My Lords, this is a short Bill and one that has a clear objective—to confirm in law specific past policy and operational practice under which European Economic Area nationals in exercise of a free movement right in the UK were treated as “without restriction” on the period for which they could remain in the UK—or “free from immigration time restrictions”, as it is often referred to.
At the outset, I make it very clear that this Bill is in no way related to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. Rather, the issues that this Bill seeks to address have arisen separately as a result of domestic litigation and concern the rights of residents arising between 1 January 1983 and 1 October 2000 in England, Wales and Scotland, with slight differences in the Channel Islands, as we will hear.
Individuals who are free from immigration time restrictions can apply to naturalise or register as British citizens where they meet the other statutory requirements to do so and, where they are also ordinarily resident, they are treated as settled for nationality purposes. The concept of settlement is an important one in nationality law. As many noble Lords will know, a child born in the United Kingdom to a settled parent is British automatically from birth. Thus the issue of whether an individual is settled has a knock-on effect on the citizenship of any children born to them in the United Kingdom. Recent litigation has exposed a legal technicality suggesting that European Economic Area nationals in exercise of a free movement right were not in fact settled, as long-standing policy had previously suggested, because it was said that their residence should always have been deemed subject to immigration time restrictions.
This has understandably led to concerns about the citizenship status of individuals born in the UK in the relevant period to parents exercising a free movement right who had always thought themselves British and been treated as such by successive Governments of both parties. Although it is impossible to calculate the exact numbers affected, as ONS data did not record the nationality or status of parents at that time, we estimate that around 167,000 people may have been born to EEA national mothers in the relevant period. When one considers that, given the passage of time, many of these individuals will themselves have had children in the UK, noble Lords will appreciate that ongoing uncertainty as to the citizenship status of such a large group is not something we wish to countenance. Legislating quickly and proactively to provide reassurance is plainly the right thing to do.
The Bill will operate by confirming in law the previous policy position. This will protect the nationality rights of people born in the United Kingdom to parents who were considered settled on the basis of exercising a free movement right, and those who were registered or naturalised as British citizens based on that policy. These individuals will not need to take any additional action; the Bill merely confirms the position they, and successive Governments, have always believed them to be in.
Noble Lords will note that the Bill also makes slightly different provision for the Crown dependencies. These jurisdictions fall within the territorial extent of the British Nationality Act, and people born there are automatically British citizens in the same way as those born on the mainland United Kingdom. But the Crown dependencies have their own legal systems, and there are variations in the times at which they treated EU citizens as being free from immigration restrictions. Accordingly, the Bill reflects these differences to ensure that someone who had a reasonable expectation, under previous published policy and operational practice, of being British, keeps that citizenship to which they rightly considered themselves entitled—and indeed as they have always hitherto been treated.
I think we can all agree that it is essential we provide all the individuals potentially impacted by this decision with legal certainty as to their citizenship status as soon as possible, so they can continue their lives with the same rights and entitlements they have always enjoyed. I place on record our gratitude to the usual channels and to all parties in the other place for the speedy facilitation of this legislation. I conclude by urging this Chamber to support the Bill’s quick passage, so we can do the right thing and put the citizenship status of the affected cohort beyond doubt as soon as possible. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear and helpful introduction. I do not wish to detain the House long in offering my full support for the Bill, which addresses a vital issue. I should declare half an interest: my wife is German, so we have dual nationality children. Obviously, they do not fall within the scope of this, but noble Lords will appreciate why I may be attracted to issues such as this. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and commend the Government for the proactive steps they have taken speedily to address this unusual technical issue within the existing legal framework.
I seek some assurances from the Minister about the process going forward. Will he give assurances to the House that anyone whose passport application may have been stalled in anticipation of this legislation will have their application expedited? Similarly, can he assure the House that once the Bill is passed into law, this information will be communicated quickly and effectively to officials, so that no one is adversely affected? This is particularly important, given that we have only a rough indication of the number of people directly affected by the Bill. The Minister cited 167,000, but how many children have they had?
Finally, on a wider point, are there any plans to review existing legislation to ensure that no others find themselves in similar circumstances?
My Lords, it is a privilege to say that the Liberal Democrats support the Bill and wish it a speedy progress. It may be somewhat illusory, of course, that a Home Office Bill should get the support of the House so speedily, but I am sure that this one is on the right path. It redresses the effect whereby people’s applications for citizenship, and those of their descendants, have fallen into limbo, an issue I will come back to shortly. I thank the Minister for making time for his officials to talk to me, and for answering all my various questions. The responses I got answered all the interesting issues which might come up.
There is the interesting case of the Crown dependencies, and the different dates is one of the issues we discussed. Of course, we know that, having different legal systems, they are obviously going to have different dates in the Bill in respect of when they completed that legislation.
The question of communicating with those affected by the Bill is one of great interest. Those who are making an application for the first time will have no knowledge that this has been a problem. There will be those who may be related to—perhaps descendants of—those who have been caught, from among the small number of people the Government know about, and who have made applications and had them held in limbo. There may also be others who have heard the information from relatives or friends, and who may be deterred from making an application for a passport because they think there is still a problem.
