Government, but as far back as 2004, to ensure that the cost of running the immigration system is borne by those who stand to gain most from it, not the British taxpayer. This concept is not exceptional, nor is it out of line with international comparisons. Almost every country in the world charges a fee to cover the cost of becoming a citizen.

A big part of this debate has been the level at which those fees are set. I want to make it clear that fees should never be prohibitive and if they have climbed too high, too fast, I hope the Minister will take cognisance of that and look carefully at this issue. However, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, the Home Office believes that the fees cover much more than the cost of the application, as they contribute towards the running of the wider system and towards the benefits that newly naturalised people stand to receive as citizens. Yet, as I have said, it is important that the fees do not become so high that citizenship becomes an option only available to the wealthy.

It should also be said that applying for citizenship is a choice. This brings us back to the issue of fairness, as people who choose to become British citizens should pay to support that system. If we were to deny non-citizens certain benefits that accompany citizenship, I would better understand some of the concerns that exist around this argument. However, a child with indefinite leave to remain will have access to benefits and entitlements, as does someone with full citizenship. What is more, local authorities have a duty of care for all children in need, regardless of their status.

At the heart of our immigration system, there needs to be a focus on people. Everyone comes to this country with their own unique story to tell and we must ensure that our immigration system can handle people’s different circumstances. That is why it is absolutely right for the Government to waive citizenship fees for children in certain circumstances, as they already do, including for children who are victims of slavery or abuse, who are asylum applicants, or who are being looked after by a local authority. That is exactly the sort of flexible, personal approach that we need throughout our immigration system, to ensure that we do not turn our back on the most vulnerable people who come to this country to seek sanctuary.

I accept, as I think all hon. Members from across the political divide would, that no system is ever perfect, and the arguments that we have heard today have shown that in relation to the fees that children are being charged. I know that the Minister is an extremely capable member of the Government and that she understands the points that have been highlighted today; I also welcome the fact that she embarked on a review of this system over the summer. I look forward to hearing the findings of that review.

I hope that if changes are made, two key features will be recognised, which should be at the core of immigration policy. The first is fairness, both to the taxpayer and to immigrants; and the second is flexibility, so that unique circumstances are recognised and so that nobody who has a right to citizenship is ever deterred by prohibitive costs from seeking it.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich 11:51, 4 September 2018

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak—it is an honour to speak under your chairmanship—and I congratulate Stuart C. McDonald on securing this debate.

For nearly six months, Parliament has been forced to confront the many personal tragedies that have been caused by the Windrush fiasco. Every one of us should be worried when British citizens can be quietly removed from the bottom of a list, refused their rights and healthcare, and thrown out of their jobs and houses after a lifetime of hard work, during which they have paid their taxes and national insurance. Many of us have constituents to whom some if not all of these things have happened.

Some of us also have ex-constituents who have already been deported from this country without trial. These people are British citizens who have been forced out of our country by a combination of the ruthless inefficiency of the Home Office and the hostile environment that discriminates not only against those born in any other country but even against those born in this country to British citizens who have moved here from abroad.

Both Houses of Parliament are rightly shocked that these things have happened to the Windrush generation, but a large part of the reason that the Windrush generation was treated so unjustly was that the systems that we have make it complicated and expensive for some people to establish their British citizenship. If an adult is applying for British citizenship as a privilege, then by all means let us expect them at least to cover the cost of their doing so. However, if someone has a statutory right to British citizenship, we have a responsibility to ensure that they receive the rights and the treatment that go with that citizenship. We should do everything in our power to ensure that such people are properly registered and are not inadvertently discriminated against.

One of the most blatant, indeed gratuitous, ways that we can discriminate against the children of immigrants is to charge them exorbitant sums for going through a process that we require them to go through—a process that in a truly equal and non-discriminatory society they probably would not have to go through anyway.

The early-day motion that was tabled in May makes absolutely reasonable demands on the Home Office. As far as I can see, legislation is not required to implement it and it is the only way in which the immigration system can be made compatible with the spirt of the various promises about Windrush that have been made in the House. The Minister should not continue to review these issues; instead, she should move immediately to respond to the calls that were made in the early-day motion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 11:54, 4 September 2018

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. I thank the Minister for attending this debate, and I congratulate Stuart C. McDonald on securing it and on describing the current situation very well.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that we should look to the Minister for change. So far, everybody whom I have heard today—I presume that those who follow me will take a similar view—has said nothing other than that we have a system that appears to take advantage of many people financially. We believe that system must change.

I am very much of the opinion that it is the job of Government to provide a service for the good of the nation out of the reasonable taxes that are paid. I do not believe we are perfect in the way we collect taxes; I believe that members of the higher echelons, who can afford to pay a little more, manage to slip the noose. We rightly help those in lower-paid employment, and in the middle a growing number of people are now working in poverty; across the UK, there are 3 million people in working poverty who are just one pay check away from homelessness.

