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British Citizenship

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why individuals born after 1961 to a British mother and a father who is not a British national are entitled to British citizenship but those born before 1961 are not.

My Lords, before 1983, women were unable to pass on their citizenship in the same way as men. On 7 February 1979, a concession was announced that the children of UK-born mothers aged under 18 could apply to be registered as British citizens. In 2003, we introduced a provision to register the adult children of UK-born mothers who were born after 7 February 1961. Those born before that date could not have benefited under the 1979 concession.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but since the legislation in 2003 the situation has changed. Thousands of people with no connection whatever with the United Kingdom have been granted British nationality but this group continues to be discriminated against, on the basis not only of which of their parents were British, but of age. What is the justification for continuing that situation? Will the Minister undertake to look at it carefully to see what can be done to change it, and at least deal sympathetically with any individuals with a clear British connection who wish to become British nationals?

My Lords, I certainly understand the point that the noble Lord is making. Of course, it is within the facility of anyone who has a British connection that goes back over—I think—five years to apply for naturalisation. Many of those who will not otherwise have received the benefit of the 2002-03 amendment may well benefit from that. In the end, I go back to my noble friend Lord Filkin, who explained the position thus in 2002:

“One can only go so far towards righting the wrongs of history before the number of ‘what ifs’ to be taken into account becomes unmanageable”.—[Official Report, 31/10/02; cols. 295-96.]

They were wise words then, and today.

My Lords, in that speech the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, called this one of the “wrongs of history” and when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, answered a similar question in 2006 she said that the problem was,

“sexism and nothing else as far as I am concerned”.—[Official Report, 7/2/06; col. 630.]

Since neither Minister gave any logical or substantive reason for refusing the request, is there some ulterior reason why the Government are denying the right to register as British citizens to older siblings born to British mothers overseas? Can the Minister come clean and tell us what it is?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am one such person, born of a British mother and a father who was not a British national? I took the precaution of marrying a Brit and in that way became registered as a British citizen.

My Lords, the Minister said a moment ago that he did not have an ulterior motive. Nevertheless, there must be some motive; he cannot be completely irrational. Can he tell the House what it is?

My Lords, I fear this is becoming a very forensic Question. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that point. My noble friend Lord Filkin got it about right; there is no absolute and precise science to this. The noble Lord’s Government brought a degree of rationality to it, but at some stage you need to have a cut-off point, and we determined that to be the best possible one in the circumstances.

My Lords, why should the cut-off point be 1961 rather than 1948, when the British Nationality Act was introduced? Is the Minister aware that the class involved is closed, because no new people can be added to it? It is a very small one, and I can see no possible problem with allowing them to enter the United Kingdom. Is the Minister further aware that I have tabled an amendment to the UK Borders Bill to raise this issue again?

My Lords, I was aware that that was a likelihood, and I do not doubt that it will fall to me to deal with it as well. Whether I shall deal with it any more convincingly on that occasion than I am doing this afternoon I am not sure.

My Lords, in response to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Higgins, the Minister referred to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, saying that one can go only thus far, without giving any reasons why the particular point that they had reached was chosen. Why did the Government select, in the words of the noble Baroness who is now the Leader of the House, a sexist solution?

My Lords, I do not think that they did in that way. The Conservative Government in the early 1980s tried to rationalise the situation and take the sexist element—if you like—out of it.

My Lords, further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, can the Minister spell out whether there is any difference in the residence criteria, first, for British citizenship, secondly, for a British taxpayer and, thirdly, for membership of this House?

My Lords, that is a good one; usually I ask for notice of questions like that. I am going to fall back on the old standby and say that I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, that is a good question, to which I do not have an answer. I had anticipated the question, but briefing on that point there was none. We think the number cannot be vast, because of the number of those making an application who fall within the criteria, which is an average of about 3,000 a year. As I explained at the outset, those who have been resident here for some time can apply for naturalisation, and I suspect that is how most people resolve any difficulties that arise.