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Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill

Volume 573: debated on Friday 17 January 2014

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank hon. Members for taking an interest in this Bill and for attending this morning’s debate. I am particularly grateful to Members who attended the Bill Committee. We had a good debate, as we did on Second Reading. I am delighted with the cross-party support that the Bill has enjoyed to date, and I hope that this continues.

Foreign and Commonwealth citizens in Her Majesty’s forces who wish to apply for naturalisation under section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 may currently be at a disadvantage because of their time served overseas. This is because an applicant must have been in the United Kingdom on day one of the five-year qualifying period for naturalisation. As a result, some members or former members of our armed forces have to wait longer to apply than other people who are simply living in the UK on the required date. The principles enshrined in the armed forces covenant between the nation and our armed forces community make it clear that those who serve should face no disadvantage as a result of that service.

Approximately how many armed forces personnel now serving in the forces would benefit from the change in the law that my hon. Friend’s outstanding Bill will bring about?

The best estimate is that approximately up to 200 service personnel or ex-service personnel and their families could be helped by the Bill. This measure is not of vast significance and it will certainly not impact on our immigration or naturalisation numbers to any great extent, but I think my hon. Friend will agree that there is an injustice in the current rules and regulations which needs to be changed.

I believe that it is wrong for our armed service personnel and our former armed service personnel who fit into this category to be discriminated against in this way. It is anomalous, and it is something that this House and the other place can and should rectify. As I said on Second Reading, every day that members of our armed forces have spent in the service of our country abroad should have the same value in the eyes of the immigration authorities as a day spent in the UK. The Bill enjoyed a very thorough and far-reaching debate on Second Reading and I am delighted that no amendments were tabled. I therefore hope that we shall be able to conclude matters this morning without a huge or lengthy debate.

Clause 1 amends schedule 1 to the 1981 Act to give the Secretary of State discretion to overlook the requirement to be in the UK on day one of the qualifying period for naturalisation. This discretion will apply only in cases where the applicant is, or has been, a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister and the shadow Minister are in their places here today. As I say, I very much hope that the Bill will continue to enjoy cross-party support.

The Bill represents a small and sensible, but not insignificant, change to the way in which naturalisation applications from foreign and Commonwealth members of Her Majesty’s armed forces are considered. It enables us to remove the disadvantage currently experienced by certain forces and ex-forces personnel who happened to be outside the United Kingdom, serving their country, on that first day of their five-year qualifying period for naturalisation as a British citizen.

The Home Office takes its responsibilities under the armed forces covenant seriously, as I hope all hon. Members do. We have been steadily pursuing a range of measures to improve the various interactions that the armed forces community is obliged to have with UK Visa & Immigration. We recently implemented a new set of immigration rules for armed forces families, which include a number of practical improvements: a five-year visa; a dedicated application form; and the ability to make applications from overseas. Small things can make a big difference, and the small but important measure in this Bill is one such thing.

Anything that implements the military covenant, as this Bill does in a small but significant way, is a very good thing. What is the attitude of the various armed forces charities, which we all support, be it the Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes or Veterans Aid? What is their approach to the Bill?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I am pleased to inform him that our armed forces charities, those that help not only those currently serving and their families, but ex-service personnel and their families, are hugely and universally supportive of this measure. I have been grateful to them for their advice and support during this Bill’s passage through this House.

The measure in this Bill was identified by the Armed Forces Covenant Cabinet Sub-Committee as a priority commitment. Once implemented, it will provide the Secretary of State with the discretion to overlook the current requirement in schedule 1 the British Nationality Act 1981. As I said a moment ago, it is not anticipated that the volume of naturalisation applications from forces personnel will increase dramatically as a result of the Bill. Rather, it will help a small number of applicants who will become eligible to apply for naturalisation earlier than would otherwise have been the case. The numbers benefiting will be modest, but important none the less. UK Visa & Immigration does not hold data on the numbers of service personnel and ex-service personnel naturalising as British citizens, but as I said to my hon. Friend, we reckon that the number is something in the region of up to a couple of hundred cases per year, and no more. Not all those cases will require the discretion provided for by this Bill, but where they do, it is only right and fair that the people involved should benefit from it.

