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Entitlement to British citizenship by certain citizens of the Republic of Ireland

'(1) After section 31 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c.61) insert-

"31A Entitlement to British citizenship by certain citizens of the Republic of Ireland

(1) If a person born in the Republic of Ireland on or after 1 January 1949 gives notice in writing to the Secretary of State claiming to remain a British subject on either or both of the following grounds, namely-

(a) that he is or has been in Crown Service under the government of the United Kingdom; and

(b) that he has associations by way of descent, residence or otherwise with the United Kingdom or with any British overseas territory.

he shall as from that time be a British subject by virtue of this subsection.

(2) A person who is a British subject by virtue of subsection (1) shall be deemed to have remained a British subject from the date of his birth to the time when he became a British subject by virtue of that subsection.".'.- (Andrew Mackinlay.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Andrew Mackinlay: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 3- Amendment of the immigration rules relating to Gurkhas-

'(1) The Immigration Rules, as laid before Parliament under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77), are amended as follows.

(2) In Rule 276F (requirements for indefinite leave to enter the United Kingdom as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army) omit paragraphs (ii) and (iii).

(3) In Rule 276I (requirements for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army) omit paragraphs (ii) and (iii).

(4) Gurkhas discharged from the British Army prior to 1997 shall have parity with Commonwealth servicemen in terms of the requirements for indefinite leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom.'.

New clause 5- Consequences of failure to fulfil requirements for naturalisation-

'Failure to satisfy the requirements set out in Schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61) shall not exclude the possibility of the grant of a further period of probationary citizenship, or other immigration leave.'.

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New clause 7- Exemptions to the application of Part 2-

'Nothing in this Part shall affect an application for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom or for British citizenship if it-

(a) has been submitted at any time in the 12 months after the commencement of this Part; or

(b) is made prior to the commencement of this Part.'.

Amendment 4, in clause 39, page 30, line 6, after first 'the', insert 'average'.

Amendment 5, page 30, line 10, after 'period', insert

', save that periods during which A was in the United Kingdom with leave other than that conferring qualifying immigration status shall be disregarded for the purpose of considering whether A had qualifying immigration status for the whole period'.

Amendment 1, page 30, line 13, leave out from 'abode' to end of line 14 and insert

', or a permanent EEA entitlement or refugee status or humanitarian protection;'.

Amendment 40, page 31, line 17, at end insert-

'(10A) After sub-paragraph (5) (inserted by subsection (10) above) insert-

(6) The Secretary of State shall exercise his discretion under sub-paragraph (ba) above in favour of individuals recognised as having a refugee status in the UK, so as to treat time spent awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim as time spent with a qualifying immigration status, unless there are exceptional reasons why he should not."'.

Amendment 7, in clause 40, page 32, line 18, after first 'the', insert 'average'.

Amendment 2, in clause 41, page 35, line 21, at end insert-

'(6) In the case of an applicant with refugee status or humanitarian protection-

(a) the number of years in the period is 5; and

(b) the activity condition is waived.'.

Amendment 22, page 35, line 21, at end insert-

'(6) Such prescribed activities may not include those activities that could be considered in the interests of a single political party.'.

Amendment 23, page 36, line 14, at end insert-

'(5A) None of the conditions in section 41(1) shall apply to anyone who entered the United Kingdom under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme more than four years before the date of commencement appointed by the Secretary of State for Part 2.'.

Amendment 8, in clause 49, page 43, line 42, at and insert-

'(10) The following periods of absence from the labour market shall be disregarded for the purposes of establishing whether an applicant is or has been in "continuous employment"-

(a) periods of involuntary unemployment duly recorded by an employment agency or office lasting no more than six months,

(b) all authorised employment absences (whether expressly or by custom) including maternity and paternity leave, illness, temporary cessations of work and sabbaticals, and

(c) other periods of unemployment in circumstances where they have not resulted in the cancellation or refusal of immigration leave.'.

Government amendment 17.

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Andrew Mackinlay: I will not detain the House long, but we have an opportunity, which the House will probably not have again for some years, to right a wrong, provide parity of treatment for people who are Irish, whether they deem themselves to be from Ulster-in which there are nine counties, not only six-or elsewhere and allow them to identify with their Britishness.

