|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Simon Hughes: Colleagues will see from the amendment paper that my hon. Friend and I support amendments Nos. 27 to 31. We are also sympathetic to the hon. Member for Woking's probing amendment No. 25.
I am no expert on oaths legislation, but I understand that there is always the option to affirm rather than to take an oath. It is important that everyone understands that. I have never taken an oath in court, for reasons of faith rather than for any other reason. People have all sorts of reasons for declining to take an oath, and it is important that they are not pushed into taking oaths if they do not want to. The hon. Member for Woking touched on those areas, and it is important that we consult as widely as possible and get them as right as we can.
I have no problem with the concept that those who seek to come to this country must make the same affirmation or take the same oath as others take for other purposes, such as becoming a judge, magistrate or Member of Parliament. I have made it clear that we need to change the nature of the oath for such occasions, but I accept that this is not the place to do it. I also accept that people take an oath to be faithful and bear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen as the Head of State. As it happens, I am a constitutional monarchist. On balance, I prefer a monarchy to a republic, so I do not have a problem with that. It would be disrespectful and disloyal to be too critical of the monarchy today of all days, when Her Majesty addressed us in Westminster Hall. I am happy that we have allegiance to the state as represented by the monarch, but as soon as possible we must accommodate the fact that some people are republicans. Most people around the world come from republics and will be republicans.
Interestingly, the pledge is more complicated than the more controversial oath. It states:
It was put to me that the pledge to fulfil the duties and obligations of a British citizen can be meaningful only if those duties and obligations are known. There is currently no codification of them, and the Bill does not tell us what they are. However, it is important that people understand what they are. I have long made the point that young people should understand the obligations of adulthood: the right to vote and the need to exercise it; jury service and the obligation to perform it; and the right to be a magistrate. Another topical obligation is the requirement to give evidence if called to do so.
I should be grateful to know how far the Government have thought through those duties and obligations. More work needs to be done. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that there will be plenty of lead-in time to the introduction of the pledge? I am signed up to the idea of a process rather than a brown envelope and a form, which does nothing for anyone
Column Number: 039except undervalue them. I am not against some of the things done in Canada and other countries. I talked to people from the Canadian high commission and a Canadian Under-Secretary of State, and I understand that Canada has a system that is devised by a commission that stands away from the Government and that changes and moulds the system. That is a good model.
There are good models. It is a good idea to have a process and a moment at which a person crosses a line to be recognised, welcomed and accepted. There should be reciprocity with a person saying, ''I make my commitment to the United Kingdom'' and the country saying, ''We make a mutual commitment to look after you.'' I hope that we proceed carefully in order to get maximum agreement about what we do.
Angela Eagle: I shall deal quickly with the issues. I am glad that the amendments are probing because they would remove the oath of allegiance to the Crown and give people the option of taking the pledge or the oath—I am sure that the hon. Member for Woking did not intend that. I thought that that was an odd thing to appear on the amendment paper on this day of all days marking the Queen's 50th jubilee.
Mr. Malins rose—
Angela Eagle: Before the hon. Member for Woking gets too panicked, let me explain that there is a common-law oath of allegiance that we all owe to our sovereign. Consequently, from his point of view, the amendment was not quite as bad as he thought.
Mr. Malins: The Minister is hanging me out to dry at the moment, but she knows that I am wholly in favour of an oath of allegiance to the Crown on this of all days. However, sometimes we need an amendment that is drafted by people outside this place to act as a peg on which to hang a constructive discussion.
Angela Eagle: I absolutely agree. I have been in opposition, and replacing ''and'' with ''or'' is usually a meaningless and harmless way to allow a debate on a topic. However, the wording of this amendment was slightly more drastic and I anticipate that the hon. Gentleman will not press it.
Our historic oath of allegiance is unchanged and goes back a long way in legislation. We have coupled it with a modern citizenship pledge with wording that enhances the significance of becoming a British citizen. Although there is an oath of allegiance to the monarch, there is also a pledge to the country. I hope that it is less cumbersome than the onerous oath that the USA uses. That attempts to list everything that is implied by the pledge, which is what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey wants. I prefer to have shorter pledges with guidance notes elsewhere, rather than setting out the entire content of the pledge in a list within the pledge.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey wants to begin to write a written constitution by using the pledge. We should debate whether we should have a written constitution and whether British citizens' duties and obligations should
Column Number: 040be listed, but they should not be included in the pledge's wording. I hope that the hon. Member for Woking will withdraw the amendment.
Section 42(7) of the British Nationality Act 1981 confirms that people can affirm for whatever reason; they do not have to swear the oath to God.
Simon Hughes: I have a technical question. The schedule contains the name of the present monarch. I assume that that will not survive the drafting process, because I assume that we do not introduce new legislation to change existing legislation every time the monarch changes. Will the Minister confirm that the schedule will refer to the fact of a monarch rather than the name of a monarch? That should apply despite the length of time that the Queen indicates that she wishes to go on and however long she does go on—I wish her good health and a long reign.
Angela Eagle: I am flying by the seat of my pants, but I think that the schedule refers to the monarch and her successors. The Interpretation Act 1978 deals with changes of monarchs so the hon. Gentleman's point is taken on board.
Mr. Malins: We have had a useful and short debate, which I wish I had not instigated. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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