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Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 3:

A person who—
(a) was born prior to 1 January 1983; and
(b) at the time of his birth would have been a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies under section 5 of the British Nationality Act 1948 (c. 56) (acquisition by descent) had the reference therein to "father" been a reference to either parent;

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shall be entitled to register as a British citizen, and a person so registered shall be a British citizen by descent.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I return to a matter raised in Committee about children born overseas to British mothers and foreign fathers prior to the British Nationality Act 1981. I need not speak for long; the arguments have been rehearsed. We had two useful meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, during the summer. I thank him for the way in which he consulted the Opposition Front Benches on all the matters raised in Committee and for the detailed and careful consideration he agreed to give to the matters we raised.

This is a matter of principle, which touches on gender discrimination. After the 1981 Act, we had a situation in which all the children born overseas to British fathers could become British citizens, but those born overseas to British mothers could do so only if the mother made an application during the minority of the child. If, for any reason, the mother was unaware of that limitation or had no opportunity to take advantage of the process before the child became an adult, that child forfeited for ever the chance of becoming a British citizen. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, knows, there are some few hundreds of people all over the world who are in this position, not all of whom may wish to take advantage of the new clause if your Lordships see fit to pass it; but many of them do. The noble Lord is aware of the circumstances of a few cases that have been drawn to his attention.

The chairman of the organisation which has been set up to act on behalf of these people—CAMPAIGNS—is living here by a thread at the moment. He received a letter from the Home Office dated 24th September telling him that he can appeal under the Human Rights Act against the decision not to allow him to remain, and threatening him that if he did not so appeal the Home Office would consider taking out a deportation order against him. That was a most unfortunate thing for it to have done when the matter was about to be raised in your Lordships' House. I hope that no action will have been taken in the meanwhile to disturb his quiet enjoyment of his life in this country. It is really quite monstrous that the chair of the organisation set up to lobby on behalf of these people is himself threatened with being thrown out of the United Kingdom.

He is not the only one. I drew another case to the attention of the Minister when I went to see him. That case concerns a constituent of Dr Ian Gibson, MP, who was married to an American. Her husband turned out to be an abuser and a drunkard, and she separated from him and came back to Britain. But her son, who was never registered as a British citizen, remained with his father and subsequently moved to live on his own. This lady has now had an operation. She wanted her son to come over and look after her during the period of her illness, and he did so. But now he has been told that the period of his visit has expired and he has not been granted an extension. When Dr Gibson heard

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from his constituent, her son was being told to leave because he was not eligible for an extension of his stay, even though his mother was still ill.

There are many other cases of a similar kind. The Minister is aware of the case of Mr Kenny Richey, who is on death row in Ohio. He is likely to have benefited from being a British citizen because we would then have been able to intervene with the authorities to prevent his execution. But, as he is not eligible for British citizenship, we cannot do anything under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and Optional Protocols.

We could perhaps make representations on his behalf ex gratia, and I hope that we will do so in view of his long connections with this country. He was born in the United States but spent the whole of his childhood in Scotland until he reached his 18th birthday. So, to all intents and purposes, he is as British as any of us in the Chamber.

This is an opportunity for removing from the statute book an unnecessary violation of human rights in regard to gender discrimination, as we do in all other fields of legislation. I hope that now that the Minister has had time to consider the representations that we made to him on two successive occasions during the summer, as well as those we made in Committee and the letter that I wrote, at his invitation, setting out the case in some detail, he will have enough information to be able to accept the proposed new clause. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I rise, briefly, to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I thought that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, expressed in Committee, in favour of the position set out in the Bill were uncharacteristically weak. It is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—that, under the amendment, people with exiguous links to the United Kingdom would be able to become British nationals—would apply equally to those who derive their nationality from their fathers, a category which continues to enjoy rights of British nationality. This seems to be wholly unjustifiable sex discrimination.

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, if the amendment is agreed to it would give a limited number of people—all of whom have British mothers—the right to register as British nationals. Moreover, as the noble Lord also said, the present situation does sometimes give rise to really serious cases of individual hardship.

I urge the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, to reflect again on this matter and to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is not a matter which cuts across the broad thrust of government policy under the Bill. It is a matter where the noble Lord can quite fairly be open-minded and wholly objective.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his courtesy.

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As has been said, under the British Nationality Act 1948 a female citizen of the United Kingdom could not pass on her citizenship. The British Nationality Act 1981 now allows women to transmit on equal terms but, for a number of reasons, this change was not made retrospective. The amendment we are now considering would confer an entitlement to registration as a British citizen on any person who was born before 1st January 1983 and would have been a citizen of the United Kingdom by descent but for the inability at that time of female citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies to pass on their citizenship.

