Steve responds to the Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill in the Commons
Steve delievered this speech h in the House of Commons on Monday 14th October 2013, the full hansard of the debate can be found here
I congratulate the hon. Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord) on bringing this Bill forward. I also pay tribute to our armed forces for the job they do on behalf of our country. The armed forces covenant, which is fully supported by Labour, enshrines in law the principle that no one who serves in the armed forces should face disadvantage as a result of their decision to do so. The covenant also recognises the need to provide special treatment where that is necessary to prevent such disadvantage from happening.
The private Member’s Bill before us has the full support of my party. Our only regret is that the Government did not include the provisions in the Immigration Bill, as they could have done. That would have allowed Members to table amendments on other categories of people who may also deserve special consideration. Those points were made in Committee, and there is no need to repeat them at length.
The core principle of the Bill is undoubtedly right, namely that foreign and Commonwealth personnel serving in our armed forces should not be disadvantaged if they wish to apply for naturalisation as British citizens because of time served overseas. The number who will be eligible under the provisions is relatively small. The hon. Gentleman estimates that to be a couple of hundred, but we are interested to know the Government’s latest estimates of what that number might be, and also what the estimated number of dependants might be. I hope, too, that the Government will allow the Bill to operate retrospectively, so that people who have already served overseas in the armed forces may also benefit from the new provisions if they come into law.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked whether a person injured in service would be disadvantaged if they were unable to complete a tour of service and left the armed forces early. She cited the example of a soldier from Ghana who was able to complete only two years’ service before being medically discharged owing to injuries incurred while he carried out his military duties. Because he had not completed infantry training before his medical discharge, which was a stipulation of his visa, he was detained and removal directions were set against him. It seems wrong that a concession was not given in that case, and I hope that, if the Bill becomes law, the Minister will introduce guidance so that similar cases, where the length of service is cut short by injury, do not result in such an outcome, which I consider to be both unfair and unjust.
I see no need to detain the House for long, as there is broad consensus on both sides that the Bill should proceed. Foreign and Commonwealth citizens who serve this country and our armed forces should not be placed at any disadvantage when applying for British citizenship compared with other applicants. It is right that the Bill corrects the existing anomaly in law. The Opposition welcome the provisions, and we give the Bill our full support.