HC Deb 13 June 1990 vol 174 cc378-402

'The Secretary of State shall register as British citizens the spouses of British citizens resident in Hong Kong at the time of the coming into force of this Act.'.—[Mr. Channon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following: new clause 5—Registration of widowed spouses'The Secretary of State shall register as a British citizen a widowed spouse of a British citizen resident in Hong Kong who dies after the coming into force of this Act.'. New clause 10—Regulation of Spouses'(1) The Secretary of State shall register as British Citizens, any persons, resident in Hong Kong, who have been married to British Citizens for at least three years and who would qualify for British Citizenship if they had been resident in Britain for three years after their marriage.'.

Amendment No. 9, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out subsection (4).

Amendment No. 29, in schedule 2, page 5, line 3, after `shall' insert 'not'.

Amendment No. 30, in page 5, line 8, leave out paragraph 2.

Amendment No. 31, in page 5, line 11, leave out 'whether the' and insert `whose'.

Amendment No. 32, in page 5, line 11, leave out 'or after'.

Amendment No. 33, in page 5, line 12, leave out from `above' to end of line 14.

Amendment No. 34, in page 5, line 25, leave out paragraph 5 and insert— '5. For the purposes of this Schedule the spouse or child must be settled in Hong Kong and must not have citizenship or nationality other than under the principal Act.'.

Amendment No. 35, in page 5, line 7, at end insert— ' 1 A. The Secretary of State may register a child recommended to him by the Governor in circumstances where that child is dependent on his parents registered under this Act or where there are other reasons that in the Secretary of State's view justify the registration of such a child.'.

Mr. Channon

These amendments deal with a small group of people in Hong Kong and raise important principles that the House should consider. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has added his name to one of the amendments. I have no objection to the wording that he adopted, and claim no credit for my own.

On Second Reading, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave assurances about what would happen to the non-United Kingdom spouses of United Kingdom citizens. He said: There is no difficulty, provided that their husbands are still alive. Wives of British citizens will have an absolute right to come here under the immigration rules."—[Official Report, 19 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 1574.] That is not exactly the case. No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend was speaking off the cuff, and I do not blame him for that. However, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would set out the true position.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to anchor in Hong Kong United Kingdom and Chinese Hong Kong citizens of a crucial nature. It is also important to anchor there a number of United Kingdom citizens, many of whom are in the police and senior ranks of the civil service, apart from those engaged in commerce. I understand the problems of precedent that my hon. Friend the Minister may explain to the House and the argument that if we made such a provision for Hong Kong, we would have to do so in other cases. I do not accept that. Unless Hong Kong were a special case, there would be no need for the Bill. If the Government did not consider Hong Kong a special case, why are we wasting our time?

It seems only reasonable that the small number of non-United Kingdom spouses of British citizens should be allowed to come to this country without all the difficulties that attend their efforts at the moment. After all, in Hong Kong we are dealing with a Crown colony that we are returning to Chinese rule against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants. I cannot think of a single precedent for that in British colonial history, so I urge the House not to rely on the argument of precedent. It is a very strange situation.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the right hon. Gentleman fully explain that?

Mr. Channon

I will come to that point. If I can get the hon. Gentleman with me, I shall be very pleased.

There is a strange anomaly in what is being proposed, in that residents who are not United Kingdom citizens but who are offered passports will as a right be able to bring their spouses and children into this country, and they will get proper United Kingdom passports as part of the Bill's arrangements. At the same time, United Kingdom citizens already living in Hong Kong and who may have married Hong Kong Chinese or citizens from other countries will not have a right to a British passport in the same way as those who are privileged under the Bill. I find that very odd.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman be pushing it to a vote?

Mr. Channon

If I have the hon. Gentleman with me, I know that I will win.

The numbers involved are very small—I suspect, a few hundred at most. Probably no one knows exactly how many, but is is unlikely that they number more than a few hundred. Such a provision would almost certainly not result in any increase in the numbers who come to this country as British citizens because eventually, I accept, most will manage to achieve entry anyway. But the process through which they will be put is unfortunate considering what will happen to the Hong Kong citizens who will receive one of the 50,000 passports.

In any case, it is not true to say that the spouses have an absolute right to come here. They have to fulfil certain conditions before being admitted to this country. They have to show that they will not be a burden on public funds, which could sometimes cause serious problems. If someone loses his job in Hong Kong and has no job to come to here, how can he or his wife prove that his or her spouse will never become a burden on public funds? He or she may become such a burden precisely because the British Government—probably inevitably—are going to return Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.

Settlement clearance has to be obtained, too. Indeed, some such cases have been turned down, as the Minister told me in a parliamentary answer not so long ago.

Perhaps he could say a word or two about those cases—I concede that they may not have been on all fours with these—but in the absence of further explanation it looks as though there have been some cases of non-United Kingdom spouses of British citizens living in Hong Kong being refused admission to this country—and that cannot be right.

If the political emergency about which most people in Hong Kong are worried arises, I believe that quite a number of expatriates living in Hong Kong will think it much safer to leave Hong Kong before 1997 to be sure of getting their spouses into this country. That is contrary to the whole point of the Bill which, after all, is designed to anchor people in Hong Kong so that its economy does not collapse before 1997 because of a lack of people with necessary expertise. These expatriates are clearly worried about their spouses' position—rightly or wrongly—and I urge the Government to do what they can to help.

Some people have already left. I know of people who have left because of their fear of not being able to get their wives into this country; some are seriously thinking about the future and are likely to leave in the coming months and years.

The Government have made a concession on widows, but it does not go quite as far as it seems to: it applies only to widows with no other nationality. Some people are married not to Hong Kong Chinese wives or husbands but to Thais, Filipinos or Japanese. They may not have been in contact with their country for many years. Many of them, typically, have children at school in this country and own a house here. Nevertheless, they will have no right of entry even if their husbands have British passports. Is it any wonder that husbands—we are talking overwhelmingly of husbands—are seriously thinking of leaving Hong Kong instead of taking the risk of leaving their families in this position in the next few years?

Under the law—I do not refer to widows who have another citizenship—most widows will have the right to enter this country, but they will then need three years' residence before being entitled to naturalisation. Why cannot it be arranged, in these special circumstances, that the three years be served in Hong Kong?

There is no way of telling, merely by looking at a Hong Kong British dependent territories citizen's passport whether he has any connection with the United Kingdom. There is no way of showing that a person is married to a British citizen, and there is no way that such a person can be sure, despite what the Basic Law says, that she will be able to get out in 1997. So many of them will not take the risk, and will come here. I do not believe that that is what the Government want.

If my new clause cannot be accepted—it should be—can my hon. Friend say anything further tonight that might help those people? Could they not serve the three years residence in Hong Kong? Could a stamp be put on the passports of spouses who have British dependent territory passports to show that they have a connection with the United Kingdom? Is there any merit in the voluntary registration scheme, whereby the British authorities in Hong Kong would know who these spouses were and could help them?

