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Under the British Nationality Act 1948, the Home Secretary had discretion to register a child of a British mother as a British citizen while the child was under 18. That presumably was originally intended for cases where the mother was widowed or divorced and wanted to return to live in the United Kingdom with her child. On 7 February 1961, the Government decided to register any child under 18 of a British mother on application. There was no formal change in the law; it was simply described as a concession. The next step, under the British Nationality Act 1981, was that women became entitled to pass on citizenship to future children on the same basis as men, but that was limited only to children after the 1981 Act came into force.
In April 2003, new Section 4C was added to the 1981 Act by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. That backdated the citizenship rights to all children born to British mothers after 7 February 1961 even if they had not applied for registration before becoming 18. New Section 4C resulted from amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Avebury in Committee and on Report. He has also added his name to this amendment. Those amendments in their original form would have backdated the 1981 Act to 1 January 1949, which is what I seek now.
On Report on 9 October 2002, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, who was the Minister acting for the Government, said that the Government would look into the matter and come back with proposals at Third Reading. That is reported at column 269 of Hansardfor 9 October 2002. They did so, but to an unnecessarily and unjustifiably limited extent. The Government were prepared to grant citizenship only to those born after 7 February 1961. The Government announced that they would give citizenship to all applicants born after that date who applied for it. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said that,
Why not make the commencement of the British Nationality Act 1948 the cut-off point? I accept that 1 January 1949 is, for reasons I have already explained, a justifiable cut-off date. Why exclude people born in that relatively short period between 1 January 1949 and 7 February 1961? So far as I can see, it is wholly impossible to justify that distinction. Refusing to back-date citizenship to children born before February 1961 was simply continuing unjustifiable gender inequality. It does not matter whether the children affected are male, as Mr Luke is, or female. It preserves discrimination against mothers because they are women and not men. It is also at least arguable that it is ageist because there is a wholly irrational discrimination between those born on or before 7 February 1961 and those born afterwards.
I can see no detriment to the United Kingdom from allowing people in this class right of entry to the United Kingdom. The class of people affected by this amendment is now closed. It can apply only to those born abroad between 1 January 1949 and 7 February 1961 whose mother was a British citizen and whose father was not. There may be no more than a few hundred, certainly no more than the low thousands, of people in this class. All must be at least 46 years old and, no doubt, the great majority of them will be well established in their present home countries. They would welcome the rightwhen visiting the United Kingdom as tourists, on business, for family reasons or, as some may wish, to live hereto entry on the same basis as UK citizens.
The costs are negligible. I cannot see that the correction of this anomaly would give any precedent for other groups; it is a unique situation. There is no reason to suppose that the children of United Kingdom-citizen fathers exercising their undoubted right to UK citizenship impose any serious burden whatsoever on the state. Why should the children of UK-citizen mothers be different?
The simplest way of dealing with this problem would be a further amendment of the British Nationality Act 1981 to give rights of citizenship to children of UK-citizen mothers. My amendment does not do that because this Bill is about immigration and not nationality. A further amendment of the British Nationality Act 1981 would therefore be outside the Long Title. This amendment does the next best thing: it amends the Immigration Act 1971 to allow children of British-citizen mothers the same rights of access to the United Kingdom as if they were British citizens by descent. Accepting this amendment would remedy what is now seen as an anomaly which preserves an old-fashioned rule of gender inequality. It does so in favour of a small, closed class of people. It would not throw any perceptible burden on the state, and there is no justification for the Government objecting to it. I beg to move.
Lord Avebury: I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Goodhart on his ingenuity in bringing what is effectively a nationality problem within the ambit of the Long Title of this Bill which is concerned with immigration. In the British
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When the matter was raised last week by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who I am glad to see in his place, the Ministerthe noble Lord, Lord Bassammerely repeated that formula, which is a meaningless argument that can be used against any reform. In a number of debates, as well as in two meetings with Ministers in the summer of 2002, we never had any objective justification for the refusal to eliminate this wrong. In the British Nationality Act 1981, provision was made for the child of a British mother and a foreign father born abroad after 7 February 1961 to be registered as British by his parents while a minor. That had already been the subject of an administrative concession, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart explained. It became apparent that some children who might have benefited from that concession who, when they became adults, wanted to be British had forfeited their entitlement because their parents were unaware of the change or, for one reason or another, failed to act in time.
