All 9 contributions to the British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act 2024

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Tue 5th Mar 2024
British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill: Instruction
Commons Chamber

InstructionBritish Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill:
Wed 17th Apr 2024
Fri 24th May 2024
Fri 24th May 2024
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill

2nd reading
Friday 26th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Second Reading
12:52
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As a Back Bencher, the opportunity to table legislation of my own—to be able to proceed in this way with the leave of the House—is rare. Yes, we may question, challenge, probe, consider, support or oppose, but as a legislator the ability to legislate is constrained by the luck of the draw, the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. For nine years, I have dutifully signed the ballot book for private Members and thought not another moment about it. Then I saw you take that ball, Madam Deputy Speaker, and read that number.

Today, in securing this opportunity, I wish to place on record my appreciation of the House staff, the Library, the Home Office Minister, who has been courteous and engaging in meeting me, and his officials, the Government Whips, His Majesty’s Opposition and Members of Parliament representing all parties from Northern Ireland who have offered their support. To the Minister and his officials I say that what started as courteous may at times have become frustrating when they saw my name pop up in their inbox, but I greatly appreciate their fortitude and forbearance.

More particularly, however, I claim no creativity or ingenuity around the Bill itself. In moving Second Reading, I wish to place on record my appreciation for colleagues past and present, who have sought to secure this important principled change to laws governing citizenship of the United Kingdom for individuals inherently of these islands. Even a cursory glance at the House of Commons Library’s briefing papers highlights that this has been a long and arduous road. My colleague in the other place, Lord Hay of Ballyore, commented last year that this conundrum was first raised in the House of Commons in 1985. Let me put that in context: it was before my first birthday. For a decade, he has been a passionate advocate for the changes proposed in the Bill, and has sought to complement and support the sustained and unparalleled efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). A Member of this House since 2001, my hon. Friend has consistently and, some might say, with characteristic fervour, relentlessly tabled questions, pursued debates, encouraged Ministers, and expertly tilled the ground that is consequently so fertile today. His labour has not been in vain. Over the years he has collected the support of colleagues across the political spectrum, in the Conservative party, the Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party of Northern Ireland.

Let me explain the essence of the Bill. Colleagues will recognise, or should recognise, that through the Belfast agreement efforts were made to address issues of identity. While it was accepted and acknowledged that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom was constitutionally settled, not only could those with a competing aspiration avail themselves of Irish identity, but the Republic of Ireland Government afforded them the opportunity to attain Irish citizenship.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, whom I think of as my hon. Friend, on introducing such an important Bill. Does he agree that this issue affects people’s lives? It is about their identity, their everyday lives and their right to have British citizenship, which should not be brought into question. Given our historic links with both the Republic and Northern Ireland, it is vital that we allow the Bill to proceed.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend—for what he has said. I agree with him entirely, and I hope to draw on his point about our historic connections, which remain to this very day.

As I have said, the Republic of Ireland Government offered people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to attain Irish citizenship. Some hold that citizenship singularly, while others happily enjoy dual citizenship of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. What was not settled at that time, however, was reciprocation in the other direction. As the House knows, our history and relationship are intertwined, and the Bill seeks to provide the final piece of that relationship jigsaw. Anyone who was born in the Republic of Ireland but lives in the United Kingdom and who satisfies the residency test should be able to avail himself of UK citizenship.

Those who say, “Sure, just apply for naturalisation in the normal way,” fail to recognise or respond to the special relationship that our nations have. From 1801 our nations were one, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland accorded the same citizenship protections to us all. When partition occurred in 1921, the rights of those resident within the then Irish Free State to avail themselves of UK citizenship was contained through and continued within their dominion status. It was only when the Irish Republic was created and the British Nationality Act 1948 came into effect the following year that those entitlements were lost. Since 1949, that has meant that those who were born in the Republic of Ireland but since then have lived in, worked in and contributed to the United Kingdom throughout their lives are not able to attain British citizenship as their forefathers did.

As a proud Ulsterman, I remind colleagues that my Province contains nine counties, although only six of them are in the United Kingdom. While they did so before and have continued to do so since, the troubles in Northern Ireland perhaps most acutely provided a catalyst for families in Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan to move across the border to be with other relatives. Let us take, for example, my friend in the other place whom I mentioned earlier, Lord Hay of Ballyore. His lineage may best illustrate the point that I am trying to make. He was born in April 1950 in Donegal, but for the overwhelming majority of his life he has lived in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He served on his local council from 1981, was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, and served as its Speaker from 2007 to 2014. That year, he was elevated to the House of Lords, and to this day he remains a peer of this realm and a legislator in our Parliament. Yet he is not a British citizen.

The question is: should anyone in that position—serving practically, materially and productively—be expected to pay a naturalisation fee of £1,580 and complete a “Life in the UK” citizenship test? The notion that he, as a legislator of this Parliament—or anyone in similar circumstances—should have to complete a “Life in the UK” citizenship test does not make sense. It would be offensive to some individuals and contrary to the spirit of reciprocation offered through the Belfast agreement in 1998. It would be blind to our history and ignorant of the legal reality.

We enjoy a common travel area already between our nations. Irish citizens moving throughout the United Kingdom are already exempt from immigration formalities. They enjoy a range of related rights to work, vote and study, and access to education and healthcare as if they were already UK citizens. I quote the former Labour MP for Thurrock and a great friend of Northern Ireland, Andrew Mackinlay, when he debated this point in this House in 2009. He said:

“we have an opportunity, which the House will probably not have again for some years, to right a wrong, provide parity of treatment for people who are Irish…and allow them to identify with their Britishness.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 220.]

Well, 15 years later, I hope we can finally right that wrong.

This is not a coercive move. Nothing in this Bill requires somebody to avail themselves of citizenship should that not be their desire. Some will conclude that, with the same rights and entitlements already, it is unnecessary. We also know through Library research that some proceed to pay the naturalisation fee and complete a “Life in the UK” test, no matter how offensive or inappropriate that may appear, but each year the number remains in single figures, or there are none at all. We also know from 2021 census figures in Northern Ireland that some 40,400 people are living in Northern Ireland who were born in the Republic of Ireland. Furthermore, we know that circa 32,000 of them were born after 1948, and therefore could avail themselves of this Bill. Some 27,000 of those people currently hold a non-UK passport, and the remainder are split evenly between those holding a UK passport and those who continue to hold none.

It will be clear from the tenor of this speech that both the Bill and my interest lie in those who live in Northern Ireland who have been disenfranchised of their citizenship from 1949 onwards. However, I appreciate from discussions with the Government that, should the Bill proceed, they believe it could be enhanced with the removal of the restrictive scope that attached to either the year of commencement or the geographical location of Northern Ireland. I confirm my willingness to assent to both aspects. I say this firmly as a Unionist: UK citizenship, in principle, should apply across the United Kingdom, and need not be satisfied solely through the lens of our Province.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published a report on this issue in 2021, and it concluded:

“The Home Office must understand the historical connection between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and the personal ties, relationships, geopolitical realities and movement of people that prevail between the two countries today… Citizenship issues will not be addressed to the satisfaction of all traditions whilst the Home Office treats Ireland and the rest of the world as an amalgam. Instead, we need bespoke, granular solutions. Abolishing the fee for Irish citizens to naturalise as British would be a start. The need to complete the ‘Life in the UK’ test seems irrelevant and offensive, and attendance at the citizenship ceremony should be optional.”

I conclude by expressing my gratitude to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to colleagues. Although this is only the first hurdle of many, I believe this Bill offers a great opportunity to attain a practical conclusion to a long-standing, principled and constitutionally and politically important campaign.

I commend my private Member’s Bill to the House.

13:05
Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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There is a real and sensitive issue at the heart of this Bill and debate. Although the Bill affects residents of Northern Ireland, the issues of identity and citizenship affect us all.

I begin by acknowledging the case made by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson)—or my hon. Friend, as I always call him and his DUP colleagues because we are so often on the same side of debates in this House, as we are today. I support this Bill and respect the points he makes. He has constituents who identify as British but have an Irish passport, simply because of having been born on the other side of an open border, and their only option is to naturalise, This is sensitive to people who have grown up, and lived for decades, identifying as British. For them, holding a British passport and not an Irish passport, so that their citizenship is consistent with their identity, is of profound and deep importance.

I also recognise that there are specific conditions laid down in law and in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that shape the administrative landscape of Northern Ireland, with there being an open border with the Republic of Ireland—a border without immigration controls—a common travel area and no restrictions on working or living in the United Kingdom. The Government need to apply their administrative rules on routes to British citizenship fairly for all residents of the UK, whether they live in Coleraine or Congleton.

In discussing this issue, we need to be clear about what we mean by “national identity” and “citizenship.” National identity encompasses the shared values, culture, history and traditions that bind individuals within a nation. This profound sense of belonging and loyalty goes beyond legalities, forming the foundation of our unity as a people.

On the other hand, the administrative and legal status of citizenship is a formal recognition granted by the state. It involves adherence to specific laws, rights and duties, often outlined in a constitution or legal framework. Citizenship is a legal concept that provides individuals with certain rights and responsibilities within the borders of a nation.

Although national identity fosters a deep emotional connection, citizenship is a practical framework that governs our interactions within the state. Therefore, whether or not my hon. Friend’s Bill is successful, it will not change his constituents’ fundamental sense of British identity or the rights and freedoms under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that give the people of Northern Ireland the freedom to identify as British or Irish, to co-exist and to complement their Britishness.

However, I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s case and acknowledge that a key outworking of being British involves a sense of allegiance that is encapsulated by holding a British passport in one’s hand. Indeed, I travel frequently abroad in my role as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, and I have a great sense of pride every time I hold that passport in my hand, so I understand the importance of others being able to do so.

My hon. Friend is promoting a Bill that makes sense, which always helps. He always speaks sense. Its clauses make it clear that we are not dealing with a situation comparable to, say, residents of Coleraine and Congleton wanting to apply for citizenship having been born outside UK. The requirements of proposed section 4AA would make it specific to a person in Northern Ireland who has been resident pretty much continuously for a preceding period of five years.

To answer my own point regarding the need to satisfy administrative fairness across the UK, the qualifying period of five years’ residency is equivalent to other applications for citizenship that could be made in Congleton. I therefore support the Bill.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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As I have no further takers, I call the shadow Minister.

13:10
Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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As the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) Belfast East so eloquently explained, the issue at the heart of this debate is a fairly simple one: that, notwithstanding commitments made by the UK and Irish Governments in the Good Friday agreement more than 25 years ago, questions about eligibility and access to citizenship rights for many people in Northern Ireland remain unresolved. He argued with conviction that the differential treatment of people depending on whether they were born in Northern Ireland or the Republic under British nationality law is unfair and should be addressed. Along with his Democratic Unionist party colleagues, he has argued for long-standing residents of Northern Ireland born in the Republic after 31 December 1948 to be recognised as citizens of the UK—if they consider themselves to be such—without the need to undertake a lengthy and costly process of applying to the Home Office for naturalisation.

