Bishop of Derby on the meaning and cost of citizenship

On 12th June 2018 the House of Lords debated the motion ‘That this House regrets that the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2018 include a £39 increase in the fee for registering children entitled to British citizenship, given that only £372 of the proposed £1,012 fee is attributable to administrative costs; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to withdraw the fee increase until they have (1) published a children’s best interests impact assessment of the fee level, and (2) established an independent review of fees for registering children as British citizens, in the light of the report of the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement (HL Paper 118) (SI 2018/330)’. The Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke in the debate: 

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I will not go into the mathematics—which are very simple, in a way—but I invite the Minister to help us understand the Government’s role in dealing with citizenship. This is about citizenship, not immigration, although sometimes they are linked.

All of us were probably born into citizenship—that is, children become citizens in our country. Obviously, there has to be a system looking at qualification if people come here by other routes. Citizenship is the privilege that glues a country together and enables a Government to have a culture of law and order that people respect and work in and where they support each other. In a market-driven economy, the role of citizenship is even more important because the market will cover some things, but you need a lot of energy and commitment underneath to look after people, look out for them and go the extra mile. There is enormous evidence of social breakdown, including the breakdown of families and communities, isolation and alienation, one of the causes of which seems to be what I call a “citizenship deficit”—that is, many people are not public-spirited, wanting to be citizens with others and live in a joined-up way for a common good.

Noble Lords will know that church people in particular give millions of hours every month to voluntary activity to improve the life of the community. That is what citizenship is: going the extra mile. Many others do this, not just church people. People engaged in such work could give lots of examples of how the civic energy that we need to offer welfare, support, friendship and kindness to make human life more bearable is under stress more and more. We need more recruits. The challenge facing the Government is to create a culture where citizenship is good, creative and worth while.

This issue points to the giving of signals that increase the citizenship deficit. I want to tell two stories from my diocese. I could take you to a parish where an Australian family with three children who were all born here, who have lived over half their lives in this country, claim citizenship. They could afford to pay, so there was not that kind of struggle, but from knowing the family I know that they feel insulted and undervalued. They are citizens living among citizens and making contributions, but suddenly they have to find quite a lot of money to register that.

More poignantly, there is an enormously poor Nigerian family in the parish. They struggle tremendously. Their children are entitled to become citizens, but the fees are way above their possibility. Local church people work hard to try to raise the money, but it is a double whammy: the people becoming citizens feel that the state does not want people to be part of it—it has no commitment to them, so why should they commit to the state?—and all the people of good will who raised the money think, “Golly, what is happening to citizenship in our country, when it is not a right that can benefit society, but some kind of financial transaction that people struggle to meet?”.

If we are not careful, we give out a message that society is just a heap of things that have to raise money to pay the costs of things. A rich society is one in which we give ourselves to each other, generously, graciously and compassionately—that is what citizenship is about. If we cannot induct children into that culture, but give the contrary message that it is a very expensive privilege, and then you just live for yourself, or that very poor people cannot afford to be citizens despite their legal rights and their participation in communities, then I think we are contributing through this scheme to the citizenship deficit and the continuing disintegration of our society.

This is a key signal to give to people that citizenship is precious, that it counts, that it is worth while and should be welcomed. We need Governments to be generous in that direction and certainly not to make a profit by enabling people to participate in that privilege.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, in welcoming strongly what the right reverend Prelate said, does he not agree that, in the breakdown of society, what is repeatedly demonstrated is that children need to belong? There has to be a culture, an overwhelming culture, of being wanted and belonging, and if that is not there, disintegration increases. Does he not also agree that, in the kind of society he is talking about, phrases such as “hostile environment” have absolutely no place, because they generate the wrong kind of context?

The Lord Bishop of Derby: I would be very happy to say that belonging is what it is about—that is what a citizen is. It is about belonging, not just to your close family but to your community, your society and your state. We want people to feel proud of that, to feel welcome and fully participative.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talked about belonging and helping people to be proud to be British, to be proud of this country and to want to be a part of it and contribute to it. I spent this afternoon with foster carers. Church groups around this country have recognised the need of the children of this country for foster carers and adoptive parents and work with their congregations to recruit more vital placements for those young people. These congregations are reaching out to the vulnerable, mostly from impoverished backgrounds, to take them into their homes.

Baroness Manzoor: Of course, some migrants, like my parents, may wish to become citizens, reflecting that they have spent most of their lives here and are committed to this country—I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby that citizenship is important as a part of civil society. That is something that we should welcome. I speak as someone who was born abroad but is now very proud to call myself British.

Via Parliament.UK

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