After Clause 12, insert the following new clause—
"BRITISH CITIZENSHIP: REGISTRATION OF CERTAIN PERSONS BORN BETWEEN 1961 AND 1983
(1) The following shall be inserted after section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61) (registration as British citizen)—
"4C ACQUISITION BY REGISTRATION: CERTAIN PERSONS BORN BETWEEN 1961 AND 1983
(1) A person is entitled to be registered as a British citizen if—
(a) he applies for registration under this section, and
(b) he satisfies each of the following conditions.
(2) The first condition is that the applicant was born after 7th February 1961 and before 1st January 1983.
(3) The second condition is that the applicant would at some time before 1st January 1983 have become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of section 5 of the British Nationality Act 1948 (c. 56) if that section had provided for citizenship by descent from a mother in the same terms as it provided for citizenship by descent from a father.
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(4) The third condition is that immediately before 1st January 1983 the applicant would have had the right of abode in the United Kingdom by virtue of section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) had he become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies as described in subsection (3) above."
(2) In section 14(1) of that Act (meaning of British citizen "by descent"), in paragraph (d) after the words "section 4B" (as substituted by section 12(2) of this Act) there shall be inserted ", 4C"."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, under the nationality legislation in force before 1983, British women were unable to transmit their citizenship to any children born abroad. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, they are now able to do so on equal terms with men. Anticipating this development, the then Home Secretary announced on 7th February 1979 that he would use his discretion under the British Nationality Act 1948 to confer citizenship by registration on any foreign-born children of women born in the United Kingdom, provided they were still minors on the date of application. The practice continued after the commencement of the 1981 Act in respect of the children of British women born before commencement, since the change I have described did not have retrospective effect.
However, the scope of the discretion to confer citizenship in this way continued to be limited by statute to those who were still under the age of 18 when they applied for it. Inevitably, some of those born to British women before 1983 remained ignorant of the option of registration, or learned of it too late to take advantage. Such people may now be excluded from the United Kingdom and thus from contact with their families here, because there is no specific provision in our immigration rules for their admission. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has spoken persuasively in favour of a permanent provision that would enable them, at last, to acquire the citizenship they would have had automatically had their ancestral connection with the UK been through the male rather than the female line. We have listened to the arguments, and this amendment is the result.
The Government's amendment would confer an entitlement to registration as a British citizen, exercisable by application, on any person born after 7th February 1961 and before 1st January 1983 who, but for gender discrimination in the previous legislation, would have acquired British citizenship automatically when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on the latter of those two dates. The provision would thus cover any person who, had he or she applied while still a minor, would have benefited from the policy on discretionary registration announced on 7th February 1979. By that I mean that if the person had been born on or before 7th February 1961 he would have been too old, by 7th February 1979, to be registered at the Secretary of State's discretion. In this respect the provision would be similar to that contained in Amendment No. 16, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, at Committee stage.
However, there must be a cut-off point. British women did not acquire the right to pass on their citizenship until 1983. One can only go so far towards righting the wrongs of history before the number of
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"what ifs" to be taken into account becomes unmanageable. Because
of the way our amendment is drafted, the removal of the words "after 7th
February 1961" would simply mean that the person would need to have been
born on or after 1st January 1949 to benefit. That would no doubt appear entirely
arbitrary to someone born to a British mother on 31st December 1948. As I have
sought to explain, there is a certain logic behind our selection of 7th February
1961 as the cut-off point.
Our amendment also proposes—again, consistent with the Committee stage amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury— that any person so registered would become a British citizen by descent. The aim would be to place the person in the same position, as regards transmissibility of his citizenship to a further generation born abroad, as he would have been in had British citizenship been acquired automatically on commencement of the 1981 Act. I beg to move.
Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 2, Amendment No. 2A:
Line 11, leave out "after 7th February 1961 and"
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for
the careful attention that he has given to our representations at Committee
stage, at two meetings held during the summer, and on Report. I feel a little
like Oliver Twist in coming back to ask for just an extra soupçon. If
I can explain why, your Lordships will see that there is a logic in what we
are now asking for.