That is a part of the responsibility of tax; there is certainly an issue with how we are taxing the middle class beyond a level that they can bear. However, that is not the subject of today’s debate, although I will take this opportunity to highlight the fact that we need to learn lessons from placing excessive burdens on people, in any way that we can, including tightening up tax loopholes to prevent them from being used by big corporations.

Today’s debate focusses on the money raised by the fees charged to register children as British citizens, which is an issue I feel strongly about; indeed, it is the reason I am here in Westminster Hall today to support my friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and others in what they are putting forward.

I do not expect any Government Department that is providing a service to non-British people to run at a loss. I also support those who call for non-British people to pay their NHS bills and I believe in a percentage of our GDP going to international development and aid; I support those policies entirely. However, there is a question as to how far our charity extends and I fully support a Department that makes charges to cover its costs.

However, that is not what is happening here, which is clearly quite different and clearly wrong. I hope that I have read something wrongly and that I will be corrected by the Minister—it costs approximately £372 in administration to process a registration, yet from 6 April we have been asking the very same people to pay £1,012. It is a long time since I did O-levels or GCSEs, but my mathematics is just as good now as it was back at that time; some people say that my mathematics is not very good at all, but that is by the way.

Nevertheless, I can still trust my maths ability enough to know that these increased fees simply do not add up; we do not have to be an expert in maths at any level to understand that. Why are we charging 2.72 times the amount of money that it costs to run the system? Why does it seem appropriate to make almost 200% profit on this type of transaction? If that happened anywhere else, we would refer that place to the necessary ombudsman for racketeering. Indeed, in Northern Ireland somebody doing this could expect a visit from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who would seek an explanation regarding exactly what the person was up to.

There should be a compassionate element, as these children are in a vulnerable position and should be helped to make the final steps to become British citizens. However, profit of this magnitude does not speak to me of compassion, so the Minister will understand our frustration when we speak about these matters and understand what we are gently trying to put to her, as she is the Minister responsible for this issue.

The Library briefing that some of us received before the debate says:

“Analysis published on the Free Movement website puts the profit made by the Home Office in the past five years at £94.24 million.”

My goodness. It went on to say:

“The Home Office accepted the methodology of that analysis but disputes that the money made represents a profit as it helps to fund the visa and borders systems.”

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East referred to that in his speech. Although I clearly understand the rationale for that, the fact of the matter is that there is a fine line between good stewardship and exploitation. We have to look at what is happening here. Is it good stewardship or is it exploitation? I respectfully suggest to the Minister that it looks more like exploitation than good stewardship. The Department must seriously consider its position at this time. I understand that the immigration system loses money with each application that is returned to it and with each in-depth investigation that it makes. However, should two other applications be processed at the expense of a child’s application? I think not.

I am asking the Home Office to consider that point, and this debate gives me the opportunity to do just that. Personally, I believe that rather than giving children indefinite leave to remain, we should see these children—who do not even know their parents’ homeland—as British citizens and invest in them as British citizens, allowing them the absolute privilege of ticking the box marked “British citizen” and to consider themselves British—the greatest nationality label in the world.

Here in Westminster Hall today, we are all—all the parties that are represented—collectively saying that, too, and it is great that that is the case. I am overwhelmed by my hon. Friends and colleagues sitting on either side of me or in front of me who subscribe to the very same principle.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in relation to the support I receive in my office for work on immigration.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the indefinite leave to remain route, and he will be aware that until 2008 we had a special process, known as the children’s concession, for children who had lived in this country for seven years. Does he agree that if that were reinstated it might fast-track at least some of the children affected?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Lady brings, as always, wise words and suggestions to the debate. The Minister will have heard her call, which I, and indeed others, endorse, and perhaps that is a methodology whereby her Department might be able to take the matter forward.

We talk often of community integration and of ensuring that we do not create countries and allegiances within our country. I believe that a way of controlling this from the cradle is ensuring that these children can be proud of their original culture and their heritage yet be proud to be British citizens. That is the true definition of integration, in my mind and in the minds of many, and it is what should be encouraged, rather than keeping children who know no other life that the British one at arm’s length and as somewhat second-class citizens.

I welcome the Minister to her place. I have always found her very responsive and helpful in any matters I have brought to her attention, and I appreciate that. I hope that she accepts the consensus in the debate—what we collectively would like to see happen in the days ahead in relation to this request. I understand that bills must be paid and I expect non-nationals to pay their way, but we should not ask them to pay someone else’s way as well. That is why I ask for a reconsideration and a more equitable dividing of the fee.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 12:01, 4 September 2018

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone.

