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House of Lords written question – answered on 4th May 2004.

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Photo of Lord Laird Lord Laird Crossbench

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why, in terms of passports, there are differences between British citizens and British subjects; what the differences are; and whether any changes are envisaged.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

Citizenship is a matter of law, which is determined by the facts of a person's date and place of birth, those of their parents and the application of the provisions of the relevant legislation.

The British Nationality Status of Aliens Act 1914 determined in law that all persons born in the United Kingdom and Crown's dominions would hold the status of British subject.

The British Nationality Act 1948 introduced the concept of citizenship and determined which British subjects would become a British subject, citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (BSUKC). The Act came into force on 1 January 1949, and provided for all persons born in the United Kingdom and Colonies to become BSUKC by birth. Those born in a foreign or Commonwealth country who had a father born in the United Kingdom or existing colony would become BSUKC by descent. Other British subjects with a close connection with an independent Commonwealth country became British subjects, citizens of . . . (the Commonwealth country).

The status of British subject was retained by a small number of British subjects. In particular Irish citizens born before 1 January 1949 could elect to remain British subjects. British subjects born in British India before 1 January 1949 who did not become citizens of India also remained British subjects on 1 January 1949.

The British Nationality Act 1981 provided for BSUKCs who had the right of abode in the United Kingdom to become British citizens on 1 January 1983. It also retained the status of British subject for those who remained British subjects on 1 January 1949.

British subject status only applies to those born before 1 January 1949 and cannot be passed to further generations by descent, as is the case with British citizenship. The status will fail to exist when the last British subject is deceased.

All British passports are issued in the same format and are only distinguishable by the status shown on the personal details page, or in some cases where the passport holder is not a European national for passport purposes by the absence of "European Union" on the front cover.

The major difference between the status British citizen and British subject is that British citizens are able to travel freely within the European Union whereas British subjects who are not European nationals for passport purposes, may need to obtain visas prior to travel. Individuals holding "British Subject" passports may be required by the immigration laws of the receiving country to obtain visas prior to travel. This is not a matter over which the British Government have any authority to intervene. The UK Passport Service therefore recommends that all travellers check with the travel agent or the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country they intend to visit if a visa is required.

There are no changes envisaged.

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