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Citizenship: Legislative Framework

Volume 709: debated on Monday 28 February 2022

While we do not plan a wider review, the Nationality and Borders Bill will make several changes to the British Nationality Act 1981, allowing people to acquire citizenship where they had previously been unable to do so because of historical anomalies.

It is often overlooked that this political state shares a common travel area with our neighbours across the sheuch, as some of us would call it. I dare say that, from citizenship frameworks to asylum policy, this Government have a lot to learn from Ireland about implementing humane and just policy for those coming to the UK. What steps, if any, has the Department taken in recent days to learn from the best practice seen in the Republic of Ireland in terms of its legislative frameworks for citizenship?

We always look at the practices in other countries, and I would point out that our visitor route is more generous than the equivalent in the Republic of Ireland. I am actually meeting an Irish Minister later today. We are looking at how we can amend nationality law to make processing slightly easier so that we no longer need to look into people’s past immigration history, but we have already done that recently in relation to a grant of indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

I congratulate the Government on changing the rules last week with regard to Commonwealth soldiers, who will no longer have to pay for their citizenship if they have served for six years. That was a great decision and I thank the Government very much for it. Does the Minister agree that similar flexibility will be needed in the near future with regard to Afghan refugees who are based here? A young family came to see me in my surgery last Saturday. They are now well settled, but they are concerned about how long it will take them to get citizenship. And of course, quite soon, similar questions will be raised with regard to Ukrainians.

A lot of nationality law is in primary legislation, which limits some of the flexibility we have, but we will certainly be happy to consider what we can do to support those who want to take that step to become British citizens.

On 8 August last year, the Home Office sent a family from Halifax back to Afghanistan on a voluntary return flight. That family felt they had no choice but to apply for the voluntary return scheme, having had their claim for asylum refused the year before. Kabul fell to the Taliban just seven days later, on 15 August. The family have three children—the youngest is just five years old. Can the Minister explain how the Home Office could ever have allowed this to happen? Can he confirm whether this has happened to others? Can he put on record that the five-year re-entry ban, which would ordinarily apply to someone who leaves the country via the voluntary return scheme, will not apply in these appalling circumstances?

I am obviously interested to hear of the case that the shadow Minister raises, and I would be interested to meet her to discuss it further, particularly if the family is in Afghanistan, as it may not be appropriate to share the details on the Floor of the House. I would be happy to meet her and have a conversation about the circumstances of that case.