Thursday, April 02, 2009

Borders, Citizenship & Immigration Bill

Yesterday was the second and final day of Report Stage of the Bill, in which our long-running campaign to secure gender equality of citizenship rights between children born abroad was finally brought to a successful conclusion. Now, it will make no difference to a child whether the claim is based on descent through the female or male line. That was in the Bill as drafted, but we also got some of what we wanted through amendments - the right to registration as a citizen of a minor born to a British citizen by descent, and another on the right of a British National (Overseas) who has no other citizenship to register s a British citizen. These amendments were tabled by the Government in response to our requests made earlier in the Bill, and over some years before that.

In addition, we and the Tories voting together won two major amendments, on the 'common travel area', and the transfer of judicial review cases from the High Court to the 'upper tribunal', though it is possible these victories will be reversed when the Bill gets to the Commons.

Apart from these changes to the text of the Bill, we also had an undertaking to consider further, our proposal to equalise the right of an illegitimate child who can prove their paternity, in circumstances where they would have been entitled to British citizenship if the father had been married to the mother. We also had a sympathetic response from the Minister, Bill Brett, on the citizenship rights of descendants of the Chagos Islanders, who were evicted from their homeland in 1969 to make way for a US base. The Government weren't prepared to give way, but said that discussions between the islanders' representatives and the Foreign Office could include questions of citizenship. We entered the caveat that if the offer is accepted, it should be without prejudice to their claim to be allowed to return.

There was also a promise to add a glossary of the technical terms used in the Bil, as there was in the draft Bill published last July.

The Bill implements an undertaking by the Government for the immigration service to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, as all other public authorities are already obliged to do under the Children Act 2004. But, inexplicably, the duty will only apply to officials in the UK, and not to either officials or contractors escorting families being deported, or at the detention centres we maintain in France and Belgium. We tried to put that right, but couldn't persuade the Tories to vote on it.

Finally, we got an undertaking right at the end, to discuss the position of the children born to British mothers and foreign fathers overseas, who are already being granted citizenship rights under Clause 43 of this Bill as a result of our earlier campaigning over many years, but who are on some other and inferior route to British citizenship. If there are deadlines in the latter process, how would they be allowed to put that process on hold, pending the coming into force of Clause 43? That's what we need to discuss with Ministers now.

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