These arguments have been heard in the House many times before—indeed, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) introduced a private Member’s Bill along similar lines as long ago as 2005—and Democratic Unionist party Members are not the only ones to have recognised the strength of feeling among many in Northern Ireland on this issue. In 2021, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published a short report that concluded:

“The Government should abolish the naturalisation fee charged to Irish applicants who wish to naturalise as British citizens.”

It should be pointed out that the fees for registration or naturalisation are currently in the region of £1,500 per person, which is not by any means an insignificant sum.

In the Government’s response to the Committee’s report, they announced that it would “not be fair” to set such fees at different levels “depending on nationality”, ignoring the fact that there is already special recognition of the status of Irish nationals across the UK’s immigration system. The Government also argued that naturalisation and citizenship fees are an important means by which the Home Office seeks to maintain the financial sustainability of the immigration system. That may not in itself be an unreasonable position, but I do wonder whether the amounts of revenue involved are really all that significant to the Home Office in the context of an annual budget in excess of £20 billion.

As has been explained, the Bill would establish a separate stand-alone route to British citizenship for Irish nationals born after 1948 who have been resident in Northern Ireland, and hence in the UK, for significant periods of time. The explanatory notes state that application fees for the proposed new route

“would need to be agreed and set in secondary fees legislation, taking into account financial implications.”

There appears to be no expectation of a blanket fee exemption for applicants under the new rules. On that basis, assuming that the Government support the Bill, it might help the House if the Minister confirmed what criteria will be used in setting the level of application fees under the new system. Will the goals remain the same as those previously set out by the Government, and which I quoted, with respect to maintaining parity between citizenship and naturalisation applications across all nationalities? What provisions, if any, do the Government intend to make for individual exemptions to the usual fees under the new system, assuming that is introduced?

In the same report that I cited earlier, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee concluded that in addition to the fees, the mandatory “Life in the UK” test and the requirement to attend a citizenship ceremony should also be waived for Irish citizens seeking naturalisation in the UK. In their response to the Committee, the Government insisted that it was right to maintain these requirements for all applications and to limit the scope for exemptions to the special circumstances of a particular case, such as those who have long-term health reasons that would preclude their attendance. Their response, which was published in January 2022, added:

“In order to continue with ceremonies during the pandemic we worked with Local Authorities to develop and deliver virtual ceremonies, and we will assess their ongoing use as this immediate need reduces. They may be retained to allow a more inclusive approach for those who, due to long-term issues, might otherwise be excluded.”

If, as I understand it, the Government do not plan to oppose the Bill, could the Minister confirm, in light of the long-standing concerns about the “Life in the UK” test and the ceremony requirements, whether he envisages making specific provision to address these issues within the proposed new route to citizenship that the Bill envisages?

On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I say in closing that the hon. Member for Belfast East has put forward strong and persuasive arguments in support of his Bill. The Government’s support will, I hope, be welcomed by Members who represent Northern Ireland’s communities in this House. On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I am happy to add my party’s support to this Bill, too.

13:16
Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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May I start by congratulating my friend the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on his success in the ballot? His nine years of trying have yielded a positive result, and it is terrific that we can debate this Bill today. I appreciate his bringing attention to this important issue about application processes for Irish nationals to become British citizens. I am pleased to confirm that the Bill has the Government’s support, subject to some proposed changes in Committee, which I will address.

It has been a pleasure to work constructively with the hon. Gentleman to date on those points. He has eloquently set out the arguments and rationale for the Bill. He is also right to highlight that it responds directly to so many of the challenges raised by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, whose report he quoted from directly. It is in that spirit that I am pleased we have been engaging with the hon. Gentleman and that he agrees with the necessary changes that we require to take this Bill forward in Committee and beyond. That will mean that the current version of the Bill, which will be put to the House today, will be revised in Committee, with Members able to express their views and opinions on those amendments and then to debate and vote on them in the usual way.

That process will mean that the Bill will become marginally broader and more inclusive. First, it will be available to Irish nationals, regardless of how they became Irish, and not just to those born in Ireland. Secondly, it will not have a requirement that an Irish national must have been born after a certain date. Thirdly, qualifying residents will be able to be from any part of the United Kingdom, and not just Northern Ireland. We are confident that those changes will address equality concerns with the current version of the Bill, while still benefiting those whom the hon. Gentleman wanted to cover. The other requirements before the House today will not change.

The Government are clear in our support for the underlying principle of the Bill, and we will work with the hon. Gentleman to produce an amended version in Committee. When those changes have been made, the Bill will enjoy the Government’s full support. We are confident that the amended route will not undermine the integrity of the system; it is about introducing a more appropriate route for people who could otherwise seek to naturalise. It is, of course, possible that the route may yet be used proportionately more by people resident in Northern Ireland, but we think it is important that British citizenship reflects ties to the whole United Kingdom, not just one constituent part. It is our belief that a dedicated route for Irish citizens would reduce the burden for applicants, creating a more straightforward route to becoming a British citizen. That would potentially also allow for the charging of a lower fee, although no firm decision has been made, and that would form part of later secondary legislation, made through the fees Order, should the Bill attain Royal Assent. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will be keen to have conversations with me on that point, and I am definitely willing to engage constructively as we take the Bill forward.

To respond directly to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), the “Life in the UK” test would not be a requirement with this Bill in place, and it is important to make that clear on the record this afternoon.

In conclusion, I again congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East on his success in the ballot and for helping the Government to find a way to correct this issue in our nationality system. I am incredibly grateful for the constructive and good-natured way in which he always conducts his business in the House, but particularly so on this matter, working both with myself and with officials. The Bill will help reaffirm and reflect the unique position of Irish nationals in the UK and make a credible difference to those Irish nationals who wish also to be British citizens. As I have said, if the suggested amendments are made in Committee, we will firmly support the Bill. We wish it well as it travels through the House, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman.

13:21
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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I appreciate all the contributions to the debate. Just to reflect on the private Member’s Bill ballot, not only did I sign up nine years in a row, but I signed the same number nine years in a row—322 for anyone who is interested. I greatly appreciate the support of the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and, to dispel the myths of any cynics out there, I hope to be in a position to support her private Member’s Bill in a moment or so, but my support was not conditional on what she said in this debate on my Bill, because hers is similarly as principled.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for his intervention and to the shadow Minister for his contribution. I hope he appreciated from my contribution that there was no ownership of this issue. It has been a long-standing campaign from a number of colleagues of mine and, indeed, from Members across the House, including colleagues of his.

Perceptively, the shadow Minister also raised the issue of fees, and the Minister graciously indicated that that is a discussion yet to be had, but it will come in secondary legislation should the Bill proceed. The Minister knows clearly where I shall start in that constructive discussion, and I suspect that he will not start in the same place, but hopefully we can be pragmatic. It is at least good for the Minister to know that the Opposition will be in a sensible place at the start of that discussion too, so he should bear that in mind—I say that in jest.

To the Minister, let me say that this has been a pleasure. He added further context to my reference earlier to the forbearance of officials and all those who have had to engage with me in the discussion of this Bill and the complexities around it. As I said in my contribution, what the Minister has outlined causes me no difficulty whatsoever from a Unionist perspective. I am totally content with where the Government believe this should go, but the constraints around an earlier published title meant that we have had to take a curvier route to, hopefully, the same destination.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity, and I look forward to continuing the engagement with officials. I trust that we will be able to land this, because it was only in 2009—15 years ago—that a former Labour MP said, “We need to take this opportunity now, because it may not come back for some time to come.”

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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What a good-natured and constructive debate we have had.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill: Instruction

Instruction
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate
15:14
Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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I beg to move,

That it be an instruction to the Committee on the British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill that the Committee have leave to make provision for the acquisition of British citizenship by Irish citizens, whether born before or after 31 December 1948, who are resident in the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for selecting this motion. The reason for tabling it is that the Bill, as currently drafted, allows only people born in Ireland after 31 December 1948 who have been resident in Northern Ireland for five years to register as British citizens. The instruction will allow the Bill Committee to consider amendments that would apply the provisions to all eligible Irish nationals of all ages who live anywhere in the United Kingdom for five years.

The provisions to amend the Bill will do that in several ways. First, they will make the route available to Irish nationals regardless of how they became Irish, and not just those born in Ireland. Those covered by the original Bill will still be included, but the measure will be more generous and fairer, in that it will give all eligible Irish nationals a more straightforward pathway to becoming a British citizen.

Secondly, there will not be a requirement for an Irish national to have been born after a certain date. The instruction will make it so that people born on or before 31 December 1948 have the same opportunity to make use of the Bill as those born after that date.

Thirdly, qualifying residents can be from any part of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland. That will mean that all eligible Irish nationals resident anywhere in the United Kingdom will be able to make use of this important piece of legislation.

I again ask Members to consider the unique position that Irish nationals hold with regard to the United Kingdom. The Bill will help to reaffirm and reflect that, and will make a real difference to those Irish nationals who also wish to be British citizens. We are confident that the amended route will not undermine the integrity of the system. It is about introducing a more appropriate route for people who could otherwise seek to naturalise.

Amending the Bill will help us to be more inclusive to all eligible Irish nationals currently resident in the United Kingdom. The Government are clear in our support for the underlying principle of the Bill, and it will have our full support if these suggested amendments are made. I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) for bringing the issue to our attention, and indeed for his constructive engagement with me and my officials. I look forward to working closely with him to help his Bill safely travel through the House.

15:17
Feryal Clark Portrait Feryal Clark (Enfield North) (Lab)
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His Majesty’s official Opposition support the changes to the Bill. We outlined our reasons for supporting the Bill on Second Reading, and I have nothing further to add.

15:17
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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I thank the shadow Minister for her renewed endorsement, and I thank the Minister, in particular, not only for the way he introduced this motion, but for the courteous way in which he and his colleagues have engaged with me. The officials in his Department have been uniquely pleased to receive my telephone calls, text messages, emails, Teams calls and everything else—they have been very helpful—and the Minister, with his joyous bonhomie, has come back to me on a number of occasions about the Bill. I appreciate all that support.

I think that there is a procedural requirement that I indicate my assent to the motion. Anybody who was present for Second Reason will understand entirely not only the nature of what the Minister has outlined, but the reasons for the instruction—it all follows from narrow drafting. We are more than content with what has been outlined.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It would be remiss of me not to put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend for his insight. The formation of Northern Ireland left behind many who considered themselves to be British in Ireland. This Bill will right the wrong that was done to those who had a right to that identity but were held back by the ties to their homes and their local communities. Does he agree that the message sent today to those who consider themselves British in Ireland is clear: “There is a place for you, and a passport to go along with it”?

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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My hon. Friend is quite right. In relation to the entitlement of those born in the Irish Free State to obtain British citizenship, the reason a date was introduced to the Bill in the initial stages was the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1948. That is the reason for it, but there is absolutely no requirement for it to be there, and I agree with the Government that it is unnecessary.

It is encouraging for me as a Unionist to have an even better Unionist argument put forward by the Conservative and Unionist party to say that this should not be restricted solely to those in Northern Ireland, but should apply to anywhere in the United Kingdom. How could I oppose that proposition?