The entitlement would not as I understand it be confined to those who would have become British citizens—rather than, for example, British overseas citizens—on commencement of the 1981 Act. It may therefore be seeking to give them an advantage that, even without the sexual discrimination in the old law, they would not otherwise have had. If that is the noble Lord's intention, we would have difficulty in supporting the amendment in its present wording.

When the Bill was in Committee on this issue, my noble friend Lord Bassam explained the Government's view that those seeking citizenship as adults should be required to demonstrate connections with this country over and above those based on parentage—in other words, that they would satisfy the requirements under the 1981 Act relating to naturalisation. We accept that many of those who stand to benefit from the noble Lord's amendment would have considerable difficulty in satisfying the naturalisation requirements given that absence from the immigration rules of any specific provision which would allow them to be admitted from the United Kingdom.

In the light of what has been said, we shall reflect further on the issue and submit our own proposals for consideration on Third Reading. I am grateful for the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, without wishing to encourage him to repeat the practice. Although this is not the place for case work, I shall look into the specific cases to which he referred. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, we have had a very good start to our proceedings today. I am sorry that my noble friend did not receive an equally favourable reply to his excellent amendment. I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I look forward to receiving further news of the Government's plans, I hope in good time for us to consider them and take advice on them before discussing them on the Floor of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Citizenship Ceremony, Oath and Pledge]:

Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 84, leave out line 33.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposed amendment is as innocuous as it looks. It seeks the removal of one word—the word "Pledge"—from the proposed new Schedule 5, where the citizenship oath and pledge is set out.

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Like many noble Lords, in the few years that I have been here I have conducted a rather ineffectual campaign for clear and citizen-friendly legislation. If ever there was a need for the greatest clarity, it is in the words that we are considering in this amendment. This is the oath and pledge to be taken by every person wishing to become a citizen. They are very often people with a less than perfect command of the subtleties of English. It is an oath and pledge of solemn intent and effect and is given new significance and importance by the ceremony which the Bill seeks to introduce and which the House seems unanimously to support. Yet at the heart of these few but significant words is a distinction as between an "oath" and a "pledge" which will do nothing but confuse those who have to take it.

I have tried this out on a number of my colleagues, both in my firm and in this House and by reference to dictionaries. I have asked them what is the difference between these two words. I have received no answer. The nearest to an answer is that an oath is more significant than a pledge because it has consequences if broken which a pledge does not.

If there is indeed a difference between the old part of the statement which is an oath and the new part which is a pledge, there should not be. The pledge is no less important than the oath. The words are:

    "I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen".

Therefore, if there is any distinction between the meaning of the two words, my case is that there should not be. If there is no distinction, let us abandon the word "pledge" so that the poor people who read this do not have to try to get their heads round the difference between the two parts of this highly significant ceremony. The White Paper appears to anticipate that there will be a single oath. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hope that I shall not engage the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, too much in having to reject the thrust of his amendment.

The amendment would bring together two distinct parts and fuse them into one. Although it is true that the citizenship oath and pledge are distinct on the face of the Bill, in practice, as I am sure the noble Lord would have gone on to argue, they will be spoken seamlessly. The noble Lord desires an amalgamated oath and pledge and, in practice, that is what we shall have.

The oath and pledge proposed in the Bill were the result of careful consideration and full consultation with both the public through the White Paper and other government departments. It was decided to retain the current oath of allegiance and to add to it a new pledge of loyalty to the UK and its values. All British citizens, whether by birth or naturalisation, owe a common law duty of allegiance to the sovereign. We wish to add to that duty a pledge for those

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acquiring British citizenship which will serve to underscore—to underline, to stress the importance of—upholding human rights and freedoms, democratic values and, importantly, the rule of law. The separation of the oath and the pledge retains constitutional coherence in that the oath retains the existing subject state language and the pledge introduces citizen state language. We wish to retain this distinction by having a separate oath and pledge.

We have made efforts to ensure that the oath and pledge taken on the acquisition of the different types of British citizenship are as consistent as possible. To amalgamate the oath and pledge only when made in the United Kingdom would result in the illogical position that there would remain a separate oath and pledge in the British Overseas Territories.

For those reasons, interesting though the noble Lord's amendment is, we must ultimately conclude that it does not fit the purpose for which we are attempting to progress policy as currently stated.

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