Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I want to put on record my regret that there is not a Special Standing Committee for this Bill. It was accepted, certainly among Labour Members when the Conservative Government were enacting immigration legislation, that Special Standing Committee procedures were appropriate for dealing with immigration legislation. That was also accepted on the last Bill, on which I served. There was huge value in that system, but we now have a truncated timetable that will not allow us to take evidence as we could in a Special Standing Committee.

Two aspects are worth citing to show how valuable the evidence was. The first is carriers' liability. We spoke to carriers who told us that strict liability would not work, as has proved to be the case. The second concerns the voucher system. We listened to local authorities telling us about their experience of administering vouchers, which again have been shown not to work. I regret that we will not have those lessons with this legislation.

Mr. Malins: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the Special Standing Committee, but does he agree that it would be to the advantage of the House if proposed Bills were given heavy scrutiny by the relevant Select Committees before Second Reading?

Mr. Allan: I agree entirely. If there is no urgency with a subject, Select Committees or Special Standing Committees should be used by default rather than as

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the exception, and I do not see the urgency with nationality, when we have all had constituents telling us that they have been waiting for years to get responses.

Angela Eagle: I shall take a small amount of time to reply to the debate on the motion before, as I suspect, we vote on it. The arrangements for this Committee were agreed through the usual channels, and I thank hon. Gentlemen for their acknowledgement of the co-operation, even though they do not like the end result. Having served for years in opposition as well as in government, I suspect that it is the nature of the Opposition not to be happy with programming arrangements or anything else. I accept that there is some concern, but we have 32.5 hours of solid debating time during the next few weeks to examine the Bill. I hope that we will be able to do a good job in that time and give it the scrutiny that it deserves.

I listened to the hon. Members for Woking, for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and for Sheffield, Hallam talking about how there is no particular urgency, but that is not true. Many hon. Members have told the Government on the Floor of the House that they must deal with the channel tunnel and the difficulties with illegal immigration, and I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) would agree that there is no urgency in trying to sort out the problem.

We must realise that we are dealing with difficult issues and that there are no simple solutions. We must focus on the solutions and think of flexible responses to the changing pressures that face us with global migration, including those of illegal migration and people trafficking. If we approach the Bill from the perspective that none of us has the absolute monopoly on wisdom in that area and that we must look flexibly at the best responses, we will end up with better legislation than if we decide that all right is on one side. Although I accept that the hon. Member for Woking thinks that there is no rush to implement the changes in the pilots, there is tension among the Opposition about that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, in the debate on the Floor of the House, urged us to go faster.

Mr. Malins: Does the Minister accept that while I say that there is no extreme urgency for the Bill, there is extreme urgency for administrative action, arising out of the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow? The Bill is not the vital point—it is administrative action by the Home Office.

Angela Eagle: We can do our best to take administrative action in the Home Office. However, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, we need primary legislation to implement some changes. We are being urged to change and we want to pilot change, as the accommodation centres will allow us to do. All in all, we have been given a good amount of time for scrutiny. I hope that hon. Members will support the motion, which gives us 32.5 hours to look closely at the Bill, as is our duty.

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Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 5.

Division No. 1]

Buck, Ms Karen Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit Eagle, Angela Gapes, Mike Gerrard, Mr. Neil Lammy, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mr. Mark McGuire, Mrs. Anne Prosser, Mr. Gwyn Rooney, Mr. Terry Winterton, Ms Rosie

Allan, Mr. Richard Barker, Mr. Gregory Hughes, Simon
Malins, Mr. Humfrey Watkinson, Angela

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Chairman: Before we come to the main body of the Bill, I inform members of the Committee that copies of the financial resolution relating to the Bill are available in the Room and that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments. I also ask hon. Members to turn off completely or turn off the ring tones of any electronic devices.

Clause 1


knowledge of language and society

Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 91, in page 1, line 4, leave out subsection (1).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 15, in page 1, line 7, leave out

    'sufficient knowledge about life in the'

and insert—

    'a basic knowledge of the history and government of the'.

No. 16, in page 1, line

7, leave out 'sufficient' and insert 'basic'.

No. 45, in page 1, line

7, leave out 'sufficient'.

No. 22, in page 1, line

7, after 'about', insert 'political, civic and multicultural'.

No. 92, in page 1, leave out lines 12 to 14.

No. 46, in page 1, line 12, leave out 'sufficient'.

No. 47, in page 2, line

7, leave out 'sufficiency of'.

Simon Hughes: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 91, 45, 92, 46 and 47, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam and me. Other amendments in the group were tabled by the hon. Members for Woking and for Walthamstow.

The clause immediately takes us into part 1, which deals with nationality, and provides that the Government should be able by regulation to set additional requirements for the granting of British nationality to those who do not already have it and sets out processes for obtaining naturalisation. The crucial proposition is that the person in question should have

    ''sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom''.

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I should be intrigued to know whether there is a precedent for that phrase or whether it has been specially drafted for the Bill.

The amendments explore what sufficient knowledge means. I should like to clarify how many people we are talking about. In 2000, the last full year for which figures are available, 82,000 people were granted British citizenship: 45 per cent. were given citizenship on the basis of their residence; 35 per cent. because of marriage; and nearly 25 per cent. were children. Citizens of countries in Asia and Africa accounted for 45 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively of that total. A graph of the last decade reveals an interesting pattern: the numbers have gone up and down. They went down from 1991–2, then up a bit, down for couple of years, up a little bit and then down again. Then they were higher for the next couple of years and went up again in 2000. The number has always stayed in the tens of thousands.

5 pm

Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 seek to find out whether the phrase

    ''has sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom''

is a concept that can be tested. The proposition is difficult because life in the UK is complex. I am looking at the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). I know his constituency quite well. I passed my driving test there. Life in Gloucester is somewhat different from life in Bermondsey. Life in Woking is different from life in Wallasey, and life in Stirling is no doubt unique, just as life in Sheffield is unique. Life in the UK has some commonality but varies greatly. Life in Northern Ireland is fundamentally different because of the Irish dimension. Life in the islands of Scotland is fundamentally different, too.

The key issue is whether there is something that can give people who come here an understanding of life in the UK. Some of those who have made representations to us, such as members of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, who deal with these issues every day of the week and who have huge expertise, have reservations about whether we can talk about, teach and assess that. Who will teach and assess it? Of course, it should be done in a way that reflects the variety of the country, but it might be quite difficult to get it done in a way that reflects Gaelic, Welsh and English, Scottish, Northern Irish and all the English regions too.

There is an understandable fear that those criteria will operate as barriers to citizenship for people who want to come here. By definition, they are asking to come. They will be keen to adapt. Those barriers do not apply to our children and grandchildren as they become adults. I exaggerate to make the point, but my experience of recent years is that some of the people who behave least like citizens of this country and understand their responsibilities least are not those who have come here and sought citizenship but those who have been born and brought up here. Many of those who seek to come here and are accepted are

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extremely respectful of and sympathetic to the cultural environment here.

I made the point on Second Reading that if we go down this road, I hope that we will equally and quickly have a similar process for ensuring that home-grown youngsters as they become adults show the same sufficient knowledge of life in the UK. It would be grossly unfair for someone from Sri Lanka or Uganda to have to pass a test that requires them to have more knowledge and a better command of the English language than someone brought up in Stockport, Surrey or Suffolk, for example.

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