Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Hughes: I wish to check what the Minister said. Let us suppose that a person had been here for only a year, and that he was a spouse. Would he have to wait a little longer before applying for naturalised status?

Angela Eagle: Yes.

Simon Hughes: If we could proceed as we have done so far for the remaining clauses, I am sure that you, Mr. Ilsley, and everyone else will be pleased. I look forward to the revised and no doubt hugely improved version of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—

    '(1A) These requirements shall not apply to a person married to a British citizen and who is settled and has been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom continuously for three years immediately preceding the application for naturalisation'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 48, in page 2, line 23, at end insert—

    '(3) These requirements shall only apply to a person married to a British citizen and who is settled and has been ordinarily resident in the UK continuously for the three years immediately preceding the application for naturalisation.'.

Mr. Malins: We are on similar territory to that dealt with by the previous amendments. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I am grateful to the Immigration Advisory Service for its help with the amendment. We shall not press it to a Division. Current nationality law allows a spouse to apply for naturalisation after having lived legally in the United Kingdom for three years. The amendment would allow a spouse who has been in the United Kingdom for three years exemption from the language test—as at present—on the basis that, after such a time, it is expected that a spouse would be sufficiently integrated into the community of the spouse, who is a British citizen. My question concerns the evidence to show that spouses of British citizens have not integrated. The amendment is a somewhat convoluted way of keeping the status quo for spouses.

Angela Eagle: I am sorry that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The run of good luck that started under clause 2 has come to an abrupt end. We cannot accept the amendment, because it would disapply the clause that requires the inclusion of spouses in the English test and the test of knowledge of life in the United Kingdom. Thus, it would disapply the provision for some spouses of British citizens, but not others. It would be divisive, and some spouses of British citizens would be subject to the requirement while others would not. It would also be anomalous, because it would leave spouses applying for naturalisation as British overseas territory citizens subject to the language requirement, but not those who were married to British citizens.

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We do not consider that there is a justification for continuing to exclude the spouses of British citizens from the knowledge of English requirement or from making them subject to the knowledge of the United Kingdom society requirement, which will apply to non-spouses. The clause is a genuine attempt to be helpful, not to say that spouses of British citizens have not integrated or that there is a problem with them. It is intended simply to give them the same opportunities as everyone else has to do the courses intended for their benefit. That is the principle behind the changes in the clause, which for the first time covers spouses. It is not one from which I or the Government want to walk away, but one to which we are committed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is the Government's position and withdraw the amendment.

Simon Hughes: My point is prompted by the European Union-non-European Union anomaly. I accept the Minister's point and understand the argument, but something strikes me as slightly odd. Let us imagine that the EU is widened to include the applicant countries, and that someone from Romania to take an example at random where the culture has a different tradition, marries someone from this country. They would not have to go through the process because they would have freedom of movement, whereas someone from Australia, Canada or New Zealand, which might be regarded as the places in the world that are the most similar to here, would. Have the Government reflected on the differences that will arise as a result of our European Union obligations?

Angela Eagle: I make the same point as I made before. If the Romanian party to the marriage wanted to naturalise, they would have to take the tests. They are, like others who do not have to pass the tests, in some circumstances subject to our immigration controls and would be allowed to live and work here. However, the key point is that the tests come into play when people apply for naturalisation. It is not our intention to force people who live and work here to apply for naturalisation. Therefore there is an equivalence, despite the European Union obligations. Everyone has to pass the tests when applying for naturalisation.

Mr. Malins: As I said, it is a probing amendment. I have heard the Government's response, and in the circumstances, I do not propose to press it to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Simon Hughes: Have the Government thought through their policy on non-married long-relationship partners, whether heterosexual or same sex? I ask only because the Government have changed their policy on immigration, which is welcome, and have recognised people who have been together for a long time as constituting a couple. What is the policy on nationality? It is obviously illogical that someone who has been married for two minutes and who has

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known the other person for a week can qualify for British nationality, subject to the tests, whereas someone who has been living with someone for 30 years cannot enter on that basis.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman will know that I have considerable sympathy with his point. However, the Bill does not amend, combine or modernise our nationality and immigration processes. I am afraid that we did not have time for such consolidation. Therefore, it is not complete in removing the anomalies that some of us would like removed. There is still a point of policy about when and whether in immigration terms we should equalise unmarried partnerships and give them the same recognition in the rules as is currently given to marriage. The Bill does not deal with that issue, which we shall have to continue to make representations about, consider and discuss.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful for that answer. It was not intended to be a trick question. I wanted to find out whether the Government had applied their general desire to modernise and bring things up to date in this area. I accept the Minister's point. My noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill has introduced a Civil Partnerships Bill in the House of Lords. I hope that in due course people will apply logic throughout Government policy, and I look forward to progress in that area.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Citizenship ceremony, oath and pledge

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

6.45 pm

Simon Hughes: I think that the main debate will take place when we discuss schedule 1, because that opens the matter up. The issue here is whether the Government are right to think that there ought to be citizenship ceremonies, or whether there should be nationality ceremonies. We may have opportunities to address that later.

There is a much more intellectually high-powered argument. The Government have got into a bit of a muddle about whether we are deciding what a person should do to become a citizen, or whether we are talking about what one should need to do to become naturalised as a British national. I wonder whether the Government have thought this through, and whether they have got the language right. Have they talked to all of the relevant experts who think that they might have got the phraseology wrong with regard to international law? It is important to get that right, if we are to get the Bill as a whole right.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Before I call the amendment to schedule 1, I think that it will be of benefit to the Committee if I indicate that I will seek to suspend for

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dinner at or around 7 o'clock, and that the suspension will last until 8.30 pm.

Schedule 1

Citizenship ceremony, oath and pledge

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 69, line 6, leave out second 'and' and insert 'or'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 28, in page 69, line 9, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

No. 29, in page 69, line 13, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

No. 30, in page 69, line 17, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

No. 31, in page 69, line 20, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

No. 25, in page 70, leave out lines 28 to 37 and insert—

    'Oath and Pledge

    ''I, [name], swear by Almighty God that, on becoming a British citizen, I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its constitution, rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.''.'.

Mr. Malins: We may have a long debate on whether schedule 1 should stand part of the Bill, but I this is no more and no less than a probing amendment. It substitutes the word ''or'' for ''and''. Schedule 1 refers to the relevant citizenship and pledge, and my amendment would change that to read ''citizenship, oath or pledge''. I do not press the amendment in the slightest way: I simply think that it is a useful vehicle to discuss why the Government feel that there is a need for an oath and a separate pledge.

Having said that, I and my party support the concepts behind the oath and the pledge, and I am grateful that the proposed oath is not the same as that which must be taken in the United States of America before one becomes a citizen, which states:

    ''I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.''

That is the oath of allegiance that must be taken before the USA will grant citizenship. A simple comparison with what is in the Bill shows that our proposed oath is much more straightforward and much simpler and, in my respectful view, much more acceptable, and therefore much less likely to raise objections across the country.

I know that hon. Members who represent the Liberal Democrats—and in particular the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—may have something to say about the wording with regard to citizenship and nationality. My amendments

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provide a vehicle for discussion and probe the Government's reasoning behind their request for a pledge and a separate oath.

 
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