Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 20, leave out "2(2A)"
and insert "2B".
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
Mr. Speaker: With this, we may discuss
Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 13, 14 and Government amendment (a) thereto,
15 and 237.
Mr. Blunkett: This may be the only moment of anonymity—
Simon Hughes: Surely not.
Mr. Blunkett: I mean unanimity. I must get my vowels, if nothing else, the right way round. The amendment forms part of a broader thrust in the Bill to try to ensure that we build trust at home and are therefore in a better position to welcome those from around the world who are either fleeing death and torture, seeking economic refuge or have rights that they
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want to exercise. We want to try to ensure that they receive a warm welcome in this country. The amendment seeks to achieve that.
We are talking here about righting an historic wrong, in terms of what happened back in the late 1960s and early 1980s in regard to British overseas citizens, protected persons and British subjects. Those three groups found themselves in an anomalous situation, and on 4 July I said that I wished to put right that anomaly for British overseas citizens. In October, I said that I wished to do the same for protected persons and British subjects. The amendment seeks to clarify the third of the requirements relating to the action or inaction of the individuals in respect of their citizenship elsewhere in the world. We are amending that third point to apply to those who have, in those circumstances, given up citizenship of another country since 4 July.
That date was chosen because that was when we made our first indication of the change, and because we do not want those whose cases date from before then to be discriminated against or be disqualified simply by the accident of the circumstances in which they find themselves. This will avoid disqualifying people who, through no fault of their own, did not know, for example, that their inaction would disqualify them from citizenship in their country of origin. The measure will also protect those who believed that they could use the special voucher scheme, which is now defunct.
This small amendment to the Lords amendment will ensure that we do not put people in an anomalous position, and will allow us to welcome those who have found themselves excluded for many years. I hope that the House will put that right this afternoon.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): The Home Secretary is, uncharacteristically, being too pessimistic. There could be quite a lot of agreement in the House this afternoon, because I am glad to say that, after a certain amount of huffing and puffing in the media, the Government appear to have made splendid concessions on a range of issues that had concerned us. I suspect that there will be many instances of agreement, or, at any rate, of the Opposition coming to meet the Government half way. Indeed, with one exception, I do not expect us to be at loggerheads. In relation to these particular amendments, all that we have to say is that we have agreed with them and we continue to do so.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I think that I may have provoked the Home Secretary's remark about unanimity. It is rare for me to get up in debates on immigration and asylum to congratulate the Home Secretary, but I would like to take this opportunity to do so. I would also like to thank him for introducing to the Bill in the Lords—and further amending it to improve it—amendments that mean that the most racialist underpinning of Britain's immigration and nationality laws is about to be swept away. For me, this is important not only because I have been campaigning against racism in immigration and nationality law for almost the whole 35 years that these measures have existed, but because I represent the town of Slough, and my two predecessors as Labour MPs for the town both opposed
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the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. Many people thereafter chose to agree with them, with the benefit of hindsight, but Joan Lestor and Fenner Brockway were two of the very few Labour Members of Parliament who opposed that legislation at the time.
With the House's permission, I would like to read out a few words that Joan spoke—at 7am, I might add, after an all-night debate; I am glad that those are a thing of the past, too. She said:
"The Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary are not racialists. We all
say that we are not, yet we pass legislation which is what those who speak with
racialist tongues want us to pass. Until we fight on the grounds of equality,
we shall never further our race relations." —[Official Report, 28
February 1968; Vol. 759, c. 1710.]
I believe that she was right, and we should bear those words in mind as we consider the Bill and all our legislation.
Since the 1968 Act, we have had seven Bills on immigration, asylum and nationality, and every time we debate them racial attacks in our constituencies increase, because by using the huge mechanism of legislation to focus on abuses and problems, we make people with racialist thoughts think they are justified. I urge the Home Secretary to consider that we should put our energy not into new legislation but into making sure that we can manage and arrange the delivery of existing legislation so that people can have confidence in the integrity of the system. It is time to stop writing laws that inevitably are devised for the tiny handful of people who are cheats and therefore cause injustice for the honest majority. We must ensure that we make our existing laws work. If we do that, as well as agreeing to this amendment, we will today have done something worth while.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I hope that the Home Secretary has not been carried away by the wave of unanimity, rather than anonymity, that he has inspired this afternoon. It is important to place on the record our appreciation of these minor amendments. As he knows, I have come late to the Bill, having had other responsibilities, but I have read very carefully the debates in another place and elsewhere. As well as the minor amendments that form the majority of this group we wholly welcome the more substantive changes in Lords amendment No. 14, Government amendment (a) and Lords amendment No. 15.
I pay tribute not only to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who has again demonstrated her excellent record on these matters, but to my noble Friend Lord Dholakia, who put forward a cogent argument on behalf of those who would have been disadvantaged by the Bill. The Home Secretary has listened, particularly to the arguments about those Kenyans who might have been disadvantaged by the abrupt and precipitate end to the voucher system, and he has done something about it, for which we thank him.
On Lords amendment No. 15, arguments were adduced in another place by my noble Friend Lord Avebury about a minor but significant area of discrimination in the Bill. If I may express disappointment without shattering the unanimity, I echo the remarks of Lord Avebury about a further small step that should have been taken: the removal of the qualification date of 7 February 1961 from the amendment. That would have removed an inequality for a small and finite number of individuals and put paid to the last vestige of discrimination in the Bill.
The Home Secretary has not been able to go the extra mile. I would be churlish if I did not thank him for the amendments that he has already accepted, and I hope that he will reconsider that point so that we will not discriminate between, for example, siblings born either side of a watershed date. We should ensure that future legislation on these matters, like Lords amendment No. 15, contains neither racial nor sexual discrimination. We welcome the amendments.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 13 agreed to.
Lords amendment No. 14 and Government amendment (a) thereto agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 15 and 237 agreed to.