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Uk Passports: Eligibility

Volume 621: debated on Monday 29 January 2001

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2.48 p.m.

What qualifies a child born in the United Kingdom to hold a British passport.

My Lords, a person born in the United Kingdom will become a British citizen automatically and be eligible for a British passport if, at the time of the birth, either parent (or the mother in the case of an illegitimate child) is a British citizen or settled in the United Kingdom. A child who does not become British at birth may qualify for citizenship later; for instance, if a parent acquires citizenship.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. If under the 1981 Act only the nationality of the father is relevant when the parents are married, what is the case when the parents of a child born in the United Kingdom are living together but not married, and the father is of British nationality but the mother is not? In any case, what part, if any, does the nationality of the grandparents play in all this?

My Lords, I am not aware that the nationality of the grandparents plays a significant part. The determining factor is the citizenship of the parents and the need for a close and enduring connection with the United Kingdom through the parents.

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House what criteria must be met by applicants who are not born in this country? For example, must they be of high repute in their country of origin?

My Lords, we expect all British citizens to be of high repute.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that my grandchildren Virginia and Christopher were born in America of English parents and, therefore, hold US passports? In order to qualify for British passports must they surrender their American passports? Had they been born in an EU country, would they have had Italian, German or French passports?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that simple question, of which I should have liked advance notice. I shall reflect carefully on the matter and give the noble Baroness a fuller reply in writing.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether a child born in this country to an asylum seeker who has been given exceptional leave to remain is entitled to a British passport, bearing in mind that the asylum seeker may no longer possess the nationality of his country of origin? Without wishing to become embroiled in the present controversy, can the Minister say how long it takes to issue a British passport following an individual's application for naturalisation?

My Lords, I do not have the answer to the noble Lord's second question. I shall happily make some investigations and provide a response. One would not expect a child born to someone who had been granted exceptional leave to remain to be given British citizenship. If the individual had settled status and was entitled to indefinite leave to remain the position would be very different. It may well be that in such a case the child would qualify for British citizenship.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many noble Lords appreciate the difficulties to which this Question gives rise and will receive letters afterwards? I have received a letter from a medical student who has been granted asylum and has almost completed the process of naturalisation, having paid the fee and applied for a passport in November. That individual must spend two months abroad for the purposes of medical studies but it appears that the passport will not arrive in time to enable that to happen. Can any other documentation be used to travel abroad in such a case?

My Lords, the noble Baroness rather suggests that this is not a matter with which I can deal easily at the Dispatch Box. I prefer to deal with the inquiry in writing and forward it to the appropriate part of the Home Office.

My Lords, I should like to press the Minister further on his response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell. Is a child born here of a British father and a foreign mother automatically entitled to British citizenship in right of the father, even if the parents are unmarried?

My Lords, I should like to take a closer look at the details. I do not want to place on record information which may turn out to be false or misleading. I much prefer to discover the exact position in the circumstances. I shall place a copy of the correspondence with my noble friend in the Library and, according to the usual courtesies, provide a copy to the noble Lord.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that these questions illustrate the difficulty that many noble Lords experience in trying to give advice to correspondents on these subjects? To put a simple question, does the Minister recall that when the law was changed so as to provide that a child born in the United Kingdom acquired British citizenship only if one or both parents were British citizens, or, in the case of an illegitimate child, the mother, it was predicted that a number of cases of statelessness would arise? Can the noble Lord tell the House how many children born in the United Kingdom since that change in the law have become stateless and what their ultimate fate will be?

My Lords, the point that the noble Lord raises was made powerfully in the early 1980s when the 1981 Act came into force. It was thought by some critics that the legislation would lead to a considerable number of stateless persons. That has not transpired. I shall furnish the noble Lord with some further correspondence on the precise statistics.