During the debates on the 2002 Act, we persuaded the Government to enact what is now Section 4C of the 1981 Act, allowing those children to register of their own volition when they became adults. The effect of this change was that in families where children were born before and after the cut-off date, the younger children were entitled to British citizenship and the older ones were not. Michael Turberville, the leader of the NGO, Children and Maternal Parents Against Immigration and Government Nationality SituationCAMPAIGNStells me that he has fewer than 300 pre-1961 children on his database, which conforms with the estimate that my noble friend gave of a few hundred people who might be covered by his amendment. My correspondent, Michael Turberville, thinks that there may be a few more who would like British citizenship but are not aware of his efforts over the years. We are not talking about a large number of people.
Mr Turberville points that when the concession was made for post-1961 children, not a great number of them took advantage of it. He also tells me that only one of the pre-1961 children on his database would not benefit from the amendment of my noble friend. As it happens, that person has probably acquired a right to register through length of residence in the United Kingdom. On learning of this amendment, Mr Turberville wrote to me:
CAMPAIGNS would gladly welcome any movement on the cut-off date that would incorporate any decrease in the current disenfranchisement of British women in their ability to pass on their nationality to their children both in other countries and to non-British fathers. This is the 21st century and discrimination in nationality and identity on the basis of gender should cease. Children of British fathers have not had to endure years and decades of being denied their birthright; it is time to put equality into the national identity of what it means to be British. Equality before the law and Parliament should be paramount in all aspects
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He adds that any movement on the 1961 date to accommodate the remaining handful of people would be greatly appreciated by his membership. They would bring skills and knowledge and other resources to what many consider to be their rightful home.
When we discussed this problem on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill in February 2006, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, responding on behalf of the Home Office, rightly observed that this problem was,
and paraphrased the mantra that was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the other day that we cannot undo everything that went before. Parliament can and does amend older legislation that is incompatible with our international obligationsin this case, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Government were proud to announce the ratification of the optional protocol to CEDAW in December 2004, which ostensibly gave women who wanted to complain against general discrimination by the Government the right to approach the UN Committee on CEDAW. However, when Mrs Constance Salgado tried to complain about the law, she was told that her complaint was inadmissible because of the Governments reservations on nationality and immigration. Mrs Salgado has read the exchange that we had on the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and she comments:
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was unable to give any rational explanation for refusing to eliminate this sexism from our national law, and his estimate that 3,000 people a year might be affected is wrong by about two orders of magnitude. The suggestion that the victims of this discrimination can become naturalised by length of residence in the United Kingdom is also wrong, because at present they have no right to enter the UK. Since he thinks that they already have the right of abode, he ought to have no problem accepting the amendment.
We now have a woman Home Secretary, and she may take a different view from her predecessors. I appeal to the Minister to discard his brief and promise the Committee that he will draw her attention to what has been said today, as well as to what was said in 2002 and 2006, and will at least ask her to meet us before Report so that together we can eliminate this discrimination from the statute book.
Lord Higgins: I have added my name to the amendment, which seems to me entirely admirable. The arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Avebury, seem to me to be overwhelming. It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Back in the early 1960s,
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We find ourselves in an extraordinary situation. The Government have persisted in maintaining their position with a totally incomprehensible series of arguments. At Question Time the other day, the Minister quoted the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that we can only go so far towards righting the wrongs of history. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, on the then Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, paraphrased his remarks by saying,
We cannot undo everything that has gone before, but we do not have to go on doing it. That is what we are doing, and there is no reason why what has happened in the past, sad though that may be, should not be put right for the future. It seems to me that what has happened is very strange. The Government have made one minor concession after another; it is the opposite of a death by a thousand cuts. It is gradually getting better, but we still have not come to the end. We really are at the end game.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, speaking in the debate reported at col. 630 of Hansard on 7 February 2006, seemed to get involved in the most extraordinary and convoluted argument about whether it was right to give these people nationality or right of abode depending on whether they were children or adults, and that is the crux of the matter.
But as far as the relationship with the parent is concerned, they remain the children of that parent regardless of their age. It is a totally different concept. The concept that is relevant in relation to this amendment is that they are the children of a particular person. In the extract to which I referred, the noble Baroness got in an even bigger muddle as she somehow got mixed up with the question of siblings and so on. It is the relationship with the parent that is relevant, not the relationship with a sibling. However, as has been pointed out, the way the deadline is set, some siblings are one side of it while others are the other.
But quite apart from all these arguments, it seems to me that the time has come to put the matter right. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, this measure is concerned with abode rather than citizenship, which was what I dealt with the other day. None the less, it is a move in the right direction. I am
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I have a terrible feeling that what is really happening is that somewhere deep down in the Home Office an official is determined not to change his mind. It is time for the Minister to get hold of that official, or collection of officials, and bang their heads together, but not at this very moment. The officials sitting behind him may well not be causing the problem. However, we really ought to sort this matter out.
