‘SMALL Bill, big heart’ were the words used to describe Woking MP Jonathan Lord’s Private Member’s bid in Parliament on Friday.
His Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill was wholeheartedly passed after receiving cross-party support in its third and final reading.
Mr Lord said: “It is a great honour to get a Private Member’s Bill through the Commons.”
The next stage is for it to go through the House of Lords, and Mr Lord has already asked the Rt Hon Lord David Trefghan, a former Defence Minister from Horsell, to represent him.
Mr Lord added: “I asked Lord Trefghan to pilot the Bill as he is a very experienced Parliamentarian, having served as a minister in the 1980s. So I can’t think of a better person to take this forward.”
Building on the Armed Forces Covenant, the Bill seeks to make provisions for foreign and Commonwealth members of the British Armed Forces deployed abroad. At present, under the British Nationality Act 1981, they are unable to include the time served overseas towards their citizenship application.
If passed, the Bill will remedy this ‘discrepancy’ in the law. Mr Lord has the backing of charities including the British Legion, Help for Heroes and Veterans’ Aid as well as the Home Office and Ministry of Defence.
Currently those applying for citizenship must be in the UK on the first day of their five-year qualifying period.
The Bill would amend the act so that foreign and Commonwealth forces members wishing to apply are not at a disadvantage because of serving abroad at the start of the qualifying period. It is estimated to affect 200 serving and ex-service personnel.
Mr Lord was congratulated by the speakers during last week’s session, not only for championing the Bill but also for its clarity.
Opening the debate, Mr Lord (right) said: “I hope it enables us to remove a disadvantage currently experienced by our Armed Forces.
“While it is not of vast significance, I hope my fellow MPs would agree that there is an injustice in the regulations.
“This is not going to impact on our immigration or nationalisation numbers to any great extent, but it needs to be changed. I do believe it is wrong for our armed services personnel to be discriminated against in this way.
“It is anomalous and something the Commons and the Lords can, and should, rectify.
“Every day our forces have spent in the service of our country abroad should have the same value in the eyes of immigration as a day spent in the UK.”
In response, Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh, said: “Although it is a small Bill it’s a Bill with a big heart.
“We should take the time in this House to iron out the unfairness that afflicts our Armed Forces and always to proclaim our support and admiration for what they do.”
Speaking for the opposition, Shadow Home Office Minister Steve Reed said the Bill had ‘the full support’ of the Labour party.
However, he added that Labour regretted that the Government had not taken the opportunity to include similar provisions in the Immigration Bill ‘that would have allowed MPs to table amendments on other categories of people who may deserve consideration’.
Concluding the debate, Home Office Minister, Mark Harper, told the House that the Government supported the Bill.
He said: “It is simply wrong that any member of our Armed Forces should have to wait longer to gain citizenship just because, on a specific date five years before applying, he or she was posted overseas protecting our country.
“Making this change was a priority under the Armed Forces Covenant and I am delighted to support this Bill.”
It will be two or three months before a decision is made in the House of Lords on whether to pass the bill.
If it is passed, this will be Mr Lord’s second Private Member’s Bill within his first four years as an MP, which is extremely rare, if not unique.