Week in, week out, at surgeries, I see the impact of the UK Government’s hostile environment on the lives of the people I represent, and one of the cruellest things about that is how it affects children whose parents either cannot work or are not allowed to work, and have no access to public funds. It is the children who lose out in those circumstances. If a child does not have citizenship they are subject to most of the same frustrating and arbitrary rules as adults, some examples of which I will discuss. The hostile environment aims to reduce immigration by making life in the UK so difficult for people that they simply give up and go back to their original country. Children, however, do not have that choice, and it is staggering that the Government put such high barriers in the way of children’s security and future prospects. The environment also limits children’s opportunities. I have had cases in my constituency of children in youth clubs or schools wanting to go on trips but not having the right under citizenship to do so. They cannot get a passport and cannot travel and are therefore missing out on educational opportunities from which they would benefit hugely. It is also cruel for them to see all their friends going away and not being allowed to participate on the same basis because their family cannot afford the fee.

The fee has escalated, mirroring the escalation in the adult fee, but this is an example of migrant children being treated the same as adults in a way that is borderline discrimination. We do not treat children who are British citizens exactly as we treat adults, so why the children of migrants? Children would struggle to get the money from their paper round, lemonade stall or any other means of fundraising. The Home Office is charging vulnerable children nearly three times the actual cost of the process. The children have a right in law to be registered as British citizens, as my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald outlined, so making a profit is simply not acceptable. Charging children an excessive amount for something they are fully entitled to under the laws set by this Parliament is a policy the Home Office should be ashamed of. The Secretary of State’s obligation to provide the framework to enable the will of this Parliament in recognising citizenship is long overdue.

There is also discrimination regarding the Government’s intended charges for EU nationals’ settled status, for which there is recognition that adults and children should be treated differently—the fee will be £65 for adults and £32.50 for children. There is a whole lot of resentment among many communities that EU nationals are being charged a different fee from non-EU nationals, which is stoking up problems for the future, because non-EU nationals seeking citizenship for their children are asking, “Why do we have to pay more? Is our contribution not valued as much? Is what we have to offer this country not valued as much?” I urge the Minister to consider the huge disparity in the fees, because it is causing an awful lot of resentment in communities.

The impact assessment refers to the fee being set above the cost of administration to reflect the benefit that users get from the system of migration, but that is entirely the wrong attitude. The child is not having additional benefits conferred by the Secretary of State; they are having their pre-existing right recognised. Characterising what should be viewed as a recognition of a right as the provision of a privilege has allowed the Home Office to apply the fee extremely rigidly. It is currently payable regardless of the child’s situation and there is no practical discretion to waive it in exceptional circumstances. That means, as we heard earlier, that children in the care of a local authority still need to come up with the amount. The local authority can pay, effectively constituting a transfer from local government funds to the UK Government and removing money that would otherwise be spent on public services.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston

The hon. Lady raises the issue of fees under the new settled status scheme for EU nationals. Does she agree that applying the adult fee to those aged over 16 is completely incompatible with our understanding of what constitutes a child in every other legal context?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I agree. This system of immigration is beset with contradictions and unfairness, and really needs a root and branch review to ensure that everyone gets a fair deal—my experience at my surgeries is that everyone certainly does not. It is also a hugely expensive system, as we have heard. Perhaps parents will prioritise applying for their own citizenship so that they can work and provide an income for their children—children who are entitled but whose parents cannot afford to access that entitlement—therefore impinging on children’s other rights and other household needs. I see many families, particularly those affected by the paragraph 322.5 highly skilled migrants situation, getting into huge amounts of debt by paying for lawyers and going through a complex, expensive and lengthy process, while all the time not being able to work or claim any other entitlements. That is hugely damaging to children, who are growing up in poverty because the Home Office’s immigration policies and the way in which it goes about its business put those families at such a detriment for such a long time.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich

Does the hon. Lady agree that not only is it hugely expensive to operate this complex system for the people trying to apply, or those who ought to be able to apply, but that it is also extremely expensive for the authorities and, in particular, for local authorities, with families getting into terrible trouble and requiring social care and homelessness help they would not otherwise have needed?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I absolutely agree. A constituent of mine who is affected by the 332.5 situation is under threat of eviction and the Home Office cannot tell us when the review it has been promising us will conclude. In the meantime, the family is in limbo and I have to fight off the housing association that is trying to evict a mother and her children. That is absolutely appalling, and the lack of information is scandalous. It is high time the barriers were removed and the fees for children taken away, because they are a huge burden on families.

There is also an issue with the statistics. The power to use discretion was mentioned. I am not sure that we have the detail on the figures, and if the Minister provided that it would be incredibly useful. In response to written questions on children applying for British citizenship, the Secretary of State has stated that the figures can be found in the Home Office’s quarterly migration statistics. My office and I have looked at those statistics, and they do not contain disaggregated data regarding how many children are applying and how many are refused, and they contain no reasons for refusal. Indeed, the Home Office’s own statisticians say that they do not currently produce routine breakdowns of applications or refusals by applicants’ age. That obfuscation conceals the true value of the money that the Home Office gathers from the citizenship applications of children and how many children are stuck in the process.