The House must understand—I think it does—that we are living in volatile times in Hong Kong, and an emergency there cannot be ruled out. If, in the next few years, the Chinese regime remains hostile and is thought to be damaging to the future of Hong Kong, many expatriates will leave because of their worries about their spouses.

I cannot believe that it is right, when we are giving special privileges to 50,000 people of Hong Kong citizenship, that we cannot give an assurance to a small number of United Kingdom citizens who have spouses, lives and careers that they want to look after and foster in the next few years. If they are in doubt, of course they will go now. Why take the risk of waiting until 1997 to see what happens?

9.45 pm

What reassurances can my hon. Friend the Minister give those people? I ask him to think seriously about their position, because they are worried about their future and spouses. If we do nothing to reassure them in legislation or by some other means, there is a risk that many will leave. That will be damaging for Hong Kong, for the Hong Kong police, for the civil service and for attempts being made by the Government to anchor key people in the colony.

I ask my hon. Friend to give the new clause serious consideration. Few people are involved, but it is an important point of principle.

Mr. Marlow

How many?

Mr. Channon

I think 200 or 300, but it may be 400 or 500; no one knows exactly. We are talking not about thousands of people but about a small number.

I urge the House to give the new clause serious consideration and to join me in pressing the Government to do more to reassure those people.

Mr. Maclennan

I support the purposes of the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) in tabling the two new clauses, which seek to achieve the same ends as my new clause 10. Like him, I am not certain that the method that I have advocated to achieve those ends is right, and I would happily support his new clause if he decided that it was appropriate to divide the House.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to offer British citizenship to a select number of people, thereby offering an incentive to the people on whom Hong Kong depends. I am concerned that the treatment of spouses, with which the new clauses deal, contradicts that policy. As long as a couple manage to persuade the immigration authorities that the primary purpose of marriage is marriage and not an attempt to get a passport, citizenship is won after the spouses has been in Britain for three years. But with the uncertainty in Hong Kong, many British residents who may have been working there for years and regard it as their home may feel forced to leave for the safety of their spouse. Furthermore, the most concerned people are most likely to be the business and professional people whom the Government want to remain in Hong Kong.

There are also people who are not catered for by the scheme set out in the Bill. The crucial Act is the British Nationality Act 1981, which establishes the three-year residence requirement. My drafting would seek to go with the grain of that Act and to cater for the needs of spouses. It does not therefore go quite as far as the new clause moved by the right hon. Member for Southend, West. It would simply allow residence in Hong Kong to be the equivalent of that in Britain—to acquire citizenship through one's spouse.

In Commitee, the Minister said: There is no practical difficulty about the position of the partners of British citizens when the citizens are still alive. Such non-British spouses can accompany their husbands or wives to the United Kingdom for settlement at any time. Of course, they do not get British citizenship immediately; that is governed by the normal rules under the 1981 Act. That is the exact point. They had to leave their homes and businesses to secure the future of their spouses. That runs counter to the Bill's purposes. The Minister continued: we want to keep as closely to that Act as we can and have acted differently under the Bill only when there was a special and compelling reason to do so. New clause 10 would keep within the requirements of the 1981 Act.

One of the most compelling reasons for people wanting to leave to ensure that their spouses are registered is the fear that something might happen to them and place their spouses in an untenable position. The Minister addressed that point in Committee and said: We accept that in such unique circumstances, it is natural that the expatriate community should be particularly anxious about widows—as they will be in the majority of cases—after 1997. Because of that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave a new assurance on Second Reading. He said that the widowed spouse of a British citizen who was resident in the territory at the time of the death would be allowed to settle here as a concession outside the immigration rules. That assurance will certainly be honoured by this Government." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10 May 1990; c.94–5.] That is of some value, but it is certainly not an assurance that leads directly to citizenship. It may well be that the widow or widower would have strong domestic and economic ties with Hong Kong and would therefore be in a dreadful dilemma as to what to do. New clause 10 would ensure that that dilemma did not arise in most cases. The Government accept the need to encourage people to stay to ensure that there is a viable Hong Kong between now and 1997. I therefore commend my new clause to the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Steven Norris.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

It is terribly off-putting to have one of those faces that is so instantly forgettable. Quite apart from having dined within 6 ft of you this evening, Mr. Speaker, I have to say that in these circumstances it induces a certain sense of personal humility of a new order, even for those of us in this profession, and I shall remember this long after you have forgotten yet again, Sir. I remember what happened in 1983 when I was the Member for Oxford, East and you looked across at me and said, "Morris Oxford." It was not right then and it is not right still. That apart, I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

I apologise. I was thinking what a nice wife the hon. Member has.

Mr. Norris

That is typically gracious of you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that my wife will be delighted to hear that. Of course I entirely agree, and I hasten to place it on the record.

I recall that on Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) raised the matter which is the subject of the new clause with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who used the words of which my right hon. Friend reminded us. He said that spouses in this position have an absolute right to enter. That remark was repeated more than once. I share the reservations expressed by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about the validity of that remark. Those of us who have experienced the difficulties of our constituents who are in the position described by the Home Secretary will know that the process is far from easy. It is particularly difficult if one's face is not white and if one is not obviously of British stock.

One thing on which we can agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is that the position of spouses in both categories covered by my right hon. Friend's new clause is no different from that of spouses in any other country. That may or may not reflect well on our immigration procedures. My experience in my previous constituency—not so much in my present constituency— is that it does not reflect well. But we shall pass over that because it is a subject for another occasion. The inequity that we are discussing is not an inequity as between spouses in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world. It has to do with the extraordinary proposition that if an ethnic Chinese obtains a passport under the scheme and his ethnic Chinese wife obtains a passport under the scheme, his ethnic Chinese wife is in a substantially better position than the ethnic Chinese wife of a British citizen.

What are the practical consequences of that extraordinary proposition? I received the introduction of the Bill with considerable scepticism, my initial observation being that it was difficult to see why, under a scheme designed to keep people in Hong Kong, a large number of passports should be issued to enable them to come to Britain. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong to see what the place and the people are like. It was a refreshing experience.

Mr. Skinner

Who paid?

Mr. Norris

My visit was paid for entirely by the Hong Kong Government, and in my case, at least, they made a spectacularly good investment. I came away convinced that, whatever else the package may be, it is not an immigration package and that, if anything, it should be broader. My right hon. and very dear Friend, my next-door neighbour in Chingford, will probably be deeply disappointed with me—among other things—when I say that it is rather embarrassing to be a British Member of Parliament visiting Hong Kong. Surveys have been conducted to discover where the Hong Kong Chinese want to go if they have to leave. A survey of surveyors showed that 48 per cent. wanted to go to Canada; 32 per cent. to Australia; 8 per cent. to the United States; and 1.8 per cent. to Britain. Incidentally, 1.1 per cent. of those who wanted to come here wished to use Britain to go elsewhere in the European Community.