As the Minister, Miss Beverley Hughes, said to me in a letter dated yesterday, the amendment confers,
"an entitlement to registration as a British citizen, exercisable by application to the Secretary of State, on any person born between 6 February 1961 and 1 January 1983 who, but for the sexual discrimination in the British Nationality Act 1948, would have acquired British citizenship automatically when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on the latter of those two dates. The provision would thus cover any person who, had he or she applied whilst still a minor, would have benefited from the policy on discretionary registration announced on 7 February 1979. In this respect it would be similar to that proposed in your amendment no. 16 at Committee stage".
As the Minister will recall, however, our Amendment No. 88 was rather more
ambitious. As I said then, at col. 476 of the Official Report of 8th July 2002,
we believe that that amendment was much the better of the two solutions. When
it appeared that we might get something for the pre-1983 children, we settled
on a formula that was intended to remove gender discrimination for the whole
of this group of persons irrespective of their date of birth, and that was the
plea that we made to the Minister at the two meetings to which I referred, as
well as in correspondence and in our amendment at Report stage.
We understand that when the then government made their concession in 1979, it applied to persons who were under the age of majority at the time, and that this was the reason for the February 1961 cut-off date. It was assumed, I imagine, that anyone older
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than that would have established residence under the more generous regime that
existed up to the time of the 1962 Act and thus could have satisfied the criteria
for naturalisation. However, there was no logic in removing gender discrimination
against children while keeping it against adults, even in 1981, and it would
be inconceivable if we were to do this consciously today under a Government
who are committed to the promotion of equality.
We would be saying that if you were born abroad to a British father and a foreign mother, you always got British citizenship automatically. If it was the other way round, and your mother was British, under the 1981 Act, your parents had the right to register you when you were a minor. We now recognise that an injustice was done to people whose mothers did not realise they had this right, so we will give them a new right to apply as adults. However, if you were born earlier than February 1961, you did not have any right under the 1981 Act and you are not going to have any right now as a result of this legislation.
The arrangements have the curious result that some people now get the right to apply for British citizenship for the first time since they became adults, while their siblings with exactly the same family circumstances are left out in the cold. Mr Michael Turberville—chairman of Campaign, about which the Minister will be aware from the correspondence we sent him—tells me that about one third of his 150 members will be excluded, including three of his own siblings. Our amendment removes this anomaly and the residual discrimination inherent in the government amendment.
There is no likelihood of any knock-on effect from this amendment on the rest of nationality law, and the number of people who might benefit from it is a few hundred at the most. This is a very small concession we are asking for. I appeal to the Minister to go this extra inch to comply with the principle of gender equality. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, there are occasions when the soupçon offered by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is to the taste of these Benches, and this is one example. I hope that the Minister—who has, and continues to show, such commendable patience in the passage of this Bill—will consider this amendment seriously.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I have come to the conclusion that, in supporting this amendment, I must declare an interest. The amendment directly affects one of my pupils, whose son is now a rising journalist on the Financial Times and may well be following these proceedings with rather more even than his usual high standards of attention.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, when I feel some sympathy—as I do on this occasion—for an amendment moved from the Liberal Democrat Benches, I reflect, in a manner perhaps suitable to the matters giving rise to this amendment, that of the six
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members of my family who have sat in the House of Commons since the Great Reform Bill, the first four were Liberals and only my father and myself were Conservatives. I have sympathy for Amendment No. 2A. I state that to indicate that there are other corners of the House that support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, as the House will well know, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has made repeated and powerful representations on these issues. Indeed, he made them so persuasively after we announced the change in the summer that we have moved Amendment No. 2. We have carefully considered the points that he has made to us in his representations today and previously. I regret that, for the reasons that I gave in moving Amendment No. 2, we believe that the 1961 cut-off date is reasonable. One can go only so far back in seeking to right the wrongs of history and of previous generations. Therefore, with regret, I cannot accommodate him on this occasion.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I can see no objective reason why the Government cannot go back to 1948, just as they went back to 1961 in the previous legislation. However, after so many rounds of discussion both on the Floor of the House and outside it, I am clearly not going to be able to persuade the Minister to accept this amendment at this late stage. I can only hope that, when another place comes to consider the Bill and sees the general support for this amendment from both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and the Conservative Party, it will be minded to make this small change to the Bill. By that time, the Government will have had plenty of opportunity to look into the issue and to agree to the change. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 2A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 2, by leave, withdrawn.