On the good character requirement, which some of my constituents have had issues with, paying the fees and the associated legal costs and having a parent as a British citizen still does not guarantee that a child will be registered as a British citizen. Any child between the ages of 10 and 18 who applies for such registration is subjected to a good character test in exactly the same way as an adult. The decision regarding the test rests with a decision maker, guided by official guidelines and criteria, many of which are redacted. If a child has filled in their tax return promptly and has a clean driving licence, then any further decisions will be shrouded in mystery. That comes from the Home Office’s own guidelines on good character requirements and it should probably look at them because they are surreal. It makes no sense, and is hugely unfair, to treat often vulnerable children—children who have perhaps been through the care system or have got into trouble—in the same way as adults. The policy is arbitrary, not transparent enough and only serves as yet another barrier to the inclusion of children in society.

The potential of children is not to be found in this £1,012 fee. It should not be limited by that cost. We have no real route to citizenship in this country. We have a series of hurdles, barriers, loopholes and costs that cripple families in this country. Through the system, we are storing up problems with community cohesion, the creation of future Windrush situations and the lack of connection with children not afforded citizenship with the rest of society. They are set apart. They are not allowed the privileges that other children in their class are allowed. Does the issue sit within the Minister’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child? Article 7 is the right to a nationality. If we are denying that right by creating barriers, are we fulfilling our duties under the convention?

Some jibes have been made about the Scottish National party defending British citizenship. We hope that some day we will have a Scottish citizenship, with an entitlement to fairness at its heart. We do not want to see people in terms of the fees we can charge them, but in terms of what they can contribute to our society and what they can enrich our society with. That is the core of all these things. People are coming to our country and being brought up in our country. If we choose to alienate them, rather than accepting them and nurturing them, we are storing up problems for society in the future.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 12:11, 4 September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Like others, I congratulate Stuart C. McDonald on bringing this debate to the House. It will be an important contribution to the review that the Minister is undertaking, which I hope will come to the right conclusions.

I do not think this is a terribly complicated affair, and I do not need to give a long speech to spell out the rights and wrongs and the facts. The simple truth is that since 2010, the Government have chosen to double the fees charged in respect of these children. They have gone up from around £370 to north of £1,000. That has happened in the context of the hostile environment, which has been infamous in recent weeks and months. The increase is clearly designed to discourage people from coming to this country or registering as British citizens. Unfortunately, an element of profiteering has come about as a result. It is entirely unjustifiable that the Government should seek to make profits from the immigration system, and in particular from children passing through our immigration system, in this fashion. The net result is that we have perhaps as many as 60,000 children—I agree with Members that we should know precisely how many children are engaged in the process—placed in limbo.

Why does it matter that these children are unable to secure the British citizenship that is their right? We need look no further than the Windrush scandal to see that it is vital that the right documentation is in place so that the British citizenship these children are entitled to is secured for them. While it may be true, as the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions in responding to criticism on this issue, that access to benefits and other aspects of our social security system will be afforded to these children if they have indefinite leave to remain, who is to say, looking back at how the Windrush scandal unfolded, that that will necessarily be the case in future? Who is to say that there will not be renewed hostile environments under any future Government? If these children do not go through the process of securing British citizenship, they may well find themselves in the awful, invidious position in which British citizens have found themselves following the Windrush scandal, where they are denied access to their rights and are potentially deported from this country because they do not have the right papers.

For all those reasons, I hope the Minister has listened to the heartfelt and sincerely held views of Members from all parts of the House on the wrongness of profiteering from children and of simply assuming that indefinite leave to remain is good enough for these British citizens. In responding, I hope she will recognise that this is another Windrush scandal in the making, unless something is done about it. The right thing to do is very simple: we should waive fees for children in the care system; we should have a system that allows fees to be exempted for carers or parents who are unable to afford the fees; and we should not be charging exorbitant fees. It is entirely legitimate for there to be some administrative charge, as happens in other countries around the world, but we have clearly gone far too far. We are clearly gouging profits from children who by right should be British citizens. I think that is a pretty simple argument, and I hope the Minister can respond to it positively.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 12:15, 4 September 2018

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I welcome everyone back; I hope all Members have had a restful recess. I commend my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald for securing today’s debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. I pay tribute to his work as immigration spokesperson for our party. It is difficult to sum up this debate, because normally he would be doing it. I would have said much of what he said. I also want to take a moment to congratulate Paul Masterton on joining the Government. He is moving up to be a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister, and I wish him well in that.

During the course of the debate, we have had no fewer than 11 Back-Bench contributions, including interventions from the hon. Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), for Henley (John Howell) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my hon. Friend Deidre Brock, and the hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). They all made valid contributions. The point that the former Children’s Minister, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, made about people who have been in the care system was spot on, and I hope the Minister will take it away and look at it.

Douglas Ross spoke about the importance of fairness, and I hope the Minister will take that on board. Sandy Martin made a passionate speech about the dangers of having another Windrush scandal by continuing the hostile environment. He was absolutely right to raise that issue. Jim Shannon spoke with his typical compassion, which we have heard so often in this Chamber. In particular, he spoke about the racketeering that the Government are pursuing.