Why do I say "parity of treatment"? Ever since the concept of Irish citizenship was realised, it has been possible for people born in Northern Ireland to decide to take up Irish citizenship and have an Irish passport, or opt for United Kingdom citizenship. Increasingly, many opt for both. It is a matter of where they feel most comfortable and how they designate themselves. That has been position since Irish citizenship came about, and it is has been reinforced by the successful initiatives of Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern, and their predecessors, John Major and the Taoiseach who was TD for Roscommon-his name will come to me in a moment. We had the Belfast agreement, the Good Friday agreement and the St. Andrews agreement, which put on an institutional basis the idea that people in Northern Ireland should be able to decide how they designate themselves.

However, the same does not happen for a relatively small minority, though not an insignificant number of people, who were born in the Irish Republic after the Oireachtas passed the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which came into force on 18 April 1949. People born in the Republic of Ireland after that cannot designate themselves British. That is unfair, wrong and inconsistent with the practice for people who are born in Northern Ireland. I therefore believe that we should ensure parity of treatment.

Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his point is made even more poignant by the fact that many people who live in the Irish Republic have brothers, sisters and other family members who have settled in Northern Ireland? The idea of being British, Irish or having joint citizenship is not therefore unusual for them.

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, but there is more to it than that. Let me explain my own position. I was born on 24 April 1949. Many of the children with whom I went to school were born after the relevant date and emigrated with their mum and dad to Greater London. Today, they would probably deem themselves Londoners-their accent, tradition, culture, background and schooling is London-yet they cannot opt to be British under the current position because they were born in Dublin, Donegal or Kerry. There are therefore people in Northern Ireland, but also in Greater London and some of the other great conurbations, to which there was a lot of post-war Irish immigration, who were born in the Republic after 18 April 1949, but cannot designate themselves British.

We are all proud of the fact the United Kingdom armed forces today include a significant tranche of recruits from the Irish Republic, particularly, though not exclusively, in the Irish Guards. Those young men serve in the United Kingdom armed forces and contribute a great deal. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice and distinguished themselves by their gallantry, yet they are prevented from being British.

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I am not very up on contemporary music, but there are some distinguished show-business people, for example, Geldof, who were born after 1949, whose United Kingdom honours are prefaced with an explanation that they are honorary. That is a pity and it is also ludicrous. Somebody born before 1949 would be the real thing-an OBE or a knight and so on.

We need to rationalise the position. New clause 1 is in the spirit of all that has happened in bringing communities together and in recognising parity of esteem. Perhaps the Minister's brief will state that it would create precedents, but it would not. Our relationship with Ireland is sui generis-unique. That was reflected by Parliament in 1949, when it passed the Ireland Act. In the face of the Republic's declaration in the Oireachtas's 1948 Act-it unilaterally, but correctly decided that it wanted to be a republic-Clem Attlee's Government passed the Ireland Act 1949, which stated that people from Ireland would have total parity of treatment in the franchise and so on. Many people have served in the House who are Irish citizens.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab) rose-

Andrew Mackinlay: I suspect that we will hear from somebody who could claim Irish citizenship.

Emily Thornberry: I am going to do exactly that. I am an Irish passport holder, although I come from a background of dual heritage. I am proud of that, and I am proud to be a Member of this House.

Andrew Mackinlay: And I am very proud to have my hon. Friend as a colleague in the House, and I also hope that she sees my point. She has decided that she wants to hold an Irish passport and she is extremely proud of it, and she may be one of those people-including many people in the armed forces drawn from Northern Ireland-who holds passports of both the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case on an issue I was not aware of before he brought it to the attention of the House, and I am by no means unsympathetic to it. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can help me, however: what is to stop a person in the position he is delineating from applying for British citizenship in the usual way?

Andrew Mackinlay: Well, the usual way is long, contorted, expensive and downright irritating, and I just think that people born in Ireland are a one-off case. The Irish Republic citizenship laws allow people to claim citizenship if they have one grandparent who was born in Ireland-in the 32 counties-before 1949. Its citizenship laws are generous, therefore; all I am seeking is parity of treatment for folk born in the Republic after 1949 who want to claim United Kingdom citizenship.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this issue and new clause before the House. He will recall that I attempted to push through a private Member's Bill along similar lines a couple of years ago. Is the difference he describes not even worse, in that some people in Northern Ireland who have never lived in the
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Irish Republic can apply and get an Irish passport, but those who were born in the Irish Republic and have lived 40, 50 or 60 years in the United Kingdom cannot get a British passport without going through the complicated procedure of applying for nationality?

