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19 Jan 2006 : Column 253

Thursday, 19 January 2006.

Grand Committee

The Committee met at two of the clock

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (BARONESS GOULD OF POTTERNEWTON) in the Chair.]

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill

(Fourth Day)

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 66A:

(1) Section 162 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (5) for "a date appointed by the Secretary of State by order" there is substituted "1st January 1900"."

The noble Lord said: First, I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Avebury. Today some of his relations are leaving for New Zealand and he is at Heathrow Airport. I have no doubt at all that on Report he will have much to say about immigration matters at Heathrow Airport. He is quite happy that I should be able to deal with the issues that need to be rectified.

The amendment concerns Section 9 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The need for my noble friend's amendment requires explanation. This section of the Act has not been brought into force and, so far, there has been no explanation of why that is so. The section was designed to give illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate children to acquire British citizenship by registration.

I shall quote a letter that my noble friend received from the Library. He assures me that a copy has been given to the Minister. If that is not so, I shall put that right. When he inquired of our Library he was told:

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This poses considerable difficulty. Why are the regulations concerning proof of paternity taking so long to produce? The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has been at the forefront of establishing children's rights. The Government have a good record in recognising issues such as children growing up with single parents. They have taken some progressive decisions on issues that we would dare not have discussed a few years ago. The Minister is aware of the letter from the Library, as I explained earlier, and I am sure that she will not tolerate the anomaly that now exists.

We suspect that this matter is not very high on the Government's list of priorities. Proof of paternity is required in many documents. It is required in matters of inheritance; there must be appropriate wording somewhere else in the law that can assist in this task. We have established the right of civil partners. We frown upon words such as "illegitimate child". There is now a need for this provision to be introduced under Section 9 of the NIA Act 2002. The section is already on the statute and there is no reason why its implementation should be delayed. It is worrying that no clear explanation has been forthcoming, but I hope that the Minister will rectify that anomaly. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I recognise that he is speaking on behalf of his noble friend, who is not able to be with us today. I look forward very much to hearing his noble friend's comments about services at Heathrow Airport on his return—perhaps I will have a chance to talk to him on those issues before our next stage, if he has anything to report to me.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I do not recall having seen the letter, although I do not for one moment suggest that his noble friend did not send it to me. I am grateful to him for having read out the appropriate part of it. He is quite right to raise this important issue.

I thought that it might just be worth recapping briefly the purpose of Section 9 of the 2002 Act. As the noble Lord said, we are seeking to remove the present distinctions in nationality law between legitimate and illegitimate children, by redefining "father" as either the husband of the woman who gave birth to the child, a person who is treated as a father by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, or a person who satisfies the requirements of regulations to be made under the British Nationality Act 1981 as to proof of paternity.

The thrust of what the noble Lord has sought to do with the amendment is to challenge the Government on not having brought forward the regulations as quickly as we might have. I will not go into the essence of the amendment, because I understand precisely what the noble Lord is seeking to do. I am not in a position—I wish I were—to give the noble Lord or the Committee precise details of when the regulations will come forward. However, I completely accept—as a
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Minister who has done a lot of work around children's issues, as the noble Lord was kind enough to point out—the importance of doing this.

I am seeing my honourable friend Mr. McNulty in the early part of next week. I undertake that, as soon as I have done so, I will talk to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and write formally to him, so that the Committee will have sight of what I say on what precisely the Government's plans are. If I can give specific times and dates, I will ensure that in some way or another I can put that into Hansard so that it has the clarity of having been said before Parliament. At this stage, the question is, I think, merely to do with pressure of time. However, I accept that, as the noble Lord rightly said, this is an important area which we need to resolve. I apologise that I cannot do so today.

Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister. As I said, I would be grateful if she could give us either a timetable of when the measure is likely to come into existence or an explanation of the reasons behind the situation. I look forward to that explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 44 and 45 agreed to.

The Earl of Sandwich moved Amendment No. 67:

(1) If a person is detained under any provision of the 1971 Act, the Secretary of State must arrange a reference to the court no later than the eighth day following that on which the detained person was detained for the court to determine whether the detained person should be released on bail.
(2) If the detained person remains in detention, the Secretary of State must secure that a second reference to the court is made no later than the thirty-sixth day following that on which the detained person was detained.
(3) In this section "court" means the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal or such other court as the Secretary of State may specify in regulations made under this section."

The noble Earl said: I have already had the opportunity to speak to the amendment. Before I withdraw it, I want to thank the Minister for her reply, as we ended rather abruptly on Tuesday. From reading the remarks that she made, I have not detected any real movement in government policy, but I know that she recognises the strength of feeling among the organisations and that she has an open mind. I can only say that I do not think it sufficient for detainees themselves to have to seek judicial review; I still believe that there should be an automatic right to object. I hope to come back to the issue at a later stage, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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