Given that my colleague and hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) was not here for Second Reading, it is important that I place on the record, in his presence, my appreciation for the path that he laid before me. In the 23 years that he has sat in this House representing the people of Northern Ireland, he has championed the content of the Bill and the requirement for such legislation. We are all greatly appreciative of the Government’s support, and hopefully we will be able to progress this positively and conclusively within this parliamentary term—an outcome that we relish.

I think you are coiled, Mr Deputy Speaker—poised and ready to go. I am very concerned for those people in our society who tune into the BBC Parliament channel at teatime. I am concerned that if I do not exhaust the next 45 minutes, there will be nothing for them to watch when they get home from their hard day’s toil and check in to see how we are representing them. But since you seem so keen to restore yourself to your feet, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall conclude.

Question put and agreed to.

British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill

Committee stage
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 17 April 2024 - (17 Apr 2024)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Carolyn Harris
† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)
Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)
Bradley, Dame Karen (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
† Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con)
Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)
† Francois, Mr Mark (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
† Hanna, Claire (Belfast South) (SDLP)
Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
† Pursglove, Tom (Minister for Legal Migration and the Border)
† Robertson, Mr Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
† Robinson, Gavin (Belfast East) (DUP)
Shelbrooke, Sir Alec (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
Smith, Julian (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
† Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)
† Sunderland, James (Bracknell) (Con)
† Vara, Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Anne-Marie Griffiths, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 17 April 2024
[Carolyn Harris in the Chair]
British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill
10:00
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary reminders for the Committee. Please switch electronic devices to silent. No food or drink is permitted during sittings of the Committee, except for the water provided. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. My selection and grouping for today’s meeting is available online and in the room. There will be a single debate on all clauses and amendments.

Clause 1

Acquisition of British citizenship: persons born in Ireland

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “persons born in Ireland” and insert “Irish citizens”.

This Amendment changes the section heading of the new section 4AA inserted into the British Nationality Act 1981 by clause 1 to reflect the change made by Amendment 2.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out from beginning to “is” and insert “An Irish citizen”.

This amendment means that Irish citizens who fulfil the requirements in subsection (2) of new section 4AA (changed by Amendments 3 and 4) are entitled to be registered as British citizens under new section 4AA, rather than just persons born in Ireland after 31 December 1948 who fulfil those requirements.

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “Northern Ireland” and insert “the United Kingdom”.

This amendment and Amendment 4 change the residence requirements for the new route to British citizenship in the new section 4AA, so that the requirement is that the person has lived in the United Kingdom for the five years before their application, rather than in Northern Ireland.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out “Northern Ireland” and insert “the United Kingdom”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 3.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, leave out “persons born in Ireland” and insert “Irish citizens”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Clause stand part.

Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “Citizenship (Northern Ireland)” and insert “Nationality (Irish Citizens)”.

This amendment changes the short title of the bill, to reflect the change made by Amendment 2.

Clause 2 stand part.

Amendment 7, in title, line 1, leave out from “provision” to end of line 2 and insert

“for Irish citizens who have been resident in the United Kingdom for five years to be entitled to British citizenship;”.—(Gavin Robinson.)

This amendment changes the long title of the bill to reflect the changes made by Amendments 2, 3 and 4. The Committee has the power to consider these amendments, and the consequential changes to the long title, by virtue of the Instruction given to it by the House of Commons on 5 March 2024.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Harris. I thank all hon. and right hon. colleagues for taking the time to attend this Public Bill Committee. I am pleased to move amendment 1. In the course of my remarks I hope to provide context for the Bill, but I shall not regurgitate the commentary from Second Reading; it would not be in order to do so. However, I hope that it contextualises the nature of the amendments under consideration.

This Bill has a long, long past. The opportunity has arisen—and it is one that I have seized—to resolve an issue that has been long in gestation and hopefully is soon to be delivered. My colleague in the other place, Lord Hay of Ballyore, commented last year that this conundrum was first raised in this House in 1985, which was just before my first birthday. For a decade now, he has passionately been an advocate for the changes outlined in the Bill.

In doing so, Lord Hay has sought to complement and support the sustained and unparalleled efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). As a Member of this House since 2001, my hon. Friend has consistently and relentlessly—and with what some might say is characteristic fervour—tabled questions, pursued debates, encouraged Ministers and expertly tilled the ground to make it so fertile today. His labour has not been in vain, and over the course of the last number of years he has collected the support of colleagues from right across the political spectrum in the House of Commons.

The essence of the Bill is this. Colleagues throughout the House will recognise that the Belfast Agreement sought to address issues of identity. Although it was accepted and acknowledged that Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom was constitutionally settled, those with a competing aspiration could avail of Irish identity, and the Government of the Republic of Ireland afforded them the opportunity to obtain Irish citizenship.

In Northern Ireland, some hold citizenship singularly, while others happily enjoy dual citizenship of both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. However, what was not settled was reciprocation in the other direction. This Parliament will know the history and relationship of our intertwined relations, and this Bill seeks to provide the final piece of that relational jigsaw. In my view, anyone who is born in the Republic of Ireland but lives in the United Kingdom and satisfies the residency test should be able to avail themselves of British citizenship.

Those who say, “Sure—just apply for naturalisation in the normal way,” fail to recognise or respond to the special relationships that our nations have had. From 1801, our nations were united. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland accorded the same citizenship protections to us all. When partition occurred in 1921, the right of those resident in the Irish Free State to avail of UK citizenship was contained and delivered through their dominion status. It was only when the Irish Republic was established and the British Nationality Act 1948 came into effect in the following year that those entitlements were lost. Since 1949, that means that anyone who was born in the Republic of Ireland but lived and worked in and continued to contribute to the UK has not been able to avail themselves of British citizenship as their forefathers did.

I mentioned my colleague in the other place, Lord Hay of Ballyore, whose lineage perhaps best illustrates this point. He was born in Donegal in April 1950—some 15 months after the law changed—yet has lived for the overwhelming majority of his life in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He served on his local council from 1981; he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, and served as Speaker of that Assembly from 2007 to 2014, when he was elevated to the House of Lords. To this day, a decade later, he remains a peer of this realm and a legislator in our Parliament, yet he is not a British citizen.

The question is this: should anyone in that situation—anyone who has served our nation practically, materially and productively—be expected to pay a naturalisation fee of £1,580 and complete a Life in the UK citizenship test? The notion that they should is, to my mind, offensive, contrary to the spirit of reciprocation offered through the Belfast agreement of 1998, blind to our history and ignorant of the legal reality. We enjoy a common travel area between our nations, and Irish citizens moving throughout the United Kingdom are already exempt from immigration formalities. They enjoy a range of related rights to work, vote and study, and access education and healthcare as though they were already British citizens.

On Second Reading, I highlighted my appreciation not only for the courteous and pragmatic engagement on this issue of the Home Office Minister and his officials, but for their willingness to engage with me in a way that has brought us to this point today. The amendments before colleagues this morning were flagged as a potential on Second Reading, but were going through the process of parliamentary procedure. Though the initial drive for this legislation was to recognise those living in Northern Ireland, as I said on Second Reading and will say again today, as a Unionist, I have no principled objection to—in fact, I am delighted with—the Government’s approach that these measures should not be confined solely to Northern Ireland. There should be no restriction or import placed on geographical location.

Amendment 1 will replace a reference to “persons born in Ireland” with “Irish citizens”. Similarly, amendment 2 will ensure references to Irish citizens, as opposed to those born in Ireland. Amendments 3 and 4 will replace references to Northern Ireland with the entire United Kingdom. Amendment 5, again, will change “persons born in Ireland” to “Irish citizens”.

All amendments are within the confines of the spirit of the Bill and apply to those who are resident within the United Kingdom and satisfy legally the residency test. The Bill will apply to those who have and proudly hold their Irish heritage, who will be able to attain British citizenship throughout the United Kingdom irrespective of where they live, provided they satisfy the residency requirements. The approach will move the import of the Bill at inception beyond the confines of our 1.9 million people, and the Irish nationals who reside with us in Northern Ireland, to the entirety of the UK—a catchment of 60 million people—and the Irish nationals who live in our communities throughout the United Kingdom.

That is a hugely welcome step. It is not where I started on this journey, but, seeing the door opened so welcomingly and productively by the Home Office Minister and his officials, it is something I can rationalise as a huge step forward. We cannot predict the future, but if this is the culmination of an almost 40-year parliamentary pursuit to close the circle and formally and thoughtfully recognise the ability of Irish citizens living in our communities and as part of our country to attain United Kingdom citizenship, I think it will be a job well done.

In moving amendment 1 and having spoken to the import of the subsequent and consequential amendments, I hope that as a Public Bill Committee we can resolve that, in common with most private Members’ Bills, this Bill—although small in impact and narrow in scope—will make a huge difference for those who are a part of our country and we will be able to get, as I have said, the final piece in this jigsaw.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Harris. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Belfast East on his success in the ballot and on bringing the Bill as far as this stage. I am delighted that after nine years of trying in the ballot, he has finally had this positive result with lucky number 322—that may be a hint for all of us.

The issue at the heart of the debate is straightforward. This Bill is an important acknowledgment of the special relationship between our nations and a worthy follow-on from a debate that we held recently on the value and recognition of the contribution of the Irish diaspora to our life in the UK.

Following the Good Friday agreement, the Government of the Republic of Ireland offered people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to attain Irish citizenship, but what was not settled was an agreement for citizenship rights in the other direction. Questions about citizenship for Republic of Ireland nationals living in the north and wishing to become British have been left up in the air for too long—nearly 40 years, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Long-term residents of Northern Ireland from the Republic should be recognised as citizens of the UK —if that is their desire—without the need for a citizenship test and the need to prove their intention to stay in the UK. We need to streamline the process and to be welcoming to them as well.

The Opposition’s support for these amendments, which broaden the scope of the Bill, is certain. The amendments make it much more inclusive and fair. First, we support amendments making British citizenship available to Irish nationals regardless of how they became Irish and not only to those born in the Republic of Ireland. That is clearly a practical and sensible change to the Bill, and we support it.

I extend our support to amendment 2, which removes the requirement for Irish nationals to have been born after a certain date to qualify for this route to citizenship. We also support amendment 3, which alters the residence requirements for the new route to British citizenship, so that those wishing to gain citizenship can have lived in any part of the United Kingdom for five years and not only Northern Ireland. That obviously widens the scope of the Bill to constituents in all our constituencies, including those in London, from 31,000 people in Northern Ireland to about 270,000 people. This amendment addresses concerns about possible discrepancies across the United Kingdom and ensures equality, which we welcome.

We support the amendments, but we remain concerned about the Government’s implementation of this new route to citizenship. Specifically, I would like to mention the issue of fees. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has made previous recommendations that fees should be waived for Irish citizens seeking naturalisation in the UK. When it comes to getting an Irish passport or getting a British passport, there is an enormous difference and discrepancy. On Second Reading, the Government indicated that a dedicated route for Irish citizens would reduce the burden for applicants, creating a more straightforward route to British citizenship, which could lead to lower fees. Can the Minister confirm today whether that decision has been taken, and if not, when are we likely to know by?

