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Joint Committee on Human Rights says Nationality and Borders Bill fails to protect rights of stateless children


Parliamentary committee assesses human rights implications of Part 1 (Nationality) of bill

Date of Publication:
09 November 2021

Joint Committee on Human Rights says Nationality and Borders Bill fails to protect rights of stateless children

09 November 2021

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights today published a new report assessing the human rights implications of Part 1 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which concerns nationality.

ParliamentYou can download the 32-page report here or read it online here.

Overall, the Committee is pleased by the aspects of Part 1 of the Bill that seek to end discrimination in nationality law in existing legislation, but concerns are raised over a number of issues in Part 1, including the Bill's failure to protect the rights of stateless children.

Welcoming the positive aspects of Part 1 of the Bill, Harriet Harman MP, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: "The nationality clauses of this legislation take a welcome step in addressing discrimination in British nationality law, including by removing needless barriers that have prevented people obtaining British overseas territories citizenship through a parent simply because they were unmarried or female."

Harman added, however: "[T]he Government must do more to ensure rights are fully protected in British nationality law, in particular recognising its obligations to stateless children which the Bill does not fully do as it stands."

The report notes that the Bill introduces new requirements for the registration of a stateless child that could make it more difficult to acquire British nationality. Clause 9 of the Bill (as introduced) specifies that stateless children born in the UK are not entitled to British nationality unless the Home Secretary is satisfied that the child is unable to acquire another nationality.

The Committee finds clause 9 raises a number of concerns from a human rights perspective and doubts that the best interests of child have been adequately borne in mind.

According to the Committee, clause 9 effectively risks punishing the child for a perceived failure on the part of its carer/parent and therefore risks perpetuating a child's statelessness.

The report states: "[W]e have concerns that clause 9, which is about stateless children, is not in the best interests of the child and therefore it is doubtful whether it complies with Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is also difficult to see how it complies with the obligation to grant stateless children born in the UK British nationality, in line with Article 1 of the 1961 UN Statelessness Convention. We consider that an amendment to this clause is necessary—preferably to delete clause 9. Alternatively, at a minimum, the clause would need amendment firstly to ensure that it complies with the rights of the child so that the best interests of the child are central to the decision-making and secondly to ensure that British citizenship is only withheld where the nationality of a parent is available to the child immediately, without any legal or administrative obstacles, in compliance with the UK's obligations under the UN Statelessness Convention."

Concerns are also raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights over the 'good character' requirement of the Bill in cases resolving previous discrimination and in cases concerning children. The Committee says: "We consider that it is unlawful discrimination, contrary to Article 14 as read with Article 8 ECHR, to require a person to prove good character when remedying previous unlawful discrimination against that person. We therefore recommend that the clause 3(4) of the Bill be deleted."

In addition, the Committee finds it is unclear if fees will be charged for applications for British nationality under the new clauses of the Bill addressing discrimination. The report says the Home Office must make this clear. It adds: "If any fees are charged, they must be set at affordable rates that do not effectively prevent certain categories of people, especially children, from accessing their right to nationality."