It was my first visit to Hong Kong. As ever, the Hong Kong people were extraordinarily courteous and polite, but they said, "You really must be mad—not to say a little arrogant—to imagine that we would ever, in a thousand years, really want to come to live in Britain, although it is frightfully nice of you to be so considerate." Clearly, what the Hong Kong people want is an anchoring package. That became clear to me. If one has to say that one's initial reservations were wrong, I am glad to say it because it was certainly true in my case.

In the context of anchoring, what is depressing—

Mr. Janman

My hon. Friend referred to anchoring. Did he have the opportunity to read an article in The Sunday Times supplement some months ago? In the last paragraph, the correspondent wrote: Every Hong Kong immigrant I met in Canada raised two points with me. The first was to stress that no one they knew back home trusted Beijing or wanted to stay on after the handover to mainland China in 1997. The second was to ask when I thought Britain would open its doors to admit the 3.25 million Hong Kong Chinese who are currently entitled to that famous blue passport. How do the comments of that correspondent, who has been to Canada and spoken to many immigrants from Hong Kong, fit in with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris)? The two points seem to be in conflict.

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend's intervention demonstrates the wisdom of taking the advice that I once read in a business guide about managing a business. Under advice on the composition of the board of directors, it stated that it was useful to have someone on the board who knew where the factory was. I have always believed that, in that context, the best thing to do—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Chapman.]

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Norris

The best thing to do is—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Norris

I will be infinitely more polite than my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and give way in a second.

The best thing to do is to go and look for oneself. If we do that, we must weigh the conflicting opinions. One opinion is that we cannot trust Peking and that anyone with any sense wants to get out of Hong Kong. According to that opinion, there are 3.25 million people waiting to sweep across the border.

The conflicting opinion was the recurring one that I heard in Hong Kong. In fact I heard this from many people who have no direct interest in the matter because they already have British passports. They had absolutely no axe to grind. The conflicting opinion is that people accept that times will be difficult, but times difficult or otherwise are nothing new in Hong Kong. They lived through 1967. I do want to make a Second Reading speech, although I am in danger of doing so in response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman). Suffice it to say that the conflicting opinion is that times might be difficult, but people are happy to be in Hong Kong. They believe that what they want and what Britain will want to facilitate, in view of the substantial financial commercial interests in Hong Kong—interests that are infinitely understated—is an anchoring package.

It is ironic that the Bill anchors a substantial number of vital people, but in the group of spouses highlighted in the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) there is a fatalism about the necessity to leave Hong Kong.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend give me one good reason why, if those people are so uncomplimentary about this country, we should make any effort on their behalf, as opposed to the very honourable people who are wives of British citizens who have more right to come here? Why should we bother about the others—[Interruption.]

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend and I may have to disagree about the merits or otherwise of the package. I would be straying into a Second Reading debate if I was to give my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) a full answer. However, I am glad of her support, as I understand it, for the new clause and the amendments.

Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland highlighted an important lacuna in the present proposals. We should consider that point for three reasons. First, the numbers involved are tiny. We should be clear that we are talking about 200 or 300 or perhaps a few more.

Secondly, the vulnerability of the widows is something that we should be prepared to recognise because they are widows of British citizens. Finally, it is nonsense to produce an anchoring package in which the one group of people who will not be anchored are, ironically, British citizens with ethnic Chinese spouses.

Those people have told me time and again—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock can take some comfort from this—that they will have to leave Hong Kong because they cannot trust to fate and assume that their wives will be able to enter as conveniently as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary suggested, and will be able to obtain citizenship and be hale and hearty throughout.

For those reasons, we should support the measures. I hope that the opinions expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West will find favour with the Home Secretary. If I were to choose between the measures, I would favour that in the name of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, because the introduction of a time period to eliminate the artificial marriage—clearly the device marriage could be used in this context; it is not an unknown technique—is valuable. We should pursue that matter, and perhaps the compromise of a time being served in Hong Kong rather than here, or a simple eligibility period based on the durability of a marriage, would suffice.

With those comments, I strongly commend the principle behind the new clauses to the House.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I wish to speak to new clause 5, which was moved by the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), but before doing so I shall comment on some remarks that were made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Morris), who may have harboured the same reservations about this matter as I did before I went to Hong Kong.

Mr. Skinner

You went on a trip, did you?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I went to Hong Kong to find the truth and to establish in my mind that what I was doing here in the House of Commons was the right thing to do in all the circumstances. That is why I shall speak on several amendments and voice the concerns that were expressed to me by people in the colony.

During my recent visit, one of the groups that I was able to meet was an organisation called the Concerned Expatriates Society. That group of people came to me in a most distressed state, worried about undertakings that had been given to Parliament by Ministers, expressing the view that those undertakings were insufficient in so far as they might not fully realise or deal with their concerns. I asked them to set out a statement that I could bring to the House, setting out their reservations in their words. That statement is expressed in the most moderate language, and I hope that the Minister is willing to consider it.

The group said: Under current legislation our spouses lose even the 'right' to enter Britain for settlement purposes should we die whilst still in Hong Kong. The risk exists therefore that families could be separated as a result of our death since any children would of course be full British citizens. The Home Secretary has however recently made an announcement that he recognises this particular situation and is making 'special provision for people in such circumstances'". They say: We assume that this means that in the event of our death our spouses will in theory be permitted to settle in Britain. However, we wonder what procedures would be necessary before the surviving spouse could exercise this option, and how long would it take before the paperwork would be completed? We wonder what the situation would be in the case of an emergency. For example, if a British husband dies leaving a widow in Hong Kong with the children at school in Britain would the widow have the absolute right to return immediately to Britain to be with her children and to deal with necessary arrangements? What assurance could be given that she would not under any circumstances be denied entry in such a situation and that she would not need to rely on the discretion of the duty immigration officer. Would she be forced into the position of having to claim she was a tourist in order to ensure entry, but put herself at risk by not having disclosed her true intentions at immigration? It is not clear whether this 'provision' relates only to spouses who hold BDTC or BNO passports. Hence those spouses of other nationalities may be denied even this encouragement. They go on: After our death the risk of prejudice, or worse, exists against a surviving spouse"— this is an important matter— and possibly the children, as a result of their connection with Britain. The very real concern remains that any 'concession' granted now may subsequently be modified, restricted or reversed by the current or future Government and hence that there is no reliable assurance that our spouses really will be permitted to enter Britain after our death. As a result of our anxieties … British subjects in this position are reappraising their commitment to Hong Kong and are considering whether the risks of staying here are worth taking. In many cases the decision will be that it is in the best interets of the family to leave, while they can, and (subject to the vagaries of the settlement clearance process …) resettle in Britain in order that the three year qualifying period can take place. Hence, even though the Official position is that our spouses have the 'absolute right' to enter Britain during our lifetime, and even though after our death they may be eligible for some 'provision' to enter Britain, the reality is that … few people in this position will feel assured that their spouses really will be protected in any eventuality. Whilst the 'provision' referred to by the Home Secretary was no doubt an attempt in good faith to provide adequate assurance to those of us in this position we are afraid that it will most likely have a counter productive effect. Whilst many families in this position have already made the decision to return to Britain in recent year, many of us have remained in the hope that some real, irrevocable and totally reliable assurance would be given to us. Now that we know that this is not the case we know that more and more of us will reach the reluctant conclusion that, for our families' sake, the risks are not worth taking, and that hence a growing number of families will return to Britain over the next few years."