It is worth pointing out that the fees for registration or naturalisation are currently in the region of £1,500, a not insignificant sum. A slight reduction is noted in the Library briefing, but that still leaves the fee as £1,431, so I ask what provision, if any, the Government intend to make for individual exemptions to the usual fees under the new system—assuming that it is introduced, which I firmly hope it is. Lastly, we are pleased to hear that the Life in the UK test will not be a requirement for the new route.

On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I say in closing that the right hon. Member for Belfast East has put forward strong and persuasive arguments in support of the Bill and been tenacious in pursuing it. The Government’s support, given the passing of the amendments in front of us, will, I hope, be welcomed by Members who represent Northern Ireland’s communities in this House, and beyond. On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I am happy to add my party’s support to these amendments and this Bill.

10:15
Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I start by congratulating my friend, the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), on his efforts in stewarding the Bill to this stage. I also congratulate him on his recent appointment to the Privy Council, and on the responsibilities he has assumed as the head of his party. We wish him well in that regard. As was said by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), he has campaigned tenaciously and constructively for these changes, working with colleagues from Northern Ireland in both Houses to make the arguments.

As a fellow child of the 1980s, I recognise that these measures were being campaigned for just before the birth of the right hon. Member for Belfast East. As a child of 1988, it is fair to say that the campaign was going on a few years prior to my birth, which puts into perspective the way in which Members in this House and the other place—and campaigners more generally—have been making the argument to have a more inclusive approach to citizenship. I thank them for their efforts to shine a light on the issue, and for being so persistent in helping us to get to this point. I am delighted to be the Minister responding to this debate, and to be able to commit the Government to taking the Bill forward with complete backing.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill reflects the unique position that Irish nationals hold with regards to the United Kingdom. I am confident that the Bill, with these amendments, will make a real difference to those Irish nationals who also wish to be British citizens, with a bespoke registration route in place.

We have debated in a number of proceedings related to the Bill the arguments behind the amendments, so I do not intend to re-rehearse those now. However, I believe that they help the Bill to be more inclusive and ensure that it is even fairer in its ambitions than it was when the right hon. Member for Belfast East drafted the original iteration Bill with the Clerks. Ultimately, the amendments will mean that the Bill applies to all eligible Irish nationals resident in any part of the UK. It is not just confined to those born at a certain time in Ireland, and resident in Northern Ireland. That is right and fair. British citizenship is about ties to the whole of the UK, not just one of its constituent parts.

The specific issue of fees, which has come up previously, is something that is under active consideration as part of a wider piece of work. It is being carried out in the usual way when it comes to fee setting for borders and migrations services. There have been some strong representations that have helped to inform my thinking on that, from both the shadow Front Bench and from the right hon. Gentleman. I hear those strong arguments and the Government will come forward as soon as we are able to and give certainty around the fee provisions related to the Bill.

There are regulations, and the way in which such matters are handled goes through a standard process that we in this House are well accustomed to. I am happy to continue the conversations about the issue of the fee externally to this debate and the passage of the Bill, because it is important we hear those arguments and make appropriate decisions. That is the spirit in which we are taking the Bill forward, with good solid cross-party support. I thank hon. and right hon. Members from across the House for their support.

Shailesh Vara Portrait Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on introducing the Bill, which I think is long overdue. Does the Minister agree that, given that the Bill is tidying up something that should have been done a long time ago, it is important that he looks carefully at the fee structure? No doubt the Treasury will have its own view; we all know that it will be less flexible. I urge the Minister to fight hard in the corner of this long overdue legislation, and look carefully at the review of fees.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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My right hon. Friend has got to the essence of how I am approaching the specific question around fee setting. He makes some very eloquent arguments about the spirit in which the Bill has been introduced about and the spirit in which it will proceed through the House, which I hope will be reflected in the other place. As I have said, I am very cognisant of these arguments. My right hon. Friend touches on a very important point in saying that this is a very long-standing campaign. People feel very passionately about this change. It is a common-sense change. I think we need to reflect on those factors when making the decision about fees which, as I have said, is being carried out as part of the wider way in which we review fees and charges and the way in which that is done.

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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I place it on the record that I have the privilege to serve on the Defence Committee with the right hon. Member for Belfast East. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on being elevated to the King’s Privy Council and to wish him the best of luck with his leadership of the Democratic Unionist party, albeit achieved in very difficult circumstances. A number of people have paid tribute to his tenacity. As many Ministry of Defence witnesses can attest, there is no doubt about that whatever. He is a dog with a bone and he never drops it, so I am delighted that he has been elevated in that way and we wish him and his legislation Godspeed.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am not sure I could have put it better than my right hon. Friend. I find it very difficult to say no to the right hon. Member for Belfast East. He goes about his business in this House impeccably— always with good humour, always in an incredibly polite way, but also very persuasively. I think that that is as relevant to the question about fee setting as it has been to the Bill itself and the substantive change that we are bringing about. With that, I again thank right hon. and hon. Members across the House for their support for these measures and I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the remainder of its stages in this House and in the other place.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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It is not often that we get to speak having heard such obituaries, but to be able to do so is a great opportunity, because most people do not get to reflect on obituaries offered. I thank everyone so much for all the contributions that have been made. I greatly appreciate it. The Minister and I entered this place at the same time—I think I have a couple of years on him, and a few more grey follicles, but it is not much in age terms. This has been a very encouraging process. It shows, despite the differences that we sometimes have on the Floor of the House, in Committee sittings and so on, just how productively parliamentarians can work together when there is positive and common cause. That is not something seen very regularly in the public sphere, but I think this process encapsulates the best of what we can do.

The process of arranging a Public Bill Committee has been interesting as well. A couple of colleagues across the Committee Room here today are fellow travellers in the private Member’s Bill process. We are supporting one another, and I am very grateful for their being here.

I want to mention a number of others, including the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire. He has been a long traveller on Northern Ireland issues and has taken a keen interest in them. There is also my friend, the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford. Spartan-like, he stands up and speaks positively to this Bill.

It is hugely encouraging to have my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Belfast South, with us today. She is somebody who approaches constitutional politics from the opposite side from me, but we have never been opposites in a personal sense. We have always worked well for the collective good in Belfast, so I am really encouraged that she is with us today and that she is giving her support for something that I think is open and not coercive in any way; it is open for anyone to avail themselves of it should it pass.

To the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Putney, I will make two points. I am delighted that she is here —that is not one of the points. A word to the wise: 322 was the number that I used on each of the nine occasions, so although it came up on the ninth occasion, that is not to say that it is in any way more lucky than another. I have recognised through the process of this Bill that fees will come separately, as part of a fees order. I agree entirely with the thrust of the comments that the shadow Minister has made, and I appreciate the way in which the Minister has engaged on that issue as well. He recognises the position I have adopted; I do not believe there should be a fee over and above passport fees.

There is an administrative argument as to what else should be additionally placed upon that, but I am quite comfortable with the Northern Irish Affairs Committee report and its comments and recommendations to Government. It is helpful and instructive for officials for the Opposition spokespeople to indicate their support, but I know that the Minister has never been difficult in this, and has always engaged very helpfully on it. It does not form part of this Bill, Mrs Harris, and therefore it is probably in order for you to rule me out of order for referring to it in any great detail.

I give huge thanks to all hon. and right hon. colleagues who have turned up this morning for the thoughtful way in they have engaged with this Bill, and I thank you for your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. The Clerks are often left out of the thanks, so I thank the Clerk to your immediate left. She has been hugely helpful over the last number of months, despite tenacity bordering on some sort of possessive contact about what was happening next. I also thank the officials from the Home Office, who similarly have had to bear my contact and questions. They have been hugely gracious and helpful.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out from beginning to “is” and insert “An Irish citizen”.

This amendment means that Irish citizens who fulfil the requirements in subsection (2) of new section 4AA (changed by Amendments 3 and 4) are entitled to be registered as British citizens under new section 4AA, rather than just persons born in Ireland after 31 December 1948 who fulfil those requirements.

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “Northern Ireland” and insert “the United Kingdom”.

This amendment and Amendment 4 change the residence requirements for the new route to British citizenship in the new section 4AA, so that the requirement is that the person has lived in the United Kingdom for the five years before their application, rather than in Northern Ireland.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out “Northern Ireland” and insert “the United Kingdom”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 3.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 13, leave out “persons born in Ireland” and insert “Irish citizens”.—(Gavin Robinson.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Extent, commencement and short title

Amendment made: 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “Citizenship (Northern Ireland)” and insert “Nationality (Irish Citizens)”.—(Gavin Robinson.)

This amendment changes the short title of the bill, to reflect the change made by Amendment 2.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Amendment made: 7, in the title, line 1, leave out from “provision” to end of line 2 and insert

“for Irish citizens who have been resident in the United Kingdom for five years to be entitled to British citizenship;”.—(Gavin Robinson.)

This amendment changes the long title of the bill to reflect the changes made by Amendments 2, 3 and 4. The Committee has the power to consider these amendments, and the consequential changes to the long title, by virtue of the Instruction given to it by the House of Commons on 5 March 2024.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

10:28
Committee rose.

British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
Third Reading.
13:27
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Just yesterday, I was asked by a constituent what relevance or role a Back-Bench MP has. God love that woman, Mr Deputy Speaker, because not only did she get the full precis of my contribution this afternoon, she got all the intricacies of the processes and the procedures and the hoops that we go through to make an impact —but make an impact we have. We cannot overstate the impact of such Bills—not only those that have progressed to Third Reading today, but those that I have had the privilege of hearing about and contributing to over the last number of months—or their importance to the lives of ordinary people in our country. Although there is not an awful lot of awareness of this process, or, indeed much coverage of it, I appreciate that it is there and the role that we play as Back-Bench MPs in making a difference to our country.

The British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill has been long in duration and in gestation. The Library was able to dig out initial references from 1985, I think, when the issue was first brought before the House of Commons. Here we are today, and I hope—if the House consents to Third Reading and we can get on to the Bill’s subsequent stages in the other place—we will have an opportunity to make a difference for the 31,000 citizens within Northern Ireland who would benefit from this. Across the United Kingdom, more than a quarter of a million citizens could take the opportunity to benefit from what I have described throughout the parliamentary process as the final piece in a long constitutional jigsaw.

To go into some of the history, just for completeness, for the last 224 years the island of Ireland and the island of Great Britain have been one. They were connected in 1800, commenced in 1801, through the Acts of Union, and the lives of our citizens have been intertwined ever since. In 1921, when the island of Ireland was partitioned, the rights of citizens across the island to attain, hold and cherish their British citizenship pertained. The Irish Free State held dominion status within the British empire and anyone born within the Irish Free State was still entitled to, and many enjoyed, British citizenship. That came to an end in 1948 with the British Nationality Act and the creation of the Irish Republic in 1949, and it was from that point that people who were born in the Irish Republic but subsequently moved to the United Kingdom—who spent the remainder of their lives living, building families and working in the United Kingdom, and from my perspective in Northern Ireland—have been unable to enjoy the same privileges that were open to our forefathers.

