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British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 6 June 2023

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

I remind hon. Members that in Committee they should not address the Chair as Deputy Speaker. Please use our names. Madam Chair, Chair, Madam Chairman or Mr Chairman are also acceptable.

Clause 1

Immigration restrictions to be disregarded in certain cases

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Given the short nature of the Bill, I will not delay the Committee unduly, but I want to explain briefly the nature of the clauses.

Clause 1 amends the British Nationality Act 1981 to confirm that an individual exercising a free movement right in the UK in the relevant period was not subject to restrictions on the period for which they could remain. The aim of this clause is to provide legal certainty on the citizenship status of individuals born in the relevant period to a parent who was considered settled on the basis of living in the United Kingdom and exercising a free movement right here, or those who registered or naturalised based on that policy.

The clause does not create new British citizens where there would previously have been no reasonable expectation, on the basis of published policy and operational practice, of being British. It does not change anything for people who have always been considered British; rather, it simply confirms in law the position they have always been in. The clause does not necessitate that they make a separate application to become British and is not related to the UK’s departure from the European Union. This issue has arisen separately and has been highlighted by the recent domestic legislation.

For England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the remedial period is 1 January 1983 to 1 October 2000. That is the period between the British Nationality Act 1981 coming into force and the introduction by regulations of the requirement for European economic area nationals to have indefinite leave to be regarded as free from immigration time restrictions. During the remedial period, an EEA national was treated as settled in the UK if they were living here and exercising a free movement right. Clause 1 confirms that position.

The remedial periods specified in clause 1 are different in the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Those jurisdictions fall within the territorial extent of the BNA and people born there are automatically British citizens. However, the Crown dependencies have their own legal systems and there are variations in the times at which they treated EU citizens as free of immigration restrictions. Clause 1 reflects those differences to ensure that someone who had a reasonable expectation of being British under previous published policy or operational practice keeps the citizenship to which they thought they were entitled.

Clause 1(2) also specifies that the measures introduced by subsection (1) are to be treated as always having had effect. I understand that that approach is somewhat unusual, as it is usually right and proper that the consequences of past events can be understood in the context of the law as it stood at the time, not what it may become in the future, but the case for retrospection in this situation is clear.

Were the measures set out in clause 1 prospective only, it would mean that affected individuals would become British citizens only after the date when the measure came into force. That could have wide-ranging consequences for their ability to live, work and study in the UK, and may inadvertently leave individuals liable to repay benefits or healthcare costs to which they would not technically have been entitled at the time if they were not then, in law, a British citizen. It would also have knock-on effects for the children or family members of those affected individuals who became British citizens by virtue of their status.

It is clear, therefore, that in order to restore such individuals to the position that they and the Home Office have always considered them to be in, and to ensure that they suffer no adverse consequence through no fault of their own, the measures set out in clause 1 must be retrospective.

In conclusion, long-standing Government policy will now, by virtue of the Bill, be confirmed in law, thereby protecting the nationality status of people born in the UK to parents who were considered settled on the basis of exercising a free movement right, and those who registered or naturalised as British citizens based on that policy. That is clearly the right thing to do for the countless UK-born people who have long considered themselves to be British. For those reasons, I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Bill, not amended, considered.

Third Reading

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

If only all Home Office Bills were as smooth as this one. It is a pleasure to speak on Third Reading and to use this opportunity to thank my officials at the Home Office for the good work they have done in producing this Bill in quick time, which provides the legal certainty that a significant number of people in this country—our fellow citizens—deserve. It is absolutely right that we put their citizenship status beyond doubt as quickly as possible, so that they are in no way disadvantaged and can continue their lives with the same rights and entitlements they have always enjoyed.

I thank all those who have prioritised the passage of the Bill through the House, including the House authorities and the Bill team. I particularly thank representatives from the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and the3million, which have worked collaboratively and fruitfully with Government officials as the Bill has been developed.

I also thank the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) for their support, which is appreciated, and Members on both sides of the House who came today to represent cases that had arisen in their constituencies. They can now report to their constituents, as we all can, that this important matter is being resolved. For the reasons I have set out, I urge all Members to support the Bill in its passage to the other place.

I echo everything that the Minister has just said and add our thanks to his officials and all the key organisations that have played a role in shaping the Bill. I also want to say to the Minister that this is very much a one-off—this sort of outbreak of violent agreement is a bug, not a feature. As I have said, we on the Labour Benches are very happy to support the rapid facilitation of the Bill through Parliament.

I thank the Minister. This will perhaps be a lesson to him to bring forward Bills that he has consulted on and that are less contentious than those he usually brings to the House. I would also like to make him an offer: now that he has the whole afternoon free, I have 145 outstanding immigration cases that I would be happy to discuss with him.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.