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I am not sure whether in the letter from concerned expatriates, the hon. Gentleman was referring to widows or the perceived difficulties of bringing a non-British wife home. If it was the latter, it seems illogical to bring a non-British wife to Britain in case one cannot bring a British non-wife to Britain. If it is the former, an assurance has been given that the non-British wife of a British expatriate will be admitted to this country.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Minister's words in Hansard will be scrutinised closely by people in Hong Kong, particularly the group to whom I have referred. I shall pass the Minister this document after the debate and perhaps he could write through me or directly to them, setting out the position in detail. If he could give me that undertaking now from the Dispatch Box, it would do much to allay the anxieties of people in Hong Kong.

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary saw the chairman of the British expatriates and a couple of his colleagues yesterday and undertook to write to him on this subject, so it would probably be more useful if the letter came from the Home Secretary than from me.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I give way to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris).

Mr. Norris

While the hon. Gentleman listened to the Minister, did he understand that the points made by the expatriates has been satisfied, or did he share my understanding, which may be deficient, that the Minister spoke about rights of entry, not rights of citizenship? Does he agree that, if the Minister spoke about rights of entry, we are back to what was said on Second Reading, which, evidently, is so unsatisfactory?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Minister seems to be indicating that, on the question of citizenship, some concession has been made. I am sure that he would wish to clarify that position. The Minister has shaken his head. He has not done so. I am sure that whatever letter he writes will be studied closely by the people of Hong Kong.

I hope that the anxieties expressed by people when we were in Hong Kong are noted by the Minister. The people who came to see us were distressed and worried. They were few in number and they need reassurance.

10.15 pm
Mr. Tebbit

I should begin by saying what an interesting speech we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris). I think I am right in saying, Mr. Speaker, if I may introduce you to my hon. Friend, that my hon. Friend is a car dealer. I thought that car dealers usually sold things to other people rather than being sold things as easily as he appears to have been sold the idea. The next time that I wish to sell a car, I shall go to him, although I might have to go via Hong Kong to make the deal.

Mr. Norris

I should rather describe myself as one of the last honest stockbrokers left. I hope that my right hon. Friend accepts that, in essence, that is what we do. We broke stock between people who do not want it and people who do and make an honest return on it. In that context, it seems perfectly reasonable that those of us who are capable of being persuaded by the silken words of my profession might occasionally be vulnerable to listening to logic and learning something from it.

Mr. Tebbit

I hope that my hon. Friend has not been sold a pup, as sometimes happens in the trade.

As I look at the general shape of the Bill, with my objections undiminished by anything that I have heard, I would regard it as monstrously unfair if the new clause was not accepted by my hon. Friend the Minister. First, the numbers are relatively small and, as the new clause is drafted, the numbers would fall within the total of 50,000 which is written into the Bill. We should not worry unduly about the numbers point one way or the other. The question that we must consider is whether the Government are being fair to these people.

There is an element of equity in the new clause towards people who are British subjects and British citizens. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Channon) said, if the purpose of the Bill is to persuade people to stay in Hong Kong, one can be darned certain that the new clause is the one part of the Bill that will work. I do not believe that the rest of it would work, but this part is essential if that is the object of the Bill.

Yet my hon. Friend the Minister seems to find difficulty in agreeing to it. The argument against the new clause which my hon. Friend will probably adduce is that the position of wives and widows of British subjects in Hong Kong would be put on a basis different from that of similar people in other places overseas. My hon. Friend the Minister nods his head. I am glad that I understood him correctly.

We are not talking about people throughout the world. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said, we are dealing with a special circumstance. If we intended to deal with people in Hong Kong in the same way as we deal with people in the rest of the world, we could pack up and go home without bothering to reach the dubious stage of giving a Third Reading to the Bill. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench are creating a special deal, a special package, a special way of dealing with people from Hong Kong. That deal is so special that, under these provisions, a bunch of people in Hong Kong who are not responsible to the House will be franchised to fulfil the role of the Home Secretary in granting citizenship. If we are going to go that far, can we not make a teeny-weeny little exception for those British people and their spouses of non-British origin? The Government seem to have swallowed a whole legion of camels and yet are now straining on a gnat—and in any event, the gnat was far more worthy than the camels that are being driven through by the Whips Office tonight.

Therefore, when it seems that the House is united—right across the political spectrum and both political parties, and when even I can agree with the hon. Members for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and with the Labour Front Bench —I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider whether it is possible or conceivable that they have got it wrong and the rest of us have got it right.

I hope that they will not test this matter in the Lobbies, because even if they win tonight—and they might—after the arguments that have been put, I believe that, by the time the Bill gets to another place, my right hon. and hon. Friends may suffer the humiliation of having to return to this House with their tails between their legs to ask the House to undo an amendment made in another place as a result of tonight's debate.

Finally, we are not really anxious about which of the amendments my hon. Friend accepts or about whether he simply says that he entirely and absolutely accepts their purpose and that he will draft a better amendment. We are not fussed or worried about that, because, when the Bill comes back at a later stage and on another day, as I am sure is the Government's intention, a better amendment could be tabled. However, as the amendments stand at the moment, I prefer those which have been tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West to those tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland because by setting the operative date—indeed, the deadline—as the date on which the Bill will come into effect, they obviate any problems about trying to judge in future whether a marriage has been made for the primary purpose. That would be helpful.

Therefore, I hope that, when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department makes his speech, accepting the view of the House on these amendments, he will say that that will be the shape of the amendment that the Government will bring forward.

Mr. Janman

I begin by referring to the recent exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about what a car salesman or his customers should or should not buy. I must advise my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that if he were to write to me, inviting me to visit his showroom and telling me that he would pay my fares to his showroom and back to my home, and that when I got there he would show me a draft design of a car on a piece of paper but say that the factory that would make the car would not be built for another seven years, I would have some serious doubts about the product that he was trying to sell me—

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

That is scurrilous.