We often talk about the clash between identity and citizenship on these islands, but the one piece of the puzzle that has been absent since the Good Friday agreement, when individuals with an Irish identity living in Northern Ireland were free to attain Irish citizenship, is that the same has not been true for those born in the Irish Republic who live, work and enjoy being in the United Kingdom. That is the essence of this Bill.

In order to bring that alive, let us consider my colleague in the other place, Lord Hay. He was born in Donegal in 1950, 15 months after the creation of the Irish Republic, but has lived almost his entire life in Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. He has been a public servant in Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom for almost 50 years. He joined the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1988 and became its Speaker in 2007. He stepped down as Speaker in 2014 and became a legislator in this place. He is a peer of our realm, but he does not have British citizenship.

The idea that somebody like that—someone who has lived almost their entire life in our country, contributed to it through public service, worked and paid taxes here, and positively changed lives in our country—should have to apply for naturalisation, ignoring the history of the intertwined relationships between our two islands, should have to satisfy a “Life in the UK” test and prove that he can speak English, when he is sitting in our Parliament, legislating for our country, really does highlight the nonsense. Now, I will not be dragged into questioning the ability of Members from far-flung parts of our community in Northern Ireland to speak English—the Londonderry accent is not the same as the Belfast accent, but it is English none the less.

Lord Hay provides a really good, tangible example of why this situation is a nonsense. We know that anybody born within our islands benefits from the common travel area. We know that anybody who holds Irish citizenship is free to work, study and vote anywhere in the United Kingdom, and they can benefit from education and healthcare in the United Kingdom. But the final piece is citizenship. They are not the same as somebody from another country in a far-flung place, simply because of our intertwined relationships and our history.

So from 1985 the parliamentary efforts to redress this issue have continued. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) was elected to this place in 2001 and has been campaigning on this issue since 2001. Lord Hay, having joined the House of Lords in 2014, has been campaigning on it since 2014. Now we have the opportunity to put that final piece in the jigsaw.

As I have indicated, 31,000 eligible people in Northern Ireland and 260,000 eligible people across the United Kingdom could benefit. When I started the private Member’s Bill process, my focus was on assisting those in Northern Ireland, predominantly from the three counties of Ulster that are no longer in the United Kingdom, who have moved across the border. In fairness, the Conservative and Unionist Government further opened the door and said that this does not need to be constrained to Northern Ireland, and that it should apply across the United Kingdom. I have never been resistant to that, but I recognised the constraints on private Members’ Bills, so I am delighted that we were able to expand the extent of the Bill in Committee so that it applies across the United Kingdom to over a quarter of a million people, including the London Irish and many interspersed throughout our communities and constituencies. It is a great boon.

Throughout the parliamentary processes on this aspiration, we have benefited from significant cross-party support, not just from the Conservative party but from the Labour party. I am grateful that Labour has been in lockstep with us on every opportunity that I have had to raise the issue.

Andrew MacKinlay, a great friend of Northern Ireland and the former Labour Member for Thurrock, addressed this point in 2009:

“we have an opportunity, which the House will probably not have again for some years, to right a wrong, provide parity of treatment for people who are Irish…and allow them to identify with their Britishness.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 220.]

He was right. The House was unable to land the opportunity in 2009, but 15 years later we can seize this wonderful opportunity.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee issued a report in July 2021—HC 158—that considered all of these issues, took evidence from Lord Hay and concluded that a citizenship test for individuals who, like him, find themselves in this situation would be not only “irrelevant” but “offensive.” I am glad that the Government have taken heed of that approach.

There has been continual discussion of fees during the passage of my private Member’s Bill. There is absolutely no reason why somebody who was born in these islands and who already benefits from all the entitlements from which you and I benefit, Mr Deputy Speaker, should have to pay £1,580 to benefit from citizenship of a country to which they have contributed all their life.

The Government are well aware of my position that there should be no need for anything over and above the cost of a passport but, in fairness to them, I recognise that it is not part of this Bill. A fees order would have to be made separately and subsequently, and the Government have been very proactive on this issue and have been very open to a discussion that would consider something far short of what is required today. I am grateful for their engagement with me in that regard.

No citizenship test or “Life in the UK” test; a considerably reduced fee; and an opportunity for us, as a nation, to embrace our nearest neighbours—individuals who are part of our families and our lives, but for whom the process required of them is just a step too far. Nothing about this Bill is coercive, but it opens the door to a wonderful opportunity for us, as a nation, to recognise our nearest neighbours and bring them closer still. People have been campaigning for this for 40 years, and there have been many false dawns in Parliament. In 1998, the Belfast agreement missed the opportunity to redress the balance when Irish nationality was offered to those in Northern Ireland who were born or naturalised as UK citizens. We had the opportunity to afford the same courtesy to those on the other side of the border.

I am delighted with the way the Home Office has engaged on this issue. The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border has been a joy to engage with over the past couple of months. I am sorry that he is not here today to see the final stage. I suspect that he is sorry too, but he has a most able substitute today, the Minister for Security, who has thoughtfully engaged on these issues around Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom for many years—someone for whom we have huge regard. So if ever there was somebody to be here on behalf of the Legal Migration Minister, I am delighted it is the Security Minister and he is able to respond on behalf of the Government.

This is a great and wonderful opportunity for the people of our islands to unify, to strengthen bonds, and to get official and national recognition of the ties that bind us together; something that does not need to have discord and has not had discord. I mentioned Labour earlier. I should have mentioned that the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), my constituency neighbour, was pleased to be a part of the Bill Committee. She has been totally supportive, as has the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) from the Alliance party.

If I have the leave of the House, I will probably have a few more thanks to offer, but having an opportunity in this way to progress, most substantively, a 40-year campaign is so wonderfully appreciated. I hope many across our country will benefit from it.

13:41
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I would just like to put on the record my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and his hon. Friends on their persistence. Moving Third Reading with the support of the Government and the Opposition is a testament to what can happen in this place if people persist. I remember chairing a Westminster Hall debate in which the right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends were putting pressure on the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). Basically, my right hon. Friend was unable to respond coherently to the pertinent points that were being made. No doubt that is one of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill has now gained success. He has successfully cross-examined Ministers into the ground and they have been unable to respond coherently, so many congratulations to him.

13:42
Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on bringing forward this important Bill, which I welcome and am very happy to support.

The Bill highlights the closeness of the relationship between the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom. It addresses the problem that somebody born in the Republic of Ireland, who is free to travel, work and vote across the United Kingdom, is still required to undertake a citizenship test when applying for British citizenship. It is an oversight that can be easily made to assume that an Irish citizen living anywhere in the United Kingdom, but especially in Northern Ireland, would already be entitled to British citizenship, especially given the uniqueness of our relationship and our close social, cultural and historical ties.

I therefore welcome the Bill, which removes a legal technicality and simplifies the process for Irish citizens wishing to officially become British citizens, but I would like to ask the Minister how it might operate in reverse. So, while I welcome the Bill, I would like some clarification from him on how that would work.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call the shadow Minister.

13:44
Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to speak on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on his success in the ballot and on navigating his Bill through Second Reading, Committee and hopefully through these stages very shortly. As we heard in the previous debate, legislating via the private Member’s Bill route is a tricky art and anyone who reaches this stage deserves credit. I know the right hon. Gentleman has spoken at previous stages about his good fortune, and doubtlessly that is part of the process, but I thought when reading those debates that he was selling himself short to some degree. It is no mean feat finding an issue that is compelling and relevant and that support can be built around from across the House. That is part of the alchemy of a private Member’s Bill, and he has passed all those tests with this Bill and deserves full credit for that, because in those elements there is no fortune at all.

As my Front-Bench colleagues have put on the record previously, and as I am pleased to reiterate, Labour supports the Bill. It is a straightforward Bill, but one that I know will be appreciated by many people. Indeed, following the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the process put in place to ensure that those from Northern Ireland who wish to gain Irish citizenship would be able to do so, many would be surprised to learn that reciprocal arrangements are not in place to ensure that Irish citizens have a route to British citizenship if they so wish. We thank the right hon. Member and, as he has done, those who have come before him over not just years but, in this case, four decades. We thank those campaigners for putting this issue on the agenda and pushing for change, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) says, using each and every device to push it forward persuasively. That is a real model for an effective campaign.

It is right that long-term residents of Northern Ireland—or the UK as a whole; we should recognise the Government’s wisdom in making that suggestion and change during the process—who are Irish citizens and wish to be recognised as citizens of the UK should have that right. On that central point, I reaffirm Labour’s support for the Bill promoted by the right hon. Member for Belfast East. Again, I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government for their wisdom in determining that there need not be a citizenship test.

I am a strong believer—I dare say the Minister might say this is not always true because, in Opposition, we love to point out exceptions to rules—in having regimes and structures. We can always come up with special cases to say that this or that should be different, but in most cases we must have a consistent regime. This, however, is a different case. The nature of the relationships between our nations and within our nations means that not exempting those individuals from a citizenship test would be not only, frankly, a waste of time, but in many cases deeply insulting, as the right hon. Gentleman says. That is wise, and again we very much support that.

That leaves only one more point of contention, and that is fees, which the right hon. Gentleman touched on, and I too want to press the Minister a little on this matter. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, we know that fees in this area are in the region of a little more than £1,500. That is a significant sum to anybody. I know we are to expect that the issue of fees will be settled separately in regulations, and the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that too, and will be debated in the usual way by the House. We know that Ministers have engaged on the matter and, again, we welcome that, but I wonder whether the Minister might at least tell us the direction of the Government’s thinking in this regard, because it is significant in pertaining to how the Bill will operate in practice and how accessible the provisions of the Bill will be in future.

Will the Minister set out what further discussions he and his colleagues have had since Committee and whether the Government are working up potentially agreeable solutions particularly to test this basic point of substance, which I think the Government have accepted, that by waiving the citizenship test, the case involving Irish citizens is different to that of citizens of other countries who seek to obtain British citizenship? Again, that is a significant point, but a point of consensus. Does the Minister therefore believe that the same principle could be read across on fees as well? If so, will that give us a sense of what we might expect in regulations?

I am keen to hear from the Minister about the Government’s direction of travel on this issue, and perhaps when they expect to reach their destination and have something public to share about what they intend to do. At this point, I am keen to hear those reflections from the Minister and do not want to detain the House any further, so I will wind up there. I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and those who have worked with him for the success of the Bill so far, and I wish him every luck as it proceeds to the other place.

13:44
Tom Tugendhat Portrait The Minister for Security (Tom Tugendhat)
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On behalf of the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), let me start by thanking all Members, from across the House, particularly those who served on the Bill Committee, who have engaged in debating the Bill’s merits on Second Reading, in Committee and today on Third Reading.

