Why we need a more rounded view of citizenship. “Parts of Britain feel completely abandoned by the metropolitan elites.”

Sep 16, 2020 | Uncategorized

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) Debate in Parliament: Citizenship Amendment (67) Committee Stage Immigration and Social Security Bill September 16th 2020

My Lords, Amendment 67, to which I am a signatory, returns to the issue of citizenship.

It is a pleasure to follow both the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I was particularly pleased that she referenced the position of the Roma, an issue I raised earlier this week in our previous debates. I hope the Minister will be able to answer the question put to her by the noble Baroness. I also strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said in the context of Amendment 63, but let me add in parenthesis that I think it unfortunate that citizenship is so often viewed through the lens of immigration policy.

Amendment 67 was originally coupled with Amendment 68, which focused on the issue of citizenship fees, as referred to by the noble Earl a moment ago, and which we debated last week. At the conclusion of that debate, the Minister said the Government intended to appeal the decision of the High Court in the case, Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens v the Secretary of State for the Home Department—a case in which, as she knows, I provided a witness statement.

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On 10 September, following the discussion we had in Committee, I tabled a Question asking the Government what estimated legal and administrative costs the Home Office had met in that case thus far, and what they estimated such costs would be of any appeal against the judgment. The Question is due for answer on 24 September, but it would help the Committee greatly if those figures could be given today. Not only would the figures enable us to look at them alongside the cost of providing citizenship with charge to groups such as children in care; they would remind us of the lengths to which the Government are going to preserve the income generated above the administrative costs involved. We should be able to weigh one against the other, as I know the noble Baroness would. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister would also ask the Home Secretary to consider meeting the movers of Amendments 67 and 68 before embarking on yet another costly legal action, which seeks to perpetuate arrangements that Sajid Javid rightly identified as prohibitively expensive.

This brings me to the main question in Amendment 67: what price do we place on citizenship, or, as this amendment spells out,

“the duty of the Secretary of State to encourage, promote and facilitate awareness … of rights to British citizenship”?

If I have any quibble about the wording, it is that I would rather it went further and added the words, “responsibilities, duties and obligations” of citizenship to the word “rights”.

In thinking about this amendment, I reflected on my 20 years as director of the Foundation for Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, where I held a chair and am an Honorary Fellow, and on the central importance of promoting active citizenship and full participation in society.

The city of Liverpool has had to wrestle with a painful history and all the tensions and challenges generated by social inequality. But it has refused to become a prisoner of its past. When it describes itself as

“the whole world in one city,”

it does so with a confident proclamation of the respect it has for diversity and the enrichment which different cultures have brought to its table.

But as well as a respect for difference, its citizens also overwhelmingly cherish our British values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and they are not ashamed of the patriotic stories of sacrifice that have enabled those characteristics to flourish.

I want people to be proud of being British citizens and am alarmed by alienation, stigmatisation and ghettoisation, which can lead to people following ideologies that threaten our way of life.

Parts of Britain feel completely abandoned by the metropolitan elites.

We need a rounded view of citizenship in which we have a respect for customs, laws and institutions that serve the common good and promote social solidarity. In promoting the centrality of the rule of law, we need to share our stories and histories and memorialise the lives which paid for our freedoms and liberties. We need to cultivate a reverence for the generous impulses and altruism which motivate so many who contribute so positively to our society.

The Jewish sage, Hillel, was right when he said,

“If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

Hillel’s fine balance must always be struck.

So, I support amendment 67.

Without a vibrant sense of citizenship, people living in our midst will not believe they fully belong. They will not share our rights, nor will they fully enter into the responsibilities which are the key to creating a good society.

When she comes to reply, I hope the Minister will be able to answer the question I have put to her about the costs of appealing the High Court decision on an easing of some of the costs involved in securing the right to become a British citizen.

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