Mr. Norris

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) is not implying that whoever financed my visit to Hong Kong would have been capable of influencing my opinions for that reason. If he is, I hope that in the next few moments he will construct a form of words that makes it clear that he withdraws any such imputation, because I not only reject but resent what he has said.

Mr. Janman

All that I am saying is that—

Mr. Sedgemore


Mr. Janman

I shall certainly withdraw those comments if my hon. Friend has taken offence at them or has slightly misunderstood them. What I am trying to say to my hon. Friend is that there is a certain analogy. If any hon. Member chooses to go to Hong Kong at the invitation of the Hong Kong Government, it is obvious that the Hong Kong Government are asking that hon. Members go there to show or to tell him or her things —and the Hong Kong Government will decide what is heard and seen—that they hope will be a factor when the hon. Member makes up his or her mind about how to vote on the Bill. I do not think that that is an unreasonable assertion and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest will not have a problem with it.

I welcome and support the new clauses which have been tabled and introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I agree with the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that an ethnic Chinese person who has an ethnic Chinese wife will be eligible under the Bill to gain citizenship while a British citizen who has an ethnic Chinese wife will not.

There are other amendments in the group of new clauses and amendments before us which are designed to highlight to the House, which is already aware of the fact, and to the British people as a whole that the Bill is not, as is sometimes described or sometimes perceived by my constituents, at any rate, about giving citizenship to 50,000 Chinese. In fact, it is about citizenship for, on a conservative estimate, 225,000 Hong Kong Chinese. Given the age profile of the 225,000 who will take up the scheme —under the selection procedure extra points will be given to those aged between 30 and 40 years while points will be taken from those who are under 30 or over 60—I suspect that within 10 or 15 years of taking up the scheme we shall see the Hong Kong Chinese population increase to about 400,000 or 500,000. I ask the House to bear with me in the sense that I wish to assume that there will not be an anchor of the sort that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest postulated.

It is worth referring again to the article that appeared in the supplement to The Sunday Times. It described in some detail—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman is among the very few in this place who persist in pushing the myth that all of the 225,000 will come to Britain. They will not come to Britain. It is clear to those of us who have been to Hong Kong that they will not come. I regret that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends did not enjoy the experience of those of us who went to Hong Kong and heard the case of the Hong Kong Chinese. If he had had that experience, he would not be making his speech this evening. He is provoking unnecessary hysteria among the public in an absence of knowledge of the truth and the reality.

Mr. Janman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will see some irony in what I am about to say. I was not invited to go to Hong Kong. I hope that that fact will neutralise any offence that was not meant to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. If I had been invited, I would have gone. I was not criticising my hon. Friend for going to Hong Kong. Similarly, I was not criticising the terms upon which he went. If I had been invited to go there to see what the Hong Kong Government wanted to show me and to hear what they had to tell me, I would have gone. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend that my previous remarks were not meant to offend him in any way.

It has been said already that these matters are for individual opinion and judgment. Many hon. Members share my view about what will happen. I remind the hon. Member For Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) of the remarks that I quoted earlier from the article that appeared in the supplement to The Sunday Times. A correspondent went to Canada and spoke to many Hong Kong Chinese who had recently lived in Hong Kong, who still had relatives there, and who were in constant communication with Hong Kong. They told him that basically no one in the colony trusted the regime in Peking. They said that most people wanted to get out of Hong Kong as soon as possible. They all wanted to know when Great Britain would legislate to admit 3.25 million people.

Mr. Marlow

I listened carefully to the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He may be right—circumstances in China may change—or he may be wrong. What we should consider is the potential liability that may arise from our passing the Bill, and my hon. Friend is, I think, right to address himself to that.

10.30 pm
Mr. Janman

My hon. Friend is echoing comments made on other occasions by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford. If we are to issue an insurance policy, we must be prepared to underwrite that policy in full.

The 1981 Act already allows considerable flexibility in regard to Hong Kong: the £200,000 rule, for example, would let in, at the Home Secretary's discretion, a considerable number of people with the ability to make substantial investments in this country, and section 4(5) already caters for senior Crown servants. By passing the Bill, however, the House will put into law a cast-iron guarantee. Although I respect the analysis of the hon. Member for Workington—after all, he has spent a few days in Hong Kong, and I have not been there at all—I cannot, on the basis of what I have heard and read, agree with his assessment of the position.

Two Canadian cities, Vancouver and Toronto, have accepted large numbers of economic migrants from Hong Kong. According to Wolfgang Lippert, general manager of the National Real Estate company in Vancouver, The middle class in Hong Kong are wealthy people as fare as Canadians are concerned. A million dollars in family assets is the bottom end of the white collar range. That wealth has led to an extensive buying up of property, which in turn has meant a 50 per cent. rise in the price of property on the west side of the city over the past 12 months. The resulting major distortion of the housing market has not gone down at all well with the residents of Vancouver.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford hinted earlier, the way in which the Chinese like to do things sometimes clashes with the customs of the indigenous population. The article quotes Mr. Jonathan Chin, a Chinese Canadian, as saying: Canadians still believe in honesty in business.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The new clause deals specifically with spouses.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) may wish to raise other matters, but will you ensure that he does not raise them on this new clause?

Mr. Speaker

My attention was temporarily distracted while I was looking at the next group of amendments. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stay in order.

Mr. Janman

I think that I am in order, Mr. Speaker. Some of the new clauses and amendments seek to highlight the fact that the Bill is not simply about 50,000 heads of household being given passports; it is about their spouses and families as well. Far more people are involved, and that is the issue that I am addressing.

Another Chinese Canadian is quoted as saying: In Hong Kong there is no sense of community. There is money and family and that's it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman leave this to me? The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) has tabled a group of amendments, and he is addressing himself to them.

Mr. Janman

The problems that I have been describing are causing a number of difficulties in Canada. It is fair to say that the Canadian people have always had a long tradition and history of tolerance, but that tolerance is being strained.

The article quotes a number of people expressing a great deal of intolerance and frustration about the effects of this large presence of Hong Kong Chinese in Canada and, in particular, Vancouver and Toronto, and the effects that that is having.

Sandra Wilking, the first Chinese alderman ever to be elected to Vancouver city council, was quoted as saying: Immigration is the most volatile issue in this country. Mary Lavin, a previously apolitical office worker, started the Residents Save Vancouver Please group in early 1989 in a bid to modify Canadian policies on immigration policies towards Hong Kong. She said: What is happening in Canada has not been matched since the white people took the land from the Indians … We think we are about to become Indians. That woman is a reserved and delicate young woman who, according to the correspondent who wrote the piece in The Sunday Times, is a long way from being the closet racist that one feared to meet.