I am grateful to the Home Office and to all Members from across this House for their support as we put this Bill together. Throughout the process, we have listened to the organisations that so ably represent members of the armed forces. I am grateful for their input and I hope that they will be pleased by the result of this Third Reading debate. Should the Bill pass this House this morning, I have asked Lord Trefgarne to pilot the Bill through the other place.

I am relieved to hear that my hon. Friend has found a noble Lord willing to take up the task of piloting the Bill in the other place. Has my hon. Friend been given any indication by him on whether he foresees any time scale difficulties, given that their lordships are now having to consider the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which is in the other place?

I am delighted to say that Lord Trefgarne is helping Lord Dobbs in his endeavours in the other place on the European Union (Referendum) Bill, and I am assured that this Bill will not do anything to hold up progress in the other place. Of course, Conservative Members would like to send Godspeed to the European Union (Referendum) Bill, but I am pleased to say that the passage of my Bill should in no way affect its progress.

My Bill is an important part of our package of measures to ensure that those who are willing to put their life on the line in defence of our country are treated fairly by the immigration system. The principles enshrined in the armed forces covenant between the nation and our armed forces community make it absolutely clear that those who serve and who have served should, at the very least, face no disadvantage as a result of that service. On that basis, it has been a great honour and privilege to move the Bill on Third Reading, and I commend it to my colleagues and to the House.

It is a great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord) as he brings the passage of this Bill in this House to a conclusion. I was here during its gestation period, on Second Reading, and I am happy to be here now to support it as it is finally delivered. You were in the Chair on Second Reading, Mr Speaker, and I wearied you with a speech of nearly half an hour, so you will be pleased to hear that as this is Third Reading, my remarks will be very brief.

It is so pleasant to be here on a Friday morning, when everyone is so polite, nice and calm.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking because steering a private Member’s Bill through the rocks of parliamentary procedure is difficult, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), who is piloting the European Union (Referendum) Bill, is finding this very day to his cost. However, I am sure that, with the help of Lord Trefgarne, the Bill before us will have a rapid passage. I do not believe for a moment that the other place would want to commit the double whammy of resisting the overwhelming will of this House and the people’s right to have a referendum—it is doing that on the European Union (Referendum) Bill. I say that very quickly before Mr Speaker rules me out of order, and I return to the Bill before us.

Although this is a small Bill, it has a big heart, because it is about supporting our armed forces and ensuring that another building block of the armed forces covenant is put in place. I was not here during the passage of the British Nationality Act 1981, but it seems extraordinary that we have a sensible provision that someone has to be in this country for five years before they are granted citizenship or the process comes to fruition, yet a country should say that someone should be denied this opportunity to get citizenship because they happen to be serving that country overseas.

Let us consider the position of a foreign national, one of our brave soldiers, who is serving in Afghanistan and who has served our country for five years and whose greatest ambition is to become a citizen of this country. How amazing it would be if, having loyally served our country in the armed forces, they are told, “I am sorry, but five years ago you were in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and you have to wait.” Such an approach is extraordinary. Although the number involved may be small—a figure of 200 has been cited—an important principle is at stake. In addition, although the specific number of people we think the Bill affects may be limited at the moment—it is perhaps only 200—about 8,000 foreign nationals are serving in our armed forces, so a considerable number of people are potentially involved.

One or two comments were made on Second Reading on the theme of, “Do we want to grant more citizenship? Are we not worried about immigration?” However, the number of people affected by this Bill is small, and surely it has always been a principle that when someone serves in the armed forces of a country and puts their life at risk, they are entitled to become a citizen of that country.

Is this not also about equality between the various troops who serve for Her Majesty’s Government and for the Queen? The arrangements should be no different for those who are overseas born and qualify in the usual way, subject to this calculation and this rule, as for a “normal” British citizen? There should be equal treatment.