My hon. Friend Alison Thewliss spoke eloquently about her casework experience and the people she sees at her surgeries week in, week out. She also spoke of the chaos we see unfolding from the Home Office week in, week out. She was absolutely right to put that on record. She also voiced concerns about what happens when we take back control of our borders and when EU nationals are also subject to the fees. Finally, Owen Smith spoke about not learning lessons from the Windrush scandal. If we do not get a grip on the issue, we may well see a repeat of that.

The SNP has a fairly strong track record of consistently calling on the British Government to end their self-styled hostile environment policy. We have been consistent in calling on them to scrap their nonsensical immigration targets and abolish the prohibitive fees. The bottom line is that the Home Office should not be profiteering from children who are simply exercising their legal rights. Only last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Eastbank Primary School in Shettleston, where some of the children were showing me their wall display about their campaign for children’s rights. It is a very topical issue for the Scottish Youth Parliament as well.

Young people are aware of their rights, but an estimated 120,000 children living in the UK have neither British citizenship nor immigration permissions to be here. Equally, more than half those children were born in the UK and are perfectly entitled to register as British citizens under the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981. Many of these children would simply be exercising their rights by applying for British citizenship, but they are being actively prohibited from doing so because of blatant profiteering on the part of the British Government. The fee for children to apply for registration stands at more than £1,000, making the Government a healthy profit of £672 on every application, given the stated processing cost of just £386. Why is there such a large fee? More to the point, why has there been such a significant increase—some 148%—since 2014? When the Prime Minister took office in Downing Street, she spoke about helping the “just about managing”. When the Government are asking people to pay these exorbitant fees, it seems they have forgotten about the “just about managing”.

Quite rightly, the British Government have been hauled over the coals following the shocking revelations about what happened to the Windrush generation. It is clear that the Minister and the Home Secretary are trying their best to get a grip on that situation, but the harsh reality is that, as other hon. Members have said today, we face the prospect of a second Windrush generation if the British Government do not immediately commit to reviewing and changing what has become, frankly, a Whitehall racket when it comes to child citizenship fees.

The ideology of the hostile environment is certainly not something that I support. It has no place in Scotland. We want instead to be a welcoming, outward-looking nation, with a diverse and growing population fit to meet the changes and challenges of the 21st century. However, Home Office policies and dogma are actively hindering that, so if the British Government will not enact a reasonable, fair and pragmatic immigration system, Scotland stands ready to take on immigration powers by way of devolution. That is not just something that I and the SNP are calling for; it is backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress and countless others across civic Scotland.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not backed by the vast majority of people in Scotland, who have been polled time and again and agree that Scotland should have the same immigration systems as the rest of the UK?

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

In short, no. We have to look at the challenges that Scotland faces. Over the summer recess I undertook a process called In Your Shoes and I worked in care homes. I spoke to the people who run the homes and they are absolutely terrified of what will happen in future with the workforce. If the Westminster Government continue to pursue the one-size-fits-all policy, pursued through an entirely London-centric lens, we will end up with a situation in which people in care homes say, “People will not come to work here because the UK Government have such a hostile immigration policy.” From a practical point of view, Scotland needs control over immigration.

I welcomed the comments made by Jeremy Corbyn when he came to Scotland on one of his recent trips. He was sympathetic to the devolution to Scotland of aspects of immigration policy, and I hope that Afzal Khan might be able to offer a little more clarity on UK Labour’s position on the devolution of immigration powers when he sums up in a few moments.

In conclusion, we want the British Government to remove the profit element from applications that children make to the Home Office. We want an immediate commitment to not increase application fees for limited leave to remain beyond the current level for children and young people. Above all—this is my final message to the Minister—we want an immigration system that is fair and compassionate and puts people first, not profit.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 12:22, 4 September 2018

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Stuart C. McDonald for securing this debate and also the other Members who have contributed. There appears to be a consensus that the amount charged is not acceptable.

As of April this year, the cost of registering a child for citizenship was £1,012—a 51% increase since 2014. There are no exemptions, waivers, reductions or refunds for the fees, even though the Secretary of State has the power to make provision for them. Such outrageously high fees mean that children from poor and low-income families are prevented from accessing their right to citizenship. Constantly increasing the price of an application makes it almost impossible to plan for future costs, and increases the chances of people losing status because they cannot afford the price. It is important to stress that the children would not be claiming anything. They are not paying for citizenship to be granted by the Government, but for their existing entitlement to citizenship to be recognised.

Speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Home Secretary said the fee is,

“a huge amount of money to ask children to pay for citizenship”.

He said he would

“get around to” looking at fees. My first question to the Minister is: has anybody got around to looking at the issue yet? The aspect of fees that I personally have greatest difficulty with is the profit that the Home Office makes on the applications. Of the £1,012 that is charged, £372 is the cost of administration and almost two thirds is profit. The Free Movement website estimates that the Home Office has made nearly £100 million in profits over the past five years. Such profits are unjustified because it is far from clear where the profits go.

