Nationality and Borders Bill Hansard: debated on Monday 4 April 2022 - Commons Amendsment - Speeches
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions B, L, M, T and U. This is a happy time of the day. I want to return to Lords Amendment 1, which provides for the Chagossians to acquire British citizenship and British Overseas Territories citizenship. We heard some very powerful speeches advocating on behalf of the Chagossians, both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. I was deeply moved on meeting one of the Chagossians with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. The Government accept that the unique position of the Chagossians means that we can accept a unique solution to provide them and their descendants with a pathway to British nationality. For technical reasons we have been unable to accept the amendment agreed by your Lordships’ House. However, we have tabled, and the other place has accepted, two technically correct amendments in lieu, Amendments 1A and 1B. I hope that these amendments will now also be accepted by your Lordships’ House.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
My Lords, on Motion A, I am very pleased to be able to accept Amendments 1A and 1B in lieu of my original amendment. Together with assurances given on the record in the Commons, they will open up entitlement to British citizenship, which will be subject to neither a fee nor a good character test. They therefore meet the objectives of the original amendment. I thank the Minister for whatever part she may have played in helping achieve this change of heart, following the meetings she had with some of us and Rosy Leveque of BIOT Citizens. I have two questions. When is it anticipated that applications can begin, and can the Minister confirm that it is still the Government’s intention to use some of the largely unspent £40 million Chagos support fund to help Chagossians settle here, and to help those already here who have welfare needs? As well as the Government, I thank noble Lords from all Benches who gave such strong support to the amendment, and in particular those on the Government Benches, as I am sure their passionate support was key to encouraging the Government to think again. I thank the APPG on the Chagos Islands for helping to build that support. I also pay tribute to Henry Smith MP, who has long championed this cause in the Commons, and to the late and much-missed Lord Avebury, who first raised the issue in your Lordships’ House over a decade ago. His work to remove this and other citizenship injustices has been energetically continued by the BOT Citizenship campaign, especially David Varney and Trent L Miller. Last but not least, I pay tribute to the Chagossians themselves, who have helped to spearhead the campaign, in particular Rosy Leveque and Chagossian Voices. The joy felt as a result of the government concession is summed up well in an email sent to me and Henry Smith from a Chagossian on Mauritius, who is longing to be reunited with his family in the UK. I will quote briefly a few lines: “I am writing to you simply to say that words are not enough to express how thankful and grateful I am. I can’t stop crying with joy and happiness, and trust me when I say that many Chagossians in Mauritius and Seychelles are also overjoyed and overwhelmed by this result. Many of us have been keeping our grandparents’ birth certificates in a folder waiting for this day to come.”- (David Victoire) The original injustice that deprived the Chagossians of their homeland and that perpetuates their exile remains and will rightly continue to be contested. However, I believe that all those who have contributed to the ending of the citizenship injustice done to the descendants of those for whom the Chagos Islands were home can feel pride today. I am sure that we all look forward to welcoming to the UK as British citizens the Chagossians who have been the victims of this injustice.