Betty Tangye is a soft-spoken piano teacher without a mean, let alone a racist, bone in her body. She is one of the leading campaigners against the effect that Hong Kong immigration has had on middle-class housing. I have already outlined the distortions in the housing market that are happening.

What has been happening in Vancouver and Toronto will happen on a much larger scale in our towns and cities, particularly in the south-east of England. If 225,000 people take up British citizenship and come here, the political reality is that there will not be a corresponding relaxation of our planning laws and green belt restrictions in London and the south-east. Distortions similar to those that occurred in Vancouver and Toronto will occur in the housing market in London and the south-east.

For those reasons, I support new clause 4 and the new clauses and amendments grouped with it.

Mr. Foulkes

It now falls upon me to say a few words on behalf of the official Opposition.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Speak up.

Mr. Foulkes

I have never had that complaint before. It must be irony, even at this late hour. I had not expected the debate to be this late, but here we are.

First, on behalf of the Opposition, and I am sure on behalf of all hon. Members, I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) not only on tabling the new clause but on speaking so passionately and in such an informed, relevant and convincing way, which is much more than we can say for the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman).

I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the almost unique feat of uniting the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats, the liberal Tories and the not-so-liberal Tories. If I were the Minister, who sat tolerantly and patiently through the Committee's proceedings, I would feel that not just the arguments, but the weight of support for those arguments is on our side—or, I should say, on the right hon. Gentleman's side.

The Minister may recall that in Committee the Opposition tabled a number of amendments along the lines of the new clauses and the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), who is taking a well-earned rest, argued the case convincingly. I thought that the Minister had taken the arguments and had understood and appreciated the concern among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, now expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Opposition did not table the amendments on Report because the right hon. Gentleman was in before us and we thought that a former Cabinet Minister, a distinguished member of the Conservative party, would have greater weight with the Home Secretary and the Government.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Stop buttering him up.

Mr. Foulkes

I try my hardest—we want to win something. We hoped that the arguments of those hon. Members would have some effect upon the Government.

We went through all the arguments in Committee and we got some assurances, but like the right hon. Member for Southend, West we do not consider those assurances adequate, and nor do concerned expatriates and the other groups representing widows or potential widows in Hong Kong.

Mr. Marlow

I hope that I am not interrupting the flow of the hon. Gentleman's speech and that I have intervened at the right time. It will be interesting for the House to know at this stage whether the hon. Gentleman will be voting for the amendment and, if so, will his party be with him?

Mr. Foulkes

I am hoping that there will be no need for a vote. I hope that the weight of the argument and the force of the speech by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris)—who put a convincing case in an honest and sympathetic way—and the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Southend, West, the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats will convince the Government, and that there will be no need for a Division. It seems wasteful when the arguments are so overwhelming.

The essential point is that people are still worried. Despite the assurances, or because of the specific and limited nature of the assurances, given by the Minister and repeated again today in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), hon. Members are still worried that those widows, who are vulnerable in a number of ways, will still have to go through the hoops of the primary purpose rule to obtain entry to and citizenship of the United Kingdom.

If that is not the case, it is up to the Under-Secretary of State to say so, because that remains our understanding of the position. If widows are going to be accepted, there is no reason why the Government should not accept new clauses 4 and 5.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Let us suppose that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is unable to accept the amendments. Why is the hon. Gentleman unable to bring his party with us through the Lobby to ensure that this valuable amendment is made?

Mr. Foulkes

We shall have to wait to see whether a Division is called. If the Government are not convinced, we shall see what happens. I am surprised that a Conservative Member with such a distinguished military tradition should be giving in so easily, and that he should be so unwilling to press the case on the Government. I am surprised that an hon. Member who is normally so loyal to the Government should be so desperate or worried that the Government will not accept the logic and sense of the arguments, and that they will not recognise the overwhelming support for the new clauses.

We are talking about a small group of people—a few hundred. Hong Kong is a territory—I prefer the word, although some people use the term "colony"—for which we have a special responsibility. We are testing the sincerity of the Government over this group of widows, who have more right than any other group of people included in the scheme to entry into the United Kingdom and to citizenship. They have supported their husbands, often in the service of the Crown and the territory of Hong Kong. They are worthy of our support.

I hope that the Under-Secretary is feeling some unease at the way in which he has been criticised from all sides today, and at the fact that pleas have come from both sides of the House for him to accept the new clauses. With the Home Secretary beside him, I hope that he has all the authority and approval that he needs to be able to say that he accepts the new clauses. Then some honour and dignity will have been sacrificed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sacrificed?"] It is late. I shall try again. Then some honour and dignity will have been salvaged from this debate.

10.45 pm
Mr. Peter Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) are both proposing, albeit in different ways, that spouses and widows of British citizens resident in Hong Kong should be granted British citizenship, but I am afraid, as they expected and as I explained in Committee, that the Government do not believe that such a provision in the bill could be justified.

It is central to our proposals that existing nationality principles should continue to operate normally, except in relation to the 50,000 key personnel selected under the Bill and their immediate families. On that point, at least, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was right in predicting my reaction, but no doubt he had read what I said in Committee.

The whole basis of the British Nationality Act 1981 is that the acquisition of citizenship should normally involve a period of residence in this country. For the spouse of a British citizen, that period of residence is three years instead of the normal five. It is designed to ensure that the non-British spouse has some links with the United Kingdom, independent of marriage. The amendment would represent a fundamental departure from that principle.

My right hon. Friend suggests that there is cause for concern about the position of non-British spouses in Hong Kong. I listened with great care to what he said. Yesterday my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I met my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West and the chairman of the Concerned British Expatriates Society. I regret to say that I do not think that they made out a case for British expatriates in Hong Kong to be regarded as a special case compared with British expatriates elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Foulkes

There are two overwhelming arguments why their case must be considered separately. First, the Bill deals specifically with Hong Kong. Secondly, it is a dependent territory, not a separate country. Surely those two arguments must convince even this Government.

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that they do. The only distinction that can be made relates to those expatriate citizens in Hong Kong who are married to non-British wives. They are concerned about their widows, should they die, because Hong Kong's status will change in 1997. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend gave the assurance that he did on Second Reading.

We understand and sympathise with the very natural anxieties that have been expressed. I say again that, after careful consideration, we are sure that the expatriates' anxieties are groundless. I should like to take a few moments to explain how the position of spouses of British citizens is safeguarded. The spouse of a British citizen can accompany the British partner to the United Kingdom for settlement at any time. Of course they have to satisfy the requirements of the immigration rules, which include the primary purpose and the maintenance and accommodation requirements, but it is wrong to suggest that these reasonable and universal requirements under our immigration laws pose a significant difficulty for Hong Kong's expatriate families.