I entirely agree. As I said, all countries have had this principle that people who have served a number of years in the armed forces of the country should be entitled to become a citizen. Can we imagine some poor Roman legionnaire 2,000 years ago, freezing on Hadrian’s wall, applying to become a citizen of the empire, only for someone to say, “I’m sorry, five years ago, you weren’t sitting around in Rome. You were serving the empire on the Rhine”? It would be ridiculous. There is clearly something wrong with our present laws.

This is a good Bill; it will make a good Act. It is important because there is undoubtedly a problem with morale in the armed forces. Their whole role is changing; they are leaving Afghanistan; and there have been severe reductions in the military. In this House, it behoves us always to support our armed forces and if we find any area where there are glitches or unfairnesses, we should take time to iron them out, and we should always proclaim our support and admiration for them and the work that they do.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to speak today; I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking; and I wish his Bill well as it completes its stages through this House.

It is, as always, a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I add my thanks and congratulations to those that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), both for taking up this Bill and bringing it to the House, and for steering it so successfully through Committee and bringing it back for Report and Third Reading today.

Like my hon. Friend, I am pleased that the Bill has not been amended in any way, which is a tribute to the way that it was drafted. I know from experience, and we will see this in relation to the next Bill that we discuss, that a Bill that appears to be in order is sometimes found to need technical amendment. In this case, however, that was not necessary.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, this is a small Bill in many ways. It might not affect huge numbers of people, but it is very important in ensuring that we play our part in fulfilling our commitment to the armed forces covenant, and in ensuring that those who have served our country are not at any disadvantage compared with those who have lived a purely civilian life. We owe it to those who place their lives at risk to do all we can to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in any way as a result of their military service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking may have slightly misunderstood my intervention. Although I am clearly very anxious, like him, that the European Union (Referendum) Bill makes good progress, I was slightly concerned that the progress of that leviathan Bill—leviathan not in length but in importance—might push this Bill aside and make it difficult for it to get through the other place. I hope that that is not the case.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, and for his concern about this Bill and the referendum Bill. I can assure him that, as far as I know, my Bill will be well received by the House of Lords. The referendum Bill is now in Committee, so if my Bill passes through the Commons today, I am told—and very much hope, as does my hon. Friend—that it can go through its stages, and that neither Bill will be disturbed on their passage through the other place.

I am extremely relieved to hear that, as I am sure the whole House and those who are affected by this Bill will be. I hope that the Bill proceeds smoothly through Third Reading today, that the other place is welcoming and hospitable to the Bill, and that it has a speedy passage through the other place, so that those who are affected by it can benefit from it as soon as possible. I wish it well.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and it is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). As the Member of Parliament for Hadrian’s wall, I can assure him that many Romans—

I hear chuntering from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson; I entirely accept that of the 85 miles of Hadrian’s wall—[Interruption.] Well, we can disagree. Some parts are in Newcastle and some parts are in Carlisle, but without any shadow of a doubt all the best bits are in the constituency of Hexham. However, I digress and it is wrong of me to take Opposition Members’ bait.

The most important thing is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), because he has done a wonderful thing. As we all know, it is very difficult to navigate a Bill through this House, however lovely Fridays are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made clear, and however much a Bill is supported by the whole House.

The Army charities do such wonderful work supporting our armed forces personnel and their families, including any of those personnel who are injured or who have suffered misadventure. We all pay tribute to them for the work that they do; I am quite sure that I speak for the whole House in that respect. The particular charity that I would pray in aid is Veterans Aid, which has said of this Bill:

“We warmly welcome any initiative that removes obstacles to those who have served this country with honour from settling here legally…Veterans Aid, more than any other military charity, has championed the cause of Foreign & Commonwealth servicemen and women disadvantaged, through no fault of their own, by bureaucracy that is demonstrably at odds with the spirit of the Military Covenant. This was an injustice and we applaud the Government”—

and, as the quote says, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking—

“for listening. We still have many cases in being but this will definitely help us move things forward”

for many of the customers that it is assisting.