This is an issue for the Government, who need to make sure that this message is sent out and to ask those whom they know about to pass it on to their descendants and others. The information the Government provide online and through passport offices needs to be quite clear that there is no problem in this matter, should people think that there still is. The Bill will clear the pathway for the descendants—grandchildren in particular—where it is putting that right.
The Bill has retrospective effect because it is trying to be corrective and permissive. For those of us with an interest in whether a Bill should be made retrospective, it is very clear that these circumstances are different from those of another Bill that we will debate in a week or so which has retrospective measures for other purposes. Where the retrospection in this Bill is permissive and corrective, it is absolutely correct that it should be taken.
The Liberal Democrats will not table any amendments to the Bill. I wish it a very speedy progress through this House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. I agree with his first sentence: it is a short Bill with a clear objective and we in the Labour Party support it. Given that it is a short piece of legislation which codifies the long-standing policy position of the Home Office under successive Labour and Tory Governments, we see no need to offer any amendments and look forward to supporting its speedy enactment. In the meantime, we call on the Government to set out further detail on their plans on issues including: data collection on individuals potentially affected by the Bill; provision of information and support to affected individuals on passport applications; and the timing of implementation across the UK, its Crown dependencies and overseas territories.
First, what steps will the Government take to assess the number of people likely to be affected by the Bill? Will they work with the ONS to carry out further research and publish fuller sets of data on passport applications by affected individuals? What discussions has the Minister had with Administrations in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories on the implementation of the Bill? What assessment has he made of the number of people who may be affected in those areas?
Secondly, can the Minister tell us what advice will be made available to concerned members of the public, and to Members of this House making inquiries on their behalf, to ensure that they are provided with all the information they may need? The noble Lord, Lord German, raised this point.
Thirdly and finally, when will the processing of passport applications which were placed on hold in October 2022 be resumed? Given the delays these applications have already experienced, will there be an expedited process for dealing with them without further delay?
We agree that we need to put the citizenship of this group of people beyond doubt. We thank the Minister for facilitating today’s business and for the meetings that I had with his officials earlier in the week.
My Lords, I express my sincere gratitude to all noble Lords for their clear show of understanding of the importance of this legislation and its swift parliamentary passage. It is a very pleasing contrast to some other legislation. The swift passage of this legislation is essential to ensuring that we can provide legal certainty to the individuals affected at the earliest opportunity.
To respond to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and the noble Lord, Lord German, we expect the vast majority of people to benefit from this change without any interruption to them—possibly without their awareness. They will simply have considered themselves British and will continue to consider themselves British, to be British and to be able to renew their British passport. The Bill merely confirms in statute the position that they, and successive Governments, have always believed to be the case.
In answer to the point on communication, I confirm that we have already published a factsheet on GOV.UK and relevant guidance will be updated the moment the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are engaging with key external stakeholders such as the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, Amnesty International and the3million so that they can all update their websites, inform those whom they are in communication with and provide reassurance to their members. We have also briefed the European Union delegation and consular group so that they can provide advice to their citizens where necessary. His Majesty’s Passport Office is in direct communication with customers with paused cases—as of 15 June there were 106 such cases. It has already been informed about the introduction of the Bill and will be informed when it receives Royal Assent. As soon as the Bill is commenced, which will be immediately upon Royal Assent, those paused passport cases will be processed in an expedited fashion, as my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister made clear in the debate in the other place.
To respond to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the legal proceedings in question took place in October 2022—that is when the hearing happened—and judgment was handed down in January 2023. The Government took swift action to put the status of those affected beyond doubt and the Bill was introduced—as the noble Viscount will have seen—in the spring of this year. It was debated in the Commons on 6 June. In my submission, it was a very swift transition. The appreciation of the correct course was clear, and we are very grateful to all parties for the cross-party support which has enabled this Bill to pass so swiftly through Parliament.
I have already set out the other reasons why the Bill is necessary, and I will not reiterate them here. I thank all noble Lords who have supported the Bill, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, for their engagement with me. I also thank the Bill team, who have worked at pace to respond to this pressing issue as quickly and proactively as possible. I thank the authorities of the House and the usual channels for allowing it to be presented so swiftly.
To pick up a couple of points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in respect of reviewing the position in relation to ensuring that this does not happen again, the circumstances surrounding the decision in the Roehrig litigation were very unusual and very much based upon their own facts. However, that does not mean that we have not reflected on what has happened here. We rapidly identified the need to make the legal change; were such a situation to rise in the future, we would be prepared to make a similar arrangement, but we do not envisage that there will be such an issue.
I am grateful for the comments from the noble Lord, Lord German, in respect of the practically retrospective effects of the Bill. It is right that the application of the Bill should be as seamless as possible to the British citizens who may be affected.
I take this opportunity to thank the representatives from the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Amnesty International and the3million, who have worked collaboratively and fruitfully with government officials as the Bill has been developed. They also offered reassurance and provided updates on the Bill’s progress to their members.
In conclusion, these are sensible, fair and necessary measures that address a pressing issue, potentially spanning several generations of people with established ties to the United Kingdom. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House and beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 8.27 pm.