We have done some research, and the figures speak for themselves. Last year, for example, according to the most recent statistics, 269 spouses of British citizens applied for settlement from Hong Kong; only four were refused. None of those four was the spouse of a British citizen who was resident in Hong Kong.

The Government accept that there is legitimate concern that spouses having no right of abode in a third country might become stranded in Hong Kong in the event of the death of the British partner. In the unique circumstances of Hong Kong, it is natural that the expatriate community should be anxious about the position of widowed spouses, and with some reason. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has therefore given an assurance that applies specifically to British citizens in Hong Kong, that the widowed spouse of a British citizen who was resident in the territory at the time of his or her death will be allowed to settle here as a concession outside the immigration rules.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) asked about the primary purpose test. As the spouse will have died, the ordinary primary purpose rule could not apply, and we would not seek to apply it. So the concession is there for widows who fall into that category.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister saying that there will be no problem in the case of the widowed spouses to whom we are referring, that they will be allowed freely to enter the United Kingdom to settle, and that there will be no immigration problems?

Mr. Lloyd

That is the undertaking. The only question may be whether the spouse is the widow of a British expatriate citizen. The identity of the person and their relationship by marriage to a former British citizen will be matters that it would be reasonable of an immigration officer to ask to be demonstrated. But there should be no difficulty with that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister saying that all that those widowed spouses will have to produce, in effect, is proof of marriage?

Mr. Lloyd

Proof of marriage and proof that the person to whom they were married was a British citizen resident in Hong Kong.

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend's remarks will be studied with immense interest in Hong Kong, so I would like to get this straight. Is not his assurance limited to widowed spouses who have no other citizenship? Therefore, in the case of a United Kingdom citizen having a non-United Kingdom spouse who is not Hong Kong Chinese but who might be Japanese, Filipino, Thai, or whatever, that spouse would not be covered. What assurance is there for those widows?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend is right. Such widowed spouses were not included in the assurance given by my right hon. and learned Friend. However, we should like to consider some of the further points that my right hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Foulkes

We welcome the Minister's assurance that such widows will have to produce proof only that they were married to a British citizen—such as a marriage certificate—and a death certificate. That presumably means that the Government have abandoned—we welcome this—the primary purpose test. It will be interesting to know what powers the Government are using to do so.

Mr. Lloyd

It would be difficult to apply the primary purpose rule if the lady's husband has died. The authority lies with my right hon. and learned Friend, under the 1971 Act, to use his discretion and to allow entry outside the rules. Helpfully, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) echoed that undertaking, saying that it would be carried forward if there was another Labour Government.

Mr. Madden

May we be clear whether the widowed spouses in question will be allowed to enter the United Kingdom for settlement, or merely permitted to enter and be required subsequently to make an application for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lloyd

I am trying to remember the exact terms of my right hon. and learned Friend's undertaking, but I believe it is for settlement. Within a certain period those people will then be able to apply for British citizenship, and there is no question but that their entitlement will be to come here and stay here.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) the Minister appeared to say that this would not apply to widows who had another citizenship. What will happen to someone who has children at school in this country and who has had no connection with Indonesia, Thailand or wherever? He or she will be cut off and stranded.

Mr. Lloyd

If such people have another citizenship, they will have that connection. As I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, that is a point which my right hon. and learned Friend and I want to look at again. I have been trying to make it clear that the assurance that my right hon. and learned Friend has given applies only to whose who have no citizenship other than British dependent territories or Hong Kong—and hence Chinese—citizenship.

Mr. Marlow

The intention behind the Bill is to anchor people in Hong Kong, and the intention of the new clause is to anchor some worthy but potentially unfortunate people in Hong Kong. If people are given their British citizenship now, they know they have it, and whatever else happens, they will be able to use it. But if a spouse were to die after 1997, when a Chinese regime was running the country, they might fear some difficulty in acquiring British citizenship at that stage. Thus the desire of the Government and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) to anchor these people in Hong Kong will not be achieved unless the new clause is accepted.

Mr. Lloyd

If I understand my hon. Friend aright, my answer is that there is no limit to my right hon. and learned Friend's assurance: it will apply up to and after 1997.

Mr. Wells

Just for the sake of clarity, will my hon. Friend reiterate that this will not apply in other dependent territories, of which there are quite a few in the Caribbean?

Mr. Lloyd

It applies only to Hong Kong, for which we make this exception because we understand the worries of expatriates in the colony who fear that their wives may be stranded there after 1997. Hong Kong is a special case in that respect. I could not concede the earlier amendments because I do not believe that Hong Kong can be described as a special case before 1997, in respect of living British expatriates and their wives.

Mr. Tebbit

I ask my hon. Friend to contemplate the arguments that he has been deploying this evening. In response to many points put to him, he has argued that the Bill is designed not to bring immigrants to the United Kingdom but to give them an assurance that will obviate the necessity for them to come here. But on this particular point, my hon. Friend says that we cannot give these people the assurance of a British passport while they are still in Hong Kong; we must make them come to Britain and live here for three years before they can apply to get one.

Does not my hon. Friend realise that, with each word he has said while defending himself against the reasonable points put to him today, he has hammered another intellectual nail into the shabby coffin of this rotten Bill?

Mr. Lloyd

Of course I do not accept that. British expatriates, confident in their British citizenship, are not in the same position as those who are not British citizens but will become so under this Bill. I recognise that the Bill, in granting immediate access to British citizenship to the spouses of the 50,000 key persons, would be treating them more favourably than the spouses of other British citizens, but it is inherent in our proposals that the beneficiaries of the Bill will receive favoured treatment.

11 pm

I can appreciate the understandable irritation of British citizens with non-British wives that the normal rules should continue to apply to their wives when there is an express service for the spouses of those chosen under the selection scheme, but the House will be familiar with the justification for it. I have said several times this evening, and it was said in Committee and on Second Reading, that the Bill is an exceptional measure directed at a specific group of people, who by definition are essential to Hong Kong and are leaving in large numbers. Those people, unlike the spouses of existing British citizens, have no well established route to the United Kingdom or anywhere else. We feel that a different approach is justified.

If spouses and existing children are excluded from the assurance package, as proposed in some of the amendments, some recipients would still feel the need to emigrate to secure the position of their families. Some of the amendments make illogical suggestions that would drive away those whom we wish to remain in Hong Kong. The rules applying to the non-British wives of expatriates would not do that.

Mr. Norris

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is clearly implied in the scheme for 200,000 passports that it would not be enough to grant only the head of household a British passport and expect the rest of the family to rely on the rules that he has outlined as they apply to non-British spouses, and that that rule will apply to one category of people—those who are now British citizens? If that is indeed the Government's position, it is extraordinarily anomalous.