As many have said, this Bill is a huge credit to the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who has rightly championed people being able to have the right to recognition as he has set out. He has conducted himself in an exemplary manner, not only with my ministerial colleague, who speaks highly of him and has been grateful for the engagement he has had in recent weeks and months, but with Home Office officials. As others have noted, the right hon. Gentleman has been persistent, diligent and challenging where the answers have not always been forthcoming as quickly as he would have liked. He has managed to get the right answers and to get them written down, so it is a huge testament to him that the Bill has secured cross-party support.

On Second Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker noted the “good-natured and constructive debate” that had taken place. I am pleased that that has continued, although I am not surprised; in the Government’s view, this Bill is doing the right thing and will make a real difference to Irish nationals and to those who have made their homes here in the UK and want to take the next step to become British citizens.

As we sit here, I am reminded of the words of our late sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, when she spoke in 2011 on the occasion of her state visit to the Republic of Ireland:

“no one who looked to the future over the past centuries could have imagined the strength of the bonds that are now in place between the Governments and the people of our two nations”.

What the right hon. Gentleman is doing today is making that recognition a little clearer, fresher and more meaningful.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border also asked me again to reflect on the unique position that Irish nationals hold within the UK. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for straying when I reflect on not an arbitrary group of individuals, but my own family. Like many in the UK, I have family going back to what is now the Republic of Ireland but was then the island of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. They were from Limerick, and my father exercised his rights and secured an Irish passport a number of years ago. That connection is something that many of us see not just in the living expression of our ancestry, but in the history of freedom that our citizens have secured together. We do not need to look down many of the memorials here in England before we start seeing names that are clearly from the island of Ireland and realise that our shared struggle for freedom is reflected, sadly, in the pain of loss of families across these islands.

Irish nationals already enjoy the right to work, study and vote, alongside having benefits such as access to our health service and social welfare. The common travel area arrangements for Irish nationals are now in statute under 3ZA of the Immigration Act 1971. That protects the ability of Irish nationals to enter and live in the UK without needing a grant of immigration, leave to enter or remain. That relationship is reciprocated by the Irish Government in regard to British citizens entering Ireland and this strengthens the relationship between our two countries. Indeed, the right to hold and to live both identities was also guaranteed in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and many people have exercised it. Indeed a member of my private office who luxuriates under the joint nationality exercises it to this day.

Irish nationals who are exercising their rights to live and work in the UK must currently undertake the naturalisation process to gain British citizenships. There are many requirements associated with naturalisation. There are many requirements associated with naturalisation, such as a period of residence—usually five years—which is replicated in the Bill. However, many immigration requirements for naturalisation are designed for those who require formal grants of leave. It is not right to fully apply those to Irish nationals seeking to obtain British citizenship. Equally, the need to demonstrate competence of language—usually English, although Welsh and Scots Gaelic are also options—and to pass the life in the United Kingdom test seems at odds with the position of Irish nationals in the United Kingdom. We are glad that they do not feature in this Bill.

This issue has been raised in the House previously by hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). Likewise, it has been discussed by Lord Hay of Ballyore, who sits in the other place—as an aside, a member of my private office has decided quite extraordinarily to go and run a marathon in Donegal this weekend, for which I can only wish him good luck. They have highlighted the strong feeling about the issue, in addition to the cost of naturalisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby would like to express his happiness with the Bill and the improvements it makes to our statute book.

Although the Government supported the underlying principles of the Bill, full Government support was dependent on the Bill being amended. Thanks to the right hon. Member for Belfast East and the constructive approach that has characterised the Bill, those amendments were readily included. Following the actions of Committee members who scrutinised and debated the Bill, the amendments have passed and the Government are able to offer their full, unbridled and unconditional support as it completes its way through the House and moves to the other place.

The Bill as introduced to the House allowed for only people born in Ireland after 31 December 1948, having been resident in Northern Ireland for five years, to register as British citizens. The right hon. Member and the whole House will know that before that date, citizens could not have been born in the Republic of Ireland as the Republic had not been declared, so they were automatically eligible for British citizenship.

The right hon. Member will forgive me for expressing that his modest initial proposal did not recognise the idea that he and I both share: the United Kingdom is whole and integral, and therefore citizenship laws that apply in Northern Ireland, as he has suggested, should apply to the rest of the United Kingdom, except when a particular treaty—the Good Friday agreement, for example—changes elements of that. I am glad that he has welcomed—as I knew he would—the expansion of the Bill to the whole United Kingdom.

Following the amendments made in Committee, the Bill’s provisions will apply to all eligible Irish nationals of all ages who live anywhere in the United Kingdom for five years. As noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby on Second Reading, the amendments made in Committee have done that, first, by making the route available to Irish nationals—regardless of how they became Irish—and not just those born in Ireland. Those covered by the provisions of the Bill as it was introduced will still be included, but the amended Bill is more expansive in approach. It will give all eligible Irish nationals a more straightforward pathway to becoming a British citizen.

Secondly, it does not have a requirement that an Irish national must have been born after a certain date. Under the amended Bill, people born on or before 31 December 1948 will have the same opportunity to make use of it as people born after that date. Thirdly, qualifying residents can be from any part of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland. That ensures that all eligible Irish nationals resident anywhere in the United Kingdom will be able to make use of this important piece of legislation. That reflects the important point that becoming a British citizen is about a tie to the whole United Kingdom, not just one constituent part, even were we to expect its uptake to be proportionately more in Northern Ireland. I know that the right hon. Member for Belfast East agrees strongly with that.

The Bill will add a new registration route to the British Nationality Act 1981. It seeks to insert a new section 4AA to allow any Irish national who has completed the qualifying residential period in the United Kingdom to be registered as a British citizen if they apply and meet the requirements. The requirements are a period of five years’ lawful residence without excess absences, a specific assessment of the 12 months prior to the application, and being of good character. The Secretary of State would of course retain discretion over the residential requirements, allowing him or her to treat them as having been met even when they have not, where the exceptional circumstances of a particular case merit doing so.

In keeping with other applications for British citizenship, albeit not on the face of the Bill, Irish nationals would also be expected to enrol their biometrics and successful applicants aged 18 or over would be required to attend a citizenship ceremony. It would be remiss of me not to highlight that this Bill, alongside all other residential application routes for British citizenship, is subject to the relevant sections of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 on citizenship applications. I do not need to revisit the Government’s position in this area, as agreed by Parliament in passing that Act.

A question came up from my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) about reciprocal requests to the Irish Government. That is a matter for the Irish Government, but I have to say we have an extremely friendly relationship with the Irish Government; indeed, the elevation of the new Taoiseach in recent days was a matter for some celebration to many of us. He has been a friend for a number of years. I am sure he will serve the Irish people extremely well, and I hope that the friendship we have developed over the years may see an evolution in this area—but that is a matter for them, not for us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby would like to reiterate his acknowledgement that the right hon. Member for Belfast East is not in agreement with the Government over the aims of the Illegal Migration Act. However, it is necessary to ensure a consistent approach across the statute book, even if it is highly unlikely that an Irish national would ever fall foul of that Act’s provisions.

Furthermore, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby is cognisant of the discussion to be had around fees for this registration route and notes the questions and comments that were raised in Committee on that point. As Members of this House may be aware, the unit costs for border and migration services are reviewed annually, an exercise that is currently under way following the financial year end. The unit costs for the proposed route will form part of that annual review, to ensure consistency in that calculation; once that is completed, my hon. Friend will be able to engage further with the right hon. Member for Belfast East in that space.

I must make clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Corby also did, that this is intended not to be a profitable scheme for the Government, but merely a way of recognising that there is a cost, and it would be right that that cost fell on those exercising this right and not on every citizen. This Bill has enjoyed varied and cross-party discussion and debate on its journey through the House. That discussion facilitated the amendments passed in Committee, which will expand the number of Irish nationals in the United Kingdom who may make use of the provisions to obtain British citizenship.

From early in the life cycle of this Bill, it was and continues to be the Government’s belief that a dedicated route for Irish citizens will reduce the burden for such applicants and create a more straightforward process to becoming a British citizen for our closest neighbours. The establishment of a dedicated route could potentially also allow for a lower fee to be charged, although I have already highlighted that that must be considered in line with ongoing work surrounding the border and migration services fees.

The Government are unequivocal in our support for the underlying principles of the Bill, which was first introduced by the right hon. Member for Belfast East, and we are pleased to provide our full support for the Bill as amended in Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border and I would like once again to concur with and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his success in the ballot and on helping the Government to find a way to correct the issue in our nationality system. I personally congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and wish his important Bill well as it moves through to the other place. It will make a welcome amendment to our current legislation—one that I hope will be exercised by those who have rightly and in a most welcome fashion made their home among us and are part of our lives today.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With the leave of the House, I call Gavin Robinson.

14:05
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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As I said, Mr Deputy Speaker, this will be just a list of thank yous from me, and I thank you for your expert chairmanship. I thank the Minister for the way in which he has engaged and picked up the baton incredibly well—I appreciate it—and I thank the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), who has been great in his engagement. I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for his comments.

Anne-Marie Griffiths from the Public Bill Office has been very forgiving, given that I have continually asked questions that she has probably answered on four or five occasions. I appreciate all the assistance from the Public Bill Office. The Home Office officials have been incredible in their assistance, expertise, guidance, encouragement and support, so huge thanks go to Mr Darlow and his team. I thank James in my team for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

I thank the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). I could not explain to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the stress associated with organising private Members’ Bills Fridays, which she outlined for me, but you might ask her later on. I thank the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) for her comments, and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), to whom I am grateful for remembering the Westminster Hall debate and our interactions with the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker).

The hon. Member for Christchurch wishes to follow my Bill with the Second Reading of his own, so with that, I shall sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill

First Reading
15:19
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill

Second Reading
13:17
Moved by
Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP)
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My Lords, I am delighted to move this Bill in your Lordships’ House.

The Bill has a long and frustrating past. My colleague the Member for East Londonderry, Mr Campbell, a Member of the other House since 2001, introduced a Private Member’s Bill along similar lines as far back as 2005, which unfortunately ran out of time. Over the years, he has continually argued, through debates with and Questions to various Ministers, for long-standing residents of Northern Ireland born in the Republic of Ireland after 1948 to be recognised as citizens of this United Kingdom without the need to undertake a lengthy and costly process of applying to the Home Office for British citizenship.

The historical background to this issue is vital. We all know the history of Ireland: before 1922 Ireland was part of this United Kingdom, and between 1922 and 1949 the Irish Free State had dominion status and people born there were British subjects. The Republic of Ireland passed its own citizenship law in 1935. However, until 1948 people born anywhere in Ireland continued to be regarded as British subjects. Under the British Nationality Act 1948, which came into force on 1 January 1949, people born in the Republic of Ireland ceased to be British subjects.

Members will recognise that the problem in all this is that, when we listen to people in the media and elsewhere speak about the Belfast agreement, we often hear them cite parity of esteem—two communities working together and recognising themselves as British, Irish or other. Unfortunately, people born in the Republic of Ireland after 1948 cannot designate themselves as British in Northern Ireland. Surely this goes against the Belfast agreement, which recognises the birthright of all people born in Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as British, Irish or both, as they so choose.

