New laws to ensure that foreigners in the British armed forces are able to become UK citizens are a step closer today, after they were backed by a Northumberland MP.
Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, was a supporter of the Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill, which has now won the backing of the House of Commons.
The legislation will mean that foreign and Commonwealth citizens who serve in the armed forces and are stationed overseas are treated the same was as if they had been living in the UK.
In practice, this means they will find it much easier to become British citizens, because existing rules state that an applicant must have been resident in the UK for five years to qualify.
The Northumberland MP said that the legislation would help ensure that the UK was meeting its obligations to its soldiers under the military covenant, the document setting out how service personnel and their families can expect to be treated.
He added: “Most of all, however, it is surely about justice and fairness.”
The MP highlighted plans to install the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery at Albemarle barracks in his constituency, where 39th Regiment Royal Artillery is already based.
He added: “I cannot say specifically whether those individual armed forces personnel will be affected by the Bill, and it would be wrong of me to inquire about the specifics in advance of the Bill’s implementation.
“However, given the nature of those battalions, there will in all probability be individuals who are affected by it.
“My constituency also has RAF Spadeadam. The individuals who work in those facilities for the armed forces will be assisted by the Bill.”
The MP added: “During the battle of Britain, there were 145 pilots from Poland, 32 Australians, 28 Belgians, 25 South Africans, 13 French and one from Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Zimbabwe.
“My point is that in our hour of ultimate need in the Second World War, it was not just British citizens who were protecting us and fighting against the Nazis, but a large number of men and women from many different countries.
“To deny those who had fought in the Battle of Britain the ability to have British citizenship is abhorrent.”
Although the legislation was introduced as a backbench Bill rather than a Government measure, it was backed by Immigration Minister Mark Harper, who said: “We are not expecting a huge number of applications from forces personnel benefiting from the measure. We expect, anecdotally, some 200 to 300 cases a year of people who have served to naturalise as British citizens.”
He said he welcomed the Bill. Mr Opperman is parliamentary private secretary to Mr Harper.