It is wonderful that the military charities are supporting the Bill, which is about enforcing the military covenant. That is so fundamental to the being of this country, and so important to how we assess and appraise the armed forces, that it is right and proper that we have updated reports on it. It is a wonderful thing that the House is provided with an annual report on the military covenant, and that the progress and development of the relationship between the state, the public and the armed forces is assessed on an ongoing and regular basis.

The Bill addresses two key issues that form part of the military covenant: the state of immigration, and the relationship between the state and its armed forces. Most of all, however, it is surely about justice and fairness. That is because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough accepted and made clear, it is only right and proper that all armed services personnel should be treated in the same way. I am pleased to say that the military covenant is a priority for this Government. It is about fair treatment for our forces and ensuring that we have an impact on the lives of military personnel.

I obviously represent the best parts of Hadrian’s wall, but I am also lucky enough to have Albemarle barracks in my constituency, where 39th Regiment Royal Artillery is based. In 2015 we will welcome a new regiment there, the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. I cannot say specifically whether those individual armed forces personnel will be affected by the Bill, and it would be wrong of me to inquire about the specifics in advance of the Bill’s implementation. However, given the nature of those battalions, there will in all probability be individuals who are affected by it. My constituency also has RAF Spadeadam, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). The individuals who work in those facilities for the armed forces will be assisted by the Bill.

The covenant was established under this Government in May 2011. As we know, it is based on the principles of removing disadvantage from serving personnel in relation to access to public and commercial services. It also allows special provision in relation to access for the injured and the bereaved. Part of the ongoing process, which, I am pleased to say, this Government as a coalition have set up, is to address that relationship. If Members have not read the two reports on the military covenant, they really should look at them. The 2012 armed forces annual covenant report, which runs to almost 100 pages, provides a proper and detailed breakdown of the relationship between the state and the armed forces. There have been significant achievements, of which this Bill is one, relating to, among other things, health care, the medical rehabilitation that we have seen so successfully carried out at Headley Court, and housing. Frankly, this Bill would not be coming to fruition today were it not for the armed forces covenant, the hard work of the various charities and the dedication of the Government to make a genuine difference to that relationship.

I speak as a fifth generation immigrant. With a name like Opperman, I have more Saxon than Anglo in me. I endorse entirely the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who said that one must look only at those who have fought on our behalf in the past to see why this Bill is so right. During the battle of Britain, there were 145 pilots from Poland, 32 Australians, 28 Belgians, 25 South Africans, 13 French and one each from Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend may be surprised that the French were fighting on our side, but there are times when they have assisted us. I am sure that President Hollande would be grateful for our assistance right now.

My point is that in our hour of ultimate need in the second world war, it was not just British citizens who were protecting us and fighting against the Nazis, but a large number of men and women from many different countries. To deny those who had fought in the battle of Britain the ability to have British citizenship is abhorrent.

As my hon. Friend mentions the Polish contribution to the battle of Britain, it is worth putting on the record that they came here in huge numbers and served our country with great bravery. Subsequently, we did not deal very fairly with their country. Let us pay tribute to our Polish friends. We should remember their contribution when people talk about Polish immigration now. We should always reflect on what they did for our country in the 1940s.

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. It is right that we not only have a sensible discussion about immigration, but acknowledge that the communities from Poland have a great deal to offer this country and have contributed greatly not only in the past few years but down the generations. He will be interested to know that in the battle of Britain, of all the overseas troops who fought on behalf of Great Britain to defend us against the Nazis in the most pivotal and important aerial battle that there has ever been, the highest number of pilots was from Poland—higher than New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Ireland. The Polish were the largest number by a significant degree. How we approach immigration must be measured and fair. We accept the brightest and the best, and we ensure that there is no exploitation. We must accept that they made a great contribution in the past and continue to do so, and I welcome what he said.

In my constituency of Woking, we have a Muslim burial ground, which, I am pleased to say, will be renovated in time for the commemorations of the great war. It was built to house the remains and give proper dignity to, and proper commemoration of, the sacrifices made by those from the Indian sub-continent. Indian soldiers or those from modern-day Pakistan who served in the great war are commemorated there. We are talking about the new Commonwealth as well as the old Commonwealth and the European countries that served alongside our Great British forces in both of those great wars.