It used to be the case that additional charges on visa and citizenship application fees contributed to a migration impact fund, which had a direct and measurable impact on communities experiencing high levels of migration. One of the first things that the coalition Government did was to scrap that widely praised scheme. They have since introduced a controlling migration fund, which is less accountable and less directly measurable than the previous scheme.

The profits are also potentially unlawful. The Secretary of State has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and to act in children’s best interests. The high cost of fees is in conflict with that duty. The impact assessment for the latest fee increase makes no reference to children and protecting their rights. Protecting the welfare of children has become even more vital as the hostile environment extends to more and more aspects of everyday life. Many children do not even know that they need to register for citizenship until they are prevented from taking out loans and going to university, accessing the NHS, or even going on school trips.

The costs of citizenship are not only contained in the fees. Recently, a family in my constituency approached my office for help; they were at the end of their tether. They had already paid the enormous cost of citizenship for their child. They were then asked to pay for a DNA test, even though the Immigration Minister had said that that was not Home Office policy. The family had only a week to get all the information together. In the end the application was refused, and they had to pay for an appeal. In total they have paid £1,783, and they were not in the best financial circumstances to begin with.

The immense complexity of our immigration and nationality system and the lack of legal aid, coupled with constantly increasing fees, makes it very difficult to gain documentation as a young person in the UK. I want to touch on why it is important for young people to have citizenship rather than other forms of temporary or permanent leave. It is vital that children have certainty about their lives and future prospects. Registering citizenship ends a young person’s engagement with the laborious, complex and high-cost immigration process. It is also vital to a young person’s identity that we, as a country, recognise that they are British. Other forms of leave do not reflect the identity that the young person might feel very strongly in themselves. It can be humiliating for someone who has no other place to claim as their home not to have the ability to rent a property, get a job and open a bank account with the most obvious form of ID—a passport.

In conclusion, the Government are undertaking a lessons learned review of Windrush. An essential part of that is to make sure that such a disaster never happens again. We have a large population of undocumented citizens who are a ticking time bomb for another Windrush-like scandal. The issue should be treated with urgency. Will the Minister set out what steps she is taking to review fees for registering children as British citizens in the immediate future?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 12:28, 4 September 2018

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Stuart C. McDonald on securing this debate. It will come as no surprise to anybody who knows his tenacity that he managed to bag the first slot in Westminster Hall after the summer recess. I thank all Members who participated—they made thoughtful and very good contributions. I also thank the many Members, not all of whom are in the Chamber, who have taken the time to write to me and express their views. I particularly thank Owen Smith for his comments. He is absolutely right that people have been thoughtful in their contributions. However, he did cause some consternation on my side of the Chamber with his new beard, which has changed his appearance to such an extent that we were not quite sure who he was.

Before I respond to the specific points that have been raised, I will set out the current landscape for the fees that we charge for visa, immigration and nationality services. It is important to remind ourselves of the principles that were agreed with Parliament, and which bring significant benefits to the immigration system and everyone in the UK in the form of effective and secure border and immigration functions, reduced general taxation and economic growth.

Under the Immigration Act 2014, and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 that preceded it, Parliament approved the principle of setting fees charged for visa, immigration and nationality services to reflect the benefits that they bring to successful applicants. Until 2015, all fees that were set at above the cost of providing the service, which included the charge for children to register as British citizens, were subject to affirmative debate in both Houses of Parliament. Under the 2014 Act, Parliament approved the principle of taking a range of additional factors into account, including wider immigration system costs, the promotion of economic growth, international agreements and international comparisons.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

At the Council of Europe, we produced a strategy for the rights of children. It made the point that the system that had been developed for judicial hearings and activity in relation to adults was simply being imported to deal with children, and that that was fundamentally wrong. We are not the only country to do that—the whole of Europe was largely doing that. Does the Minister share that view?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I will turn to the rights of children in comments that I will make in response to other Members, so I will come to my hon. Friend’s point very shortly.

The framework of charging, and in particular the principle of setting fees to reflect benefits accruing from a successful application, has enabled us to reflect the value that people get from the services that they receive, with indefinite leave to remain and citizenship rightly being the two most valuable outcomes.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

We are getting to the crux of the matter. Does the Minister accept that the statutory right to citizenship is completely different from an immigration application, indefinite leave to remain, or anything else? These kids have a right to citizenship. It is no more appropriate to charge them an extra fee to subsidise other parts of the immigration and nationality system than it would be to charge any of us a fee for our British nationality. It is a different thing altogether.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

If the hon. Gentleman allows me to make some progress, I will turn to the points he made in his opening speech.

During 2017-18, about 64,000 people were granted indefinite leave to remain and 123,000 were granted citizenship. Of those granted citizenship, more than 28,000 were minor children who were registered and were related to a British citizen, or children granted citizenship on a discretionary basis. In all cases the applicants either paid the due fee or had that fee paid on their behalf, reflecting the value placed on permanent residence and citizenship in the UK.