Through the Belfast agreement, efforts were made to address issues of identity. While we reflect on the Belfast agreement, it was accepted that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom was constitutionally settled. Even those with an Irish identity were afforded the opportunity to obtain Irish citizenship. The approach taken by the Irish Government offered people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to obtain Irish citizenship; some enjoy dual citizenship of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Unfortunately, what was not settled at the time was in the other direction. Perhaps this was an anomaly that was missed or overlooked when the Belfast and St Andrews agreements were being negotiated, but we have an opportunity with this Bill to right a great wrong. The House knows our history, our relationship with these isles, and how the two have intertwined. The Bill gives us the opportunity to provide the finished piece of that relationship jigsaw. For anyone who was born in the Republic of Ireland who has made their home in the United Kingdom, and who satisfies the residency test, they should be able to avail themselves of UK citizenship.

The Irish Government have a very simple process of applying for an Irish passport, the system for which was reviewed in 2011. If you were born on the island of Ireland, or if your partner, grandparents or great grandparents were, you are entitled to an Irish passport, at a cost of €80—not the £1,500 to be a British citizen. That is the difference. It is a simple process, and when you apply for an Irish passport you can trace the whole process. Online applications can be completed within 20 working days. According to the latest figures, Irish passport applications have gone up by more than 30% and British passport applications have gone down by well over 40%. That is the answer to the problem in all of this.

This is a very short, two-clause Bill. It seeks to amend the British Nationality Act 1981 to enable citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK to register as British subjects. The Bill would establish a separate, stand-alone route to British citizenship for people born after 1948 who have made Northern Ireland their home for a significant period. Qualifying residents will be able to be part of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland. I welcome that, because British citizenship should reflect the whole of the United Kingdom—this is not just about Northern Ireland, as shown in the amendment that the Government added to the Bill in the other place. That amendment strengthens the Bill, as it is now widened out to the rest of this United Kingdom. I would hope that the Bill will create a more straightforward route to becoming a British citizen—and, of course, that a Life in the UK test would not be required.

I want to raise one issue around the fees. I know that the Government very much support the Bill, but it appears unjust to require someone born in the Republic of Ireland who has lived in Northern Ireland for virtually their entire life to pay a fee of £1,500 to become a British citizen. It would help the House if the Minister could confirm what criteria would be used in setting the level of application fees under the new scheme. Over the years, what has put off a lot of people—even those who qualify for British citizenship—is that they still have to pay £1,500, and when they pay it and are accepted as a British citizen, there is no guarantee that they will be given a British passport. It allows you to apply for a British passport only after you have British citizenship, at a huge cost of £1,500. Can you imagine two people in a household paying that? That is £1,500 each, and at the moment for a child it is £1,000 to apply for British citizenship. When we come out the other end with this Bill, I hope there will be a simplified fee, with a simplified process. That is important. The whole process of applying for British citizenship has put a lot of people off. I would like to think that, under the new system, we can have a simplified process that works for everybody.

The Bill unites people from all backgrounds and traditions in Northern Ireland, whether they describe their nationality as British, Irish or other. This is a non-controversial issue. Even the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has looked at this issue on several occasions and made a number of recommendations to the Government, who then were not listening. There has been unity of purpose on the part of members of the committee from Northern Ireland on this whole issue; there has not been a dissenting voice. The Bill in its current form provides a wonderful opportunity for us as a nation to recognise our nearest neighbours and bring them closer. There have been many false dawns over the last 40 years on this. I hope and trust that today is an important moment to address this imbalance. I beg to move.

13:27
Lord Rogan Portrait Lord Rogan (UUP)
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My Lords, I welcome the Bill. It is a proud moment for me to stand in your Lordships’ House today to support the Bill and the efforts of my noble friend Lord Hay of Ballyore in getting it one step closer to reaching the statute book.

Some of your Lordships may recall the last time we debated the issues the Bill addresses in this House, in 2022. It was obvious then, as I said in my speech on that occasion, that the bar on my noble friend and others like him to be recognised as true British citizens was not an anomaly but an abomination.

As chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party on Good Friday 1998, I accept my share of responsibility that people born in the Republic of Ireland were not included in the Belfast agreement’s definition of “the people of Northern Ireland”, and did not therefore benefit from its birthright provisions on identity and citizenship. However, many years have passed since then, and the error should have been corrected long before now.

Alongside my noble friend Lord Hay, much credit for where we have reached should go to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, which in 2021 conducted an inquiry into the barriers to UK citizenship for Northern Ireland residents. The committee’s members recommended that a bespoke solution was needed for Irish citizens to be granted UK citizenship, reflecting

“personal ties, relationships, geopolitical realities and movement of people”

between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It also argued that the application fee, then £1,330—as mentioned by my noble friend, and which has risen in the intervening period to £1,630—should be abolished, alongside the requirement to pass the Life in the UK test. His Majesty’s Government’s response at the time could perhaps be described as dismissive, indeed verging on cold. However, a commitment was given by a Northern Ireland Office Minister at a subsequent Westminster Hall debate to reflect further on the points raised.

That period of reflection appeared to be open-ended, until January this year, when His Majesty’s Government committed to amending the current arrangements, as part of the Donaldson deal to persuade the DUP to reform the Stormont Executive. Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to welcome the outcome, which, if the Bill receives Royal Assent, could benefit more than 30,000 people living in Northern Ireland and more than 250,000 across the UK as a whole.

I commend the sensible amendments made to the Bill in the other place, including the removal of the requirement for successful applicants to undertake a life in the UK test or prove their language skills. However, I note with significant alarm that the cost of applying for a UK passport via this route is yet to be finalised. Indeed, in Committee in the other place, the Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove said that fees were

“under active consideration as part of a wider piece of work. It is being carried out in the usual way when it comes to fee setting for borders and migrations services”.—[Official Report, Commons, British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill Committee, 17/4/24; col. 8.]

Perhaps I am a sceptic, but I have also served in your Lordships’ House for more than a quarter of a century. In his wind-up, I hope the Minister will reassure me that there will be no additional charges to applicants beyond the standard cost of a British passport. To add a premium on top would be wrong and, most importantly, send the opposite of a warm welcome to the newest British citizens. It is with pleasure that I support the passage of the Bill.

13:31
Lord Browne of Belmont Portrait Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP)
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My Lords, I support this Private Member’s Bill and congratulate my noble friend Lord Hay of Ballyore on securing it, along with Gavin Robinson MP, who steered it successfully through the other place on 26 April 2024.

My noble friend has outlined the purpose of the Bill concisely and with great clarity. It is interesting to note that it has taken some 40 years of campaigning to achieve parity of treatment for Irish citizens who want to identify with Britishness. My noble friend has campaigned on this very personal issue for decades and I know that today is important for him—and, indeed, for many thousands of others in Northern Ireland and right across the United Kingdom, who will be impacted by the common-sense changes that will be introduced if this legislation passes.

Unfortunately, when the Belfast agreement was being drafted in 1998, an opportunity was missed to remove the financial and bureaucratic barriers that existed, making it difficult for Irish-born residents, who had lived for many years in the United Kingdom, to attain British citizenship. They may have identified as British for years or many decades, but a costly, overly bureaucratic and uniquely discriminatory process meant that, in the eyes of the law, they are technically not fully recognised as British citizens yet. To suggest that someone who has been paying taxes and contributing to society for decades should have to satisfy a life in the UK test and prove that they can speak English highlights the absurdity of the present situation.

It is wrong, in my view, that anyone should have to pay a naturalisation fee of £1,500 and complete a citizenship test. This is contrary to the spirit of reciprocation offered through the Belfast and St Andrews agreements. I welcome that the Minister and the Government have engaged with the Democratic Unionist Party and looked seriously at a different approach to this issue.

The process for attaining British citizenship has been set in stark contrast to the simple and easy way of applying for an Irish passport for those born and living in Northern Ireland. Some, who have never been to or lived in the Irish Republic, can quickly apply for and receive Irish passports for a small fee of €80, under the terms of the Belfast agreement. I am pleased that the Bill now provides an opportunity to address this imbalance and a parity of treatment that allows Irish-born citizens resident in the United Kingdom to identify with their Britishness.

I support the changes in this Bill. They widen the scope, as the Bill will now extend to England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and even the British Overseas Territories. This will extend the potential to get a British passport to some 27,000 persons. The changes made in this Bill reflect the fact that many Irish nationals wish to be recognised as British.

The noble Lords, Lord Hay and Lord Rogan, raised the vital issue of fees. Can the Minister bring any clarity on the setting of the fees, as it is not in the Bill? I also note that, if passed, the Bill would come into force only on a day appointed by the Secretary of State. Does the Minister not agree that the commencement date needs to be on the day after Royal Assent, so that the Act can be expedited quickly? I suggest that, when the Bill becomes law—as I hope it will—the Home Office should look at launching a publicity campaign explaining that those who are legally entitled can apply for British citizenship, because there are many people who rightly qualify but may be ignorant of the process.

I will give a short illustration of this. In a case that is ongoing at the moment, a couple encountered great difficulties in registering their child as British. The mother, a British citizen, was due to give birth in a hospital in Belfast, but had to be transferred to a Dublin hospital to receive the necessary specialised medical treatment. When the child was born in Dublin, by law, the birth had to be registered in the Republic of Ireland. However, this meant that, when the child was transferred back to a hospital in Belfast for further treatment, it was not registered under the national health system and the parents could not register it with a general practitioner. As a consequence, they received numerous medical bills that caused them considerable stress. It took a considerable period of time—more than eight months, I believe—for them to realise that, because they had British citizenship, they were entitled to register the child with the United Kingdom authorities.

This Bill provides a solution to what was a uniquely unfair process and I am pleased to support it.

13:38
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore. I am delighted that, after his many years of persistent campaigning, it is finally beginning to pay off. It is a pleasure to support this short Bill from these Benches.

I am glad that the Government appear to have shifted their position on this matter somewhat, towards one of common sense. I welcome that they have encouraged a wider interpretation than in the original Bill, tabled by Gavin Robinson MP in the House of Commons; and that the Bill was amended in Committee so that it will now apply to all Irish citizens, wherever they live in the UK, should they wish to benefit from it. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said, when we last debated this matter during a debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hay, in October 2022, there was a somewhat dismissive attitude to it. I repeat that I am very glad that that attitude appears now to be shifting.

As I referred to in that debate, I am someone who has benefited from the generosity of the Irish passport provisions. My father was born in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh so, three years, ago I applied for an Irish passport, for which I am increasingly grateful. It is right that we recognise our special relationship, shared history and common bonds with our Irish friends and neighbours. So many people in the UK have Irish roots and ancestry—including the Minister, Tom Tugendhat MP, who dealt with this Bill at Third Reading in the other place.

It is also welcome that some of the unnecessary—and frankly insulting, as the noble Lord, Lord Hay, said—previous obstacles to acquiring UK passports and UK citizenship will now be dropped as a result of the Bill, once it goes through all stages. There are a few remaining questions, which have already been raised by other noble Lords, not least on fees and costs. I would therefore be very grateful if the Minister can give an indication of when the orders on fees for processing applications will be published, and what processes will be used for consultation.