As significant tribute has now been paid to the respective immigrant communities of the United Kingdom, and that is perfectly right, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), I am sure, will now wish to focus with a laser-like precision on the contents of the Bill as it stands at Third Reading.

Mr Speaker, I am delighted to say that you have prompted me to say that I am in the last minute or so of my speech. I could not finish, notwithstanding your strong instruction on matters of international domain, without pointing out that crucially this Bill will affect the 9,000 foreign and Commonwealth troops who are serving in our armed forces, 200 of whom are expected to fall foul of the five-year rule. It would be totally wrong of this House in the 21st century to allow a situation in which those 200 or 300 are disadvantaged and not treated as equals. They are no different from those troops who have so bravely served us in the past.

It is worth noting that the Bill has the support of not just the Home Office but the Ministry of Defence. On 11 July 2013, our Minister of State for Defence, who was then responsible for personnel, welfare and veterans, said:

“There has been a long tradition of Commonwealth citizens serving in the British armed forces and most recently on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We continue to value their service which provides an important contribution in defending the UK at home and abroad.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 31WS.]

That is one reason why I believe my Bill is so important.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord) on bringing this Bill forward. I also pay tribute to our armed forces for the job they do on behalf of our country. The armed forces covenant, which is fully supported by Labour, enshrines in law the principle that no one who serves in the armed forces should face disadvantage as a result of their decision to do so. The covenant also recognises the need to provide special treatment where that is necessary to prevent such disadvantage from happening.

The private Member’s Bill before us has the full support of my party. Our only regret is that the Government did not include the provisions in the Immigration Bill, as they could have done. That would have allowed Members to table amendments on other categories of people who may also deserve special consideration. Those points were made in Committee, and there is no need to repeat them at length.

The core principle of the Bill is undoubtedly right, namely that foreign and Commonwealth personnel serving in our armed forces should not be disadvantaged if they wish to apply for naturalisation as British citizens because of time served overseas. The number who will be eligible under the provisions is relatively small. The hon. Gentleman estimates that to be a couple of hundred, but we are interested to know the Government’s latest estimates of what that number might be, and also what the estimated number of dependants might be. I hope, too, that the Government will allow the Bill to operate retrospectively, so that people who have already served overseas in the armed forces may also benefit from the new provisions if they come into law.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked whether a person injured in service would be disadvantaged if they were unable to complete a tour of service and left the armed forces early. She cited the example of a soldier from Ghana who was able to complete only two years’ service before being medically discharged owing to injuries incurred while he carried out his military duties. Because he had not completed infantry training before his medical discharge, which was a stipulation of his visa, he was detained and removal directions were set against him. It seems wrong that a concession was not given in that case, and I hope that, if the Bill becomes law, the Minister will introduce guidance so that similar cases, where the length of service is cut short by injury, do not result in such an outcome, which I consider to be both unfair and unjust.

I see no need to detain the House for long, as there is broad consensus on both sides that the Bill should proceed. Foreign and Commonwealth citizens who serve this country and our armed forces should not be placed at any disadvantage when applying for British citizenship compared with other applicants. It is right that the Bill corrects the existing anomaly in law. The Opposition welcome the provisions, and we give the Bill our full support.

My remarks will be relatively brief. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord). In his career in the House he has had remarkable success on private Members’ Bills, and if this one reaches the statute book, he will have been infinitely more successful than I ever was at getting a private Member’s Bill through. I am pleased that he chose this particular subject. He has steered the Bill well. At the end I will say a little about the Member of the House of Lords—as I believe we are now allowed to call it in this House—who will steer the Bill in the other place.

I join my hon. Friend, not in a full tribute, because that would test your patience, Mr Speaker, but in a tribute none the less to the foreign and Commonwealth members of our armed forces. The 1st Battalion The Rifles is based in my constituency at Beachley barracks, and a number of foreign and Commonwealth personnel have served on the battalion’s operational tours in Afghanistan. I have met those foreign and Commonwealth personnel, and they are as dedicated and committed as British citizens are to defending our country and serving Her Majesty the Queen.