The charging framework for visa and immigration services delivered £1.35 billion of income in the last financial year, 2017-18. That helped to fund more than £620 million of costs associated with other immigration system functions, helping to maintain their effectiveness and security, and investment in ongoing service improvement. Setting fees at above the cost of processing an application has also helped us to set some fees at below cost—for example, short-term visit visas, in recognition of the significant economic benefits that tourists and other visitors bring to the whole of the UK. The subsidy for the circa 2.5 million short-term visit visas issued each year costs in the region of £90 million per annum, which can be afforded only by setting a wide range of other fees.

Let me make one other obvious point: setting fees at the level that we do—putting the burden on those who benefit from the services—reduces the burden on the Exchequer and on the general taxpayers of this country. It is easy, particularly in opposition, to call for fees or taxes to be reduced, but a responsible Government must balance the books. The loss of income that would result from any reduction in fees would have to be made up elsewhere, and there have been rather fewer suggestions of how that might be achieved.

Turning to the nub of the issue, safeguarding the welfare of children has always been and will continue to be a priority for the Home Office that it takes very seriously, for the reasons raised by hon. Members. I am concerned by any suggestion that the current fee levels for child registration are putting children off from registering, or making it more difficult for those entitled to register to operate in our society when they reach adulthood. For that reason, I met the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East just before the summer recess. He was accompanied on that occasion by some of those involved in campaigning. I listened very carefully to what they said and undertook to reflect on the matter, which is exactly what I am doing.

The issue is also very much on the radar of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend John Howell, referred to the comments he made when he appeared before the Home Affairs Committee. I am sorry that I am not in a position to give a firm answer today, but that certainly does not mean that either the Home Secretary or I are ignoring the issue or have put it on the backburner.

I reassure the Opposition spokesman, Afzal Khan, that we are working hard, but it is a complex issue and decisions cannot be taken in isolation. They must be taken in the round, taking into account any wider implications, for example on fees charged to other groups of applicants and the impact on the Home Office budget. I wholly rebut the suggestion that the Home Office is profiteering. In 2017-18, the total Home Office expenditure was £12.9 billion, which was funded by £10.5 billion from the Exchequer and £2.5 billion generated from income.

In due course, we will also need to consider the findings of the review into the borders, immigration and citizenship chargeable services by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration that will conclude later this year. I will update the House as soon as I am in a position to do so. In the meantime, the Home Office will continue to consider granting leave to remain to a child who has lived in the UK continuously for seven years, or to a young person who is over 18 but under 25 and has lived continuously in the UK for half of their life. Such leave gives the person concerned the right to live, study and work in the UK and the right, in appropriate circumstances, to receive benefits from public funds.

An application can be made to the Home Office for the fee to be waived when the applicant is making one of a set of specified human rights-based claims for leave to remain and when there are reasons why the applicant cannot meet the payment required. Those human rights-based claims include those that are relevant to a child who has been in the UK continuously for seven years. That will ensure that the Home Office meets its core requirements to safeguard children and ensure their welfare, but we are working on a proportionate response to the representations made on child citizenship fees and will announce the outcome as soon as practical.

Hon. Members have raised a number of points regarding young people who might be unaware of the requirement to register, and what specifically can be done to improve their knowledge of that. We are considering what more can be done using different channels. I am very conscious that, as Members have mentioned today, our immigration system can be complex, particularly for those who do not have experience or knowledge of it from the outset. It is important that we improve our processes and introduce online application systems that are intuitive and enable people to work through the parts of the process that apply to them and bypass those that do not. I am conscious that, as has been mentioned, young people perhaps do not go to as a first port of call. We have to focus on what more we can do to better reach out to them through channels that they might use.

Alison Thewliss raised a range of issues. At one point she sought to conflate British citizenship with the settled status process for EU citizens who are living in the UK that we have recently launched, and which is currently in its private beta testing mode. It is a crucial part of our commitment to EU citizens, and the fees for it were set in agreement with the EU. It is wrong to conflate EU settled status with British citizenship because many EU citizens might choose, both now and in the future, to apply for British citizenship in addition to their settled status.

The hon. Lady mentioned young people who might discover that they do not have the same ability to travel abroad as their classmates for school trips, which is important. The Home Office works closely with education authorities to help to establish length of residence and reaches out to schools and those organising school trips to make those applications possible. We are willing to work with other public bodies to help make those applications as easy as we can.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

With the timescales of school trips and that of the citizenship and ILR processes, children apply and are still waiting after the school trip has been and gone and they have missed out. It seems very difficult to influence that process to be able to say that there is a school trip. All the Home Office will say in reply is, “That’s too bad. You should have known you were going on a school trip beforehand. Don’t book any travel ahead.” Does the Minister agree that that is unfair for young people who will miss out when all their classmates go away?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

In my experience, I have not found school trips to be that spontaneous, particularly when they are abroad. Where Members find particular instances of young people who are seeking the ability to participate in school trips—I know many Members make representations on their behalf—I urge them to use the MP account management units, who can help. Of course, in extremis—we have seen Members use the technique very effectively—questions in the House and summoning me to account in Westminster Hall can work incredibly well.