In conclusion, I am pleased that this constructive Bill has so far received cross-party support. I hope that very soon, the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, who has served his country so long as an MLA, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and now as a Member of your Lordships’ House, will finally be able to have a UK passport and citizenship.

13:40
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, for the clarity of his explanation of this short but very important Bill, which has at its heart a simple but long-standing and unresolved issue, and for his long-standing campaign on this. The issue is that, notwithstanding the commitments made by the UK and Irish Governments in the Good Friday agreement more than 25 years ago, there are still outstanding questions about eligibility and access to citizenship for many people in Northern Ireland. My understanding is that attempts have been made to resolve this before, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hay, including by a previous Private Member’s Bill in 2005, and I note that, in 2021, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee produced a short report that concluded:

“The Government should abolish the naturalisation fee charged to Irish applicants who wish to naturalise as British citizens”.


Understandably, there has been great strength of feeling about the fact that there is such a significant contrast between the arrangements for people born in Northern Ireland, who are entitled to Irish citizenship at birth and need only pay the usual fee for an Irish passport, and those born in the Republic of Ireland after 31 December 1948, who must go through the process of satisfying residency requirements, passing a Life in the UK test, proving language skills and paying a fee—which I think is now £1,630.

We believe it is time that this long-standing anomaly was resolved, so we will certainly support the Bill today. Why has such heavy weather has been made of this, and why it has taken so long to get this through? We note that the Bill was amended with cross-party support in the House of Commons, and we welcome the amendments, moved by Gavin Robinson and accepted by the Minister in the other place, that broaden the scope of the Bill to cover “Irish citizens” rather than “persons born in Ireland” and change the absence requirement, as well as changing the title of the Bill to reflect the new provisions.

As all noble Lords have mentioned, the question of fees is still outstanding, and as my honourable friend Stephen Kinnock pointed out in the other place, it would really help the House if we could have some confirmation of

“what criteria will be used in setting the level of application fees under the new system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/1/24; col. 561.]

It has been argued that there should be parity, and there should be nothing to pay other than the current cost of a British passport. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some more information about the Government’s proposals in that regard.

I believe it was confirmed by the Minister in the other place that the Life in the UK test would not apply to applicants, but the Minister for Security indicated that perhaps a citizenship ceremony might be a requirement. Can the Minister clarify what is being proposed in relation to these two elements? In my view, retention of either would mean there is still a difference between the processes of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Although I come from a town in the south of England, it is fair to say we have incredibly strong connections with Ireland. As my town was built largely in the 1950s and 60s, there was a very significant community of Irish settlers and pioneers, who came to build the town and work in its industries. Our first Irish mayor, Mick Cotter, who later became a freeman of the borough, was one of those who came to build our town, but who also gave us the true legacy of a strong sense of community that blesses us to this day. The Irish Network Stevenage is one of our strongest community groups to this day, with over 1,000 members. When I was reading the background to the Bill, it reminded me of the fabulous service the network gives in helping people with their Irish citizenship. If members are listening today, I hope they will feel that we are at last doing the right thing here today—I will be in real trouble if we are not.

It is time the promises made 25 years ago were kept and this anomalous situation put right once and for all. I thank all those who have worked on and supported this Bill on its passage through both Houses, and all those who have spoken today.

13:44
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. This Bill will make it possible for Irish nationals who have been resident in the UK for five years to become British citizens in a far easier way than is currently possible. Before discussing the detail of the measures, I recognise the interest of, and work done in the past by, many noble Lords on this subject, most notably the Bill’s sponsor today, the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore. He will be aware that following the introduction of this Bill by the right honourable Member for Belfast East in the other place, the Government have supported its underlying principles. I am glad to say that our full support for it was confirmed following amendments passed in Committee.

Irish nationals can currently work, study and vote in the UK and are usually deemed to be settled from the moment they enter the UK. The common travel area arrangements for Irish nationals are now set out formally in statute in the Immigration Act 1971, which provides protections for the ability of Irish nationals to enter and live in the United Kingdom without needing a grant of immigration leave to enter or remain. This relationship is reciprocated by the Irish Government in regard to British citizens entering Ireland, and this strengthens the relationship between our two countries.

Irish nationals who are resident in the UK must currently complete the naturalisation process to gain British citizenship. There are many requirements associated with naturalisation, such as a period of residence, which is usually five years, and this is replicated in this Bill. However, many of the immigration-related requirements for naturalisation are designed for those who require formal permission to enter and live in the UK and are not applicable to Irish nationals. Equally, the UK has a unique relationship with Ireland, as noted eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, and the close historical links, geographical proximity and shared institutions between the two countries mean that those who could make use of this Bill would, in our view, already have a sufficient knowledge of language and life in the UK, which would be further reinforced by five years’ qualifying residence. As such, being expected to pass the Life in the UK test or to demonstrate competence in English is inconsistent with the reality.

The Bill as first introduced was limited in scope to Irish nationals born in Ireland after 31 December 1948 who were resident solely in Northern Ireland. The Government are delighted that the Bill before your Lordships today is now marginally broader in scope and more inclusive, and we should note the constructive conversations that led to these changes and have characterised the Bill’s progress.

Following amendments, the route to British citizenship will now be available to Irish nationals regardless of how they became Irish, not just those born in Ireland. Secondly, it will not have a requirement that an Irish national must have been born after 31 December 1948, meaning that there are no age restrictions and all Irish nationals may make use of the Bill. Thirdly, qualifying residency will be in any part of the United Kingdom, not just in Northern Ireland. This reflects the important consideration that becoming a British citizen is about a tie to the whole of the United Kingdom, not just one constituent part of it, even if the Bill may be expected to be used proportionately more in Northern Ireland. That is the right approach.

I turn to the specific details of the Bill. Clause 1 will insert a new section, namely Section 4AA, into the British Nationality Act 1981, which will allow an Irish national to be registered as a British citizen if they make an application and satisfy the requirements. To qualify under new Section 4AA, the person must have been in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the period of five years ending with the date of their application. They must not have been absent from the United Kingdom for more than 450 days in the five-year period ending with the date of their application, and they must not have been absent from the UK for more than 90 days in the 12-month period ending with the date of their application. They must also not have been in breach of the immigration laws at any time in the five-year period ending with the date of their application. Of course, the vast majority of Irish nationals already comply with this. The Secretary of State will, in special circumstances, be able to treat a person who has applied for registration under this section as satisfying the requirements, even if they did not fully satisfy them.

Clause 2 sets out the extent and commencement of the Bill. It extends to England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories, in keeping with the same extent of the British Nationality Act 1981, which it amends. It will come into force by commencement regulations made by the Secretary of State at a later date.

All speakers have made reference to the potential cost to applicants of this registration route. This is currently being considered. The Home Office undertakes an annual review of its migration and border services, and unit costs for this route will be calculated in line with the fees set as part of that exercise. The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border has committed to further discussions with the right honourable Member for Belfast East in this regard. However, nothing substantive has yet been decided on this matter. The Minister also noted the strength of views expressed in the other place on the issue of fees, and I will ensure that he is similarly made aware of the comments made in this House today.

Noble Lords have also queried when this registration route will be available. For a commencement date to be set, the Bill would need to be introduced by a commencement order and, were there to be any fees, there would need to be fees regulations. The Home Office is currently working to design processes and IT systems to enable decision-making on applications in this route. The commencement of this registration route will, of course, need to be fitted in with respect to the Government’s overall priorities.

I am pleased to say that there is considerable support for this Bill within Parliament and among the public. I hope that noble Lords will agree on the importance of the legislation. With this in mind, I can assure the House that I have listened carefully, as ever, to all the contributions made today. I look forward to continued engagement with noble Lords as the Bill goes forward.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, again for introducing this Bill. I commend the work done to ensure the smooth passage in the other place by the right honourable member for Belfast East and the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border. I commend this Bill to the House.

13:50
Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP)
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My Lords, I thank Members for their contributions this afternoon, especially for their cross-party support for the Bill. I also congratulate my colleague the Member for Belfast East, Gavin Robinson. After nine years, he successfully secured the opportunity for a Private Member’s Bill on this issue and steered it through the other House.

Sometimes it is not mentioned, but I want to place on record my appreciation to the staff of this House, particularly the Library and the Minister’s officials, who have been kind and very engaging on this Bill. Sometimes, we forget the staff in this House who do a tremendous job.

I come back to the cost of all of this. I listened to what the Minister has said on the cost and when the Bill might commence when it comes out the other end. I emphasise to the Government that they should look seriously at the cost of fees in all of this. It should not still mean that it is £1,500 to apply for British citizenship. It would be totally wrong and a waste of time for this particular Bill. I believe the Government are coming at this Bill with a good spirit, and that is important.

The other issue is when all this might start. I got a wee bit worried when the Minister said that the Home Office is working out the issues around it. The Home Office has a lot of issues, and I know this Government have a lot of issues, but once again I emphasise to the Minister and the Government not to hold this particular Bill up—or this particular piece of law when it eventually hits the ground. I would not want it to be another six or nine months or a year until somebody in the Home Office works out the procedures around all of this.

I would hope, at the end of it all, there will be a very simple process of applying for British citizenship, because that is what the Bill is all about. It is about simplifying the process and reducing the cost. It is important that we can achieve that sooner rather than later. Once again, I thank the whole House, particularly for the cross-party support that the Bill has received.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 1.54 pm.

British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill

Order of Commitment discharged
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 17 April 2024 - (17 Apr 2024)
Order of Commitment
10:59
Motion
Moved by
Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Bill

Third Reading
10:59
Motion
Moved by
Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government and all the political parties in this House on the spirit in which they approached this Bill. This is an issue that goes back almost 20 years. The first Private Members’ Bill on the subject was introduced in the House of Commons in 2005 by my colleague Gregory Campbell. Unfortunately, it fell out of time. I can tell your Lordships that when I heard of the election date being announced, I almost said to myself, “Where is the Bill now? Has it fallen again after 20 years?” But no: with the good co-operation of the House and all the political parties, the Bill is on the Order Paper today and at its very final stages. I thank everybody very much. It is a Bill that will allow people who want to demonstrate their Britishness to apply for a British passport and for British citizenship without going through a lengthy process and without paying a huge amount of money. I thank the House.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I will very briefly pay tribute to the work that the noble Lord, Lord Hay, has done, but also to lots of other Members—he has mentioned Gregory Campbell; his leader, Gavin Robinson; and many others, including the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, who is sitting next to him—who have corrected an anomaly that has been outstanding for a number of years. It is an important anomaly that needed correcting. I pay tribute to the work that he and many others have done in arriving at this day.

Bill passed.

Royal Assent

20:32
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Finance (No. 2) Act,
Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act,
Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Act,
Media Act,
Pet Abduction Act,
Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act,
Building Societies Act 1986 (Amendment) Act,
British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act,
Zoological Society of London (Leases) Act,
Victims and Prisoners Act,
Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act.