It is right that the Bill addresses a matter on which those personnel could be disadvantaged by giving the Home Secretary the necessary discretion. The change is indeed small but sensible, and it is not insignificant. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) put it very well: it is a small Bill with a big heart. That phrase deserves repeating.

The Bill enables us to remove the disadvantage faced by those forces and ex-forces personnel who happened to be outside the United Kingdom serving their country on day one of the five-year qualifying period for naturalisation. The Bill gives the Home Secretary the necessary discretion to overlook the current requirement in schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981. The hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) asked whether the Bill is retrospective, and it is to that extent. Once the Bill is enacted, for anyone applying for naturalisation we will look back five years to what they were doing at that time, and the Bill will enable the Home Secretary to use her discretion, where appropriate, to overlook absences for service. The Bill will benefit people as soon as it gets on to the statute book. We will not have to wait five years for it to kick in, which is very helpful.

In the Home Office we take our responsibilities under the armed forces covenant very seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) set out the background, so I will not test your patience by repeating it, Mr Speaker. We have been steadily pursuing a range of measures to improve how the Home Office deals with our foreign and Commonwealth personnel. Briefly, we have implemented new immigration rules for armed forces families, which include a number of practical improvements such as a five-year visa, a dedicated application form and the ability to make applications from overseas. The Army Families Federation said in its statement in the armed forces covenant annual report 2013 that the rules will

“address many of the inequalities that Foreign and Commonwealth families have been experiencing”.

The federation has been working closely with us and colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, and I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), is here today, because it demonstrates the Ministry of Defence’s close working with the Home Office. We have implemented the rules by having a transitional period in which those already on a route to settlement will be able to complete that route under the existing rules, and there will be clear rules for new foreign and Commonwealth service personnel.

Going back to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the hon. Member for Croydon North, we are not expecting a huge number of applications from forces personnel benefiting from the measure. We expect, anecdotally, some 200 to 300 cases a year of people who have served to naturalise as British citizens. Not all of those cases will require discretion, but where they do—even if there is only one case—it is right that someone who has served in our armed forces should benefit, and I am pleased that the Bill will enable that to happen.

We have had support for the Bill from the Army Families Federation, which has said that it will make

“a big difference to the…soldiers and their spouses who are currently prohibited from applying for Citizenship because they were serving overseas or were on operations at the start of the…period.”

The federation said that the current rule has been

“disproportionately disadvantaging members of HM Forces…and the AFF is fully supportive of the…changes”.

The other organisation, already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, is Veterans Aid, which warmly welcomes the change. Veterans Aid works for a range of former service personnel, and it works very hard for those who have had mental illness. I worked closely with the organisation when I was a shadow Defence Minister, and it works closely with foreign and Commonwealth personnel who have fallen foul of the system. Indeed, I met Dr Hugh Milroy, the organisation’s excellent chief executive, just yesterday to talk through some of the issues, and he has a very close working relationship both with my officials and with officials in the Ministry of Defence. Veterans Aid does excellent casework to support former members of our armed forces, both British citizens and foreign and Commonwealth personnel .

The Bill will hopefully get a fair wind today. It will then pass, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking said, to the steady hand of our noble Friend Lord Trefgarne, who of course had six years’ experience as a Defence Minister in the 1980s, so he is well briefed on defence issues, and I know that this matter is close to his heart. He is also experienced in the equivalent Friday sessions in the House of Lords, and he will be expert in steering both this Bill and, assisting our noble Friend Lord Dobbs, the European Union (Referendum) Bill through the House of Lords. I hope that the Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill will rapidly pass through the House of Lords and receive Royal Assent.

We have listened to the organisations that represent members of the armed forces, and will continue to work with them. The Bill does justice to those who have served our country from foreign and Commonwealth countries that support our armed forces. I am pleased to give the Government’s support to the Bill, which I hope will receive Third Reading today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.