Mr. Lloyd

It is not extraordinarily anomalous because, as I said earlier, the expatriate British citizen will have the confidence of the British citizenship with which he was born and the knowledge that British citizens, as long as they satisfy the normal immigration rules, can bring their wives here. There is no such confidence among people who have been given citizenship under the scheme, and to protect the investment that we are making in them, we are extending, it beyond the normal rules to their wives and children.

Even my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) would accept that, although those who obtain British citizenship through the selection scheme could, like a British expatriate, bring their wives under the same terms, it does not apply to children who have been born to them when they were not British citizens. Somehow we must deal with that. The good sense of what we are proposing is to make a clean sweep, to enable them to be confident that their family has British citizenship, and to give them the confidence they need to remain in Hong Kong.

The Government are approaching this logically. The under-age children of people who obtain British citizenship through the selection route would, unless citizenship were granted to their families at the same time, be tempted to move here to ensure that their children earn British citizenship by being here for sufficient time before they reach the age of 18. After 18, under our normal rules, they would not be eligible.

Mr. Marlow

Will my hon. Friend make the position tatally clear to the House? There are two gentleman, one of whom is a British citizen with a non-British wife and the other, who will be given one of these passports by the Governor and will become a British citizen, who also has a non-British wife. Both couples have no children. Is my hon. Friend saying that the wife of the first gentleman will not automatically become a British citizen, whereas the wife of the second gentleman will automatically become a British citizen?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend has followed the argument reasonably well and I am glad that he has been able to demonstrate that fact. I said—my hon. Friend did not repeat this part of the argument—that this legislation is a special enactment for a unique set of circumstances. It cannot follow our normal nationality rules, and that is why it is different. The same rules apply to people in Hong Kong who have been born British citizens and have moved abroad as apply to those who live in Borneo, Indonesia and the United States. I do not believe that the case has been made for treating them differently. I am afraid that I must therefore urge the House to reject the new clause.

Mr. Channon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for receiving the deputation. It was very helpful, and my hon. Friend will have been made aware of the worries that still exist in Hong Kong. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about widows, which may foreshadow some concessions.

I think that I carry the House with me when I say that no hon. Member supports the Government's view on spouses. On the Conservative Benches, those who support the Bill and those who are against it are against him. Everyone on the Opposition Benches—Labour Members and the Social and Liberal Democrats—is against him. I shall be surprised if this matter is not fully debated in another place.

My hon. Friend said that this was a unique set of circumstances which justifies the wives of these people getting passports too. I claim that it is a unique set of circumstances for British citizens and their non-British spouses. I have failed to convince my hon. Friend, which places me in a difficulty. I have no particular desire to divide the House or rebel against the Government, but I am in the hands of the House. If hon. Members wish to press the motion to a Division, I shall join them.

Question put, That the clause be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 98, Noes 253.

Division No. 232] [11.07 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Livsey, Richard
Alton, David Loyden, Eddie
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy McAvoy, Thomas
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Macdonald, Calum A.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McFall, John
Beckett, Margaret McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Bermingham, Gerald Maclennan, Robert
Bevan, David Gilroy Madden, Max
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Mahon, Mrs Alice
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Marek, Dr John
Budgen, Nicholas Marlow, Tony
Butcher, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Michael, Alun
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Carr, Michael Murphy, Paul
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Nellist, Dave
Clelland, David Parry, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Patchett, Terry
Cryer, Bob Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Quin, Ms Joyce
Dalyell, Tam Robertson, George
Darling, Alistair Rogers, Allan
Dewar, Donald Rooker, Jeff
Dixon, Don Rowlands, Ted
Dunnachie, Jimmy Sedgemore, Brian
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Skinner, Dennis
Fearn, Ronald Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Fisher, Mark Spearing, Nigel
Flynn, Paul Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Strang, Gavin
Foster, Derek Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Foulkes, George Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Fraser, John Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Gill, Christopher Townend, John (Bridlington)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Turner, Dennis
Golding, Mrs Llin Wallace, James
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Wareing, Robert N.
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Howells, Geraint Winnick, David
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Winterton, Nicholas
Janman, Tim Wise, Mrs Audrey
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Kennedy, Charles Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. Rbodri Morgan and Mr. John Hume Robertson.
Leighton, Ron
Alexander, Richard Bellingham, Henry
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Allason, Rupert Benyon, W.
Amess, David Blackburn, Dr John G.
Arbuthnot, James Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Boscawen, Hon Robert
Ashby, David Boswell, Tim
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Peter
Atkinson, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Baldry, Tony Bowis, John
Batiste, Spencer Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Brazier, Julian Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Bright, Graham Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hunter, Andrew
Burns, Simon Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Burt, Alistair Irvine, Michael
Butler, Chris Jack, Michael
Butterfill, John Jackson, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Carrington, Matthew Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, Sydney Key, Robert
Chope, Christopher King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Churchill, Mr King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Kirkhope, Timothy
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Knowles, Michael
Conway, Derek Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Lang, Ian
Cope, Rt Hon John Latham, Michael
Cormack, Patrick Lawrence, Ivan
Couchman, James Lee, John (Pendle)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Curry, David Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lilley, Peter
Day, Stephen Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Devlin, Tim Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Dorrell, Stephen Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Eggar, Tim MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Emery, Sir Peter Maclean, David
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) McLoughlin, Patrick
Fallon, Michael McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Favell, Tony McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Malins, Humfrey
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Mans, Keith
Fishburn, John Dudley Maples, John
Forman, Nigel Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Forth, Eric Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mates, Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Maude, Hon Francis
Franks, Cecil Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Freeman, Roger Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fry, Peter Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mellor, David
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mills, Iain
Goodlad, Alastair Miscampbell, Norman
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gorst, John Mitchell, Sir David
Gow, Ian Moate, Roger
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Monro, Sir Hector
Grist, Ian Moore, Rt Hon John
Ground, Patrick Morrison, Sir Charles
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Hague, William Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Needham, Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neubert, Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hanley, Jeremy Nicholls, Patrick
Hannam, John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Harris, David Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hawkins, Christopher Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, Jerry Paice, James
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hayward, Robert Patnick, Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, David Patten, Rt Hon John
Hill, James Portillo, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Price, Sir David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Raffan, Keith
Holt, Richard Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Rathbone, Tim
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Redwood, John
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Rhodes James, Robert
Riddick, Graham Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Temple-Morris, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Thornton, Malcolm
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thurnham, Peter
Rost, Peter Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rowe, Andrew Tracey, Richard
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Tredinnick, David
Ryder, Richard Trippier, David
Sackville, Hon Tom Trotter, Neville
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, Jonathan Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, David (Dover) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Walden, George
Shelton, Sir William Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Warren, Kenneth
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Watts, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Whitney, Ray
Soames, Hon Nicholas Widdecombe, Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wilkinson, John
Squire, Robin Wolfson, Mark
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Sumberg, David Mr. Tony Durant and Mr. David Lightbown.
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to