My final point cuts away from all these technical matters. Over the years the granting of citizenship has changed totally and there have been many controversies. The other day the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether there was a hidden agenda. We were assured by the Minister that there was not. I suspected that that was the case at first but we take the Ministers word for it. The reality is that a huge number of people are being granted British citizenship. It was reported in the press the other day that a convicted terrorist had been granted British citizenship. This large number comprises asylum seekers and immigrants of all kinds.
The numbers game is only partially important, but surely when we are giving citizenship to a very large number of people who have absolutely no prior connection whatever with this country, it is wrong to deny it to the category of people mentioned in the letter that the noble Lord quoted. I have received a similar letter. These people are desperately anxious to be British because their mother was British. I believe that the time has come to accept this measure. There are no big financial implications and there is no question of setting precedents. Certainly, we have not heard a single good reason why we should not accept this amendment.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: When my noble friend Lord Higgins speaks it takes me back to when he was such a brilliant member of the Conservative Front Benchjust a moment ago. If you cant trump your Back-Bencher, dont try is my motto.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I take it from that that the noble Baroness agrees with all that the noble Lord said, and that it is official Conservative Front Bench policy. I was hoping to find out whether that was the case.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is interesting in itself. I found this a fascinating discussion. I have listened to the debate with more interest than I thought I would and I have listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said. I do not
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I shall summarise our case. Clearly, this matter will not be resolved today. Before 1983, British women were unable to pass on their citizenship in the same way as men, but there was discretion within the British Nationality Act 1948 to confer citizenship on any minor by registration. As noble Lords have said, on 7 February 1979 the then Home Secretary announced that he would exercise this discretion in favour of any child of a UK-born mother who applied for registration before his or her 18th birthday.
We recognised that some will have learnt of the 1979 policy change too late to benefit from it. We therefore changed the law in 2002 so that there is now provision in the British Nationality Act 1981 for a person to be registered as a British citizen, on application and payment of the prescribed fee, if he or she would have been registered in accordance with the policy announced in 1979 had the necessary application been made while he or she was still a minor. In other words, the person concerned must have been a minor on 7 February 1979.
We were not persuaded that it would be right to go any further than that. This was in light of the principle that an adult seeking to be granted British citizenship should normally be able to demonstrate on the basis of his personal connections with this country why his application should succeed. It is also the case that those who would benefit from any further relaxation of the requirements in the 1981 Act are at least 46 years old. Therefore, they are, one assumes, well-established elsewhere. Their situation may be the legacy of legislation that most of us now consider otiose, repugnant and unacceptable, but it is a legacy that cannot simply be ignored.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think the noble Lord is trying to help me to get to the point. There will always be a difficulty with a boundary or a cut-off point, wherever it is placed. That is an issue. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made the point that we can minimise the element of discrimination by changing the position of the cut-off point or boundary line.
The amendment seeks to avoid the restriction on eligibility for registration as a British citizen by conferring the right of abode in the United Kingdom, whether or not they wish to have it, on any person who would qualify but for his or her date of birth. Many such people, if they are Commonwealth citizens, will already have the right of abode here as they will be covered by Section 2(1)(b) of the Immigration Act 1971. It is our view that the rights associated with British citizenship, including the right of abode, should in future be limited to those with close and continuing connections with the United Kingdom. To create an additional category of people who held a right of abode without having acquired British citizenship would be inconsistent with this principle.
Lord Avebury: Can the Minister explain how someone who is born immediately before 7 February 1961 has no connection with the United Kingdom, whereas someone born immediately after that date has a close connection?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not sure it is possible to answer in those terms. I return to the point that there is a difficulty wherever the cut-off is. To take the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we should go back to 1 January 1949that was the nub of what he saidone could make a hard case that it is tough on the person who was born on 31 December 1948 or earlier. In terms of numbers, the further back one goes the fewer people who are discriminated against.
Lord Goodhart: Can the Minister explain why, if the Government are concerned to limit the right of entry to this country to those with close links with the United Kingdom, they limit the right of entry of children born abroad of foreign fathers and British mothers, but do not seek to limit the equivalent rights of children born abroad of British fathers and foreign mothers?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord is asking me to describe the basis of the original discrimination. We accept that that discrimination was there, which is why we made the changes. No doubt that is why the Conservative Party dealt with it in the way that it did back in 1983. It was accepted that that discrimination was there and that it needed to be corrected. In the end, it comes back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made originally, which is that the further back the cut-off point goes, the less likelihood there is that somebody will be caught and discriminated against.
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