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I recall his private Member's Bill, and I hope that if we cannot succeed tonight, at least the Government will have an open mind if he or others introduce a comparable private Member's Bill to remedy this wrong. It is a source of irritation, and the remedy is not rocket science; it is merely providing parity of treatment.

I am conscious of the fact that the hon. Gentleman's constituency abuts Donegal, where there are many folk who are very proud of their United Kingdom traditions. This very weekend people paraded in Donegal in the Irish Republic, commemorating the battle of the Boyne and celebrating their membership of the Orange Order. I am not a member of that order-I think I would be disqualified from being a member-but I am very proud of the fact that that tradition is maintained in Donegal, where there are many people who are keen to hold on to their United Kingdom associations. We should meet that need and demand.

I promised the House that I would not labour the point. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) said that I have drawn his attention to a topic of which he was unaware before. That is part of the problem. The Home Office, and now the Ministry of Justice, have never really understood the complicated, but unique and extremely interesting, constitutional relationship between, and shared history of, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Perhaps they should have understood it, however, because, after all, we are told that this legislation has emerged from a review by one of our former Attorneys-General. He was supposed to do an in-depth job, but this topic obviously never crossed his desk; it was not on the radar screen. My case is that it should have been, because many of our electors would be beneficiaries from this change. To provide it would be in the spirit of giving parity of treatment.

I ask the Minister either to accept my new clause 1, or at least to indicate-and not just for form-that its provisions might be taken on board if there is an early legislative opportunity to do so. That would be most welcome by a number of people living in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as folk in Northern Ireland, and particularly by people who were born in the Irish Republic and who are resident there but who are very proud of their historic traditions, through service in the armed forces or some other connection, which this House should recognise now.

7.45 pm

Damian Green: I am tempted to go down the route set by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), but I will resist that temptation and leave the Minister to respond to his points, because there are many very important amendments and new clauses in this group. I want to address three of them-and to do so fairly briefly, as there are further important groups to come.

In the current group, Government amendment 17 is key. The Minister needs to be able to answer the question whether it gives satisfactory treatment to all those who
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were affected over the past few years by the High Court rulings, which the Government have lost, on the matter of retrospection, and in particular satisfy the House that he is being fair to those who have not yet applied for indefinite leave to remain on their route to citizenship, because that is what a lot of the amendment is about.

It is worth while setting out the Conservatives' attitude to citizenship in principle. We believe that UK citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Anyone who is here on temporary leave to remain should not assume that that gives them the right to remain here permanently or to become a British citizen. However, we need to be fair and reasonable. We also need to recognise that our country is competing with others around the world for highly skilled migrants who will benefit our economy-we all agree that Britain benefits from highly skilled migrants.

The Government's previous decision to change the rules so that highly skilled migrants who are already here and who want to stay are now disqualified from doing so is both unfair and wrong-headed. It is unfair because those people have made a commitment to this country but are having that flung back in their faces, and it is wrong-headed because it sends a signal to highly skilled people around the world that Britain is an unreliable place.

It is an indictment of the current Government that precisely the people whom we should be encouraging and supporting to come to this country are disillusioned by their efforts. As the Minister is aware, the Conservatives have consistently opposed the retrospective elements of the changes to the rules affecting highly skilled migrants. In 2006, his predecessor attempted to change the rules regarding indefinite leave to remain, citing the introduction of the points-based system. At the time, I helped deliver a petition to the then Prime Minister with 4,000 signatures of those opposing the rule change. Since those changes came into force, the highly skilled migrants programme forum has successfully challenged the Home Office in the courts. That was a three-year battle with massive and unnecessary attendant legal costs, but, in the end, the Home Office lost in the courts.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman says his party has consistently opposed these retrospective provisions, and we were very happy in the other place to support his party's noble Lords who tabled an amendment that would have removed those retrospective elements. Why has he now gone back on that in attempting to restrict the proposed change to the highly skilled migrant programme?

Damian Green: I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my speech, in which I made the point that highly skilled migrants are particularly valuable to this country, and as he will be aware, the court case was specifically about those migrants. Those are the people in the frame, as it were, in terms of the Government's unfairness.

Chris Huhne rose-

Damian Green: I think we should make progress.

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