On 27th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in the first day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Gloucester, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham, spoke in support of an amendment to regulations around children’s citizenship, and administrative costs associated with citizenship applications:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I will speak on Amendment 13 on behalf of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who sadly cannot be in the House until later today. He wishes to declare his interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register. The following words are his, but I will say that I wholeheartedly agree with every one of them.
My interest comes from my ongoing engagement in this House with issues concerning children and ensuring that their best interests are central to legislation. The Government should be doing everything they can to ensure that all children in the UK have the opportunity to thrive. We should be working to remove barriers that they may face in seeking to reach their full potential. The current British citizenship registration fees create a barrier for many children to being and feeling fully part of society.
The effect on a person of being excluded from the citizenship of their home country, of where they have been born and to which they are entitled, is deeply alienating. It is simply unacceptable for a group of people living in the UK to be alienated in this way. It is not good for individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. There should not be people unable to access their rights simply because of ability to pay. Children in particular should not have reduced rights because their parents cannot afford to pay for registration—especially when these costs are generating profit for the Home Office and are not purely to cover administrative costs. This simply cannot be justified.
We cannot continue to have a situation where thousands of children grow up in the UK believing that, since they were born here and have a British birth certificate, they have citizenship. It is only when they reach adulthood that they discover that they are not recognised by their Government as belonging to the country they call home. More needs to be done to raise awareness in communities of the right to British citizenship and how to exercise it.
I support this amendment because I want every person to feel valued, recognised and included in our society and to be given every chance to thrive and take a full part in it.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Rosser (Lab): I express too our support for Amendment 13, in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, with notable cross-party support from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. As has been said, to say that my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett has been tenacious on this issue would be the understatement of the year; she has been rather more than that.
The amendment tabled by my noble friend addresses a current fee policy that charges people who have the right to register for citizenship exorbitant amounts to do so. As has been said, the amendment does not ask the Government to scrap the fee for application; it simply requires the fee not to be higher than the actual cost of the registration process. As has been said, this means it could be fixed at a considerably lower level or there could be no fee at all.
In particular, I add our strong support for measures to reduce the cost for children to register their citizenship, which they have as much right to access as any Member of this House, and to remove the cost completely, certainly for children in our care. Although the Government have repeatedly resisted this change, it is not without Cabinet support, as has been said. After all, the Health Secretary has described the fees as
“a huge amount of money to ask children to pay”.
I repeat that these costs are levied against children who are born here, grew up here and go to school here but who, unlike their classmates, are not automatically British at birth. Surely it is the will of this Parliament and our nationality law that those children are entitled to citizenship after certain conditions are met. But, in reality, that right is being denied for at least some—probably many—because it is just too expensive for them to access. The Government have already been asked for information on the numbers who have been denied citizenship on the basis that the fees are too high. I am not sure whether we are going to get a response to that point.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester speaking on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for tabling Amendment 13; and to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling Amendments 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 18 and 22 on fees charged for applications for British citizenship and British Overseas Territories citizenship. My noble friend the Minister would also like to place on record her thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for engaging with her on this subject in various meetings.
I first turn to the amendments put forward by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. You will be aware of the importance that application fees play in the funding of the migration and borders system, which has been noted in this debate, and that this income is vital to reduce the reliance on taxpayer funding and run a sustainable immigration system. Immigration and nationality fees are set in fees regulations, which are laid before Parliament and subject to the negative procedure. I hope that answers a number of noble Lords’ questions. If we were to remove or amend fees during the passage of the Bill, it would undermine the existing legal framework without proper consideration of the sustainability of the system and fairness to the UK taxpayer. Not only that, but it would create an alternative mechanism for controlling fees, which would reduce the clarity of the fee structure.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, I am of course aware that similar provisions were considered in the other place. We are sympathetic to the view that a fee should not be charged where a person missed out on becoming a British citizen due to historical anomalies.
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