David Linden, acting as spokesman for the Scottish National party, which is, as he said, a pretty brave shout with his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East sat behind him, referred to immigration policy as one-size-fits-all. Of course, we have a separate shortage occupation list for Scotland and, importantly, the Migration Advisory Committee has over the course of the last year or so been working on the impact of Brexit and labour movement both on a sectoral basis and regionally. That is very important work and I look forward to the report coming forward very shortly.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

The Government have a one-size-fits-all approach. When the Minister gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, she said she would not grant to Scotland the powers she would not grant to Lincolnshire County Council, so it is quite clear that the Home Office does have a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to UK immigration.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I refute that. The Government very clearly have a separate shortage occupation list for Scotland, which I would have made clear at the Scottish Affairs Committee and am doing again today. The Migration Advisory Committee has specifically looked at both sectors and at regions. We absolutely believe that immigration policy should be reserved and I will continue to hold that view. However, I used the opportunity of the parliamentary recess to travel widely—to Scotland, Northern Ireland and, just last week, to Wales—to hold roundtables with business people and to talk to them about the impact of Brexit on labour mobility and their expectations. All of that work is important to me and feeds into the forthcoming policy on immigration post Brexit.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton that we have got round to looking at this. He asked specific questions about safeguarding children and the impact assessment for immigration and nationality fees. The Home Office takes its responsibility for the welfare of children very seriously. We make sure that we treat children with care and compassion and that is an absolute priority. I want to make it clear to him that citizenship, unlike leave to remain, is not a necessary prerequisite to enable a person to remain in the UK and enjoy any of their convention rights. As such, the Home Office’s view is that there is no breach of the European convention on human rights in requiring a person to pay a fee for citizenship applications.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Will the Minister explain why it is appropriate that children should pay fees to subsidise a visitor who is coming to Britain for a short period?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I would very gently point the hon. Gentleman to the Immigration Act 2014, which gives us the ability to set fees. That has enabled us to look very carefully at the range of services provided by the borders, immigration and citizenship services and to make decisions accordingly. I am sure that he would agree that we want visitors to come to the UK to contribute to our economy. Particularly over the coming months and years, it is absolutely imperative that we make Britain an outward-looking, open country where visitors can come easily and help us to continue our sustained economic growth.

I am committed to reviewing our approach to setting fees for visa, immigration and nationality services, including taking account of the issues raised in this debate, the debate in the House of Lords in June and representations made to me elsewhere. As I have said, with fees from immigration and nationality services bringing in more than £1.3 billion of income per annum, which contributes significantly to our ability to afford and maintain a secure and effective border, decisions have to be taken in the round.

In the meantime, the Government remain entirely committed to maintaining the welfare of children who come into contact with the immigration system, ensuring that they are treated fairly and humanely. I am sure we will return to this issue, and that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will not let it go. As I have said, I have noted the strength of feeling expressed by all who have spoken today and I have given my word that I am giving active consideration and keen to see it brought to a resolution.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 12:45, 4 September 2018

I start by thanking all hon. Members for their very thoughtful contributions. The debate has served a very useful purpose in making clear to the Home Office that there is a consensus that citizenship should not just be celebrated, but positively encouraged and facilitated. There is a pretty broad and deep consensus in the Chamber, as well as a concern that the Home Office is prioritising making a profit from applications over ensuring that all those who have a statutory right to register as British citizens can do so. The fact that the Home Office reinvests some of the income in subsidising visit visas, for example, does not disguise the fact that it is a profit. In fact, that we are asking British children to subsidise visit visas makes this all the more absurd.

In response to some of the Minister’s arguments, I would re-emphasise that I do not regard the immigration system and immigration rules as in any way an adequate substitute for citizenship. Douglas Ross rightly mentioned awareness raising, which is as much a part of this issue as the fee itself. There is work to do. It was interesting to hear the Minister’s remarks on that. Whether it be through local authorities, schools or the social care system, we have to ensure that everyone is aware of the need to register in some circumstances.

Ultimately, the Home Office is going wrong in trying to conflate citizenship with the immigration rules and the naturalisation processes for adults. They are different things. Sandy Martin nailed it: this is a statutory right. The source of these kids’ right to citizenship is exactly the same as that of our right to citizenship—it is the British Nationality Act. We would be absolutely outraged if we were to be charged £1,000 to subsidise visit visa application fees or any other aspect of the immigration and nationality system and it is just as outrageous that kids have been charged that massive fee as well. We pay a small administrative fee for a passport and we accept that an administrative fee might be appropriate for kids registering as British citizens—but it should not be anything beyond that.

I am grateful that the Minister is still listening. She is right that Members will continue to pursue the matter, but I very much look forward to hearing the result of her deliberations in due course. I very much hope that she will listen to the concerns that have been raised today.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered fees for registering children as British citizens.

Sitting suspended.